Blog Archives

Oakland Police Trained Alongside Bahrain Military and Israeli Forces Prior to Violent Occupy Oakland Raid

Cross-posted from Tikkun Daily.

Militarized riot police stand against Occupy Oakland on October 29, 2011. Photo by Soozarty1.

A month before Occupy Oakland was violently raided by riot police using chemical weapons, rubber bullets and flash grenades – a raid which critically injured Iraq war veteran Scott Olsen – the Oakland Police Department and the Alameda County Sheriff’s Department trained alongside a military unit from Bahrain and an Israeli Border Police unit.

The occasion was Urban Shield 2011, an annual training competition which gathers heavily militarized police from the United States and across the globe to explore the latest in tactical responses and to promote collaboration. It’s a training that northern California police departments credited for their “effective teamwork” in dealing repressively with Occupy Oakland.

Max Blumenthal, who broke this story in al-Akhbar in an exhaustive piece on the militarization of U.S. police, describes the units alongside which multiple California departments trained before violently crushing Occupy Oakland:

Training alongside the American police departments at Urban Shield was the Yamam, an Israeli Border Police unit that claims to specialize in “counter-terror” operations but is better known for its extra-judicial assassinations of Palestinian militant leaders and long record of repression and abuses in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Urban Shield also featured a unit from the military of Bahrain, which had just crushed a largely non-violent democratic uprising by opening fire on protest camps and arresting wounded demonstrators when they attempted to enter hospitals. While the involvement of Bahraini soldiers in the drills was a novel phenomenon, the presence of quasi-military Israeli police – whose participation in Urban Shield was not reported anywhere in US media – reflected a disturbing but all-too-common feature of the post-9/11 American security landscape.

That landscape is being revealed in full relief as militarized SWAT police across America continuously crack down on nonviolent, peaceful Occupy Wall Street protesters. Indeed, excessive, coordinated force – unparallelled in contemporary American history – is being used against both protesters merely assembling to air their grievances and against journalists attempting to merely chronicle such protests.

One needs to look no further than Urban Shield 2011 to see why police departments across the country are beginning to resemble repressive forces in countries such as, say, Bahrain.

Indeed, Urban Shield 2011 was held on the University of California, Berkeley’s campus weeks before university police used excessive force on students occupying a campus green. One of the departments that participated in Urban Shield 2011 was the University of California Police Department, Berkeley. Is it any wonder, then, why campus police brutally beat and arrested students in early November in a crackdown on its Occupy Cal encampment?

Occupy Wall Street is not going anywhere. Even as groups are evicted from their encampments, protest actions are creatively expanding – from reclaiming foreclosed-upon homes to flash occupations of commercial districts.

As these nonviolent protests expand, it will be telling how long Americans will tolerate militarized police responses to what is becoming one of this generation’s civil rights movements.

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Follow the author – David Harris-Gershon – on Twitter @David_EHG.

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Manhattan Borough President to Mayor Bloomberg: “Zuccotti Park is not Tiananmen Square”

Originally published on Daily Kos

This, via Think Progress, is adding to the cacophony of criticism from “institutional” players for the way in which our nation’s leaders are subverting the rule of law to protect their corporate interests:

As the New York Police Department moved in on Occupy Wall Street yesterday, it purposely kept journalists out of the area, even arresting a number of reporters who got too close to demonstrators. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended his kettling of journalists by saying it was done to “protect the members of the press.” But Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer disagreed, saying, “American foreign correspondents routinely put themselves in harm’s way to do their jobs, in some of the most brutal dictatorships in the world. And their NYC colleagues deserve the freedom to make the same choice. Zuccotti Park is not Tiananmen Square.

I could rant ad nauseum on Bloomberg’s transparently dishonest claim that journalists were forcibly kept away from covering the Zuccotti eviction to “protect” their safety.

But my purpose here is not to waste ink. Instead, I simply want to note that Scott Stringer is joining a growing chorus of officials who have called out their superiors for subverting the rule of law in their crackdowns of Occupy Wall Street.

