Friday, September 20, 2013

Another September 17 – and Inequality Is Still with Us: Happy Birthday Occupy

Writing about Occupy Wall Street’s second year anniversary, it is difficult to forget what brought many of us here in the first place: the growing disparities in wealth in the US and the world.  My earliest writings on Occupy overlapped with reports about increasing poverty as well as inequality in the US.  This week, two years later, the wealth gap remains.  “Poverty Rate Up in the City, and Income Gap is Wide, Census Data Show,” the New York Times reported yesterday.  “While 1.7 million were poor last year, the top 5% made an average of $436,931.”  This income gap is what brought us down to Wall Street.  It is what brought ACT UP down here in 1987 and many times since.  Wall Street still controls our healthcare, the costs of AIDS drugs, the ways banks provide loans, or foreclose on homes, or influence public policy.  Inequality is strangling our democracy.

Occupy represents a push back against this.  It has changed the conversation over and over again.   Inequality, and its perverse manifestations, including hospital closings and stop and frisk policing, was a  center piece of Bill de Blasio’s campaign to become mayor of New York.  De Blasio owes a great deal to Occupy. 

The semi-legal, often unconstitutional crackdowns on Occupy have been many over the last two years.  But we’re still here, pushing a conversation about inequality and people’s rights to public space and assembly, from Zuccotti Park to Taksim Square, from the Lower East Side to Occupy Sandy recovery organizing still taking place.  I am always glad to see where the movement is taking us.

On September 17, 2013, I took part in three distinct Occupy activities, zipping in and out of Manhattan on my bike all day long.

9:00 AM March on Wall Street from Zuccotti Park.   Only a few people were in the park when I arrived.  By 9:15, I saw a line of my friends from the OWS Puppetry marching downtown.  I joined a few of them carrying signs declaring “our grievances are all connected.”  

The invite for the march declared:

To our dear Occupy community,

The People's Puppets of Occupy Wall St. celebrate our 2nd anniversary of Occupy Wall St. and the incredible work this movement has done (and are going to do in the future!)

We will start our morning in Zuccotti Park - Liberty Square - at 8am with many other groups to hug, share coffee and breakfast over stories and smiles. 

On the morning of S17, we will have a song teach-in for anyone that would like to participate in our musical, color-filled visual procession. Many songs you know, some you don't! Have a song to teach? Please contribute! They are easy, repeatable and have wonderful energy to cradle our protest of Wall St. Musicians, please feel free to join us.

We are bringing to LIFE the Declaration of the Occupation of NYC flowchart we all know and love See zoomable flowchart here: We have colorful signs based on this flowchart to carry in the spirit of of our MayPole that we carried last year:
We will tip our hat in this living flowchart to the actions concerning the TPP and The Robin Hood Tax this day as well ( )

We want to keep this a peaceful, and SONG FILLED, procession around Wall St for the morning bell. We will also have several free copies of the flowchart to hand out.

We have requested a legal observer from the NLG

Let's show Wall St. that we will not back down and are constantly working to change the function of our system to be in service to ALL life on this planet and they can no longer sustain their way of business the bigger we grow.

Please feel free to help us BUILD in our studio this Thursday, September 12th from 7:30 - and again this MONDAY the 16th, the evening before S17. Please contact us offline if you would like to work on what promises to be an inspiring and beautiful Occupy project.

The People's Puppets of Occupy Wall Street

By the time we got to Federal Hall at 26 Wall Street, more and more people were cheering, chanting, and hugging.  Many of us climbed up to stand by George Washington Statue.  “All day, all week, Occupy Wall Street!” we screamed, reminding the world we are still here.  The march was as spirited as any of those first morning marches on Wall Street two years ago. “We Are the 99%!” everyone cheered.

Five minutes into standing up there, the police told us, there was no first amendment right to stand by the statue.  Our first amendment rights only extended to the steps to the right.  “Do we have a first amendment right if we jump up and down on one foot?” I asked, starting to skip.   Some moved over to the steps on the right, while others stayed, as small confrontation brewed.   It wouldn’t be an OWS march without a clash with police.

Throughout the march, I talked with different friends about where we have come from and where this is going.  It still about caring.  It is about caring and creating different kinds of social relations.  One friend has left his HASA housing to move into an intentional community in Tennessee.  “The system is just too degrading,” he explained.  This movement has taken us all into countless directions. 
We kept marching throughout the morning, singing from the OWS songbook, and imaging a better world, two years of activism later. 

2 PM Time Square

I joined my second Occupy event of the day, riding my bike to join the street theater at Broadway and 44th Street. 

S17: Take to the Streets on the 2nd Anniversary of Occupy Wall Street!
Global Solidarity for Global Justice!
No Fast Track for TPP & TAFTA * Backroom Power Grabs for the 1%!
* Get Corporate Money Out of Politics!
(learn more at – print schedules of the days events and other literature at


Take to the streets to stop TPP – a stealth attack on democracy by the world’s most destructive corporations and associations – Wal-Mart, Monsanto, Halliburton, Citigroup, Fox News, Cargill, Goldman Sachs, Exxon Mobil, Dow Chemical, Chevron, Pfizer and more!


Learn more at

Take to the streets on September 17th to expose the 1%’s stealth attack on democracy and our rights!  The Corporations and the super-rich already have a stranglehold on our political system through the legal bribery of campaign finance. But now they want to eliminate the last shred of democracy our system allows us – with TPP and Fast Track!

