Tag Archives: OccupyWallSt

Happy Labor Day

Standard

 

 

Today is May Day or International Workers’ Day in most other countries except for the United States, where “Labor Day” is celebrated on the first Monday of September. This is ironic because International Workers’ Day actually began in the United States on May 1, 1886 when 300,000 workers from 13,000 businesses across the United States walked out on their jobs to demand an eight hour work day without a cut in pay. This led to violence and retribution from industrialists and the ruling class, and Labor Day was eventually established in September as a day “to celebrate labor.” But in reality, it is a day to separate labor because nothing scares governments more than the thought that one holiday could be the unifying impetus that brings together International Workers of the World to Unite. And the Red Scare’s legacy, in its elimination of this story from our history books, continues to weigh heavily on the backs of soldiers, workers, and the poor.

At present, things have changed greatly since 1886. People still work over eight hours each day, but they are asked to sign contracts that sell their personal lives in exchange for a salary instead. The federal government is still dominated by lobbying groups connected to large industrial concerns including the oil industry, defense contracting, and especially international finance. The recent financial crisis in 2007 and the ensuing Arab Spring, M15, and Occupy Movements across the world are the closest that international workers have ever come to uniting. But because of the lack of leadership and real understanding by the common man about what exactly needed to be changed and how, these movements lost their voice by not coming together to make a common demand.

This brings into question a statement by Diego Rivera on this mural (pictured) that was chipped out of Rockefeller Center: “The liberation of the workers may only be the work of the laborers themselves.” But are the workers educated enough to liberate themselves? Do future workers graduate from high school with an education that equips them to understand the complexities of our interdependent world? Are they enabled to make good decisions when electing our future leaders, let alone make their own financial decisions? For me, and in light of the soundbites that I accidentally hear from the current Presidential debates, the answer is no. They are not. And as a believer in the potential for art and culture to produce real social change, I would go so far as to state that Diego Rivera actually did us a disservice by not producing the fresco that he was originally contracted to paint in Rockefeller Center. He missed an opportunity to unite  international workers of the world with the people who want to help them most, the industrialists, financiers, and business class.

Diego Rivera’s mural was chipped out of the wall at Rockefeller Center, due to its strongly communist overtones because he succumbed to peer pressure by his contemporaries who called him a sellout for painting for the Rockefellers. The fresco he painted, with a portrait of Lenin and an unflattering depiction of Rockefeller Sr., is much different from the painting that he originally proposed. And Rivera expert Linda Downs explains the unifying message of the original sketches: “He had this vision of the importance of technology in the future and the hope that there would be a coming together of workers and industrialists and businessmen to further mankind in general … It was a very hopeful mural.” The proposed fresco, as depicted in his sketches, remains a missing piece of history that could have depicted hope, and possibly instigated collaboration amongst these disparate classes that are hardly ever brought together by any networking group or chamber of commerce.

But the frequent inability of revolutionaries and politicians to collaborate with their contemporaries continues to weigh heavily on the working man’s back. Their lofty goals and ideals are incapable of translating into real change that will further the best interests of everyone, not just either the workers or the ruling class. When international workers of the world do unite, whether behind a protest like the Arab Spring, the Occupy Movement in 2011, or behind a bigoted billionaire running for the U.S. Presidency; the results tend to be detrimental to societies at large. Just look at Lybia, Egypt or Germany after World War II. A lack of access to quality education continues to oppress so many in the United States who are not given an equal opportunity to succeed. But beyond quality education, the real problem is that our true history is not taught to children at all. Like the celebration of Labor Day, so many other holidays and story tales obfuscate the truth behind our history. And this makes us doomed to repeat it.

 

 

Cultural Revolution

Standard
Cultural Revolution

Last week makes it 4 years since my best friend Sarah and I went to Occupy Wall Street in New York City. After feeling like the odd ones out in a hoard of angry millennials, we left with the realization that nobody else had read the manual or understood that our “One Demand” was supposed to be an end corporate personhood. We didn’t even get to go camping in the financial district because no one had bothered to pull a permit for the gathering. (I told them that the point of civil disobedience is to break the laws that are unjust, not the ones that keep us safe, like permitting.) But the dialogue that began that weekend was the real take-away from our experience with this grassroots movement.

I returned to finish my last semester at UF, realizing that I was way to small to make any real impact on the state of US or international finance. But I joined the solidarity movement that arose as “Occupy Gainesville” in my college town. Just like in New York, nobody could agree on the intricacies of our manifesto or decide on a cohesive plan of action. However, we coalesced around a park in the middle of downtown Gainesville called “Bo Diddley Community Plaza,” named after the Originator himself. It was our struggle to Occupy this space that confronted us with the real victims of the financial crisis: the homeless. As neither of our groups were allowed in the park after hours, they became our greatest cause.

We protested at the Alachua County Commission meetings, and advocated for the rights of the homeless to have a place to stay. We protested the meal limits imposed on the local churches, preventing them from feeding more homeless. We slept on the sidewalks with the homeless at night, just outside of the plaza, and kept night vigils to protect our group from harm. We had community meals, and ate together at least once a week.

Some of my friends understood, but the majority of them didn’t. Sarah was the most supportive. She even traveled to Gainesville for a Peace Protest, where we stayed in the plaza overnight and demanded the rights of the homeless to sleep there whenever necessary. Sarah and my friend Viv stayed with me for the majority of the night, and left to get coffee just before the police arrived to arrest us all. I was arrested for breaking a law that was unjust: sleeping in the plaza. I still believe that the homeless and I deserved to stay in Bo Diddley Plaza if there was nowhere else available to stay or Occupy.

My experiences at Occupy Gainesville made me realize that the real achievement of the Occupy movement was not revolution in the traditional sense. It was more of a cultural revolution. It was meant to get us out of our houses, to bring us together in the general assemblies, and to discuss the problems that we all faced, together in civic society. I mean, how are you supposed to love your neighbor if you don’t even know them?

Sarah and I continue to discuss the failures of the horizontal movement that was Occupy Wall Street to this day. But mostly we talk about the memories we made, and the time we spent fighting for justice. It made us each into the people that we are today, and we certainly cannot regret that.