December 31, 2011

People's Convention of Florida: Follow Through in Sarasota

I followed the website and facebook pages awaiting a document with the final versions of proposals that reached consensus at the People's Convention of Florida. Local Florida Occupations were to vote on these proposals, and those that reached state-wide consensus would be presented to the Florida Legislature as the People's Plan. Due to meeting weekly, Occupy Sarasota had it's last opportunity to evaluate such a document today. But the document had gone AWOL. For a variety of reasons, no final document was produced. But Occupy Sarasota wanted to show support and solidarity with other local Occupations in Florida.

Since getting money out of politics is a core Occupy Movement concept, and the final consensed versions of these proposals were available, Occupy Sarasota chose to focus on these proposals with the caveat that they are incomplete. Given the severe time restrictions, consensus was easily reached on two proposals. One seeks accountability from our elected representatives. The other seeks fair and open elections free from the influence of money as well as measures to promote voter participation. The specific details may be viewed at the Occupy Sarasota website.

Participants from Florida Occupations will converge on the state capitol in Tallahassee on January 10 to deliver The People’s Plan. Several days leading up to this will be spent preparing the final plan and presentation tactics. Occupy Tallahassee is busy gathering extra tents, sleeping bags, and some meals to accommodate folks who may not be able to provide their own. They are also putting together a schedule of events, including a Radical Tea and Coffee Social, Florida musicians, a cabaret piece from the Mickee Faust Academy for the Really Dramatic Arts, and an Education Day.

December 19, 2011

People's Convention of Florida: All Work and SOME Play

Presenting ...

The Cheerleaders at the People's Convention of Florida
    Performing "Occupation: Jump On It"
    Take-off of "Jump On It" previously recorded by The Shadows, The Sugarhill Gang, Sir Mix-A-Lot, and many others

December 18, 2011

People's Convention of Florida: Political Reform Working Group

My plan for Saturday at the People's Convention was to drop in on each working group and videotape each of them in action. With imperfect timing, this proved difficult. I would hit one group mid-stride and not understand the context of a discussion. I would hit another group as they were trying to iron out their process. As a consequence, I settled in with the Electoral Reform section of the Political Reform Working Group. I was impressed with the breadth of knowledge, the level of passion, and the willingness to hammer out proposals in this Working Group. With just hours to come to agreement, the group ironed out many details of many diverse proposals.

I had hoped to capture the depth of discussion of the Electoral Reform group, but instead I captured the breadth of discussion.

Our fabulous minutes taker wrote down the ideas on which we reached consensus as demands. This was because he had to write it down in some way. To be clear, while I was there, there was no decision as whether these were demands, objectives, ideals, or something else entirely. Almost no time was spent discussing whether an item should be an amendment to the state Constitution, a bill, a non-binding resolution, or something else entirely. As you review the following list, consider that such language is inexact. Also keep in mind that these are the results of a Working Group. This set of proposals was not approved by the General Assembly.

  • VOTE: "We demand that all state elected representatives post public appearances prior to the appearance and post private meetings (including those in attendance of the meetings) on their official state website. We demand a repeal of the legislative body’s exemption to the Sunshine law."
  • VOTE: “We demand all votes to be made physically on paper ballots. These paper votes should be available for the public to see. We demand a ban on all privately controlled electronic voting practices as well. Any software used must be open-source.”
  • VOTE: “We demand a Florida state amendment to hold publicly financed election campaigns for Florida state officials”. This is directed at getting money out of politics.
  • VOTE: “We demand a Florida state amendment to institute a state holiday for labor whereby every 2 years THE OFFICIAL state/national Election Day is a holiday.” This is directed at increasing voter turnout.
  • VOTE: “We demand that those who are born in Florida are registered to vote at birth, but eligible to vote at 18”
  • VOTE: “We demand that voter registration can take place on the day of voting, at the actual voting booth. Those who are not registered before arriving at the voting facility should have the ability to register at the actual time of voting.”
  • VOTE: “We support senate bill 552 (the Ethical practices act of 2012)” This is legislation that would prohibit members of the FL legislature and their families from receiving financial gains from those companies that they are regulating.”
  • VOTE: “We demand our state legislature to pass a non-binding resolution to support the over-turning of ‘Citizen’s United vs. FEC’”
  • VOTE: “Require more transparency in lobbying registration and the way they report their contributions” *(wording inexact)

Is it time for a list of demands? Is the Occupy Movement ready for that stage? The folks in the Electoral Reform group were certainly ready to start this process. Consequently, I think now is a great time to start. However, I must also be clear that the priorites of the Movement are likely to keep changing. In fact, due to the huge number of proposals generated by all the working groups on Saturday, each working group was subsequently asked to pull together just ONE proposal for initial presentation to the General Assembly. The final proposals that reached consensus during the General Assembly of the People's Occupation of Florida have yet to be published. Once published, they will go back to the local Occupy General Assemblies to see which proposals receive consensus there.

December 15, 2011

People's Convention of Florida: Foreclosure Proposal

The People's Convention of Florida convened December 10, 2011 and on December 11 a foreclosure-related proposal was brought to the General Assembly. The following footage highlights the ensuing discussion about a state-wide moratorium on foreclosures.

The proposal was changed on the fly during the General Assembly. Here is the wording that finally received consensus:

To install a three year moratorium on the unjust practice of foreclosure to eliminate illegal seizure, based on mortgages where the bank cannot produce the original mortgage document. We oppose non-judicial foreclosures of mortgages and any further deregulation of the foreclosure process.
The proposal is currently worded differently in the People's Convention of Florida Proposals Forum, and it is unclear what the final wording will be. Each local Florida Occupy group will now have the opportunity to discuss this proposal, before a final decision is made about bringing it to the Florida Legislature.

Related Info:

  • Unfortunately, the foreclosure crisis is still in full swing. Astra Taylor reports in The Nation that approximately 6 million homes have been seized since 2007, and over the next four years an estimated 8 million more are predicted go into foreclosure.
  • A 2009 Urban Institute report, The Impacts of Foreclosures on Families and Communities, reviewed studies on crime, foreclosure, and policy.
  • Recently, activist groups around the country including the Occupy Movement moved into action on December 6, with the Occupy Our Homes campaign.
  • We, as a nation, have not yet had the debate over the legal and moral requirements assumed by bankers, governments, tenants, homeowners and lenders in a housing market with changing real estate values, or I would provide a link to the summary.

December 12, 2011

People's Convention of Florida: Decisionmaking in a Leaderless Movement

The Occupy Movement proclaims itself to be leaderless and to be engaging in direct democracy. What are the implications of such a position? This past weekend, I found out a little more about this at the state-wide Occupy meeting, the People's Convention of Florida. Folks from local Occupy groups around the state converged to develop a list of desired changes to be delivered directly to the State Capitol in Tallahassee on January 10, 2012, the first day of the Florida legislative session,.

Right off the bat, there were differences of opinion concerning process and goals. For example, what would be the goals of Sunday's General Assembly? We spent all day Saturday in small working groups identifying sets of issues that we wished to take to the legislature. Some came up with a list of demands. Others a set of expectations. Were we looking for overarching themes or smaller items that legislators could immediately act upon. On Sunday, before the working groups presented back to the General Assembly, individuals presented their views on the objectives of Sunday's deliberations. At any other convention, this would have been announced ahead of time. But without a leader, the group had to spend time on this. We were treated to articulate and well-conceived insights. Acknowledgement of practical realities mingled with idealism. Thankfully there was a time-keeper or we might never have emerged from this preliminary discussion -

For many of us inculcated in the heirarchical world of our places of employment, customer call centers, school boards, local governments, boards of directors, supermarkets, political parties, and just about any large organization that we interact with on a daily basis, a leaderless movement is unfathomable. When we think of previous non-violent change movements, great leaders come to mind: Mohandas Ghandi, Martin Luther King Jr, and Nelson Mandela. But consider the feminist movement of the 1960s. Consciousness raising groups formed the backbone of this movement. Small, independent, groups of women met to share their individual experience as women, and they shaped the newly forming feminist ideologies. In these groups, what had previously been considered personal failings were suddenly exposed as systemic oppression.

