American Autumn: An OccuDoc

All of our grievances are connected.

There are individual heroes doing great things in this country, and they don’t make it to the news every night. A doctor who storms a panel on healthcare to demand that her colleagues join her in the streets. A woman who stands up in a Congressional hearing on deficit reduction to admonish her legislators: we all know how to end the deficit! End the wars! Tax the rich! A woman who bravely speaks to a crowd about her father, who had literally shot himself to death to avoid burdening his daughter with insurmountable hospital bills. This is the country we have made, and it is up to us to re-make it.

[UPDATE 2012-11-03: This movie is no longer available on Vimeo. Here is a trailer below.]

Birthday Week

I had kind of an extended Labor Day holiday, even without traveling or really taking off much work. Jarrett and Candice were in town and we used that as our reason to be out and about nearly every night for a week, exploring, celebrating, and having adventures.

The real purpose of their trip was Amy and John’s wedding, and as we have become friendly with the betrothed (we even live on the same street now!) we scored an invite as well. The ceremony and reception were held at the Jersey City Hyatt and featured the colorful dress and melodic chanting that mark an Indian wedding.

Married couple with @_candice_ @wrisjarrett
Married couple with @_candice_ @wrisjarrett

We went out for lots of meals together, including Roberta’s for lunch, and some snooty place that Jarrett wanted to check out, which ended up being quite good. Zack’s parents took us all out to dinner on my actual birthday, so that was a really generous treat. The chosen restaurant was Lincoln (under the grass field/art installation at Lincoln Center), which has glass walls. As Jarrett and I approached the entrance, I noticed Lloyd Blankfein and Jamie Dimon sitting together, drinking wine, I shit you not. I tweeted that out to #OWS, but alas, the masses did not descend. 🙂

The following Saturday, my wife threw a dinner party at the apartment with Piers, Rachel and my mother. That was really nice of her. I’m a lucky guy.

Birthday flowers by @fogeffect
Birthday flowers by @fogeffect


Rent Strike in Sunset Park

Housing is a Human Right
Tenants are withholding rent, demanding that electrical problems in the building be resolved, and the trash get picked up

I heard about this from an Occupy email asking people to show solidarity by coming to a 6pm daily “vigil”. It sounded like a great reason to hop on the bike and ride down 5th Avenue about 30 blocks to Sunset Park.

I arrived to find a half-dozen Latino tenants, nearly all of advanced middle age, standing out on the sidewalk. It was a bit awkward as I asked, “Is this the rent strike?” I looked well out of place, rolling up in a mint-green lady beach cruiser, a gleaming white, brand new helmet atop my head. But I persisted, and a young lady who I learned later was not a tenant, but a fellow supporter, confirmed that I had found the right place. She was kind enough to fill me in on some of the back story while the other ladies conversed in Spanish. A man resembling a steam locomotive stood nearby, wielding a large plumber’s wrench with unknown intent.

The building loses electricity all the time, according to the tenants. They might have outages 30 times a day. They have a fuse box in the basement that is overheated and exposed. Apparently the super’s solution to this crackling, sparking fuse box was to point a fan at it. The landlord, Orazio Petito, is on the public advocate’s Worst Landlords list. In response, many of the tenants have stopped paying rent – some for a few months, some for over a year.

CBS Local reported on the story:

Notice the last line of the report: “The tenants say they’re going to save up their withheld rent money, and make the repairs themselves if they have to.”

That reminded me of a line Chomsky often repeats about sit-down strikes really putting fear into the owning class: “That’s just one step away from workers running the factory themselves.” As in, why do these people need a slumlord like Petito when they can just band together and administer the building themselves?

The best story I’ve found on it is by Laura Gottesdiener in the Indypendent. Read the whole thing to hear the story of these amazing women, but here’s a choice bit about the value of these actions:

The campaign’s bold words and actions have inspired community members not only to stand up for their rights as tenants, but also to reconsider social and political marginalization itself. About 80 percent of the neighborhood’s residents live below the poverty line, and the majority speak either Spanish or Mandarin as a first language. But in a society where immigrant women who speak little English are often bullied, intimidated or ignored, these women are loud, assertive and highly public about their right to live with dignity. And they are teaching others to push back as well.

Occupy Times Square

The Occupation continues. Saturday we went out to see how the movement was growing. I met up with JohnJ and we marched up 6th Ave with the procession. The cops had blocked the intended route of 42nd St, and asked everyone to cross at 46th. It got a little hectic as people spilled out into 46th and cops started arresting people who ran into the street. Of course they couldn’t arrest everyone. This vid is from 46th at the entrance to Times Square. We couldn’t really go any further because the square was already packed with people.

Later we wormed our way further into the square, but the cops had blocked off 7th Ave in an attempt to keep it open to traffic. After they got a few buses through, they started diverting that traffic above Times Square, effectively giving the space to the people. But they didn’t bring the barriers down. The cops kept the streets to themselves. Still, I thought there were at least 10,000 people, and maybe closer to 20,000. This vid shows just some of the crowd:

You can hear people chanting “Give the cops a raise” at one point. We are not anti-police. Still, it was a really terrible decision for them to bring in horses to try and intimidate the crowd and make them move back. Especially because, where they did this, there was no way for people to move back at all. If you watch this segment on DemocracyNow!, you can see some disturbing footage of horses getting spooked by the crowd, the noise, the lights. Just an awful idea. On the other hand, there was also a very wise police commander who created some space between cops and the crowd by asking the cops to move back. This not only resulted in cheers from the crowd (who were barricaded anyway), but immediately reduced the tension of the situation and, thereby, the chances of anything bad happening.

JohnJ and I took it all in for a while and then split. But I saw Chris Hedges giving an interview and I had his book “Empire of Illusion” with me, so I got him to sign it “For the People’s Library” – which is where I donated it the next day.

Occupying the Brooklyn Bridge

You may have heard about a little event a couple of weeks ago at the Brooklyn Bridge, which ended up being one of the largest mass arrests in American history. Your faithful blogger was a participant – although not brave enough to risk arrest on the road, I was on the bridge and watched the whole thing go down. Here is a short vid I took:

Occupy Everything

And here is a much better video, edited for artistic beauty and editorial bias: