Saturday, March 3, 2012

Goodbye, First Amendment: ‘Trespass Bill’ will make protest illegal / / Information Clearing House

29 February, 2012
Just when you thought the government couldn’t ruin the First Amendment any further: The House of Representatives approved a bill on Monday that outlaws protests in instances where some government officials are nearby, whether or not you even know it.
The US House of Representatives voted 388-to-3 in favor of H.R. 347 late Monday, a bill which is being dubbed the Federal Restricted Buildings and Grounds Improvement Act of 2011. In the bill, Congress officially makes it illegal to trespass on the grounds of the White House, which, on the surface, seems not just harmless and necessary, but somewhat shocking that such a rule isn’t already on the books. The wording in the bill, however, extends to allow the government to go after much more than tourists that transverse the wrought iron White House fence.
Under the act, the government is also given the power to bring charges against Americans engaged in political protest anywhere in the country.
Under current law, White House trespassers are prosecuted under a local ordinance, a Washington, DC legislation that can bring misdemeanor charges for anyone trying to get close to the president without authorization. Under H.R. 347, a federal law will formally be applied to such instances, but will also allow the government to bring charges to protesters, demonstrators and activists at political events and other outings across America.
The new legislation allows prosecutors to charge anyone who enters a building without permission or with the intent to disrupt a government function with a federal offense if Secret Service is on the scene, but the law stretches to include not just the president’s palatial Pennsylvania Avenue home. Under the law, any building or grounds where the president is visiting — even temporarily — is covered, as is any building or grounds “restricted in conjunction with an event designated as a special event of national significance."
It’s not just the president who would be spared from protesters, either.
Covered under the bill is any person protected by the Secret Service. Although such protection isn’t extended to just everybody, making it a federal offense to even accidently disrupt an event attended by a person with such status essentially crushes whatever currently remains of the right to assemble and peacefully protest.
Hours after the act passed, presidential candidate Rick Santorum was granted Secret Service protection. For the American protester, this indeed means that glitter-bombing the former Pennsylvania senator is officially a very big no-no, but it doesn’t stop with just him. Santorum’s coverage under the Secret Service began on Tuesday, but fellow GOP hopeful Mitt Romney has already been receiving such security. A campaign aide who asked not to be identified confirmed last week to CBS News that former House Speaker Newt Gingrich has sought Secret Service protection as well. Even former contender Herman Cain received the armed protection treatment when he was still in the running for the Republican Party nod.
In the text of the act, the law is allowed to be used against anyone who knowingly enters or remains in a restricted building or grounds without lawful authority to do so, but those grounds are considered any area where someone — rather it’s President Obama, Senator Santorum or Governor Romney — will be temporarily visiting, whether or not the public is even made aware. Entering such a facility is thus outlawed, as is disrupting the orderly conduct of “official functions,” engaging in disorderly conduct “within such proximity to” the event or acting violent to anyone, anywhere near the premises. Under that verbiage, that means a peaceful protest outside a candidate’s concession speech would be a federal offense, but those occurrences covered as special event of national significance don’t just stop there, either. And neither does the list of covered persons that receive protection.
Outside of the current presidential race, the Secret Service is responsible for guarding an array of politicians, even those from outside America. George W Bush is granted protection until ten years after his administration ended, or 2019, and every living president before him is eligible for life-time, federally funded coverage. Visiting heads of state are extended an offer too, and the events sanctioned as those of national significance — a decision that is left up to the US Department of Homeland Security — extends to more than the obvious. While presidential inaugurations and meeting of foreign dignitaries are awarded the title, nearly three dozen events in all have been considered a National Special Security Event (NSSE) since the term was created under President Clinton. Among past events on the DHS-sanctioned NSSE list are Super Bowl XXXVI, the funerals of Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford, most State of the Union addresses and the 2008 Democratic and Republican National Conventions.
With Secret Service protection awarded to visiting dignitaries, this also means, for instance, that the federal government could consider a demonstration against any foreign president on American soil as a violation of federal law, as long as it could be considered disruptive to whatever function is occurring.
When thousands of protesters are expected to descend on Chicago this spring for the 2012 G8 and NATO summits, they will also be approaching the grounds of a National Special Security Event. That means disruptive activity, to whichever court has to consider it, will be a federal offense under the act.
And don’t forget if you intend on fighting such charges, you might not be able to rely on evidence of your own. In the state of Illinois, videotaping the police, under current law, brings criminals charges. Don’t fret. It’s not like the country will really try to enforce it — right?
On the bright side, does this mean that the law could apply to law enforcement officers reprimanded for using excessive force on protesters at political events? Probably. Of course, some fear that the act is being created just to keep those demonstrations from ever occuring, and given the vague language on par with the loose definition of a “terrorist” under the NDAA, if passed this act is expected to do a lot more harm to the First Amendment than good.
United States Representative Justin Amash (MI-03) was one of only three lawmakers to vote against the act when it appeared in the House late Monday. Explaining his take on the act through his official Facebook account on Tuesday, Rep. Amash writes, “The bill expands current law to make it a crime to enter or remain in an area where an official is visiting even if the person does not know it's illegal to be in that area and has no reason to suspect it's illegal.”
“Some government officials may need extraordinary protection to ensure their safety. But criminalizing legitimate First Amendment activity — even if that activity is annoying to those government officials — violates our rights,” adds the representative.
Now that the act has overwhelmingly made it through the House, the next set of hands to sift through its pages could very well be President Barack Obama; the US Senate had already passed the bill back on February 6. Less than two months ago, the president approved the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, essentially suspending habeas corpus from American citizens. Could the next order out of the Executive Branch be revoking some of the Bill of Rights? Only if you consider the part about being able to assemble a staple of the First Amendment, really. Don’t worry, though. Obama was, after all, a constitutional law professor. When he signed the NDAA on December 31, he accompanied his signature with a signing statement that let Americans know that, just because he authorized the indefinite detention of Americans didn’t mean he thought it was right.
Should President Obama suspend the right to assemble, Americans might expect another apology to accompany it in which the commander-in-chief condemns the very act he authorizes. If you disagree with such a decision, however, don’t take it to the White House. Sixteen-hundred Pennsylvania Avenue and the vicinity is, of course, covered under this act.
Viva Economic Justice!!!!
Michael “Waterman” Hubman
Aggregating and posting for Economic Justice               

