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Occupy Wall Street Stages Rally to Show Support for Walmart Workers

November 24, 2012 Comments off

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On Black Friday, instead of shopping or eating leftover turkey with friends, several hundred protests affiliated with Occupy Wall Street converged at the Walmart in Secaucus New Jersey this afternoon to protest what they term to be unfair labour practices by the retail giant.
Starting this afternoon at around 12:  groups, some of which had been bussed in, staged rallies nearby and in front of the Walmart to call for higher wages, better hours and the right to form a union. A marching band played music while members lined up and shouted slogans. Though the crowd was large and had to be repeatedly directed by police to prevent traffic problems, the protesters did not seek to interfere with shoppers or workers. Their goal, as they put it, was to educate members of the public to the working conditions of the workers and to be outside and show support for the workers, they argued, were unable to join them on the picket line due threats or intimidation.

The peaceful protest lasted about four hours and saw a number of people take their literature, and at least one woman said she would no longer be shopping at Walmart until they amended their labour practices. According to Secausus police, there were no incidents of violence or arrests. There were few instances during which store employees spoke to protesters, but mostly management sought to keep their distance from the protest.
Civis Journal

Occupy Wall Street & Local Community Provide Thanksgiving Feast at St. Mark’s Church

November 24, 2012 Comments off

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On Thursday several hundred people showed up at the church in lower Manhattan to enjoy a holiday feast provided by affiliates of Occupy Wall Street, as well as church members and people in the nearby communities.

The idea was advertised to provide relief for victims of Hurricane Sandy, but organiser Jessica Alfreds said “there’s a lot of people in this neighbourhood who just on a regular day have a hard time coming up with three meals a day,” including the homeless, who made up a good portion of the visitors in the afternoon. Among the Sandy survivors was a widow  in her 70s from the Ukraine named Jenny, a resident of Brighton Beach and US resident since 1992. Unable to return to her apartment since the evacuation by police last month, she has been living with friends in a temporary space. Jenny’s apartment building, which was featured in the NY Daily News is contaminated with a “toxic brew” of fuel and seawater, and this was as of the article’s printing on November 18 (see here).

Not only is she among the most vulnerable, but she has few options available to her. “It’s too dangerous to come back,” Jenny said of the building. Te Daily News headline called it “Stinkiest building in Brooklyn,” and it had “nauseating fumes” that cause people to “gag,” which can lead to a whole host of health problems. To add to that is the fact he building remains without heat or electricity. Though initially unaware of the meal, she was asked to go inside by a woman on the street. After sitting down to eat, she said of the Thanksgiving meal, “I’m so thankful up to tears there’s an event.”  This is not the only disaster Jenny has lived through. Jenny is a survivor of the German and Soviet occupations of Ukraine during and after WWII, and she was present in Ukraine when the Chernobyl nuclear reactor exploded, spewing radioactive isotopes into the atmosphere in 1986. Jenny does not know where she will go on Sunday once the family she is staying with has to leave, but left the church with a bitter-sweet smile, hoping for better days.

Among the numerous volunteers, including a number of them who met organisers for the first time as they delivered food from as far away as Long Island, was Deb from Queens, who brought along her two young daughters, Rachel and Arielle. They had carpooled with five other people to deliver blankets, three of which were paid for with funds of Deb’s friend in Canada who was eager to help. When taking a much needed break and to have a bite to eat, one of the girls said the food was “nice” and that she “love[s] helping people.” And help feed a number of people they did.

The church, once the former property of the last Dutch governor of New Amsterdam Peter Stuyvesant and home to his final resting place, saw at least several hundred people get fed, including a number of African Americans – and Mr. Stuyvesant might be rolling in his grave if he knew the church was serving free black people, himself a slave owner and no friend of Africans. How things have changed. Those who were there expressed a sense of solidarity and community surprising to some as it was the first time many had met each other. When governor of New York, Daniel Thompkins asked the legislature to outlaw slavery by 1827 in a gradual way, which was acted upon and made law. He lies in the same churchyard, not far from Mr. Stuyvesant – the former a reminder of the way things once were and the latter a voice for change in some ways that people from Occupy might admire. As what is left of Occupy strives to help the less fortunate and the poor, he sheer diversity of the crowd is a testament to the sort of change that is already taking place from helping survivors in Read Hook or Far Rockaway to just average people on the street in Manhattan, including doing so at great personal risk as they are constantly exposed to a mix of toxic dust, asbestos, lead paint, gypsum and a host of other contaminants. This is the change the government and NGO’s like the Red Cross have largely failed to bring.

