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What The Hell Happened to @OccupyWallst? Or, Our New Boss, Justine Tunney

8:33 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Yesterday, the almost 200,000 followers of @OccupyWallSt — viewed by many as the original and even “official” voice of the movement — were in for a surprise.

Along with this announcement, the Twitter icon changed to an image of a creature from Doctor Who called an Adipose. An account that purported to speak for a national movement now suddenly spoke very much in first person. Access that had been shared with a select sampling of Occupy activists nationwide now dwindled to just a single voice.

A white blob-like creature with a humanoid shape known as an Adipose

The new white face of Occupy Wall Street?

As a flood of critical tweets began, Tunney justified her drastic actions by saying she’d felt excluded from the OWS conversation since the beginning and was reclaiming the account ‘for a week or so‘ to share her voice.

Tunney’s viewpoints included calling out activist philosopher David Graeber, espousing vegetarianism and non-smoking, and insisting that the movement was only anti-Wall Street, not anti-corporation. She defended her employment with Google while simultaneously calling out the liberal middle class for their moral bankruptcy.

I was the founding organizer of this movement. But prejudiced people have always tried to deny me a voice in this movement. –Justine Tunney

The movement lost the way. So I’m helping people learn about its founding principles which lead to its success. –Justine Tunney to @YourAnonNews

Tunney’s tale of exclusion stems from being a transgender woman, a class of people often oppressed and silenced in our culture. Yet she plays this card without hesitation in response to her critics. This afternoon, as nearly every activist on social media held their breath in anticipation of the NATO 3 verdict, Tunney shared a sob story of emotional abuse on her personal account. As I pleaded with her to use her new soapbox to share solidarity with three activists that face decades behind bars, she responded by calling me a transphobic bully and temporarily blocking me on Twitter.

The fiasco spawned the humorous #IFoundedOccupyWallSt hashtag, but many who invested months of their lives — or even went to jail for the movement — responded with outrage and a sense of betrayal. It’s sad to see a leaderless movement so diminished in numbers and tarnished in the media further devalued by the bizarre personal agenda of a singular egotist. On one hand, this appears to be a sudden digital coup by a self-described anarchist turned movement dictator.

But looked at another way, this seems like the sad yet inevitable result of how the Occupy media team formed. Viewed this way, it’s a problem exacerbated by technology ill-suited to horizontal movements, a problem that played out at perhaps dozens of encampments and Occupy subgroups before coming home to Zuccotti.

While I spoke at length with a former media team member, Tim Fitzgerald (@DiceyTroop) today about the early days of @OccupyWallSt, his words were supported by many communications I’ve had over the last few years with Occupy members, and documented in multiple sources which I will link to where possible. I engaged with Justine Tunney for her side of things until I was blocked. Priscilla Grim, one of the team members ousted on Thursday, told me she’d be unavailable to comment on this matter until Monday.

Occupy The Media or Occupy A Park

Yesterday’s hijack was possible because Tunney did create the @OccupyWallSt account on Twitter and obtain the original domain name OccupyWallSt.org — the about page of which is currently a hagiography of Tunney and her friends. To take over, she presumably just changed the password and shut down whatever services were allowing other activists to tweet from the account.

Anyone with a basic knowledge of the origins and structure of the Occupy movement knows it’s ludicrous to claim leadership, but I think we can learn a lot about how activist media goes wrong from her example. Nathan Schneider’s Thank You, Anarchy (previously on the FDL Book Salon) tells Tunney’s side of the origin story:

Because of the General Assembly’s early hiccups in setting up a website during the planning process, the occupation’s online presence was left to the whims of improvisation. A transgender Internet security expert, Justine Tunney, registered the OccupyWallSt.org web domain anonymously on July 14 and started assembling a team to populate it.

[...]

[Tunney:] ‘… Right now I’m trying to get more developers to help me out with this. So far I’m the only person developing it, and that’s bad. I’m a firm believer in collective responsibility, because if I get hit by a bus, people are screwed.’

Others disagree with the notion that she tried to create a collaborative atmosphere. Activist and journalist Alexa O’Brien called the takeover “three years in the making,” and implied that Tunney had acted to seize power from the start:

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#OpValentine: Show A Prisoner Revolutionary Love

4:28 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Valentine’s Day: some people love the romance, others decry it as an obligatory expression of love or lament the misery of being single on a day devoted to coupledom. If being single on February 14 seems unbearable, imagine if you were not just alone but locked away from everything — your family, your friends, the outside world.

