Occupy Your Plate

Jan 10, 2012 by

I am so proud of the Occupy Movement! I hope people are getting wise to the contempt Corporate America has for the rest of us. I’m not just referring to the banking industry, either. Corporate goes for all kinds of industry: electronics, textiles, food, energy, etc.., lots of businesses where their primary focus is to make money. Not to serve a community need, to make money. Not to provide a quality product at a good value to the consumer, to make money.

I’ll try to keep this rant to food.

I’ve been preaching about the local foods movement and local business in general, not because it is cool but because it trumps the corporate counterparts by the presence of COMPASSION and that their bottom line isn’t the only line they care about. Have you caught any of the articles tattling on the sometimes disgusting antics of Big Ag and Big Food? Did you hear about the company that re-processed gallons of moldy applesauce to ship to schools? Or the countless recalls of E. Coli-tainted meats and vegetables that somehow still manage to get to the public? Maybe you’ve seen these corporate food lies: your “freshly” squeezed orange juice that has actually sat in a vat for up to a year, your meats that get doused with ammonia , the cellulose and other industrial by-products that find their way into more processed food than you would like to know about. Why isn’t this squawked about on mainstream news?

“So what can I do about this and why should I care?” you might say. “Eating healthy / organic / local is too expensive and I don’t have the time / desire / know-how to cook.”

My shopping reflects my values and I vote with my pocketbook. Start small and don’t try to re-invent the wheel in a week. I would rather spend an hour cooking something for my family than watching TV, but that’s me.

Don’t like factory farms? Seek out a local market and shop there. Spending money with local retailers strengthens the community and is a slap in the face of recession. Start a vegetable garden, and share your bounty with your neighbors – defy the “bedroom community” label and chat in person. Know that if we don’t start giving a damn about what we purchase, and where it comes from – that the quality of these things will continue to tank. The rich will get richer from our apathy. Our economy is based almost entirely on us buying stuff, so make every dollar count!

This video of a farmer addressing the NYC Occupy group nearly got me bawling. I can’t help but feel sickened and a little enraged every time I hear a sound bite about how unorganized the movement is, or the “But what do they stand for?” bullshit. The food lies are as insidious as the lies about “trickle-down economics” – don’t believe the hype. There has been a great interview with Chris Hedges making the rounds that I think hits the mark, and I will leave you with this quote from his book, Losing Moses on the Freeway: The 10 Commandments in America:
“We watch impassively as the wealthy and the elite, the huge corporations, rob us, ruin the environment, defraud consumers and taxpayers and create an exclusive American oligarchy that fuses wealth and political power. We watch passively because we believe we can enter the club. It is greed that inspires us. It is greed that keeps us silent. Our greed is devouring us.”

 

Cheers-

 

Dark Martha

Conscious Urban Living

Carriage House Farm

 

PS – If you are in the Cincy area, and are interested in getting that garden going, join me for my class series coming up in a few weeks.

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A Profile of Occupy Cincinnati, Pt. II

Dec 9, 2011 by

RocoNews-1

Note: This is Part II of the piece that I composed with Zac from Fatal Downflaw. The article will be posted on both sites. Part I can be found here.

 

Portrayal in the Media
With mega-conglomerate-controlled mainstream news media being the norm for America, it comes as little surprise that  Occupy Cincinnati has some very strong feelings about their portrayal in local media. All present felt like the media was almost waiting in the wings for the group’s next big action – probably hoping for some more arrests or similar fireworks.

Sonnet: “In Cincinnati, one of the things I’ve been surprised at is how much the media picked us up in the beginning. A lot of that had to do with the fact that Wall Street had been going on for several weeks, so we didn’t get blacklisted like they did in the initial phases of Wall Street. That being said, the overall tenor I would say has been very negative as of late, but we’re still getting coverage. I mean, we still have people picking us up on a regular basis, we still get press calls all the time. One of the things that we’re going to have to constantly battle is that the Enquirer… their board is incredibly conservative… and members of their board are also members of 3CDC, so we’re gonna have to constantly battle that, but we still have great independent sources like The Beacon, StreetVibes, even CityBeat has done a pretty good job covering us, so I take heart in that.”

