by Dan La Botz
October 7, 2011
The Occupy Wall Street protest now involves thousands and similar protests are taking place in dozens of cities and towns across the country. But why here in Cincinnati? Cincinnati is a microcosm of the country. Thousands of Cincinnatians face high unemployment, live in poverty, or lack of health insurance, while a handful of multimillionaires live in luxury on the salaries paid by the national and multinational corporations headquartered here. Like the rest of America we in the 99% watch our community’s economic situation deteriorate while the 1% at the top increase their salaries, take home more stock option, and prepare their golden parachutes. Just as on the national level, the very wealthy, the CEOs of banks and corporations, dominate the Republican and Democratic parties, setting the political agenda in Cincinnati, Hamilton County, and Ohio. Here in Cincinnati, capitalism doesn’t work any better than it does at the national level.
In 2008, I wrote a lengthy report entitled Who Rules Cincinnati? that named the corporations that dominate this city and explained their mechanisms of control. Three years later the same multi-billion dollar corporations—Procter & Gamble, Kroger, Macy’s, Western & Southern Financial Group, American Financial Group, Chiquita, and Fifth Third Bank—still dominate the city. The chief executive officers earn salaries of several million a year, plus stock options and other remuneration. Robert McDonald, CEO of P&G takes home a salary of $13.1 million—this is 82 times greater than the average national CEO salary of $161,000. Macy’s CEO Terry Lundgren get $11.8 million. That is 337 times a department store manager’s average pay of $34,000 a year. The average Cincinnati CEO receives a net salary of $4 million. Wonder why health care costs are high? The head of Omnicare—“The nation’s leading provider of pharmaceutical care for seniors”—took home remuneration amounting to over $18 million! (Steve Watkins, “Cincinnati CEO’s trounce average worker’s pay,” Business Courier.)
The corporations that pay such enormous salaries also exercise enormous power and influence. They hire and fire the executives, middle managers and workers, determine their salaries, benefits and conditions. The corporations’ executives staff the boards of most of the major cultural and social institutions of the region. Their lawyers and lobbyists propose legislation to benefit their industries and companies. Locally the major corporations join together to form the Cincinnati Business Committee (CBC) and the Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC) to promote their agenda of corporate rule and gentrification at the expense of local communities. Their corporate PACs and some of their stockholders contribute to the political campaigns for local, state and national office, to keep both major parties working for them. All of the reins of local power can be traced back to a hand full of people who live in Indian Hill or perhaps Hyde Park.
What Have They Wrought?
When they look down through the windows of their gleaming corporate headquarters in Cincinnati, what do the CEO’s see—or perhaps we should say, what do they overlook? The official unemployment in Cincinnati stands at 8.5, but most authorities believe the official rate underestimates discouraged workers. African American and Latino unemployment is generally estimated at twice that of whites closer or percent, that is, 16 or 17 percent. For youth the unemployment rate is 40 or 50 percent. And many of us have part-time jobs, rather than the full- time job we need. We have in our city tens of thousands of people who cannot find work, many of whom have exhausted or are close to exhausting their unemployment payments.
No wonder then that Cincinnati is once again on the list, as it always is, of the ten poorest cities in the United States. We are number eight this year. Median household income for whites in this city is $46,615, while for African Americans it is $22,216. The Federal government sets the poverty level for a family of four at $22,050, so we can say that our city’s black population lives, by and large, on the edge of poverty. And many have fallen over the edge into the pit of poverty. Hundreds in Cincinnati have lost their homes, thousands throughout the state.
While the corporate CEO’s all enjoy excellent health insurance, Cincinnati has, according to the last count, almost a quarter of a million Cincinnati residents are without health insurance. Some 11 percent of Cincinnatians, or 234,000 people had no health insurance, according to the most recent study. Some health situations are critical. African Americans continue to have an infant mortality rate in Hamilton County of 18.7 per 1,000 births compared to 6.3 for whites.
We are watching not only our city, but the entire region stagnate and decline. Today almost no one in our area can feel secure in their job. Meanwhile, the Republicans at the state level and the Democrats in the city, cater to the needs of the corporations while they ignore the needs of the citizens. Disgracefully rather than creating jobs, they attack the unions that offer some protection to working people.
