Occupy Wall Street! Observations from a New York Public Sector Worker

by a Solidarity Member in New York

October 3, 2011

I'm a public sector worker in health care in NYC, and for the past week most of my coworkers and activist networks have been talking about “Occupy Wall St.” (OWS) constantly. There's definitely a buzz, and it extends beyond the 'usual suspects' of New York's progressive / left scene. I went down to OWS on Thursday evening (while the 'grievances' were being debated… see below) and again on Saturday, towards the end of the attempt to march across the Brooklyn Bridge (by the time I got there, they weren't letting anyone else on the bridge), and then hung around for a while talking with folks. The New York Times story about Saturday's mass arrests isn't bad, though they changed their initial coverage to understate how marchers were lured onto the roadway of the bridge (blocking traffic), expecting they'd be allowed across.

With yesterday's arrests of more than 700, according to the Times, it seems like the City is taking a gamble that this will be enough to drive away the protest (clearly luring a large number onto the bridge in order to increase the number arrested). With the way this has been growing in the past week, it seems like this may actually back-fire on Bloomberg & Co.

The basic feeling among folks in or around Solidarity that I've spoken to is that ten days ago we weren't sure where this was going or how it would get there (if it did get anywhere at all). We had a 'wait and see' approach. Ten days ago it was still relatively small, and even more white and young and male than it is now. My impression was that the Ad Busters folks that were so central to initiating OWS hadn't done much outreach to the NY activist community, and very little –if any– to organizations of people of color here in the City, whose communities have of course been hardest hit by the recession, compounding already dire situations that existed before the recognized national recession (for many of these communities, a de facto recession has been present throughout the 'boom years' of the 1990s).

Last Saturday, September 24, the NYPD arrested — and pepper sprayed — about 85 people, and OWS grew significantly since then. From the reports of comrades who were there, the rally on Friday  was perhaps bigger than some of the larger rallies organized against the budget cuts back in June — at least several thousand. Keep in mind that those June rallies were organized by the major unions (with combined memberships of over a quarter of a million people), having been planned months ahead of time. The rallies Friday and Saturday were planned on much shorter notice, with far fewer resources. From what I can tell, they were significantly more diverse (based on my visual estimates of race) than when OWS began, but with people of color composing perhaps twenty percent of the crowd, it is still far from representing anything close to the working class of New York. Of the dozen or so I've talked to, about half are from out of state, but even from Thursday to Saturday, the number of New Yorkers seems to be increasing, and, though this is anecdotal, these folks seem more likely to be people of color. That being said, the proportion of people of color is of course not the only important departure from what seems to be a white, young, college-educated, male norm.

In addition to growing in numbers and racial diversity, it seems that the protest is developing some more political clarity in both what it identifies as problems and the objectives it hopes to achieve. However, it also appears that these efforts to solidify some common 'grievances', demands or strategies are very inconsistent. For example, the initial proposed 'grievances' being debated on Thursday evening began with, "As one people, formerly divided by race, gender, sexuality….”The intent was to envision ourselves in a post-racial (and perhaps post-revolutionary) society, but this wasn't well received. A small group of women of color objected to that language (with Hena Alshraf as the impromptu spokesperson), and it was first changed to, "As one people, despite divisions of race, gender, sexuality…", and then the phrase was dropped altogether, replaced with, "As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members.” There have also been some concerns raised about the lack of acknowledgment that the slogan "take back America" ignores the fact that it was stolen from indigenous people here to begin with. Ricardo Levins Morales' article on Solidarity's website is a great discussion of this slogan as well. Perhaps similarly, one anecdotal report I heard from Saturday was that when an older Black activist tried to approach some of the leaders about developing more specific demands, the response was somewhat dismissive, re-focusing on the 'crimes of the banks' and away from the day-to-day needs of those struggling to survive the effects of those 'crimes' (or more accurately, the larger crisis of capitalism).

It seems that if OWS is to continue to grow and engage the working class of New York, it will need to develop some more constructive ways to engage with the organizations of people of color in the City… and there's some reason for being hopeful. On Thursday it was announced that a loose coalition of the city's public sector unions, and the larger of the community groups has created a "Strong For All Coalition" in support. They are planning a rally in solidarity with OWS. I haven't heard anything from my union (AFSCME DC37), but John Samuelson, President of TWU Local 100 (representing most of the mass transit workers), appeared on Keith Olbermann on Thursday night in support of OWS. In addition to the unions, some of the most militant, base-building and direct-action focused community groups area also participating (like Community Voices Heard, Make the Road NY and VOCAL).