Friday, March 2, 2012

To camp or not to camp? That is Occupy’s question By Michelle Fawcett and Arun Gupta / Salon

 After a wave of shutdowns, about 20 Occupy camps still stand. What do they tell us about the state of the movement?
Occupy Tampa has had a rough life. Born on a “Day of Rage” that drew 1,000 people to Tampa, Fla.’s downtown on Oct. 6, it put down roots three days later on a public sidewalk bordering Curtis Hixon Park. It soon blossomed into a community of more than 100 residents adorned with tents, medics, media, kitchen and library on a concrete patch less than 10 feet wide.
From day one, the Tampa police were a fixture in their lives. “They would come by at 6 a.m. to wake us up, and again in the afternoon to make us move our belongings off the sidewalk,”  says Samantha Bowden, a 23-year-old senior at the University of South Florida. The occupiers taped off a 6-foot section of the sidewalk for egress and say the city conceded it had the right to a 24-hour presence, but the police were intent on retarding the occupation’s development by wielding a code against leaving articles on the sidewalk. Occupy Tampa occupiers adapted by placing their belongings on carts so they could be wheeled away whenever the police descended.
Bowden claims the police stepped up harassment by riding motorcycles on the sidewalk next to sleeping occupiers and dispatching a helicopter every night to hover above the camp. Starting in November, she says, “The police would show up every day and throw people’s goods into their vehicles or city trucks and haul them away.” At night, when the park was closed, the police “would grab boxes or carts and toss them into the park to bait the protesters. If they tried to retrieve their belongings they would be trespassed or arrested.” Under Florida state law, police can issue a trespass warning that effectively bars a person from public parks for up to six months, which has happened to numerous Occupy Tampa members.
Worn down by the harassment, arrests and negative publicity that resulted, the occupation at Curtis Hixon Park dwindled to a lone protester much of the time. That’s when a guardian angel arrived in the form of strip club king Joe Redner. A self-made member of the 1 percent – Redner told us he “thinks” he’s worth about $14 million – he opened up a private plot of land in West Tampa called the Voice of Freedom Park to occupiers. Safe from police harassment, and equipped with electricity and running water, Occupy Tampa began life anew on Dec. 30 and is now nearly five months old overall.
After a third wave of Occupy shutdowns (Lexington, Ky.; Charlotte, N.C.; Miami; Honolulu; Buffalo, N.Y.; Austin, Texas; D.C.; Pittsburgh, Pa.; Portland, Maine; Houston; Asheville, N.C.; and Newark) that swept the country with little publicity in late January and early February, a couple of dozen encampments still remain across the country. A few are persisting on private property (Tampa Bay). Some survived by the grace of friendly relations with city administrations (Kansas City, Mo.; Little Rock, Ark.; Orange County, Calif.). Others are locked in legal battles that may have inadvertently prolonged their stays (Boise, Idaho; Nashville). Yet all are experiencing growing pains and an existential crisis or two. Organizers can sound like a new parent, worried one week and pleased the next. And as the public fatigues at the sight of the raggedy outposts — and as new forms of action populate the Occupy calendar this year — the question of the political relevance of the surviving encampments comes into sharp relief. As the scrappy survivors wear on, they are grappling with a new dilemma: Why continue to camp?
“A social experiment”
West Tampa is a blue-collar enclave that is African-American on one side and Cuban, Puerto Rican and Central American on the other. Kelly Benjamin, a Tampa journalist and history buff, says it was founded in the late 19thcentury by Cuban and Spanish cigar rollers, leading to Tampa’s moniker “Cigar City.”
With external pressures relieved, internal pressures have percolated to the surface in Occupy Tampa. The problems are standard for the course, dealing with “people who are homeless, have mental illness or alcohol problems,” says Benjamin.
A public space with free food, shelter and medical care creates a triple challenge: caring for all who come to camp, with limited resources, while trying to change the system that produces the downtrodden in the first place. As across the country, there is a split in Tampa between those who think the camp is the point of the Occupy movement and those who feel the camp detracts from the movement’s goals.
“Some people feel that the Occupation space is not a healthy space to get organizing done,” says Benjamin. “There is so much personal drama that goes on there and the difficulties of living with more than 20 roommates, securing the food, electricity, water. These types of personal conflicts have absolutely sapped energy. It’s turned some people off because they didn’t get involved with Occupy to deal with these difficult dramas for hours and days.”
The conflict between the organizing and the camp has cropped up in many occupations. Activists at Occupy Portland say of the hundreds of people living at the downtown park, that few were present at general assembly meetings where decisions were made about the camp. In Austin, the general assembly repeatedly tried to end the occupation on City Hall steps before police evicted it in early February, but it limped along because occupiers pleaded they had no other safe place to live. At Occupy Wall Street organizing was crowded out by the low-rise tent city that consumed Zuccotti Park in the final weeks (though plans were in the works to erect a large canopy that could hold the general assembly and other political activities).
Occupy Tampa has weathered these difficulties for months, but Benjamin sees an upside to that. He describes the West Tampa occupation as a “social experiment” that has to be seen in relation to “a sprawled-out city” like Tampa. “A lot of people don’t have a sense of community and don’t have to interact with people who are much different than themselves,” explains Benjamin. “It teaches people lessons about how to communicate better, to be sensitive, to learn how to live together, and the benefits of sharing and community. These are all skills that many people have lost and forgotten. There are aspects that are frustrating … but it serves a valuable purpose.”
Occupy Little Rock: Apply within 
