Occupy Wall Street

PHILADELPHIA — A group of protesters affiliated with the Occupy Wall Street movement plans to elect 876 “delegates” from around the country and hold a national “general assembly” in Philadelphia over the Fourth of July as part of ongoing protests over corporate excess and economic inequality.

The group, dubbed the 99% Declaration Working Group, said Wednesday delegates would be selected during a secure online election in early June from all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories.

In a nod to their First Amendment rights, delegates will meet in Philadelphia to draft and ratify a “petition for a redress of grievances,” convening during the week of July 2 and holding a news conference in front of Independence Hall on the Fourth of July.

Any U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident who is 18 years of age or older may run as a nonpartisan candidate for delegate, according to Michael S. Pollok, an attorney who advised Occupy Wall Street protesters arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge last year and co-founded the working group.

“We feel it’s appropriate to go back to what our founding fathers did and have another petition congress,” Pollok said in an interview with The Associated Press. “We feel that following the footsteps of our founding fathers is the right way to go.”

Printed on Thursday, February 23, 2012 as: Occupiers to hold US delegation for fresh 'redress of grievances'

As the Occupy Wall Street movement expands to Austin and other cities across the globe, certain groups have moved to discredit participants either on the basis of their collective message or on the grounds that no message has been articulated. Some critics have weirdly managed to express both positions without noting the contradiction. Apparent GOP frontrunner Herman Cain echoed many Republicans last week in referring to the Occupy movement as both “anti-American” and “anti-capitalist.”

I have monitored and occasionally assisted with the drive to launch the Occupy movement, spoken at Occupy Wall Street in New York and attended Occupy Austin a couple weeks ago. I have also been on record as in favor of free markets since my writing first appeared on this newspaper 10 years ago. I can attest to Cain’s incorrectness on this matter.

The eclectic individuals who have turned out in support of this movement hold differing opinions on a range of issues including economics, but the one position that seems held in common by organizers and participants alike is opposition to the massive bailouts of failing financial institutions with taxpayer funds. Such a practice is not only outside of capitalism as an economic system but is in fact inimical to it. It is a forced transfer of wealth from millions of taxpayers to a few banks that have failed to perform within the free market. That some see such opposition as an assault on capitalism is bizarre, though not surprising in a nation in which the Tea Party protesters began denouncing government spending upon the rise of President Barack Obama while ignoring the issue during a previous period when Republicans controlled all three branches of government and presided over the largest spending increase in years.

Our nation’s conservatives will also point to the marked anti-corporate rhetoric employed by protesters and their supporters, but the bulk of this rhetoric is in opposition to state involvement with the economy. One sign displayed at Occupy Austin summed up this collective position with the phrase, “Get your corporations out of my government,” itself a reasonable request within the free market system of which our republic allegedly consists. One need not reach further than the bailouts to cite the extent to which private parties, having deployed the proper campaign contributions, may expect to receive large sums seized from millions of individuals — not to mention an endless array of no-bid contracts, corporate subsidies and laws written by lobbyists.

This ubiquitous conservative defense of all monied interests, with the exception of George Soros, also helps to explain what I must fairly admit: A minority of those involved in this movement are indeed “anti-capitalist” and in some cases even “anti-American.” The intentions of the minority ought not be ascribed to the majority, much less the whole. Moreover, those who oppose capitalism may be excused by virtue of having never seen it due to the corruption described above. Those who oppose America are increasingly justified by the America they have seen, one that has degenerated to such a point as to entertain Cain, Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann as potential leaders, and in which the dishonest Obama remains the better choice despite everything. If conservatives wish to defend the free market, they should start by ascribing to it. In the meantime, the citizenry will take to the streets, as is now their duty.

Barrett Brown is a former UT student.

While I’m sure you’re all used to hearing all the latest news on the Occupy Wall Street movement, it’s not the only organized protest taking place right now. SlutWalks are happening across the country, too.

SlutWalks are marches, triggered by an incident at New York University, often of college students that demand an end to both sexual violence and the belief that victimized women bear some of the blame for sexual assaults. The name “SlutWalk” is a way for the movement to try and fight against that last part of their creed — or to show people that it’s not acceptable to think that “sluts” deserve or share any of the blame in sexual assaults. SlutWalks attempt to reclaim the term “slut” and rob it of its negative connotation and replace it with a positive one.

