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Throw Them Out With the Trash: Why Homelessness Is Becoming an Occupy Wall Street Issue

Barbara Ehrenreich,
As anyone knows who has ever had to set up a military encampment or build a village from the ground up, occupations pose staggering logistical problems. Large numbers of people must be fed and kept reasonably warm and dry. Trash has to be removed; medical care and rudimentary security provided — to which ends a dozen or more committees may toil night and day. But for the individual occupier, one problem often overshadows everything else, including job loss, the destruction of the middle class, and the reign of the 1%. And that is the single question: Where am I going to pee?

Some of the Occupy Wall Street encampments now spreading across the U.S. have access to Port-o-Potties (Freedom Plaza in Washington, D.C.) or, better yet, restrooms with sinks and running water (Fort Wayne, Indiana). Others require their residents to forage on their own. At Zuccotti Park, just blocks from Wall Street, this means long waits for the restroom at a nearby Burger King or somewhat shorter ones at a Starbucks a block away. At McPherson Square in D.C., a twenty-something occupier showed me the pizza parlor where she can cop a pee during the hours it’s open, as well as the alley where she crouches late at night. Anyone with restroom-related issues — arising from age, pregnancy, prostate problems, or irritable bowel syndrome — should prepare to join the revolution in diapers.

Of course, political protesters do not face the challenges of urban camping alone. Homeless people confront the same issues every day: how to scrape together meals, keep warm at night by covering themselves with cardboard or tarp, and relieve themselves without committing a crime. Public restrooms are sparse in American cities — “as if the need to go to the bathroom does not exist,” travel expert Arthur Frommer once observed. And yet to yield to bladder pressure is to risk arrest.

… What the Occupy Wall Streeters are beginning to discover, and homeless people have known all along, is that most ordinary, biologically necessary activities are illegal when performed in American streets — not just peeing, but sitting, lying down, and sleeping. While the laws vary from city to city, one of the harshest is in Sarasota, Florida, which passed an ordinance in 2005 that makes it illegal to “engage in digging or earth-breaking activities” — that is, to build a latrine — cook, make a fire, or be asleep and “when awakened state that he or she has no other place to live.”

It is illegal, in other words, to be homeless or live outdoors for any other reason. It should be noted, though, that there are no laws requiring cities to provide food, shelter, or restrooms for their indigent citizens.

The current prohibition on homelessness began to take shape in the 1980s, along with the ferocious growth of the financial industry (Wall Street and all its tributaries throughout the nation). That was also the era in which we stopped being a nation that manufactured much beyond weightless, invisible “financial products,” leaving the old industrial working class to carve out a livelihood at places like Wal-Mart.

As it turned out, the captains of the new “casino economy” — the stock brokers and investment bankers — were highly sensitive, one might say finicky, individuals, easily offended by having to step over the homeless in the streets or bypass them in commuter train stations
(23 October 2011)

Occupy Wall Street: At Zuccotti Park, Conflict Arises Among Occupiers

Craig Kanalley, Huffington Post
Events at Zuccotti Park, the epicenter of the Occupy Wall Street movement in Lower Manhattan, have become increasingly dramatic in recent days, as egos have clashed, visions competed, and the unity of the protesters has been questioned.

The debate over whether or not the protesters should draft a list of demands led to a New York Times piece that dominated a recent General Assembly discussion. Along with complaints from area residents and continued pressure from the city about cleanliness and noise, growing concerns about safety and theft on the premises, and the proposal of a Spokes Council which for two nights in a row failed to gain consensus from the GA, it has been a long week at Zuccotti Park.

The most vocal members of the movement will say quite clearly there are no “leaders,” and the avoidance of that term has led to what some view as a lack of direction for Occupy Wall Street in New York. Differences among the occupiers are inevitable — and as many working groups will tell you, it has been difficult to get things done.

There’s no shortage of talking, and you never know who will take hold of the People’s Mic. Persuasive speakers on all sides can give General Assembly meetings a roller-coaster feel. Someone always seems to oppose a budget proposal, or have a strong dissenting opinion on something that seems on its way to sure passage. Just one voice joining the debate at the last minute has the power to sway the entire discussion.

With every proposal, there are questions and there are concerns, and the process continues and continues. The facilitators say numerous times the group has strayed off process. Questions are sometimes ignored for being “off-topic” even when they aren’t, time constraints are cited and frustrations boil over. Occupiers curse, speak out of turn and sometimes they just keep on talking, despite “Mic Check” calls over them. Those on all sides alienate each other.

