Reflections On Occupy Providence’s Sidewalk Occupation, June 7th-10th

By Jim Daly

Photo by Chloe Chassaing

 

Netroots Nation participants were greeted by a 24/7 sidewalk occupation by Occupy Providence that started when the annual conference began on Thursday afternoon, June 7, at the Providence Convention Center, and continued until the conference’s ending on Sunday, June 10.
Netroots Nation is a collection of liberal Internet bloggers, news reporters and other individuals who play a major role in national political social networking. This conference was an opportunity for those who had been writing about political issues to interact with one another and with prominent politicians on the Left.
Members of Occupy Providence set up sleeping bags, protest signs, and an info desk outside the Convention Center to attract those attending the conference and focused on three themes: no bailout for 38 Studios, the bankrupt gaming company founded by Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling that owes the state of Rhode Island millions of dollars; Tax the Wealthy; and an economic development and recovery plan that involves Solidarity not Austerity.
Protesters, passers-by and Netroots folks engaged in daily working group meetings, general assemblies, and community discussions. Every night ended with a People’s Open Mic, where all Occupiers were welcome to tell their stories, explaining why they were members of the movement and how the movement had affected them.
There were Teach-ins on Thursday and Friday afternoon centering on issues of economic inequality, student debt and environmental destruction. Many of the problems addressed in these public forums could be resolved, speakers and participants agreed, if the richest individuals in the nation were taxed at a higher rate. Rather than taxing those who can afford to pay higher taxes, our elected representatives engage in austerity measures and cut social programs for those who need them. This exact type of economic injustice is what Occupy Providence highlighted during the weekend’s twenty-four hour protest.
The Netroots conference could not have taken place at a more politically charged time in Providence, as it was held only weeks after 38 Studios failed. Many of the liberal Internet bloggers inside the Convention Center have long expressed outrage at the economic injustice prevalent in American society. The situation surrounding the recently shattered 38 Studios is a perfect example of this injustice and Occupy Providence shed light on the scandal during the Netroots conference. Schilling was given $75 million dollars by the State of Rhode Island with the expectation that his venture would create job opportunities for Rhode Island workers— but his venture failed. Occupy Providence shared the outrage felt by the community at seeing Schilling, a man with no experience in running a large business, given so much job relief money simply because he was famous and wealthy.
Occupy Providence organized protests throughout the weekend. On Friday protesters marched to 38 Studios to make chalk outlines representing the “Dead on Arrival” jobs that Curt Schilling’s company had “brought” to Rhode Island. Occupy Providence then marched to the State House where they delivered a petition to the Governor’s office to stop the bailout of 38 Studios.
Occupy Providence members were ejected from the State House by police officers, despite being told they could stay if they were quiet. Representative Teresa A. Tanzi left the House floor to defend the protesters against the police but they ignored her as well.
On Saturday Occupy Providence held their biggest march of the weekend with around 75 people taking to the streets. Their first stop was again 38 Studios, to denounce the state’s ill-considered financial support for this failed venture. The activists then continued their march to the State House, drawing chalk outlines of bodies representing 38 Studio’s D.O.A. jobs.
Protesters then marched through the Providence Place Mall, where they had a tense confrontation with the police. Mall security officers unsuccessfully attempted to push protesters out of the Mall. Outraged at Occupy Providence’s exercise of its freedom of speech, the head of security called the police to have the marchers arrested. Ten peaceful protesters were detained while other members of Occupy Providence stood across the street awaiting their detained friends’ release and mic checked the police. After a few tense moments the protesters were released. One had suffered a sprained arm as a result of the police’s aggressive arrest. A community healing discussion followed that symbolized the unity that Occupy Providence has maintained even during its most intense political protests.
I, the author of this article, was one of the individuals who helped plan and also participated in this four-day, three-night, twenty-four hour protest. This protest was, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful political actions our organization has seen to date. The weekend-long protest has increased the number of faces that I will think of when I need strength and inspiration. I formed many new friendships and strengthened old ones. I want to give a special thank you to those who stayed with us from Occupies in Connecticut, Texas and Tennessee.
By the time we packed up our sleeping bags on Sunday our movement had grown in maturity, productivity and unity. It seems to me that our movement is beginning to take a first of many steps toward being capable of dealing with issues, both internal and external, that have held us back. I am confident of our ability to continue to grow stronger now that the Sidewalk Occupation has ended.

