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Occupy Wall Street participants hold signs and hand out flyers on Wall Street, adjacent to the New York Stock Exchange, on April 12. (AP Photo)

No Occupy events to cover? Look again.

COMMENTARY | April 16, 2012

Occupy issues and events, for starters: Climate change, Keystone XL pipeline, World Bank and IMF, agribusiness, big oil, money out of politics, closing the School of the Americas, the war on drugs, war on terror, war on immigrants, militarization, end tax giveaways to the 1%, military spending, mass incarceration, biggest tax-dodging war profiteers, Bradley Manning, the first international drone summit, corporate lobbyists – and a Mayday general strike.

Second of two articles

By John Hanrahan

Any mainstream press interest in covering the Occupy movement and other organized dissent will certainly be tested in the months to come. In addition to NATO protests in May in Chicago, described yesterday, here is a good sampling of potentially significant anti-corporate and anti-militarism events that should draw the attention of major news organizations this spring. Some of the events have already been held; many shown are scheduled for Washington, D.C., but are typical of actions and events planned in communities around the country in the months to come. 
  • April 14, Washington, DC. On the quieter side, Occupy DC and a number of progressive organizations -- Rootsrikers, Public Citizen, Public Campaign, Americans for Campaign Reform, 99 Seekers, Citizens Congress, and the Metropolitan Washington Council (AFL-CIO), among others -- held a “Money Out of Politics Conference: How Cross-Partisan Citizen Movements Can Reform Our Democracy in 2012 and Beyond.” The all-day April 14 event in Washington, D.C., was to feature a keynote speech by Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard Law School professor and founder of Rootstrikers, an organization that seeks to curb the undue influence of corporate lobbyists over the U.S. political process. The event was to feature various panels of activists and academics “from across the political spectrum” who will be seeking “people-powered solutions to eliminate the corrosive influence of large corporate and personal contributions in politics.” 
  • April 14-17, Washington, DC. School of the Americas Watch (SOA Watch) planned two days of lobbying Congress and the Obama administration, a conference, strategy sessions and concert, as well as an April 16 rally featuring street theater and march on Capitol Hill including nonviolent direct action. SOA Watch has sought for three decades to close the School of the Americas – renamed the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation – which at Fort Benning, Georgia, trains more than 1,000 soldiers from Latin America each year. SOA Watch notes that the school has graduated “more than 600 known human rights abusers and 11 dictators, including the leaders of the 2009 military coup in Honduras” and the murderers of El Salvadoran Archbishop Oscar Romero, the human rights advocate who was shot to death while celebrating Mass in 1980. The conference and other actions are designed to address not only the SOA, but the U.S. government’s “war on drugs, war on terror, war on immigrants, and militarization” – and how each of these affects people and governments in Latin America, the United States and elsewhere. 
  • April 15. More than 30 major grassroots organizations are concluding week-long nationwide efforts to conduct training in nonviolent direct action for what they expected to be some 100,000 people in large and small communities across the country. This “99% Spring” coalition had stated there would be “trainings and teach-ins on a variety of issues, including how to take action to challenge corporate power, end tax giveaways to the 1%, fight the influence of money in politics, and how to create an economy that works for all of us.” This coalition includes 350.org (the leading organization in opposition to the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline), the American Federation of Teachers, Greenpeace, the Institute for Policy Studies, Jobs with Justice, Communications Workers of America, MoveOn.org, National Education Association, Progressive Democrats of America, Service Employees International Union,  UNITE-HERE, United Auto Workers, United Electrical Workers Union, United Steel Workers, Rebuild the Dream, United Students Against Sweatshops, UNITY, and Working Families Party. The coalition is calling for “a national convergence of training, education and action” with an eye toward each of the participating groups conducting nonviolent direct actions relating to the nation’s economic disparities and injustices. MoveOn.org Civic Action, which has drawn criticism from some in the fervently nonpartisan Occupy movement for its support for the Democratic Party and for purportedly attempting to usurp the Occupy movement and its messages for its own political purposes, serves as the host for on-line registration for the event. Apparently indirectly answering the criticism, MoveOn states on its web site that it “is not responsible for the content or programming of the trainings or for the planning or organization of any specific actions,” and that the training is “not an electoral campaign.” 
  • April 15-22, Washington, DC. From April 15-22, McPherson Square-based Occupy DC plans a series of direct actions against what it calls “polluting and planet destroying forces of the 1%,” with protests at the Washington, D.C., offices of various corporations deemed big polluters and wasters and exploiters of resources. The protests, dubbed “Occupy Earth Week/IMF-World Bank” by the organizers, is to culminate with demonstrations the weekend of April 20-22 at the Washington, D.C., spring conferences of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, targeting the two organizations “for their role in the furthering of planet-destroying social and economic systems.” The conferences’ opening day, a Friday, will feature a “Critical Mass” bicycle ride downtown during the evening rush hour. (Such protest rides in various cities have sometimes resulted in hundreds of bikers tying up traffic and keeping police on the run pursuing them and trying to unsnarl traffic.) The specific corporate targets of the daily protests have not been named, but the actions are directed at a corporation deemed a “change denier” and spreader of “lies and disinformation” (April 16), two “major forces” involved in the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline (April 17), a company “extensively invested” in the natural gas drilling process known as hydraulic fracturing -- or fracking (April 18), corporate agribusiness (April 19, during the morning rush-hour), and a major oil company (April 20). 
  • April 17, Washington, DC. The D.C.-based progressive think tank, the Institute for Policy Studies, along with scores of U.S. and international organizations, is sponsoring the second annual “Global Day of Action on Military Spending." The action, which in the United States coincides with the day income tax returns are due, has more than 116 endorsers around the world who are planning more than 132 events in at last 39 countries, organizers said. Events are planned in scores of U.S. communities, ranging geographically from New York City to Honolulu, and in size from Los Angeles to Dubuque, Iowa. In D.C., organizers are planning a “Walk of Shame,” targeting what are referred to as “some of the biggest tax-dodging war profiteers in the country, and their government enablers.” With U.S. military spending almost equal to the total military spending of the rest of the world’s nations combined, the march will visit offices of Halliburton (dubbed “war profiteer extraordinaire” by the organizers), Navistar Defense, the White House (to oppose “austerity measures on social programs while military spending soars”), Bank of America, the Treasury Department, the Podesta Group (lobbyists for 7 of the top 10 military contractors in 2011, including the top three -- Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and General Dynamics).
  • April 19. The Stop Mass Incarceration Network has called for rallies and demonstrations across the country to protest the huge imprisonment numbers in the United States, some 2.4 million people, of whom 60% are African American or Latino. Major activities, including teach-ins and street actions, have been scheduled for New York City, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area, among others. The protests will also focus on conditions in prisons, including the use of long-term solitary confinement; racial profiling; police stop-and-frisk practices against minority youth; and post-incarceration discrimination against former prisoners. The organizing group includes numerous civil rights and social justice organizations, academics, clergy, civil libertarians and actors. Organizers say that such a protest is especially important now, in a presidential election season, when “the horror of racially targeted mass incarceration is hardly being mentioned. And when it does come up, it is raised only to call for even harsher measures."
  • April 23. Support for Pfc. Bradley Manning, who is charged with leaking diplomatic and Iraq and Afghan war-related classified materials to Wikileaks, will be one of the subjects of an April 23 civil disobedience protest at the Justice Department in downtown D.C. The rally also will call for an end to the death penalty, an end to solitary confinement and other brutal practices in the nation’s prisons, an end to prison privatization, the release of radical journalist and long-time prisoner (and until recently death-row inmate) Mumia Abu-Jamal, and a call to spend federal money on jobs, education and health care – and not on jails. Among the expected prominent participants in the event is actor Danny Glover.

