Sunday, October 30, 2011

Occupy Wall Street and America’s Democratic Tradition / by Amy Dean / Common Dreams

Occupy Wall Street and America’s Democratic Tradition

I was recently talking with some friends who work at the Chicago Board of Trade. Hearing the opinions voiced by Occupy Wall Street protesters, the traders agreed that they’d seen disturbing changes within their industry. While they might have written off criticisms 15 years ago, they’ve since watched the financial sector become more and more based on speculative gambling—with people trying to make profits by moving money around rather than by supporting real economic activity. To a surprising degree, my friends were willing to consent that the system has grown bankrupt. Yet, while they share some of the activists’ criticisms, they don’t like the street protests and are doubtful that the occupations will help our democracy.
I have been sympathetic to their concerns, but I ultimately disagree with their assessment of the protests’ importance. Occupy Wall Street is rooted in a deep tension in American life. In Democracy in America, Alexis de Tocqueville illuminated how the conflict between equality and liberty is at the center of the American political drama. That we are now having an open and spirited debate about the optimal balance between these two values is a crucial, and welcome, david_shankbone
For decades, we have focused on extending liberty in the realm of the marketplace, but this has come at the expense of democratic equality. There was a time when our government approached economic policies with a dual bottom line: Policies were meant to create not only competitiveness, but also social well-being. In recent decades, however, our policy-makers have shifted to pursuing competitiveness as an end in itself, without regard for social benefit. As a result, we now witness a failure to create broadly shared prosperity—a failure that takes the form of glaring inequalities of wealth.
But there’s been a failure in our politics as well. Our system has too often failed to include the voices of working- and middle-class Americans as part of the discussion, privileging the political speech of the wealthy. As Harold Meyerson recently asked in The Washington Post:
After all, did the financial deregulation of the past two decades get enacted on its merits, or because of the campaign contributions and lobbying prowess of the financial sector? The 1999 repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act, which had kept federally insured commercial banks separate from investment and speculator banks, didn’t happen because speculative banking had suddenly become safe. It happened because Citibank and other institutions made mega-campaign contributions and lobbied ferociously for repeal. The Commodities Futures Modernization Act of 2000, which deregulated derivatives, was enacted because the leading banks believed they could make untold profits if it passed. And because they did indeed make untold profits—in the past decade, banks’ gains reached 41 percent of all the corporate profits in America—they had even more money with which to influence our lawmakers.
Americans are not only feeling a financial pinch; they’re feeling disenfranchised. We have experienced cuts to the welfare state for decades. But what we saw in Wisconsin and other state-level fights in early 2011 was that when Republican governors coupled further rollbacks in social services and decreases in education funding with attacks on some of the few remaining middle-class jobs in America, it created a level of insecurity that drove people—in numbers rarely seen—to voice their concerns outside of an electoral framework. These people used protests because the more traditional channels of democracy seemed blocked to all except those who could afford high-priced lobbyists. The same lack of democratic equality gave rise to Occupy Wall Street, and it will continue to motivate protests for as long as it persists.
Even within the business world, a variety of figures have recognized the imbalance. Henry Blodget, CEO and editor-in-chief of Business Insider, argues, “Importantly, the inequality that has developed in the economy over the past couple of decades is not just a moral issue. It’s a practical one. It is, as sociologists might say, “de-stabilizing.” It leads directly to the sort of social unrest that we’re seeing right now.” Meanwhile, Laurence D. Fink, Chief Executive of BlackRock, states of Occupy Wall Street, “These are not lazy people sitting around looking for something to do. We have people losing hope and they’re going into the street, whether it’s justified or not.” And for his part, Vikram Pandit, chief executive officer of Citigroup, says: “[These protests are] completely understandable. Trust has been broken between financial institutions and the citizens of the U.S., and that is Wall Street’s job, to reach out to Main Street and rebuild that trust.”
Historically, social movements have often been unpopular—and yet they’ve made important contributions to American politics. When viewed in hindsight, many protest movements once thought to be too unfocused, unkempt, or unruly ended up securing gains that are now taken for granted in our society.
While some observers may feel disappointed or confused by the message coming out of Occupy Wall Street, we should recognize that social change is a messy process. During the 1930s, those opposed to such measures as social security and labor rights frequently denounced those pushing for changes as dangerous Bolsheviks. Historian Kim Phillips-Fein notes that William Clinton Mullendore, president of the Southern California Edison Company and an influential conservative thinker, argued in 1931 against that era’s reformers, “[Those stirring up ‘trouble’ are] apostles of hatred.”
Yet in the end the social movement activism derided by establishment figures proved essential to creating the political climate necessary for change. Labor unionists and others speaking out made the reforms of the New Deal possible and paved the way for the growth of the American middle class in the post-World War II period. Few can argue today that this wasn’t a good thing for our country.
What’s at stake now is the health of our democracy. When a disproportionate number of Americans feel disenfranchised, it weakens the social fabric of our country. We see this in the ever-more-acrimonious clashes displayed on cable news. Will Occupy Wall Street, like New Deal-era activism, be viewed in retrospect as effectively pushing our political debate in a healthier direction? This remains to be seen. But it is clear that a renewed drive to again create shared prosperity in our economy and democratic equality in our politics is long overdue.

