Sunday, December 11, 2011

The Season of Growth

Spring brings forth buds; the rebirth of mother earth lifts our spirits. Summer celebrates the sun showing off the full flowering of beautiful blossoms. But growth, real natural growth happens now, under gray skies, bare trees, brown grasses and shriveled shrubbery.

It is happening hidden from view, under the earth. In the fall, sap retreats from the branches. It heads down deep into the earth to the roots and goes to work growing the tree. Right now, fed by the sap, the roots are pushing outward and downward creating a more firm foundation for the tree. Without this process, the tree would be uprooted in the spring with top heavy growth.

I have used this metaphor before to describe the ebb and flow that organizations go through and personal growth as one grows older. It is apt in so many instances. Most recently, I have been thinking of the issue of winter and the Occupy Movement.

The bureaucrats and police may be doing us a favor by breaking up camps, denying permits, and forcing the movement to “winter” our discontent. We should not squander the opportunity.

At Occupy Springfield, we are offering teach-ins. They are not for us alone but are open to the community. So far we have had teach-ins on conviction of the innocent, how the legal system perpetuates one class’s domination over others. Future teach-ins include topics that include revolution and insurrection, conflict resolution, radical therapy, revolt and occupy, women and genders studies, Israel-Palestine conflict, Illinois election process and law, and more.

Photo by Jacob McCulley
We have moved outside the confines of our small encampment. We discovered “freedom chalk”; an outrageously fun water soluble sidewalk chalk; and we learned how to make it rather than buy it. It is the medium and public space sidewalks our free speech canvas to carry the message of the 99%.

Our movement is connecting with activists and activist organizations. We are homeschooling ourselves about to get an ID card if you are homeless (a topic for another blog later), researching city ordinances, finding free, accessible and occupy-friendly businesses to meet inside. We are “occupying” our city council meetings and OUR house, the Illinois State Capitol in incredibly creative ways. 

Photo by J.J. Keating 

We have even occupied the back of a couple of squad cars, and lived to write about it. The outrage solidified our commitment to one another and the 99%.

The Occupy Library is growing and people are using it for their personal growth and education. Knowledge is power, and; we are becoming very powerful. Our root system is moving the earth under our feet to create a firmer foundation. It is impressive growth for a three month old movement. We are saplings on steroids!

And, winter has yet to officially arrive!


Friday, December 9, 2011

Supporting the Occupy Movement if you Cannot Occupy

Dedicated to… you know who you are.

By Big Noise and Magitator

In the 60s Jim Morrison snarled at his audiences, “They have the guns, but we have the numbers.” In a nutshell it was why progressives could pressure the power structure to end the war, advance civil rights, and move society forward. The rabble-rousing agents of change fought the 1%. For every person in the street, there were friends, families, neighbors, and co-workers backing them up, supporting their efforts, and took on activities to support the movement.  

The same is true today. There are a generation of people who are in the process of establishing themselves as stable parents, workers, and homeowners. While these people support the Occupy Movement, the risk to their newly established responsibilities constrains their participation. Their risks are greater than students, retirees, people who work for progressive organizations, or those who have already lost their jobs.

While constrained, it does not mean they must be passive. There are many ways they can support the movement, from the covert to public activities. Here are a few ideas.
·        Sign online petitions. They are less likely to get back to the boss than local hard copies.
·        Teach your children well. Help them understand that poor people are no lazier than rich people, in many cases they work harder; that the inequity of opportunity and limited life experiences because of poverty has a dramatic affect on people’s lives.
·        Contribute financially.
·        If your city has an occupy site, take or send food for the Occupiers. Provide them with hand and foot warmers or some cold weather gear in the winter.
·        Move your money from “too big to fail” banks to local banks and credit unions.
·        Avoid debt if you can. It just feeds the machine. If you have credit cards, you cannot avoid Visa, Discover, or MasterCard, but you can get them through a local bank or credit union.
·        Buy locally. Avoid the big box stores if you can.
·        Know the issues. Read alternative news sources. Find out what the other side is saying. Use your critical thinking skills to analyze an issue.
·        Don’t cross a picket line. Picketers are directly confronting the ruling class.
·        Contribute your skills after work. Your technology, videography, and/or writing skills would be willingly accepted without having to acknowledge who provided it.
·        Don’t get discouraged. The Occupy Movement is in it for the long haul.
·      If you have an idea, share it with more active members. Your creativity may spark an entire new strategy.
·      If someone bad-mouths the Movement, have a comeback ready that you can say, that will neutralize the negative. (ie: “Those Occupiers are lazy; they should get a job”. You could say, “I think a lot of them are students, retirees or unemployed who want to work and some DO have jobs.”)
·        Encourage others who can, to become active in the Occupy Movement.
·        There can be safety in numbers at large scale demonstrations. Come on out. Bring the kids and the dog. And if they do identify you, say “Demonstrating? No Sir! I was just walking and found myself in the middle of this thing.” J
·        Volunteer at organizations that support the social safety net for the 99%; a domestic violence shelter; tutor or mentor a child who has less then you; the local senior citizens’ center; a homeless shelter; adult education centers; food pantries, etc. They are less controversial, yet support the very things the Occupy Movement stands for.

