Over Half of Germany’s Renewable Energy Owned By Citizens & Farmers, Not Utility Companies

12 01 2012

from TreeHugger

by Mathew McDermott, January , 2012

photo by Thomas Kohler

Germany’s promotion of renewable energy rightly gets singled out for its effectiveness, most often by me as an example of how to do things well versus the fits and starts method of promotion common in the US. Over at Wind-Works, Paul Gipe points out another interesting facet of the German renewable energy saga: 51% of all renewable energy in Germany is owned by individual citizens or farms, totaling $100 billion worth of private investment in clean energy.

Breaking that down into solar power and wind power, 50% of Germany’s solar PV is owned by individuals and farms, while 54% of its wind power is held by the same groups.

In total there’s roughly 17 GW of solar PV installed in Germany—versus roughly 3.6 GW in the US (based on SEIA’s figures for new installations though the third quarter of 2011 plus the 2.6 GW installed going into the year).

Remember, Germany now produces slightly over 20% of all its electricity from renewable sources.

The thing that got me though, other than the huge lead in solar PV installations Germany has over the US, thanks to good policy, and the fact that so much wind power isn’t owned by utilities, is what slightly over half of renewable energy being owned not by corporations but by actual biological people means—obviously a democratic shift in control of resources and a break from the way electricity and energy has been produced over the past century.

A good thing: Decentralized power generation, more relocalization and reregionalization of economic activity, the world getting smaller while more connected and therefore in a way bigger at the same time… taking a step backwards, and perhaps sideways, while moving forwards.

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‘It’s All Political’: Eviction and Arrests of Global Revolution Livestreamers Part of Pattern of Crackdowns on Alternative Living

10 01 2012

from AlterNet

by Kristen Gwynne

Released from jail after their arrest at a Brooklyn collective living space, livestreamers affiliated with Occupy Wall Street tell their stories.

January 4, 2012- “It’s all political,” said Jai, one of the Global Revolution livestreamers arrested in the eviction Monday, January 2nd, of the 13 Thames collective art space that was housing the Occupy Wall Street-affiliated media crew.

After he was released from prison Wednesday night, Jai told AlterNet, “The fact is, I’m homeless now.”

Global Revolution is the international network for the independent media from Occupy movements across the globe. While the eviction and arrests could have been another tactic to target and silence Occupy media, another possibility looms: Before Global Revolution, before Occupy, 13 Thames was a communal home in Bushwick, Brooklyn with a punk-anarchist edge, where tactical media projects were produced, and radical ideas were exchanged and practiced. Activists by lifestyle, inhabitants at 13 Thames created a space for communal living, rejection of norms, and demonstration planning.

Out of 13 Thames came not only Global Revolution, but musicians and artists of all sorts, as well as the Glass Bead Collective, a tactical media group that projected images of political prisoners onto the FBI building, and filmed Amy Goodman’s arrest at the 2008 Republican National Convention. If the order to vacate was not a tactic to disrupt Occupy livestreamers, it may still have been issued to strike down yet another radical space.

On Monday night, two representatives from the Department of Buildings and two NYPD officers showed up at 13 Thames, demanding they do an on-site inspection while they were in the building to inspect the neighbors at 15 Thames. The visit stemmed from an outstanding vacate order for the first floor of both 13 and 15 Thames. It was last addressed in May of 2010, but the inspectors appeared determined to take care of it immediately.

“I didn’t let them in,” Jai said. “They barged in on Monday, with the police, without our consent or a warrant to come into our home.” Then, he said, the Department of Buildings called the fire department, who checked the sprinklers, and determined they were functioning. Unsatisfied, the inspectors decided they wanted an additional sprinkler in the hallway between the front and back rooms. “We’ve had inspections before, and they never said anything about sprinklers in the hallway,” Jai said.

According to Jai, the need for an additional sprinkler was enough for the building inspector to declare the space “perilous to life,” and they were ordered to leave right away. Vlad Teichberg, a 13 Thames resident and cofounder of the Glass Bead Collective and Global Revolution Livestream, explained to AlterNet the circumstances of the vacate order. On January 2nd, “The Buildings Department and Fire Department arrived at 8pm — on a holiday — which is very strange. These are not normal working hours,” Teichberg said. Teichberg and Jai also said they heard an inspector say he had received a phone call that day, ordering him to take care of the old issue immediately.

Teichberg said inspectors immediately showed interest in the media equipment, and made comments like “What were you filming here?” before telling residents they could no longer “occupy” the space. “It was very strange,” said Teichberg.