I use the word “attempt” because I think the movement fails in that aspect. Don’t get me wrong: Protesting sexual violence is a worthy and necessary act, but I don’t think SlutWalk advocates are going about it the right way. So much attention is placed on the semantics of the movement — there is contention even among supporters about the name itself — that the power of the message is lessened. In the fight against sexual violence, I’m reminded of another movement taking place today in Senegal that relies on substance rather than word politics to achieve change: the movement to end female genital cutting.

Though The New York Times reports that an estimated 92 million girls and women have undergone the procedure, more than 5,000 Senegalese villages have joined a growing movement to end the practice. The movement is spreading from village to village via word of mouth through leaders and families. Its success is owed to education programs that teach the practitioners the harms of this tradition. Once the “opposition” realizes the detriments of genital cutting, a collective pledge is taken to end it.

And therein lies the key to their success: an understanding and direct involvement with the opposition and a collective pledge as a result to act. SlutWalks lack both of these key elements. The name itself does not encourage dialogue with the other side but seems to be more of an angry yell of “Don’t call me a ‘slut’; only I can do that!”

We absolutely need to end sexual violence and the resulting blame and shame, but it’s impossible to achieve change without conferring with the other side. SlutWalks need to figure out why these beliefs about “sluts” exist and how these acts are allowed to happen. Perhaps it is chauvinism and is a learned tradition. If so, fight it with education. Perhaps sexual violence propagates among certain socioeconomic classes and portions of the city. If so, fight it with more resources in those areas. Perhaps people are unaware of the pain and shame that victims of sexual violence suffer. If so, explain it to people.

Change will never happen if the opposition is not persuaded to work with you. SlutWalks will not be effective until they stop berating people who disagree with them and figure out why people disagree in the first place. Once the other side is better understood, SlutWalk will know how to best achieve change through collective cooperation.

SlutWalks need to stop quibbling about semantics and stomping around indignantly. If they really want to end sexual violence and the practice of blaming victims, they should make people understand the problems women face. Perhaps they can do that tonight at the showing of the new documentary, “Miss Representation,” which shows the harmful ways women are portrayed in the media. The event, hosted by the Center for Women in Law and the Women’s Law Caucus, will start at 6 p.m. at the Student Activity Center Auditorium, Room 1.402, and is open to the public.

Taylor is a Plan II and rhetoric and writing senior.

An Occupy Austin protestor, who chose to remain anonymous, sits Monday afternoon on the stairs of City Hall, which are now covered with makeshift sleeping pads, pamphlets and posters. Entering its fifth day, Occupy Austin plans to create committees in order to begin making changes.

Photo Credit: Danielle Villasana | Daily Texan Staff

Though their united anger against political and financial institutions created Occupy Austin, their love for the cause is what’s keeping them together, said occupation member James Staton.

Occupy Austin, the Austin associate of the Occupy Wall Street movement, is part of a national protest against the “monied corruption of [America’s] democracy,” according to the Occupy Wall Street website. The protest peaked last Thursday when it started at a presence of 2,000, and the number of those living at Austin City Hall has risen to about 45 with fluctuating numbers throughout the day.

As Occupy Austin enters its fifth day, the occupation is expanding beyond its general assemblies with streamlined meetings and an organizational structure based around committees headed by “magnets,” volunteers who elect to specialize in a certain field to aid the protest, said IT magnet and occupation member Cesar Fuentez.

“The biggest criticism we’ve had was that we were just talking and not doing,” Fuentez said. “We’ve made an agreement to change that and make the subgroups and infrastructure to do it. People are passionate about certain subjects, and we tell them to go out and get it done.”

Emotions also ran between calm and impassioned Tuesday, as occupation members gathered in various groups to discuss how to implement change and address the claim that the occupation is “class warfare.”

“We want the next generation to come up and enjoy life for who they are, not what they are,” Fuentez said. “Have as much money as you want, but do it the right way.”

Occupy Austin is also reaching out to labor unions like those joining Occupy Wall Street and creating a “base camp,” an off-site facility that provides basic necessities like showering facilities for those who stay overnight at Austin City Hall, said occupation IT member Jonathan Vann.

“The occupation movement is going to occupy until things are changed,” Vann said. “It’s time for our voices to be heard, not just the voices of the top 1 percent.”

Occupation members also expressed their gratitude for the numerous donations of various Austinites who have donated items ranging from communication devices to donuts and tacos to the occupation, Staton said.

As opposed to previous clashes with law enforcement in Boston and New York, Austin Police Department have been tolerant and cooperative in working with Occupy Austin, even symbolically allowing protesters one tent in front of Austin City Hall, Fuentez said.

“On the first day of Occupy Austin, chief of police Art Acevedo came out to the protest and mingled with all of us,” Fuentez said. “Austin police have been more than helpful.”