“Since we don’t have to fight for our existence, we have the opportunity to fight for greater things,” says 28-year-old Adam Lansky, a music producer and head of public relations for Occupy Little Rock. Those greater things include working to curb corporate influence in politics, restrict development near the Lake Maumelle watershed, and build its weekly FM radio program. Occupy Little Rock members informed the city of their intention to camp, and on Oct. 21 availed themselves of a 27-acre city park containing the William J. Clinton Presidential Library. Lansky says the Little Rock police chief invoked a no-camping ordinance, but acknowledged that “what you’re doing is within your First Amendment rights, and we want to give you a space to do it.” So Occupy Little Rock received an open-ended permit to a parking lot a few blocks away, as well as a dumpster and port-a-potties paid for by the city for the first two months.
The space serves as a “24/7 billboard for the movement and a portal for anyone who walks by to get involved,” says Lansky. But “anyone who walks by” is a mixed blessing. “The physical space is awesome, but that has really been the most problematic element of the whole movement,” Lansky explains. “A lot of good people ran out of patience and vanished and slowly started to get replaced over the last month by transients. We need more people that are motivated, with a high level of intellect, who aren’t just looking for handouts because that was creating dissonance on the site. What is going to bring down the movement? The easiest thing that’s going to bring it down is internal conflict.”
So Lansky proposed a process to filter out unproductive campers. Prospective members need to show a photo ID (one would be provided if necessary), fill out an application that asks for personal references, relevant skills and “medical/psychological conditions.” Successful applicants must then undergo a one-week probationary period with monitoring. If the applicant is not approved, they are asked to leave the camp. And if they don’t leave? “Refusal to leave peacefully will result in removal by the police with possible criminal trespass charges.” Even if “inducted,” members are subject to a “three-strike rule.” The proposal met resistance but eventually passed.
Occupy Little Rock’s choices will make some people squirm. Not only does it appear to have the first means-tested occupation, it looks to be replicating a criminal justice system that is opposed by the many occupiers who organized a “National Occupy Day in Support of Prisoners” on Feb. 20. The process of monitoring, review, a three-strike rule, and threats to call the police and press charges will likely alienate those caught in an incarceration industry that one writer terms “The New Jim Crow.” Given the anti-immigrant sentiment in much of the country, asking for identification, references and other personal information may turn away other groups too. In a city like Little Rock, which is 49 percent African-American and Latino, it’s unlikely that the application process will help the face of the movement resemble the 99 percent who live there.
In response, Lansky says the application process has successfully filtered out the people “with serious psychological issues, people marginalized by society who need rehabilitation services we cannot provide. We are not throwing them out because of their issues but because their issues manifest in very socially disruptive ways.” He says those disruptive people are mostly white, as is the rest of Occupy Little Rock, so they don’t know how communities of color will react to the application.
“The truth is,” says Lansky, “we have been trying to create an Occupy site with racial and ethnic diversity, but we’ve had a hard time reaching those communities, even before the application process. I understand it might put them off, but I really hope it doesn’t.” In the meantime, adds Lansky, the process has “protected the integrity of the organization” and allowed the camp to thrive.
Occupy Providence cuts a deal
Until late January, Occupy Providence’s camp was located in Burnside Park, across the Providence River from the Rhode Island State House. Robert Malin, a 59-year-old writer and documentary filmmaker, says the park was the kind of place “you could see the crack pipes lighting up at night.” That changed when the Occupy movement came to town. Group members approached each park resident, explaining what the movement was about and encouraging them to join. Drug users or homeless people who did not want to join were asked to move on. Malin says, “It was pretty much universally felt by local police force that we cleaned up the park for all practical purposes.”
The city issued multiple eviction warnings in the fall, but never took action. Soon it began citing health and safety concerns as winter rolled in. Malin says Providence wanted to avoid the “if it bleeds it leads” headlines and began opting for a legal course of action. Lawyers told occupiers, “There is a long case history [in Rhode Island] where health and safety have trumped free speech rights.”
Paul Hubbard, a 60-year-old multimedia producer, says early on “we could have mobilized 500 to 1,000 people to defend camp, but as time went on, realistically, that wasn’t going to happen.” Plus, Hubbard adds, “two different visions began tugging at each other within the camp,” between those who prioritized the camp and those who wanted to focus more on protest actions.  At the same time, Occupy Providence has organized more than 40 direct actions since its founding.
Faced with looming eviction by the city, dwindling supplies, falling public support and cold weather, Occupy Providence needed options. According to Malin, a poll of occupiers found widespread concern about the fate of the homeless in the camp, many of whom had recently lost jobs and homes, should eviction occur. At the same time, they discovered that the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless had been working for six years to get a day shelter, as the homeless were forced to wander the streets with their belongings until shelters opened in the evening.
So Occupy Providence cut a deal. Members offered to break camp for the rest of the winter in exchange for a temporary homeless day center. The city “was dragged to this kicking and screaming all the way,” said Malin. “They didn’t want to set a precedent that we could occupy to get them to do something that they didn’t want to do.” The city relented, but claiming they lacked the resources reached an agreement with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence to open and pay for the shelter.