The next day, after having an argument with the landlord — who residents say had entered the space without permission — Teichberg was arrested on his way out of the space, after having gathered some legal documents to challenge the vacate order in court. He and his wife, Nikky Schiller, a livestreamer/revolutionary transplant from Spain who came to see America’s uprising, were en route to an appointment for their baby’s first ultrasound. “It’s a really important part of becoming a father, to see the baby for the first time,” said Teichberg, “but the appointment had to be postponed.”

A friend of 13 Thames and tactical media activist who goes by the name Spike was also arrested, but according to Jai, he was not even in the building — instead videotaping from the sidewalk — when the police were rounding them up. “He was charged with trespassing, but how can you be trespassing when you’re on the curb?” said Jai. Another arrestee, who goes by the name Acadia, was also filming on the sidewalk.

Video of the arrests, shot by a colleague named Luke,* has already been responsible for getting “resisting arrest” charges against the residents dropped. “They adjusted their narrative to information that was publicly available,” Teichberg told AlterNet, “The voice of the police has a lot more weight than the voice of citizens in court, but the truth is on our side.”

The landlord charged Teichberg with assaulting him, but he disputes the claim and says he has footage for most of their argument. Regardless, he can’t go back to 13 because there is a restraining order against him.

“Because of false accusations, I can’t go back to the space,” he said.

“My theory is that the city made the call, and the landlord decided to take the opportunity. The landlord saw an opportunity to get rid of us — by vacating and arresting us, distracting us.” He also says, “The police were acting on the landlord’s orders. He was pointing out who to arrest.”

“He is an acting one percenter,” said Teichberg, referencing his ownership of multiple restaurants in the Bushwick neighborhood.

13 Thames has long been embattled in a legal case to determine the nature of their residency, and the vacate order could have been the result of a tumultuous relationship with their landlord and city agencies. By the end of September, the landlord had withdrawn an eviction order, but 13 and the landlord were still arguing over who is responsible for repairs. According to Fiona Campbell, a resident who was deeply involved with the space’s legal issues, “There’s been a lot of confusion between the tenants and the landlord, which is a trickle-down effect, because there is no dialogue between the buildings department and the loft board.”

The buildings department and the loft board, she said, have different standards, confusing the landlord. Campbell said the building is full of code violations, but, “The landlord wants to be told by the city that he has to fix stuff, but the loft board doesn’t tell him to. It’s just a mess. If there was something set that made sense between the loft board and the buildings department, it would be a much simpler process.”

Still, she says, communication must go both ways: 13 must be willing to pay rent, if the landlord is willing to make renovations. Otherwise, they must make renovations themselves, and pay whatever price of the building is left over to buy it out. But Campbell is not sure whether the raid is completely related to problems with the landlord, or whether residents’ involvement with Occupy provoked the raid. “The two times they came in and raided everyone were before the Anarchist Book Fair, and now this,” she said.

Regardless, “We were there legally, as residents of that building.” said Vlad. Now, at least eight people are homeless.

“I can’t say that the department of buildings and the fire department doesn’t have a legal right to enter into space in the city of New York. They clearly do, but I believe that there’s more at play here. I think that this is a politically motivated situation,” Wylie Stecklow, an attorney for the livestreamers, told AlterNet. 13’s inhabitants, Stecklow said, had been utilizing the space with impunity for years, all the while working regularly with the fire department to make sure it was not a dangerous space. “Nothing occurred in the days or weeks leading up to the vacate order that was now again put on here for the 5th or 6th time that made it all of a sudden dangerous or perilous to life,” said Stecklow, who believes the order to vacate was issued from people in power, higher up than the inspectors or fire department who made the visit to 13 Thames.

Whether the vacate order was an attempt to shut down the Global Revolution livestream, the byproduct of a nasty fight with the landlord, or a combination of both, the story runs much deeper.

Inside 13 Thames

I embarked on a journey to 13 Thames before Global Revolution found its home there, and as integral as Global Revolution has become to the space, 13-1, as it is also called, was much more than Occupy’s livestream station. And like 13 is more than Global Revolution’s home base, its eviction is part of a larger framework.

13 Thames was an experiment in living; it exemplified another option. Its inhabitants, dwellers, and weary travelers, many of whom used 13 to crash for a day or two (or much longer), had created a space similar to Zuccotti Park, long before it became Liberty Square. Radical ideas were rampant, leadership was shunned, and community and sharing were necessities, because money was tight. To provide one small example, Jai walked me to the subway at the end of every visit I paid to 13 Thames, to swipe me onto the subway with his unlimited metro card.

I first visited 13 Thames in May, when my desire to write about punk culture in New York led me to Nick James (who would only give his first and middle name), and Ryan Perry (stage name as former member of the punk band Total Chaos: Ryan Rebel) two homeless street punks who seemed much younger than their mid-twenties. They had both been homeless since around the age 12 or 13, and met in upstate New York when they were 16 and 17, while Ryan was living in a bus with his mom and her boyfriend, and Nick was sleeping in a yurt. Nick and Ryan were crashing at 13 Thames when I first met them, and they often had nowhere else to go. 13 Thames was like a shelter, but without the sense of charity. It was welcoming, and there, Nick and Ryan shared their music, and their stories, with people who cared.

