Black and White Keys

  I sat down hesitantly at the piano bench on Read more

Betsy DeVos is the new Cathie Black

Now that Betsy DeVos has successfully bought herself a Read more

Who is Too Big to Fail?

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Upping the Big Banks Ante

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I spent this afternoon bearing witness to the banking regulators’ best-kept secret: public hearings. YES, open to the public.

The problem is that when these Senate Banking Committee, or House Financial Services Committee, people look out into the crowd they see a bunch of suits staring back at them.

Bankers in suits. Only Wall St showed up.

They need to see throngs of regular Americans who NEED them to do the right thing and hold these banks to the fire for what they did, and still do, to us.

It’s time to OCCUPY COMMITTEE HEARINGS in bold protest until they break up the big banks. Who’s in?

The (Un)Common Core

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Well, the joke’s on us.

It turns out that when you parcel off public education to technocratic billionaires, they write themselves into the history books.

This is from the draft Common Core assessments – largely underwritten by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – for TN 5th graders:

That’s right, 8 white billionaire males. Never mind that 32.8% of Tennessee’s students are non-white (according to the NT Dept. of Ed), and the average household annual income is less than $44K.

Anyone can be a billionaire, right? Just not everyone.

[UPDATE: Randi Weingarten, American Federation of Teachers president, suggested on Twitter that this was probably the local state’s “spin”. A nearly identical question appears in the TN curriculum here (Question U.S.144). Who can figure out who wrote it?]

I tried to sum this insanity up into a single infographic, so feel free to share it around the social interwebs :)

 

 

We want justice and we want it now.

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This was a speech given by NYC Councilmember Jumaane D. Williams on 2/26/13 by mic check at #MIllionhoodies Vigil for Trayvon Martin in Union Square, NYC. Photo by ARCH1 on Flickr. Transcription by InterOccupy.

My name is Jumaane Williams. I’m a councilmember from Brooklyn.
After God, I work for you.
Being black is not a crime.
Being brown is not a crime.
Being poor is not a crime.
Wearing a hoodie is not a crime.
Having skittles is not a crime.
Having iced tea is not a crime.
Living is not a crime.
Being in a place where you think “I don’t belong” is not a crime.
Justice denied is a crime.
Humanity denied is a crime.
The things that Bloomberg does and does not do is a crime.
The things Commissioner Kelley does and does not do is a crime.
Government and failed policies is a crime.
All government including me when failing the people is a crime.
Dr. King said, “Riots is the language of the unheard.”
We are unheard.
Please do not make us speak in a language you do not want to hear.
Please hear us while we’re calm because unheard people do things to be heard.
When black men and brown men are shot and killed without any retribution,
when stop and frisk condoned by mayor who will double down on State of the City address,
our people who will do things to be heard.
So I beg for justice.
I beg for justice for Trayvon, for Ramarley, for Noel,
for black and brown men who just want to be heard.
If you don’t hear us now, you will hear us later.
I beg and plead: here us now.
Because it is true: No Justice No Peace.
If you know justice, you know peace.
Please choose justice and we will choose peace.
If you don’t choose justice, don’t ask us for peace.
Its unfair, its immoral.
We want justice and we want it now.

This is What Democracy Feels Like

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I delivered this speech at TEDxBenha on February, 20th, 2013 in Benha, Egypt. You may leave comments on the Facebook version.

I am deeply honored to be with you here in Benha, Egypt. This is my first journey to Africa – birthplace of humanity – and, more recently, the brilliant spark in a global fire of real democracy that is now engulfing the entire planet we inhabit. I am referring, of course, to the popular uprising we Americans call the Arab Spring. In Tunisia, Egypt, and beyond people took to the streets to end dictatorship and demand a better life for the 99%, to demand control over their lives and their government.

 

This part of the world has a history of participatory democracy, which I define as democracy that encourages participation by all. Not far from here, in Athens, Greece, the world saw the first – and perhaps the last – direct democracy. The ancient Greeks understood that tyranny and empire – the cult of personality, insatiable greed and lust for power – are the true enemies of democracy. They built a democracy that was inclusive and engaging, and from those times great philosophical works emerged. Today’s Greeks can attest to the fragility of democracy in the face of oppression, and they take to the streets yet again in defiance of the World Bank, the I.M.F., and the chilling austerity of global finance.