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Occupy Protests: A Movement Taking Root / by Katharine Ainger / Common Dreams

Occupy Protests: A Movement Taking Root

Making common cause locally can give Occupiers more staying power than the anti-globalisation protests had

The Occupy movement, from Madrid to Wall Street to London, asks: "Why are the bankers in charge when nobody voted for them?" Like its predecessors in the anti-globalisation movement, it is struggling with the thorny question – how do you create economic democracy in an era of global financialisation?
The anti-globalisation movement's answer was blockades at economic summits and global finance centres. Occupiers are proposing the direct democracy of general assemblies – consensus-based meetings of active listening and proposal in which anyone can speak – against the tyranny of the financial markets which, having crashed the economy, now demand fealty in the form of austerity, privatisations and Dark Sevier
But while global networks can be extraordinarily powerful at mobilising these kinds of movements, they can be swept away as quickly as they are created. From Paris 1968 to Seattle 1999, liberatory movements can create powerful mobilisations and change political discourse. Yet despite often winning the argument, after the initial euphoria has passed the energy that launched them retreats, leaving the entrenched power structures of capital to regroup.
So what can give the Occupiers deep roots to weather the storms coming their way and make this vital movement sustainable? For one, the Occupy movements are setting the agenda: rather than being reactive at summits where the powerful determine the terrain, they are occupying in their own neighbourhoods at times of their choosing. And they are staying. With the encampments comes a higher level of public engagement that encourages people to look beyond lazy cliches of protesters, creating what has the potential to be a truly democratic, plural, open space.
And the current cycle of struggle is not taking place in an economic boom: there is a level of antagonism between capitalism and democracy that is being made more and more visible to everyone. It's easier to convince people that markets are calling the shots when the IMF is dictating not just to Sierra Leone and Nepal but to Portugal and Ireland.
Crucially, then, the Occupiers aren't movements of people in the north protesting in solidarity with those from the global south labouring under unpayable debt or privatisations that put healthcare and education out of ordinary people's reach. They are populations in Spain, Greece, and the UK that are, in the terms of the IMF, being "structurally adjusted" too. For the most enduring successes of the anti-globalisation movement were when affected populations took action themselves: when Bolivians who could not afford 400% price hikes de-privatised their water company, or when Argentina's outraged populace got rid of an entire political class, threw out the IMF and defaulted.
While remaining globally networked and visible is crucial, it is in engaging too with these livelihood-based struggles that the Occupy movements can build deep roots and popular support. For instance, in Spain, the movement did not disappear when the tents were cleared in June. The "indignados" took the model of the general assembly and spread it through the city.
These local assemblies have broken out of the activist ghetto. Full of ordinary citizens, they organise against emergency ward closures, occupy university departments against cuts and prevent evictions of those who cannot keep up mortgage repayments. This has kept the movement plural and grounded, because people of all political persuasions understand the language of solidarity.
To take a recent example in Barcelona, a local assembly working with homeless associations occupied a vacant block of flats that had been repossessed by a bank five years before and moved eight homeless families in. The public assemblies held in the square outside are a moving and respectful interchange between activists, the homeless families and neighbours. Donated mattresses pile up on the pavement outside, and debates about the ethics of a bank holding repossessed property empty for years during a social housing crisis go on into the night.
These transformational moments move the argument from antagonism to radical proposition – the window-smashing public image of the anti-globalisation movement is inverted. Here it is the banks who are the wreckers, the destroyers of people's sense of safety, social order and dignity, literally smashing doors at dawn to evict people.
Replicating the local assembly from neighbourhood to neighbourhood in this manner sounds impossibly utopian. Yet the only thing strong enough to rein in the power of finance would be for this movement to join with others and win so much support that governments are more scared of the people's sheer numbers than of the markets.