In much the same way as 1960s consciousness raising provided an alternate model for analysis, the Occupy Movement is currently providing an alternate model for decision-making. In Washington D.C., politicians have created and are maintaining gridlock. When our politicians are able to get the legislative traffic moving, many times, it moves against the citizenry. Our representatives do not represent we-the-people, rather they represent large corporate interests. In stark contrast, at most Occupy General Assemblies, anybody can bring up a proposal for consideration. And then Occupiers work to achieve consensus. If we start from the belief that everybody has a valuable veiwpoint, and we tweak a proposal so that everybody can support it, then decisions will benefit everybody. Consensus is a valuable method to arrive at solutions that work for the majority, the minority, and the extremes. As such, it models an alternative to the partisan obstinacy in evidence at many levels of government.

Is direct democracy through consensus the solution to our policital impasses? I think not. It is extraordinarily inefficient and time-consuming. It can also be easily sabotaged by a single person. Because, if consensus is the goal, it only takes one person to block that goal. Consequently each Florida Occupy location has adopted its own processes to address these problems. This past weekend, when the various local Occupy groups met in Orlando, they each came with their own set of procedures, slightly different hand signals, and established working relationships. For example, Occupy Gainesville uses pure consensus. Occupy Orlando makes decisions with a minimum of 90% agreement. Occupy Sarasota has yet to clearly define its process. Probably due to the fact that Occupy Orlando hosted the event, everyone eventually agreed to follow their process.

Although the People's Convention used the Occupy Orlando process, Occupy Orlando did not run the show. Moderators, stack-takers, and minutes-takers stepped up from all over the state. And when someone grew weary in their role, they asked for a replacement before stepping down from that role. So rather than calling the Occupy Movement a leaderless movement, I would describe it as a movement that is empowering many new leaders. Everybody's voice is important. Anybody can volunteer to facilitate. Having a single spokesperson or a charismatic leader makes a movement more vulnerable. Opponents can discredit, arrest or kill one person and bring the movement to its knees. But when there are many leaders and everybody speaks for themselves, a certain resiliency is possible.

Resiliency is what I saw this past weekend. I saw a laboratory for participatory democracy. I saw an extremely slow process. I saw leadership training going on in every corner. I saw people with expertise in one area educate those around them, repeatedly. I saw folks with differing concerns and solutions come together and have meaningful discourse. Americans are watching as our nation's infrastructure crumbles, our middle class evaporates, and our safety nets dissolve due to a mindset of competitive partisanship. The Occupy Movement does not suffer from such a mindset and is modeling an alternative.

Curious about what decisions were made at the People's Convention? Stay tuned for future posts.

December 6, 2011

Would Benches in Five Points Park Be Good for Homeless Residents?

In a prior post, I reported that last Spring,

"The City of Sarasota removed the benches from Five Points Park so that homeless people who gathered there would have no place to sit! Evidently, condo owners with views overlooking the park felt their safety and property values were under siege. Never mind that nobody was violating any laws. Never mind that many other city residents enjoyed the benches."
This didn't sit well with Occupy Sarasota. So, several weeks ago, Occupy Sarasota decided by consensus to back a petition to bring back benches to Five Points Park.

One Occupier reached out to Reverend Tom Pfaff, Sarasota Goodwill Chaplain. As a result, Reverend Pfaff and several other homeless advocates came to address the Occupy Sarasota General Assembly last Saturday. Revered Pfaff brought with him Sarasota Police Chief Paul Sutton, who is also on the Board of the Salvation Army, Cathy Hart, who runs the shelter services at the Salvation Army, as well as homeless and previously homeless members of the community. The intense dedication of these advocates shone through, when they spoke.

We were treated to their views as to why it was in everybody's best interest to keep park benches out of the Park. To summarize, when there were park benches in Five Points Park, crime was up and donations to the Salvation Army were down. Nobody provided any statistics to back these assertions up, but they certainly brought many years of experience helping this population. Their thrust was that anyone who was homeless and needed help was best served at Resurrection House, the Salvation Army, and area churches rather than hanging out at benches in Five Points Park. And, if Occupy Sarasota wished to be part of the solution, they should come down to volunteer and/or donate canned food to these organizations. Here are some excerpts from the views presented and the ensuing question and answer session.

Another focus of the speakers was the phenomenal job Sarasota is doing to help homeless members of the community as well as those with substance abuse problems. This runs counter to Sarasota having earned the distinction of "Meanest City in the U.S. For Homeless People" about five years ago. As intractable as the homeless problem seems, there are many successful strategies being employed in Sarasota.

I'm sure there will be further discussion as to how Occupy Sarasota will proceed with the benches issue. The speakers swayed some attendees to the idea of keeping benches out of the Park. Others felt that this is not just a homeless issue; the benches are for everybody's use and removing them goes against the common good. Captain Sutton did clarify one important point. Anyone is free to bring chairs down to Five Points Park for their own use. This would apply to the Occupy Sarasota weekly rally. After the General Assembly, various Occupiers trotted out five chairs for use by the knitting circle.

December 3, 2011

Occupy Sarasota Knitting Circle

Occupiers in outdoor encampments in the colder parts of the U.S. are hunkering down for winter. In support of their sacrifice, Rosemary decided to knit hats for them. Over the last few weeks, Rosemary knitted 10 hats using a pattern she found on the Knitters for Occupy Boston page. Her son has been active with Occupy New Haven and will be delivering those hats to either New Haven Occupiers or homeless folks in need.

Following Occupy Sarasota's General Assembly, several intrepid souls waded into the world of knitting. Three people who had never knitted before each decided to knit a scarf. Picasso's Moon Yarn Shop donated yarn. Leslie brought some knitting needles. And Rosemary provided the instruction.

Everybody plans to do some knitting over the next two weeks and reconvene with their creations.

December 2, 2011

The Federal Reserve: Part 1, Secret Loans

Those who have been yelling "End The Fed" for years would call the Federal Reserve a scam. Several days ago, Bloomberg Markets magazine published data showing that the Federal Reserve provided cover for the dire straits of the nation's largest financial institutions during the 2008 financial crisis. And today's news headlines would lead a casual reader to believe that the Federal Reserve is the Central Bank of the United States. Perhaps it's fair to call it a little of each - scam, cover-up, and Central Bank.

Five days ago, reported that back in 2008/2009, unbeknownst to Congress, the Federal Reserve committed the largest bailout in U.S. history. A bailout to the tune of $7.7 trillion. That dwarfs the Congressionally approved TARP bailout of $700 billion. Not only did they do this in secret, but the Federal Reserve kept this secret as Congress debated banking regulation in 2010. In 2010, there was an unsuccessful effort to curtail the size of banks, to eliminate the downside of having banks that are too big to fail. There was also a successful effort to improve accountability and transparency of the financial industry. Bankers lobbied heavily against these regulations. And they did not inform lawmakers of the $7.7 trillion needed in 2008 to assure that the nation's largest banks did not collapse. Only with documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act and after a victory in court, did the Federal Reserve release the details of its secret funding to Bloomberg.