“We saw an opportunity to make a concrete demand of the city in exchange for an orderly transition out of the park and we took advantage of that,” said Hubbard. “This was a tactical maneuver that allowed Occupy Providence to regroup but also to win something very important. It seems like a small victory, but the larger context is that for weeks the question of homelessness was driven by Occupy Providence and it was a huge discussion and debate in corporate media that previously social justice movements didn’t have. We were on the front page above the fold for three days in a row.”
But, Hubbard acknowledges, the goal of the Occupy Movement is not to gain a temporary day shelter, something the city should already be providing for its citizens, but to change the system that produces homelessness to begin with. To what extent, then, was the arrangement a victory or a retreat?
“It was a tremendous victory for Occupy Providence,” says Hubbard. “Running a tent city takes a lot of energy and resources and at some point beating an organized retreat is more useful than a disorganized one. The national repression of the Occupy movement has been extremely disruptive.” Malin is more guarded. “Whether we outsmarted ourselves or whether we were outsmarted by the city or whether we did something that is a model for other cities … is not entirely clear, but the occupying part is just a strategy,” he says, not the only method for achieving the movement’s goals.
And the sense of victory is important in itself. A movement cannot grow on soaring visions, idealism and outrage alone. It needs tangible victories, that it is delivering the goods. The daily bread of the Occupy movement is successes, even partial ones, like Oakland’s Nov. 2 general strike, the Nov. 5 “move your money campaign,” the Dec. 12 West Coast port shutdowns and dozens of successful eviction and foreclosure defenses. It shows participants they are making a difference, that power is conceding something, and provides an elegant comeback to the “Get a job and take a bath” vitriol oozing from online trolls and stumping politicians alike.
Kansas City: No tension, no impact?
Occupiers in Kansas City, Mo., marvel at the ease with which their camp has functioned. Nearing the 150-day mark, it may be the longest-running occupation, having planted its feet under the shadow of the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank on Sept. 30. Its announcement to the city of the intention to camp was well-received, says Occupy member Richard Sauvé. He says the camp enjoys the support of the mayor, the police, who donated tents to the cause, local unions, University of Missouri professors, churches and passersby. A strict code of conduct is honored in the camp. Whatever restrictions on camping or permanent structures in public that may exist on the books, none of Occupy Kansas City’s activities has raised the ire of what Sauvé calls a “big small town” and not a single arrest has occurred in nearly five months.
Despite the lack of inside tension and outside opponents, Kansas City occupiers have also contemplated the purpose of the encampment. “No one is fighting for the right to live in a tent,” says the 41-year-old Sauvé, a print designer and veteran organizer. “People are fighting to get back into their homes, to make a better life.” While the camp can act as a visible magnet to draw in new members, Sauvé ironically notes, “maybe our biggest struggle is reminding people that we’re still here.” As core activists burn out, the group needs to refresh its blood by attracting new people who can continue the political work while keeping the camp stocked with gas and food and other survival basics. But without the drama and publicity of more confrontational direct action, the camp can be overlooked as it becomes part of the landscape.
As other occupations move on to what Sauvé calls the “second or third phase” of the movement, such as home foreclosure defenses and coordinated national protests, he admits Occupy Kansas City has debated whether continue the occupation. “But I think it’s necessary to have it there,” Sauvé says, “at least until the country as a whole has really understood the movement.” While he appears proud of how long the camp has run, Sauvé adds, “I don’t feel any occupation is any more or less successful as the occupation is as a collective. In short, we all won. Any advances or setbacks that any occupation has, we share entirely.”
Forming a new society
After 30 years of the fracturing of the left, the unifying message of the 99 percent and the highly visible reclamation of the commons through the act of camping everywhere gave the Occupy Movement its strength. The flimsy tent villages clinging to public street corners and plazas, calling attention to systematic inequality and attempting to build a more just and democratic society, burned deep into the imagination and changed the public debate.
Without the camps, the movement could fragment into a thousand other worthy causes and lose its centralizing force. And while the camps mirror the conflicts in society, they also provide the space to deal with those conflicts in order to grow the movement. For it is the very practice of forming a new society, with all its attendant difficulties, that inspires hope. Anthony Dwayne Hudson, a 51-year-old poet and former prisoner, said of Occupy Denver, “It’s my therapy, man. It’s fulfilling. And it’s given me courage. It’s boosted my self-esteem. To where I’m now ready to go out and engage this world. When I walk out of here, my walk is different. My whole mind-set is different. So I always want to be connected to this.”
But there is also danger in an unwieldy camp sapping energy. And even when functioning smoothly, there is a risk of becoming normalized and less relevant over time. The occupations succeeded because they rejected all politics as usual, including the same old marches, rallies and protests, which had become ineffectual.  “I don’t think you can keep doing the same thing and expect different results.  I think you have to surprise people,” says Lansky of Occupy Little Rock. “When the media and the public at large are forced to adapt to a whole new mechanism by which a revolution is operating, it gets more attention, it’s a way of fostering more support. We need to begin exploiting these outside opportunities rather than hammering the same nail.”
Whether spring will bring fresh shoots of camps out of the fields of concrete is unknown. For the element of surprise that characterizes this movement has already helped to seal its place in the history of American grass-roots activism.