Many examples exist, such as the resignation of Oakland’s Deputy Mayor Sharon Cornu over Mayor Quan’s eviction of Occupy Oakland (as well as the resignation of her legal advisor).

Today, a retired Philadelphia police captain showed up at Occupy Wall Street, saying, “I’m here because what’s happening is a travesty to Democracy.”

Indeed. Zuccotti is not Tiananmen Square. And the more high-level officials and politicians who come out and expressing similar sentiments, the more popular legitimacy this movement will garner.

And it’s garnered plenty already.

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Follow me on Twitter @David_EHG


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Author’s Note: Below is a photo of the aforementioned police captain via the incomparable Lucy Kafanov:

“The 1% Are Always Going to Have Access to Things. It’s Not Fair. That’s Life. Get Over It.”

Originally published on Daily Kos

Thus said NYC Councilman Peter Vallone – who has jurisdiction over the NYPD – in response to criticism that corporate donors to the NYPD (like JP Morgan Chase) have special access to New York’s finest in ways the average citizen does not.

The criticism, as well as Vallone’s deeply troubling response, revolve around a long-time foundation that funds many NYPD programs, but which also has given New York’s largest corporations unusual access to law enforcement brass.

As WNYC reports (emphasis mine):

Critics contend a decades-old foundation originally created to help the New York City Police Department buy bullet-proof vests has greatly expanded its mission to include funding controversial counter-terrorism overseas efforts while providing special access to the NYPD to the City’s wealthiest citizens and biggest corporations.But the Foundation and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly say the donors have no influence over departmental operations, and Foundation boosters point to a myriad of successful anti-crime tip lines and reward programs that only exist because they are funded by the non-profit.

The Foundation…has a board that has more than two dozen A-listers with names like Tisch, Trump and Wilpon.

Critics of the foundation have taken aim at its lack of transparency and argue that major donors are provided with special access and considerations. Recently, JP Morgan Chase donated $4.6 million, a contribution some within the Occupy Wall Street movement pointed to as a sure sign of the bank trying to buy influence.

And here’s where Vallone comes in. Again, from WNYC (with my emphasis):

Public Safety Committee Chair Councilman Peter Vallone, who has jurisdiction over the NYPD, took no issue with giving the well-heeled special access to the NYPDif it raises money for things like rewards and crime tips. But, he said, for donors it has to be entirely about giving.”The 1 percent are always going to have access to things. It’s not fair. That’s life. Get over it.,” Vallone told WNYC. “If they are giving away a ride along, good for them. If the ride along is getting them millions of dollars that we give out in rewards programs, good for them. If they are getting some kind of influence, that’s a problem.”

That last sentence – “If they are getting some kind of influence, that’s a problem” – seems incongruent with what preceded it, as though it was a throw-away statement intended to make what came before Kosher.

Of course, the question is whether or not such donations being made by JP Morgan Chase and others are affording corporations and New York’s one percent with not only access, but influence over policing. Something Occupy Wall Street, not to mention all New Yorkers, should rightly be very sensitive about.

The seriousness of the issue prompted New York Civil Liberties Union’s Associate Legal Director, Chris Dunn, to sound some alarms:

“It’s private money coming with who knows what motivations and who knows what agreements between the foundation and the Police Department,” Dunn said. “That’s a dangerous combination. You have a police department that is beholden to a private entity and you end up where there is a situation where there is absolutely no oversight or no transparency about the funding of government operations.:Here’s a situation where you have got a private foundation that is directly funding a highly sensitive police department operation and in many respects a high controversial police department operation,” Dunn said. “This is not the kind of operation that should be funded by a private entity.”

Make no mistake that private, corporate donors are funding important programs, including technological enhancements, that the NYPD desperately needs – improvements that are hard to make through normative budgetary allocations.

However, the question is this: are such donations influencing how the NYPD polices.

Or, to put it another way, given the seriousness of this issue vis-a-vis Occupy Wall Street: are such donations influencing how the NYPD is currently policing Zuccotti Park and the areas around it?

These are questions which not only need to be asked, but need to be independently answered as well.