Remarkably, the Bloomberg estimates are lower than those reported back in July. In July of 2010, an amendment to the 2010 Wall Street reform law instucted the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to audit the Federal Reserve. One year later, Bernie Sanders summarized, "As a result of this audit, we now know that the Federal Reserve provided more than $16 trillion in total financial assistance to some of the largest financial institutions and corporations in the United States and throughout the world." Whether it's $7.7 trillion or $16 trillion, both are equally distasteful, and for the same reasons.

According to the Bloomberg report, two top borrowers from the Federal Reserve were Citigroup with $99.5 billion by January 2009 and Bank of America borrowing $91.4 billion by February 2009. The Treasury Department relied on the recommendations of the Federal Reserve to decide which banks were healthy enough to get TARP money. The TARP bailout funds were only to be provided to healthy banks. Both Citgroup and Bank of America received $45 billion in TARP loans. Based on their federal loans, both banks made tidy profits. According to the Bloomberg report, Citigroup made $1.8 billion and Bank of America made $1.5 billion.

This is not just a case of a couple of big banks. The list of banks who received Federal Reserve loans is long. The amounts they borrowed are staggering. And it was all done behind the scenes, without the knowledge of Congressional lawmakers. To be clear, almost all the loans were repaid. But this does not compensate for the duplicity of banks who took billions in emergency loans, and at the same time told the world that they were financially healthy. It does not counteract the fact that those banks that were too big to fail back in 2008, and thus had to be bailed out at taxpayer expense, are now bigger than they were. And it does nothing to mitigate the (Bloomberg) estimated $13 billion of income they made by taking advantage of the below-market rates they received on these loans.

Champions of the Federal Reserve would argue they didn't lose any money, so no harm, no foul. But I think most people, economists and non-economists, would agree that we are totally unprepared for another banking crisis. And, this is due in part to the Federal Reserve's secret trillions in loans. Loans that came with no strings attached. Loans that provided a safety net for bankers who took greater and greater risks. If financial institutions believe that the Federal Reserve won't let them go under, they will continue taking oversize risks and paying themselves handsome bonuses to do so. This is what gets the Occupy Movement so riled up. The United States has a financial system where bank executives can take huge risks, adversely impact the economy, rely on Congress and the Federal Reserve for emergency loans, and walk away with billions in compensation. And evidently all of this is perfectly legal.

Unfortunately, the media has yet to really pick up and run with this story. This morning I typed "Federal Reserve" into Google News search and was somewhat startled by the number and order of automatically generated categories:

  • 4,399 articles about the Fed and the Euro
  • 2 articles concerning the Fed and the stimulus
  • 618 articles about the The Fed and the stock market
  • 2 articles about The Fed and the economy in the Southeast
  • 360 articles about the Federal Reserve Beige Book
  • a CNBC transcript
  • 29 articles about the Fed and the deficit
  • GETTING CLOSER ... 313 articles about new scrutiny of the Fed
  • FINALLY ... 10 articles about secret Fed loans
It was hard to find news about the Federal Reserve secret loans, even when I was looking for it. Nonetheless, I am hopeful that regulators will pick up on it. Already, probably due to the diligence of the Bloomberg report, The Hill reports that Representative Elijah Cummings (D-Md), who is on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee sent a letter requesting the Committe look into the Federal Reserve's secret role in the 2008 bailouts. Go get 'em!

November 30, 2011

What do the Occupiers Want?

People are still asking me several times a week, "Exactly what is Occupy Wall Street protesting?" This video is one response.

But a much larger number of folks want to know what the Occupiers want. Do they want to replace capitalism with socialism? Some do. But, I think it would be better to tweek and reinvent capitalism so that it will help people rather than hurting them. Over the last 30 years, the richest amongst us have orchestrated the greatest redistribution of wealth this country has ever experienced. Do we need Robin Hood to take back from the wealthiest (the 1%) and redistribute to the rest (the 99%). Some think so. But, I'd rather remodel the system so that everyone can thrive. I could go on, but what I think is perhaps not so important.

And it's probably not so important that we all agree on everything or that we have one single demand. Some pieces of the solution have overwhelming support already, and, thus, may be easier to achieve. For example, almost everybody is dismayed by the Citizens United Supreme Court ruling. It doesn't matter what the Occupiers want, because you and I can immediately pitch in by supporting efforts to amend the Constitution, by signing a petition, getting involved locally, or joining the growing number of groups to get a local ballot initiative passed.

But from my perspective, creating regulations, providing incentives, and passing laws to safeguard the common good, to promote fairness, and to create more opportunity in our economy is hard. And, it's complicated. So, what we need to do is to get everybody moving on this. The folks down at the Occupation encampments can talk to each other, passers-by, and the police who are watching them. We can all talk to our neighbors and our family members and educate each other.

There are many opportunities for action within your spheres of influence. Do you order office supplies for your company? Consider buying from a small locally-owned store. Do you have a large Facebook following? Post videos to Facebook about the issues that you feel promote economic justice. Do you prepare the food you eat? You might not be able to end the government largesse toward large, environmentally-destructive Agribusiness in the next Farm Bill, but you may be able grow your own food organically or buy from local farmers. If you happen to have a high level job with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), make sure that large financial institutions that repeatedly commit fraud against investors are served up large punishments. Are you a research scientist? You can make sure that your research results are not co-opted by your funders. If you're eligible, get out and vote, especially if there is a candidate who will represent We-The-People. Do you have a lot of friends who watch Fox News and buy into the disinformation spread there? Ask them to consider another news source and explain why. They are your friends; they might listen.

Perhaps the Occupy Movement will get organized. Perhaps they will come up with a grand plan or even a single demand. But if that does not happen, Occupy Wall Street has engaged us in conversation. We can keep the conversation going. This is a teachable moment for all of us. An extremely teachable moment. And we can all help propel it to the next level. It is not a question of what the Occupiers want. Make your contribution. Now. And tomorrow. And then again, the next day.

November 26, 2011

Black Friday Range of Protests

Yesterday was Black Friday, when everybody is supposed to run to the store and buy Christmas presents. Since many of us have the day off, retailers often lure us into their stores with promotions and odd opening times. This year, the hours were even odder with Black Friday actually starting on Thursday for many of the largest retailers.

Two women from Occupy Sarasota wanted to protest that Walmart made their employees work on Thansgiving, a day they feel most employees want to spend celebrating with their family. Jeff Fox asks them to tell their story:

These two women took a stand, engaged shoppers on the issue, acted non-violently, and were told by Walmart security that if they did not leave they would be arrested.

Businesses since time immemorial have asked their employees to work when they don't want to. Certainly I would prefer it, if we could individually pick our work hours, but in many instances that would not work out too well. So, it's hard for me to rile up much indignation on this issue. And, in this case, where there is demand from consumers, who come out in droves during these supposed precious family occasions, I feel even less indignation. This is part of the beauty of the leaderless Occupy Movement. Each of us has the power to be a leader and act on those things important to us. Pilar and Leslie did just that and I commend them.

And there is a louder truth at play here. In the name of buying things, many times pointlessly buying things and buying pointless things, our society and our law enforcement turn a blind eye to injustices and illegalities. It's okay to pitch tents on the sidewalk, if you're waiting to buy consumer goods, but it's not okay to pitch tents on the sidewalk if you are part of Occupy Tampa and wish to speak out against income inequality and the corporate takeover of our democracy. Such distinctions have their roots in the outsized power captured by large corporate interests and are under intense scrutiny by the Occupy Movement.