I be joining the Occupy Cincinnati protest on Saturday, October 8. I hope you will be there too. We have to take a stand. We know that today the banks and corporations dominate America. We know that corporate CEOs and financial insiders collude with the Republicans and Democrats to determine the national agenda. Together they make the rules—and they make the profit. We pay the price. It’s time to stop it.
We need a new distribution of wealth in this country. We need to provide jobs for all. Good jobs at living wages. We need education and health care for all, and those should be free. And it can be done too. We need to start by ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, by bringing all the troops home, and closing the hundreds of U.S. military bases around the world that do nothing to defend us and do a lot of harm to others. Most important: we have to change the system.
The Declaration of the Occupation of New York City adopted on September 30 indicts Wall Street as responsible for the joblessness, homelessness, environmental destruction, and many others. The Declaration describes the damage done by the capitalist system: unemployment, foreclosure, and others. 
Wall Street represents the nerve center of the worldwide capitalist system. Profit and loss rule the world. The stock market, the banks, the corporations ruin the lives of people not only here, but around the world: from Africa and Asia, from Europe and Latin America. Cincinnati’s multinational corporations participate in this worldwide system that enriches some and impoverishes many.
Right now, in New York, they’re symbolically striking at the system’s heart on Wall Street. Here in Cincinnati we’re protesting a regional center of this system. In the days that come, we need to go on to build a movement that can transform this system into one that is fairer, more just, more democratic, more egalitarian. Everyone in our country—and in the world for that matter—deserves a decent life and standing in the way of that possibility are the financial institutions clustered in Lower Manhattan. Standing in the way is Wall Street. Standing in the way are Cincinnati’s multinational corporations.
We need to make our movement stronger. The strength of this movement is not just the individuals participating, but in our relations to our families and friends, to our communities and workplaces, to our unions, schools, and religious congregations. We need to bring these groups together to build a social force, and a political movement. Not their kind of politics, of course. Not Wall Street financing. Not Madison Avenue advertising. Not Democrats and Republicans.
Our politics are the politics of people who recognize that something has to change. Our movement is made up of young people without jobs and who can’t afford school. Of working men and women who’ve lost their jobs. Of families who’ve lost their homes. Of African Americans and Latinos who never fully shared in opportunity. We are working together to build the power to create a new democratic system and bring justice to our society.
How amazing and exciting that we will march here in Cincinnati, joining the protesters in New York, learning from the Egyptians in Tahrir Square, the indignados in the plazas of Spain, and the workers of Wisconsin. We’re part of a new, international movement for democracy and social justice around the world. We’re part of a movement that can change history, that change the direction the world’s headed. A movement that can save the planet and its people.
7 October 2011
It was a strange feeling to be in Zuccotti Park (once called Liberty Plaza Park), right next to Ground Zero. I was with thousands of people listening to speeches through the “people’s microphone.” The crowd looked so similar to those of the late 1990s/early 2000s “anti-globalization” movement - and we used that method for communicating then too. Things had gone poorly in April 2000, when most of the big unions decided to lobby at the Capitol against Permanent Normal Trade Relation (PNTR) status for China, while on the other end of the mall thousands of young people were blocking streets attempting to stop the IMF and World Bank meeting. Despite some common ground built in Seattle, we were a ways off from a real alliance between the labor movement and the other burgeoning environmental, student, anti-imperialist movements
It seemed like things were beginning to change, however. In the summer of 2001 the AFL-CIO put someone on staff for several months to build labor participation for the coming IMF/World Bank meetings to take place that fall. People were mobilizing around the country, and the world, to build a common movement against neoliberalism and “structural adjustment.” The weekend of September 6-9, 2001, over 1000 labor and community activists convened in Cleveland for the Jobs with Justice conference. Spirits were high, and there was a real sense that the world was about to change.
Little did we know how it would change. Only two days later were the 9/11 attacks. And suddenly the movement we had been building collapsed.
