Occupy Las Cruces

PVA Talk 10-27-2011

Thank you for inviting me here tonight to tell you a little about the Occupy Wall Street movement. I am here just as an ordinary citizen, not as a spokesperson for Occupy, but I’ve been going to General Assemblies and events since the beginning. Officially, historically, the Occupy movement began on July 13, 2011 when Adbusters magazine called for people to occupy Wall Street on September 17. Some 2000 people showed up that day and marched to a nearby park where some protesters set up a camp. The original call was a tweet, but I would argue that the movement’s roots and courage are shaped by the Arab Spring uprisings and reflect our discontent, our knowledge that we live under a political and economic system that doesn’t work for 99% of the people. That’s why the rallying slogan of this movement is “We are the 99%”.

For the first 2 or 3 weeks, corporate media took little notice of the protests, but it was impossible to ignore gone-viral videos of folks being arrested because they tried to close their bank accounts, of women being pepper-sprayed directly in the face by a high-ranking NYPD officer without provocation. This week we see hundreds of people being arrested as Chicago, Oakland, and Atlanta try to break up Occupy camps. Tragically, earlier this week an Iraq war veteran was critically wounded in Oakland when police fired a tear gas canister.

As I follow what’s happening, I am so reminded of the early days of the Anti-Vietnam War Movement. All around the United States solidarity groups are springing up, and now Occupy is in Las Cruces! A widely/wildly diverse group has been meeting for about three weeks. We’ve had a couple of demonstrations, done massive amounts of leafleting, and are holding several Teach In/Learn In sessions every week. We don’t have a unified set of demands, we don’t agree on everything, but we are committed to building true participatory democracy and to finding real solutions for all too real problems.

We all experience the impacts of national and international problems: A Congress that focuses on getting themselves reelected, A stock market that trades in derivatives and other phony financial instruments, Predatory lending, Foreclosures, Unemployment, Lost pensions, Immigration and migrant labor policies, Student loans that students have no hope of paying off, Veterans who have been used and discarded, Homelessness, Climate change, Potential infrastructure collapse, The most conservative Supreme Count in the history of this country, Little industrial capability, Commodity hoarding, A terrible negative trade deficit–the kind Keynes railed against, Inadequate and irrational healthcare, Unnutritional “nutrition,” Social service funding cuts, Schools whose pedagogy seems designed to prevent children from learning to think, and so much more.

Here in Doña Ana County we have a lot of really big problems, starting with the fact that a quarter of our population lives below the poverty level. In this city of 40,000 homes, hundreds have been foreclosed and hundreds more are in pre-foreclosure. We look at a future of empty houses and thousands of people with no place to live. Is this crazy or what? What kind of a community does that make us? Is it the kind of community we want to live in, to raise our children in?

There are specific things we can do locally, such as close our accounts with the big bad banks and move our money to credit unions or locally owned banks. We can cancel our bad bank credit cards and find others from sources that aren’t so dirty. Or stop using credit cards altogether if we can. Maybe we could form a truly cooperative Peoples’ Bank. We can shop at locally-owned stores and pay there with cash.

On a national level, as citizens who vote, we can insist that our representatives revoke corporate personhood, reenact the Glass-Steagall Act, pass a “Tobin tax” on financial transactions, strictly regulate investment banks, close tax loopholes, reinstate usury laws, and increase the income tax rate on the wealthiest one or two percent of the population.

The problems are enormous and urgent. The work ahead is daunting. I have to keep reminding myself that change, like all of nature, is organic and takes time. As a friend of mine said, “I think that Americans, by and large, have lost touch with natural processes like gardening and tending orchards, and they don’t realize that it’s ALL an organic process. Which means:  don’t expect instant results; everything takes time. Exactly like planting a seed and nurturing the baby plant.”

When I get really discouraged I find comfort in thinking about the food chain. If that 1% succeeds in eating us 99%, they will have nothing to eat but each other. If we stand up with each other, for each other, we can make the 1% understand the foolishness of their greed. Every day I have to remind myself that hundreds of thousands of people worked for more than ten years to force an end to the Vietnam War. It took a long time, but we did it!

Lately I’ve been thinking about a successful tenant organizing group I worked with in Cambridge in the 1970s. Harvard and MIT were buying up housing in this working class city, doubling and tripling rents. Long time residents, lots of elderly people, were forced out of their homes. A group of community folks decided to fight this injustice and began physically blocking evictions. We organized and agitated and politicked to get rent control enacted; we developed legal tactics and published a monthly newsletter full of useful information. Sure, there were some arrests, but no violence by the tenant movement; moving men and police were sympathetic because their own families were affected. I remember once, after the furniture was moved onto the street from one home, after the police and movers had left, we just picked it up and moved it back inside. To make a very long story short: for several years, no one who wanted to stay in their homes was forced to move or pay the outrageous rent increases.

Tomorrow Occupy Las Cruces will claim a place to occupy, a safe place to gather, a place where we can begin to learn to practice true participatory democracy, and collectively try to figure out how to fix the problems that beset us. We will gather at 5:30 on the Downtown Mall for a Teach In on non-violence, and then occupiers will march to the lawn outside the Branigan Library. Here we will hold the General Assemblies through which we govern ourselves and also Teach Ins/Learn Ins.

I truly believe that this non-partisan Occupy Wall Street/Occupy Las Cruces/Occupy Everywhere Movement has the best chance, in my lifetime, of bringing people to their senses. I hope you will support us, join us, and add your voices to the call for change.
—Claudia Piper