In the wee hours of the morning, yesterday in Tampa, a larger protest organized around the buy-local ethic. During mic-check disruptions, Occupy Tampa repeats

...When you spend your dollar at a big chain store, only $.13 stays in the local economy. When you spend your dollar at a local, independent business, $.45 stays in the local economy...
Occupy Tampa held mic-check disruptions inside Walmart and Target stores and outside a Best Buy store.

Now this is an issue I can get behind. Think local first and buy local when you can. Why?

  • When you buy from an independent, locally owned business, rather than nationally owned chains, more of your dollars percolate through local businesses, thus strengthening your community's economy.
  • Supporting local businesses helps preserve the unique character of your community.
  • The closer you shop to home, the less time, money, and energy you spend driving. You then contribute less to sprawl, congestion, habitat loss, and pollution. (Or better yet, ride your bike and shop within bicycle distance)
  • Small local businesses create two out of every three new jobs.
  • There are additional reasons to buy and eat local food: keeps us in touch with our food seasons, protects us from bioterrorism, gives us more variety, tastier food, and fresher food

The Occupy Movement did not respond uniformly to Black Friday shopping. Due to differences of opinion, Occupy Sarasota did not come to a consensus on a response. Nonetheless, individuals acted individually and in small groups. Occupy Tampa staged mic-check disruptions. Other Occupy groups chose to condemn shopping itself and put their support behind Buy Nothing Day. This is the somewhat messy face of a grassroots movement. It represents a larger sharing of information, individual engagement around the issues, and newly self-empowered folks speaking out.

Sources: Occupy News, Open Letter News, Part 1, Open Letter News, Part 2, Occupy News, Occupy Marines, Big-Box Economic Impact Studies

November 25, 2011

Song, Collage, Film: Cultural Snaps from the Occupy Movement

There have been some fabulous cultural takes on the Occupy Movement. Today I came across a music video, occupying the song, "I Will Survive". The visuals are directed toward the police response to various Occupations, which to my mind is not where I want to direct most of my attention. However the voice is gorgeous.

I love the "We Are The 99%" tumblr archive page. It personally and beautifully documents the stories of many individuals. Each person shares their face and a written page on an everchanging mosaic. You can scroll back in time; you can zoom in on what interests you; you can comment on anything and everything. It is a wall of despair.

With all the video being generated by citizens on the ground, Occupy Wall Street documentaries are bound to follow. I had the privilege of seeing a pre-release of the Kevin Breslin film, #WhileWeWatch, and I enjoyed the prominent role played by citizen-journalists within Occupy Wall Street. The trailer makes a strong statement.

November 22, 2011

A Cornucopia of Constitutional Amendments

No sooner did I write about Jim McGovern's End Corporate Personhood Amendment, then another Congressperson introduced the OCCUPIED Amendment. Florida Representative Ted Deutch brings us the OCCUPIED Amendment in direct response to the Occupy Movement's grievances.

Here is a bit of history with respect to the Congressional response to the Supreme Court ruling in the Citizen's United case. On February 2, 2010, just days after the ruling, Maryland Representative Donna Edwards put forward a simple constitutional amendment to regulate the expenditure of funds that the Citizen's United case had just legalized. Michigan Representative John Conyers was a co-sponsor.

Section 1. The sovereign right of the people to govern being essential to a free democracy, Congress and the States may regulate the expenditure of funds for political speech by any corporation, limited liability company, or other corporate entity.
Section 2. Nothing contained in this Article shall be construed to abridge the freedom of the press.
The simplicity of this amendment is appealing. Although it makes clear that corporations do not have the same free speech rights as individuals, it leaves untouched the offensive notion that corporations are people and thus might have other rights that people have. This bill was reintroduced in October of 2011.

On April 5, voters in Madison, Wisconsin and Dane County, Wisconsin passed a symbolic, non-binding measure calling for an amendment to the U.S. Consitution to make clear that corporations do not have constitutional rights and that political contributions may be regulated. On November 1, Boulder, Colorado passed an identical measure. Missoula, Montana voted identically one week later. These symbolic measures didn't just pass by a narrow margin. They passed 3 to 1. Evidently the primary reason it wasn't more of a landslide was due to concerns about adverse impacts on non-profits and unions.

During the first half of November, Ohio Representative Betty Sutton and New Mexico Senator Tom Udall introduced companion bills sponsoring another campaign finance amendment. These bills look almost the same as the one put forward by Representative Edwards. They all aim to give Congress and the States clear authority to regulate the campaign finance system. This bill does have a lot more cosponsors.

On November 16, Massachuesetts Representative Jim McGovern introduced an amendment to remove constitutional rights from corporations, LLCs, and other corporate entities. It does not speak directly to campaign spending, but it limits spending indirectly, since corporations would no longer have the right to free speech, which the recent Supreme Court rulings defined as including unlimited campaign contributions.

On November 18, Florida Representative Ted Deutch introduced the OCCUPIED amendment that both ends corporate personhood and prohibits corporate campaign contributions. There is also more language to avoid unintended consequences. Representative Deutch explains his amendment in common terms on his website and I embellish a bit.

Section 1. (Corporations are not people) This section expressly declares that the rights protected by the Constitution are those of natural persons and not of for-profit institutions. [I believe this is worded so as to protect some of the rights of public interest non-profits]
Section 2. (Corporations can be regulated by people) This section makes clear that as corporations are established by law, they are therefore able to be regulated by laws enacted by the people.
Section 3. (Corporate prohibition in electioneering) This would immeiately prohibit such corporations from using money or other resources to influence voting on candidates or ballot measures anywhere in the U.S. and at all levels - federal, state, and local.
Section 4. (Allowing for regulation of all electioneering, including individual and of other entities) This section gives Congress and the States power to regulate ALL election contributions and expenditures, including those rich enough to pay for their own campaigns. This is power Congress already has, but is under siege.
This amendment is far more detailed and nuanced than the previous ones. To my non-lawyerly eyes, it looks to be the best of the bunch. The full name is Outlawing Corporate Cash Undermining the Public Interest in our Elections and Democracy, whose acronym is OCCUPIED. As it stands, the OCCUPIED amendment has a long and treacherous road to travel. In order for a constitutional amendment to become law, it must pass with a two-thirds majority in both the House and Senate and then be ratified by three-quarters of the states. The road is treacherous, because the corporate Super Pacs are already super-financed; they are probably already mapping out their attack strategies.

November 21, 2011

Super Committee Super Vigil

From my vantage point, the Occupy Movement seems largely secular. However, there are religious groups that do work in the same political sphere. Historically, religious forces in the U.S. have tugged at our national conscience to end slavery, reduce poverty, and fight for civil rights. More recently, the Faithful Budget Campaign formed an interfaith organization from Christian, Muslim and Jewish communities. They sent a letter to members of the Congressional Super Committee requesting that programs serving the impoverished, hungry, homeless, disabled and elderly be exempted from budget cuts.

Yesterday, just hours after Republican and Democratic aides confirmed to CNN that the Congressional Debt Super Committee will probably fail to reach agreement, a national prayer vigil was held in Lafayette Park near the White House. Similar vigils were scheduled around the country. One was held in Sarasota outside the Federal Building downtown.