A march through downtown Austin is planned for this Saturday to protest “corrupt and consolidated banking,” and, according to Fuentez, other events are also planned including guest speakers like David Graebar, organizer of Occupy Wall Street, who was at Occupy Austin on Monday.

“If we accomplish nothing else, we can educate the populace as to how the system works,” Vann said.

Protesters affiliated with the “Occupy Wall Street” protests chant outside 740 Park Avenue, home to billionaires David Koch and David Ganek, in New York on Tuesday. The crowd marched through the Upper East Side neighborhood, protesting outside the homes of various millionaires and bank owners.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

NEW YORK — Now it’s personal: Hundreds of anti-Wall Street protesters held a “Millionaires March” on Tuesday past the homes of some of the wealthiest executives in America, stopping to jeer “Tax the rich!” and “Where’s my bailout?”

Walking two-by-two on the sidewalk because they had no march permit and didn’t want to be charged with blocking traffic, members of the Occupy Wall Street movement and other groups made their way up Manhattan’s East Side, along streets such as Fifth Avenue and Park Avenue where some of the richest 1 percent of the population live in townhouses and luxury apartments.

They paused outside buildings where media mogul Rupert Murdoch, banker Jamie Dimon and oil tycoon David Koch have homes, and decried the impending expiration of New York’s 2 percent “millionaires’ tax” in December.

“I have nothing against these people personally. I just think they should pay their fair share of taxes,” said Michael Pollack, an office worker in a law firm. He held up a sign with a saying attributed to department store founder Edward Filene: “Why shouldn’t the American people take half my money from me? I took all of it from them.”

For the past 3 1/2 weeks, protesters have besieged a park in lower Manhattan near Wall Street, denouncing corporate greed and the gap between rich and poor. The uptown march marked the first time the Occupy Wall Street movement has identified specific people as being part of the 1 percent the demonstrators say are getting rich at the expense of the rest of America.

When the march reached Park Avenue, protesters stopped in front of a building where they said Dimon, JPMorgan Chase’s chairman and CEO, has an apartment.

JPMorgan was among the banks that received a federal bailout, money it has since repaid.

Dimon got supportive words Monday from Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who is himself a billionaire executive.

Dimon has “brought more business to this city than maybe any other banker in [the] modern day,” the mayor said. “To go and picket him, I don’t know what that achieves.”

Outside one building, protesters placed a giant replica of a check against the door. It was made out to “The top one percent” for $5 billion — the size of the impending state tax cut for wealthy New Yorkers.

The protest in New York City came as the state comptroller issued a report showing that Wall Street is again losing jobs because of global economic woes. The industry shed 4,100 jobs in the late spring and summer and could lose nearly 10,000 more by the end of 2012, Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said.

Christopher Guerra, an artist and Occupy Wall Street protester from Newark, N.J., said the job losses aren’t necessarily bad.

“That means more people on our side,” Guerra said. “If they get shafted, they will realize that what we are saying is true.”

 More than 1,000 Austinites rallied in front of City Hall on Oct. 6 as part of the nationwide Occupy Wall Street movement. Chief among these protesters’ grievances is that Wall Street and corporations have monopolized their interests — and the nation’s wealth — to the detriment of the vast majority of Americans. Class consciousness and hostility to the corporate elite isn’t new, but Occupy Wall Street’s issues are acutely relevant to UT students. UT should stand firmly behind the protesters and their cause.

Ongoing protests in Manhattan, the nexus of the movement, featured thousands of mostly young protesters camped out for several weeks in front of Wall Street landmarks such as the New York Stock Exchange. Banks became the central focus of the activists’ ire because they pushed millions of Americans to sign off on bad mortgages, but when massive housing foreclosures hit the market in early 2006, most of the affected Wall Street institutions were able to get taxpayer-financed bailouts from the government.

Much to the chagrin of Americans, the banking institutions re-emerged vibrant last year while efforts to help the public at large floundered. As the national unemployment rate remained mired above 9 percent, and countless Americans’ personal wealth fizzled while they tried to stay afloat, Wall Street deflected any attempt to repay the favor to Americans. The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform Act, which passed into law last year to curb the financial institutions’ excesses, was largely castrated through numerous loopholes.

It is thus in the context of indignation over the injustice of finance profiting off the backs of the people that the Occupy Wall Street movement sprung forth. Yet compared to the global media attention focused on New York City, the counterpart protests here in Austin are far more sedate.