13 Thames was designed to accommodate parties and residency, so that the artists and activists who lived there could pay the rent promoting their passions and enjoy a communal life. In each other, they found mutual inspiration and support, an effective achievement of self-sufficiency. For youths like Ryan and Nick, whose histories should have condemned them to reliance on our broken social system, this was especially important. Someone always had their backs.

The residents have shifted some since I wrote about 13 Thames in May (Schiller is one example) but the substance of what I wrote then holds:

They use this space to be free — to make art and seek refuge from a society that does not serve them. In the midst of the devastated economy, they are able to hold their own. Kids like Nick, whom society failed, find a way to live free and be happy. At 13 Thames, one might meet at a Trinidian black metal kid who grew up in Bed-Stuy, a punk rock woman mechanic who worked for six years at a law firm, a dreadlocked community gardener, or an interestingly “off” German man. They come together to accept people that society fails and rejects, and they pride themselves on open-mindedness.

And then they party – often with a conscience. They throw film screenings, noise, metal, and punk shows, art galleries, showcasing whatever parcel of the underground they deem cool enough.

Residents were activists, artists, and musicians — many of them people of color — who shared a desire to reject the mainstream and experience alternative living. But they struggled within the confines of a society that demands one lifestyle, and overwhelmingly champions the pursuit of individual wealth and accomplishments. 13 paid the bills hosting rock shows, but when the Department of Buildings and police presence demanded they stop the music, they were forced to pool their resources to survive, and abandon part of their dream — to have a free, creative space. The change added considerable pressure to 13 Thames, as money to secure rent and pay bills became tighter, and dwellers without economic means scrambled to find new ways to contribute. And still, they survived.

That is, until Monday, when the space was issued a vacate order for being “perilous to life.” But it wasn’t life that the collective threatened. 13 Thames was perilous to the very leadership that ultimately dismantled it — as was Occupy Wall Street — by exemplifying the possibility of another life, away from the dog-eat-dog lifestyle of capitalistic gain.

At the very least, spreading the merits of anarcho-community threatens the egos and self-worth of those in power. The media‘s role in this process of presenting new possibilities is crucial, and the 13 Thames crew understood that, becoming media makers themselves.

Nigel Parry, an independent media pioneer and Global Revolution affiliate, said he is not one to believe that the NYPD is always out to shut down media, but added “They definitely targeted the media in Zuccotti Park. That’s why they do this code violation bullshit. It seems completely unrelated and reasonable — they’re worried about health and safety.” Both inhabitants of 13 Thames and Liberty Square, as well as occupations around the country, were forced out of their spaces under the official, bogus pretext of health concerns (Look at Occupy Oakland — are tear gas, flash bang grenades, and rubber bullets not more physically damaging than mass cohabitation?).

“There is a concerted effort to deprive people of the Occupy movement, and those in their media team, of their First Amendment rights,” said attorney Stecklow. On November 17th, at least seven members of the Occupy media team were arrested while streaming, and Teichberg considers the police force an attempt to stop independent media. In the weeks leading up to the raid, most of the Global Revolution equipment was in the unit next door, 15 Thames, where “People were coming in from all the country, and all over the world, to spend a few days with us working and learning how to edit the channel. The space is shut down, but people are streaming all over the world,” Teichberg said.

“Just like we saw in Russia, like we saw in these Arab countries, we’re seeing it here in New York,” said Stecklow, who noted that because Global Revolution connects the Occupy movement worldwide, “it is clearly the media team behind the Occupy movement.”

Teichberg agreed. “Independent media is under attack worldwide – in Syria, Egypt, and now in the USA. People on our media team have been arrested five times,” he said, “It’s an attempt at censorship.”

Breaking Up Radical Spaces

But Liberty Square and 13 Thames are not the only communal spaces the Bloomberg administration has targeted. While maintaining a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) space has always been turbulent, breaking them up has become increasingly common. As the Village Voice recently reported, new rules enforced by new task forces have become somewhat of a tool “to force out New York’s bohemian culture in hopes of creating a future perfect Gotham.” The Voice explains:

Not long after the new Quality of Life Task Force began to crack down on long-unenforced cabaret laws during the Giuliani administration, the Social Club Task Force—established after the 1990 Happy Land fire—evolved into the Multi-Agency Response to Community Hotspots (MARCH), overseen by the New York Police Department. “Unauthorized dancing” was now only one of many potential infractions.