It has taken ten years, but the scene at Occupy Wall Street (OWS) seems to suggest we’ve rebuilt what we had been building then. OWS was started by a group of mostly young people, seemingly unfocused, seemingly mostly white, seemingly not very strategic. But whatever they were they created a space that was flexible enough to allow others in. That hasn’t happened smoothly in all cases, and certainly is not yet enough, but anyone who goes to Zuccotti Park seems to feel the same thing. A sense of exhilaration at the audacity, the feeling of freedom and possibility.
TWU Local 100 was the first union to endorse Occupy Wall Street. Individual members had already been participating in events at Zuccotti Park, but the unions were absent. Local 100 took a bold move to come out early in support of a movement that was still hardly covered by the media, and mostly denounced as a fringe circus. Once Local 100 endorsed, the flood gates opened and unions and community groups jumped on board. Many have endorsed a large community/labor march in New York. Others not based in New York have expressed general support for the Occupation (such as the Steelworkers).
Quickly the Beyond May12 coalition helped pull together a labor/community march in support of the Occupation, and with less than a week’s notice, got most of the city’s largest unions on board, and pulled off one of the largest marches we’ve seen in the city for some time.
Where did this come from?
Some writers have suggested that OWS sprang from nowhere, completely spontaneously. That is somewhat true, but misleading. As I said, the movement is in some ways picking up from where we left off before 9/11. But in other ways, this is just one moment in a series of fightbacks that has been going on for awhile, particularly since the economic recession hit. You wouldn’t know it from mainstream media sources, but there have been an incredible number of protests over the past few years, involving large numbers of people. Of course there was Wisconsin, but there have also been large scale strikes (e.g., Verizon, nurses, longshore), hunger strikes and prison organizing (e.g. Pelican Bay, Georgia), environmental justice protests (e.g Tar Sands), foreclosure fightbacks, bank protests (New Bottom Line), economic justice rallies (One Nation), immigrant rights campaigns (the DREAM Act) the US Social Forum, which had 15,000 people plus numerous large scale marches, and more.
Then there are the international protests - the Arab Spring, Greece, Portugal, Spain, China, London, South Africa, Benin, Brazil, and more. While the US is often US-focused there is no doubt that protests elsewhere have inspired and motivated many here. The idea that resistance is possible, and that fightbacks can win, helps put more people into motion.
As social movement scholars show, we don’t know which of these protests will be the one to spark a larger movement. We try and try, and lose a lot, until one time it sticks. Occupy Wall Street is clearly building off the momentum of resistance seen around the country and world over the last few years, and tapping into the memory of where we were ten years ago.
We are all Troy Davis; We are all Sean Bell
Occupy Wall Street started out small and got little attention. It is possible it would have fizzled out as people went home. But four days into the occupation, Troy Davis was executed by the state of Georgia. This provoked outrage across the country, including among many at OWS, who joined in with others out to protest the execution. This brought new energy, as many people were feeling outraged and disempowered by a racist legal system.
The connection was strong in New York, where protestors have long pushed around by the police. Anyone who has been to a march in this city knows that at least since 9/11, but perhaps since Seattle, the NYPD has used aggressive tactics to keep control over protests. Barricades are used to channel people into narrow spaces, separating marchers from supporters, and often breaking marches into pieces. I’ve been in that situation a lot. In 2002 we were protesting the World Economic Forum meeting in New York. The police continuously stepped into the line of the march with barricades, breaking us into pieces, and pushing us around. At one point they barricaded us from both ends of a block and began pushing. I was in the front, and suddenly a line of NYPD were shoving barricades into my stomach. When I tried to attend the massive anti-war protest on the eve of the Iraq War, I and thousands of others never made it to the actual march because police would not let us enter the street where the march took place. They had cordoned off major parts of the city, giving protestors confusing and sometimes incorrect information about how to enter.