Local faith leaders spoke, including Reverend Albert L. Phillips of New Bethel Baptist Church in Sarasota, Rick Stein, President of the Sarasota Congregation for Humanistic Judaism, Reverend Roger Fritts of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Sarasota, Lee Breyer, retired Catholic priest, and Reverend Brock Leach, Vice President at the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee. A common theme was that we are all called to protect the vulnerable and promote the dignity of all individuals -

November 20, 2011

Occupy Sarasota GA Discusses Participation in People's Convention of Florida

A couple of week's ago, Occupy Orlando announced its intention to hold a People's Convention of Florida with delegates from Occupations around the state. In keeping with the inclusivity and direct democracy of the Occupy Movement, members of the general public are also invited to participate. Occupy Sarasota reached consensus and decided to send a delegate. At yesterday's General Assembly, many topics were suggested to put forward at the Convention. One topic bandied about was the creation of a new political party. Individuals in the group were of different opinions on the subject.

November 19, 2011

OWS Conversation Possibly Influencing New Bills in Congress

"When CEOs are making more in ten minutes than the average worker earns in a year, and millions of families lose their homes due to unscrupulous lending, checked neither by a sense of corporate ethics or a vigilant government; when the dream of entering the middle class and staying there is fading for young people in our community, we have more work to do."
This could be a quote coming directly from the Occupy Movement. But in fact, Barack Obama made these statements when addressing the 99th NAACP Convention on July 12, 2008. In a huge disappointment for many of those who voted for him, President Obama has made no significant progress on these issues. So little has improved that a national conversation has emerged in the form of non-stop, coast to coast protest encampments.

I have been looking for signs that the discussion in the streets is impacting the discussion in political campaigns, or better yet, newly proposed legislation. I have found a few glimmers of hope.

In October, Elizabeth Warren entered the race for Massachusetts Senator. She reminded us all that “there’s nobody in this country who got rich on his own."

On November 14, Oklahoma Senator Tom Coburn released a 37 page report titled "Subsidies of the Rich and Famous". In this report he uses the language of Occupy Wall Street, noting that "the income of the wealthiest 1% has risen dramatically over the last decade." He goes on to decry the federal government largess that "lavishes these millionaires with billions of dollars in giveaways and tax breaks."

On November 15, Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown filed the "Stop Trading on Congressional Knowledge" bill, which would make it illegal for elected lawmakers and their staffs to use privileged inside government information in making personal investment decisions. Could it be that incumbent Scott Brown, who is running against Elizabeth Warren for Senate, is running scared? Does Elizabeth Warren and her support of Occupy Wall Street have him worried enough that he is suddenly standing up for consumer/investor protections? But it is not just Scott Brown. This bill has languished for years, and suddenly, there is one version in the House with two sponsors and two similar versions in the Senate.

On November 16, the House Financial Services Committee voted 52 to 4 to suspend current and future bonuses paid to executives at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Top earners at Fannie and Freddie had pay packages worth nearly $100 million in the period since the 2008 federal government bailout. The Senate is expected to consider similar legislation soon.

Also on November 16, in a much broader reach, Representative Jim McGovern introduced the 28th amendment, to put an end to the ridiculous nonsense that corporations are people. The People’s Rights Amendment goes beyond the scope of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision. It puts a stake through the heart of corporate rights, rights which have been used by large corporations to evade public interest laws for decades. UPDATE 11/22/2011: A new OCCUPIED Amendment has now been introduced. More details on these amendments here.

This feels like an avalanche of good intentions. The OWS dialog now has echoes in Congress. You can help turn these intentions into law by calling your U.S. representatives and telling them of your support. You can also sign Jim McGover's petition to end corporate personhood. Then invite your friends and family to do the same.

November 15, 2011

Zuccotti Park Protesters Evicted During Media Blackout

In a previous post, I looked at citizen journalism and commented on what appeared to be censorship following the first Occupy Oakland eviction. At about 1am this morning, the police evicted Occupy Wall Street from Zuccotti Park in a surprise raid, using similar tactics.

Credentialed reporter after credentialed reporter tweeted about being barred from the scene, roughed up, or arrested. About an hour into it, Hunter Walker of the New York Observer tweeted that the New York Police Department was blocking press access to the immediate area. News blog from the Guardian reports that a number of journalists were arrested - Julie Walker with national Public Radio, Matthew Lysiak with the New York Daily News, and Karen Matthews with the Associated Press. And to tie a bow on it, Anthony De Rosa from Reuters tweeted that the NYPD told CBS News to remove their helicopter from Zuccotti Park airspace.

Media freedom is convenient when there is no dissent. When there is dissent, this freedom may be suspended. Occupier first amendment rights are reasonable, when they are out of sight and out of earshot. When Occupying in a public place, these rights may be curbed.

For health and safety reasons.

New York City Mayor Bloomberg cites health and safety concerns as the reason for eviction. Noise was kept down, crime was not up, the park was continually cleaned, and traffic flowed smoothly. What health and safety issues? Need I comment on the health and safety threats of police batons and pepper spray? Update: A New York State Supreme Court judge had the final say today. Although New Yorkers have the right to protest and assemble, this does not necessarily include the right to occupy a public area full time or to bring in tents and equipment. Rick Ellis writes for the Examiner that the FBI may be advising local governments concerning how to handle the press.

November 14, 2011

Protesters Outside Mitt Romney Fundraiser

The Awake The State Movement and Planned Parenthood called on a few supporters to protest at a Mitt Romney fundraiser in the Lido Shores neighborhood this evening. Mitt Romney said that he would have voted for the Mississippi personhood amendment had he lived there. That brought out the Planned Parenthood signs. But underneath the interest in women's health care simmers a broad discontent, the same discontent that is feeding the Occupy Movement. Just prior to the Iowa straw poll, Mitt Romney stated with some condescension that "Corporations are people, my friend ... of course they are". Most people see right through this bit of nonsense; they know that corporations come into existence as pieces of paper, documented by state governments. And most people feel corporations are not people and should not be treated as if they were.

About fifteen real people attended tonight's protest, and many of them were quite happy to share their displeasure with Mitt Romney, the corporatist sentiments that he espouses, and the resounding government inaction to the problems confronting the United States -

November 11, 2011

Occupy Sarasota Gathers for Veterans Day

For Veterans Day, a small Occupy Sarasota gathering assembled in Five Points Park. One member requested that we meditate together for the Most Epic Wish. For several minutes at 11:11 on 11-11-11, we closed our eyes and wished our deepest wish. Some of us shared our thoughts afterwards.

November 10, 2011

Occupation Around the Nation

OWS Occupiers have started a two week pilgrimage from Liberty Plaza in New York City to Washington DC. They plan to arrive in DC in time for the Super Committe deadline to reduce the federal deficit. Along the way, anyone can join in this soon-to-be-historic walk. And they are hoping that more folks in rural communities will get involved. This is the geographic enactment of the corporate buyout of the federal government - a walk that connects Wall Street and Washington DC.

Senate candidate Elizabeth Warren doesn't back down. Is it fair to link Elizabeth Warren with Occupy Wall Street? She says it's fair to say that she's been protesting Wall Street for years and years. She is not running and hiding from Karl Rove's Crossroads GPS group television ads. Bravo!

An incomplete list of recent and upcoming evictions include Occupy Portland, Occupy Detroit, Occupy St. Louis, and Occupy Norfolk.

The International City/County Management Association (ICMA) polled local governments to monitor their sentiments vis-a-vis the Occupy Movement. Out of 4,100 local governments, 376 responded. The resulting report shows a range of reactions on a range of subjects. One chart shows how concerned local government managers are regarding health, safety, and property issues. Media portrayals to the contrary, most are not concerned.

I still don't see any official numbers out concerning bank transfers that occurred on Bank Transfer Day. But here is some anecdotal evidence of the response.