    The Justice Department rally is one of dozens of forums, workshops, rallies and civil disobedience actions being carried out throughout April by NOW-DC (National Occupation of Washington, D.C.), which grew out of the encampment at D.C.’s Freedom Plaza, one of two such Occupy encampments in the Nation’s Capital. Both the Freedom Plaza and McPherson Square camps were raided in January by U.S. Park Police, who banned further sleeping in tents. Since then, both camps have maintained a more limited presence at the two sites. Recent news accounts indicate that Freedom Plaza occupiers are moving to McPherson Square. 
  • April 24-26. Supporters of Pfc. Manning will be at Fort Meade, MD, for a court-martial motion hearing. The many charges against Manning include unlawful disclosure of classified information and aiding an enemy. As the nation’s most famous alleged whistleblower since Daniel Ellsberg leaked the Pentagon papers 41 years ago, Manning is accused of leaking documents deemed “secret” whereas Ellsberg, today acclaimed in many quarters as a heroic whistleblower who did the nation a great service, leaked material classified top-secret. On the 25th, supporters will hold an all-day vigil at the Fort Meade main gate, as well as maintaining a presence in the courtroom on all three days. Manning, who has already been incarcerated for more than two years, was subjected to what Juan Mendez, United Nations special rapporteur on torture, reported was “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” while imprisoned initially for nine months at Quantico Marine Base in Virginia. He will likely go before a general court martial in August -- more than 800 days after he was first incarcerated.
  • April 28-29. The peace group CodePink, the civil liberties organization Center for Constitutional Rights, and Reprieve, the United Kingdom-based legal advocacy organization that represents drone victims, are sponsoring a Washington, D.C., conclave that they are billing as “the first international drone summit.” Speakers and participants will include human rights advocates, robotics technology experts, lawyers, privacy advocates, journalists and activists. Organizers say the purpose of the conference is “to inform the American public about the widespread and rapidly expanding deployment of both lethal and surveillance drones, including drone use in the United States.” The conference was slated to feature the personal stories of Pakistani drone-strike victims, but the State Department refused to grant a visa to prominent Pakistani human rights lawyer Shahzad Akbar, whose organization represents families of drone victims.