These tactics are alienating and disempowering, and seem a complete violation of our Constitutional rights, but of course are nothing in comparison to the daily harassment of people of color in this city. That ranges from the infamous “stop and frisk” to violent arrests and sometimes death. There are already groups fighting police brutality in New York, and in the early days of OWS and after Troy Davis was executed, some OWS protestors marched through streets chanting, “We are all Sean Bell, NYPD go to hell.” Saturday, September 24, the forces merged in a spontaneous march, and this is when the NYPD took action, beating and arresting people. When the news broke about the police attacks on peaceful protestors, a lot more people started paying attention to OWS. A large spark that moved the OWS from a small protest-as-usual into this larger phenomenon was this intersection. The Troy Davis execution made clear to many of us just how powerless we are.
But what are the demands?
Many on the left have expressed frustration at the lack of concrete demands coming out of OWS. This surprises me a bit, because it is one of the things I find so liberating. Often, when we make demands in our struggles they immediately limit us to the short-term and winnable. Our demands certainly tend toward the least common-denominator and the pragmatic. I understand why that is the case: it builds a broader base and it puts in place something we might win. But it limits us.
Some people point out that the uprising in Egypt started with a concrete demand. That is true. But the demand that “Mubarak must go” is so much less than the demand “Change the system.” I’m not suggesting that “Mubarak must go” was the wrong demand for the time and place, and the victory of this was incredible. But here we have a moment to dream big.
Even in Wisconsin, much of the demand got framed as “reasonable.” We’ll agree to your concessions if you let us maintain collective bargaining. This “message” polled well, but again, it limited our imagination.
The effects of capitalism, racism, patriarchy, and imperialism go wide and deep. They interfere with just about every aspect of our lives: the way we work, the way the economy runs, how families are structured, citizenship and rights, police brutality, environmental destruction, the human life span, what we eat. Occupy Wall Street has left open a space for us all to feel we are a part of the movement. If the demands were already set many of us might feel outside - that there wasn’t a place for us, that we couldn’t dream about our issue, that we had to stay “on message.” Our fightbacks are so often balkanized and diffuse. Occupy Wall Street feels exciting in part because it doesn’t force us to choose, to prioritize. We have a few weeks when we don’t have to reduce our dreams to a slogan on a flyer. Where else do we get to chant “We are all Sean Bell,” “Tax the rich,” “End foreclosure,” “Democracy now!” and “We got sold out, Banks got bailed out” all in the same afternoon?
In the meantime, we push the organizations we belong to clarify and step up their demands. Just about all of them tie into the spirit of OWS, and there is no reason why we can’t continue to push in those arenas where we all work on a regular basis. OWS allows us to be more bold and militant in our demands that we are already working on, whether that is student loan forgiveness, a millionaire’s tax, single payer health care, ending the wars, ending the death penality, expanding immigrant rights and protecting the rights of workers to organize.
True: we don’t have real forces pushing for greater change: public ownership and democratic accountability of the Federal Reserve; federal jobs programs to hire more teachers and health care workers; repeal of NAFTA and other trade agreements; and serious reforms to the political system. We need those. Hopefully Occupy Wall Street will finally create some political space to grow the organizations required to build the real alternatives.
October 3, 2011
This started as a quick reply to an overseas friend on Facebook about the possibilities contained in Occupy Wall Street, after I wrote a note on where organizational help was needed. After making some observations about some organizational and logistical aspects of OWS, I wanted to turn to the politics. The editors asked me to adapt my piece for the website.
What’s important to keep in mind with Occupy Wall Street, first and foremost, is that Wednesday’s march may change everything. It raises the possibility of an influx of students from the city’s major universities and activists most powerful labor and community organizations. Many of these activists would bring the political common sense (which is in itself uneven as well) and skills that come with having been collectively organized for some time to the occupation. The occupation, while regularly attended by several hundred activists, is shaky in some aspects of coordination and smooth in others. But building inside the unions, campuses and community groups, while utterly necessary, shouldn’t be the only recourse that people have—as we’ve seen with other political moments with occupations at their center, it’s a wager that may not pay off and is limited to the immediate moment. Politicos need to join the occupation itself, if only to influence the political and organizational direction of the extremely dedicated activists involved after it inevitably ends, rather than losing them back to apathy or even reaction if it ends badly.