November 8, 2011

Targeted Voter Suppression

The Florida legislative session ending April 30 was crammed with attempts to curtail civil rights. I knew about these efforts as soon as they were introduced, because I was on the receiving end of email alerts from the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida. As a result of the 2011 legislative session, Florida is now one step closer to government funding of religion. The voters will have a chance to weigh in on this one. There were a total of eighteen separate bills filed to limit, discourage, or outlaw reproductive freedom, most of which did not pass. Many new restrictions on voting did pass. A Senate proposal criminalized a doctor asking a patient if they had a gun at home; it would have come with a $1 million fine. Thankfully this was scaled back. You get the picture. The ACLU provides a more detailed report.

Which of these issues might be of interest to the Occupy Movement? Here's a hint. In Florida, it is now harder to register to vote, harder to vote, and harder to have your vote counted. There are new restrictions on vote monitoring and election auditing. To be more specific, new Florida legislation reduces the number of days for early voting from fourteen to eight. Registering people to vote now comes with such a large fine for minor infractions that the League of Women Voters abandoned their 72 year tradition of voter registration drives in Florida. This comes on top of existing photo identification requirements. I worked as a precinct clerk at the polls through several election cycles. An out-of-state driver's license could not be used as a valid photo id; sorry out-of-state college students, we don't want you voting here. The list goes on.

Just this evening, I received a newsletter from my U.S. Senator, Bill Nelson, letting me know that "Many believe a handful of super-rich conservative activists are behind an orchestrated effort to keep millions of seniors, younger voters and minorities from casting ballots next year." Thank you Senator Nelson for not being fooled into thinking this is about clean elections. As it turns out, laws similar to those passed in Florida were also passed in many other states. According to Robert Greenwald and Brave New Foundation, this is part of a larger coordinated effort by the Koch Brothers and

the American Legislative Exchange Council, also known as ALEC. ALEC is a corporate sponsored group that lets large corporations help write legislation that is then provided to state legislators across the country. This power dynamic is exactly where the Occupy Movement is focusing its high beams. If you want to take action against voter suppression laws, sign this petition to Attorney General Eric Holder.

Sources: ACLU of Florida, Senator Bill Nelson's, Alec Watch

November 7, 2011

Spotlight Occupy

There have been oodles of news reports from Occupations across the nation. From the smallest hamlet to the largest cosmopolitan venues, protesters have taken up residence in public spaces to let their grievances be known and to look for solutions. Local government response has been decidedly variable. Both citizen media and mainstream media have focused the majority of their attention on hostility, destruction and violence. However there is more under the hood.

Some municipalities have responded positively. For instance, the powers that be in Miami, Florida have given Occupy Miami a permit to use the park by the Government Center rail station indefinitely. Occupy Miami calls their encampment Peace City. Open Letter News reports stories of local police bringing pizzas and a few even staying overnight in the camp. With a strong geographic foothold, they have set a goal of 99 actions in 99 places. So far I have been able to track down these actions: "Hip Hop & Rock Jam", "March on the Financial District", "Miami's 99% Take on Bank of America March", "Teach-In on U.S. War Policy and Profiteering", and an "Occupalooza" Concert.

I haven't seen any numbers reported concerning account closures and openings as a result of Bank Transfer Day. But, a dedicated community group in San Jose, California, decided to take it to the next level. They approached the City Council to have them steer their funds away from banks with a poor record of modifying loans to stop preventable foreclosures. On October 25, they announced that the City of San Jose had diverted nearly $1 billion from Bank of America over the last year.
This action predated Occupy Wall Street. As did the call for Bank Transfer Day. However, it is a wonderful example of the power we have within our local communities. It is also an innovative approach that delivers a strong punch. It is very much like Occupy Wall Street.

Many of the local Occupations must raise their own money, hire lawyers, make their own meals, make their own media, and handle internal security while trying to model an ideal society. In many locales, they are accomplishing this despite agents provocateurs, police harassment, and bad weather. Last week in New York City, the Fire and Police Departments confiscated Occupy Wall Street's generators, due to safety violations. Amazingly, within 48 hours, volunteers pedaling bicycles equipped with generators were providing electricity to the encampment. Their pedaling produces some of the electricity needed for their communications equipment, cell phones, lighting, and kitchen. Update November 8:The Atlantic Wire reports that the New York Fire Department gave the generators back last week because they had no basis to confiscate them. May the Occupiers continue to pedal for their environmentally friendly electricity.
Another great project is a greywater system, which filters dirty water from the kitchen through wood chips and other materials. The resulting water benefits the plants in Zuccotti Park. A Sustainability Group has recently been formalized. It is looking into addressing winter's cold weather by developing non-toxic, reusable, homemade heat packs.

As I hear about these innovations, I wonder why I haven't put together my own bicycle generator yet. Time to quick step my pedaling!

Sources: Open Letter News, PICO National Network, Campus Progress, Inhabitat New York City, Atlantic Wire

November 5, 2011

Sarasota Bank Transfer Day

The big banks thought they would start charging customers to use their debit cards. Wells Fargo and Chase were testing out a $3 monthly fee. SunTrust was charging $5. Bank of America was planning a $5 fee. Stephen Troutner from Citibank said “We have talked to customers and they have made it abundantly clear that ‘if you charge me to use my debit card, I would find that very irritating'". Mr. Troutner was right.

Customers were so irritated with this new wave of fees that many of them voted with their feet. For the month since September 29, when Bank of America made their announcement, over 650,000 joined a credit union. That's 50,000 more than joined in ALL of 2010. By November 1, all of the big banks had scrapped these planned fees. I thought this might put a crimp in plans for today's Bank Transfer Day. It did not. The same issues are still in play.

This morning following a General Assembly, Occupy Sarasota held a march around downtown. Most Sarasota downtown banks were closed today, so it comes as no surprise that nobody in the group chose to close their bank account today. For my part, I closed my Bank of America account yesterday. As we marched, I spoke with several protesters and bystanders to find out where they did their banking. Here are the answers in the order in which I received them:

  • no bank, uses money orders when necessary
  • Bank of the Ozarks (who knew there was a branch in Bradenton, FL),
  • will be switching to Gateway Bank of Southwest Florida,
  • BB&T (one of the banks that received bailout funds),
  • Ukrainian Federal Credit Union (internet banking),
  • as of today, will switch out of Bank of America, but not sure where
  • no bank, uses cash
The marchers made it back to Five Points for a discussion of possible future directions for Occupy Sarasota. Unfortunately, I had to leave early and cannot report on whether any decisions were made.

Sources: New York Times, Credit Union National Associaiton Press Release

November 3, 2011

Bank Customer Mishaps

This Saturday is Bank Transfer Day. I have detailed why this is a great idea and how you can participate. At this point, many folks have already closed their bank accounts with little fanfare. But a few have had trouble and uploaded videotapes documenting their problems. Watch what happened so that you can plan your bank transfer accordingly.

On October 7, two women in Santa Cruz attempted to close their Bank of America accounts. The manager said that they could not be protesters and customers at the same time. She refused to close their accounts.

A group in New York City held a Citibank account close-out on October 15. There were some reports via social media outlets that Citibank was having customers arrested for closing their bank accounts. It turns out, they were arrested for trespassing. That is to say, they would not leave the premises when asked. That was probably true. But what caused a heated outcry was that once the protesters did try to leave, the bank folks would not let them! They physically barred the way, until the police arrived. I suppose you could call that a counter-protest. Video shot from outside the bank. Video shot from inside the bank. Speakout/Protest inside the bank.