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Follow me on Twitter @David_EHG
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Tens of Thousands of Israelis March for Social and Economic Justice as Occupy Wall Street Blooms

Cross-posted from Tikkun Daily.

With the Occupy Wall Street protests reverberating from America, tens of thousands of protesters marched in cities across Israel, reigniting their struggle for social and economic justice.

Over 20,000 gathered in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square to demand social and economic justice, with many echoing refrains now heard at Occupy Wall Street protests.

Protesters railed against a host of social and economic issues, including the growing gap between the rich and poor in Israel, with many protesters echoing refrains now heard at Occupy Wall Street protests in America. Many held signs that read “We are the 99 percent,” and several protesters mirrored the occupation language that has become synonymous with Occupy Wall Street. One particularly poignant sign read “Occupy Tel Aviv, Not Palestine.”

The rallies across Israel were held against the backdrop of tragic escalations of violence in the southern portion of the country. Rockets fired by Islamic Jihad in Gaza struck several southern cities, killing one Israeli civilian, and an Israeli bombing raid in Gaza killed at least seven Palestinians. In spite of the intense security situation, remarkably, approximately 20,000 people gathered in Tel Aviv, another 5,000 in Jerusalem and thousands more in locations across the country.

In the midst of such a tragic and emotional security event, these types of numbers would not have showed up for a protest of this nature in the past. The security situation – the rockets falling in southern Israel – would have trumped all else. However, as is the case in countries throughout the world, difficult economic conditions precipitated by government corruption and corporate greed are changing the game.

This is a new generation of Israelis – a generation which seems unwilling to allow security situations to paralyze them, a generation which can simultaneously address social inequities while acknowledging national losses.

A protester in Tel Aviv with a clear message of economic frustration directed at Israel’s leadership.

Social justice protesters plan to continue their struggle with the nation’s first citizen-led general strike, called “The People’s Strike,” set to take place on November 1. Nearly 5,000 Israelis have pledged so far to participate on the protest leaders’ Facebook page.

Daphni Leef, the iconic figure who began Israel’s tent protests on July 14 when she encamped along Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv as an act of civil disobedience, spoke to the crowd in Rabin Square. Among many of her messages was the following:

“The politicians and people in power cannot decide when this struggle ends. We are the only ones who can make this decision, we are all responsible for this.”

Indeed, when and how this struggle ends will be up to the new generation of Israelis now leading it.

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Follow me on Twitter @David_EHG

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Occupy Wall Street’s Tipping Point

Cross-posted from Tikkun Daily

Malcolm Gladwell defines a tipping point as a “moment of critical mass” in which an idea or movement spreads virus-like through the repetition of small, meaningful moments.

In his book, The Tipping Point, he describes it as a threshold moment; a liminal moment. The moment when an idea – pushed to the precipice by untold numbers of tiny, concussive shoves – finally loses its footing and plummets uncontrollably into the hearts and minds of millions.

United States Marine Corps. Sgt. Shamar Thomas confronts the NYPD after scenes of police brutality in Times Square.

Over a five week period, we have witnessed in our country the coalescence of thousands of small, meaningful moments that comprise an ever-expanding movement: The Brooklyn Bridge; Zuccotti Park’s canceled eviction; Times Square.

However, while there have been ongoing occupation events in hundreds of municipalities across the country – and while recent polls show increasing favorability trends – the movement has remained on the outside of mainstream America looking in. (Roughly a third of Americans currently view the movement favorably.) This is due, in part, to the way in which Occupy Wall Street has been portrayed by the corporate media as a disorganized, muddled mass. More importantly, though, has been its marginalization by certain politicians and media outlets as an anti-American, dangerous force.

The surest way to dull a popular movement is to brand it as dangerous to America. And with scenes of arrests and confrontations between police and protesters filling living room television screens (no matter that the police are often to blame), such branding has been made all too easy.

However, the moment such branding can be fractured and utterly torn asunder is the moment Occupy Wall Street will reach its tipping point. And I believe it’s now standing on the precipice, ready to make the mainstream plunge as both military veterans and even active duty police officers begin to stand in opposition against those forces intent on ending the Occupy movement.