At present, the occupation reveals a lot about where people’s politicization begins in the United States. The lack of any kind of collective subjectivity except shared victimhood, the slave morality, the uncritical nationalism (people actually spontaneously sang the National Anthem and Yankee Doodle Dandy sometime before I got there, and contention over “true” patriotism is a regular feature of the occupation): it’s all there. But so is an anger at the crisis that has cohered a group of people who are losing their respect for the rule of law more and more as each day passes. Given that the banks—and not the state—are the primary target, it’s brought together people who are coming from both right and left-wing shades of libertarianism (which is a common, if not the dominant, starting point of any kind of oppositional politics here). And what’s prevalent is the studied anti-politics that I understand has pervaded the youth-led occupations in continental Europe.
Though the message that has emerged as the stronger one is something that everyone you and I work with would amplify: bring free public higher education back to NYC, make healthcare affordable, defend the right to organize, resolve the crisis of state revenue by ending the war and taxing the rich, jail the investment bankers. There are also noticeable absences: immigrants rights have been the visible focal point of a lot of committed and daring organizing lately but it’s not there—and this is an anti-poverty demonstration with no explicit references to how racialized poverty is in this country. And all of this remains on placards or in ad-hoc speeches and hasn’t taken the shape of demands. People forget that the now sacrosanct Egyptian revolution began with a small (if ambitious) set of demands. Many people at the occupation have said that they feel like their presence “is a demand in itself,” an end rather than a means, and have a “good guys win in the end” attitude.
Where is the New York left in this? They have mobilized for the anti-police brutality demo on Friday and were on the bridge on Saturday, showing exemplary support
in those instances. But on Sunday night, after the dust had settled, where were we? Most of the people I know who are on the radical left have demanding full-time jobs—and many of those folks
see their political work as tied to those jobs (either as educators, unionists, or both)—they’re not part of the
“precariat.” You have to live there in order to know what is going on and have any impact, or have gotten
to know influential people through happenstance, and that takes a serious investment. They’re organizing walkouts on campuses or mobilizing fellow union
members for Wednesday. Some are in correspondence with the labor working group. Some are trying to find the education working group to link up the walkouts with the people at the center of the occupation. Some are contributing to the printed propaganda
coming out of the occupation (print is not seen as a feature of the Late Cretaceous period here, thankfully).
But as I’ve discussed with people on the socialist left here, this kind of occupation is a real challenge to the way the left does its usual business here—even anathema, whether people want to admit it or not. It’s diffuse, atomizing, the focal points constantly shifting, and any impulses to bloc together, to politically “intervene” are totally thwarted (whether you want to do that on a socialist or identitarian basis). You can’t really “project politics” in any way that will stick according to your intentions. With the exception of the general assembly sessions, there are a ton of mini-rallies and presentations going on at once, where only a few people really get a chance to speak because of the outlawing of amplification (the “people’s mic” method involves at least one or two layers of the crowd repeating back what the original speaker has said). Things are really framed around the tactical rather than the strategic, which frustrates. And how that would be further transformed by a great influx of people is totally unknown. That uncertainty is exciting but daunting.
by a Solidarity Member in New York
October 3, 2011
I’m a public sector worker in health care in NYC, and for the past week most of my coworkers and activist networks have been talking about “Occupy Wall St.” (OWS) constantly. There’s definitely a buzz, and it extends beyond the ’usual suspects’ of New York’s progressive / left scene. I went down to OWS on Thursday evening (while the ’grievances’ were being debated... see below) and again on Saturday, towards the end of the attempt to march across the Brooklyn Bridge (by the time I got there, they weren’t letting anyone else on the bridge), and then hung around for a while talking with folks. The New York Times story about Saturday’s mass arrests isn’t bad, though they changed their initial coverage to understate how marchers were lured onto the roadway of the bridge (blocking traffic), expecting they’d be allowed across.
With yesterday’s arrests of more than 700, according to the Times, it seems like the City is taking a gamble that this will be enough to drive away the protest (clearly luring a large number onto the bridge in order to increase the number arrested). With the way this has been growing in the past week, it seems like this may actually back-fire on Bloomberg & Co.