November 2, 2011

Saturday is Bank Transfer Day

This Saturday, November 5, 2011, is Bank Transfer Day. KTLA news reports that Kristen Christian "was tired of paying outrageous fees to banks for a severe lack of services." So she started the Bank Transfer Day Facebook page encouraging visitors to shift their accounts from banks to credit unions. Kristen sounds like an enthusiastic Occupier, but in fact her Facebook page denies that she was inspired by or organized by Occupy Wall Street. Conversely, Occupy Wall Street wholeheartedly backs Bank Transfer Day. As do I.

I see several reasons to participate in this event.

  1. The big banks have spent millions lobbying to gut bank reforms. It's bad policy to have banks with so much money that they can write laws, purchase politicians, and regulate the bank regulators. Here's some of the data collected by
    Moving your money out of these banks gives them less money to work with.
  2. The 2009 bank bailout brought many troubled banks back to profitability. But the primary goals of protecting home values, preserving homeownership, and increasing bank lending were not achieved. Foreclosures continue to mount. Lending did not increase but rather continued to decline well into the recovery. Banks had the ability to do something about this, but did as little as possible. When you close your bank account, let them know this is not acceptable.
  3. When the credit crisis struck in 2008, federal regulators poured tens of billions of dollars into the nation's leading financial institutions because the banks were so big that officials feared their failure would reverberate throughout the economy causing a disastrous wave of bankrupcies. Unfortunately, the biggest banks are now 20 percent larger than they were before the crisis and control a larger part of our economy than ever. When you move money out of these big banks, you make them smaller!
  4. The extravagant bonus system for bank executives probably contributed to the financial crisis by encouraging high risk strategies, with taxpayers paying for losing strategies. Big banks seem especially prone to the "Lake Wobegone" effect, where all of their executives are above average and should be paid accordingly. These bonuses shake my confidence in the ability of large banks to engage in relatively safe investments.
Notice that I did not include the main reason most people are so infuriated with their bank, namely the newly-proposed-and-already-terminated $5/month debit card fee. Even though this seems excessive, I don't think it's a particularly good reason. But I do agree that politicians and regulators have been completely paralyzed when it comes to taking necessary action. Consequently, it's up to you and me to do something about it.

Here's what you can do.

  1. Find out if your bank or credit card company was "too big to fail." In other words, did they receive bailout funds. If not, pat yourself on the back and stop here.
  2. Open a checking, savings, and/or credit card account with a small community bank or credit union. Look for one at
  3. Over the next month, transfer your funds and recurring payments to this new account.
  4. Once the new account is up and all your payments have cleared your old account, close that account and tell your bank why.

On Saturday, November 5, Occupy Sarasota is planning a Transfer Your Money March. All marchers welcome at 9:30am at Five Points Park, downtown.

Sources: KTLA news, The Washington Post, Move Your Money Project

October 30, 2011

Sarasota Rally In Solidarity w/OWS

In other parts of the country, Occupy Movement protesters suffered rain, wind, and snow, but in Sarasota, we were blessed with perfect weather yesterday. There was no police presence. All in all, about one hundred amiable folks from all walks of life lined Tamiami Trail displaying signs and waving at the cars streaming by. This was the third Sarasota rally.

I spoke with John from Sarasota. I am not showcasing him, because of his passion, his special story, or his looks. Rather because he is representative of an informed citizen who knows something is very wrong.

John is a registered Republican. He is worried about the military-industrial complex, the U.S. deficit, and the expensive wars we are fighting. He spoke to the issue of powerful individuals and corporations gaming the system and the plight of the middle class. And he is here, because he wants politicians to take notice. He also shared some stock tips.

October 29, 2011

Twitter and The News

I came to the Twitter party later than many, and I came with a bad attitude. As an outsider, I saw social media as a huge waste of both time and computing power. I really don't care what kind of mint is lying on your hotel pillow or when you are going to walk your dog. As a social media outsider, I saw it as distracting, indiscriminate, and overwhelming. Yes, I read that Egyptian revolutionaries leveraged the power of instant messages, Twitter, and Facebook to effect regime change in under three weeks. And in China, social networking has helped spread the word about environmental issues and mobilize protests against polluters. But, their media is heavily censored and so they are forced to look elsewhere for their news. And, when it comes to Twitter, I mean forced. Why would you choose to limit your message to 140 characters? The amount of information in a tweet is not worth the time spent looking at it.

That was two weeks ago. Now I think that a hefty chunk of what we used to call journalism already revolves around Twitter. My opinion changed on Tuesday, October 25, 2011, the day of the Occupy Oakland violence.

I got to my computer at around 9am, and reluctantly brought up a Twitter window. It had been about a week, since I set up my Twitter account. I had acquired 29 followers and was following 129 others. This meant that I would be deluged with hundreds of short messages, many without useful context, and a few of potential interest. I immediately noticed that there were lots of tweets about Occupy Oakland. It sounded like the police had assaulted protesters with rubber bullets, flash grenades, and gas canisters. Now mind you, it was 9am Eastern Time, but only 6am in Oakland. I spent about twenty minutes trying to verify this news via the internet. Some of the tweets pointed to videos that people had posted online, but it was dark out and hard to really make out what was going on with all the mayhem. As it dawned in Oakland, it dawned on me that I knew more about what had just happened in Oakland than most of the world, including those living in Oakland!

This was real-time news and it was not an accident. When I set up the Twitter account, Karen Brown, CEO of StardustBlue Media , advised me to follow a few major news outlets and many local Occupy Wall Street groups. By doing this, I created a specialized news community of sorts. One focused on Occupy activities around the globe. Something big under the Occupy umbrella would reverberate due to tweets and retweets echoing within my personal community news "channel".

I considered helping to break this news in my blog, OccupyMyCity. After about an hour pondering the many ethical questions that surfaced for me, I decided not to report anything, until later in the day. I was hoping that someone from the mainstream media, the City of Oakland or the Oakland Police Department would say something official. What could I verify sitting so far away in Florida. I waited a few hours without hearing anything from those in authority. I went ahead and posted on my blog, but indicated that there might be a difference of opinion about who did what when.

The tweets grew over the course of the afternoon. The Occupiers were regrouping and planning to take back the area. There were various broadcasts of what was going on around the City. I didn't watch a single mainstream news report. Instead, I relied on citizen tweets linking me to disturbing videos of their fellow citizens being attacked by police. I was appalled.

But others were watching the live feeds from the likes of ABC and CBS. Lili Loofbourow, a writer living in Oakland, wrote of her experience:

... When the ABC livefeed went down, everyone watching switched. Then the CBS feed turned into a picture of the Capitol. To sum up: the only two mainstream media live-feeds switched off at precisely the same instant—the minute before fifteen police departments working together engulfed a peaceful group of protesters in tear gas.

That crucial minute, when the media (whether by accident or in compliance with police orders) enabled the police to tear-gas peaceful American citizens untelevised...

Ms. Loofbourow is very engaging in her first-person account of how she found herself sitting with a group of adults in Occupy Oakland seriously debating policy as if their decision made a difference.

I surmise that there were news helicopters hovering, waiting for a story, and then when the story came ... a deafening silence. Ms. Loofbourow's account looks like censorship. I don't tend to harbor conspiracy theories, but, I am unnerved at the precision with which this story did not break.

Until today, I did not understand Twitter's role in the news business. Now I know that it is an excellent tool to monitor and deliver news. And in the face of censorship, it may work better than the corporate media.

Sources: The AWL

October 28, 2011

New Revenue Stream For Local Police Departments?