Of course a lot remains to be seen, but if Madison is any indication, upping the ante in this struggle and achieving measurable wins will require more than crowds … it will require the focused activity of significant layers of the organized working classes, that existed before Ad Busters, and that have the roots and the experience to help leverage the power that is being built against the establishment here and nationally. Even if we don't get concrete wins, this will have been a hugely important protest for New York and the country, but there is a potential for it to be concretely effective as well, and I hope that we can help it get there.

Atlanta Vigil for Troy Davis (Photos)

Hundreds of people gathered on short notice beneath the gold dome of the Georgia capitol in the final hours before Troy Davis was executed. Davis was killed on September 21 at 11:08 PM, charged with killing a Savannah police officer twenty years ago. His case was a symbol of the inherent injustice of the death penalty and galvanized the outrage of thousands. Read more here and here.

Although Davis has been killed, the movement continues. Check Georgians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, Amnesty International, Campaign to End the Death Penalty, the NAACP for information about future actions.

Troy Davis vigil in Atlanta, Ga on Sept. 21, 2011
The capitol grounds are decorated with monuments to the state’s racist legacy. Behind this person is a statue of Richard Russell, a white supremacist Governor and US Senator from Georgia, who led congressional opposition to Civil Rights legislation for decades.

Troy Davis vigil in Atlanta, Ga on Sept. 21, 2011
The demonstration lined the streets as and filled the air with the sound of chanting and drumming.

Troy Davis vigil in Atlanta, Ga on Sept. 21, 2011
Organizing groups included Amnesty International, Georgians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty, Campaign to End the Death Penalty, the NAACP, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, FTP Movement, and others.

Troy Davis vigil in Atlanta, Ga on Sept. 21, 2011
Tonight’s rally and vigil followed almost daily actions since a death warrant was issued for Davis on September 7. Activists collected petitions (and dramatically delivered 660,000 to the Georgia Board of Pardons a week ago), organized buses from around the state to a mass march last Friday, and held a 24-hour rally on the weekend.

Troy Davis vigil in Atlanta, Ga on Sept. 21, 2011
The night of Troy Davis’ murder, Georgians held vigils in at least 11 cities across the state.

Troy Davis vigil in Atlanta, Ga on Sept. 21, 2011
The slogan “I AM TROY DAVIS” spread around the world, reflecting the deep personal impact that the case had on thousands of people. In the words of his sister Martina Correia, “Troy Davis has impacted the world. They say, `I am Troy Davis,’ in languages he can’t speak.”

Troy Davis vigil in Atlanta, Ga on Sept. 21, 2011
Many protesters connected Troy Davis’ case to the long history of mass incarceration of people of color, particularly political prisoners and exiles like Mumia Abu-Jamal and Assata Shakur. Though Troy Davis was not a political prisoner, his steadfastness and courage in the face of such an inhumane system inspired many thousands to political action.

Troy Davis vigil in Atlanta, Ga on Sept. 21, 2011
Martina Correia, Troy’s sister, had been a tireless advocate for her brother’s cause long before it became an international sensation.

Troy Davis vigil in Atlanta, Ga on Sept. 21, 2011
Many student demonstrators have lived their entire lives during Troy Davis’ twenty years on death row.

Troy Davis vigil in Atlanta, Ga on Sept. 21, 2011
Throughout its history, the death penalty has been disproportionately used against men of color–recalling the history of lynch mob terror that enforced social and political inequality in the Jim Crow South.

Troy Davis vigil in Atlanta, Ga on Sept. 21, 2011
Musicians and other artists have lent their talents in the campaign to exonerate Troy Davis.

Troy Davis vigil in Atlanta, Ga on Sept. 21, 2011
Some stayed at the capitol late into the night, sharing updates from their phones about the Supreme Court stay and news from friends in Jackson, Georgia.

One year after Pakistan floods, women continue the struggle to rebuild their lives

By Bushra Khaliq, August 5, 2011

The floodwaters that ravaged the southern parts of Pakistan in the summer of 2010 have long receded. Gone are the makeshift tent camps on roadsides, however the revival of normal life still remains a challenge. Thousands continue a daily struggle to support their families and re-establish livelihoods. As a new monsoon season is in full swing, last year’s trauma and economic pain still linger. While last year’s victims struggle to recover, others now worry that changing world weather patterns will cause renewed flooding.