 

I want to tell you all here in Benha how indebted we are to you for the bravery that you showed through the Arab Spring, and even into today. What you began here has rippled around the entire world, from Madrid to Athens, Tel Aviv to Santiago, London to Oakland, California. And, yes, you are felt on Wall Street, where on September, 17, 2011 my friends and I descended with camping bags on our backs and the dream of real democracy in our hearts. The dream of Tahrir Square, of Plaza de Sol and of Madison, Wisconsin. We are making it a reality now.

 

Today, the discussion is about positive voice in nation-building. And it is with our voices that everything begins. Our voices connect the dreams we share with each other:

 

¡Si no nos dejaís soñar, no os dejarémos dormir! / If you don’t let us dream, we won’t let you sleep!

 

proclaimed the Indignados of Spain, infuriated by the corruption of their government as they were being told that more spending cuts are needed to let Spain “live within its means”. They poured into the public squares by the millions, finding each other and sharing stories that were once only told in private at the dinner table. In Tel Aviv, Arabs and Jews alike pitched tents in the street in protest of the rising cost of living, because economic injustice knows no one religion. In common struggle for land, housing, food, water, clean air, and work we find our voice. We are the voices of the 21st century, young and old. These many voices, diverse and accepting, will be the antibodies of global finance, the world’s natural auto-immune response to the greatest threat to democracy today.

 

Yet, voices are soft in isolation. We are learning to amplify them online and offline. The People’s Microphone, is a simple tool we use to unite our voices as one:

 

We are the 99%!  احنا ال ٩٩ في المية 

 

On the internet, we do this with Twitter. A single, small voice can become a global call to action with just a tweet. No longer is history being written by the winners, it is being written by everyone, as my friend and independent journalist and livestreamer Tim ‘Timcast’ Pool writes. The internet is giving voice to the voiceless, and young people today have brains that are quickly re-wiring themselves to this new reality. The internet is rapidly democratizing mainstream media, opening new and diverse paths to information and knowledge. Large institutions crumble as their business models, which rely upon monopolistic state control of “intellectual property”, become ever-more obsolete in a hyperconnected, globalized and increasingly nation-state-less world. As Wikileaks founder Julian Assange says,

 

We are burning the mass media to the ground.

 

And we’re doing it peacefully, one tweet at a time.

 

But voice is not just about outward-facing media, it’s also about inward-facing community and nation-building. The founders of my country, understanding that freedom of speech and a free press are essential to democracy, enshrined these principles in the 1st amendment: that the government shall make no law abridging the people’s right to assemble, to speak out, to express themselves and practice their multitude of religions, and to communicate by means of a press free from government control and manipulation. This is just one more piece of evidence that the founders of the United States, themselves escapees from state persecution, recognized that a free people must be free from their overpowering government as well. And they baked into the Constitution rules by which the government could be overthrown if it failed to provide the blessings of liberty to the people. Considering the rising power of corporations and the erosion of American civil liberties, that time in my country may come sooner than later.

 

The power of the Occupy movement, which has now spread around the world and is finding its place among global democracy movements, is in our bold exclamation ‘We are the 99%!’ The 99% are doctors, nurses, students, teachers, mechanics, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Christians, Atheists, the employed, the unemployed, babies and parents, all of us. We want to be in control of our government, not for it to control us. We want to rebuild democracy from the bottom up, not from the top down. Because, despite what some in my country’s government might say, democracies are not built with bombs or drones. Democracies are not built by royal decree or by invisible market forces. Democracies are built by the active consent of the people. People like you and me.

 

Democracy isn’t just about voting every 2 or 4 years. It isn’t just about flying a flag on your home or carrying an ID card. Democracy is a social contract between you and your neighbor. It begins locally with the choices that affect you each day: the school your children attend, the conditions of your workplace and the laws that govern the production of your food. You can entrust these services to other people but when they fail you, do you have any recourse? Are you a stakeholder in your well-being?

 

There is a people that for centuries had no rights at all, and were not even considered to be people. They were slaves, unpeople, and when they finally were freed of their literal bondage they were enslaved to a new master: corporations. They were crammed into ghettos and their behaviors were criminalized so that they filled prisons across the country. They made such small wages in such filthy conditions that their jobs were akin to temporary slavery. From this struggle emergenced a movement called the Civil Rights movement, to which the world owes an unquantifiable debt of gratitude. The voices of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Angela Davis, Stokely Carmichael and Malcolm X ring true even today, and define a path to freedom and against injustice anywhere, which is a threat to justice everywhere.