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This weekend in Albany, New York, something remarkable happened: the police refused to arrest protesters at the behest of both Albany’s mayor and Governor Cuomo. As the Albany Times Union reports:

In a tense battle of wills, state troopers and Albany police held off making arrests of dozens of protesters near the Capitol over the weekend even as Albany’s mayor, under pressure from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration, had urged his police chief to enforce a city curfew.

The situation intensified late Friday evening when Jennings, who has cultivated a strong relationship with Cuomo, directed his department to arrest protesters who refused to leave the city-owned portion of a large park that’s across Washington Avenue from the Capitol and City Hall.

“We were ready to make arrests if needed, but these people complied with our orders,” a State Police official said. However, he added that State Police supported the defiant posture of Albany police leaders to hold off making arrests for the low-level offense of trespassing, in part because of concern it could incite a riot or draw thousands of protesters in a backlash that could endanger police and the public.

“We don’t have those resources, and these people were not causing trouble,” the official said. “The bottom line is the police know policing, not the governor and not the mayor.”

That last quote resonates. As mayors in cities across the country attempt to evict protesters doing nothing more than exercising their first amendment right to peacefully assemble and air their grievances, the actions of the authorities in Albany reveal that law enforcement officers across the country will no longer uniformly crack down in inappropriate ways.

Why? They don’t view these protests as anarchist or anti-American. They don’t view them as dangerous.

Listen to the words of Albany County District Attorney, David Soares:

“Our official policy with peaceful protesters is that unless there is property damage or injuries to law enforcement, we don’t prosecute people protesting,” Soares said. “If law enforcement engaged in a pre-emptive strike and started arresting people I believe it would lead to calamitous results, and the people protesting so far are peaceful.”

We don’t prosecute people protesting who so far are peaceful.

Yes, Albany is just one city. But it is the capital of a state that houses the symbolic center of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Additionally, anecdotal notes have been increasing regarding the opposition rank and file officers have to the way in which their superiors are cracking down on peaceful protesters for whom they have been charged to serve and protect.

We don’t prosecute people protesting who so far are peaceful.

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One of the fastest-growing entities now supporting the Occupy Wall Street movement is OccupyMARINES, a loose coalition of non-active duty Marines who support the protesters and the movement. In its short existence, it has established an intense and dedicated following, and has been partially responsible for the increased presence of non-active duty military personnel at protests. This obviously is creating optics that do nothing but counter the notion of Occupy Wall Street as anti-American.

Nothing has done more recently to counter this notion than the devastatingly-powerful viral video of Marine Sgt. Shamar Thomas confronting NYPD in Times Square after scenes of police brutality. It is a video that must be watched to understand its impact.

And it is a video that has sparked Occupy Marines. It’s a video doing its part to edge Occupy Wall Street toward a tipping point as more and more of our military veterans – some of whom have been hardest hit by the lack of economic justice protesters are railing against – join the Occupy Wall Street movement.

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There are large swaths of Americans who view the Occupy Wall Street movement as a negative, dangerous force, despite overwhelmingly supporting many of its core messages.

As more men and women in uniform visually demonstrate before mainstream audiences what has always been true – that Occupy Wall Street is fighting for economic justice for 99 percent of Americans – more citizens will come to not only view the movement favorably, but will support it as well.

As more scenes, such as those in Albany and Times Square, emerge and embed themselves into the body politic’s psyche, Occupy Wall Street will inch closer toward its tipping point.

Who knows? Perhaps the threshold has already been reached.

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Follow me on Twitter @David_EHG

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Protest Leaders in Israel Planning Nation’s First National Strike – Could This be the Next Phase for Occupy Wall Street?

Cross-posted from Tikkun Daily.

The tent city along Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv stretched for over a mile this summer.

This summer, thousands of social justice protesters built tent cities across Israel, occupying public spaces in dozens of cities. Taking inspiration from Cairo’s Tahrir Square – and enraged by skyrocketing costs of living and the growing economic divide between the country’s wealthiest elite and everyone else – protesters fought against what they viewed as corrupt economic systems by being perpetually present, by sleeping.