Chelsea: “We’re all kind of waiting to get arrested again, too”

As expected by the Occupiers, there was another round of Occupy Cincinnati arrests a few days after Chelsea made that statement. Along with their definitive feelings about local media, when asked if there was anything that they felt that the media was getting particularly wrong or particularly right when characterizing the movement, there were immediate complaints and similarly immediate dismissal of comparisons to the Tea Party, and some other issues:

Sonnet: “I’ve been asked so many times, even by you guys, ‘What’s your end goal, what’s the point, why are you out there, what’s your message’ and there was a great article on Slate.com about how journalists are either plugging their ears, closing their eyes, or just being lazy because we’ve been telling people over and over and over again that we’re out here because we’re the 99%, because we believe in putting people before profits, et cetera, but nobody can understand those large concepts, or they’re unwilling to. So that’s my little soapbox about Cincinnati media because they are so not getting it yet.”

Aaron: “Also, there are other people out in the community who have access to these media channels and influence over these media channels, so while we were occupying in the park, this narrative came out that the park was a mess, that people were pissing in the alleys, that there were rats everywhere, and that’s just not true…. That’s been a cohesive message from the people that oppose us throughout the country; that the Occupation is dirty, it has all these homeless people involved, and it’s just gross. That’s just way overblown.”

One thing that does seem to have been portrayed accurately by the media is that their relationship with the police has been pretty cordial. Aaron even described it as “good” between them and the rank-and-file officers. They emphasized that these rank-and-file officers were themselves part of the 99% that they claimed to represent, and Chelsea mentioned a couple of extremely positive personal conversations that she’d had with police.

On Location
Occupy2We were curious about how the decision to Occupy Piatt Park had been made, and how their removal from that park had affected their day-to-day activities. Aaron, Josh and Justin explained that they had originally chosen to occupy Fountain Square, but had left after one night out of respect for a breast cancer benefit that was taking place the next day. Piatt Park was their second choice of location, but it stuck until they were prevented (via arrests) from being in the park after hours. While they still use the park during it’s open hours, they claim that the park was cleaner and had less crime (zero, actually) while they were staying there 24 hours a day than it does under normal circumstances.

Aaron: “(The removal) has negatively impacted the park. It’s also negatively impacted us. I mean, it’s a central organizing principle for the Occupy movement, and it’s difficult to work around not having 30-50 people in the park at all times.”

Opposition
Occupy Cincinnati was the target of it’s fair share of complaints. We asked about one in particular that was echoed by some local politicians, and given quite a bit of press in the local media: that the local businesses felt that OC’s presence in Piatt Park was detrimental to business.

Aaron: Sorry ‘bout it. I mean, really, free speech and freedom of assembly is an inherent right of Americans, and I feel like of people around the world… If they’re minorly inconvenienced by it, I think it’s a small price to pay for the First Amendment. We get a free society out of it, and sorry that your front lawn looks like crap.

Josh: But it doesn’t even, and to refer to them as “local businesses” is a little capacious, because it’s not all local businesses. There are plenty of local businesses here who like and support us. The prime people who complain are these large, money-interested property owners who have building spaces. I mean, we could name the Bortz family and their Towne Property interest as one; LPK, which is a big design and branding firm which works mainly for P&G. Those are the primary people who are concerned about our presence here, because they also don’t like our message.

We also asked about concerns that had been raised, primarily by Leslie Ghiz and Wayne Lippert, that other, less desirable protesters would have to be shown similar deference if Occupy Cincinnati were allowed to remain in Piatt Park 24/7.

Aaron: This is the whole Ku Klux Klan argument, which is “If we let you guys do this, what’s stopping the Ku Klux Klan from doing this?” And my response is: nothing. You know, as horrible and ignorant and vile as they are, I, albeit grudgingly, have to respect their First Amendment rights. I think it’s a human right, and while some of it makes me personally uncomfortable, I’ve been put in this weird position of supporting their right to say the dumbass shit that they say.

Josh: It’s a straw-man that they’ve set up. It’s not a real argument. He’s not put in the position of supporting the KKK. It’s a straw-man argument that the city likes to trot out because of their history on Fountain Square.

Justin: If you believe in free speech, you believe in free speech for everybody. You don’t just believe in free speech for people that you agree with; you agree with free speech and the freedom of people that you totally disagree with. If you’re a country that values free speech, and we are, then there’s free speech for everybody and everybody has the right to peaceably assemble.

