Working America Ohio Says Thanks to Occupy Cleveland

Stephanie Harig – Cleveland, Ohio

This is the time of year for being grateful, hopeful, and joyful—and Working America members in Ohio have been wholeheartedly participating by expressing their thanks and appreciation for the folks occupying public areas our cities, including Cleveland.

Occupy Cleveland has been maintaining a constant presence on Public Square for over two months. There is a dedicated group of individuals involved in occupying, but also working peacefully to prevent foreclosures in the Greater Cleveland area and participating in community events.

Working America stands with the 99 percent. But our members may not always be able to join these protests—so Ohioans are finding other ways to show that they appreciate the occupiers in Public Square.

Less than a month ago, offices across Ohio began collecting thank you notes to Occupy Cleveland by going door-to-door and making phone calls. The response was inspiring. On Saturday, Working America’s Cleveland office delivered over 200 such letters from around the state to Occupy Cleveland at a potluck event.

I attended the letter delivery with Jim, a Cleveland Working America member. After spending some time enjoying the food and interacting with Occupy Cleveland organizers, we presented the thank you notes to the group. We had put the notes in a binder, so they are able to flip through them when they are feeling discouraged, lonely, or just plain cold.

In addition to presenting the binder full of letters (to murmurs of disbelief that we had collected so many), I read a few of the most poignant ones from each office out loud. In one memorable letter, a single mom from Columbus expressed her support for Occupy because she recognized that they are addressing her day-to-day struggles. In another, Phyllis from Cleveland expressed her appreciation and ended by imploring the protestors to keep warm (important advice in a Cleveland winter!). Our members are genuinely grateful that someone is giving them a voice.

The letters were met with an overwhelming appreciation by the participants in Occupy Cleveland. Some were moved to tears, while others struggled to find the words to express how much the notes meant to them. After the presentation, they passed the binder around, and continued to express amazement at the fact that Working America had collected so many great letters. Indeed, this simple show of solidarity went a long way in boosting the morale of the organizers.

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Across the Country, City Councils Endorsing Local Occupy Movements

When police forces have cracked down on local Occupy encampments, TV cameras have swarmed to cover it. But what’s not being covered as closely are the numerous actions, symbolic and otherwise, on the part of local elected officials to endorse or otherwise support the protests of the 99 Percent going on in their cities.

On October 12 in Los Angeles, California, the second largest city in the United States, the City Council resolved that the body “stands in support for the continuation of the peaceful and vibrant exercise in First Amendment Rights carried out by ‘Occupy Los Angeles.’” The resolution included in its justification that 1 in 5 foreclosures in the U.S. have taken place in California, and that an investigation of the financial crisis and holding those accountable are particularly in the interest of Angelenos. The cities of Sebastapol and Santa Anna, California have also formally endorsed Occupy Wall Street.

On November 14 in Seattle, Washington, the nine-member City Council resolved to support the Occupy Seattle protest. They stressed that they condemn violence and any action taken that interferes with the police, but also that they would actively take steps to address the Occupiers concerns. “The City will review its banking and investment practices to ensure that public funds are invested in responsible financial institutions that support our community,” the resolution states.

Last Monday in Cleveland, Ohio, the City Council voted 18-1 to pass Np. 1720-11, which formally expresses support for Occupy Wall Street. The effort was spearheaded by Councilman Brian Cummings, a member of the Green Party, who has been active in Occupy Cleveland. The resolution states:

Be it resolved by the Council of the City of Cleveland…That this Council recognizes and supports the principles of the Occupy Movement and the peaceful and lawful exercise of the First Amendment as a cherished and fundamental right in the effort to seek solutions for economically distressed Americans at the federal, state and local levels.

The resolution also states that the Council will continue to work with the Mayor to “continue taking steps to minimize economic insecurity and destructive disparities in the City of Cleveland.” A unique situation is developing in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, where the City Council also endorsed their local OWS branch, Occupy Pittsburgh.

BE IT RESOLVED that the Council of the City of Pittsburgh does support and declare solidarity with Occupy Pittsburgh and the Occupy Wall Street movement, exercising First Amendment rights in a free, open, peaceful, and productive manner, toward the better condition of our citizens and of these United States.

What makes this even more significant is that Occupy Pittsburgh sits on Mellon Green, the property of the financial giant BNY Mellon, last seen trying to use the occupy movement in its marketing materials. Under the pretense of the Occupiers’ safety as the temperature drops, BNY Mellon has issued a warning that they will forcibly evict the encampment. The result of this standoff may set a precedent for the country – are the actions of police forces dictated by large financial institutions, local City Councils, or Mayors? And who currently exerts the most influence over Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl: BNY Mellon or his own Council? BNY Mellon gave Sunday, December 11 as the deadline to evacuate Mellon Green, but as of Monday evening, the encampment remains.