 

Now, I am a teacher by training. So consequently I see nation-building as primarily an educational endeavor. This is quite a radical notion for many people, as we are trained to believe that democracy must be imposed by force rather than grown by consciousness-raising. Thus, nation-building – they say – isn’t about building institutions of learning and community empowerment but rather just installing the right government by obvious, or subtle, force. There are few human instincts that are stronger than human curiosity, and the desire to learn about the things around you and how they work. If you start from this premise that people are learners by nature then it’s obvious that a strong democracy will emphasize and prioritize education. I cannot make an informed decision in my community without good information. An ignorant populace is a weak, and vulnerable, populace. It is for this exact reason that a government that cares about its people will prioritize accessibility to education for all. If you suspect that your government doesn’t care about you, you might look at its educational policies for confirmation.

 

When I chant We are the 99%! I am expressing a truth about the world today: we have never been so unequal. By every measure, we are a world divided. The American Dream – that everyone, no matter what the color of their skin or their mother-tongue, could work hard and make a decent living for their family – died in 2008. (For some, it probably died long before that!) It died when the world was forced to admit that an economy based on debt could not be sustained. As banks crumbled and governments rushed to bail them out with their citizens’ hard-earned money, the fragile social contract of democracy was ripped to shreds. Instead of the promise to keep people in their homes when banks collapsed, we now see the violence of foreclosure and evictions, and six times more empty homes than homeless people in the streets. We chant:

 

Banks got bailed out, we got sold out!

 

We are divided by debt, entire countries held hostage under the demand of repayment, but there is more that unites us. We are human. We care about our families and our neighbors. We know that enriching the few at the expense of the many will threaten our lives infinitely more than a few missed car payments. They have money – we have solidarity. And so I return to that beautiful starting point: positive voice. How will we use our voices to make positive social change?

 

I have to share one last story, because it gets to the heart of what it means to make positive social change and nation-build at home. This story starts from an almost-laughable premise: that my government should be nation-building in the Middle East while millions suffer at home. This is why the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, with no real end in sight, are so massively unpopular. My friends in New York City who see suffering and hunger each day refuse to believe that we live in a country that doesn’t care. So we took action.

 

When deadly Hurricane Sandy hit New York City last October, hundreds of people died and thousands were displaced, their homes flooded or torn apart by wind and rain. The city was not prepared for the massive recovery effort needed to help everyone, especially the poorest people who were hit the hardest like in all disasters. Introduce: Occupy Sandy. Using social media, crowd-sourced fundraising across our international network, and tens of thousands of volunteers on the ground, we roared into action. We set up distribution sites in churches, synagogues, mosques, community centers, or just a table on the street corner. We used free tools like Google Voice and donated pre-paid phones, wireless hotspots and netbook laptops to coordinate the shipment of hundreds of tons of donated items from across the city and the country. All of this by volunteers organized and rallied by the Occupy movement. This is M.A.D.A., mutual aid as direct action. And

 

This is what democracy looks like. 

 

In a world of austerity, cutbacks to social services, corrupt, opaque governments and privatization of public goods and public spaces, this is the future of disaster recovery. The world faces massive challenges to the very survival of humanity and the natural world. Will the global 99% lie down and be trampled by ever-more consolidated multinational corporations that hold entire countries hostage? Or will we rise up and demand control over our collective future as global citizens? Will democracy promotion come as a gun – or a drone’s – bullet, or will it come from the ballot box? Will indigenous lands be exploited for ever last drop of a limited, disappearing natural resource, or will the developed world set an example for all to follow as a leader in climate change legislation?

 

Or will we leave more than just crippling debt and a parched earth to our children, so that 100 years from now people of all races, religions, colors and creeds can co-exist peacefully as controllers of their own destiny and say:

 

This is what democracy feels like.

 

 

Why we were meant to be together, Occupy.

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It’s Christmas morning, and the eery quiet on Nostrand Ave in Bedford-Stuyvesent gives my mind some space to roam. It is never this quiet in Brooklyn, at least not in neighborhoods where you and I can afford to lay our heads down – If we can afford apartments at all. In between jobs, in between girlfriends/boyfriends, in between economic systems and political regimes, we live in the precariat. So I’m writing a love letter to you, Occupy, the only constant in my life for the past year and a half.