The roughly 1,200 demonstrators at City Hall and in front of Bank of America’s branch on Congress Avenue remained energetic but civil and respectful of their surrounding environment. APD even proudly reported that no arrests were made, according to The Daily Texan, dispelling any myths the protests were centered around hooliganism or criminality.

A strong contingent of the nationwide grassroots movement has been college students and recent graduates. Similar to many UT students, this segment faces mounting student loan debts upon graduation and a chronically anemic job market that dampens their ability to pay back those loans.

For the past decade, the student loan market has emerged as a microcosm of the mid-2000s housing market. At a time when the nation had not yet entered recession, both banks and the federal government were keen on lending ever-increasing amounts of money to students with the expectation that remuneration would be easy after these students graduated. But when the job market suddenly went sour, college students faced the prospect of struggling for decades to pay back these loans.

Yet as the loans continue piling on, any suggestion that Wall Street in turn bails out these students is immediately shelved from public discussion. Even the idea that student loans should be capped after a fixed amount per borrower would bring howls of protest. Wouldn’t some students be priced out of borrowing to go to UT, for instance, if there were more lending regulations? Perhaps. But the odds are still greater that a given student would face even greater pain to their creditability as they were unable to find good jobs after graduation.

The easy access to credit vis-à-vis student loans has only exacerbated the problem of skyrocketing tuition. College costs have been grossly inflated precisely because students have more and more loaned monies to pay the price. Without such a debt-fuelled educational system, UT students would eventually see tuition rates stabilize and perhaps even drop, even if the financial sector loses out.

Distrust of financial institutions among young people is a legacy of the recession, and it is evidently reflected in the Occupy Wall Street protests. In June, SmartMoney magazine reported that skepticism of banks among teens was widespread: 75 percent reported the stock market was “rigged” in favor of the banks, and 83 percent agreed with the statement that banks are “mostly interested in getting my money through hidden fees.”

What really grates Millennials such as myself is how Wall Street can rob our generation of hopes of future prosperity. As the American middle class keeps on shrinking, Wall Street has encouraged corporations to peddle more so-called “easy credit” and untenable financing options instead of pressing for real wage increases.

I won’t pretend that an increasingly regulated financial sector may strip us of many consumerist illusions of prosperity we see today. But until Wall Street as an institution is given boundaries, more and more UT graduates may see even middle-class futures out of reach for them and their kin entirely. Austin and UT should stand behind the protests, for us and for our futures.

Quazi is a nursing graduate student.

Bird Caviel speaks before a meeting of the General Assembly for Occupy Austin outside City Hall on Wednesday evening. The General Assembly, a leaderless decision-making group, met on the eve of Occupy Austin to discuss logistics for the occupation.

Photo Credit: Trent Lesikar | Daily Texan Staff

The Occupy Wall Street movement, which began in early September in New York City’s Zuccotti Park as a protest against political and economic corruption, has been steadily gaining momentum and has spread throughout the nation and all the way to Europe. The movement finally reached campus with yesterday’s student walkout. Austin’s own demonstration, Occupy Austin, will begin today at City Hall at 10 a.m.

Thousands have said they will attend the protest via the Occupy Austin Facebook page, a number that Lauren Welker, an Occupy Austin spokesperson, called unprecedented considering much of the planning didn’t begin until about two weeks ago. Welker said a core group of about 20 people, with an enormous amount of help from others, used Twitter, Facebook and Livestream — social media tools that have become a staple of protests and revolutions worldwide — to get things moving.

“The idea sparked,” Welker, a geological sciences graduate student, said. “It was like ‘why not?’ It’s not just New York that’s affected by Wall Street; it’s all over the nation. It’s here. Why don’t people go out to the streets and protest what’s going on? We can’t all afford to fly out to New York.”

Occupy Wall Street, now in its third week, has had a few run-ins with the New York Police Department, including a controversial mass arrest of approximately 700 when protesters took to the Brooklyn Bridge and disrupted traffic, according to a report by the Guardian. Welker said that they have been working with Austin police to make sure incidents like that don’t happen.

“We don’t want to break the law,” she said. “That’s not the purpose.”

The purpose of the protests, which have spread from New York City to Los Angeles to Austin and scores of cities in between, is a little harder to pin down, much to the annoyance of people who do not see the purpose. At the movement’s core, Welker said, is the discontent that many Americans share for political and economic corruption on national, state and local levels and the corporate influence that holds sway over many elections and policy decisions.

She said people are angry about how these issues are affecting society and particularly the lives and well-being of those that call themselves ‘the 99 percent’ — people who don’t, according to People for the American Way President Michael B. Keegan in an article for the Huffington Post, have access to 25 percent of the nation’s earned income and 40 percent of its wealth, which is held by 1 percent of the country. Accusations such as these have prompted counter-accusations of ‘anti-capitalism,’ ‘socialism’ and declarations of class warfare from some, especially on the far right, but Welker said that isn’t the case.

