7 Places the 99% Will Fight Back Hard in 2012
2011 was the year of activism, of uprising, of the protester. But the new year is coming, and with it a chance to write a new narrative.
The demands of working people in the US and around the world haven't yet been met, and there's still a need for the same energy and outrage on the issues of jobs, income and wealth inequality, home foreclosures, working people's rights to organize, and of course, Wall Street's crimes.
So, while we hesitate to make predictions for victories and political outcomes, we do have some guesses as to where we'll see some exciting activism in 2012.
In some cases, the plans are already being laid for big spring and summer actions (and even fall, with the presidential election fast approaching). In other realms, we haven't heard anything definitive, but the conditions are certainly ripe for a big move by the 99%.
After all, social movements aren't built in a few months. They take years of planning, new and escalating tactics, and the occasional great leap forward. We saw that leap in 2011—now it's time to take the next step in 2012.
Read on for seven places where working people's fight for justice should erupt over the next year.
1. Iowa Caucuses
The first major political event of 2012 will be the Iowa caucuses, where residents of the chilly rural state will meet to decide which Republican candidate should represent their party in the national election.
But according to Mother Jones' Gavin Aronsen, Occupy Iowa supporters have already held their own People's Caucus. They broke out into groups similar to the preference groups that occur at the real Iowa caucuses—but rather than choosing the candidate they want to win, they chose a candidate most deserving of having their headquarters occupied.
The winner? Barack Obama, with Mitt Romney and Ron Paul in close second and third.
So far, the only disruption of the caucus itself is a possible plan for people to vote “no preference” as a protest, but actions like mic-checking candidates (Newt Gingrich and Michele Bachmann have already been recipients of this action) and peacefully taking over headquarters and events are in the works, and protesters have already been going through direct action trainings. In just a few days, we'll see the results.
Wisconsin union members and their supporters kicked off the U.S.'s year of action last February with an occupation of their capitol building after Gov. Scott Walker pushed a bill taking public workers' right to collective bargaining away. Fourteen State Senate Democrats left the state to avoid voting on the bill, and Wisconsinites slept outdoors in the cold when locked out of the building, and showed up day after day until Walker found a way to force the bill through anyway.
One of the big stories of 2011 then became the recall campaign against the State Senate Republicans who voted for the bill. Though Democrats didn't succeed in taking back the Senate, they did oust two Republicans—and created enough momentum to start a recall campaign against Walker himself, which gathered 507,000 signatures on recall petitions in four weeks. (540,208 are required to move the recall forward).
So recalling Walker seems very likely to be on the agenda this year. In addition, on February 17, the anniversary of the occupation of the capitol, United Students Against Sweatshops is holding a conference in Madison celebrating 15 years of organizing—and planning a big action to celebrate Wisconsinites' fight for workers' rights.
3. University of California
Tuition hikes and student debt have been touchstones for the Occupy movement, and while campus-based activism is not new in the U.S., the way the occupiers have linked their complaints with the larger issue of growing Wall Street and corporate power may be a new chapter for student organizing.
Nowhere has the new wave of student activism been more prominent than the University of California system, where students have long been fighting tuition hikes and privatization. UC-Berkeley students were beaten and UC-Davis students pepper-sprayed during peaceful campus protests, but they stood firm and continued their fight.
“What’s at the heart of the privatization,” UC-Berkeley graduate student Megan Wachpress told Josh Eidelson at The Nation recently, “is a bringing in of the market logic, and the kind of exploitations and the inequalities associated with the market…into parts of life and relationships that we used to see as parts of our responsibility as co-citizens.”
The universities are quiet for now during winter break, but student activists are planning weeks of action across the California public university system, and thinking of ways to make their fight a national one—perhaps by connecting to the burgeoning movement against student debt.
4. Charlotte, North Carolina
The Democratic National Convention's selection of Charlotte has already angered some party supporters—the party that relies on union support chose for its gathering the state with the smallest union density in the country, and the city that is the headquarters of Bank of America (and, until it was bought out by Wells Fargo, Wachovia Bank as well).