Photo of an Los Angeles Occupier by Occupy Los Angeles on Flickr, via Creative Commons.

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House Plan Attacks 99%, Benefits 1%

by Tula Connell – Reposted from the AFL-CIO NOW Blog

House Republican leaders unveiled a budget plan Friday in which they “once again rushed to the rescue of the 1 percent” by insisting that millionaires should not have to pay one penny in taxes, according to AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. Instead,

the House Republican proposal would cut benefits for jobless workers, cut pay for public employees, cut preventive health services, reduce premium assistance for low- and middle-income individuals buying health insurance, and raise premiums for many Medicare beneficiaries. House Republicans obviously have more sympathy for millionaires than for the jobless.

AFGE President John Gage also blasted the Republicans leaders” Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act, introduced by House Speaker John Boehner.

This is just another attack on the 99% on behalf of their good friends—the 1%. They are targeting a small segment of people who make $30,000 to $70,000 a year, rather than asking their millionaire and billionaire supporters to pay a little more. It’s not right, and the American people should be outraged.

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Under Threat of Eviction, Occupy Pittsburgh Stands Strong

By Jeff Cech – Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Ed. – Working America Canvass Organizer Jeff Chech was a founding member of Occupy Pittsburgh. On November 14th, the Pittsburgh City Council surprised many observers when it issued a resolution in solidarity with Occupy Pittsburgh.

However, BNY Mellon is lobbying the city government to evict the encampment. We urge readers to call Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl at 412-255-2626 and ask him to stand with the City Council, the 99 Percent, and the First Amendment – not big corporations like BNY Mellon.

Occupy Pittsburgh got its start with a gathering of 400 in a local church on October 5, 2011. After several more of these “General Assemblies” and hours of discussions and preparation, we marched to the location of our current encampment on October 15th. That day we left from Freedom Corner, the place where African American demonstrators in Pittsburgh met and marched from during the Civil Rights Movement, and moved nearly 4,000 strong into downtown.

The turnout for our inaugural march and rally was evidence that the Occupy message resonates with the American people across a broad range of economic, political, social, and geographical demographics. Many recognize that it’s time to throw off the chains of Wall Street and the big banks and demand economic fairness.

Anyone confused about Occupy’s primary, driving concern need to hear only one of its rally cries: “Banks got bailed out, we got sold out.”

Occupy Pittsburgh is the only encampment in the country that sits on bank property. Taking land from the bank sends a loud and clear message about the movement, both to its supporters and its opponents.

The BNY Mellon Green is a piece of privately owned green space within Pittsburgh’s Golden Triangle. A city ordinance states that privately owned parks in that area must be “free and open to the public without restriction.” While allowing camp-outs may not be the original intent of that law, it provided a stronger, more legally defensible way of staging an occupation than camping in a city park, and it saved us from immediate confrontation with police.

The first night of camping was trying. When we got on site, the ground was swampy. A rumor spread that BNY Mellon Employees had been seen hosing down the grass the night before to make the space unusable. I didn’t bring a tent with me, so I laid down a tarp and my sleeping bag and fell asleep – not beneath any visible stars, but looking up at skyscrapers crowned with glowing monikers Mellon, UPMC, Citizens Bank, ALCOA. I lay down at the feet of giants, and woke up about an hour later with the feet of a rat on my head. I jumped out of my sleeping bag and paced for most of the remaining night. The next day I got a tent.

Occupy Pittsburgh has been on the BNY Mellon green for two months now. We have a food tent, a library, a medical tent, and much more in our community. On Sunday, December 11th we have planned a day for camp reorganization, cleaning and winterization. It will be an all-day event getting the site ready for the harsh winter months ahead. This event seems to have upset BNY Mellon.

The bank, we’re told, assumed that we would go home once it got cold. Now that we’ve proven our staying power, the giant is grumbling. Word has gotten to us that BNY Mellon has been contacting city government officials and pressing for our forced removal. The last several days have been filled with emergency Occupy Pittsburgh meetings. We’re trying to learn exactly when the raid is planned. Pittsburgh’s mayor says that he wouldn’t allow for our eviction without a court order, but there’s some speculation around how long it would take BNY Mellon’s team of high-priced lawyers to have one issued. A day? Five minutes?

No matter when it comes, or what happens to the tents, you can’t tell a People’s Movement to get off of your lawn and expect it to disappear. Occupy is building strength. Its age is still measured in months and weeks, but we know that making real progress often takes years. The Civil Rights Movement lasted more than a decade, and got stronger with every step forward. Occupy will follow the same course. It may take time, but we’re ready to keep pushing ahead.

