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Archive for October, 2011

manchester 10-29-11 008 crop1 On the 82nd anniversary of the stock market crash that touched off the Great Depression, more than 60 activists from Occupy New Hampshire marched through downtown Manchester, stopping off at the millworker monument and the state headquarters of Bank of America before returning to Veterans Park.   The presence of the Portsmouth-based Leftist Marching Band helped add spirit to an already spirited afternoon.

The day’s organized events began with short speeches in Veterans Park by Will Thomas and Will Hopkins, both active members of Veterans for Peace.  Will Thomas, a retired social studies teacher, quoted former Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis’ statement that “We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concenmanchester 10-29-11 001trated in the hands of a few, but we can’t have both.”  He also recalled Martin Luther King, Jr.’s leadership of the Poor Peoples Campaign, and King’s call for a “revolution of values” to overturn a  system rooted in racism, militarism, and economic injustice.   

Will Hopkins, Executive Director of NH Peace Action, seconded the other Will’s comments and added that the Occupy movement is protesting “government in the interest of those who control wealth and power.”  He also led the assembly in a moment of silence in solidarity with Scott Olsen, who remains in the ICU in Oakland after suffering a skull fracture caused by a police fired projectile. 

At the millworker statue on Commercial Street, marchers paused for remarks by

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Katie Talbert, who described efforts led by Laconia native Sara Bagley to organize the “mill girls” who worked the looms of Manchester, Lowell, and other New England cities in the mid-19th century.  By organizing strikes, which they called “turn-outs,” and petitioning legislators in Concord and Boston, the manchester 10-29-11 042mill girls pressed for passage of legislation to limit the work day to ten hours.   “Our labor is what empowers the 1%,” Katie said.

Marches paused for denunciations of the Bank of America outside the company’s  office at the corner of Elm and Bridge Streets, and returned to Veterans Park for short committee meetings and a short General Assembly.  There are now active committees discussing education, outreach, and other matters.  The education committee is planning a workshop on the causes of the economic meltdown for next Saturday’s gathering.  In the meantime, Occupy New Hampshire will take tomorrow off and resume daily General Assemblies Monday evening.  Watch the web site for updates, and log on to share ideas and join discussions.  

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Fresh from signing official candidacy papers for New Hampshire’s first-in-the-nation presidential primary, Gov. Rick Perry waded through a couple dozen anti-death penalty activists rick perry 10-28-11 004on his way to a reception across the street from the New Hampshire State House.

The Texas governor declined an invitation to speak with the group.

The NH Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty holds a vigil on the fourth Friday of  every month.  In that sense, the Coalition’s presence was a coincidence.  But the group has recently started a project to raise concerns about the death penalty with presidential candidates, many of whom spend a considerable amount of time in the state.

According to Barbara Keshen, the Coalition’s chairperson, states spend ten times  more on homicide cases in which execution is possible than rick perry 10-28-11 006they do if life imprisonment is the most severe punishment.  That’s why it’s so hypocritical for candidates such as Perry, who claim they believe in fiscal responsibility and limited government, to be such avid death penalty supporters.

Anti-death penalty vigilers shared the sidewalk with others focused on saving Social Security. Both groups chatted with reporters, from as far away as Switzerland, who were covering the event.

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Plans for March Saturday Approved at General Assembly

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Members of Occupy New Hampshire joined unionized workers from the New Hampshire Union Leader this evening in a picket outside Manchester’s Radisson Hotel, where the newspaper’s publisher, Joseph McQuaid, was attending the Annual Dinner of the NH Business and Industry Association.

Over the past two years, workers at the Union Leader accepted a 12 percent of their pay and loss of several full-time jobs “to help our struggling company,” union members said.  Now they are facing new management proposals for an additional manchester 10-26-11 00510 percent pay cut and the loss of 6 more full time jobs. 

The current contract expires December 31, which could make the newspaper’s annual First Amendment Dinner, November 10 in Concord, an interesting affair if the conflict remains heated.

Occupy New Hampshire members seemed pleased to act in solidarity with the union, Local 31167 of the Communications Workers of America. 