This is what I have witnessed at Zuccotti the past few nights.

… The conflicts among occupiers can’t continue forever, and the most passionate organizers know this. They’re planning to “Occupy Central Park” next month — on 11-11-11 — and hope the move will bring the protesters together again and unite them with their counterparts across the world.

But there’s no telling what will happen at Zuccotti Park before then. And the cold of winter lingers.
(22 October 2011)
In terms of dysfunction… consider the US Congress. -BA

Four Iron-Clad Demands for Occupy Wall Street

Michael Kinsley, Bloomberg
… Conservatives who believe that raising taxes is futile and self-defeating may skip the rest of this sermon. There probably aren’t many of them among the Occupy protesters, anyway. Liberals who believe we can run up deficits indefinitely with no harm done may also stop reading.
Anyway (drumroll, please), here are my four demands.

First, a really humongous jobs bill. Big enough to shut up even Paul Krugman.

… Second, abolish capital gains. (That’s shortened for easy use on a placard. I mean: Abolish the special tax break for capital gains. Dividends, too, for that matter.)

While profits on investments are currently taxed at a maximum of 15 percent, the tax on wages is a minimum of 15 percent (including Social Security). That’s why Warren Buffett pays less of his earnings in taxes than his secretary. It’s why hedge fund managers, whose income takes the form of capital gains, enjoy a break.

Third, end the Bush tax cuts — for everyone.

In 2001, George W. Bush devilishly put through a large tax cut that would expire shortly after he left office. Obama would like to make the tax cut permanent for couples with incomes of less than $250,000, but not for those making more. This would, in essence, be the tax increase on the affluent that Obama wants. Republicans would make the cuts permanent for everybody. This is backward: The Bush tax cuts should be allowed to expire for everybody, rich and middle class. This would return tax rates to the level of the Clinton years.

Fourth, expand the estate tax. That same Bush 2001 tax cut included a gradual elimination of what Republicans brilliantly repositioned as the “death tax.” But if we must generate more revenue, which we must, why not get a bit of it from people who are in no condition to feel the pain?

For now, estates worth more than $5 million are taxed. Any expanded estate tax will undoubtedly have generous exemptions so that people can help their children. And anyone who doesn’t want the government to get any of his or her money can bequeath it instead to one of thousands of tax-deductible organizations, and pay no taxes on the amount donated. Anyone who can’t find some tax-deductible charitable cause that suits his or her prejudices is a nasty old coot.
(22 October 2011)
Disregard tax policy at your peril — but that’s where the important social decisions are made. -BA

Global indignation inspires Spanish movement

Dick Nichols, Green Left
Puerto del Sol in Madrid on October 15. Up to half a million people took to the streets.
The overwhelming success of the October 15 “United for Global Change” demonstrations (which took place in more than 1000 cities and towns in about 90 countries) is having powerful positive feedback on the indignados (15-M) movement in Spain.

In Madrid, as many as 500,000 people marched and hundreds of thousands more took to the streets across Spain. It was a huge demonstration of support for the 15-M movement — against austerity and for “real democracy” — that began in May with occupations of central plazas in Spanish cities. The occupiers held open general assemblies to democratically determine the movement’s goals, demands and direction.

The response to the call for an October 15 international day of protest, formally launched in late July by 15-M, has reinforced among the participants the sentiment that the enemy is global, goes by the name of capitalism and is making the life of ordinary people a misery on all continents.

The Wall Street occupation, which began on September 17 and has lead to occupations and protests in more than 100 cities and towns across the United States, was already an inspiration for the movement here.

It showed that revolt could take place “in the belly of the beast”, and wasn’t going to be restricted to southern Europe and the broader Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking world.

Dick Nichols is the Green Left Weekly European correspondent, working from Barcelona.
(23 October 2011)

Chinese web censors block terms related to “Occupy,” to stamp out movement’s spread in China

Xeni Jardin, Boing Boing
China Digital Times verifies a long list of banned keywords on Sina Weibo’s search function that combine “occupy” (占领) with a place name inside China: “provincial capitals, economically developed regions, and few symbolic local areas.” Here are some of the keywords that contain the names of the capitals of Chinese provinces
(22 October 2011)