Photo by ragesoss on Flickr, via Creative Commons.

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Forget the BMW. We Want a Tiny Fraction of a Cent

by Tula Connell – Reposted from the AFL-CIO NOW Blog

Wall Street and Big Banks around the world are fighting efforts to impose a Robin Hood tax on their financial speculations. CEOs are portraying the tax—which would be around 0.5 percent on financial transactions—as if they would be robbed blind. This new video, starring no less than actor Ben Kingsley, puts the issue in perspective—and rips the mask off the boogeyman Big Banks have created.

(Congress last month introduced the Wall Street Trading and Speculators Tax that would assess a financial speculation tax of .03 percent. The European Commission is proposing .10 percent on trading in stocks and bonds.)

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Orlando Unemployed Demand Rep. Webster Vote to Extend Unemployment Insurance

By David Fernandez – Orlando, Florida

At the steps of Winter Garden City Hall, Working America member Dennis Maclaren held his 7 year-old son Aidan, choking up as he shared his struggles as a long-term unemployed graphic designer. “When I’ve applied for work over the past several years, it’s dozens of people vying for the same position,” Dennis exclaimed as he spoke the crowd of thirty community members in attendance. “I have long exhausted my unemployment insurance, but without them during these past years hunting for work, I wouldn’t have been able to afford a roof over my family’s head and food on our dinner table.” Dennis was one of many who came to Representative Dan Webster’s (R-FL) office on December 8th the national day of action to demanding Congress extend unemployment benefits for the millions without work.

The purpose of the gathering was to stand in solidarity with those who have lost their jobs during the economic recession, and to send a strong message to Rep. Webster urging him to remember all of his unemployed constituents when he votes for the extension of unemployment insurance in the coming weeks. “As a student I’ve been looking for work in my field for years now, and having to balance student loans with job hunting is an enormous burden,” said member Krist Cooper, who has been taking action with the Working America’s Unemployment Action Team. “How is unemployment extension even a debate? It’s a vital necessity for those currently without work, and first stepping into a jobless workforce.”

Outside of Rep. Webster’s office, a delegation of students, teachers, union members, religious leaders, and local city officials prayed and chanted for the passage of unemployment extension before the December 31st deadline. “If Congress does not act now, then 2 million people will lose their unemployment insurance by the month of January,” said Lorraine Tuliano, President of the Central Florida City Labor Council. “It’s time for our representatives to be accountable to their constituents and to stop playing political poker at the expense of millions of unemployed families.”

Photo of Dennis and Aden by GenuineRevolt on Flickr, via Creative Commons.

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Clocking Out: Occupying the News Edition

Occupy Wall Street is Time Magazine’s top U.S. news story of the year.

Value Proposition: 30 top corporations spent more on lobbying than they paid in taxes.

Don’t look now, but the political class is nervous about Occupy Wall Street.” A look at what’s behind the GOP talking points.

“My representative was considering not voting for unemployment insurance because he thinks there are lazy people milking the system.”

Speaking of politicians disrespecting the unemployed, here’s Maine Gov. Paul LePage.

How Obama’s speech yesterday took on “you’re on your own” economics.

“Obama has finally acknowledged that the elephant in the room is crushing us.”

Another failed attempt to jump through hoops to try and disprove the fact of inequality.

Occupy Our Homes promises the 40 homes that were the focus of yesterday’s actions are just a start.

An immensely promising direction for the movement, harnessing its DIY energy to the needs of real people.”

“What changes here isn’t the solvency of the trust fund. What changes is where the money comes from.”

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SLIDESHOW: Occupy K Street

I stopped by the Occupy K Street protests in Washington, DC and took some pictures. I wanted to rush back and share these pictures with you as soon as possible. Seriously, there is still rain in my shoes.

We’ll have more on this soon, but chances are you’ll hear about it on the news tonight.

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Occupy Our Homes: Another Front in the Fight for Economic Justice

We’re watching with interest today as Occupy Our Homes, a new national coalition, takes the message of the 99% from public parks and city squares to residential neighborhoods. They’re pushing back against the big banks, with an eye on keeping struggling homeowners in their homes.

The events taking place around the country include marches, rallies and direct nonviolent action.

It’s a natural next step for growing the reach and power of the 99% movement. It connects the concerns the Occupy protesters raise over corporate accountability and inequality with the actual on-the-ground effects of those issues. And it makes the protests relevant to communities who may not be occupying squares themselves. Most importantly, it shows a path for organizing and social action to have real-world positive effects.