This seemingly simple form of civil disobedience – sleep – is fittingly what awoke within Israel a slumbering populace and brought them, marching and chanting, into the streets.

Sound familiar?

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After one month, the Occupy Wall Street movement has remarkably mirrored what occurred in Israel this summer. Occupations have sprung up in public parks and squares across the country as protesters rage against the nation’s wealthiest one percent and the corrupt influence many have over economic policy-making. And these occupations, while executed by a relatively small number of activists, have sparked marches and rallies in nearly one hundred American cities.

On October 15, in solidarity with the Global Day of Change, thousands gathered in countless municipalities across America, with some marking the beginning of additional occupations, signaling Occupy Wall Street’s continued expansion. (Pittsburgh, where 3,500 participated in the city’s first Occupy Pittsburgh march – and which now has 150 people camping in Mellon Bank’s green space – serves as a prominent example.)

And yet, as winter approaches – as brutal weather awaits some of the nation’s most critical occupations, including those in New York and Boston – being physically present, at least outdoors, may reach a point of being unsustainable.

Which begs the question: how will the movement continue its momentum? Or more simply: what next?

Israel’s social justice protesters may be offering an answer.

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In Israel, seven weeks after the first protester, Daphni Leef, set up camp along Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv on July 14, 2011, the largest protest in Israel’s history was shaking a country from its slumbers and pushing Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to make economic reforms.

Eventually, as the rainy season approached and as Netanyahu formed an emergency committee to propose economic reforms that might appease the protesters, the tents came down and the mass rallies ceased. Camping was no longer sustainable – permanently occupying public spaces had reached its inevitable end.

However, the protest movement in Israel has not ended. Leef and the movement’s leaders, frustrated by the government’s failing to enact any substantive reforms, are planning something novel: “The People’s Strike.”

Scheduled for November 1 – and with nearly 4,000 people already pledging to participate – protesters are planning what would be the first populist strike in the nation’s history. This in a country accustomed to strikes initiated by unions, strikes that are often both stubborn and effective.

And so Israel’s youth-driven movement are moving to a new phase – not being present as a form of civil disobedience.

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The United States is a country with a rich history of strikes and boycotts forming critical battle lines during social struggles, with the Montgomery Bus Boycott during the Civil Rights movement and the Coal Strike of 1902 serving as a shining examples.

As winter approaches, and as occupation (outdoors, at least) becomes difficult in many areas of the country, protests leaders would do well to consider putting such tactics – boycotts and strikes – in the movement’s operational tool box.

To be clear: I am not advocating a retreat from Zuccotti Park in New York City or from Mellon Green in Pittsburgh. The longer a physical presence can be maintained, the longer a visual, perpetual accounting can be sustained, the more enduring this movement will be.

However, those who decide to retreat indoors from the storms of winter can continue fighting by retreating, literally, from those institutions which they view are at the root of many of our economic ills. Protests can broaden by boycotting, for instance, multinational banks, or by establish strikes in the financial industries, in the service industries – in any sector that might temporarily impact a given industry.

This is the experiment that is about to be conducted in Israel: a populist movement of striking, of not being present as a central form of activism.

It’s something Occupy Wall Street might want to consider using more broadly as well.

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Follow me on Twitter @David_EHG

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Images of Occupy Wall Street Everywhere – A Stunning Photo Diary of the World’s 99% Rising Up

Originally published on Daily Kos

These images tell a story that the world’s elite have been writing – unaware – for years. It is a story of those who will no longer accept the crumbs handed to them by fortune-hoarding CEOs and the politicians who hang upon their financial, marionette-like strings to do their bidding.

It is the story of a day in which I (David_EHG) began marching as my city, Pittsburgh, finally awoke. It is a day in which many thousands throughout the United States and across the globe were simultaneously marching. A day in which we – in solidarity – lifted our voices to the marble castles and demanded economic justice.

For we are all, truly, the 99 percent.

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 United States

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New York
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In a contentious and remarkable day in New York, protesters confront police while marching with peace signs. AP photo posted by OccupyWallStNYC.