Amy Goodman on Occupy Wall Street / Chris Hedges and Amy Goodman / Common Dreams

Amy Goodman on Occupy Wall Street

[Watch the full segment with Chris Hedges and Amy Goodman here.]

Working America Nurtures Working Class Support for ‘Occupy’ Aims / by David Moberg / Common Dreams

Working America Nurtures Working Class Support for ‘Occupy’ Aims

by David Moberg
Every week organizers from the AFL-CIO’s community affiliate—the 3-million member Working America—knock on doors of about 20,000 households, most of them in predominately white, working-class suburbs.
The Congressional Budget Office confirmed in a report released Tuesday how the 1 percent have prospered dramatically more than everyone else. From 1979 to 2007, the real, after-tax household income of the richest 1 percent increased by 275 percent (nearly quadrupling) while the income of the middle three-fifths grew by less than 40 percent and of the bottom 20 percent by only 18 percent. The people the canvassers meet are not the sort most likely to join an Occupy Wall Street encampment in their home city. But according to Working America Executive Director Karen Nussbaum, they have been quite sympathetic to the message of the protestors—that the rich 1 percent is gaining wealth and power at the expense of the 99 percent—even if not always to the occupiers’ tactics.

Now the challenge for her organization, she says, is to give Working America members a way that’s comfortable for them to express their sentiments over the growing social and economic divide and not let any differences on tactics split OWS and working-class Americans.
Having just returned from three weeks surveying the organization’s work in ten politically critical states, Nussbaum says, “Even the difference between the first week and the last week was really interesting. Occupy Wall Street has unleashed a sense of public possibility that we really didn’t see before.”
Their survey of members showed 51 percent supported Occupy Wall Street protests, while only 16 percent were critical, and 33 percent were neutral or wanted to know more. In one week, partly thanks to a surge in internet sign-ups and increased canvassing, Working America gained 25,000 new members, or four to five times the average. And given the same choices of major issues, corporate responsibility shot up from the bottom to the top of new members’ concerns.

Working America recruits, nearly all of whom have no union at work but support the group’s broad goals, have complained for years about troubled family finances, lack of opportunity, corporate influence in politics and other problems. “There was this growing sense we perceived of social isolation, that there’s nobody they could rely on,” Nussbaum says. “The possibility of social agency or being part of a collective power was declining.” But now three-fourths of members contacted say they are willing to take some action, such as putting up a yard sign focusing on the conflict between the 1 percent and the 99 percent.

The contrast between the fortunes of the 1 and the 99 percent groups has been growing for decades but now becoming more of a public issue. In a recent New York Times survey, for example, two-thirds of those polled believed that wealth in the United States should be more evenly distributed. Only 26 percent thought the current distribution was fair. Two-thirds favor higher taxes on millionaires and object to cutting taxes on corporations. While 69 percent believe Congressional Republican policies favor the rich, 28 percent thought President Obama’s policies favor them (though only 23 percent said the president favored the middle class, 17 percent said the poor, and 21 percent all were treated equally).

The Congressional Budget Office confirmed as well in a report released Tuesday how the 1 percent have prospered dramatically more than everyone else. From 1979 to 2007, the real, after-tax household income of the richest 1 percent increased by 275 percent (nearly quadrupling) while the income of the middle three-fifths grew by less than 40 percent and of the bottom 20 percent by only 18 percent.
Every source of income became more concentrated as the top 1 percent more than doubled its share of pre-tax income (over a period when the combined effects of taxes and federal transfere payment became less progressive). Another survey of trends in inequality from the Economic Policy Institute, a leader in chronicling the rise of inequality, reports that the top 1 percent captured three-fifths of all income growth over the same period.

In the “working class,” Working America typically includes households making less than $75,000 a year and constituting roughly 57 percent of voters nationally (though as much as two-thirds of some key swing states, like Ohio). Although working class voters are slightly underrepresented among swing voters, according to CNN exit polls, their switches have proven decisive, for example, in “top of the ticket” races between 2008 and 2010 in states like Wisconsin, Pennsylvania and Oregon.