(Even some not-very-sympathetic-to-Occupy conservative bloggers have suggested an effort to occupy foreclosures makes sense.)

As Sarah Seltzer notes at Alternet, this effort links the economic justice focus of the Occupy protests with an active and growing, but under-reported, movement to fix our broken housing system.

For many occupiers, the exploitative nature of the foreclosure crisis, the fact that families are losing their homes while the bankers who engineered this fateful bubble get bonuses–these were the reasons they joined in September…This day of action will only be the spark plug for what organizers hope is a coordinated but spontaneous national campaign, offering a blueprint for communities to do similar eviction resistance around the country or to coordinate between already-active movements.

Foreclosure is devastating neighborhoods even as it benefits big banks. In the communities we visit every day, foreclosures are a demoralizing reminder of ongoing failures in our economy, and the effect that they have goes beyond the family who lose their home.

The effort of the Occupy movement to fight foreclosures has great potential—enough that Bank of America is concerned, sending an internal email to staff exposing its weaknesses.

As the Occupy Our Homes rallies take place California and Nevada’s state Attorneys General are also taking a big step to advance the cause of protecting homeowners, announcing a joint investigation into foreclosure fraud and banking-industry misconduct. It’s important that the fight for economic justice take place at both the governmental level and in communities and neighborhoods.

For more, check out this map of today’s Occupy Our Homes actions and listen to the stories of people facing down foreclosure.

Photo by Taber Andrew Bain on Flickr, via Creative Commons

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Republican Spin-Monger, “So Scared” by 99 Percent Movement, Pitches Talking Points to Undermine It

This week, the Republican Governors’ Association—an organization featuring recently-elected, widely-disliked politicians like Scott Walker, John Kasich and Rick Scott—is meeting in Florida. And topping their list of things to talk about is how to blunt and undermine the momentum and power of the Occupy protests and the 99 percent movement.

Chris Moody of Yahoo News has a great story on how Frank Luntz, a top Republican strategist and corporate PR maven, advised these governors on how to push back against the growing popularity of the 99 percent movement. “I’m so scared of this anti-Wall Street effort. I’m frightened to death,” Luntz said, before launching into a set of tips on language to use to undercut them.

It’s an impressively clueless presentation. Luntz tells a room full of supporters of the 1% political agenda that, by pointing fingers, picking the right words and repackaging their tired policies as solutions to our economic problems, they can beat back the threat the Occupy protests pose to their political power.

Here’s Luntz:

“First off, here are three words for you all: ‘I get it.’ . . . ‘I get that you’re angry. I get that you’ve seen inequality. I get that you want to fix the system.”
Then, he instructed, offer Republican solutions to the problem.

The word that comes to mind immediately when Luntz offers this up is “contempt”—the contempt Luntz clearly has for the intelligence of protesters and working-class voters. These governors are slashing jobs, cutting services people depend on, privatizing state operations and limiting the right to vote, but they want to convince Occupy protesters that they “get it.” Politicians like Paul Ryan offer up solutions that would demolish the safety net, deregulate Wall Street, shift the tax burden away from the very wealthiest, undermine workers’ rights and generally increase inequality—all at the same time they want to pretend they have something to offer to those upset about economic injustice.

Luntz and his political and corporate allies are apparently uninterested in honesty and incapable of embarrassment. He’s a pitchman selling a product, and that product is the policies that led to our current economic situation.

“We can say we defend the ‘middle class’ and the public will say, I’m not sure about that,” Luntz said during his presentation. Which is fair—but rather than changing their discredited policies, Luntz advises that these politicians just change their choice of words.

(Tip for Frank Luntz: if you’re curious about what an agenda that actually supports economic justice looks like, check out 9 Demands of the 99 Percent.)

You’ll often hear politicians and pundits dismiss or disparage the 99 percent movement. But if it wasn’t working, they wouldn’t feel the need to push back against it or try and co-opt it through misleading arguments.

Just look at the strategy memo created by well-connected banking lobbyists last month to attack the Occupy protests. These lobbyists understand the danger to them and their clients posed by a movement based on economic justice, and they are looking for ways to shut it down.

The thousands of people we talk to every week about the economy and corporate accountability know better than to fall for this.

Remember, when you hear talking points like those touted by Luntz, what you’re really hearing is anxiety and desperation. It’s the anxiety and desperation of the 1 percent and their political allies, who know that a message about economic fairness resonates with voters and threatens their control over our politics and our economy.

Take these talking points for what they are—calculated falsehoods, and a cheap, transparent attempt to use real economic worries to support the same old 1% agenda.

Photo of Frank Luntz by Gage Skidmore on Flickr, via Creative Commons.

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