Staff Reporter

Civis Journal

An original Civis Journal documentary on Occupy Wall Street

May 22, 2012 Comments off

Journalists associated with Civis Journal have completed the first part of a documentary that looks at the eviction of Occupy Wall Street on November 15, 2011. Through interviews and first hand accounts, this documentary tells their story of occupiers during the day on which mayor Bloomberg ordered their evacuation, and documents their reaction to his allegations and his actions with the NYPD and Sanitation. It is the story of the eviction told through their words.

Civis Journal

Occupy protest prevented from reaching bank – in pictures

April 20, 2012 Comments off

On Friday, April 13, members of the Occupy movement gathered in Zuccotti Park for training before beginning a march to a local branch of Bank of America. that the NYPD would prevent from reaching its apparent goal of protesting at Bank of America. This photo show documents what happened.

Members of the Occupy movement listen as several people address them, discuss tactics and give instruction on how interact with police.

The theme of protest was too big to fail, a reference to large corporations and banks receiving bailouts.

The bank that protesters singled out for criticism was Bank of America, as is depicted in this piece of art the man is holding.

The participants were from a diverse background. In the picture, a member of the “Granny Peace Brigade” carries a banner.

Occupy members included a woman who was guiding a blind man in the training session of the event. The amount of work and dedication required on their part was not small. This protest involved hundreds of people marching in close order.

The police were aggressive in their attempt to keep protesters out of the street. When protesters began marching, the police pursued them on all sides, especially on the sides. The side of the crowd facing the street were harassed by officers who used their mopeds as moving barrier. This was a problem for anyone, protesters and journalists alike. At one point, an officer drove his moped onto the sidewalk; there were no injuries reported. One can imagine how the blind man in the previous picture would have walked knowing that accidentally stepping into the street could have meant being hit by a police scooter.

The police had their nightsticks at the ready in case the crowd turned unruly (which it did not).

Numerous police officers had plastic handcuffs at their sides, an indication that perhaps they expected a number of arrests.

A young man holds a sign that expresses anger over what some Occupiers feel are arbitrary of wrongful arrests.

Some tourists showed support to the Occupy protest and others just took pictures like these ones above.

A man passing by watches the protest as it goes along City Hall near Bank of America.

The crowd stopped across the street from Bank of America. The police did not allow them to cross the street.

Across from the protesters, police refused to allow anyone to enter the bank. Not even clientele unrelated to the Occupy movement were allowed to enter its doors. In this picture above, the police prevent a man from entering and direct him to another location, even though there were people in the bank and it was during banking hours.

Occupy returns to the centre of it all – in pictures

April 17, 2012 Comments off

Camped outside Federal Hall and the Stock Exchange, dozens of protesters now spend their nights under right next the offices of the most important bankers in the US. Their arrival, which coincides with the warm weather, has led to more talk about police brutality and the rights of protesters to sleep on a sidewalk than on the problems of political and economic inequalities in the United States. Protesters promise to bring in May 1 with a bang, already calling for a general strike. Though too early to forecast its turnout, it may represent a significant turnout of people, which may serve as a much needed impetus to revive a movement that has largely stalled since its removal from Zuccotti Park on November 15.

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Civis Journal

Part III: Town in Fukushima “safe” – politicians said so

April 11, 2012 2 comments

Part III, continued from April 9, 2012 “Town in Fukushima ‘safe’ – politicians said so” (for part I and II click here and here)

The Mythical Rebirth of the Phoenix

The Yomiuri preferred to show a quasi-normal life for students. Why are children even allowed in the area near a destroyed and unsafe nuclear plant?

Many people believe in Bigfoot. That does not mean he exists. Some Japanese may sincerely believe radiation will not affect them. But that does not mean radiation is harmless in the doses people have and will be exposed to. In 2011 there were tests done on children who lived nearby the Daiichi plant. Urine analysis indicated “all 10 tested positive for tiny amounts of caesium-134 and caesium-137” (see here). There was a different test that showed “radioactive caesium and iodine were found in the urine of 15 residents from two towns located 19 to 25 miles from the Fukushima Daiichi plant.” The government insists there is no danger. They may be correct, but how much radiation will they be exposed to over time? Is it internal? What does it mean when a child excretes radioactive substances? We are supposed to believe it is safe. It might be, but it certainly is not normal.