Vintage Valentine Card: Do you cat-ch on? I want you for my Valentine.

This Valentine's Day, tell a prisoner: "I choo-choo-choose you!"

Such is the plight of our nation’s political prisoners. Some, like Leonard Peltier, have spent decades behind bars. Others, like the NATO 5 are victims of a new wave of political repression. To bring comfort to these victims of the system, Anonymous, occupiers, Anarchist Black Cross groups and other activists have come together to create Operation Valentine (#OpValentine):

Where will we be on Valentine’s day? With whom? One thing is certain, most of us will have the freedom to tell whom we care ‘I love you’ and shower them with hugs. Separated from their friends, their family, all of their love ones, many of our brothers and sisters will be deprived of this most basic human right. They have sacrificed their freedom to expose corruption and human rights violations. And as would say Che: ‘At the risk of seeming ridiculous, let me say that the true revolutionary is guided by a great feeling of love.’

It’s easy to participate in #OpValentine. Just pick a prisoner (or more than one), write or make a note or postcard, and send it in the mail. Valentine’s Day is less than a week away as of this writing and our postal service is being gutted, but I guarantee you’ll brighten someone’s dreary day no matter when you send your mail.

When you’re writing to a political prisoner, it’s best to share your love and daily life. These are regular people who need our support, not heroes to worship. It’s also important not to discuss a case with pre-trial prisoners or to write anything you wouldn’t want read by police, the government, or the media. The New York Anarchist Black Cross has a great guide to writing political prisoners:

For the first letter, it’s best to offer an introduction, how you heard about the prisoner, a little about yourself. Tell stories, write about anything you are passionate about–movement work and community work are great topics until you have a sense of the prisoner’s interests outside of political organizing.

And what we hear from prisoners time and time again is to include detail. Prison is so total that the details of life on the outside become distant memories. Smells, textures, sounds of the street all get grayed out behind bars. That’s not to say that you should pen a stream-of-consciousness novel.

Remember, even the simplest of notes is a potentially life- or sanity-saving connection to the outside world.

I’m going to include the complete #OpValentine document below, but an updated list can be found in this pastebin.

[Editor's Note: See the comments for more political prisoners who need our love. -MyFDL Editor]

#OpValentine

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Overpass Light Brigade Is Challenging Free Speech Restrictions

7:14 am in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

One Victory, More Conflicts to Come?

Though the Austin Overpass Light Brigade won the right to hold lighted signs over a highway once, it can expect further encounters with police.

Lighted signs on an overpass over a busy highway

Austin Overpass Light Brigade over Interstate Highway 35 in south Austin.

Last Monday, I attended the Austin Overpass Light Brigade’s fourth gathering. As previously reported on Firedoglake, the group had been shut down by police at its previous two attempts. The message on election eve was DO MORE THAN VOTE, and occupiers came prepared for police interference.

First, they modified their signs to be wearable like over-sized necklaces. Next, they distributed misinformation — sharing a false start location and start time at an overpass where they’d been shut down. The real location was spread by word of mouth, at the general assembly, and by people waiting at the fake start location to redirect real help. Activists stood on a part of an overpass over a grassy hill, further forestalling objections that they could drop their worn signs into traffic.

Police took the bait — a half dozen police cars again appeared at the advertised start location, and a dispatcher could be heard reading Occupy Austin’s @OAalerts feed over the police band. Occupiers held their sign at the new location for almost 45 minutes before police arrived, called by an employee with the Texas Department of Public Transportation. The TX DOT employee at the previous attempt would say only ‘no comment,’ but this one was quite talkative. Though he would not give his name, he first cursed at Nathan B, a young teenage volunteer with the Peaceful Streets Project then tried to grab Austin Chronicle photojournalist John Anderson’s notebook while insisting Anderson was breaking the law because media is required, he said, to wear safety vest.

Though we argued with the officer’s insistence that we leave the overpass, the Light Brigade regrouped on the grass by the off ramp while waiting for a phone call to bear fruit. The call was to Debbie Russell, activist with the Texas American Civil Liberties Union. Russell had previous experience negotiating with police to allow displays of banners and signs on highways as long as they aren’t physically attached. She called her contacts at the police. As we watched, more police cars arrived. Some officers looked angry. Then a supervisor arrived, the discussion continued, and all police left.