Lastly, I will leave you with a Mario Salvio quote. Maria Salvio was a leader of the student movement in the 60s.

There's a time when the
operation of the machine becomes
so odious—makes you so sick at
heart—that you can't take part.

You can't even passively take part. 
And you've got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon
the wheels, upon the levers, upon
all the apparatus and you've
got to make it stop.

And you've got to indicate to the people who
run it, to the people who own it, that unless you're free, the
machine will be prevented from working at all” 

Monday, December 5, 2011

Who Are My Brothers and Sisters in the Struggle for Justice?

Updated 12/7/2011 11:33 AM
It is impossible for me to express the degradation I feel. A progressive group put on a one-day workshop Sunday. I was not allowed to go. My friends went; my husband went; but not me. I wasn’t excluded because my big mouth got me in trouble again; not this time. I could not attend because a left-leaning group of people made a decision to have the training in a three story building with no elevator. No way to get in; no way to participate.
Photo shows someone wheeling up to a flight of stairs

We with mobility disabilities know better than to show up to an unfamiliar location and expect to get in; we who are deaf or hard of hearing know better than to show up at a meeting and assume an interpreter to be there; we who are blind know better than to show up and expect to receive materials in alternate formats.

A week and a half ago my husband and I learned about the training; we signed up and worked on carpool details. We were excited about heading out of town for the event. I was positive it was not going to be a problem; this was after all, put on by a group of freedom fighters. But caution and experience made me ask about accessibility.

The organizers assured me, that accessibility was a grave concern to them; they discussed it at length. But in the end they decided to have the training in an inaccessible location. They thought the fact that they struggled over the issue should make me feel all better. I should understand that they are trying to do a good thing. I should quiet myself, settle down, and stay home. Maybe next year…

Being quiet is not my long suit. In the next set of exchanges, I suggested that they could have postponed the training until they found an accessible site. From the tone of their electronic communications, they felt irritated or frustrated by my insistence that an injustice anywhere (by anyone) is an injustice everywhere. Their response was that the event was too close to postpone. I, in no way, was suggesting they cancel the event now; but that they should have postponed it in the planning phases until they could access a suitable inclusionary location.

They told me if they HAD TO accommodate people with disabilities they would HAVE HAD TO cancel the event altogether. I was outraged that they would be willing to blame people with disabilities, (well, not all of them, just me) for preventing the event by my insistence that they do a bit of self criticism about their discrimination. Is that not blaming the victim? I was the one facing discrimination; yet, if I kept telling them that they were wrong to exclude people, they would have to cancel and it would be my fault.
Photo of a person using a wheelchair. He is staring up two flights of steps to the entrance

One person told me I should stop picking on the organizers who are just trying to make the world a better place. For whom? Everyone-- or just those people who were most like them? It was a bourgeois excuse. I told them that I too, was trying to make the world a better place. It was my wish to join others who were trying to do the same. Was providing free meals more important than full inclusion? It is too ludicrous to even consider.

They assured me that they had no money and had tried as hard as they could to find a free accessible location, but could not. I asked them if they had contacted the centers for independent living in the area: LINK in Belleville; IMPACT in Alton, or; Paraquad in St. Louis to help them find a location. There is also ADAPT St. Louis. They had not contacted any disability related organizations. Only one person acknowledged that I did have a point there. That particular planner gave me what seemed to be a sincere apology, but still many excuses. I thanked him for at least listening.

Watching my husband and our friends leave our house for the event early that morning filled me with emotions ranging from deep sadness to humiliation. I spent the day, locked away from the information, from the camaraderie of like-minded people, from the synergy that can only happen when people are together attempting to solve society’s serious inequities.