Michelle Fawcett, Ph.D., is an adjunct professor in the Department of Media, Culture and Communications at NYU and is reporting on the Occupy Movement nationwide. More Michelle Fawcett

Arun Gupta, a New York writer and co-founder of Occupy the Wall  Street Journal, covers the Occupy movement for Salon.More Arun Gupta
Viva Economic Justice!!!! Michael “Waterman” Hubman Aggregating and posting for Economic Justice               

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Occupy invades “America’s storage shed” by By Arun Gupta and Michelle Fawcett / Salon

Faced with protest, Walmart unilaterally shuts down three warehouses in Southern California


Southern California's Inland Empire occupied.
Southern California's Inland Empire occupied.
Spilling out below the snow-dusted San Bernardino Mountains, California’s Inland Empire in Southern California is America’s storage shed. Its economy is a key link in the global supply chain. Goods from Asia funnel through the Los Angeles and Long Beach ports that handle more than one-quarter of all the imports pouring into the United States every year, and much of it is warehoused here before finding its way into homes and businesses across the nation. If all the storage space was gathered under one roof, more than 700 million square feet, it would make a warehouse larger than Manhattan.
With manufacturing scant in the Inland Empire, an estimated 118,000 workers are employed hustling through cavernous warehouses to stack and fetch goods or hauling them in rigs. The area is infested with banal exurbs that clump in towns such as Mira Loma, which has been tagged the “diesel death zone” for the lung-searing truck pollution that envelops it. It was in Mira Loma that a few hundred members of various Southern California Occupy movements converged at sunrise  on Feb. 29 with the goal of shutting down a Walmart distribution center.
They were joining in the one-day “Shut Down the Corporations” action staged nationwide against Fortune 500 companies like Walmart, Monsanto, Pfizer, Citibank, Koch Industries, BP, Bank of America, AT&T, Altria and Peabody Energy. According to “F29” organizers, these corporations are all big-money backers of the American Legislative Executive Council (ALEC), which critics say “rewrite state laws that … often directly benefit huge corporations.”
On a chilly, smoggy morning in front of the Walmart complex, Jared Iorio, a 33-year-old photographer and stalwart with Occupy Los Angeles, told me that the protest was the workers’ idea. Iorio says an organizing project called the Warehouse Workers United “came to the Occupy movement for support. The shutdown was our idea.”  Michael Novick, a retired Los Angeles teacher, explained that workers in the Walmart facility “called for a one-day strike today in an attempt to get union recognition and called for community support. Occupy Riverside put out a call to support their action and to have a community picket.” As for why the strike failed to materialize, Iorio speculates that was “because of pressure from Change to Win and those more entrenched in the union structure.”
The battle going on at the Walmart center in Mira Loma is an exemplary case of the chess match between capital and labor, as long as you realize labor is starting the game with virtually no pieces. On one side, Walmart’s center is run by Schneider National, a $3.7 billion logistics giant that provides services to two-thirds of the Fortune 500 companies. Schneider in turn subcontracts for workers to Rogers Premier, one of more than 400 temp agencies in the area. The workers are “permanent temps” as they may toil on the same site for years. Walmart uses the layers of subcontracting to insulate itself from legal and ethical liability for the inevitable abuses in the low-wage warehouse industry.
In an open letter to the Occupy movement, workers employed by Rogers in a Schneider-run warehouse handling Walmart’s goods told of “working up to 72 hours straight [and] not receiving even minimum wage after working 16 hour days consistently for years.” On Oct. 17 six workers initiated a class-action lawsuit against Schneider, Rogers and others for “systematic wage theft” by deliberately underpaying them and denying overtime. The state of California was investigating the warehouses at the time and hit Rogers with a fine of more than $600,000 for labor law violations. A few days after the workers filed suit, Schneider dumped Rogers and dropped the ax on more than 100 warehouse workers. The firings were set for Feb. 24, but a federal judge blocked them because she found it was likely they violated “anti-retaliation law.”
Organized labor has been trying for decades to crack Walmart, which has perfected an anti-union strategy. In the very rare instance where an organizing campaign succeeded, Walmart excised the offending limb, whether it was closing down a store in Quebec after workers there unionized in 2005 or getting rid of all in-store meat cutting after 11 butchers in a Texas store voted to join a union in 2000.
So unions have been pursuing a new strategy with Walmart, particularly with the warehouse workers in Mira Loma. The Warehouse Workers United is a project of  Change to Win, which was set up in 2005, mainly by the Teamsters and Service Employees International Union, as an alternative to the AFL-CIO (and has since foundered). The organizing model hearkens back to the labor militancy of the 1930s before employers gained an enduring advantage after the Taft-Hartley Act passed in 1947. Warehouse Workers United has engaged in door-knocking campaigns in the Inland Empire’s poor communities as well as establishing a workers center. It is trying to use the model of a corporate campaign, which moves beyond the workplace, to mobilize community support to pressure corporations. The goal is to force Walmart to the table, make it accept responsibility for workers in its warehouses, and improve their pay and conditions.
One of those other means is the Occupy movement. The sight of muscular unions (compared to other social movements) dialing 911 for raggedy anarchist-inspired occupiers is a telling sign of the power of the Occupy brand. Lending support to the Walmart workers on Feb. 29 were occupiers from Los Angeles, Fullerton, Riverside and San Bernardino. We arrived to find an overwhelmingly youthful crowd with a band of black bearing homemade plastic shields, gas masks and bandannas across their faces, adding color to the soul-crushing sprawl of the Inland Empire. We followed demonstrators as they wandered to and fro, discovering that all three Walmart distribution centers there had been preemptively shut down.
Lacking targets, the protest fell back to chants of “Whose streets? Our streets” and sauntered down the roadway. Vehicles began to stack up, and one hyped-up participant pounded his shield on cars, frightening some of the unfortunate passengers. Cooler heads surrounded him, and a few minutes later a cheering gantlet opened to let what were probably low-wage workers go on their way. The cops arrived and blocked off the main intersection, aiding the goal of stopping business for the day, and a police chopper started circling above.
As the sun climbed the group split up, taking positions at two side streets leading to other warehouses. At one post a car bearing amps was deployed and dance music lightened the mood as the group hunkered down for the day. Novick said “it was a victory” even though it was Schneider that had shut down the three warehouses. “They know there is community support for the workers.”
He wasn’t blowing smoke. For an event that was heavily promoted both regionally and nationally, the only surprise early on was the lack of police and private security. It’s not hard to guess why. Novick said so many police were deployed during the Dec. 12 port actions they caused far more disruption of business than the 700 or so protesters who engaged in the blockade. Plus, Walmart has been trying to curry – some say buy – favor with community groups and food activists. Images of a pitched street battle with tear gas and hundreds of arrests would not have burnished Walmart’s image.
I queried Novick as to why there were not more protesters there. Where was labor? Novick responded with evidence of a troubling trend for the Occupy movement – how fractures are appearing. He said in Los Angeles the big unions and faith-based groups have separated from Occupy and set up the “99 percent table.” Novick says he thinks the move is a retreat.
“I think labor has been committing slow suicide for a long time, and I think Occupy actually reversed that in a very positive way,” he said. “You saw a lot more dynamism and an attempt to do community organizing and relate it to workplace organizing.” Novick adds that there are some valid reasons for the retreat, mainly because the strength of organized labor in Los Angeles is the immigrants rights movement, which is at far greater risk from the repression than the average young white occupier in the center of the organizing.
A short while later the languid atmosphere vaporized the instant a trucker came toward us from one of the warehouses. About a dozen occupiers, including a woman in a wheelchair, flocked together and blocked the truck. Masks were pulled up and shields readied. The driver was Hispanic, as is much of the community and work force in the region, came to a halt, turned off his engine and exited his cab. Protesters engaged him in Spanish and English, others debated what to do, with one of the first speakers declaring that even if everyone else wanted to let the truck pass he alone would hold the line. The main point of contention was the effect of their blockade on this one worker versus the broader goal of stopping business as usual.
