Occupy Together Reports from the Ground: Part Three

This continues parts one and two of on the ground reports from rank and file Solidarity members regarding their observations, experiences and impressions of the Occupy Together actions from around the country.

Occupy Wall Street is a people powered movement that began on September 17, 2011 in Liberty Square in Manhattan's Financial District, and has spread to over 100 cities in the United States and actions in over 1,500 cities globally. #OWS is fighting back against the corrosive power of major banks and multinational corporations over the democratic process, and the role of Wall Street in creating an economic collapse that has caused the greatest recession in generations.The movement is inspired by popular uprisings in Egypt, Tunisia, Spain, Greece, Italy and the UK, and aims to expose how the richest 1% of people who are writing the rules of the global economy are imposing an agenda of neoliberalism and economic inequality that is foreclosing our future.

Statement from Occupy Wall Street, October 16th 2011

Chicago, Illinois

Martin Stainthorp

I got arrested for the first time in my life in the early morning hours on Sunday, October 16th. I had come close in the past, most memorably as a high school student on the first day of the Iraq War in March 2003, when thousands of Chicagoans took over Lake Shore Drive in a mass civil disobedience. Since then, I moved out to Virginia to attend the uber-preppy University of Richmond, and then returned home and spent over two years working in food service at Loyola University Chicago and helping organize a union and win a contract there with Unite Here Local 1.

When I arrived at the Occupy Chicago site in front of the Chicago Board of Trade on Saturday evening, there were already a couple thousand people packed onto the sidewalks. I knew that the group was planning to move to a new location that night where they could more formally occupy a space but I didn't know where. Around 7pm, we started marching down Jackson Boulevard and then turned south on Michigan Avenue. I was in the middle of a long and densely packed march, and by time I turned the corner there were already many folks assembled in a park called Congress Plaza at Congress and Michigan. Incidentally, the new occupation site is almost directly across the street from the Congress Hotel, where hotel workers from my union, Unite Here Local 1, have been on strike since 2003.


Photo credit: Chicago Sun-Times

By time I arrived in the plaza, people were already setting up tents. A rally began, with speakers from different organizations and some unions urging people to stay the night and help support the new occupation. My good friend and fellow Solidarity member Nick got on the mic a little later and talked about some of the police abuse towards protestors in New York.

Police began assembling shortly after, and everyone prepared for a possible confrontation around 11pm, when park rules dictate that we were supposed to leave. I was feeling inspired by the tremendous energy of the night, by hearing about all the occupation movements happening around this country and so many parts of the world and all the revolutionary movements that have emerged in this past year. I don't how it all fits together and what's going to come out of it, but I wanted to do what I could to assert our power in Chicago. So I decided to stay and risk arrest.

The police didn't move in to arrest people until about 1:30am. By that point, hundreds of protestors who did not want to risk arrest had gone across the street to continue chanting. Several hundred remained in the occupied space and sat down and linked arms. Hundreds of police moved in and began approaching people one-by-one, asking if they wanted to leave or be arrested. I was one of the first to be taken in. I heard later that police didn't finish the arrests until almost 4am.

I was handcuffed and put in the back of a police wagon. Twenty of us were piled in there and we were in good spirits, singing union songs as we were taken to a nearby police station. Once inside the station we were put in a holding cell for several hours. Despite the long overnight wait and crowded conditions, we kept spirits high by cheering loudly for every new protestor that was brought in. And there many. The official count of those arrested was 175, although it may actually have been over 200. It was a long night, but I finally emerged from the police station around 6am and was greeted by many fellow occupiers on the street. We all ended up with relatively minor citations that carry a $120 fine. A small price to pay, I think, for making a very loud and forceful statement. I'm not sure what happens next, but I'm very proud to be part of this growing global movement demanding justice and equality!

Providence, Rhode Island

Derek S.

Occupy Providence kicked off Saturday evening with an energetic, sprawling march through downtown that was attended by some 1200 people. Stopping at various points throughout, including at the headquarters of Textron and the entrance to the Providence Place Mall, demonstrators heard speeches from representatives of groups such as Todos Somos Arizona, Jobs with Justice, the Painters’ Union, and the Tenant and Homeowners’ Association. The crowd was composed of a diverse cross-section of Rhode Island’s 99% -- a “wide-ranging group,” said the Providence Journal, of “children and parents, college students, union workers, teachers, nurses and activists.” After the march, demonstrators returned to Burnside Park, located next to the city’s key public transportation hub, to finish off the action with a festive General Assembly and the official opening of the Occupy Providence camp-out.