Though the towns named in the tests were not Kawauchi, the distance to the Daiichi plant was generally similar, about 30 km away. Greenpeace warns that the most vulnerable (read children, pregnant mothers, the elderly) should be evacuated from these areas (like Fukushima City, which is further away). Radiation does not spread evenly, and some parts to the north and west have more fallout than areas in the south. Maybe the parents of said children did not believe radiation was a problem after March 11 because they trusted the government. Those whose children tested positive for radiation might have some concerns now.

With the lack of scientific understanding on low-level exposure to radiation, scientists might be able to augment their knowledge using the data obtained from people living near the plant. The unofficial testing has already begun. Additional studies on residents showed “about 45 percent of 1,080 children in three Fukushima communities surveyed in late March [2011] tested positive for thyroid exposure to radiation (see here). Not to worry. None of these levels is dangerous says the government. One begins to wonder if anything actually is unsafe at all. With the rush to repopulate the areas near the plant, some residents are asking if safety is being pushed aside in a rush to have a rebirth. But many of the people in Fukushima have little choice but to remain nearby. The government refuses to evacuate them or offer enough compensation to leave. There is no need to review the book like instruction manual Tepco asked residents to fill out for compensation; not surprisingly, few have been able to understand it. Simply put, the government claims the areas outside the 20 km zone are not hazardous enough to warrant evacuation. Not everyone toes the government’s line.

“the Japanese government seems to have abandoned its responsibility to protect its population as it has left local authorities, who lack the necessary knowledge and equipment, to clean up this mess,” said Greenpeace in a press release. They characterised the government’s decontamination effort as “incompetent” and “risking health” of the residents. They put special emphasis on the most vulnerable: “Authorities have decided only to decontaminate the Fukushima City communities, without giving the residents the right to relocate – including pregnant women and small children, who are at the most risk.” Some of those areas have levels of contamination as high as parts of the no-go zone, reported Greenpeace. This would mean that affected people would get highly abnormal levels of radiation at an age they could least afford to be exposed to it. Children, in particular, are more sensitive to radiation, and the effects on their bodies can be worse than on an adult.

Returning to the Yomiuri newspaper article cited earlier, it quotes a child from Kawauchi saying, “There will be some concerns and inconveniences in our new life, but I want to overcome them with my friends.” Japanese kids and adults coming together to overcome difficulty in a time of extreme hardship. If this sounds kind of picturesque it is because it is. It is the sort of crude propaganda that the Japanese thrive on, at least that is how Ruth Benedict described sacrificing and self-denial in her well-known study. Some might recognise an example of this story in the recovery after WWII, in which the “national character” and hard work of the “Japanese” helped them prevail and even excel in difficult times. Sounds great, but most stories do. They do not always work out so well for those involved in them; they are the ones who will make the sacrifices.

Prime Minister Noda is clearly drawing parallels, as did his predecessor Naoto Kan, who described the disaster as “the most severe crisis in the past 65 years since World War II.” “We will make every effort to ensure that the rebirth of Fukushima is definitely achieved and beautiful hometowns are restored to their people,” said Noda in his anniversary speech. The Japanese are not the first to come up with stories of rebirth. They date back to the ancient world when some talked about a mythical bird coming out of the ashes. The effects of radiation, though, are not a myth. “The second pledge I make is to pass on to future generations the lessons of the disaster,” continued Noda. He might instead consider the lessons from Hiroshima and Nagasaki and take greater steps to protect the population from radiological contamination, but that will have to be left to “future generations,” as the current one is not yet ready for it. They are too busy being reborn.

What the children are being asked to endure is exposure to radiation that children in other parts of Japan do not have. So much for everyone sacrificing for the greater good of the country and the emperor, as the myth goes. In this case it looks like the suffering will be done by 30 children under the age of 16 – not counting 8 in the nursery school (yes, they have to be exposed to radiation too), as well as other residents. That has a deep history too in Japan. We need not discuss the millions of men Japan’s emperor sent to conquer Asia in the 1930s and 1940s, or the millions more they killed for empire. Whilst there is obviously no equivalent, what does stand out is the idea that the poor are the ones who must be on the front lines. The front in Fukushima is filled with those who might want to be elsewhere but cannot. There are also those who are unable to accept the reality that their towns have radiation readings similar to Chernobyl, and that says more about the situation that any words ever could. It is unclear what benefit the people will get from staying there.