Often targeted by Republicans—for example, as part of President Richard Nixon’s “silent majority” or the “Reagan Democrats”—these white working class families are also now targets for the Tea Party movement. Nussbaum thinks progressives and the labor movement—but especially her organization—need to work on preventing the right from driving a wedge between OWS and working class sympathizers.

“One way to prevent the wedge is to make the issue the themes and not the tactics, such as the right to have tents, property rights or police brutality,” she says. “That’s changing the subject. The issue is the 1 percent versus the 99 percent.” The second, related challenge is how to organize ways for the 99 percent to operate on a mass scale, both giving the movement a clearer agenda—such as defining “9 things the 99 percent need,” including a financial speculation tax, mortgage relief, pushing corporations to invest their $2 trillion cash hoard into American jobs—or creating new forums and vehicles of action.

So far unions have been sympathetic and supportive generally of OWS, but deferred to those movements to define their own strategy. AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka on Wednesday criticized police and local official actions against some occupation forces, as have some local AFL-CIO and union officials. Certainly labor should be defending vigorously the right to free speech and assembly, but Nussbaum warns that too much emphasis on protestors’ tactics could play into the game plan of the right. “Our role is to bring along the 99 percent and work for their own way to express themselves,” Nussbaum says. “That’s what we’re all about.”
At the door, Working America members and recruits are talking more about corporate power, less about “greedy politicians, “ Nussbaum says, making it easier to talk about the powers behind the politicians. “You don’t want to start with the puppet but the puppeteer,” Nussbaum says. “This moment reinstates the notion that there’s strength in numbers, “that collective power is possible….It’s a new opening for us.”

Wall Street Protesters Prepare for Winter Weather / Common Dreams

Wall Street Protesters Prepare for Winter Weather

PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Wall Street protesters around the country who are vowing to stand their ground against the police and politicians are also digging in against a different kind of adversary: cold weather
Occupy protesters warm their hands while brewing coffee on a fire pit at their encampment across from the State House in Augusta, Maine. (By Robert F. Bukaty, AP) With the temperature dropping, they are stockpiling donated coats, blankets and scarves, trying to secure cots and military-grade tents, and getting survival tips from the homeless people who have joined their encampments.
"Everyone's been calling it our Valley Forge moment," said Michael McCarthy, a former Navy medic in Providence. "Everybody thought that George Washington couldn't possibly survive in the Northeast."
More than a month and a half into the movement, Occupy Wall Street activists from New York to Colorado have pledged to tough out the snow, sleet and cold as they protest economic inequality and what they call corporate greed.

But the dangers of staying outdoors in some of the country's harsher climes are already becoming apparent: In Denver, two protesters were hospitalized with hypothermia this week during a storm that brought several inches of snow.

The activists also know full well that the number of demonstrators is likely to drop as the weather gets colder.
Some movements are scouting locations indoors, including vacant buildings or other unused properties, possibly even foreclosed homes, though some question the wisdom of holding a protest outside the public eye.

Lighting campfires is probably out of the question in most places because of safety regulations.
Boston's Occupy movement, which has roughly 300 overnight participants and could face some of the most brutal weather of any city with a major encampment, has set up a winterization committee that will try to obtain super-insulated sleeping bags and other winter survival gear. Activists from the movement's flagship encampment, consisting of hundreds of people in New York City's Zuccotti Park, are sorting through packages arriving daily that include coats and jackets.

In Providence, where city officials are threatening to go to court to evict hundreds of campers from a park across from City Hall, a core group said it will remain through the winter months — if not there, somewhere else. Rhode Island's capital has an average low temperature in the 20s from December through February and recorded nearly 3½ feet of snow last year. Many of the more than 100 tents are not built to withstand harsh conditions.

Temperatures were expected to drop into the 30s across much of the Northeast by Friday morning, and forecasters said snow is possible in some places over the weekend. Boston got its first dusting late Thursday night.

In Denver, as protesters prepared for this week's snow, a few dozen sympathizers stopped by to drop off blankets, gloves, chili and hot chocolate. Police refused to let activists erect a tent. That left some sleeping on the wet ground, covered by snowy tarps.

"I welcome the challenge of this cold weather," said Dwayne Hudson, a landscaper who has been living at the Occupy Denver site for nearly two weeks. "This is like war. You know, soldiers do it when they occupy a place. I'm sure the mountains of Afghanistan get pretty cold."
But after the first snowfall, he admitted: "It's getting tough."
Eric Martin, who is on Occupy Boston's winterization committee, said the group had raised about $35,000, which could help buy winter supplies. Various ideas are being discussed to keep tents warm without using combustion-based heaters, which are forbidden. Another proposal: igloos.

