Occupy Wall Street

6 Stories That You May Have Missed From the Occupy Movement

Now that there are fewer physical occupation sites for mainstream news outlets to cover, you may be missing some intriguing stories from occupiers around the nation.

A sign in Foley Square, November 17th 2011 Photo by Sarah Seltzer
Photo Credit: Sarah Seltzer

The Occupy movement is still going strong, and it continues to make headlines. There's no question that the Occupy movement has spurred an ongoing national dialogue about income inequality, and about the protests themselves. Just last week, Time magazine named "the protester" its person of the year, and President Obama suddenly went from talking about deficits to stumping on income inequality and jobs.

But in terms of the day-to-day actions of the movement, the media is somewhat less interested now that Zuccotti Park and many other occupation sites have been cleared. Therefore, you may be missing some intriguing stories from occupiers around the nation. Here are several such stories that were under-reported over the past few weeks.

1. Occupy Wall Street has been gearing up to re-occupy.

Zuccotti Park may have been (violently) cleared of protesters last month, but New York City's occupiers are still meeting and organizing regularly. One of their latest plans is to re-occupy lower Manhattan, this time in a spot owned by Trinity Church in Tribeca.

The attempted re-occupation -- or Occupy 2.0, as it's being called -- started at noon on Saturday, December 17. To gear up, protesters were canvassing the neighborhood, handing out fliers that read, "D17: We ask you on December 17th to assemble once more. Noon begins Occupation 2.0. We will stand together in solidarity. Exercising our fundamental right to re-occupy our commons."

The day's events began in a festive way with a re-opening of the People's Library in the public part of Duarte Square and the staging of a brilliant puppet-supported satire of A Christmas Carol with Mayor Bloomberg in the role of Ebenezer Scrooge.

The festive mingling turned into serious direct action in the 3 o'clock hour, however, when a number of protesters and clergy climbed a staircase that had been set up and entered the chained-off vacant lot adjacent to Duarte Square--this was the contested space. On Twitter, one person described the action that happened on the other side as a "spontaneous dance party."

But police action quickly followed and a number of protesters were arrested while others, leaning against the fence, were shoved back with batons.  Again on Twitter and on livestreams, there were reports of journalists being shoved and threatened by police. Alison Kilkenny notes the most dramatic of these:

Journalist Ryan Devereaux tweeted at length about being assaulted by an NYPD officer. Devereaux details the officer "pushing his fist into [Devereaux's] throat." Despite repeatedly insisting he was press, the officer replied, "get the fuck back." Devro's credentialed cameraman was punched in the kidney three times

Devro also tweeted: "I'm a small guy. The cop that assaulted me is probably about 6'5", 250. One man is bleeding from the head right now, hit by a cop. " Liza Sabater tweeted that an entire school-busload of protesters had been taken away, and thatseveral members of the clergy were carted off in a separate van.

Finally, as the arrested protesters sat in the lot with their hands cuffed behind their backs, the rest of the OWS community gathered for a general assembly "to talk about space, to talk about the police" -- and presumably to talk about what was next.

As night fell, marchers took to the streets of New York's West Village up through Chelsea and into Midtown, blocking traffic and declaring "Bloomberg, beware! Zuccotti Park is everywhere!"

As they neared the throngs of shoppers close to Macy's, a standoff with police made it seem as though a mass arrest were imminent--eventually, the protesters were allowed to pass through.

The re-occupation on the 17th -- the third month anniversary of the initial occupation and a year since Tunisian Street Vendor Mohamed Bouazizi's self-immolation which began the "Arab Spring" -- had been staged as not only as a showing  of the occupiers' tenacity and a test of the NYPD's (in)tolerance of protesters, but also as a test of the religious community's commitment to social justice. Trinity Church, while being supportive of the movement, has not yet agreed to lend any portion of the $10 billion worth of land it owns to Occupy protesters. Some members of the city's religious community, including Rev. Michael Ellick of New York's famously social justice-oriented Judson Church, have urged Trinity Church's owners to support the Occupy movement.

"This is truly a theological line in the sand," Ellick said in a recent release. "The gospel is about real-world transformation, not cosmetic charity. How is it that Trinity's real estate is worth over 10 billion dollars, and all they can do for Occupy is hand out hot chocolate?"

Several protesters went on a hunger strike earlier this month to put pressure on Trinity--according to reports on Twitter, they were among those arrested.

Any successful re-occupying of public space in New York, where Occupy Wall Street began, will be a huge symbolic step for the movement, and even a failed attempt could help get the protesters back on the nightly news. It could also help the movement gain more allies among the city's, and the nation's, social justice-oriented religious communities. 