The Occupy Movement is catching steam throughout Rhode Island. At Brown University, a teach-in last week drew 600 students, and activists at Brown have initiated an Occupy College Hill group. Nearly a hundred Brown professors signed a statement in Solidarity with the Occupy Movement. A teach-in is planned at Rhode Island College this week. Meanwhile, unions throughout Rhode Island have declared their support for the Occupy movement.

As of last night, scores of mostly young people remained in Burnside Park. Tents lined the grass; free food was being distributed by volunteers; activists mingled while other played a game of Capture the Flag. As with elsewhere, it’s vital that it endures and expands while it also develops vision and strategy that can keep moving things forward.

Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Keith M

Around 3,000 marched Saturday morning, October 15 from Zeidler Park to Chase Bank, then on to M&I bank. Perhaps inspired by Michael Moore’s film Capitalism: A Love Story, activists wrapped Chase bank in yellow crime scene tape. At M&I most of the marchers sat down in the middle of the street on this chilly day for about 10 minutes. A much smaller group headed back to the park hoping to begin an occupation. The police did not issue a permit for overnight occupation. A group of about 150 stayed in the park and debated until deciding not to risk arrest and leave before 10:00 pm. Police vans were waiting in case the protestors remained after the curfew. Nobody was arrested. No right-wing or libertarian groups or individuals seemed to be at the planning meetings, but a small contingent of Ron Paul supporters with Down with the Fed banners were present on the fringes of the demonstration.

Two comrades each attended one of the three planning meetings held over the last week. The planning meetings were largely run by several young white women and a young black man. Present were activists from their 20s to seniors. The meetings and Saturday demonstration were mostly white, but a few African Americans, Asians, and Latinos were present. The leaders seemed to be particularly concerned that the planning and action be as democratic and inclusive as possible. The “St Paul Principles” were read and the body endorsed them. Some of that seemed to reflect fear of anarchist violence. This informal leadership seems to be very much on the same page as the New York activists.

For my part, I got embroiled in a debate on the Occupy Milwaukee list serve over whether or not to mention the labor endorsements for the action in the press release. There was a feeling that this could alienate some folks! Several AFL-CIO bodies as well as the USW, SEIU, AFT local 212 (Milwaukee Area Technical College), and the Amalgamated Teacher’s Union (ATU) endorsed the call. Bob Peterson, president of the MTEA (teacher’s union and founder of Rethinking Schools), spoke at the rally on front of M&I bank. There was a modest union presence at the action itself consisting of several union contingents marching behind union banners, although there didn’t seem to be a very energetic effort to mobilize large numbers of union members. Voces de la Frontera attended with banners and a modest delegation. Voces also lent its phone bank to the movement earlier in the week.

The center right Journal Sentinel reported favorably on the demonstration and accurately portrayed the variety of demands expressed on homemade signs on a variety of social and political issues, including the emerging campaign to recall Governor Scott Walker, who’s reactionary, union busting legislative proposal provoked the huge mass demonstrations last February and March. A core group of protestors returned on Sunday to hold a GA. They still hope to find a legal and attractive occupation site. In sum, in spite of the difficulty in finding am around-the clock-occupation site, the Milwaukee movement seems to be off to a very good start. There is a lot of good, healthy energy here.

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Cincinnati, Ohio

Dan La Botz

750 people marched through Cincinnati to a rally in Fountain Square on Saturday, October 8th. The march and rally were 95 percent white in a half black city, but highly age diverse and mostly working class in character. The rally lasted a couple of hours with good music and excellent speeches. The occupation at Fountain Square that night, successfully carried out in violation of the law for a day, was moved to Piatt (Garfield) Park on the edge of the downtown area opposite the public library. The general assemblies have had less than 100 people, mostly young white men. They discussed platforms but then postponed decisions about it and focused on the occupation and logistics.

One of the big problems is that we have only a few people spending the night in Piatt Park and those that stay are being cited every night to the tune of $105; lawyers are representing them and attempting to combine their cases. Since that Saturday, there have been several marches ranging from 50 to 200 in support of the Homeless Coalition and against the Fifth Third Bank and other banks.

The mood is good, a sense of being part of a rising movement, of having won small victories in contributing to the buoyancy of the movement. As one of our young members said after succeeding in occupying the square--"This is the first time I have ever had a victory in a movement." He was involved for years in the anti-war and Palestinian solidarity movements.

We are facing pressure from Republicans on the City Council and the Democrats are trying to be all things to all people. The labor unions have not supported the movement, though the UFCW recently appeared to attempt to use Occupy to do their political work. Cincinnati also has the distinct privilege of being the first occupation to file a federal lawsuit on first amendment grounds.

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