According to a Facebook post by Debbie Russell:

Yes–well I talked to [Chief Acevedo's] assistant chief and he’s getting TXDot to provide what laws they think are in violation. The issue is the actual lumination of the sign, but according to how I’m reading the law (and how I think APD interprets it, but waiting for final word), such a sign is ok except if it impairs visibility/shines lights into people’s faces as they are driving. So I sent pics of our light brigade, others around the country, specs on the LED light strings – with a little science lesson on wattage/lumens, etc saying these couldn’t possibly be considered a public safety threat — at most they are 2-3x as bright as old fashioned xmas lights and the light is scattered/diffused — not directional. I’m waiting for them to take this to TXDot and circle back.

Though the future legal status of this action is uncertain, the Austin Overpass Light Brigade returned to the overpass. On November 5, thousands of vehicles along a very busy highway saw the message, many honking or cheering enthusiastically.

Overpass Light Brigade is Challenging Free Speech Restrictions
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#Occupy Votes (Updated 2:25pm PST)

1:13 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Tuned Out Hippies?

Since the Occupy movement began, many have attempted to position the group in opposition to electoral politics. Occupy in its purest form is nonpartisan, and since the beginning of the movement this has been a source of criticism.

If we want to really make a difference, we were told time and again, we should organize similarly to the Tea Party and begin to field candidates for office. When occupiers protested Mitt Romney or other hyper-conservative politicians, they’d be accused of being in bed with Barack Obama. If the movement protested neo-liberals like Obama, we were accused of being traitors to all that was good in the world because we obviously wanted Romney to win (Carnacing is not limited to blogs). Most of all, occupiers got accused of being disconnected from what their critics perceive to be real politics — we were lazy hippies who didn’t understand how the world works and worst of all we don’t vote.

Spelled out in lights: DO MORE THAN VOTE

Austin Overpass Light Brigade on November 5, 2012

Occupy and many allied activist groups stand in opposition to the idea that electoral politics should be the focus of American political engagement. It is especially opposed to the idea that just voting out one plutocrat and replacing him with a new one will fix our problems — even if that new plutocrat is a woman, from a racial minority, or practices an alternative religion or sexuality. Its ranks are full of activists who supported Obama with hours of hard work in the run-up to the 2008 election, only to “wake the eff up” over the succeeding years and realize real change doesn’t come from far-away leaders.

It’s my experience that occupiers are far more engaged with mainstream politics than mainstream America, which for the most part unthinkingly abstains from participating at all. While the average American simply does not vote, the question of whether to vote and how was an important concern to OWS. Members of Occupy Chicago spent hours in a heated debate over whether it was ethical to burn voter registration cards as a form of protest. Occupiers created street theater around the election: Occupy Chicago members took coffins to the Obama headquarters and launched Revs4Romney. On election day, Occupy the Stage in New Orleans protested the fact that Louisiana is one of eight states which disallow write-in candidates for President by performing a puppet show about the 2-party system at a polling place then accepting symbolic write-in votes (I voted via Twitter for Vermin Supreme). Occupiers held public debate-watching parties, helped Anonymous trend the hashtag #StopNDAA and livetweeted the elections.

Occupy groups also became closely involved in local issues at multiple elections since last September. Here in Austin, one Occupier made an unsuccessful bid for city council, while others became involved in the successful bid to make the city council itself more accountable. Austin will change from one of the country’s only completely at-large city councils to one where each council member represents part of the city.  The Occupy AISD working group fought new in-district charter schools by, in part, helping to unseat charter-supporter Sam Guzman. His replacement, Dr. Rev. Jayme Mathias, will be the first openly gay member of Austin’s school board. One of the Gulf Port 7, Ronnie Garza, is featured in the video at the top of this post. Another, Remington Alessi, ran for sheriff as a Green Party candidate. San Antonio’s Meghan Owen took 1.5% of the vote for the Greens in a bid to unseat NDAA-supporting Democrat Representative Lloyd Doggett.

Of course, many see Elizabeth Warren as a massive win for the goals of Occupy Wall Street.