However it should also be noted that this action, while affirming for the movement, has the potential to alienate some bystanders, who may be less open to a challenge to Trinity's land use than they were to the "public" space in Liberty Plaza.

2. Protesters and congressman launch hunger strike for DC voting rights.

Four protesters at Occupy DC (which is going strong at McPherson Square) launched a hunger strike last week to protest the District's lack of congressional representation.

An open letter to Congress from the hunger strikers reads:

More than two hundred years after the American Revolution, taxation without representation -- the foundational grievance of our country -- is still alive and well in our nation's capital. Washingtonians pay higher per capita federal income taxes than any state, yet we have no say in how Congress spends that money.

It's true that there was a time long ago when the capital had few residents outside of the legislators and first federal workers who maintained representation in their home states. But DC now has 600,000 taxed, yet voiceless, citizens. Not a Senator to hear them at the Hart Building, no voting representative in the House to stand for their concerns.

This week Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota announced that he would embark on a 24-hour hunger strike of his own to show solidarity with the DC hunger strikers. He also promised to read the protesters' demands on the floor of the House so it would be entered into the congressional record.

The protesters have pledged to go without food until DC is granted full congressional voting representation.

3. New York congressman calls for DOJ investigation.

One New York Congressman is calling for a Department of Justice investigation into the allegations of excessive force by the NYPD towards Occupy protesters.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, who represents the area of lower Manhattan that includes Zuccotti Park, issued a statement on December 9 calling on Attorney General Eric Holder to "launch a thorough investigation into law enforcement activities surrounding Occupy Wall Street -- and its national offshoots -- to determine whether the police have indeed violated the civil liberties of demonstrators or members of the media."

His statement continues:

Our law enforcement officers have a duty to protect our health and safety, but that duty must always be discharged with respect for the fundamental First Amendment rights to free expression and peaceful assembly.

Predictably, New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg pooh-poohed the idea of an investigation, saying "If [Nadler] would spend more time getting us homeland security money, maybe he'd make the streets safer."

4. Protesters occupy foreclosed homes.

Occupy Our Homes' effort to occupy foreclosed houses and help families stave off eviction continues around the country. In the East New York neighborhood of Brooklyn, homeless activist Alfredo Carrasquillo and his family have been occupying an abandoned home at 702 Vermont Street since December 7. The home was foreclosed on by Bank of America.

Similar actions are taking place in California, Georgia, Michigan, and elsewhere in response to the avalanche of foreclosures that is burying homeowners, especially those who are low-income, across the nation.

Watch this Up With Chris Hayes segment from last weekend, in which Hayes interviews Carrasquillo and talks about the growing U.S. foreclosure problem:

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5. Protesters defy Boston eviction deadline by getting hitched.

Half an hour after a recent eviction deadline at Occupy Boston, two occupiers engaged in what In These Times' Allison Kilkenny calls a "remarkable act of defiance" -- they got married.

Kilkenny reports that Aaron Spagnolo spontaneously proposed to his girlfriend, Nanore Barsoumian, on eviction night because he felt "the night was just perfect." He popped the question via -- what else? -- the people's mic. Spagnolo and Barsoumian's wedding guests included about 1,000 fellow protesters gathered in Dewey Square, despite the eviction deadline.

This wasn't the first Occupy wedding; a few other couples have tied the knot at occupation sites. But Spagnolo and Barsoumian may have been good luck for the occupation, in the short-term at least, because the police never showed up to raid the square that night. However, the 74-day occupation did come to a close several days later, on December 10, when Boston police swept in and arrested 46 protesters.

6. Real Occupy Wall Street shuts down TV version of Occupy Wall Street.

It's safe to say the folks who make the TV show Law & Order had no idea what they were in for when they decided to film an Occupy Wall Street-themed episode. Mere weeks after the real occupiers were thrown out of Zuccotti Park, the Law & Order crew set up a faux occupation in the plaza. Their eviction wounds still fresh, the real Wall Street protesters took offense to the "mockupation," and about 60 of them gathered at the set to let Law & Order know about it.

The alternate-reality Occupy Wall Street had a library, kitchen, tents and protest signs, just like the real occupation... except not. Reportedly, it was a pretty bizarre scene, especially after the real Occupy protesters shut down filming by chanting and entering the park.

The NYPD ended up rescinding Law & Order's filming permit, and the crew had to dismantle the set and get out of there. Here's a video of the ordeal, with some great protester interviews, via Gothamist:

Lauren Kelley is an associate editor at AlterNet and a freelance writer and editor who has contributed to Change.org, The L Magazine and Time Out New York. She lives in Brooklyn. Follow her on Twitter here.