This exchange prompted us to ask if they felt that there were any local politicians who had expressed support for their movement. Justin mentioned that Chris Smitherman and Chris Seelbach had spoken out in support of their right to occupy the park, and that they’d been visited by Cecil Thomas as well. Everyone went to great pains to point out that Occupy doesn’t endorse specific candidates, mainly because they feel that any endorsements would exclude too many people; remember, 90% of them have to agree on anything they do. The same thinking didn’t apply, however, to candidates who they felt had worked against them publicly. They spoke out against Ghiz, Lippert, Bortz, and Murray (none of the four were reelected).

Today and Tomorrow
Occupy Cincinnati’s response to the November 15th early morning removal of Occupy Wall Street’s encampment from Zucotti park was essentially immediate; that night 15 OC protesters sat, arms locked, around the James A. Garfield statue facing Vine street, and were arrested for civil disobedience – being in the park after 10:00 PM. Earlier that day, the Rev. Jesse Jackson had approached Josh Spring at the Greater Cincinnati Coalition for the Homeless about connecting locally, and had spoken to Occupy Cincinnati the evening of the 14th, and then again on the 15th after a participating in the Postal Worker’s Union march that day.

Aaron: “Things just fell into place that way, we had the arrests planned, and then  in the middle of the day we’re all ‘what the fuck Jesse Jackson is going to be here!?’ It says a lot that he spent the bulk of his time in the city with Occupy Cincinnati and the Postal Worker’s Union march – which is something that OC was heavily involved in.  What was remarkable was how much he means to so many people.  What he’s done, accomplished, represents… I got out of the way so some of my friends could be closer to him when he was speaking because it was literally a religious experience for some of them. I mean, the man marched with Martin Luther King, you know? He’s got all the street cred in the world.”

Some might question Adbuster’s push to start the Occupy movement in mid-September- though certainly it’s blossoming into an international phenomenon wasn’t planned. Staring down a Midwestern winter, it can’t be encouraging to imagine spending the entire winter as part of a movement that has come to be known for persistent outdoor presence.

Aaron: “We’ll wear coats, the cold sucks. We’re investigating some indoor spaces that will allow us to return to focus on organizing 24/7. We’re also looking at occupying some foreclosed homes or throughout the city, you know, direct action. We want to draw attention to what’s been going on in some of these specific situations – whatever it takes to effect people’s lives for the better.”

In early December, the Occupy movement is two and a half months old. Elections have come and gone, and none of the groups – Occupy Cincinnati included – are making daily headlines – though certainly incidents like the UC Davis pepper spraying have ensured that the public hasn’t forgotten about the Occupiers.  So what’s next for Occupy Cincinnati?

Aaron: “We won big in the local elections last month. If just one of Lippert, Ghiz, Murray, or Bortz had failed to be re-elected, it would have been huge for us. but all four? We might still be in Piatt Park if not for the motions those four supported in City Council. Chris Bortz and Towne Properties [the Bortz family has controlling interest in Towne Properties, which owns several properties around Piatt Park], how is that not a conflict of interest? Anyway, coming up we’ll be in court for the next few moths, you can count on that – a lot of stuff going on. We’ve got fresh batches of charges from recent arrests, so they’ll be even slower to come around. Our cases have already come up once, and the city asked for continuances, out through the first of the year.  Maybe they’re concerned about the rulings, you’d have to ask them. But our long term goal is what’s been said over and over: we want to get money out of politics, and have government be responsive to people, not to dollars.

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A Profile of Occupy Cincinnati, Pt. 1

Dec 8, 2011 by

Note: This profile was a collaboration between Zac from Fatal Downflaw and myself. This article will be cross-posted on both sites. Additionally, there was such an abundance of material that we opted to split it into two parts. The first runs today, the second will run tomorrow.

It’s a chilly night on Vine Street, but the Occupy Cincinnati (OC) members, gathered at the base of the Garfield statue, take little notice – they’re used to inclement weather. We sit down with Aaron, Sonnet, Chelsea, Molly, Josh, and Justin. Our first lesson about Occupy Cincinnati is that they’re tight knit, and as we quickly learn, each other’s greatest supporters. Our second lesson is that  we’re not going to get any one-on-one time with any of them – so our conversation is with the group.