This type of maximalism bubbled up, with another youth proclaiming to all within earshot, “If we can’t stop the flow of commerce, why are we here?” Another suggested, “If he loses his job he can join Occupy.” Less strident voices weighed in with more sophisticated analysis, asking if the driver was a union worker or not. One woman reminded everyone of the context, “Our goal today was to stop Schneider.” Another protester noted, “The first thing he said to us was, ‘I’m afraid I’m going to lose my job.’ We’re not from this community and he has to live with the consequences of our actions.”
Jared Iorio explained how they approached the issue.
“There were more rowdy elements who were callous and that needs to be addressed,” he said. “We did talk to as many people as possible who were stopped in their vehicles. We handed them a bottle of water and a granola bar and talked to them that we were doing this action on behalf of unorganized workers who were trying to better their lives. We explained we were not trying to inconvenience them, but inconvenience the CEOS who were profiting from them. The outreach was pretty organized, and once we explained what we were doing there were a lot of truckers who supported us.”
The same debate broke out at the other blockade, Iorio explained, pitting the anti-capitalists who wanted to stop all commerce against those who favored a more calibrated approach.
“We do our best to mitigate the economic impact on individuals,” he went on. “We stopped a Walmart and a Micro truck, as well as two other drivers who were paid hourly so they were not really upset, but we let through a truck with an empty load for a company we were not targeting.” He says that the protest included “people who had family members who were truckers. They explained how being an independent contractor works as a trucker and multiple times a week they often are unable to get a load, so stopping it one day is not going to make them lose their homes or families.”
It was a fascinating experiment in crowd sourcing. The Achilles’ heel of the movement was out in the open, with a number of people pleading with the maximalists to consider different perspectives, while noting, “I can’t make you do anything.” But so was Occupy’s strength and idealism. Through collective debate and discussion the crowd can arrive at the correct decision through reason, not force.
The scene also brought to mind something Ruth Fowler of Occupy Los Angles had just told me: “Occupy is very odd right now. The people who have stayed are the cream of the crap, and the brilliant. The rank and file in between are at home … It’s an interesting dynamic. Not entirely comfortable. Lots of loonies floating around.”
As for the driver, who said he was hauling toilets, he was not interested in the finer points of solidarity and community organizing. He got into his cab and backed up as if he was returning to the warehouse. The protesters cheered their surprise victory. Instead, he slipped into a nearby parking lot and sped away. A few ran after his truck, but it was too late.
A handful of masked avengers spontaneously upped the ante by uprooting street signs and took revenge by barricading their nemesis, the parking lot entrance. I walked over to take pictures of their handiwork, and upset one of them. I find this perspective odd. Everyone there knows this is a public event. It’s occurring out in the open. They are desperate for media coverage. But this one fellow was indignant I was not granting him a sphere of privacy for his very public acts. He had remembered to bring his mask, but left his thinking cap at home. He accused me of being a cop. I shot back, “How do I know you’re not a cop?” and thought, why bother with the mask if you think you can be identified by my amateur digital camera? The area was probably festooned with high-tech surveillance devices by corporations and police that had already mapped every hair and pimple on his face.
Things calmed down, and it seemed a good time for a coffee break. We walked back to our car, and two occupiers passed by. One commented, “We were expecting riot cops and tear gas, not Lady Gaga.” The other responded, “I’d prefer the riot cops and tear gas.”
We returned an hour later and the storm had broken. At the north end of the facility were a line of riot police who blocked our path south. We went around the back end, parked and walked north. We could see 100 or more tan-shirted cops in the distance confronting a similar number of protesters and at least two police choppers. I counted 45 cop cars alone on the South end from agencies including the Riverside County Sheriff, Ontario Police, Moreno Valley Police and California Highway Patrol. One could have easily recorded the license plate of every unmarked police car within a 10-mile radius. We were again prevented from getting closer than perhaps a quarter mile. We watched with a group of protesters as demonstrators were moving in and out of a facility.
Desperate for information we started talking to anyone and everyone and noticed trickles of protesters casually walking to safety. It turns out many had entered the grounds of a food company and had made their way through a hole in the fence. Others who remained on the line opposing the police said the cops charged a few times, swinging batons but the demonstrators stuck together with the shield bearers protecting them. Iorio says he was aware of only two arrests, with one person “beat up by seven or eight cops.” He added that there were numerous “instances where protesters unarrested someone who had been grabbed by the cops.”
About half a dozen protesters came toward us wearily and plopped down under a shade tree on the manicured lawn. One supporter popped a pharmaceutical vial labeled “Executor,” fingered a neon-green bud and packed a bowl for a victory toke as cops at a checkpoint nearby warily observed.
Ultimately, says Iorio, “The police did what Walmart wanted. I also don’t think Riverside County had the capacity to arrest more than 200 people. They like to make a few examples, rough them up and arrest them but not prosecute them so they can frighten people away from direct action for a year until the charges expire.”
As the day wound down we talked with workers at other facilities. All were wary. We explained the conditions at Schneider, the allegations of wage theft and why the protesters said they were out there today. Not one worker knew what was going on, either with the protest or with Schneider, which was literally next door. A few workers had nothing but praise for conditions in their own warehouse. But none would give up information about how long they have worked there, their pay or what their jobs actually entailed. One said his company “was great. I don’t have any complaints.” He slyly added, “At least not today.” He said he had heard of Occupy, “I support it. They are for human rights, for workers’ rights.”
The story was the same outside a Lennox warehouse facility. Silence or praise of the workplace from a half-dozen workers in green safety vests chowing on pepperoni pizza. As we told of the conditions at Schneider, the anxiety seemed to increase. The workers shifted around uncomfortably, hunched over their food, averting their gaze. At the main entrance a woman in professional attire conferred with a man with a walkie-talkie. She turned quickly and went inside as he came up to us. We politely explained we were just having an informal chat. He had the bearing of someone who knows his place in the corporate ecosystem. With his green vest and walkie-talkie he was probably a line supervisor. Not one worker at the table would look him in the eye. But he appeared to share their fear, delicately choosing his words like someone who could be canned in an instant if he said the wrong thing. He said he wanted everyone to have good wages and working conditions.
Doesn’t everyone? Not even the most callous CEO will ever say they want Americans to juggle multiple part-time jobs for a lifetime of poverty as long as their health holds up, after which they can be tossed on the scrap heap. People like 22-year-old Alberto Hernandez, who came to protest with his brother. Alberto described factory life in the Inland Empire. He worked 70-hour weeks in an aluminum factory with shoddy safety equipment. At age 18 he was ecstatic at his wages.  “I made $545 a week,” he exclaimed. But the job came with panic attacks, having to move 12,000 pounds of aluminum a day, bloody noses and headaches from the aluminum dust. He realized that there could be a better life, and haltingly spoke of wanting to educate himself.
For half of America the reality is similar: poverty or one paycheck away from it. And that’s what Wall Street cheers every second of the day. Drive down wages, fire workers, bulldoze regulation. They all fatten the bottom line. The isolated workers with their lack of rights are precisely whom the occupiers were fighting for. Some of the workers know it, but they can’t see beyond the gulf of fear to risk for something better. Many of the occupiers are willing to take great risks, sometimes to their own detriment, but have difficultly connecting to people who aren’t looking to wage revolution. It’s not a new story, but the two sides are closer than they have been in decades. And that is what really frightens the 1 percent.