The basic feeling among folks in or around Solidarity that I’ve spoken to is that ten days ago we weren’t sure where this was going or how it would get there (if it did get anywhere at all). We had a ’wait and see’ approach. Ten days ago it was still relatively small, and even more white and young and male than it is now. My impression was that the Ad Busters folks that were so central to initiating OWS hadn’t done much outreach to the NY activist community, and very little —if any— to organizations of people of color here in the City, whose communities have of course been hardest hit by the recession, compounding already dire situations that existed before the recognized national recession (for many of these communities, a de facto recession has been present throughout the ’boom years’ of the 1990s).
Last Saturday, September 24, the NYPD arrested — and pepper sprayed — about 85 people, and OWS grew significantly since then. From the reports of comrades who were there, the rally on Friday was perhaps bigger than some of the larger rallies organized against the budget cuts back in June — at least several thousand. Keep in mind that those June rallies were organized by the major unions (with combined memberships of over a quarter of a million people), having been planned months ahead of time. The rallies Friday and Saturday were planned on much shorter notice, with far fewer resources. From what I can tell, they were significantly more diverse (based on my visual estimates of race) than when OWS began, but with people of color composing perhaps twenty percent of the crowd, it is still far from representing anything close to the working class of New York. Of the dozen or so I’ve talked to, about half are from out of state, but even from Thursday to Saturday, the number of New Yorkers seems to be increasing, and, though this is anecdotal, these folks seem more likely to be people of color. That being said, the proportion of people of color is of course not the only important departure from what seems to be a white, young, college-educated, male norm.
In addition to growing in numbers and racial diversity, it seems that the protest is developing some more political
clarity in both what it identifies as problems and the objectives it hopes to achieve. However, it also appears that these efforts to solidify some common ’grievances’, demands or strategies are very inconsistent. For example, the initial proposed ’grievances’ being debated on Thursday
evening began with, “As one people, formerly divided by race, gender, sexuality....”The intent was to envision ourselves in a post-racial (and perhaps
post-revolutionary) society, but this wasn’t well received. A small group of women of color objected to that language (with Hena Alshraf as the impromptu
spokesperson), and it was first changed to,”As one people, despite divisions of race, gender, sexuality...“, and then the phrase was dropped altogether, replaced with,”As one people, united, we acknowledge the reality: that the future of the human race requires the cooperation of its members.” There have
also been some concerns raised about the lack of acknowledgment that the slogan “take back America” ignores the fact that it was stolen from indigenous people here to begin with. Ricardo Levins Morales’ article on Solidarity’s website  is a great
discussion of this slogan as well. Perhaps similarly, one anecdotal report I heard from Saturday was that when an older Black activist tried to approach some of the leaders about developing more specific demands, the response was somewhat dismissive, re-focusing on the ’crimes of the banks’ and away
from the day-to-day needs of those struggling to survive the effects of
those ’crimes’ (or more accurately, the larger crisis of capitalism).
It seems that if OWS is to continue to grow and engage the working class of New York, it will need to develop some more constructive ways to engage with the organizations of people of color in the City... and there’s some reason for being hopeful. On Thursday it was announced that a loose coalition of the city’s public sector unions, and the larger of the community groups has created a “Strong For All Coalition” in support. They are planning a rally in solidarity with OWS. I haven’t heard anything from my union (AFSCME DC37), but John Samuelson, President of TWU Local 100 (representing most of the mass transit workers), appeared on Keith Olbermann on Thursday night in support of OWS. In addition to the unions, some of the most militant, base-building and direct-action focused community groups area also participating (like Community Voices Heard, Make the Road NY and VOCAL).
Of course a lot remains to be seen, but if Madison is any indication, upping the ante in this struggle and achieving measurable wins will require more than crowds ... it will require the focused activity of significant layers of the organized working classes, that existed before Ad Busters, and that have the roots and the experience to help leverage the power that is being built against the establishment here and nationally. Even if we don’t get concrete wins, this will have been a hugely important protest for New York and the country, but there is a potential for it to be concretely effective as well, and I hope that we can help it get there.
* From Solidarity website, http://www.solidarity-us.org/