Personal

Aaron’s been with the Cincinnati movement since it organized in late September of this year, attending even the initial planning meetings. Following the Arab Spring movement and related movements in the news, he got involved through facebook and calls the Occupy movement’s emergence in Cincinnati a “Dream come true”. Like all the Occupiers, his stake is a personal one:

Aaron: I realized that the effects of the economic problems in our country have touched just about everyone’s lives.  When I saw this flickr feed of all these people holding up their 99% stories, their personal stories of hardship. Things like – well, my sign is that I’ve been laid off three times in the last eighteen months, I’ve got a four-year-old son, and I’m working two shitty part-time jobs and can’t really pay my bills – I am the 99%. Anyway the flickr feed shocked me, I had felt like that hardship was isolated to small pocket of people like my friends, but it’s not; everyone in the country is struggling with the same things.

“Don’t they have jobs and families!?” is an often-heard comment about the Occupy Movement.  To the external observer, Occupiers exist in a state of constant protests, rallies, marches, teach-ins, and demonstrations. So in Cincinnati, how do they balance their roles in the movement with their personal lives? About as well as one might expect, it turns out.

Sonnet:I’m a full time graduate student, a TA, and a graduate assistant at UC, and I try to have a life. It’s very difficult to maintain that balance, but with our braintrust and the collaborative spirit that we have, when one of us needs to step back, someone else steps up. That being said, I’ve gone through two breakups since I got involved with OC.

 

Chelsea: It’s kind of hell. I was working as a server, then I was suspended due to my employer’s feelings about my involvement with the Occupy movement.Then I came down with pneumonia, and when I went back to work after being suspended and falling ill, I was fired. It’s been a blessing in disguise – I had some free time to really get my hands dirty and get involved, and I’ve found another job thanks to my friends in OC.

 

Molly: I’m a full-time student, an RA, and on the board of three campus organizations at the University of Louisville. So many of us are very politically involved – at some point you prioritize, and maybe that means you’re writing a term paper while you’re sitting in a park occupying.

 

Aaron: My personal life is basically non-existent; there is a segment of OC that does this almost every waking moment – present company included. From the time I wake up, I’m organizing rallies, or answering emails, or talking to – everyone from the mayor’s office to the chief of police to the media, whoever. My place is a wreck, I neglect my family, my hobbies – I’ve been a hard core Arsenal fan for like ten years, and I have no idea what is going on with my team.

Principles

The most pressing question that people seem to have about the Occupy movement is “Why are you guys doing this?” The tricky thing about this is that the answer is a little different for each of them. There are, however, a few threads that seem to run consistently through all of the Occupiers, and this small group is no exception.

  

  

  

Aaron: “First and foremost we’re in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street. The idea is that the Occupy movement is putting pressure on society at large to get money out of politics and to curtail the influence of large corporations and wealthy individuals that have control over our political system. We believe that the government should be responsive to the people and not necessarily to dollars… We’re providing a forum for people to express their grievances; to express their own personal issues and problems. I think that’s important in and of itself. People think it’s just them, they think it’s just their friends, and they don’t realize that it’s a national or international problem. So when people see that there’s this forum available, I think they’re drawn to it, and I think it provides people an opportunity to speak their minds, to air their grievances, and tell their personal stories.”

It’s been said that the Occupy movement has grievances against the system, but that their failing is that they aren’t really providing solutions to those issues – only calling attention to them. Aaron immediately admits that “initially the movement was all about kind of a ‘collective outcry’ of anguish and despair”, but he feels that it has coalesced into much more defined terms. He points out the Citizens United decision as an example of a specific platform that Occupy has rallied around.

The group is careful to characterize Occupy as a social movement rather than a political one, though they’re also quick to point out the potential for – and importance of – political impact. Sonnet goes so far as to credit Occupy movement with at least part of the responsibility for the continued viability of the American Jobs Act, albeit in piecemeal fashion.