According to the Voice, when Bloomberg took office in 2002, “MARCH activities rose immediately by 35 percent and kept growing.” The Voice continues:

“If you listen to stories about what led to this homicide or what led to this assault, you would be surprised how many stem from nightclubs,” Robert F. Messner, a police commissioner who oversaw club shutdowns, told the Times. “We don’t want those places in New York. We make it very clear.” In 2003, the smoking ban went into effect, outlawing one of the city’s longest-running cultural institutions: the smoky jazz club. Regulations have kept creeping into other bastions of the old, free New York. The Algonquin Hotel has had to confine its lobby cat to a space behind the check-in counter, and don’t even think about trying to have a bar dog.

This is all despite the fact that DIY spaces have been a staple of New York’s creativity since the art scene flourished in the 1960s. As the Voice explained,

Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, and the Almanac Singers had live music at their communal Almanac House on West 10th Street as early as 1939, but history records a December 1960 gathering on Chambers Street organized by Yoko Ono as the first proper loft show.

Alcohol infractions, too, have become reasons to shut down DIY spaces. In April of 2010, cops raided one of Bushwick’s most renowned DIY spaces, the Market Hotel, and shut it down after “receiving a tip that alcohol was being served without a license,”according to the Brooklyn Paper. The Market Hotel was the brain child of Todd Patrick, AKA Todd P, who has been credited with inspiring the DIY scene in New York. The Arch Collective, too, was legally reprimanded in April, for “operating an illegal bottle club” while serving wine and beer to party guests. That same month, the Trailer Park, a neighboring collective to 13 Thames, was shut down for fire code violations.

The Silent Barn, also in Bushwick, was raided in July. A DIY/living space like 13 Thames, its residents were temporarily homeless after a Department of Buildings inspection ended in a vacate order. When they returned the next day, the front door was wide open and $15,000 worth of equipment and personal possessions was stolen or destroyed, the Voice said, adding that “Despite security-camera footage of three men loading equipment into a van, police were less than helpful.”

For 13 Thames, this latest brush with the law was not their first time. Police raided their space in April of last year, just days before they were scheduled to host an after-party for the Anarchist Book Fair. Residents said the police entered without a warrant, checked IDs, and arrested some with outstanding warrants.

One of them, Johnny Ludolph, 19, told the New York Times he was arrested for old, unpaid tickets issued for drinking beer on the sidewalk. But when he arrived at the police station, Ludolph told the Times the police seemed most interested in asking him about fliers for the NYC Anarchist Film Festival, with 13 Thames Street listed as an address.

Proof that the eviction of 13 Thames was entirely Global Revolution-related is limited. Nevertheless, what is clear is that across the country, people in positions of power are using minor violations and health code ‘concerns’ to evict ideas. That Bloomberg and others either do not understand the thriving livelihood of these spaces, or are so threatened by their ideology they try to suppress it, should not be a surprise. Occupy and 13 Thames derived wealth from creativity and art; they defined their value by contributions to community. Bloomberg’s wealth stemmed from self-promotion, and is measured by money.

Yet shutting down the space hasn’t stopped the Global Revolution crew from working. Immediately following their release, Jai said, they were “back to the studio,” preparing to find the stuff they stashed away and keep on working. Their release guarantees the resumption of their activities — without a home — but with more attention.

As Teichberg said after his arrest, “We can do all of this from laptops,” not to mention smart phones.

“You can hit us, but you can’t stop us, because we’re everywhere,” he said, “This will only make us stronger.”

Kristen Gwynne covers drugs for AlteNet. She graduated from New York University with a degree in journalism and psychology.





The Occupy movement deserves praise for rallying behind the foreclosed

10 01 2012

from The Progressive 12/1/11

by Darryl Lorenzo Wellington

The Occupy Wall Street movement has made a good move by focusing on foreclosed homes and boarded-up properties.

In Atlanta, activists noisily heckled and disrupted an auction of foreclosed homes.

In Seattle, Portland, Oregon, and several communities in Southern California, protestors rallied around homeowners who were being foreclosed upon or on vacated buildings that could provide shelter.

In Brooklyn, in a neighborhood full of unused, foreclosed homes, activists staged a well-publicized rally and moved a homeless mother and children into a usable, relatively comfortable dwelling place.

Such actions, which took place in more than 20 cities, spotlighted the victims of America’s housing crisis. In 2010, banks set a new high in foreclosures, locking the doors to some 3.8 million homes. According to a 2010 report by the US Conference of Mayors, in the 26 American cities studied, the rate of homelessness leapt by a dismaying 9 percent.

Many of the foreclosures resulted from predatory lending practices. And many homes could have been spared if the government had acted sooner in providing more substantial homeowner assistance or requiring a moratorium on foreclosures from any bank that was taking federal bailout funds.