“We love America,” Welker said. “That’s one thing I think is really important that everyone should understand. This is a ‘stop screwing us’ movement.”

‘Stop screwing us,’ however broad or vague a charge, hasn’t failed to resonate with those who are taking to the streets. The protesters, Welker said, know that the current situation “needs to change.”

“I would describe [Occupy Wall Street] as an expression of frustration, of unhappiness with political and economic systems,” said journalism professor Bob Jensen. “It’s not simply a critique of an individual politician or an individual CEO. It’s a recognition that our economic and political systems are fundamentally broken.”

For its part, Occupy Austin tried to capture the frustration while being mindful of the diversity of opinions with the group’s mission statement that was presented and passed out at Tuesday evening’s general assembly at City Hall. About 100 Austinites, old and young alike, attended the meeting where protest logistics were worked out. It was the sixth general assembly since last Thursday’s kick-off gathering at Ruta Maya where about 500 people attended. The mission statement reads:

“We stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters who occupy Wall Street and occupy around the world. We are dedicated to non-violently reclaiming control of our governments from the financial interests that have corrupted them. We demand that our public servants recognize the people are the supreme authority.”

According to the Mission and Values group, one of 30 sub-groups that Occupy Austin is divided into for organization and efficiency’s sake, the aim of the statement was to balance inclusivity with specificity.

“We’re very much about involvement,” Welker said. “It’s important for all the ‘Occupied’ movements across the nation to stand in solidarity. In Austin, we hope to make it look as inviting and inclusive as possible.”

With such a large number of people involved, protesters have had difficulty in coming up with petitions and goals. This conundrum, despite the movement’s intentions, has led to ambiguity — for better or for worse.

On one side, people see the protesters’ amorphous agenda not as a sign of uncertainty but as reflective of a predicament too complicated for any one demand to address. Welker said the name ‘Occupy Wall Street’ says it all — no specifics necessary at this point.

“I think the idea behind the movement is pretty clear,” Welker said. “It didn’t start off as ‘Occupy Central Park’ or ‘Occupy Union Square.’ It’s Occupy Wall Street. In the broad scheme of things, it’s a movement based off of the financial corruption of our government and corporate greed. It’s to get the conversation started. That’s the point — right now, there’s not even a conversation.”

But for many, including some of the organizations and political entities that the protesters are confronting, the lack of specific demands has led to criticism and confusion. There are those who write the Occupy protests off as little more than, as Fox News recently opined, “another disorganized and liberal whinefest.” Others, while not dismissive, are treading cautiously.

Austin City Councilman Chris Riley said that he’s not sure what shape the group’s objectives will take or how events will unfold over the coming days. That’s not to say the city council isn’t paying attention, he clarified. Riley said that people taking part in the democratic process is a good thing.

“I’m interested to see what goals emerge from this process and how the individuals involved plan to achieve those goals,” he said.

Riley’s outlook rings true with many would-be protesters, too. Laurel Sullivan, a local biologist said that she’s interested to see what Occupy Austin’s goals are before she lends her support.

“Political discussions can go on for centuries,” Sullivan said. “And that’s healthy. But for me, to have a protest, it seems there should be goals. I don’t really have time to come march around because I’m pissed off.”

Occupiers sympathize with views like Sullivan’s. After all, they also realize that eventually, they’ll have to answer the “demand for demands,” said Kate Houston, a philosophy senior. Houston, who plans on protesting downtown, said that for now, actually going out and doing something rather than just talking is good enough for her. But without concrete goals, she acknowledged, the movement risks fizzling out, or worse, getting co-opted by someone who could use Occupy Wall Street’s energy for its own gain.

“I’m just worried that the same thing is going to happen that happened with the Tea Party,” Houston said. “Like a mainstream media outlet or political pundits taking over rather than it staying a grassroots movement. I really hope it doesn’t. I guess time will just have to tell.”

Jensen agreed that energy without direction has an expiration date, but that doesn’t mean those who are on the fence about helping should sit back and wait to see what happens.

“If it doesn’t go beyond where it is, yes, it has a limited shelf life,” Jensen said. “But there’s no reason that the people involved in it can’t make decisions about where they want to take it. And that’s not something to predict, that’s something to be part of. It’s better to lend one’s energy.” 

Printed on October 6, 2011 as: Austinites rally, 'occupy' City Hall