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Pittsburgh
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A protester with a sign that reads, “Picture this: we are all the 1%.” Occupy Pittsburgh was launched today as three thousand marched on the city’s financial centers. Photo by me, @David_EHG.

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Boston
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Thousands marched in solidarity with Occupy Boston as a child holds up a sign reading, “End the Corporatocracy.” Photo by @justcallme_Nan

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Los Angeles
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In L.A., where the city council voted to support Occupy Los Angeles, many thousands marched, chanted and sang. Photo by Ringo H.W. Chiu / AP.

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Jacksonville
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Hundreds marched with Occupy Jacksonville in solidarity with thousands who marched across Florida. Photo from Occupy Jacksonville.

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Des Moines
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Around 400 from Occupy Iowa marched to the Des Moines financial center. Photo from missmaggiethecat.

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Alaskan Tundra
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New Picture (102)
Photo of Diane McEachern, who writes:
A lonely vigil in remote Alaska. I’m wearing a muskox neck warmer (that is not a beard on my face) and I am a woman. The dogs are rescues. The tundra is outside of Bethel, Alaska. The day is chill. The sentiment is solid. Find your spot. Occupy it. Even if it is only your own mind. Keep this going…

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Chicago
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In a contentious day in Chicago, thousands marched during the day as hundreds confronted police during the occupation at night. Photo fromOccupy Chicago.

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Philadelphia
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Large crowds descended upon financial centers in Philly. Photo from Occupy Philadelphia.

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Oakland
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500 protesters with Occupy Oakland, joined by those encamping, marched to the federal office building today. Photo by allie125.

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San Francisco
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Several hundred marched on some of San Fransisco’s financial centers. Eleven were arrested outside Wells Fargo. Photo from kimoconnor.

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Santa Rosa
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Nearly three thousand marched in Santa Rosa. Photo from maggiejean1.

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Portland
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10 thousand marched as Occupy Portland activists continued to defiantly try to occupy public spaces. Photo from Occupy Portland.

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Mississippi
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One hundred people flocked to downtown Jackson for Occupy Mississippi.

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Santa Fe
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A thousand protesters marched for Occupy Santa Fe in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street. Photo by Mark Jacobs.

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Tampa
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Occupy fever spreads in bay as St. Petersburg joins Tampa in protests - St. Petersburg Times 2011-10-16 11-07-44
Hundreds marched to financial centers downtown with Occupy Tampa in solidarity with the global day of change. Photo by Daniel Wallace / St. Pete Times.

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Tulsa
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150 protesters marched in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street today in Tulsa. Photo from Occupy Tulsa.

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Lansing, Michigan
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Hundreds descended upon Michigan’s capital in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street. Photo by Robert Killips | Lansing State Journal.

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San Jose
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Photo by Glen the Plumber, who just lost his mom. Please visit his diaryand offer a gentle word.

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Denver
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After being evicted from Lincoln Park, a thousand Occupy Denver protesters took Broadway Street and blocked traffic, with many sitting in the road. Photo by @StandUpDenver.

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Seattle
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One thousand marched in Seattle before crowds defiantly retook Westlake Park. Photo fromzoltan’s diary.

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Atlanta
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Occupy Atlanta marches to MLK’s resting place on a day Cornell West was arrested. Photo from Occupy Atlanta.

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Omaha
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One thousand marched with Occupy Omaha – a remarkable number. Photo fromLSmith.

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Occupying the Media
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Occupy Wall Street 10-13-2011-9
Even the corporate media was occupied today. Photo from lcaldarola.

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Across the Globe

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Amsterdam
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Photo by Marcel Antonisse / EPA.

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Sydney
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One thousand protested against corporate greed and were met with a heavy police response. Photo by Lukas Coch.

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Brussels
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Thousands marched in Belgium’s capital in support of Occupy Wall Street. Photo by Yves Logghe / Associated Press.

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Toronto
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Thousands marched with Occupy Toronto in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street. Photo from Occupy Toronto.

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Rome
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Protesters marching against the banking and financial industries before the Colosseum. Tens of thousands flooded the streets in Italy. Photo byRemo Casilli / Reuters.