With their actions on behalf of the foreclosed upon, the Occupy Wall Street movement is proving, once and for all, how different it is from the Tea Party movement.

The Tea Party movement began when CNBC’s Rick Santelli delivered a rant on television, ridiculing “the losers” who defaulted on their home loans. The “losers” — many of them victims of a corporate America swindle — are the very people whose homes the Occupy Wall Street protesters have begun to defend.

The analogy between the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street was never an apt one, anyway. Occupy Wall Street remains leaderless and grassroots, while the Tea Party rallies featured charismatic figures, such as Sarah Palin, and were funded by the Koch brothers, who are billionaires.

Occupy Wall Street is of a different character. And it deserves credit for calling attention to how the home mortgage crisis damaged neighborhoods and stole from ordinary people.

Darryl Lorenzo Wellington is a poet and critic living in Charleston, S.C. He can be reached at pmproj@progressive.org.





About Civil Disobedience by Wendell Berry

10 01 2012

from The Progressive in the December 2011 / January 2012 issue

Last February, in protest against coal mining by “mountaintop removal,” I committed myself to an act of civil disobedience in the office of Kentucky’s governor. In fact, I have made that commitment three times. The first was on June 3, 1979, in opposition to a nuclear power plant then being built at Marble Hill on the Ohio River near Madison, Indiana. The second was in Washington, D. C., on March 2, 2009, in protest, with a host of others, generally against mountaintop removal and air pollution by the burning of fossil fuels, and immediately against the burning of coal by a power plant within a few blocks of the national capitol. The third was on the eleventh of last February: the aforementioned attempt to discover conscience in official Frankfort.

Only one of these adventures resulted in actual civil disobedience and arrest.

After we crossed the fence at Marble Hill, we were arrested and booked—and turned loose.

In Washington, the number of us offering to get arrested—two or three thousand, maybe—overwhelmed the police, who, thinking perhaps of the hours it would take to write down our names and addresses, declined the opportunity to know us better. Or so we thought. We then had to choose between climbing the fence, potentially a felony, or, after far too many speeches, dispersing. We dispersed.

In Frankfort, the governor, somewhat delightfully, outsmarted us. Instead of calling the police, he invited us to camp in his waiting room, which we did, from Friday until Monday morning.

And so my career in civil disobedience, so far, has been an exercise in anticlimax. Also it has been, by any practical reckoning, pretty useless. Owing probably not much, if anything, to our civil disobedience, the power plant at Marble Hill finally was stopped. But nothing that my side has done has come anywhere near to stopping mountaintop removal.

At a time when virtuous behavior tends to be measured in degrees of misery, I had better confess that all three of these episodes were mostly pleasant. The police and other officials in Indiana were nice to us, and we were nice to them and to one another. The march in Washington, in spite of cold weather, was a social success, better by far than any cocktail party I ever attended. And our weekend in the governor’s office was, I think, for all of us, an extraordinarily happy time, even a joyful time. We were warned only that if we left the building we could not return; we were, to that extent, confined. We stayed put, we worked hard at getting our message out to the media, we told stories, we laughed a lot, we ate the good food sent in by allies, and slept well on bedding likewise sent in. The security people, the office people, and the police were kind to us, and we reciprocated. I am proud to say that we were model guests. We damaged nothing, and we cleaned up after ourselves.

It may seem odd to speak of pleasure as a result of trouble, but there is nothing wrong with decent pleasure, however it comes. It is a gift, and we should be grateful. The pleasures I have mentioned certainly do not reduce the seriousness of civil disobedience. I am sure that all who have undertaken it have felt intensely and complexly the seriousness of it. There are a number of considerations that come in a hurry and are inescapable. I will list them, not in the order of their importance, but as I have thought of them in my own efforts to decide.

Civil disobedience will likely be considered, first of all, as an inconvenience. It will, and not for a predictable length of time, interrupt one’s life and one’s work. I have always been suspicious of people who seem to devote their entire lives to forms of protest. We all ought to have better things to do. Ken Kesey once said that the reason not to resist evil is that such resistance is dependent on evil; it makes you dependent on evil. He was right. And Edward Abbey said that saving the world is a good hobby—though he worked hard to save at least parts of it. As for me, the older I get, the less happy I am to leave home. All the places I go seem to be getting farther away. Frankfort, Kentucky, now appears as far off as the planet Saturn, and I wish it more remote. Reluctance, then, may be a dependable enforcer of thoughtfulness. Protest becomes properly a part of a citizen’s life and work after political and legal processes have failed, and other recourse is exhausted. Civil disobedience is properly the last resort.

It is also an unhappiness of citizenship. By it, you make yourself, publicly, an exception. It involves a kind of loneliness. I, at least, have felt no pleasure in opposing constitutional authority, however corrupt and irresponsible I have found it to be.