The Occupy New Hampshire General Assembly began with a moment of silence in honor of Scott Olsen, an Iraq War veteran who is in intensive care following a police attack on members of Occupy Oakland last night.  Afterward, they approved a proposed march scheduled for Saturday at noon.  The “Historic Protest Tour” will begin at Veterans Park with talks by Will Hopkins and Will Thomas, both of whom are active in Veterans for Peace.  The march will proceed to the millworker statue in the Manchester millyard, where Katie Talbert manchester 10-26-11 004 will speak about the history of workers in the city, and pass by the local office of Bank of America. 

Other topics of discussion included an update on the cases of the 19 people who were ticketed or arrested last Wednesday, a suggested protest outside the Radisson Friday evening during a Rick Perry appearance, and the creation of a unity statement.   Participation in the General Assembly grew from 21 at the beginning to 29 by the time it ended with the singing of “We Shall Not Be Moved.” 

General Assemblies are now taking place every evening.  If this evening’s was any indication, active participants are settling into a constructive pattern that includes agenda formation, committee reports, welcoming new people, and a minimum of ideological wrangling. 

 

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Democracy is in the Streets

The protests that emanated from Wall Street are notable for the wide range of views among participants, and for resistance to the demand that protesters unite on a clear demand.  In Manchester, New Hampshire, where protests started October 15, the ranks have included trade unionists, liberal Democrats, radical pacifists, Marxists, and even “Free State” libertarians. 

A look at hand-made signs and sidewalk graffiti provides a glimpse into the diversity of opinions, which start with dissatisfaction with the status quo and a sense that most people have been ignored by those who control powerful economic and political institutions.

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There is general support for an anti-war outlook.

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The largest number of home-made signs place the blame on corporations and the wealthy people who own them. 

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Slogans chalked on the sidewalks tend to express libertarian principles.

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Some signs call for radical change.

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And some are just reminders of proper behavior during a mass demonstration.

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And then there’s the hand signs, to help keep orderly process moving forward during General Assemblies.

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All in all, the signs of the times are signs of change.

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On October 23 thirty-five years ago, four college friends joined me for a ride from Middletown, Connecticut to Hampton Beach State Park for a rally across the harbor from the construction site of what woscan - oct 230001uld become the Seabrook Station nuclear power plant. It was my first No Nukes rally.

The rally was held two months after a demonstration at which 180 people had been arrested for peacefully attempting to occupy the construction site.  I don’t remember who spoke at the rally. What I do remember is an announcement that there would be another attempt to occupy the construction site the following spring.

A few months later I phoned the Portsmouth office of the Clamshell Alliance to ask how to get involved.   They told me all participants would need to attend a training session in the techniques of nonviolent action, and that I should call Joanne Sheehan, a nonviolence trainer in my area.

Looking back over three and a half decades, it’s interesting to reflect on how a rally and a couple of phone calls put me on a path to many acts of civil disobedience, dozens of nonviolence training sessions, and recent conversations about the role of nonviolence in the Occupy Wall Street movement.  

It’s also interesting to look back to say that while the No Nukes movement generally was given an “environmentalist” label, the Clamshell Alliance always saw the construction of the nuclear plant as an abuse of corporate power, not just a threat to the environment.  Its founding statement, adopted in 1976, stated a fundamental belief that “energy should not be abused for private profit, and that people should not be exploited for private profit.”  The “Declaration of Nuclear Resistance,” adopted a year later, explained “The nuclear industry is designed to concentrate profits and the control of energy resources in the hands of a powerful few, undermining basic principles of human liberty.”

It was an understanding of the links between corporate power and nuclear power that led us to Wall Street on October 29, 1979, when we blocked the entrance of the New York Stock Exchange on the 50th anniversary of the Great Crash.  Hundreds were arrested.  (You can see video of this demonstration in a clip from Green Mountain Post Films.)

In a sense, Wall Street got the message.  After the Three Mile Island meltdown in 1979, the moguls of finance lost confidence in nuclear power plants, whose designers and builders assured them would never fail.  With a realization that billions of dollars of investment could turn overnight into a pile of radioactive rubble, investors began to see nuclear power as too risky. 

Other social movements got the message, too.  Mass, nonviolent action can have a powerful, transformative effect.   Participatory democracy can work, even in the course of mass action.   People power can challenge the power of money.  The Clamshell Alliance didn’t invent these concepts, of course.  But the Clamshell model spread across the country in the late 1970s.  Its descendants are in the streets now, once again (or still) saying people are more important than private profit.