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London
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Thousands with Occupy London chanted before St. Paul’s Cathedral. Photo by Dan Kitwood / Getty Images.

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Madrid
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Photo from missmaggiethecat.

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Calgary
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Photo by apocryphoto.

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Taipei
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Photo by nealmoore.

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Frankfurt
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Thousands take the square outside the European Central Bank. Photo from May15Revolution.

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Hong Kong
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Protesters swarmed to the financial district in downtown for Occupy Hong Kong. Photo by @MrBaoPanrui10HongKong
The occupation in Hong Kong begins in dramatic style. Photo by Kin Cheung / AP.

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Puerto Rico
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A packed General Assembly in Hato Ray, Puerto Rico, using the people’s mic. Photo by raysa_lopez.

Occupy Sukkot – An Expansion of Occupy Wall Street Where Jewish Activism and Civil Disobedience Are Converging

Originally published on Tikkun Daily

On Saturday, over 1,000 Jews gathered for Occupy Yom Kippur in New York City – for a Kol Nidre service held near Zuccotti Park in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street that was simultaneously subversive and transformational.

Fists raised with a lulav! Graphic by Sieradski.

That moment, sparked by media entrepreneur and activist Daniel Sieradski, has given birth to a burgeoning expansion of Occupy Wall Street participation within the Jewish community that is quickly coming to be known as Occupy Judaism thanks, in large part, to the grassroots marketing work of Sieradski.

And the next initiative? Occupy Sukkot.

Already, activists in six cities are preparing to construct a sukkah as part of their local occupation protest: New York City, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Boston and Washington, D.C. However, it is the first one, being organized by Sieradski and a host of social-justice-minded Jews of multiple stripes in New York, that is most-visibly providing a real-time example of the intersect currently occurring between Jewish activism and civil disobedience. Sieradski writes of the pop-up sukkah activists plan to construct this afternoon:

This is a protest action. We do not have a permit for our sukkah. We expect confrontation with the NYPD and cannot guarantee our sukkah will stay standing all week. We have received generous guidance from NYC Council member Brad Lander as to permit regulations, however we cannot promise that the police will accept our arguments and allow the sukkah to stay standing. We therefore need volunteers to be present all week long, around the clock, to help us ensure our sukkah stays up and to document any potential physical encounters with the police.

There is currently a strongly-enforced rule against building structures in Zuccotti park. We are working with the organizers at Occupy Wall Street to ensure that this protest builds the larger movement. We will use consensus to adapt and respond to challenges from the NYPD as necessary, and we will work to ensure that our protest does not put others at Occupy Wall Street at greater risk.

The commitment to expand Occupy Wall Street participation via civil disobedience connected to Jewish ritual and observance – despite the real threat of a confrontation with NYPD – is incredibly inspiring. So too is the metaphorical interpretation (דרש) for Occupy Sukkot crafted by @JFREJNYC:

The eight-day festival of Sukkot reminds us of the abundance we have, and how very fragile that abundance is. The sukkah that we build, reminiscent of the fragile huts built in the days the Israelites spent wandering through the desert, represents shelter in a time of crisis, “the halfway point between slavery and liberation.” We are again at a halfway point. The movement has begun – will it take hold?

Join us as we spend the 8 days of Sukkot in a sukkah at Occupy Wall Street. This space will not only serve as a metaphor for the shelter of the Israelites. It will be a space to challenge economic injustice, racism, oppression, displacement, and exploitation that so many in our country and world face. Throughout the 8 day-festival we will offer trainings, workshops, and teachings; our sukkah will become part of Occupy Wall Street, a site of movement-building – shelter to demand that our nation’s abundance be reclaimed and fairly distributed among the 99%!

As Occupy Wall Street continues to spread across America, Occupy Sukkot represents an additional anecdotal footnote in the protest movement’s expansion narrative. However, for the American Jewish body politic, it represents a rapidly-expanding point of engagement not only with the Occupy Wall Street movement, but with Jewish identity itself.