Arun Gupta, a New York writer and co-founder of Occupy the Wall Street Journal, covers the Occupy movement for Salon.More Arun Gupta

Michelle Fawcett, Ph.D., is an adjunct professor in the Department of Media, Culture and Communications at NYU and is reporting on the Occupy Movement nationwide. More Michelle Fawcett
Viva Economic Justice!!!! Michael “Waterman” Hubman Aggregating and posting for Economic Justice               

Occupy fights the law: Will the law win? By Arun Gupta and Michelle Fawcett / Salon

From Boise to Nashvile, the movement faces an unconstitutional legal siege


Occupy Boise is under legal and meteorological siege.
Occupy Boise is under legal and meteorological siege.  (Credit: AP/John Miller)
The Occupy movement is an exercise in the workings of power whether it is social, financial, policing or political. The occupations that began in September spread with an infectious passion in part because the police violence and mass arrests, the tried-and-true methods of state power employed to suppress radical movements, backfired and the movement grew more. By October hundreds of encampments had popped up nationwide with the tacit cooperation and sometimes explicit approval of local officials. For a few heady weeks Occupy Wall Street had the glow of popular legitimacy – social power – trumping whatever fusty laws prohibited camping or a continuous presence in a public space.
The inevitable counteroffensive was launched in November. Using the mass media, politicians hyped the movements as imminent threats to public health and safety, justifying aggressive evictions of prominent occupations in Oakland, Calif., Portland, Ore., and New York City. Within weeks other major encampments in Los Angeles, Seattle, Boston and New Orleans were scattered with hundreds of arrests. A third wave of closures has been underway since late January with occupations shut down from Hawaii to Miami and Austin, Texas, to Buffalo, N.Y.

Arun Gupta, a New York writer and co-founder of Occupy the Wall Street Journal, covers the Occupy movement for Salon.  More Arun Gupta

Michelle Fawcett, Ph.D., is an adjunct professor in the Department of Media, Culture and Communications at NYU and is reporting on the Occupy Movement nationwide.   More Michelle Fawcett
Viva Economic Justice!!!! Michael “Waterman” Hubman Aggregating and posting for Economic Justice               

A famous Chicago factory gets Occupied

Workers take over the former Republic Windows and Doors plant celebrated by Michael Moore