"We're looking at ideas from military vets to survivalists, to the homeless community to indigenous peoples," Martin said.

Activists in Philadelphia are also researching sturdier, warmer structures that could replace the 300 to 400 tents set up on the concrete plaza surrounding City Hall.
Chris Goldstein of Riverside, N.J., owns one of the tents, though he sometimes sleeps at home. He learned the hard way during the first rainfall that the site has poor drainage: "I occupied a puddle." The self-employed writer and activist put pallets under the tent to lift it off the ground, and outfitted it with small carpets for insulation.

In the meantime, he and other activists have access to a Quaker community center two blocks away where they can shower and thaw out in common rooms.
In Chicago, where winters are famously bitter, protesters living in Grant Park are working to secure several indoor locations to get them through to spring. A church nearby is letting some demonstrators sleep overnight. Activists in Portland, Ore., likewise said that moving the protest inside is the only realistic option.
Patricia Phelan and her fiancee, Savanah Kite, have been camping in the Providence park in a $20 tent from Walmart. As temperatures dipped into the 40s in the morning this week and people could see their breath, they hadn't yet employed their hand warmers or a down comforter Phelan had in the car just in case.
Their plan is to add layers as necessary.
The trick will be keeping morale up, Phelan said, "and not letting the climate get to us."

Needed: The Solutions Generation / by Robert Costanza / ICH

Needed: The Solutions Generation

The Arab Spring and now the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations are indications of growing unhappiness with the state of the world, especially among the younger generation. As Paul Krugman has pointed out,1 Americans are finally getting angry at the right people—the financial and corporate elites who currently govern the United States and have caused the ongoing crisis. Anger and protests can be effective at bringing the current system into question. But they do little, by themselves, to lead the way to a better future. For that we need a compelling shared vision and a focus on solutions.
In 1776, a group of rebels had such a vision: a government of, by, and for the people. Notwithstanding their rather narrow definition of “the people,” this shared vision had profound implications and helped solve some fundamental problems of human well-being—by spreading participation in governance to the population and rewarding intelligence, hard work, and innovation. A protestor with Occupy Wall Street in New York City in September 2011. (photo: Francisco Daum)
In 1945, the fundamental problems concerned rebuilding the nations devastated by the Great Depression and World War II. The vision that emerged from the baby boom generation involved a focus on built capital, economic production and consumption, full employment, and an expanded middle class. The “great acceleration” that began at that time, largely driven by the consumption of oil and other fossil fuels, had profound implications and helped solve some of the significant challenges of the time. But single-minded pursuit of this vision also created a new set of problems.
In 2011, our fundamental problems include the vast gap in incomes within and between nations, the ecological limits we are exceeding or approaching (climate change, biodiversity loss, etc.), the peaking of global oil production, the deterioration of natural and social capital, and the consequent threats to human well-being and sustainability that all of these imply. What we need now is a new vision and a generational commitment to finding real solutions. The “Solutions Generation” needs to think outside the box to create a vision of a better, more sustainable world for themselves and their children. They will have to design new technologies, new institutions, and new societal norms in order to get there,2 including new political and economic systems that can create shared prosperity without increasing demands on a finite environment.
This cannot be a top-down corporate or government vision. It must be built and it must be shared. If anything, it will be “bottom-down” decision making—an approach that reflects the needs of the vast majority of the people, not just the economic elites.
Probably the most important element of this new vision will be a refocus on the goal of sustainable human well-being instead of maximizing conventional economic production and consumption (GDP). In 1945, GDP was the limiting factor to improving well-being. Now we know that continued global growth in production and consumption in the developed countries is not sustainable. It is also not desirable in that it provides only marginal improvements to societal well-being in the rich countries. As many have noted, including Tim Jackson3 and the Sarkozy Commission headed by Joseph Stiglitz,4 GDP is fatally flawed as a measure of progress, and we desperately need new measures of well-being. We know from both the latest psychological research and from ancient wisdom that well-being and happiness depend on the appropriate balance of assets and opportunities. These include those supplied by marketed goods and services but also those supplied by social and natural capital. It is clear, for example, from the work of Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett,5 that countries with big income gaps have higher rates of a range of social problems, from crime to imprisonment to shorter lifespans. The existence of greater income gaps makes building social capital harder, and that ultimately leads to lower societal well-being. Likewise, it is clear that natural capital provides a range of ecosystem services that are hugely important but largely unrecognized contributors to sustainable human well-being.6,7 These services include everything from maintaining a stable climate to producing soil and water to providing spectacular and inspiring views.
We will have to create a new vision of societal goals and the technical and institutional solutions necessary to achieve them. This vision will involve a better understanding of what actually contributes to human well-being and sustainability. It is a huge challenge that will require a generation to accomplish—the Solutions Generation.
Many groups and communities around the world are already involved in building this vision and developing real solutions. There are far too many to list, but here are a few:
It might be worth pointing out, in closing, that nature operates with a subtle dynamic between competition and cooperation. In “empty world” times of resource abundance, competition is favored. The great acceleration powered by abundant fossil fuels favored individualism, competition, and greed-based capitalism. The coming “full world” will favor cooperation and networking. We can now, as a global society, communicate, network, and cooperate as never before in the history of the planet. It will be the great work of the Solutions Generation—Gen S—to use this new capacity to envision and build a better, more sustainable, just, and prosperous society within the planetary boundaries of earth.