Entrepreneurs are bursting with ideas on how to monetize Occupy Wall Street. A New York couple is trying to trademark the phrase Occupy Wall St. with the intent of selling t-shirts and other merchandise. It's not quite as bad as it sounds. Robert Maresca says that he'd sell the trademark to Occupy Wall Street for just $1 plus expenses. Andy Borowitz captures the irony with a humorous Letter from Goldman Sachs. "... At Goldman, we recognize that the capitalist system as we know it is circling the drain – but there’s plenty of money to be made on the way down. ... ".
But my favorite are the police departments around the country. There is money to be made enforcing petty laws with large fines. Starting October 21, the Fort Myers Police Department began issuing citations to protestors for occupying Centennial Park after park hours. The first citation is $135 and the second is $250. In Tucson, Arizona, the Occupiers face a maximum $1,000 fine for violating the park closing rules. As of October 27, they had handed out over 70 citations to Occupy Tuscon protesters.  Since October 9, Cincinnati police have issued 239 citations to 91 people for violating curfew rules. So far this has amounted to almost $25,000 in fines in Cincinnati. In Des Moines, Iowa, a judge ordered those Occupiers charged with tresspassing to pay a $100 fine plus court costs, surcharges, and a $125 law enforcement initiative surcharge. How much is your city fining its Occupy protesters? In this age of budget cutting, police departments around the nation may start eyeing their local Occupiers as a cash cow.

Sources: CNN, Borowitz Report, WBBH-TV via,,, KCCI Des Moines,

October 27, 2011

1:23AM Eastern Time: Sarasota in Solidarity with Oakland

12 noon UPDATE. As reported by news outlets all over the country, the original teardown of Occupy Oakland on Tuesday was followed by an even more violent police crackdown against returning protesters. Jon Stewart made comedy based on the reaction from the Oakland Police. Then Wednesday night, Occupy Oakland protestors tore down the fences that had been erected to keep them out of Frank Ogawa Plaza. They held a general assembly of approximately 2,000 people. No police arrived on the scene. The Occupiers peacefully voted to hold a general strike on November 2nd. And late Wednesday night, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan reportedly issued a statement of concern for those who were injured and support for the Movement going forward. I am only able to find one source for this - a blog post from Aimee Allison reporting this for the San Francisco Chronicle - but it warms my heart. Even if it is entirely fabricated, this is exactly what the Mayor should say and do. There's still time.

October 25, 2011

A Tale of Two Occupied Cities

Two Occupied Cities have responded very differently to their protesters.

Occupy Albany (New York) is camped out in a park across from the Capitol and City Hall. The park is composed of City land and State land. As reported by the Times Union, on Friday evening, with pressure from Governor Cuomo, Albany's Mayor Jennings directed the Albany police chief to enforce Albany's curfew law on the City land. For his part, the Albany police chief issued this memo to his officers, "At this time I have no intention of assigning officers to monitor, watch, videotape or influence any behavior that is conducted by our citizens peacefully demonstrating in Academy Park." A State Police Civil Disturbance unit had also been called to the scene. Between the two enforcement units, NO arrests were made, despite political pressure from above.

Occupy Oakland (California) had been camped out in front of City Hall for about two weeks. According to a Mercury News report, several City officials had originally supported the protest and even joined in. This morning, hundreds of police decked out in riot gear, came to dismantle the peaceful camp. Estimates vary quite a bit, but apparently, when the police arrived, there were more police officers than protesters. The police used tear gas and bean bag bullets against the crowd. Some from the crowd threw things at the police. There will probably be a difference of opinion on who did what first.

The police let many protesters out of the area, and then arrested about eight-five people. Some were held on as much as $7500 bail. Overall, this police action was a show of force.

How will this play out over the next few days? Here's my prediction. The Oakland police have just invited an influx of Occupiers - new and returning - as well as a lot more interest from the media. The Albany police will have relatively little media coverage as well as a much more cooperative and productive relationship with the protesters.

J.P. Dobrin of San Francisco took some beautiful photos of the dismantling of Occupy Oakland.

October 24, 2011

Campaign Reform: A (Partial) Solution

It is overwhelming to review the data and analysis provided by others concerning the influence of big money in politics. The fun part is coming up with solutions. Campaign spending limits are at the top of many such discussions. But this got me to thinking about the benefits of political campaigns. Are there any? It's a bit extreme, but I would like to see a list of candidates, their resumes, a short video, and their detailed position papers rather than have to witness the mudslinging of a political campaign. Is there anyone who believes that the $3.6 billion spent for the 2010 midterm federal elections was money well spent? So, why bother putting a limit on campaign spending? Just make it illegal. End of discussion. Figuring that someone else has probably worked this out already, I perused the internet and found the Get Money Out Foundation. They are considering trying to pass the following constitutional amendment -

No person, corporation or business entity of any type, domestic or foreign, shall be allowed to contribute money, directly or indirectly, to any candidate for Federal office or to contribute money on behalf of or opposed to any type of campaign for Federal office.

Of course, that's not really the end of the discussion. It would be a giant step. But, what role would media play? We would still have free speech. If the major media could broadcast their opinions and choose which facts to report and which not to report, then we'd simply be ushering in the Era of Big Media.

Perhaps the root of the problem is simple demographics. We are a country of almost 300 million people, many of whom actually vote. It takes Big Money to win over such a Big Population. And it's a high stakes game.

October 23, 2011

Campaign Reform: The Problem

There's been a strong link between money and politics in the United States since we started holding elections. Bill Moyers gave the keynote at Public Citizen's 40th anniversary gala. He shared sentiments from 120 years ago that are currently echoing at Occupy Wall Street with uncanny precision -

During the great prairie revolt that swept the plains a century after the Constitution was ratified, the populist orator Mary Elizabeth Lease explained “Wall Street owns the country. Our laws are the output of a system which clothes rascals in robes and honesty in rags. The parties lie to us, and the political speakers mislead us,” because, she said, “money rules.”

That was 1890. And those agrarian populists were boiling over with anger that the corporations, banks and government were conniving to deprive everyday people of their livelihood.
Precise echoes of this sentiment are at the heart of the Occupy Movement.

Twenty-two months ago, in the Citizens United case, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that corporations can spend as much as they want to influence elections. “The Story of Citizens United v. FEC” is an animation by Annie Leonard from The Story of Stuff. In it, she explains why elections shouldn’t be for sale to corporations.

The Citizen's United decision has unleashed a torrent of corporate political contributions. Public Citizen sends me emails every week that start off with statistics documenting the corruption that we call campaign finance. From October 29, 2010 -

  • 149: Number of independent groups that have spent money to influence this year’s elections (according to Federal Election Commission (FEC) reports through Oct. 25)
  • $176.1 million: Amount those groups have spent on the midterms
  • 10: Number of groups responsible for the bulk of that spending
  • 59.9 percent: The percentage of that money that comes from undisclosed sources
Here's a stunner from January 28, 2011 -
  • $5.6 million: The amount House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) received in corporate-linked donations during the 2010 midterm campaign
  • 40 percent: The increase in corporate donations Cantor received between 2008 and 2010
  • $1.2 million: The amount Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-Ala.), the new head of the financial services committee, received from banking interests in the midterms. Bachus wants to undo financial reform.
  • $400,000: The amount Rep. Fred Upton (R-Mich.), new chair of the energy and commerce committee, took from energy and mining industries
  • 50 percent: The increase in donations to Upton from energy and mining interests between 2008 and 2010
From 8/29/2011, the congressional super committe is already bought and paid for -
  • 12: The number of lawmakers that make up the bipartisan “super committee” created under the debt ceiling deal
  • $64.6 million: The amount that super committee members received in campaign contributions from special interests over the past decade
  • More than 100: Number of staffers for super committee members who have moved on to lobbying shops
The Center for Responsive Politics website provides a wealth of such statistics.