Negotiated in secret by the US, Japan, Vietnam and 12 other countries, TPP will subvert democracy by creating a system of international tribunals outside the jurisdiction of our court system where corporations can challenge current and future banking regulations (among other things making a Robin hood Tax illegal) and attack our environmental (including fracking bans), health, and food safety rules. They can also use these tribunals to undermine access to essential services and lifesaving medicines by claiming that our laws violate their “investor rights.” TPP will lower food safety standards, replace family farms with factory farms and force countries to enforce genetically modified foods. Described as the “Son of SOPA”, TPP will attack our internet freedom and privacy.

Knowing that the 99% would never stand for it, TPP has been negotiated with an unprecedented level of secrecy. Close to 600 official corporate advisers – including Wal-Mart, Halliburton, Chevron, Cargill, and the US Chamber of Commerce – have full access to the negotiating texts of the agreement, but the 99% locked out. These corporations have bought their way into our political system and are now shaping public policy.

Once the secret negotiations conclude, President Obama wants to ramrod TPP through Congress using a procedure called Fast Track –which allows him to negotiate and sign TPP before Congress votes on it – and allows the President to force Congress to vote on it within 90 days, with limited debate, and with no power to amend a single word of the already negotiated agreement. This procedure undermines Constitutional separation of powers, which puts Congress, not the President in charge of international agreements.

But President Obama knows that if the public is given time to read the agreement and then demands changes to its most egregious public interest provisions, he’ll never get it through Congress! 

President Obama can only send TPP to Congress under Fast Track if Congress VOTES to give him this authority – and a vote on Fast Track is expected to take place in the next few weeks!

The 99% throughout the TPP nations are rising up to resist this corporate power grab. In New Zealand, people are resisting TPP’s attack on their GMO food ban. In Japan, people are fighting TPP’s attack on local agriculture. In Peru and Malaysia, activists are mobilizing against TPP’s attack on access to lifesaving medicines. In Canada, people are protesting TPP’s attack on essential services.

The US 99% must rise up in solidarity!

NO to TPP! No to Fast Track!

NO to Corporate Money in Politics!

5 PM 47th and 2nd Ave, Robin Hood Tax Rally and CD

After the first two events on Wall Street, I was thinking I might skip the final OWS event of the day, before I went to teach.  But my friend Jessica talked me into coming, so I rode back into Manhattan.  At UN, I talked with friends from years of AIDS activism, commenting the range of AIDS activists who have come together to fight for the Robin Hood Tax.  A nurse was on hand to point out that health care is a human right, something we must all enjoy.  The rally was just the beginning of the action.

Activists old ACT UP housing, syringe exchange, treatment and data working groups, as well as harm reduction organizations were on hand to take part in the civil disobedience. The civil disobedience was a gesture of solidarity among a cross section of activists.  “Don’t balance budgets on our backs, end AIDS with a Robin Hood Tax,” some thousand activists screamed as the civil disobedience  unfolded.  AIDS is still with us and so is the need to push for Wall Street to pay its fair share, instead of controlling our healthcare.   Some questioned the effort to secure a Robin Hood Tax.  There is only guarantee in terms of this policy: we won't get it if we don't try.  And try activists are. 

Before the 5 PM March for a financial transaction tax, Jason Walker from VOCAL wrote:

We're at a critical moment in the fight against HIV/AIDS.  We have more evidence than ever before about what works to prevent new infections, deliver lifesaving treatment and provide essential services like housing.
So what's stopping us from investing the resources needed to put us on the road to ending the epidemic? You’ve probably been told there just isn’t enough money available to do things like end waiting lists for HIV treatment overseas or provide affordable housing to homeless people with HIV in New York City.
Here’s the reality.  We can't afford not to invest in strategies to end the HIV epidemic.  It’s our lives and the lives of people we care about on the line.  And there are ways to pay for it.
Our country isn't broke. We just face some choices about what's important. And for too long we've cut funding from human needs like HIV/AIDS services in order to protect Wall Street from paying their fair share. 
A financial transaction tax of .05% or less on certain types of Wall Street trades could raise hundreds of billions each year to fight HIV at home and abroad, along with other priorities like creating jobs, healthcare, affordable housing, education and addressing climate change.
A march and rally is planned on September 17th during the opening day of a major United Nations meeting – and the second anniversary of Occupy Wall Street – to call on world leaders to back a financial transaction tax, also known as a "Robin Hood Tax."  A central focus will be dedicating a portion of revenue raised from a Robin Hood Tax to domestic and international HIV/AIDS programs.
People living with HIV/AIDS, their families and service providers will be marching with thousands of nurses, students, environmentalists, labor unions and other community groups next week. We all know we can't accept the excuse any longer that that there isn’t enough money to end the HIV epidemic or tackle the other challenges our country faces. We hope to see you on September 17th.
- Jason

Returning home from jail, Jessica Rechtschaffer explained:  
We blocked the street yesterday for such a simple thing and so easy to implement, yet will help so much. I hope that yesterday's action will inspire many many more people to go out into the streets (not sidewalks) and into the gov't and corporate buildings and really declare "No more business as usual".

After the rally, I rode back to Brooklyn to teach and then zipped back into the city to toast Occupy with a friend, who has been part of Occupy from day one.  Happy birthday Occupy.  I’m glad you are still hearing reminding the world that inequality is still the problem of our time.  


  1. A terrific photographic record, Ben. At the Robin Hood Tax march, the cops had us penned in so that, although we were cheering for the people who were about to commit Civil Disobedience, we could not see them. So it was pretty great to see your pics of Mark Harrington, still acting up after all these years. (Mark sat next to me at my first CD arrest in 1988.) --Jim Eigo

  2. Treatment and Data Folks and Syringe Exchange and Housing Committee people in one room, in one CD.
    Kindov amazing... fabulous to see.