  1. Krugman, P. Confronting the malefactors. The New York Times (October 6, 2011).
  2. Beddoe, R et al. Overcoming systemic roadblocks to sustainability: the evolutionary redesign of worldviews, institutions and technologies. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 106, 2483-2489 (2009).
  3. Jackson, T. Prosperity without Growth (Routledge, New York, 2011).
  4. Stiglitz, JE, Sen, A & Fitoussi, J-P. Mismeasuring Our Lives: Why GDP Doesn’t Add Up (New Press, New York, 2010).
  5. Wilkinson, R & Pickett, K. The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger (Bloomsbury Press, New York, 2009).
  6. Costanza, R et al. The value of the world’s ecosystem services and natural capital. Nature 387, 253–260 (1997).
  7. Ecosystem services come of age. Special issue. Solutions 2(6) (November-December 2011).

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Occupy SF problem By Gary Kamiy / Salon

Great city forced to read swill

The San Francisco Chronicle’s Occupy SF problem

Wall Street Protest Oakland
A protester tapes a dollar bill over her mouth at Occupy Oakland. (Credit: AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
From New York to Nashville, from Miami to Seattle, tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets to protest America’s shocking income inequality and a broken political-financial system that is designed to ensure that the rich get richer and the rest of us get nothing. It’s the most significant progressive protest movement in years. And yet in America’s most left-wing city, pundits for the San Francisco Chronicle, the city’s daily newspaper, are coming across like the smarmy voice of the Chamber of Commerce. They’re so obsessed with the Occupy San Francisco movement’s illegal encampment, its effects on local businesses and the unruliness of some of its members that they have failed to grasp its historic significance.

You’d expect this from a paper in Salt Lake City. But San Francisco? The place famous for nurturing the Beats and the hippies, the women’s and gay rights movements? The free-spirited city-state that has always laughed at American Babbitry and fought for social justice? We deserve better than this.

On Thursday, Oct. 27, the Chronicle ran an editorial titled, “Occupy Oakland exits the high ground.” While acknowledging that “[t]he sweeps were rough and far from perfect,” it defended Oakland’s decision to remove the tent city, saying it had become a “health hazard and a public nuisance.” “Health inspectors are equally concerned about San Francisco’s campground at the foot of Market Street.” Blaming the protesters for the violence that accompanied the removal of their illegal camp in downtown Oakland, the editorial warned that public support for the movement would likely wane if it didn’t comport itself in a more respectable way. “It’s doubtful the country wants permanent tent villages on its public doorstep,” the editorial concluded. “It’s more than just manners and hygiene that are discrediting this movement. The protesters’ messages, mixed and muddled from the start, are getting eclipsed by the unruliness that is afflicting people and businesses on Main Street.”