Like campuses, party national conventions are always sites of activism, often in the post 9/11 years, skilfully contained by protest pens and “free speech zones”. What might make this year different?
Obviously, the answer is Occupy.
Occupy groups are present not just in Charlotte, but in Raleigh, Asheville, Greensboro and Chapel Hill, and now it looks as if the city is moving preemptively to boot the protesters out before the estimated 50,000 visitors come in for the conference. The Huffington Post reported:
“On Oct. 27, the Charlotte city manager released a draft ordinance that makes camping on public property a 'public nuisance' and would prohibit 'noxious substances,' padlocks and other camping equipment that city officials fear could impede traffic and create public safety issues.”
Lawyers are already vowing to challenge the constitutionality of such an ordinance, saying it may violate the First Amendment. In any case, it's clear that Charlotte's government is expecting clashes with activists. The question will be whether they can successfully make protest stand out from the actions of years past (and avoid the endless Chicago '68 comparisons).
5. G-8 Summit in Chicago
Speaking of Chicago, that city's officials announced this week that Daley Plaza would be open to protesters who want to gather there and speak out against the G-8 and NATO summits this May. That's after announcements of increased fines and crackdowns against protesters drew criticism, and the city's police superintendent, according to NPR, called the Occupy protests (and busts thereof) a “dry run” for what they expect during the summits.
A Facebook page is already calling for the summits to be Occupied, with 858 “Likes,” and according to the Chicago Tribune, tens of thousands of protesters are expected. It's the first time since 1977 that the NATO and G-8 summits will be held at the same time, and they're expected to discuss Afghanistan war policy as well as the global economic issues that are the usual focus of the G-8.
No permits have been granted yet for those who are seeking official permission to march and rally, but Occupy protesters at least haven't been stopped in the past by the lack of permits. But a beefed up police presence—including deputized officers from other agencies—will be looking out for Occupy-style tactics.
6. New York
Wall Street saw several marches in 2011, before the occupiers took over Zuccotti Park. It's not a stretch to predict that the financial district hasn't seen the last of raucous protest, civil disobedience, or dance parties.
But New York City is also the site of one of the most-watched home occupations, the house at 702 Vermont St. in East New York, where organizers from community groups and Occupy Wall Street liberated a home that had been foreclosed upon by Bank of America and moved a homeless family in. So far, they have succeeded in holding that house, and the next step will be putting more families in foreclosed homes, as well as defending families against foreclosure.
And finally, the City University of New York has seen battles second only to University of California's over tuition hikes, student debt, and the privatization of public education. New York is also home to the working group that founded the Student Debt Refusal Pledge.
The loss of the encampment was a blow to Occupy Wall Street, but the test in 2012 will be whether they can successfully maintain momentum on multiple levels, through multiple types of action.
Possibly the biggest win for the working class in the US this year was Ohio's overturning of SB5, the anti-union bill that Governor John Kasich pushed through last year. The bill, stripping collective bargaining rights from 360,000 public sector employees, so angered working Ohioans that more people actually came out in an off-year election to vote for a “Citizens' Veto” of SB5 than voted to make Kasich governor in 2010.
The coalition, We Are Ohio, that gathered 1.3 million petition signatures to get the repeal on the ballot, isn't ready to quit yet, either. As Henry Gomez at the Cleveland Plain Dealer noted, “Without question the results will be viewed as a momentum-builder for Democrats nationwide and should encourage President Barack Obama.”
“As appealing as the other states might appear on paper, none offers the head start Democrats have here,” he continued.
And Ohio, being one of the largest swing states, has the power to shift an election. It also has a working population still struggling, with high unemployment that dates back before the financial crisis to the predations of deindustrialization and offshoring.
Senator Sherrod Brown, up for reelection in 2012 as well, is a vocal advocate for his state's working people. He too might benefit from the backlash against Kasich and his policies, and from the solid organizing work of We Are Ohio. Asked about the implications of the SB5 vote for 2012, Brown told a conference call, "What it means for 2012 is that the public wants to know, 'Whose side are you on?'"