February 25, 2012

First Occupy Sarasota Arrest

The General Assembly at Five Points Park was over. The Reject-Citizens-United Working Group had finished meeting. A disgruntled citizen had walked through the park telling everybody how useless they were. Finally, a few folks settled in, creating sidewalk chalk drawings on this cool and sunny afternoon.

Photo by Emily Stech

I was gathering my belongings, getting ready to leave, when, suddenly, from the direction of Selby Library, came a tall police officer, bee-lining straight through the middle of the park. I had no sense of mischief, foul-play, or anybody in distress. I surveyed the scene, but could not determine who needed police help. The officer stopped to talk to Christopher, who was creating a chalk message about legislative corruption. Only then did it dawn on me that Christopher was the target.

The officer was demanding that Christopher leave the park immediately. Christopher asked why. Instead of answering the question, the officer picked up Christopher's cane and held it in front of his face and told him once again to leave. Christopher reached up for the cane, so that they were both holding onto it. Only at this point did I notice several folks reaching for their phone-cameras. Within about a minute, the officer had him lying face-down on the sidewalk and was handcuffing him. It was not excessive force, but it seemed pointless and needlessly rough for someone who seemed willing to leave on his own. The officer then walked Christopher over to a police car that had pulled up onto the sidewalk, leaving the cane behind.

Video by inkensoul
Many police arrived on the scene. More spectators gathered. Most folks were left with the impression that Christopher was arrested for chalk drawing. But based on my observations at the scene, I feel certain that Christopher was arrested because he did not follow the officer's orders soon enough, when the police officer told him to stop what he was doing and leave.

I came away with many impressions and at the moment I don't have a sense of what is most important. Here is what comes to mind. The arresting officer, Officer Neri, operated by the book, as far as I could tell. He seemed to have a mission as he came into the park. He seemed to have a sense of exactly what was about to happen and how he would control the outcome. Officer Neri interviewed one bystander, who turned out to be the disgruntled citizen who had walked through the park earlier telling everyone how useless they were. Officer Neri took notes in a small memo pad as he spoke with this man. Officer Neri did not ask any other bystanders what had happened. It left a bad taste in my mouth that Officer Neri left Christopher's cane behind, even after Christopher said he needed it. A man came out of the library, after Christopher was driven off and said that he had watched the whole thing from the library's second floor expansive windows. He felt that Officer Neri had been overly aggressive. At Officer Neri's suggestion, he went down and filed the following complaint at police headquarters.

February 23, 2012

Occupy Sarasota Sending Anti-War Chalk Messages

I used to evaluate war primarily from an ethical perspective. Am I a pacifist? How can we justify killing civilians as collateral damage in military actions? Now I choose to look at war through an additional lens, that of the Occupy Movement.

I have one friend who says the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are nothing more than money-laundering operations - a way of moving U.S. tax dollars into the pockets of management and investors in big war contractors, such as Blackwater and Boeing. There are strong arguments for such an extreme statement. On almost every measure, we have not made progress toward our stated goals. For example, we have not made the region any more peaceful; in fact, our continued presence in the region draws out more opposition fighters. We have not built up the infrastructure in any meaningful way; if we had, many Iraqis would be calling for us to stay rather than for us to leave. We have not created more jobs at home; in fact a recent report shows that funding domestic programs creates at least 50% more jobs than military spending. And the total number of weapons of mass destruction that we've found: zero.

On the other hand, we have done two things on a grand scale. The first is to privatize significant portions of our military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The second is to spend a lot of taxpayer money. Humongous sums of taxpayer money were successfully moved from the federal government into the profits of large war contractors. Robert Greenwald speaks to this war profiteering hypothesis.

Occupy Sarasota expressed their anti-war sentiments this weekend. At the weekly Saturday rally, folks drew sidewalk messages in chalk.

On Sunday, several Occupiers did some tabling and talking on the outskirts of the Siesta Key drum circle. The focus was a candle-light vigil to highlight the need for World Peace and against any further military action anywhere. Keeping the candles lit in the wind was problematic, but the Occupy Kite had a dandy time hovering above the picture-perfect sunset amidst the oh-so-danceable drumming.

February 21, 2012

Scott's View of the Occupy Movement from a Business Perspective

It was cold and windy in Atlanta on February 11, 2012, so I interviewed Scott from the protected enclave of the car. He spoke movingly about why the Occupy Movement is a reasonable response to the economic upheaval this country has been going through. He speaks from the business perspective. And, he wears his humanity on his sleeve.

Scott makes the Occupy Movement accessible to just about everybody!