Japan’s emperor sent millions of Japanese overseas in an attempt to enlarge the empire. Today’s politicians are likewise asking people to make scarifices, but the benefits to the population are not clear.

The 12-yr-old in the Yomiuri article might be excused for calling her new reality in Fukushima an “inconvenience,” but the press is not run by middle school students. Rather than pointing to possible dangers from a nuclear power plant that had two major leaks of radioactive water in the past month alone, it talks about the rebirth of a town that most of its own residents do not feel confident enough to live in. The lack of discussion in the paper on the potential hazards children will be living with as they go about their lives in an area contaminated with nuclear waste can be interpreted as a way to minimises the dangers of radiation.

Topics on Japan tend to follow certain trends. From a lost economic decade to the “rebirth of a nation” – no pun intended. This is the new PR campaign all are supposed to gleefully write about. The NY Times happened to cover a story about Namie a year ago. Though written to a much higher standard of quality, it too quoted a child who said, “I want to play outside.” Fair enough. Everyone can understand why a child would want to play outdoors with friends. Certainly people want those near Fukushima to prosper and live normal lives. The problem with quotes like these, though, is that – at least in the case of the Yomiuri – they put undue emphasis on children’s emotions. They are not the adults, and they do not fully understand the dangers or the long-term consequences of living in a contaminated area. Their situation will not improve by talk of their desires. It serves as an emotional heart twister. This is no soap opera, though.

Returning to decontamination, there was an effort by the government in Kawauchi. If it followed the normal Japanese decontamination procedures, then much of the waste would have been buried in the ground below the area from which it was gathered. For instance, there are numerous reports of schools in other areas removing the top layer of soil and then depositing it into a pit under a school’s yard, before covering it up with new dirt. There are others that simply removed some soil and carted it off to other places. There would have also been some spraying and washing to send substances away (rinsing them down the sewers). Operations of this sort have met with mixed results, not always achieving a much lower level of radiation.

In part IV we shall look at the 1% decisions and how they might affect residents.

Part I here, part II here and part IV here.

Food Insecurity at Zuccotti Park

March 20, 2012 Comments off

Tigga and other members of the Occupy Wall Street Kitchen Group prepare sandwiches just outside the fence of Zuccotti Park on November 21, 2011.

November 22, 2011

When Michael Bloomberg, mayor of New York City, ordered the removal of Occupy Wall Street from Zuccotti Park on November 15th, he made life more difficult for the occupiers in a political as well as humanitarian sense. This is, at least, what members of Wall Street maintain.

The pre-raid park boasted of a kitchen, hospital, library and bank. The proximity of these tents allowed Zuccotti to serve as a central hub of communications. Volunteers, attached to their respective tents, could coordinate logistics to assist those who needed it. The clinic treated injuries, pepper spray victims and hypothermia cases. The kitchen, for example, prepared and distributed warm meals. Looking at Occupy since their removal, it is evident things are very different.

There are days when some people at the park do not have enough food to eat – or any at all.  This is hardly surprising considering the large number of homeless and poor in the movement. With the reopening of the park, private security now requires all food be prepared off-site, which means it must be transported and then served to people outside the park. Needless to say, this makes feeding the occupiers considerably more difficult.

“We got peanut butter and jelly,” said Tigga as he offered food to hungry occupiers waiting inside the park on the other side of the fence. On November 22nd, he was one of several kitchen members who attempted to make sandwiches in the park, and was refused entry by police. “They can bring it over [the fence], but not the crate,” said a police officer nearby. She said food could be passed over the metal fences if it was prepared outside.

The group did not offer any resistance to police as they made sandwiches, but some members expressed their discontent. “I don’t see why we shouldn’t bring food into the park. I mean, all we gonna do is eat it,” said Donald, a kitchen member who helped distribute bagels and bread.

After the two officers left, park security approached the occupiers saying they could not pass food over the fence. “These guys are not worried about politics. These guys are bringing food to hungry people,” said Jason, who added that the park’s rules were arbitrary and designed to get members to leave the park. “They want us to go hungry. They want us to be cold. They want us to go away,” said Jason.

Staff Reporter