The Organization

Lest you get some crazy idea in your head that OC is a movement that is organized in any familiar fashion, check yourself; unless you’ve got a strong background in ancient Greek political movements, that is. A daily General Assembly (GA) is an open forum where any OC member can make proposals to be adopted by the group as a whole. Committees representing the movement’s needs report in during the GA as well, and include Communications, Direct Action, Education, Legal, Occupation (OC members planning on being arrested are typically on the Occupation committee) Spirituality, Development, and the Grievance committee, which, Sonnet offers, is not a popular group to participate in.

Sonnet: Our Committees meet on a regular basis and stay in touch through list-servs, texting, email, whatever – and do the bulk of the work and heavy lifting.

Past these simple structures, however, Occupy Cincinnati’s organizational system takes a different approach – one that is characteristic of the Occupy movement as a whole. Occupy Cincinnati actively resists the concepts of hierarchy and the traditional concepts of hierarchical leadership. Those Occupiers who have the personalities to be leaders do in fact step up and lead, but which Sonnet points at that as a function of personality rather than an element of a more traditional social structure.

Aaron: “We’re not organized like any kind of traditional organization – we’re an amorphous, constantly-evolving social movement with very little permanency – it’s unlike anything I’ve been involved with.”

The group actively works to ensure that gender, race and class disparities are addressed within the movement; everyone is included, and has a voice that is equal of every other. On the political spectrum, it’s direct democracy, a model rarely seen outside of very small groups. For Occupy Cincinnati, it’s the importance of people having a forum to speak their minds, especially when those people may speak with voices that carry less weight in other settings the homeless, for example.Occupy Cincinnati counts many of the city’s homeless among their members, and has a close relationship with organizations such as the Greater Cincincinnati Coalition for the Homeless. But unequivocal equality seems – to the non-Occupier- like it would be difficult and limiting – maybe like the floor of the Senate gone wrong?

Sonnet: “I can’t speak for everyone – but one of the things I’ve been actively working on is un-brainwashing myself out of thinking that [as a group] you need a leader to complete a task. In fact, our success is because there aren’t any leaders, aren’t any figureheads – there’s nobody to resist and rebel against.  We really do rely on each other; we’re communal and collaborative.”

 

Molly: “Decision-making can this way can be a little bit more strenuous, like for example with Occupy Louisville, spending 30 minutes debating allowing people smoking cigarettes in our media tent, but the consensus decision, reached without hierarchy and leaders, will always result in a decision that is fully supported by everyone in attendance. Without that kind of cohesion, people will be upset, or want to leave – and when everyone knows their voice is just as valuable as everyone else’s – that’s how you create a long-term movement that is able to do things that matter”.

Reaching a 90% consensus on every decision sounds like the nightmare of anyone who’s ever managed a staff in any capacity, but that number, adopted from Occupy Wall Street, is what must be reached to for OC to pass any motion at their General Assemblies. At the end of the day, the results of that process are hard-won to say the least. How does the group get there, and do the ends justify the means?

Aaron: We use a number of different hand gestures to indicate agreement, neutrality, disagreement, or even a block, which is moral opposition. Or new proposals, comments, wrap it up, new information, point of process, whatever. We have a moderator, who does not vote and keeps the group in process. We actually have Molly – who came up from Occupy Louisville – to thank for our Consensus Facilitation training. I don’t think she realizes how helpful that was, and the hand signals can even be funny – they tend to bleed over into our normal lives, too.

 

Sonnet: “We’re doing a brand new form of protest, so it’s important for us to think outside of the box when it comes to executing a task or implementing a policy as well. There’s a tedium in getting to 90%, but it’s about the importance of giving people a microphone, and giving people a place to voice their concerns and opinions – most of these people have never been listened to by any decision-maker. That whole process of being listened to and validated by a large group of people – that’s transformative as well; that’s one of the thing’s we’re changing.

 

Molly: “We’ve been chanting for weeks and weeks “Show me what democracy looks like”. This is it – and it’s going to be messy, it’s going to be difficult, but so many people’s voices are actually being heard for the first time, and that’s revolutionary in and of itself.

 

 Sonnet: “So much of this movement is about process as much as anything else; we constantly illustrate how important that is, how justified it is – there’s no doubt in my mind.  And we’d get 90% on that statement, I’m sure of it. Even if it can be frustrating, it’s so important”

That’s all we could jam into one day. Tomorrow will cover media relations, opposition to the movement, and where they think they are headed in the future. 

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