The devastation caused by the 2010 floods was the worst in Pakistan’s history; almost 2,000 deaths, nearly 20 million displaced or affected and one-fifth of the country went under water. The deluge inflicted unprecedented catastrophic damage on a country already reeling from the effects of US-led war on terrorism. A year later, the picture is dismal.

Although many flood refugees have returned home, little is known to the world about their miserable conditions and stories of struggle. Particularly the women who are the worst-hit still facing multiple challenges after one year. Their work burden is multiplied. While husbands and male members in poor families, being daily wagers, are struggling to find sources of income, women remain busy in rebuilding their damaged shelters and dwellings. In small villages and hamlets, these women are making bricks and plastering their mud, half-cemented houses. The ones who have finished the reconstruction work are out in the fields, assisting their husbands with tilling. Rest or respite seems a rare thing.

Lost possessions have either been replaced at higher costs or they have been forced to do without. Many marriageable girls who lost their dowry and valuables are making a fresh start. A new culture of collective marriages, previously unknown in these areas, is gaining ground. Unfortunately, it is also giving rise to earlier marriages for young girls. Although the custom of girls’ marrying early already exists, post-flood conditions have provided a new impetus to the trend. The only way to effectively tackle the problem is through initiating women-focused anti-poverty programs. Schemes to allocate state land or distribute livestock among poor women would be helpful.

Another particular problem is women’s health. During the flood, pregnant women were able to find pre- and post-natal care in the emergency medical camps. But the moment the relief phase was over, these women were abandoned. They are still vulnerable to reproductive-related diseases. Women and children also face nutritional problems because they do not have access to a healthy diet. In fact those who lost their livestock are deprived both of milk and of a permanent livelihood.

The government-provided compensation has been unevenly distributed. Widows and female-headed families faced discrimination with the distribution of Watan cards (relief money) as well as in rehabilitation programs. Despite tall claims, the government has not succeeded in decreasing the level of poverty among women over the year. While donors promised $600 million in aid, little has arrived. As a result, price hikes and decreasing options impact poor families and women more severely.

Last month when I revisited Dera Shahwala, a small village in the district of Muzaffargarh. It was one of the worst-hit areas in southern Punjab. Things had not much changed since my visit shortly after the floods. Work on roads, embankments and water courses/channels is evident, but restoring the resources of everyday life have not yet been resolved. One of the main sources of income for poor landless women in this area is cotton picking. The crop has been lost but there is no alternative. In some cases the fertile land has been permanently replaced with rough sand, thus depriving women of their livelihood.

A flood survivor, Myriam Bibi, recalled that flood water washed away everything. She lost most of the house and its contents. She lives in a newly erected small room while her children are staying with relatives. Rebuilding her house brick by brick means the work progresses slowly. The house remains a roofless ruin. “Relatives and friends help us, but not everyone is so lucky. It is very difficult to rebuild our life,” she said. “I don’t see in the coming two/three years that I will have my house completely rebuilt.”

Aysha Bibi, a farmer’s wife and young mother of five, pointed out that the floods, however ‘natural’, were profoundly discriminatory. They effected some more than others. “We lost our dwelling and the only cow; now we cannot purchase a new one. I cannot provide milk to my children. Whatever money we had is spent on the reconstruction of our home.

Another resident, Zohra Begum remarked that her 7-member family picked up and moved immediately after the floods. “We have a small piece of land where my 16-year daughter and I have to work longer hours to assist my husband in the fields. We owe debt to our relatives and we have to repay it. My two children, who used to go school, must stay at home to look after the siblings. When we first got here there were facilities for us. But they have since been taken away. Now people just come and talk and talk — but they do not give us any help.”

Rumors of another massive flood also leave residents on edge. Those who live in some areas close to the Indus River suffer from sleepless nights. “It is a mental torture when we hear that there might be another monsoon flood,” said 36-year-old Parveen, who is still struggling to rebuild her damaged home.


Bushra Khaliq is Executive Director of Women in Struggle for Empowerment (WISE) based in Lahore, Pakistan.

One year after Pakistan floods, women continue struggle to rebuild life and livelihood

Bushra Khaliq

August 5, 2011

One year ago during the month of July/August, the floodwaters that ravaged southern parts of Pakistan have long receded. Though gone are the makeshift tent camps on roadsides but revival of normal life and livelihood still remain a challenge. Thousands continue a daily struggle to support their families and re-establish livelihoods. As a new monsoon season is on full swing, last year’s trauma and economic pain still linger. While last year’s victims struggle to recover, others now worry that changing world weather patterns will cause renewed flooding.