Now, I know that I should not feel degraded or humiliated; I know the problem is not a personal failure on my part. But, that is how it feels on the receiving end of bigotry. Marginalization gets internalized; no matter how well-intentioned the perpetrators may be. A worker feels a personal sense of failure if employers won’t hire her because she has been under or unemployed for too long. African-Americans feel it when they walk through a jewelry store. Women feel it when no man volunteers to take notes at a meeting.

What the disability and other civil rights movements did in helping me understand this, the Occupy Movement is doing for the 99% today. The fact we face systemic problems does not relieve individuals of privilege from their responsibility to fight their own privilege, whether based on race, sexual orientation, education, or disability. And, we must never let the oppressors control our sense of self.

My husband reported that at the meeting summation the organizers still did not get it. One of the organizers told him, “The complainant was happy with resolution”.

Mike responded, “The complainant is my wife… and she is NOT happy.”

The organizer flippantly tried to end the dialogue by saying, “That sounds like something you have to take care of when you get home.” Seriously? Was he saying all I needed was a good "poke" and this would go away?

That is when young man in the back of the room criticized the organizers for not taking the issue seriously, as did a minister, as did our friends who attended. They were all met with boos from the organizers supporters.

Organizers and their supporters never did exercise any criticism/self-criticism for making their exclusionary decision. They never put down their defenses to listen to what others were saying. Rather, the majority of attendees defended the organizers for their hard work; and organizers patted themselves on the back. The lack of accessibility was excused because of the lack of funds; more bourgeois blather. This was a conference for the predominately white, middle class radicals. Organizers believed they would only support their efforts if it was free. 

I have been a member of small organizations that operated on left-over grocery money most of my adult life. We always had and have inclusive meetings. Their inaccessible meeting happened, not for the lack of funds, but for the lack of will.

Inclusion is just one, but an important reason I joined the Occupy Springfield Movement. To a person these young enthusiastic people, relatively new to progressive politics, (when compared to those of us who have been around since the ‘60s) inherently knew that it was wrong to exclude anyone and found accessible meeting locations to hold our General Assemblies. I should not have to feel grateful for that; but, I am. They are a microcosm of the new socialist women and men developing… And I love them.
Crippen Cartoon: Father holding son's hand and is saying to a teacher--There's nothing wrong with the kids, it's the tutors who have a teaching disability
Let’s hope that the training organizers can learn a thing or two from the people they attempt to teach.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Tis' the Season...

Tis' the season of conspicuous consumption; Black Friday is just around the corner. United States shoppers will spend ten BILLION dollars in the next 32 days.

Just as the Occupy Movement has changed our conversation about the distribution of wealth, it changed my feelings about the holidays. My daughters and I have not exchanged gifts for many years. We believe our gift to one another is the time we spend together. Not that we are all that altruistic; it was a matter of finances that first led us to the decision to not give gifts. Once we did it, we realized that the holidays had less pressure and more of the good stuff we liked.

Now that we have a nearly four yr. old granddaughter whom we adore, we had to re-think our non-gift-giving tradition. That is until we saw the bounty of her first Christmas. The outpouring of love in the forms of gifts from mom, dad, auntie and grandparents was so overwhelming that gifts from Santa were lost in the pile. So we decided that the delayed gratification of a savings account in her name would be better than things that went blinkie-blinkie. I got savings bonds as a kid and did not appreciate them one bit; until I was able to use that lump of cash for the down payment of my first home. We can wait for her to feel the same.

Back to the Occupy Movement

The official unemployment rate is hanging around 9%. However, when the underemployed and the discouraged are added to the numbers, the unemployment rate rises to 16.6% according to The Bureau of Labor Statistics, a unit of the Labor Department. I cannot prove it, but that number probably does not include working aged adults with disabilities who say they want to work; their unemployment rate is nearly 70%.

Banks and Mortgages companies have foreclosed on two and one third million homes since 2007; and the numbers continue to grow. At the same times they amass record profits. Big money buys politicians big and small.

The Occupy Movement was born because of these inequities of wealth and poverty, of disenfranchisement and moneyed influence. Michael and I got involved with Occupy Springfield, IL. The group shook me from my lulled sense that I have done my justice work and it was someone else’s turn. We cannot change the corporate/congressional unholy marriage, unless we ALL take a stand. And that includes thinking about what you are buying, where it came from, who made it, and if it perpetuates the disparities in this country.