February 19, 2012

Walkupiers Set Out From Atlanta to Chicago!

On a cold and blustery morning, just one week ago, I arrived in downtown Atlanta with small flecks of snow landing on my windshield. Yes, it does snow in Atlanta. A small troop of Walkupiers (almost rhymes with Occupiers) were setting out to walk from Atlanta to Chicago. One had walked all the way from New York City. Others had joined in along the route to Atlanta. And some were just starting out that morning. I asked them to speak in their own words to give a sense of their mission.

As Bo says, this Walking Occupation through the heartland of the United States will be about listening to the people he meets along the way. In an age of sound-bites, negative campaigning, and near-constant media bombardment, this act of listening, although counter-intuitive, may well deliver the message better than many other methods. How else can you fully determine what other people believe about the issues you feel are so important? Except by listening and reflecting. You can follow Walkupy May Day(WMD) on their website.

February 14, 2012

Occupy Atlanta Asks AT&T: Where's The Love

Occupy Atlanta's Welcome Committee had encouraged me to visit them during the AT&T demonstrations, planned for Valentine's Day. The company plans to layoff 740 workers and Occupy Atlanta has joined with Communications Workers Of America (CWA) and Jobs With Justice to protest. My gut reaction is that if a company determines they need to layoff workers, that should be their decision to make. But Occupy Atlanta takes issue with this. They think that AT&T is exporting the area's best-paying, skilled jobs abroad for the short-term strategy of slashing its labor costs and increasing management compensation. In particular,

  • AT&T has been outsourcing jobs for years, but refuses to release the numbers publicly
  • AT&T has laid off workers and then rehired them at less pay, with no security or benefits
  • In 2011, AT&T earned a whopping $3.9 billion on $126.7 billion in revenue
  • In 2011, the CEO of AT&T made over $27 million
They do have a point. In fact, this is very representative of many large corporations that are outsourcing good jobs faster than we can count them.

In preparation for the big event, there was a sign-making party at the American Friends Service Committee. I spoke with Darlene in a very noisy room. She has formed the group, Everyday People Occupy Atlanta, to provide support services and donations as needed for Occupy Atlanta events. Her determination to help is apparent, when she shares that it is a 100 mile round trip every time she drives in to Atlanta.

The AT&T events went off with good news coverage. Civil disobedience inside the AT&T building resulted in twelve arrests, yesterday. They created some visual drama. Occupy Atlanta has several occupations going simultaneously. In addition to the original site downtown, there are smaller full-time, foreclosure-prevention occupations. And as of today, there is a new full-time occupation outside AT&T. And it's not just members of Occupy Atlanta, but rank-and-file union members! A CWA member stated "I've got a tent and I'm going to camp here until these layoffs are rescinded."

Sources: Occupy Atlanta: WHY OCCUPY AT&T? Jobs, Outsourcing, and Customer Service, Jobs With Justice: AT&T Protests Escalate to Mass Mobilization and Sustained Occupation, CBS: Union members, Occupy Atlanta protesters rally against AT&T layoffs

February 11, 2012

Introducing Kim Diaz, Political Cartoonist

Kim Diaz draws political cartoons and currently resides in St. Petersburg, Florida. Check out an album of her work. Published with permission.

February 7, 2012

Florida Rep. Rachel Burgin Exposes ALEC

It's the nation’s largest, non-partisan, public-private membership association of state legislators. The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) sounds like it might be contributing to the functioning of a genuine democracy. Not so. With nearly 2,000 legislator members and almost 300 corporate partners, they allow large corporations the opportunity to shape policy in many states. Policies that cover environmental deregulation, privatization of prisons and education, undercutting of unions, voter suppression, and much more. And who funds ALEC? Major donors include Exxon Mobil, Koch Industries, and the Coors family. Members of ALEC's board include representatives of AT&T, GlaxoSmithKline, Johnson & Johnson, Kraft, Walmart, and State Farm.

From Bob Edgar of Common Cause -

Dozens of corporations are investing millions of dollars a year to write business-friendly legislation that is being made into law in statehouses coast to coast, with no regard for the public interest. This is proof positive of the depth and scope of the corporate reach into our democratic processes.
But, since ALEC operates somewhat secretively, there is more assumption than proof. It was assumed that participating legislators, who are generally conservative Republicans, took ALEC model bills back to their state legislatures to introduce them as their own bills. The secrecy was inadvertently lifted a bit, when Florida Representative Rachel Burgin (R) introduced a bill written by the Tax Foundation, a corporate member of ALEC's Tax and Fiscal Policy Task Force with a word-for-word boilerplate reference to ALEC and its mission. The bill itself calls for the lowering of the federal corporate tax rate, a mere gesture, since Florida has no control over this. Representative Burgin introduced the bill last November, withdrew it the next day, and then reintroduced the bill without any references to ALEC. But she was just recently caught out by Common Cause.