Chronicle columnist C.W. Nevius has been striking a similar note. To be fair, Nevius has not been strictly opposed to the Occupy San Francisco movement: He has sympathetically interviewed protesters and defended their First Amendment rights. But like the author(s) of the Chronicle’s Op-Ed, he has seen the movement through a prism of seemliness. On Tuesday, Oct. 25, Nevius wrote a column titled “Time for police to move in on Occupy SF protesters.” Nevius argued that the San Francisco police should never have allowed any tents to go up in the first place, but that it was now necessary to remove them. “Many of the city’s homeless residents have gravitated there, the sanitation is a nightmare, there are rats, and car batteries are neither a safe nor ecological energy source,” he wrote. He urged Mayor Ed Lee to prove his leadership qualities and remove the camp. “There is no other choice. As Occupy SF gets bigger and louder, the potential for trouble only increases. Lee is getting persistent questions about why there are tents all over the Embarcadero, and with the election looming, you can bet he’d like to show he can handle this.”
As the last sentence shows, Nevius’ column was written in an oddly ambiguous manner. On the one hand, he was clearly advocating that the camp be removed. On the other, he was simply acting as if were a neutral channel, a kind of Greek chorus for nameless power-broker types who were raising “persistent questions” about the unsightly tent village. The contradictions in this split perspective came into full view just three days after his column.

The very night Nevius’ column appeared, the debacle in Oakland took place, when decorated Iraq war veteran Scott Olsen had his skull fractured by a projectile fired by the police as they cleared the Occupy Oakland camp. The international press, not to mention mom-and-apple pie papers like USA Today, were all over the Olsen story.
n his Friday column, Nevius abruptly changed his position. Apparently, the “sanitation nightmare” and increasing “potential for trouble” that had existed three days earlier were no longer such pressing concerns. “There is no rush,” Nevius wrote. “[San Francisco Police Chief Greg] Suhr and [Mayor] Lee are still talking vaguely about clearing the area, perhaps by force. I’d say cool your jets and wait and see what happens. The great truth of law enforcement is that there is always time to overreact.” To his credit – although it also revealed the incoherence of his position — Nevius gave space to sources who completely contradicted the points he had made three days earlier. Apparently summarizing the position of political consultant Chris Lehane – although the context also left open the possibility that he was speaking for himself — Nevius wrote, “The city’s claim that the Occupy SF camp was rife with urine, vomit and feces was exaggerated. It looked like a way to justify a raid.”

Memo to Greek-chorus-channeling, “neutral reporter” Nevius: tell that to your alter ego, the guy who insists that the city has to tear down those unsightly tents now.

The bottom line is that the prissy preachiness of the Chronicle’s punditry, in the guise of “civic concern,” has led them to end up taking the Chamber of Commerce’s side on a crucial issue that goes to the heart of San Francisco’s identity. This is a far cry from the open-minded tradition of former Chronicle executive editor Scott Newhall, who ran the paper in its ‘60s glory days and made sure it welcomed the unsightly and unruly hippies, and the legendary columnist Herb Caen, who despite hobnobbing with the rich and powerful always sided with the little guy, with the bohemians and oddballs his beloved town was famous for.

Yes, the Occupy San Francisco tent village is illegal. Yes, it is unruly. Yes, there are homeless people there. The movement is filled with oddballs and dropouts and nuts, and based on my own visits there, they outnumber the “respectable” types, the unemployed workers and students and housewives. And if real problems arise, violence or vandalism or disease, the city has the right and obligation to take steps to remedy them. But since no such problems have arisen, it’s impossible to escape the conclusion that the hand-wringing about the tents is all about image. The Occupy San Francisco movement is flawed and unsightly, like panhandlers and street people. The tourist-friendly solution: clean it up.

But the crazies and dropouts and street people who are part of the movement deserve to be there, deserve to be seen. For they bear inarticulate witness to the inequities the movement is protesting. Of course, they didn’t all end up there because of society’s sins; bad choices and personal responsibility also played a role. They’re not the best spokesmen for the movement. But they, too, are part of the America that the movement is trying to make better. They, too, are our brothers.
That isn’t liberal swill. It comes from a book called the Bible.

There is an inevitable tension in this nascent movement between the homeless and the middle-class, between the hardcore types who welcome confrontation and the moderate types who don’t. But the tents at the foot of Market Street are literally big enough for all of them. And San Francisco, of all cities, should welcome those tents. They may be ugly, but there is something beautiful about them. Saint Francis, for whom this city is named and who began his saintly career when he gave his clothes to a poor man, would have understood that.
Gary Kamiya is a co-founder of Salon.More Gary Kamiya

Occupy movement returns to streets demanding answers after teargas canister hit Iraq serviceman Scott Olsen in the head / Common Dreams