You’ve been a tough lover, Occupy.

You always get my hopes up, make me think you’re staying for real this time. You play bait-and-switch. Lure me in with promises of global revolution, then spit me out with pepper spray and stop resisting! and police surveillance and burn out. You don’t give me a break! You don’t pay my rent! You take all my money and spend it on late-night cab rides out of parks and bananas for sandy survivors and toilet paper for vagrant occupiers from Idaho.

I love to hate you. I commiserate in bars late-night in Sunset Park and Bed-Stuy and the Lower East Side, downing shots while cursing you out over loud bachata or heavy-metal. Then I stumble home drunk with excitement about the next scheme.

We’ve shared some beautiful moments, Occupy. We marched together down Broadway many times, our collective voice shaking the windows of the old townhouses of TriBeCa. We discovered worlds of thought together in late-night philosophical pondering sessions in tight-packed living rooms swirling with smoke. I admit I bragged about you to my grandmother, who can’t believe kids are acting it’s the 60’s again.

We didn’t have to meet, Occupy. I could have taken that job in Detroit and I’d be the executive director of a cozy non-profit in a few years. I’d be up to my neck in charity and those infernal words – mutual aid – would have never reached my ears. I could follow that old mantra: get rich, then give some of your money away to those you screwed to get rich! Life would’ve been much easier without your tempting poison, Occupy.

Well, rather than regret it, I guess I should accept that you are I were meant to be together, Occupy. That I had plenty of chances to escape from you, and the fact that I’m not a million miles away right now makes me guilty of just loving you too much. So you win.

While I have your attention though, love, I want to ask you a few favors that I think will help us get along. Please don’t go cheat on me with any politicians! Please stay true to your angry, raw, inclusive, populist roots, no matter how far you spread from Tompkins Square Park and Zuccotti. But if something’s not working in our relationship, let’s change it. Remember, we are writing the rules together on the fly. We don’t have to be obstinate and purist together. We can build some structures that will last past the next disaster. We can be a network and an organization in the best ways that both of those constructs serve us. Most of all, just don’t leave me hanging Occupy.

Because even when I’m old and gray and corporations aren’t people and money isn’t speech and kids can go to good schools and stop-and-frisk is a long-lost memory and Wall Street’s been paved over with a farmers market, I’ll still be chanting…

All day, all week, #OccupyWallStreet.

Occupy Sandy!

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Hurricane Sandy brought immense destruction and suffering that still persists to NYC. This short film by Josh Fox (Gasland) looks at a people-powered effort to confront this humanitarian crisis and expose the scientific and socio-political drivers behind it.

OCCUPY SANDY from JFOX on Vimeo.

A letter to the next President.

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Dear President-To-Be _______________ (fill in blank),

 

Thank you for spending $1 billion to get yourself elected/re-elected. You’ve enriched the lives of many a news network executive, advertising agent, and super-PAC board member. Your shifty ideologies and broken promises are strewn across the campaign trail. You’ve managed to confuse Wall Street with your vague policies so much that they’ve hedged their bets with you and your opponent. So either way, they win. And we the People lose.

 

It didn’t have to be this way. You could have stood up for the poor and the homeless. You could have listened to Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party. (They both had an important, if different, message for you if you listened to their grassroots, working family constituents and not the billionaires who tried to manipulate them.) You could have jailed the bankers and the corrupt politicians who bailed them out. You could have taken a stand against the indefinite detention of American citizens under NDAA or the immoral and wasteful drone attacks overseas. But you chose political expedience.

 

So good luck picking up the pieces and mending the partisan wounds you sewed to get yourself elected. And remember – you’re trampling on a garden that you didn’t plant. The 99% is waking up to the injustices of your crony, corrupt government. And we’re listening to our forefathers’ words:

 

“The spirit of resistance to government is so valuable on certain occasions that I wish it to be always kept alive.” – Thomas Jefferson

 

From a true patriot,

Justin Wedes

Member of the 99%

 

On A Street Far From Wall Street

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We were far from Wall Street.

The sidewalks were strewn with rotted furniture, tattered clothes and assorted debri. Families and friends huddled around doorsteps, doors swung open in the hopes that fresh air would drive out the stench of the sitting flood waters.