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Follow me on Twitter @David_EHG

#OccupyJudaism – It’s Time to Build My Tent

Originally published on Daily Kos

In the wake of #OccupyYomKippur – the Occupy Wall Street expansion that left me speechless this weekend – a new, organic expansion has emerged to get social-justice-minded Jews into the streets: Occupy Judaism.

This expansion comes at the perfect time. Beginning Wednesday, the week-long holiday of Sukkot starts, a holiday during which many in my tribe build temporary, outdoor huts (called a Sukkah – סוכה) where we hang out, eat and even (for some) sleep.

Sukkah

When I put up our Sukkah this morning under a surprisingly warm, October sun, I was thinking, Here’s our own little occupation right here. However, now that I’ve learned the same folks who inspired over 1,000 Jews to conduct Yom Kippur services across from Zuccotti Park are planning on setting up a pop-up Sukkah at Occupy Wall Street, my thinking has changed.

Now, I will attempt to set up a Sukkah at our local occupation in Pittsburgh as young, activist Jews across the country begin to expand the Occupy Wall Street movement in their communities by encouraging Jews of all stripes – religious, secular, atheist, anarchist – to get out into the streets.

Sure it’s a small step in a larger, necessary movement. But it will take small steps from all of us for this inspiring protest to continue expanding, to continue widening until everyone understands that we will not tolerate a lack of economic justice in this country any longer.

That we will not sit idly by as our government continues to be complicit in allowing a corrupt financial sector to bring ruin upon ordinary Americans.

That we will not sit idly by as those comprising the wealthiest one percent buy their representation (and receive bailouts) from our elected officials as 99 percent of Americans suffer from a lack of responsible governing.

It’s time to build our tents.

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Follow me on Twitter @David_EHG

#OccupyYomKippur – I’m Absolutely Speechless

Originally posted on Daily Kos

Just when I thought the #OccupyWallStreet movement could no longer surprise me with its grassroots goodness, something has emerged from tonight’s gathering in NYC that has me shaking with joy.

Yom Kippur Service Taking Place At Occupy Wall Street 2011-10-08 00-10-25
More than a minyan (try hundreds) gathered for an Occupy Yom Kippur service. Photo by Damon Dahlen.

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Across from Zuccotti Park, hundreds of social-justice-oriented Jews of multiple stripes gathered for a Kol Nidre service – the service which liturgically begins Yom Kippur, my tribe’s Day of Atonement. As Jaweed Kaleem for The Huffington Post reports:

Several hundred people showed up in front of downtown New York’s Brown Brothers Harriman building for a candlelit, social justice-oriented Kol Nidre service Friday night. They included men and women in white prayer shawls, participants in street wear and non-Jewish onlookers. Leaders of the service prayed for the eradication of racism, classism and discrimination against gays and lesbians, among other causes. As with the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, no microphones were used and readings and songs were echoed throughout the crowd as dozens of police officers watched. So far, no incidents have been reported. Several attendees said they planned to cross the street to Zuccotti Park to spend the night with Occupy Wall Street demonstrators, as observant Jews do not use cars or the subway on Yom Kippur.

One of the central prayers in the Kol Nidre service is the Al Cheit. It’s a long prayer in which participants read through a list of sins, striking their chests to acknowledge those things we have done both individually and communally. Below is a photo of a portion of the supplemental reading written specifically for and added to this service tonight at #occupyyomkippur (care of @aimeeweiss):

The supplemental readings for Al Cheyt #OccupyYomKippur on Twitpic 2011-10-08 00-17-26

By thinking about Jewish Values only on holy days.

By not defending Israel.

By not defending Palestine.

I am so moved, if it weren’t for the two children I must help wake up in the morning and dress for synagogue – not to mention the fasting – I would drive the seven hours to New York to experience this tomorrow.

For it will be going on tomorrow as well. And knowing that makes me feel like this:

Yom Kippur Service Taking Place At Occupy Wall Street 2011-10-08 00-11-22
Photo by Damon Dahlen

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Follow me on Twitter @David_EHG
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Author’s Note: Care of @aimeeweiss, there’s also video from tonight. Enjoy.

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