Oakland Police and Mayor Face Fresh Protest Over Critical Wounding Veteran

Occupy movement returns to streets demanding answers after teargas canister hit Iraq serviceman Scott Olsen in the head

by Andrew Gumbel
Protesters have returned to downtown Oakland, California, to demand the resignation of the city's mayor and an investigation to explain how an Iraq war veteran, Scott Olsen, was hit in the head by a teargas canister at close range, leaving him critically injured.
Many of Wednesday night's protesters expressed anger. "When the rich steal from the poor it's called business. When the poor fight back it's called violence," a 25-year-old solar energy company executive, Cory Rae Shaw, wrote on a banner. (Image: About 2,000 people – half as many as Tuesday night – massed in front of City Hall on Wednesday, tearing down a steel barricade intended to keep them off the grass in Frank Ogawa Plaza.
When the city closed down a nearby underground station, preventing dispersing protesters going home, they organised a spontaneous march through the centre of the city, chanting: "Whose streets? Our streets!"
Police had been under orders to let them have the run of the plaza until 10pm. Officers stood guard at junctions in patrol cars and motorbikes to deter people from jumping up on to an overhead freeway. The police were more lowkey than on Tuesday, when they manned barricades around the plaza and fired volley after volley of teargas that filled the surrounding streets and smoked out businesses.
As the protest continued late into the night both sides appeared afraid of engaging the other. Many marchers wore scarves over their noses and mouths in anticipation of teargas. Some had gas masks.
When officers wanted the crowd to move out of a traffic intersection they sent an ambulance in with its siren blaring, not a police vehicle.
One sign taped to a lamppost delivered this message to the police: "You've fuelled our fire."
Speaker after speaker demanded the resignation or recall of the city's mayor, Jean Quan, who had initially voiced her support of the protesters. "Mayor Quan you did more damage to Oakland in one evening than Occupy Oakland did in two weeks," said one slogan scrawled near the entrance to her offices.
In an afternoon news conference Quan had struggled to explain the decision to clear the square in the early hours of Tuesday morning and again when protesters returned that evening.
She gave the impression she had been as blindsided as anyone by the decision to close down Occupy Oakland. She had been in Washington at the time and said that although she knew there were hygiene and public safety issues that needed to be addressed, she did not expect that to happen while she was on the other side of the country.
"I only asked the chief to do one thing: to do it when it was the safest for both the police and the demonstrators," she said, pinning responsibility for the decision on her police chief and the top city administrator. When pressed for more details, Quan said: "I don't know everything."
Scott Olsen, 24 – a former US marine who friends said served two tours of duty in Iraq – has become a figurehead among Occupy Wall Street supporters in Oakland and elsewhere. Organisers took to Twitter and other social media urging protesters back into the streets.
Acting Oakland police chief Howard Jordan told a news conference his department was investigating the injury to Olsen as a "level one" incident, the highest for an internal police inquiry.
In Portland, Oregon, a crowd estimated to number at least 1,000 joined in a march organised by the AFL-CIO labour federation in support of the anti-Wall Street movement.
Hundreds of protesters also gathered in New York to march in solidarity, leaving the Occupy Wall Street base in Zuccotti Park and marching around the financial district and city hall. Protesters in New York voted to send $20,000 and 100 tents to their peers in Oakland, according to a Twitter message from a protester identified as JA Myerson and retweeted by the Occupy Wall Street group.
The Oakland crowd was a mixture of eco-activists, families with young children, nurses and teachers, as well as a handful of young men with bandanas or Palestinian keffiyehs covering part of their faces. Many said they were shocked by what happened on Tuesday and were bracing themselves for further confrontations with the police.
"Quan let the [county] sheriffs in to do her dirty work and then said she didn't know who was responsible for the decision. She's got to go," said Robijn Vangiesen, a local activist and organiser.
Vangiesen was in the plaza when Olsen was knocked down by a teargas canister. "He was out, man. Totally non-responsive. He had blood pouring out of his nose," Vangiesen said. The initial teargas volley was followed by another projectile from the police straight into the small crowd trying to help Olsen. His friends said it was a flash-bang grenade, pointing to a video distributed on the internet as evidence, but police have denied this.
Many of Wednesday night's protesters expressed anger. "When the rich steal from the poor it's called business. When the poor fight back it's called violence," a 25-year-old solar energy company executive, Cory Rae Shaw, wrote on a banner.
"Who's really the bandits here?" said Demarion English, a 23-year-old security guard. "I called them bitches. I call the police bitches to their face. We're all fighting for a real cause... and we got teargassed."