    Akbar had previously had no trouble geting a visa until, in 2010, he took on a case for two families of drone victims, according to Medea Benjamin, cofounder of CodePink and Global Exchange. He was subsequently denied a visa to speak at Columbia University’s law school in May 2011 at a human rights symposium. Benjamin and other organizers charge that the Obama administration, which “will not even acknowledge the existence of the covert drone program, much less account for those who are maimed and killed,” is trying to silence Akbar, who has facts and stories to “contradict the convenient narrative that drone strikes only kill ‘militants’.”

    Organizers  have launched a campaign to get the U.S. consul general in Pakistan to grant the visa, but time is running short. Given the literal life-and-death nature of the topic, as well as the impressive line-up of speakers, this is an event that any entity considering itself a serious, reputable mainstream news organization should cover. You can be fairly certain that progressive bloggers and established on-line news sites such as Salon.com and Huffington Post will cover this event, but if the last 10 years of the post 9-11 “Great Fear” are any indication, the mainstream press is not usually interested in covering events where actual ideas and viewepoints on militarism – other than those of high government officials – are conveyed. 
  • May 1. Occupy activists in a number of U.S. and world cities, following an initial call from Occupy Los Angeles, have called for a May Day general strike, urging that on May 1 people engage in “No Work, No School, No Housework, No Shopping, No Banking, Take the Streets!” The general strike, in Occupy LA’s words, would be “for migrant rights, jobs for all, a moratorium on foreclosures, and peace – and to recognize housing, education and health care as human rights,” and with a goal of “building of a broad coalition to make that a reality.”

    In calling for a general strike, Occupy LA stated: “In protest against the corruption of the worldwide marketplace, which has led to illegal foreclosures, mass unemployment, low wages, high taxes and a penalization of all those who do not own the ‘99%’ of the world’s resources, and in solidarity with the immigrant movements of May 1st...we are calling upon the people of the world to take this day away from school and the workplace, so that their absence makes their displeasure with this corrupt system be known.” Occupy LA has posted an elaborate plan to try to shut down business as usual in the city on May Day, including four “car and bike caravans through the urban sprawl of Los Angeles that will culminate in direct action in and around the Financial District of downtown L.A. People from all sectors of the city will have a chance to plug in to the routes from any corner of the city, helping to shut down the flow of capital while addressing the 99%’s major grievances.”

    Organizers say participants will include Occupiers, union members and community organizations, among others, who will approach the financial district via the cars and bikes from four directions in a “slow, city-paralyzing, carnival-esque descent into the center of the city.” Meanwhile, the original Occupy Wall Street, which has endorsed the general strike, plans every Friday in New York until May 1 to practice “various street mobilization tactics and formations in preparation for actions on May Day.”  One such warm-up protest, OWS said, was a joint effort with “Break Up Bank of America” to “call on everyone to move their money out of this monstrous bank...a giant, raging hurricane of theft and fraud, spinning through America and leaving a massive trail of destitute retirees and foreclosed-upon families in its wake.”
This is just a sampling from only a few cities of what the Occupy movement and other progressive organizations will be up to in the weeks and months to come. And, lest we forget, the Republican national convention (in Tampa) and the Democratic national convention (in Charlotte, N.C.) will be held beginning August 27 and September 3, respectively. Protesters even now are gearing up for both those conventions, where city officials and Secret Service agents will undoubtedly try to pen off protesters in so-called “free-speech zones” with massive numbers of riot-geared police, much the same as was notoriously done at other conventions in recent years -- the GOP convention in 2008 in St. Paul being a prime example of abusive police practices and free speech violations.
It should be an interesting and newsworthy spring and summer for Occupy and like-minded organizations. The mainstream press owes it to its readers and viewers to be there.

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