The devastation caused by the 2010 floods was worst in Pakistan’s history; almost 2,000 deaths, nearly 20 million displaced or affected and one-fifth of the country went under water. The deluge inflicted unprecedented catastrophic damage on a country already reeling from the effects of US-led war on terrorism. A year later, the picture is dismal.

Although many flood refugees have returned homes but little is known to the world about their miserable conditions and stories of struggle, to combat the horrific effects on lives and livelihoods. Particularly the women who are the worst-hit still facing multiple challenges after one year. Their work burden is multiplied. While husbands and male members in poor families, being daily wagers, are struggling to find sources of livelihood, women remain busy in rebuilding their damaged shelters and dwellings. In small villages and hamlets, these women are making bricks and plastering their mud, half-cemented houses. The ones who have finished the reconstruction work are out in the fields, assisting their tilling husbands. Rest or respite seems a rare thing.

Lost possessions either have been replaced at higher costs or they have been forced to do without. Many marriageable girls who lost their dowry and valuables are making a fresh start. A new culture of collective marriages, previously unknown in these areas, is gaining ground. Unfortunately it is also giving rise to girls’ early marriages. Although the custom of girls’ marrying early already exists, post-flood conditions have provided a new impetus to the trend. The only way to effectively tackle the problem is through initiating women-focused anti-poverty programs. Schemes to allocate state land or distribute livestock among poor women would be helpful.

Another particular problem is women’s health. During the flood, pregnant women were able to find pre- and post-natal care in the emergency medical camps. But the moment the relief phase was over, these women were abandoned. They are still vulnerable to reproductive-related diseases. Women and children also face nutritional problems because they do not have access to a healthy diet. In fact those who lost their livestock are deprived both of milk and of a permanent livelihood.

The government-provided compensation money has been unevenly distributed. Widows and female-headed families faced discrimination with the distribution of Watan cards (relief money) as well as in rehabilitation programs. Despite tall claims, the government has not succeeded in decreasing the level of poverty among women over the year. While donors promised $600 million in aid, little has arrived. As a result, price hikes and decreasing options impact poor families and women more severely.

Last month when I revisited Dera Shahwala, a small village in the district of Muzaffargarh. It was one of the worst-hit areas in southern Punjab. Things had not much changed since my visit shortly after the floods. Work on roads, embankments and water courses/channels is evident, but restoring the resources of everyday life have not yet been resolved. One of the main sources of income for poor landless women in this area is cotton picking. The crop has been lost but there is no alternative. In some cases the fertile land has been permanently replaced with rough sand, thus depriving women of their livelihood.

A flood affectee, here, Myriam Bibi, recalled that flood water washed away everything. She lost most of the house and its contents. She lives in a newly erected small room while her children are staying with relatives. Rebuilding her house brick by brick means the work progresses slowly. The house remains a roofless ruin. “Relatives and friends help us, but not everyone is so lucky. It is very difficult to rebuild our life,” she said. “I don’t see in the coming two/three years that I will have my house completely rebuilt.”

Aysha Bibi, a farmer’s wife and young mother of five, pointed out that the floods, however ‘natural’, were profoundly discriminatory. They effected some more than others. “We lost our dwelling and the only cow; now we cannot purchase a new one. I cannot provide milk to my children. Whatever money we had is spent on the reconstruction of our home.

Another resident, Zohra Begum remarked that her 7-member family picked up and moved immediately after the floods. “We have a small piece of land where my 16-year daughter and I have to work longer hours to assist my husband in the fields. We owe debt to our relatives and we have to repay it. My two children, who used to go school, must stay at home to look after the siblings. When we first got here there were facilities for us. But they have since been taken away. Now people just come and talk and talk–but they do not give us any help.”

Rumors of another massive flood also leave residents on edge. Those who live in some areas close to the Indus River suffer from sleepless nights. “It is a mental torture when we hear that there might be another monsoon flood,” said 36-year-old Parveen, who is still struggling to rebuild her damaged home.

Photos: Tens of thousands rally against immigration bill in Georgia

Immigration march in Atlanta, Ga on July 2, 2011

ATLANTA – Tens of thousands of protesters gathered at the Georgia Capitol on July 2 and marched through downtown in opposition to the newly enacted Georgia House Bill 87.