An Ethical Dilemma At the Voting Booth

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VIDEO: Mark Neiweem Beaten by Cook County Guards, Placed in Solitary (#NATO5)

6:08 am in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell


I’ve written before about political prisoners of the Occupy movement and Kevin Gosztola of The Dissenter has also written about this case, but the latest development is an especially disturbing one. Mark Neiweem is one of 5 activists charged preemptively in the lead-up to May’s NATO protests in Chicago; he is accused of “felony offense of solicitation for possession of explosives or explosive or incendiary devices,” in part based on the testimony of two police infiltrators. According to new reports from Occupy Chicago, Neiweem, better known as ‘Migs,’ was beaten by Cook County Guards and, after his release from the hospital, immediately placed in solitary confinement:

Mark Neiweem, (pronounced Nye-wame) one of the NATO5, was badly beaten by Cook County Jail Guards and placed in solitary confinement, “the hole,” for 20+ days. His lawyer confirmed that Mark spent the night in Cermak Hospital. He has stitches, his face is swollen and bruised. his ribs are sore but not broken. We, his activists and friends, cannot let this atrocity of state abuse stand.

I am in Chicago, so I asked Rachel Unterman, an occupier who has been heavily involved in supporting these political prisoners, to speak with me about the incident. According to Rachel, Migs has spent his time inside educating fellow prisoners, but it is unclear what, if anything, could have triggered this horrible attack.

Occupy Chicago has gone public with the story today, and is asking people to take action:

We are calling on every person around the world to telephone Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart at (312) 603-6444 and ask to speak with him, demanding:

What happened to Mark Neiweem?
Why was Mark Neiweem beaten so severely that he was admitted to Cermak hospital overnight?
Remove Mark from the hole now!

As Rachel points out, a great way to support the NATO 5 is by writing letters and sending pictures. OChi’s Free the NATO 5 website has a guide to writing letters to these prisoners. Occupy Austin’s Braettie Ledezma has led an effort to write to political prisoners worldwide, including Migs and other members of the NATO 5. She told me:

It’s been a cathartic experience writing to prisoners in general, but writing to Migs has been different in the way that he manages to make a strong  but very warm personality light up his letters from his first reply. He has a willingness to share things with an unapologetic honesty, and I found that delightful. He shows a determination to not allow his circumstances to defeat him and even though he has grim struggles; he takes a genuine interest in the welfare of others. The courage of these guys who write to me is amazing, and Migs has no shortage of courage.

Free the NATO5!

Pussy Riots Everywhere (#PussyRiot Update)

10:20 am in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Putin with a gun juxtaposed in front of activists in colorful balaclavas.

Image: Putin Meets Pussy Riot by Punk Toad / Flickr

The love affair with Pussy Riot shows no sign of slowing down since the trio of punk women were sentenced to 2 years in prison. Neither has the legal system’s attack on their actions, with Russia Today reporting two more members of the group now under fire:

A new criminal case was launched into two Pussy Riot members who escaped police after participating in an infamous ‘punk prayer’ in Moscow’s main cathedral. The announcement comes days after their co-participants were sentenced to two years in jail. “We have launched a separate criminal case against the unknown members of the ‘Pussy Riot’ band, and are seeking to establish their identities,” a police spokesperson told the Interfax news agency.

As an aside, what does it say about the American mainstream media that a Russian news agency sometimes accused of pro-Putin bias has become a major source of news for myself and many others I know?

Getting back to the Pussy Riot, the sentence was met with worldwide protests that featured rallies in many countries and several United States cities. Six were arrested in NYC for obstructing a sidewalk during a Pussy Riot solidarity march. Four Germans protested inside Cologne Cathedral in support of the group and may themselves face up to 3 years in prison. Most flamboyantly, a member of Ukrainian women’s movement Femen protested Pussy Riot’s sentences by taking a chainsaw to a cross while topless.

The fate of these women has struck a chord, but why? Writing in The Atlantic, Joshua Foust compares the outcry to Kony 2012 while a fellow Atlantic scribe, anthropologist Sarah Kendzior, questions how gender affects the media presentation and popular response to Pussy Riot:

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Gay Crumbs From the Table of the Masters (by Daniel Edward Massoglia)

9:30 am in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

By Daniel Edward Massoglia (@jujueyeball). Originally published on the Occupied Chicago Tribune. For more MyFDL coverage of Occupied Pride events, see Why Occupy Pride and the watercooler posts Pride and Pride Revisited.

Protest Banner: Take Back Pride Queers Against Racism And Corporate Greed

OccuPride Banner in Chicago (Photo: Philip DeVon, used with permission)

If you had, at the time, asked a participant in the Stonewall Riots—whose occurrence annual LGBTQ Pride parades commemorate—whether they envisioned a future where their cause was vocally supported by JP Morgan, Doritos, and the President of the United States, chances are your answer would have been a swift and sure “No.” But, in 21st century America, this is the case, and, sadly, Pride has let itself be changed by this, with little thought given to the consequences and ramifications.