Civil disobedience is also plenty scary. At least to me it is. I have never felt one bit brave even in thinking about it. It involves a strange and risky paradox: You and your friends will be exploiting your obvious powerlessness to recover to your cause, and to your own citizenship, a just measure of power. But your acknowledged condition is powerlessness. Your commitment to nonviolence makes you vulnerable to violence. You can get hurt, or worse. It is fearful also to make yourself available to be treated with contempt. And you are, in effect, volunteering to go to jail.

During the Washington protest, some genius with a microphone asked me, “Do you want to go to jail?”

I said, “Hell no! ”

There is a world of difference between wanting to go to jail and being willing to go.

Wendell Berry is a farmer and writer in Kentucky. This is a but an excerpt of his piece in the special Dec/Jan issue of The Progressive, “The Global Uprising.”





Occupy Detroit: Defending Henry home from eviction

9 01 2012

The Bank of America foreclosed on the Southgate home of Robert and Debbie Henry, then gave them an extension until the day after New Year’s to permanently move out of their house.

Occupy Detroit joined with other community organizations, unions, and the Henrys’ neighbors in a front-lawn rally to show their support with signs and voices.

Some 150 people braved Tuesday’s winter cold to help pressure Bank of America to negotiate with the Henrys in good faith so they can stay in their home.





From Argentina to Wall Street

5 01 2012

from Al Jazeera

by Benjamin Dangl
October 14, 2011

After an economic collapse in 2001, Argentinians turned to barter systems and factory occupations

Social movements from Argentina and other Latin American countries have been emulated in protests all over the world.

Massive buildings tower over Wall Street, making the sidewalks feel like valleys in an urban mountain range. The incense, drum beats and chants of Occupy Wall Street echo down New York City’s financial district from Liberty Plaza, where thousands of activists have converged to protest economic injustice and fight for a better world.

As unemployment and poverty in the US reaches record levels, the protest is catching on, with hundreds of parallel occupations sprouting up across the country. It was a similar disparity in economic and political power that led people to the streets in the Arab Spring, and in Wisconsin, Greece, Spain and London. Occupy Wall Street is part of this global revolt. This new movement in the US also shares much in common with uprisings in another part of the world: Latin America.

This report from Liberty Plaza connects tactics and philosophies surrounding the Occupy Wall Street movement with similar movements in Latin America, from the popular assemblies and occupation of factories during Argentina’s economic crisis in 2001-2002, to grassroots struggles for land in Brazil.

Almost overnight in late 2001, Argentina went from having one of the strongest economies in South America to one of the weakest. During this economic crash, the financial system collapsed like a house of cards and banks shut their doors.

Faced with such immediate economic strife and unemployment, many Argentines banded together to create a new society out of the wreckage of the old. Poverty, homelessness and unemployment were countered with barter systems, factory occupations, communally-run kitchens and alternative currency.

Neighbourhood assemblies provided solidarity, support and vital spaces for discussion in communities across the country. Ongoing protests kicked out five presidents in two weeks, and the movements that emerged from this period transformed the social and political fabric of Argentina.

New organising models

These activities reflect those taking place at Occupy Wall Street and in other actions around the US right now. Such events in Argentina and the US are marked by dissatisfaction with the political and economic system in the face of crisis, and involve people working together for solutions on a grassroots level. For many people in Argentina and the US, desperation pushed them toward taking matters into their own hands.

“We didn’t have any choice,” Manuel Rojas explained to me about the occupation of the ceramics factory he worked at outside the city of Mendoza, Argentina during the country’s crash.

“If we didn’t take over the factory we would all be in the streets. The need to work pushed us to action.”

This was one of hundreds of businesses that were taken over by workers facing unemployment during the Argentine crisis. After occupying these factories and businesses, many workers then ran them as cooperatives. They did so under the slogan, “Occupy, Resist, Produce”, a phrase borrowed from Brazil’s Landless Workers Movement (MST), which has settled hundreds of thousands of families on millions of acres of land through direct action.

In 2008 in Chicago, when hundreds of workers were laid off from the Republic Windows and Doors factory, they embraced similar direct action tactics used by their Argentine counterparts; they occupied the factory to demand the severance and vacation pay owed to them – and it worked.

Mark Meinster, the international representative for United Electrical Workers, the union of the Republic factory workers, told me that the strategies applied by the workers specifically drew from Argentina. In deciding on labour tactics, “We drew on the Argentine factory occupations to the extent that they show that during an economic crisis, workers’ movements are afforded a wider array of tactical options,” Meinster said.