Through ALEC, corporations hide their involvement in drafting legislation. They also avoid the requirements of lobbying disclosure. ALEC is part of the underpinnings of corporate control of our democracy. Occupy Portland has called for a national day of action on Februrary 29 to Shut Down Corporations - a bit of a misnomer, since they intend to specifically target those corporations that are part of ALEC. They invite you to participate in your city and/or with your organization.

February 5, 2012

An Overnight with the Occupy Tampa Encampment

After many days occupying the sidewalk, Occupy Tampa was finally occupying a park in West Tampa. Voice of Freedom Park is a private park in a very public spot with both running water and electricity. It is owned by Joe Redner, a man of many public images. Occupy Tampa participants had informed me that he is both a strip-club king and a first amendment activist. As a donor to Occupy Tampa, I'd say that paints a picture of a very colorful man. Speaking of color, all sidewalks into the Occupy Tampa encampment were decorated with chalk-colored political statements. After figuring out where to camp, exploring the various activities that participants were engaging in, checking out the library and the media tent, attending the General Assemply, and interviewing the dinner cook, I settled in with the weekly Thursday night Educational Discussion Group. This week, the group had read The Precipice of Debt written by Brett Williams from the compilation, New Landscapes of Inequality: Neoliberalism and the Erosion of Democracy in America, published by the School for Advanced Research Press. The focus of their discussion was payday loans. They explored the many layers of our financial system that impact and are impacted by these loans, threw in some history from David Graeber's Debt: The First 5,000 Years, and added personal experiences, insights, and humor to the mix.

The video above shows snippets from their discussion. Their analysis of the complex world of credit and debt truly increased their collective knowledge on the subject.

February 3, 2012

Is It Just Bad Press Or Is Monsanto Involved in Yet More Threats To Human Health?

The corporate behemoth, Monsanto, garnered the title of Worst Company of 2011 by Natural Society for "threatening both human health and the environment."

Back in December, the group of internet hackers known as Anonymous, claimed to have disrupted the operations of the Bivings Group, which ran marketing campaigns for Monsanto. It's hard to verify this last point, since the website for the Bivings Group now redirects to a company called Brick Factory, started by former Bivings Group employees. Anonymous sent a video message to Monsanto: We fight for farmers!

On Facebook, there is a Global Day of Action - Shut Down Monsanto scheduled for March 16, 2012. And the location? Anywhere there is a Monsanto Facility.

Comments on the event page point to an article/video depicting how Monsanto forced Fox News to censor coverage of the Monsanto's dangerous drug, rBGH, the genetically engineered bovine growth hormone found in dairy products. Interestingly, this is old news.

Minutes after viewing this video, I noticed an online petition opposing the appointment of former Monsanto Vice President, Michael Taylor, to senior advisor to the U.S. Commissioner at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This is rather old news as well.

Why so much bad press outside the mainstream media? I think Monsanto epitomizes the corporate model that has brought out the ire of the Occupy Movement. Monsanto has manipulated scientific research, government regulations, and the media to achieve market supremacy. They have done this at the expense of our health, our lives, and our planet. In Occupy parlance, they value profits over people. As Anonymous puts it, Monsanto continues to do this by -

  • Contaminating the global food chain with genetically modified organisms.
  • Intimidating small farmers with bullying and lawsuits.
  • Propagating the use of destructive pesticides and herbicides across the globe.
  • Using “Terminator Technology”, which renders plants sterile.
  • Attempting to hijack UN climate change negotiations for their own fiscal benefit.
  • Reducing farmland to desert through monoculture and the use of synthetic fertilizers.
  • Inspiring suicides of hundreds of thousands of Indian farmers.
  • Causing birth defects by continuing to produce the pesticide “Round-up”
  • Attempting to bribe foriegn officials
  • Infiltrating anti-GMO groups
The fired Fox News reporters would add that they exert control over the Food & Drug Administration, rig the research concerning their products, and suppress news coverage of these activities. This is not in any way meant to be an exhaustive tirade exposing the sins of Mansanto. And it's not breaking news; this has been going on for years. But, it is resurfacing and has been making the rounds over the last few days.

Update: Here are more recent articles of interest -