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Solidarity Through Charity: Occupy Evolves and Lives
I know what it’s like to be hounded by bill collectors. And regardless of how I feel about the Tea Party’s politics, if they spearheaded an initiative to abolish the $6,000 in medical debt I had racked up in Houston, Texas after breaking my elbow with no health insurance, and did the same with thousands of others’ debt out of sheer desire to do good, I would feel radically different about the Tea Party. And if they led a disaster recovery effort that was on the ground in affected communities long before governments and well-funded relief organizations were able to provide help, I might even think about joining them. Occupy Wall Street, the populist economic justice movement the corporate-owned media and corporate-owned political class has been declaring as “dead” for months now, has been doing all of the above.
When the camps were evicted, the media breathlessly reported about the official death of the movement and blamed nonviolent protesters for city governments squandering millions of tax dollars on constant and overwhelming police presence and re-seeding grass in parks (that somehow costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to do). And after more than 30,000 marched through New York City on May Day, the media gleefully announced the death of Occupy Wall Street, since the ragtag populist movement didn’t succeed in 100% of Americans taking off work to participate in the general strike. By the time #S17 came around, the weekend of Occupy Wall Street’s 1-year anniversary, there were tens of thousands of people in the streets of New York, and the NYPD arrested hundreds of nonviolent protesters (including me), yet the media coverage was scant and inconsequential, and garnered just a passing glance.
Yet despite the Occupy funeral dirge that’s been played in dozens of headlines, the movement has flourished in its post-encampment phase. Occupy Sandy has become a full-scale military-style operation that has developed highly-efficient means of training and deploying volunteers, storing and transporting goods, feeding the hungry and putting clothes on the backs who have none. Police who were arresting protesters on #S17 weekend are now handing bags of clothes down assembly lines, side by side with those same protesters.
Occupy’s solidarity through charity has affected people beyond New York as well, as the Strike Debt Rolling Jubilee has raised almost half a million dollars in small donations to erase $8.4 million (and counting) of distressed medical, student loan and mortgage debt less than a week after launching. While speculators trade the debt of poor, sick and injured people on the market like a commodity, purchase it for pennies on the dollar from the banks, and move to collect the full amount for profit, Occupy Wall Street’s Strike Debt project (born on #S17) decided to do the same thing, except upon purchasing the debt, they would abolish it. While I didn’t donate to any political campaign all year, I gladly gave $100 of money I can’t really afford to give to Strike Debt, and slept like a baby that night knowing that my contribution erased $2,000 of someone’s debt.
All through the election, we watched as each major candidate raised and spent over $1 billion on their campaigns. SuperPACs funded by billionaires like the Koch Brothers, Sheldon Adelson, and Karl Rove’s funders collectively raised and spent an additional $4 billion. Pro wrestling magnate Linda McMahon has spent approximately $100 million on not one, but two losing US Senate campaigns. Imagine if right-wing billionaires used just 10% of the money they spent on a mostly losing effort, on erasing ordinary folks’ distressed debt alongside Occupy Wall Street.
While police in Spain are taking to the streets by the thousands to protest government austerity and bank bailouts, and that the world’s largest retailer faced over 1,000 protests nationwide and employee strikes in 100 cities on their busiest day, I’d say the only movement that’s dying is capitalism. The banks and corporations’ grip on our society and government is growing weaker by the minute, and the Occupy movement is only growing stronger.