Many groups and movements based in the US have drawn from activists in the South. Besides the 2008 occupation of the Republic Windows and Doors factory in Chicago, movements for access to water in Detroit and Atlanta reflected strategies and struggles in Cochabamba, Bolivia, where in 2000, popular protests rejected the multinational company Bechtel’s water privatisation plan and put the water back into public hands.

The Take Back the Land movement in Florida, which organised homeless people to occupy a vacant lot and pairs homeless families with foreclosed homes, mirrors the tactics and philosophy of the landless movement in Brazil. Participatory budgeting in Brazil, which provides citizens with direct input on how city budgets are distributed, is now being implemented by communities across the US.

These are just a handful of movements and grassroots initiatives that provide helpful models (in both their victories and failures) for decentralising political and economic power, and putting decision making into the hands of the people.

In the face of corrupt banks, corporate greed and inept politicians, those occupying Wall Street and other spaces around the US have a lot on common with similar movements in Latin America. Besides sharing the same enemies within global banks, international lending institutions and multinational corporations, these movements have worked to make revolution a part of everyday life. And that is one of the most striking aspects of about what’s happening with the Occupy Wall Street movement right now.

Occupying Wall Street

The organisation and activities filling Liberty Plaza in New York are part of a working community where everyone is taking care of each other and making decisions collectively. During a recent visit, a kitchen area in the center of the park was full of people preparing food for dinner with donated cooking supplies. Other spaces were designated for medical support, massage therapy, sign-making and meditation. One area was for the organisation of recycling and garbage; people regularly walked around the park sweeping up debris and collecting garbage.

A massive People’s Library contained hundreds of books along the side of the park. As with the cooking, sign-making and medical supplies, the movement had received donated materials and support to keep these operations thriving. Occupy Wall Street also has its own newspaper, the Occupy Wall Street Journal, copies of which were being handed out in English and Spanish editions on nearly every corner of the park. A media centre where various people sat around computers and cameras provided ongoing coverage of the occupation.

Within this community were pockets of areas with blue tarps and blankets where people were resting and sleeping, having meetings or simply holding home made signs on display. Singing, drumming, chanting, guitar and accordion playing were also going on in a wide array of places.

Ongoing meetings and assemblies, with hundreds to thousands of participants, dealt with issues ranging from how to organise space in the park and manage donated supplies, to discussions of march plans and demands. Police outlawed the use of megaphones, so people at the park have just been relaying what others say during these assemblies by repeating it through the layers of the crowd, creating an echo so everyone can hear what is said.

At the Comfort Station, where well-organised piles of clothes, blankets, pillows and coats were stacked, I spoke with Antonio Comfort, from New Jersey, who was working the station at the time. Antonio, who had his hat on backwards and spoke with me in between helping out other people, said that the donations of clothes and sleeping materials had been pouring in. People had also offered up their showers for activists participating in the occupation to use. While I was at the station someone asked for sleeping supplies for an older man, and Antonio disappeared into the Comfort Station piles and returned with an armful of blankets and a pillow.

“I’m here so I can have a better life, and so my kids can have a better life when they get older,” he said about his reasons for participating in the occupation. Everything at the station had been running smoothly, Antonio explained. “Everybody works together, and it’s very organised. We’ll be here as long as it takes.”

Adeline Benker, a 17-year-old student at Marlboro College in Vermont who was holding a sign that said, “Got Debt? You are the 99%,” told me that for her – like many other young students participating in the occupation in New York and elsewhere – it was all about debt.

“I will be $100,000 in debt after I graduate from college, and I don’t think I should have the pay that for the rest of my life just to get an education in four years.” Benker said this was her very first protest, and her first time in New York City. When I spoke to her, she had been at the occupation for a few days, and would be returning the following week.

Down the sidewalk was activist Tirsa Costinianos with a sign that said, “We Are the 99%”. Costinianos said, “I want the big banks and the corporations to return our tax money from the bailout.” Costinianos had been at the occupation on Wall Street every weekend since it started on September 17.

“I love this and I’m glad we’re doing this. All of the 99% of the people should join us – then we could stop the stealing and the corruption going on here on Wall Street.”

Ibraheem Awadallah, another protester holding a sign that said “Wall Street Occupies Our Government: Occupy Wall Street”, told me: “The problem is this system in which the corporations have the biggest influence in politics in our country.”

These types of encounters and activities were happening constantly in the ongoing bustle of the park, and underscore the fact that this occupation, now nearly into its third week, is as much of a community and example of participatory democracy as it is a rapidly spreading protest.

As the late historian Howard Zinn said, it is important to “organise ourselves in such a way that means correspond to the ends, and to organise ourselves in such a way as to create the kind of human relationship that should exist in future society.”

That is being developed now within this movement, from the leaderless, consensus-based assemblies, to the communal organisation of the various food, media and medical services organised at the occupation.