The Mayor said New York City was back to business as he rang the opening bell.

Jose Luiz said “Fuck Bloomberg” as he lifted an axe to the long, thick tree trunk that had lied down flat on his block. Its roots tickled the metal fence on one side of the street while its branches poked at the stoops on the other side. He stood atop the tree, conquering it with his feet, while his pals tied a rope around it and then to the bumper of a worn-out old 4-door.

“Who you wit’, the city?” they asked suspiciously as we approached. If so, we would have been the first to take notice of what was happening on that block off Neptune Ave. Besides those imposing police vans with their glaring lights at night, lights that reflect off the walls of darkened, powerless buildings. Lights that say “Keep calm. Don’t riot.” The police surely wanted to help, but their orders were clear. “We were told to [go up and down this street with our lights on],” one told me. The National Guard had 4 tanks on the next block, and three Guards stood eyeing passerbys on the next street. Stand your guard. Marching orders.

We weren’t with the city, we explained. And we didn’t much care for Mayor Bloomberg either, considering that he evicted us from Zuccotti Park and threw away all our books and tents. We had something deeply in common with these young men, living on the periphery of the 1%’s city, under the heartless dominion of Bloomberg’s Army.

They looked worn out but persistent in the face of 3 days without power, hot water or gas. If they wanted to fill up their car tanks, the closest station had 300 other Brooklynites snaking in a line around it, gas cannister in hand, to fill up from a single pump. A line of cars a mile long paralleled them.

 

This is disaster-zone Brooklyn.

This is climate changed.

Welcome to New York City. Brighton Beach. November 1st, 2012.

Operation Caymans: How the 1% Hides their Money

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Early last year, as I was sharing a beer with a fellow 99 percenter and talking about tax policy, an idea came to me. It was one of those eureka! moments as an action organizer when form fits function, action and meaning unite to create an irresistible meme that echoes across our collective psyche. Let’s invade the Cayman Islands!

Each tax day, activists on each side of our phony political divide find themselves shoulder to shoulder at local post offices. Tea Partiers and Occupiers, conservatives and liberals, all gather to, respectively, protest the imposition of higher and higher taxes on working people or congratulate the 1% for once again reducing their effective tax rates to nearly nothing. (In the case of General Electric, which went a step further, teams of taxamaticians formerly employed by the IRS were actually able to move enough numbers around to force the government to pay them!) On both “sides” of the protest lines, regular working folk are sick of paying higher taxes while they watch the uber-rich buying more yachts.

So how is the 1% staging a national tax revolt? And why can’t the 99% join in the fun? The answer is simple: offshore tax havens.* The Tax Justice Network estimates that corporations and high-wealth schmucks have stashed about $32 trillion worldwide below palm trees and tacky colonial buildings built in the ‘80s. That’s an entire shadow world economy that lies at the interface of the banking industry, multinational corporations, and the military-industrial complex. That’s an entire shadow economy that you and I, with our measly mortal checking accounts and ceramic piggy banks couldn’t dream of breaking into.

Until now.

We called it Operation Caymans (#OpCaymans on twitter): the 99% knows where you hid all the money. And we’re coming for it. That’s right. We want a piece of the key lime pie. We want to revolt, too!

We arrived to a golden sunset and some of the friendliest people on Earth. Life on the island is like a dreamworld of perfect employment, no taxes, and healthcare for all who work. Caymanians have arguably the most progressive taxation system on Earth: Tax the bankers. Massively. In Caymans, they have no problem charging high-level executives $40,000 in work permit fees alone to cook books on their island. (On the other hand, primary school teachers pay no fees.) There’s no sales tax, no income tax, no “sin” taxes. Just taxes on imports. And tourists.

We came in search of Romney’s money, but we’d settle for any millionaire’s money. We just wanted to know how we could get in on the excitement. Open an offshore account. Become a tropical corporate person and then sit back with a turtle burger and a margarita and smoke a cuban.

What we found shocked, surprised, and just plain bemused us. And we made a little video to share it with you…

*To be clear, corporations also use many other convoluted tricks to avoid any potential risks of actually supporting public schools or hospitals or daycare centers or roads or fire departments. These include: writing off losses like the cost of cleaning up their oil spills, shifting patents to other countries, bribing politicians, etc.