The demonstration, organized by the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights with the participation of over 60 other community-based immigration groups throughout the southeast, is part of a recent string of events put on by activists in an effort to push back against the increasing crackdown on undocumented immigrants.

Earlier in the week, 6 undocumented youth (including 3 high school students) were arrested after staging a sit-in in the middle of an busy intersection adjacent to the Georgia Capitol. On Friday, activists issued a call to action for inaction — in other words, a day of non-compliance in which immigrants refused to show up for work or spend money.

HB 87, which went into effect July 1, criminalizes those who apply for jobs using false identification and forces employers to check the immigration status of all employees.

Modeled after Arizona’s harsh immigration laws that were passed last year, HB 87 is just one of many pieces of legislation throughout the United States that seek to target undocumented immigrants and their families.

The bill previously contained provisions that would allow law enforcement officers to investigate the immigration status of people “suspected” of being undocumented and would punish anyone who transports or houses an undocumented immigrant while committing a crime. These sections of HB 87 were struck down earlier this week by a federal judge.


Immigration march in Atlanta, Ga on July 2, 2011
Immigration march in Atlanta, Ga on July 2, 2011
Immigration march in Atlanta, Ga on July 2, 2011
Immigration march in Atlanta, Ga on July 2, 2011
Immigration march in Atlanta, Ga on July 2, 2011
Immigration march in Atlanta, Ga on July 2, 2011
Immigration march in Atlanta, Ga on July 2, 2011
Immigration march in Atlanta, Ga on July 2, 2011
Immigration march in Atlanta, Ga on July 2, 2011

Black Children... Beautiful, or Endangered Species?

On March 31, I spotted a few billboards reading “Black Children are BEAUTIFUL” in downtown Atlanta. Underneath the still-drying wheat paste, the signs’ original message was not so uplifting: Black Children are an Endangered Species

Black children are BEAUTIFUL

Over the past couple months, these provocative billboards have been sprouting up in Atlanta neighborhoods. Featuring a fearful-looking African American child juxtaposed with the disquieting statement, the billboards are part of a campaign sponsored by an organization called the Endangered Species Project. On March 29 a bill they supported, the OBGYN Criminalization & Racial Discrimination Act, was passed.

Black children are an endangered species

The Endangered Species Project is a collaboration between Georgia Right to Life, the state’s largest anti-choice group, and The Radiance Foundation, an Atlanta-based adoption advocacy group. It’s no surprise to find that this has sparked a great deal of controversy on both a local and national level.

According to the campaign’s Web site, the underlying message behind the advertisement refers to statistical data that suggests that black women in the state of Georgia have a disproportionate amount of abortions when compared to other groups of women.

This is true. According to the Center for Disease Control, even though African Americans represent only about 30% of Georgia’s population, over 57% of the state’s abortions were performed on African American women. It’s also true that some early advocates of abortion, like Margaret Sanger, were connected to the eugenics movement and saw the operation as a way of limiting Black population growth.

However, what the Endangered Species Project fails to mention are the broader reasons behind abortion today.

Women’s choice over whether and when to have children is complex, including many unintended pregnancies resulting from inadequate sex education, the difficulty of raising children as child care and other services are cut, and poverty (recent data revealed that the median wealth for single Black women is only $5!)

This information goes largely unheard in the debate, and the people of Atlanta are instead subjected to racist and sexist messages like the ones presented in the billboards.

But beyond these factors is the most important consideration: the right of all women to control their own bodies. This cynical effort to highlight Black abortions (in order to chip away at reproductive care for all women) specifically denies Black women that right.

In a press release in response to the billboard campaign, Sistersong, an Atlanta-based women of color collective specializing in reproductive health issues, said that “the mere association between the born and unborn with endangered animals provides a disempowering and dehumanizing message to the Black community, which is completely unacceptable.”

Abortion and all types of reproductive health care are every woman’s right — and every woman’s decision. 

Photos: Georgia Students For Public Higher Education March 15 rally against budget cuts

On March 15, Georgia Students for Public Higher Education sponsored a state-wide demonstration at the capitol in downtown Atlanta. GSPHE was formed at Georgia State University in Fall 2009 to fight a $200 fee increase for university students. In March legislators announced plans for massive tuition and fee increases, as well as furloughs and layoffs of campus staff and faculty. Now, students in all corners of the state have become involved with the fight for accessible higher education.

Following the rally, hundreds of students marched to a nearby park for a mass meeting.