Similarly, movements across Latin America, from farmer unions in the Paraguayan countryside to neighbourhood councils in El Alto, Bolivia, mirror the type of society they would like to see in their everyday actions and movement-building.

As Adeline Benker, the 17-year-old student at the Wall Street occupation said, echoing the struggles from Argentina to the Andes and beyond, “We need to create a change outside of this system because the system is failing us.”

Benjamin Dangl is author of book Dancing with Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin America (AK Press).

The views expresed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.





OWS Fights Back Against Police Surveillance by Launching “Occucopter” Citizen Drone

5 01 2012

from AlterNet

by Sarah Knuckey
December 22, 2011

In response to constant police surveillance, violence, and arrests, Occupy Wall Street protesters and legal observers have been turning their cameras back on the police.

The police may soon be watching you in your garden picking your vegetables or your bottom. As police plans for increasing unmanned aerial surveillance take shape, there is a new twist. Private citizens can now buy their own surveillance drones to watch the police.

This week in New York, Occupy Wall Street protesters have a new toy to help them expose potentially dubious actions of the New York police department. In response to constant police surveillance, police violence and thousands of arrests, Occupy Wall Street protesters and legal observers have been turning their cameras back on the police. But police have sometimes made filming difficult through physical obstruction and “frozen zones”. This occurred most notably during the eviction of protesters from Zuccotti Park in lower Manhattan, where police prevented even credentialed journalists from entering.

Now the protesters are fighting back with their own surveillance drone. Tim Pool, an Occupy Wall Street protester, has acquired a Parrot AR drone he amusingly calls the “occucopter”. It is a lightweight four-rotor helicopter that you can buy cheaply on Amazon and control with your iPhone. It has an onboard camera so that you can view everything on your phone that it points at. Pool has modified the software to stream live video to the internet so that we can watch the action as it unfolds. You can see video clips of his first experiments here. He told us that the reason he is doing this “comes back to giving ordinary people the same tools that these multimillion-dollar news corporations have. It provides a clever loophole around certain restrictions such as when the police block press from taking shots of an incident.”

Pool is attempting to police-proof the device: “We are trying to get a stable live feed so you can have 50 people controlling it in series. If the cops see you controlling it from a computer they can shut you down, but then control could automatically switch to someone else.”

This is clever stuff and it doesn’t stop there. He is also working on a 3G controller so that “you could even control the occucopter in New York from Sheffield in England”. We asked him if he was concerned about police shooting it down. “No,” he said firmly. “They can’t just fire a weapon in the air because it could seriously hurt someone. They would have no excuse because the occucopter is strictly not illegal. Their only recourse would be to make it illegal, but it is only a toy and so they might as well make the press illegal – they have already arrested 30 journalists here.”

Ordinary people having the technology to watch the watcher is not something George Orwell predicted in his futuristic vision of 1984. He introduced us to the idea of a totalitarian state using total surveillance to suppress the entire population. This is why CCTV cameras and police drones watching us unseen sends shivers down the spines of so many of us. We are not so much worried about the current political establishment than we are about the possibility of a technology that enables the creation of a repressive regime.

That might be less likely to happen when the same surveillance systems are turned back on the authorities. But it is not all good news. These devices could also extend the range of potential breaches of privacy. You could fly over your neighbour’s garden or up to their bedroom window. And drones could be a great asset for criminals to “case a joint” or to keep watch for the police.

There are also concerns that the roll-out of citizen drones might be disingenuously used by the police to justify and speed up police acquisition and use of drones for the surveillance of protests. Police departments in the UK and across the US are eager to use drones, but there has been little or no debate about the impacts on public safety, privacy and liberty. And there has certainly been no public engagement about this expansion of police surveillance.

It will probably not be long before there are test cases in court or before legislation is introduced to ground citizen drones. Our spirits were lifted talking to Pool about his occucopter, yet we feel uneasy about the ever-increasing use of drone surveillance. Like all tools they can be used for both good and bad, and for repression and resistance.

The question is, do we really want the paranoiac nightmare of our airspace being polluted by police and personal drones with all of us watching our watchers? We are not sure how this will unfold, but we are sure that the outcome will be as unpredictable as the technological developments themselves.

Noel Sharkey is professor of artificial intelligence and robots, and professor of public engagement, at the University of Sheffield.

Sarah Knuckey is a Human rights lawyer and Adjunct Professor of Clinical Law at New York University and a frequent National Lawyers Guild legal observer in New York City.

MORE:
OWS Invests In Unmanned Surveillance Drone Dubbed The ‘Occucopter’

Occupy Wall Street’s New Drone: ‘The Occucopter’

How One Occupy Broadcaster Is Changing News Coverage With Tech

Occupy Wall Street’s ‘occucopter’ – who’s watching whom?