So, before you begin to check items off your holiday list, let me make a few suggestions:

  • If you have to buy something, think about buying “Made in America”.
  • Buy locally: Pottery or glasswork from a local art alliance; theater tickets to a local production; gift certificates at a neighborhood restaurant.
  • Make a donation in a loved-ones name to a PAC that wants to change the status quo.
  • Plant a tree in someone’s name.
  • If you are young and spry, clean a relative’s gutters, paint a room, buy seed packets and attach a note saying you will be there in the spring to plant them.
  • Make a donation to the Heifer Project. It is a wonderful program working to end hunger in third world nations, and
  • Be creative. Think of something yourself, and post it below so we can all benefit from your ideas.

Let’s not skip though this season without thinking of the environment we in which we currently find ourselves. Let’s be more socially aware and make our gifts reflect our commitment to “the least of us” rather than the corporate giants who caused this current crisis.

Lastly, I will make a shameless pitch for the occupy movement. As of Nov. 23, 2011, at least 4,180 documented arrests in 61 cities. Make a donation to a bail bond fund.

Happy Holidays!

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Bad Samaritan: Low-Life Refuses to Respond to Giffords Shooting

Photography of Mark Ekstrum in uniform with the U.S. Flag behind him.U.S. Congresswoman Gabby Giffords was shot in the head January 8, 2011. An internal Tucson city memo unearthed February 17, 2011, revealed that Mark Esktrum, a 28-year old veteran of the Fire Department, refused to go to the scene of the shooting. Why? Esktrum shucked his sworn duties citing political differences between himself and Giffords.


The Arizona Daily Star reports, an internal Tucson city memo states that Esktrum “started to say… he had a much different political viewpoint than the rest of the crew and he was concerned.” Fire Capt. Ben Williams wrote in a memo that when Esktrum told him he would not go on the call, "he mentioned something about 'political bantering' and he did not want to be part of it." Esktrum told the Captain he was going to be sick for the rest of the day. His squadron had to go to another fire department to pick up a replacement before going to the scene of the shooting.

Humanity, just basic humanity, compels us to be better than that. His hatred for Giffords political beliefs were so strong, he felt somehow justified to ignore Giffords and the other killed and injured in the mass shooting.

It makes me wonder about the care and service Esktrum gave others who might not agree with him, or be like him. Did he let an African-American’s house burn a longer by not directing the fire hose directly on the hot spot? Did he treat people with disabilities less inhumanely than able bodied people? All his actions become suspect.

I’ve read several news sources about this story and none say if Esktrum is a tea-partier, but my guess is, he is. I feel relatively comfortable making broad brush judgments about this scumbag, since he had no trouble making them about Giffords. The callousness of his actions mirror those tea partiers who claim Christianity but do not believe they are their “brother’s keeper.”

This reminds me a story I learned as a child.

A man asks Jesus, "…who is my neighbor?"

Jesus said: A Jewish man walked along a road. He was coming from Jerusalem and was heading to Jericho, a two-day walking trip.

The road was rocky and hilly. The man was walking and enjoying the nice day when suddenly a group of men jumped him. They took all his belongings and tore off most of his clothes. They beat him very badly, and left him lying and bleeding on the side of the road.

A few minutes later a priest was walking down the same path and noticed the man lying on the side of the road. He crossed the road and walked on the other side and acted like he didn't see the man.

Later another man called a Levite; (Levites assisted priests) was walking down the road. He slowed down and walked a little closer to the man, but then kept walking without helping him at all.

Then a Samaritan walked toward the injured man. Jews and Samaritans didn't get along well. But as soon as the Samaritan saw the injured man he went over to him and felt compassion for him. He put bandages on his sores and poured oil and wine on the sores to prevent them from getting worse. Then he lifted the man onto his own donkey and took him to a hotel to take care of him.

The next day the Samaritan gave the innkeeper enough money so the man could stay at the hotel and receive care for two months. If he wasn't better after about two months the Samaritan told the innkeeper he would come back and pay for any extra cost.

Jesus asked the group, "Which of the three men do you think was a neighbor to the man who was left beaten on the side of the road?"

A man replied, "The one who had compassion and helped him." Jesus told him, "Go and do the same."

Esktrum and every so-called “Christian” legislator in Illinois, New Jersey, Ohio, Arizona and Wisconsin should read the parable and examine their own actions. So should the “Christian” US legislators as they give tax breaks for the richest 2% in the land, wage war against the poor, and cut social programs.

Ever out for his own interests, Mark Ekstrum, quickly retired two days later, as the department was deciding what kind of disciplinary action they should take against him.