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Posts Tagged ‘occupy’

I heard the singer Harry Belafonte give a speech today. Boy, is he ever “in the fray” at 85!

He covered his life story: the journey from New York to his mother’s Jamaican relatives to be raised by a poor but big-hearted village; service in WW II; involvement in black theater in Harlem; acting training at the New School with classmates such as Marlon Brando; and social justice activism with people like Eleanor Roosevelt, JFK, Martin Luther King Jr., and Nelson Mandela.

His “monologue” was loaded with intriguing and amusing anecdotes, and his face lit up in that wonderful youthful smile that many will recall.

I was interested to see where the talk would wind up, because it was clear that helping the poor and combating injustice still make him tick. He moved on from his own story to honoring the youthfulness and nonviolence of the Occupy movement and then zeroed in on his current concern, our prison system.

He asked why the country has more people in prison than any other country and why we spend more to build prisons than schools. He acknowledged that states like California and New York are beginning to find better ways to deal with underlying social ills. Belafonte himself volunteers at SingSing to help inmates get a college education.

Bruce Springsteen, he said, once asked him how to deal with some of the issues the country faces, and Belafonte answered that when someone knocks on his door, he opens it. He thinks it is important to hear whatever the knocker has to say.

I can attest to that. As a young teen I myself knocked on his door, and he opened it. I wish I could say I was knocking about social justice, but it was something mundane. That summer people were circulating petitions to keep a road from being built on Fire Island, which we loved partly because there were no roads. Harry Belafonte signed the petition.

Here he is, just having fun.

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A November NY Times had this article on some activist nuns.

“Sister Nora Nash of the Sisters of St. Francis of Philadelphia. And the slight, soft-spoken nun had a few not-so-humble suggestions for the world’s most powerful investment bank.

“Way up on the 41st floor, in a conference room overlooking the World Trade Center site, Sister Nora and her team from the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility laid out their advice for three Goldman executives. The Wall Street bank, they said, should protect consumers, rein in executive pay, increase its transparency and remember the poor. …

“Long before Occupy Wall Street, the Sisters of St. Francis were quietly staging an occupation of their own. In recent years, this Roman Catholic order of 540 or so nuns has become one of the most surprising groups of corporate activists around.

“The nuns have gone toe-to-toe with Kroger, the grocery store chain, over farm worker rights; with McDonald’s, over childhood obesity; and with Wells Fargo, over lending practices. They have tried, with mixed success, to exert some moral suasion over Fortune 500 executives, a group not always known for its piety.

” ‘We want social returns, as well as financial ones,’ Sister Nora said, strolling through the garden behind Our Lady of Angels, the convent here where she has worked for more than half a century. She paused in front of a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes. ‘When you look at the major financial institutions, you have to realize there is greed involved.’ ”

Read more here.

Sometimes it just takes a few small voices to verbalize what everyone has noticed and get the ball rolling.

I was thinking about that today as I read an essay by a student at my old girls high school. She had interviewed me and another of my classmates for her history (!) class, and she captured the importance I placed on my tiny role in helping my school desegregate. All I did was ask the headmistress why there were no black girls in the school (I think in the 1960s I would have said “Negro”). I believe that it was because of questions like that and her own natural inclinations — not to mention what was going on in the nation — that she took action.

At the time, I thought asking a question was pretty small potatoes, but now I think that if lots of people do a small thing, it can be big.

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I couldn’t resist the pull of Occupy Wall Street yesterday, and I think that was true for most of the tourists in the Ground Zero area.

Everyone had a camera out, and most occupiers were taking advantage of being on display by holding up signs for their causes or handing out flyers. Souvenir buttons were on sale.  A brass band whooped it up. Both occupiers and visitors danced.

I got to thinking about the documentary I saw in September on how to start a revolution. The movie was about the work of 80-something Gene Sharp, an influential exponent nonviolent ways to overthrow despotic regimes. (See my blog entry here.) After the screening, I listened to Sharp as he answered audience questions. One thing he said was that he believed the uprising in China’s Tiananmen Square in 1989 failed because the organizers were winging it and didn’t have an adequate plan for next steps.

Today’s Occupiers also seem to be winging it. But they are not aiming to overthrow the government, and I’m not sure it matters that a central theme has yet to stand out. I’m willing to wait and see what emerges. In the meantime, here are pictures from Saturday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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ArtsJournal.com sent me to this article describing a ballerina posed on the Wall Street bull. The article suggests that one of the many tipping points that led to the Occupy movement was this image of a dancer. I like to think that the arts can spark a movement, although I think the Arab Spring played a bigger role in this case.

 

“When Vancouver-based Adbusters presented the idea to the world, it did so in the form of a poster that featured a dancer posed on the shoulders of the Wall Street bull statue, a foggy clamour of demonstrators behind her. The poster asked the question, ‘What is our one demand?’ Activist groups seized on it, as did the hacktivist group Anonymous, and a collective began to form. …

 

“To hear tell from [Vancouver-based] Adbusters founder and editor Kalle Lasn now, the question of that one demand still needs to be answered concisely and directly. But as the movement overspills Wall Street, he describes it as the most successful in the 22 years he and his magazine have been advocating ‘culture jamming.’ ” Read more. The Kalle Lasn interview is at Seattle’s Crosscuts.com  (“news of the the great nearby,” whatever that means).

 

As intrigued as I am that a ballerina poster could have been a tipping point for a movement, I think the question, “What is our one demand?” is even more intriguing. I would like to spin off from that and ask, “What is the one thing you want (in general, not public policies necessarily)?” Could you name the one thing? I think this is different from making a wish and blowing out candles. But maybe not. I will give it some thought myself.

 

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Here is Middle America at 7 a.m. waking up in Boston’s financial district after a cold, rainy night in a tent — and wondering why its college degrees have not led to jobs. It’s not Hooverville. But I think it represents something real.

There is actually a wide array of causes represented. No obvious central theme has emerged. End the War, Tax the Rich, Socialism … .

Every day I get tweets from the Equal Exchange coffee trike. With the Occupiers of Boston, the curiosity seekers, the media, and the police, there has been a steady demand for coffee. Today’s message was  “EEFreeRange EE Free Range Cafe: So busy I can’t get a tweet in edgewise! Trikes are at Charles/MGH and Dewey Sq. Come see us!”

At the Washington Post, Ezra Klein is trying to figure out what it all means. He decided it probably does mean something after he started reading a Tumblr blog called We Are The 99 Percent. He describes the blog as all “grainy pictures of people holding handwritten signs telling their stories, one after the other.

‘I am 20K in debt and am paying out of pocket for my current tuition while I start paying back loans with two part time jobs.’

“These are not rants against the system,” Klein continues. “They’re not anarchist manifestos. They’re not calls for a revolution. They’re small stories of people who played by the rules, did what they were told, and now have nothing to show for it. Or, worse, they have tens of thousands in debt to show for it.” Read more.

In the afternoon I went over and read a few signs. Would love your comments on this one: “I couldn’t afford my own politician, so I made this sign.”

It’s 11/6/11, and I just learned about another great source of Occupy signs, at Mother Nature Network. Check out “I’ll believe corporations are people when Texas executes one” here.

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