If you look at the poster included in this post, it looks like the October 23 demonstration was intended to be a site occupation involving civil disobedience.  Organizers realized more time was needed to prepare, and the date of the 3rd occupation was put off until the following spring.  That turned out to be a wise decision.  The poster was revised, but a few copies of the old ones remained.

 

 

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NEXT PHASE COULD START SATURDAY

Shortly after 11 PM Wednesday, Manchester Police Captain Robert Cunha ordered several dozen Occupy New Hampshire participants to leave manchester 10-19-11 033Veterans Park, where they had been camped since Monday afternoon.  At least 14 who  refused to leave were issued citations for violation of a city curfew ordinance.   The citation, a minor offense equivalent to a traffic ticket, is punishable by a small fine.  However, the 14 plan to contest the curfew as a violation of their rights to free assembly.

Five more, who refused to leave with a citation, were arrested and taken to the Manchester Police Station a block away.  They will presumably be charged with criminal trespass, a more serious offense.

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Captain Cunha made his first appearance at 9 PM, while a General Assembly was being held on the sidewalk near Elm Street.  Welcomed to address the group, he explained the police would evict the occupiers from the park that evening.  Standing inside the circle of protesters, the Captain explained that the City would no longer allow its curfew ordinance, which states parks must be free of people between 11 PM and 7 AM, to be violated.  He also expressed his appreciation for the cooperative attitude displayed by the Occupy NH group over the preceding 5 days.   “If we have to give you citations, hopefully it’s as easy as that,” he said.  

Thanking the protesters for assistance during a police benefit event Sunday, Cunha said “manchester 10-19-11 010I appreciate everything you’ve done and admire your principles.” 

Following a cordial exchange of information, occupiers packed up their tents and sent their gear to St. Augustin Church, which had offered storage space. 

Backed by a small group of officers, Captain Cunha returned right on schedule at 11 PM and issued an order to vacate the park.   In a gesture of cooperation, protesters agreed to move toward the park edge to make processing easier (and to make themselves more visible to the cameras held by observers.)

“You’re not looking for confrontation with the police,” Cunha had said.  That was true of most.  But some onlookers, associated with the libertarian “Cop Block” group, did seem more interested in confrontation and arguing with Occupy NH participants.  (From my perspective, chanting “this is what fascism looks like” because police are enforcing a municipal ordinance is more than a bit over the top.)

By 12:30 PM, police had finished issuing tickets and had hauled off the five who were arrested, and the remaining crowd began to disperse.manchester 10-19-11 009

But they’ll be back soon.  Another demonstration has been called for noon on Saturday, October 22.  “This is bigger than Manchester,” Captain Cunha acknowledged.  “We’re going to see each other again.” 

And for those who were arrested or cited for the curfew violation, Larry Vogelman, a Manchester attorney well versed in civil liberties issues, has offered to take their cases and challenge the constitutionality of the ordinance.  The case will start in Manchester District Court, but would move to higher courts for a ruling on whether a New Hampshire city has the right to keep the public out of a public park. 

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The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA), the largest private prison company in the world, runs 66 facilities in 19 states and Washington DC. They took in $1.7 Billion in 2010.  They spend millions of dollars a year on lobbying for more contracts. This year their books will show the expense of four lobbyists representing their interests at the State House in Concord, New Hampshire.

While “Occupy New Hampshire” members are occupied with decisions about manchester 10-17-11 007 where to pitch their tents, big money corporations are working behind the scenes to take over state agencies and services. Today is the third meeting of a legislative study committee whose purpose is to develop a plan for privatizing the Department of Corrections. Under the direction of the governor, the Department is also preparing Requests for Proposals for construction and operation of new prisons. CCA wants a piece of the action.

The state’s Medicaid program, which has been run directly by the Department of Health and Human Services, is about to be outsourced to private insurance companies.

Another study committee is looking into collective bargaining for public employees, and based on the voting records of the committee members, strengthening workers’ rights is not on their agenda. In fact, one of the study committee members is sponsoring a bill whose title, “Prohibiting all public employees from participating in collective bargaining,” leaves little doubt where he stands.

While I understand the difficulty the “Occupy” movement has in reaching agreements on unified demands, I hope members will join efforts to keep New Hampshire from being occupied by those following the corporate agenda of privatization, de-regulation, and the disempowerment of workers.

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