Let this be said: Chicago Pride was awesome. Hundreds of thousands (850,000 by the city of Chicago’s estimation) joined together in Chicago’s Lakeview and Wrigleyville neighborhoods in an exuberant celebration of humanity. People of all races, ages, sexual orientations and gender identities celebrated the wonder of life in all its forms. Gay cowboys line-danced. Dykes occupied their bikes. Even the handful of bigots ended up looking silly, flanked on either side by a sign directed at the preacher (“Secretly Gay”) and an honest to goodness “Gay Jesus” impersonator, fabulous from beard to sandals. It really was beautiful. In one interfaith segment, Mormons, Catholics, Buddhists, and other groups marched, carrying signs saying, “Gays are God’s People.” Even with all the upbeat, sun-driven joy, however, there were a number of troubling elements to the parade.

Underwritten by the 1%

Pride initially represented the cry, “We exist!” shouted from an ignored and stigmatized community to the larger population of the country. It was a celebration of the margins. While this is still the case in some ways, the LGBTQ community has now found itself underwritten by the most oppressive elements of American society—banks, politicians, and corporations, the ultimate ostracizers—and it has largely accepted this. It is a shift almost as dizzying in scope as the shift in mainstream consciousness towards LGBTQ rights. Decades ago, from the margins came a movement, one which has now, years later, unfortunately and almost unblinkingly accepted the subsidy of organizations and individuals that actively enable the perpetual, repressive “othering” of the powerless.

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Occupy’s Political Prisoners

12:18 pm in Uncategorized by Kit OConnell

Among the many signs of the profound threat that the Occupy movement poses to the status quo has been the coordinated effort by local and state police together with the Department of Homeland Security to suppress the rights of protesters. The United Nations recently criticized the United States for its violent police attacks on the movement.

In the month since the pre-NATO arrests, a new tool in the arsenal is becoming clear: turning dedicated activists into political prisoners.

Occupy Wall Street, Trinity Wall Street, and the December 17 Trial

Sign: Mark Adams is Bearded, Selfless, Defends the Poor, Persecuted. Remind you of Anyone?

Photo: @SubVerzo via Twitter, used with permission.

On December 17, Occupy Wall Street attempted a reoccuptation — not of Liberty Square, but of a new space. Climbing a fence on livestream, occupiers poured into a fenced-in space owned by Trinity Wall Street, a church-run business that is historically one of New York City’s oldest landlords. The trial of 8 of these occupiers, including a retired bishop and active clergy members, concluded on June 18. Seven of the defendants, including the clergy, were convicted of trespassing and sentenced to four days of community service. But one man, Mark Adams, was singled out for especially harsh treatment.

The Village Voice quotes Judge Sciarrino’s justification for his harshness:

He issued his his ruling immediately after closing arguments, finding all eight defendants guilty of trespassing and further finding one of them, Mark Adams, guilty of attempted criminal mischief and attempted criminal possession of burglar’s tools. Adams was seen on surveillance video using what appeared to be bolt cutters to open the fence.

“This was the use of siege equipment to storm a castle,” Sciarrino said in his ruling, adding that political demonstrations are no excuse for violating property rights. “This nation is founded on the right of private property, and that right is no less important than the first amendment.”

Though the district attorney asked for a mere 30 days, the judge instead chose to charge Adams with 45 days in New York’s dangerous Rikers’ Island! Although activists who practice civil disobedience must expect to face legal consequences from time to time, occupiers are surprised by the harsh treatment from Trinity Wall Street, a business theoretically built on Christian values. The Episcopal News Service quotes Bishop George Packard:

In a June telephone interview, Packard had expressed surprise at the trespassing charges and the manner of his arrest. When he entered the property Dec. 17, he said, “I felt that we were entering into a protected area and that it was closed for the season. I had visited hunger strikers on the perimeter of that space … three or four times. …”

“Trespass is a word that I’m not used to hearing as it’s related to church property,” Packard said. “I hear expressions like ‘refuge’ and ‘sanctuary,’ and even … in the Trinity newsletter they talk about ‘radical hospitality.’”

The Continuing Plight of the NATO 5

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