Workers picket at the Republic Windows and Doors factory in Chicago, on Dec. 8, 2008.
Workers picket at the Republic Windows and Doors factory in Chicago, on Dec. 8, 2008. (Credit: AP/M. Spencer Green)
CHICAGO — Leah Fried had seen this movie before.
In fact, she’d appeared in it. Fried is the union representative for workers at the former Republic Windows and Doors plant, site of the 2008 factory occupation in Chicago that captured national attention and appeared in Michael Moore’s ”Capitalism, A Love Story.”
“It feels like déjà vu,” she said on Thursday night, standing at the again-occupied factory’s entrance.
She was in the same doorway she and factory workers had stood in three years earlier, when workers occupied the plant for six days demanding legally owed severance, accrued vacation time, and temporary health benefits. In 2012, the company logo on the door had changed, now reading “Serious Energy,” but the desolate industrial backdrop, the roar of passing semis, the miserable winter weather and the dramatic 1930s-era tactic of physically occupying a factory remained the same.
And, like in 2008, the occupying workers got what they demanded, raising the question of whether similar tactics will spread to other parts of the progressive movement in the near future. Such questions were raised after the Republic occupation, but further radical actions didn’t materialize. Now, however, in the wake of the national political shift engendered by the Occupy movement, the time might be right for progressives to engage in bolder actions.
The 2008 Republic Windows and Doors occupation captured national headlines, as it seemed to be a perfect parable of all that was wrong with the financial crisis: Just a few days after receiving $25 billion in bailout funds from the federal government, Bank of America cut off the company’s credit line, leading Republic’s management to immediately and unceremoniously fire all 250 workers without providing the 60 days’ notice or 60 days’ pay required of them by the federal WARN Act.
Rather than resigning themselves to their fate as a few of the many victims of a devastated economy, workers and their union, the small, fiercely left-wing United Electrical Workers, decided to do something bold: occupy the plant until the company agreed to pay them their severance.
The workers were eventually victorious, convincing Bank of America to reopen Republic’s line of credit so the workers could be paid what they were owed. What’s more, a new company, Serious Energy, bought the factory and pledged to rehire all of the fired workers.
Things looked hopeful for a time. Serious began production with a fraction of the former workforce, hoping that business would soon pick up. But it never did, according to Serious spokesman Michael Kanellos.
“People just aren’t building,” Kanellos says.
The union doesn’t dispute that business was less than stellar. “They were having a hard time getting a foothold in the Chicago market,” Fried acknowledges.
But in a meeting with local management downtown Thursday morning, workers were not told that the factory would be closing soon, the union says; they were told the closure would be effective immediately. When the union said it wanted  time to find a buyer for the factory so workers would not lose their jobs, they say the company refused. (In a statement, Serious said it had not indicated the closure would be immediate.)
When negotiations broke down, workers and union representatives left the downtown offices and headed back to Goose Island to explain to workers, as they had in 2008, the company’s plans — and, as they had in 2008, to put to a vote whether workers wanted to occupy.
Workers voted yes. As the 5 p.m. shift ended, workers stayed in the plant, calling their loved ones and community supporters to explain that they were occupying … again.
“Let the workers eat”
I arrived at the reoccupied factory around dinnertime Thursday, in time to see three community supporters and Occupy Chicagoans walk through the small crowd of two dozen to the factory door with several boxes of pizza — a recently minted symbol of solidarity in the wake of last year’s Wisconsin capitol occupation that was largely fueled by the stuff — to deliver to the occupying workers.
As they opened the factory door, Chicago Police Department officers posted inside the factory stepped forward to stop them. The crowd wouldn’t take no for answer, and began chanting, “Let the workers eat!”
A brief standoff ensued at the factory’s entrance, the steam from the pizzas rising in the winter air, news cameras rolling behind them. A middle-aged woman leaned in to an officer and stated flatly, “Sir, you don’t want to be on camera denying workers pizza.” Reluctantly, the pies were allowed in.
Fried and workers Armando Robles and Vicente Rangel occasionally came to the door to speak to press and supporters about the progress being made in negotiations with the Serious CEO over the phone.
“We proposed that they give us time to find a buyer,” Fried said, “or even allow the workers to buy this plant and run it as a worker-owned enterprise.”
“We’re just asking for a little time to find a way to save these jobs,” said Rangel.
As word traveled on Twitter and Facebook that the plant was reoccupied, the crowd grew. Members of Occupy Chicago arrived with supplies like food, sleeping bags and tents. Wearing a bright-blue poncho in the freezing winter rain, Andy Manos joked,  “I love that I’m part of a movement that brings their own urban camping equipment.”
Manos, a member of Occupy Chicago’s Labor Outreach Committee and an instructor at DePaul University, said the support for such an occupation was natural, given Occupy’s roots in labor struggles.
“The tactic of occupation is inspired from these kinds of factory occupations,” he stated, referring to the 1930s-era sit-in strikes in places like Flint, Mich.
As the night wore on, the rain picked up, and a crowd of 40 or so hunkered down. Occupiers arrived with sleeping bags, more tents, groceries. Someone arrived with a tray of grilled asparagus and cheesy risotto, leftovers donated to Occupy Chicago after a downtown event. I made myself a plate, considering the irony of dining on such fine cuisine outside of a sit-down strike.
Supporters hung around, making themselves useful when they could. Nick Limbeck, an education graduate student at the University of Chicago, stood under a tent calling through a list of the factory’s mostly Latino workers, encouraging those who had the day off to come to the occupation.
“You’re inside the factory right now?” he said at one point in Spanish, realizing he had called a worker who was already occupying. “Oh, disculpe. Stay strong!”
Fried, Robles and Rangel came out several times, telling supporters that negotiations were starting to wrap up. Around 1 a.m., they emerged to declare victory: The company had agreed to keep the plant open for an additional 90 days.
In 2008, workers occupied for six days before their demands were met; in 2012, the whole process took less than 24 hours.
“We weren’t surprised”
In 2008, there was talk of the Republic occupation as a harbinger of populist rage to come. A month after big banks were thrown golden life preservers while the rest of the country struggled not to drown, Republic workers created the now-ubiquitous chant “Banks got bailed out — we got sold out.”
The chant captured much of the public’s anger at the injustice of bailouts for Wall Street and misery for Main Street, and conditions seemed ripe for unions and other progressive organizations to up the ante. But no such uptick occurred. In fact, puzzlingly, it was the right that seized the moment and the momentum while progressives were left scratching their collective heads.
In 2012, however, the conversation has shifted again. Whether because of the right’s overreach, the rise of Occupy, or both, struggles like the Serious occupation seem to resonate with the general public. Fried says the existence of a large, easily mobilized Occupy movement made their 2012 action different.
“We weren’t surprised at the crowd of Occupy Chicago folks,” Fried says. “Everybody knew that we would have a warm reception.”
That presence made a crucial difference at the moment Fried thought they would all be arrested by the Chicago police who had entered the factory.
“Just when the police were saying, ‘We’re going to arrest you right now,’ we said, ‘Hold on a second, we’re talking to the CEO in California. Oh, and by the way, there’s a crowd outside, and the media are here.’ It slowed police things down enough to allow negotiations to resume and eventually lead us to a fair resolution.”
It’s that kind of Occupier/union synergy that has caught on in a few locales and has been given partial credit for union victories in places like Washington state, as well as pushing the labor movement more generally to take risks leaders are usually uncomfortable with.
In the case of Serious, Fried says Occupy’s participation changed the tone of negotiations with the company’s management in California. “When they heard that Occupy Chicago had moved in outside their company, they were alarmed,” she says.
Robles agrees. “The company didn’t think we could generate that kind of crowd and attention,” he says.
Occupations failed to spread in the immediate aftermath of Republic, a fact lamented by some progressive observers who had hoped the tactic would catch on like it did in the 1930s.  But examples of bold, successful actions by unions are still few and probably unlikely (UE is not a member of the 57 union-member AFL-CIO, and is to the left of almost every other union in the country), but various Occupy chapters have occupied foreclosed homes in recent months in cities like Minneapolis, Atlanta and Brooklyn, N.Y. And just a few days before the Serious occupation, parents briefly occupied a West Side elementary school slated for “turnaround” by Chicago Public Schools that was strongly supported by Occupy Chicago protesters.
Unions may not be willing to push the envelope the way Serious workers were, but the stage appears to be set for Serious-style occupations to spread to other parts of the progressive movement in a way they couldn’t after Republic. Occupations in 2012 have two crucial pieces that 2009 occupations would have lacked: a new political space opened up in the country that sympathizes with the plight of the ever-more-squeezed 99 percent, and the material support that a fluid but organized movement like Occupy can provide.
Wiping the rain from his face while standing in front of the occupied Serious factory Thursday night, Manos, the Occupy Chicago Labor Outreach Committee member, thought the answer to the question of whether occupations would continue to spread was obvious.
“Well, this is the second occupation in a week here in Chicago,” he laughed. “So it seems like a fair bet that more actions like this will be likely.”

Micah Uetricht is an activist and writer in Chicago. Follow him on Twitter @micahuetricht.More Micah Uetricht
Viva Economic Justice!!!! Michael “Waterman” Hubman Aggregating and posting for Economic Justice