Occupy: A Balance Sheet and a Way Forward

By Paul Hubbard

When OWS, Occupy Boston, Occupy Oakland, and the dozens of other encampments were cleared out by the police, it disrupted and disorganized our movement. We have to recognize and admit those facts. Repression is a tried and true method that the 1% employs against social movements— IT WORKS— that’s why they do it.
Further, the continued occupation of OWS in Zuccotti Park represented the only national focal point for our movement and once it was gone, Occupy entered a new space— the space of retreat, regroupment and figuring out the next phase.
As long as the movement was in occupied spaces, we offered an organizing/protest in the streets/social movement alternative to the electoral sham of the 1%. Mass social protest movements in the streets seriously disrupt the electoral process and I cite the 1968 street protests at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago as a good example of that. In order to refocus the country on the duopoly of the Democrats and Republicans, the 1% had to repress our movement.
All social movements have inherent contradictions and follow their own special ‘laws’ of development. They go through amazing phases of mass protest, unity, unleashed energy and creativity, and, especially after a nationally coordinated repression, periods of downturn.
A huge part of movement building (and movement leadership) is having the ability to recognize those periods of downturn and being sufficiently organized to minimize the impacts from the blows from the 1%.
The Occupy movement was brilliant at illuminating the primary contradiction of American capitalism. By focusing on the obscene wealth inequality caused by Wall St, the big banks, and the profit motive, the Occupy movement tapped into mass anger and deep-seated outrage at the corporations, which was bubbling just underneath the surface in American society. Its formulation of the 1% versus the 99% struck a deep chord in the consciousness of the American people, particularly the youth.
The occupation tactic offered an amazing model of sustained organizing, reclaiming public space for protest, assembly and free speech. These combined to give the Occupy movement a mass appeal which hasn’t been seen from a social protest movement in 35 years. A new radicalization is beginning to unfold in dramatic and unique ways.
Occupy represents nothing less than the rebirth of working-class, anti-capitalist struggle. After 35 years of neo-liberal economic policies and structural adjustments that have devastated the unions and women’s rights and increased racial inequality (despite Obama’s election as President), the one-sided class war is over. Our side is finally fighting back!
Two-sided class struggle is on the agenda­­— an amazing achievement for a movement that’s just six months old. But as I stated earlier, all social protest movements have contradictions and follow their own ‘laws’ of development. The Occupy movement’s biggest contradiction is this: it’s a working-class, anti-capitalist movement fighting the 1% that is physically based outside the workplace (factories, offices, hospitals, schools, construction sites, other workplaces), and largely outside the organized spaces of the working class (unions). That is where the real potential power of the 99% resides, in our workplaces, where through strikes and workplace occupations, we can collectively organize to shut down, then take over and run the system ourselves. The tactic of occupying public space was brilliant as a first phase for our new movement but there are solid reasons to believe that phase is and should be over. The most compelling reason why I think it won’t be useful for us to try to reproduce the occupations of last fall in the spring is the relative ease with which the armed agents (police/security apparatus) of the 1% were able to repress and clear out the encampments. Occupy alone doesn’t possess the social weight (which exists with workers in factories and workplaces) to defend occupations, especially in open public parks.  Occupy can’t mobilize sufficient masses of the American working class to consistently come out in defense of public spaces every time the police move to evict us. The relationship of class forces (1% versus 99%) doesn’t yet favor the Occupy movement.
The Occupy movement has changed the discourse in this country, with a powerful narrative that has resonated with the 99%, but we have largely been unable to change the material reality and agenda of the 1%. That agenda has been decades in the making and encompasses dramatically lowering the standard of living of the 99%. US capitalism is in a life and death struggle to maintain its hegemony as an international empire with wars/occupations abroad and class war at home. It will take the power of the working class, organized in collective workplace struggle, to transform society in the fundamental ways Occupy is demanding.

Recent Direct Actions

By Randall Rose

Here’s an update on Occupy Providence direct actions which have taken place since we published our last issue.

Photo by Paul Hubbard

2/6 March to AG Kilmartin’s office. Present petition against
lenient settlement with big banks committing foreclosure
fraud and harrassing homeowners.

2/23 Protest VP Biden in Providence, to demand taxing Wall Street transactions (Robin Hood Tax).

2/29 ALEC protest in Groton, CT.  Join other Occupys in Groton to protest Pfizer’s funding of ALEC, a right-wing state lobbying group.

3/1 Occupy Education. Support Occupy RIC march from Burnside Park to RI Dept of Ed for high-quality education for all, opposing education cuts, soaring student debt, privatization and job insecurity.

Photo by Susan O’Connell

Photo by Susan O’Connell

Photo by Susan O’Connell

3/22 Verizon. Join rally to support CWA union in their fight to keep their benefits at Verizon.

3/26 Re-seeding offer. March from Burnside Park to City Hall where we offer to re-seed the park with our own labor.

3/29 Trayvon Martin. Join march from Central High School to demand re-opening the case in the killing of innocent Trayvon Martin.

4/4 First Source. Endorse rally by DARE and People’s Assembly for civil rights on the anniversary of Dr. King’s death, supporting the implementation of First Source rule to hire local residents.

4/4 Occupy MBTA in Boston. Endorse Occupy Boston and Occupy MA rally against MBTA fare hike and service cuts, affecting RI commuter rail.

4/14 Budget rally in Bristol.  Join East Bay Citizens for Peace to support cutting the military budget to free funds for people and economic development.

4/17 Tax Day in Providence. Join American Friends Service Committee, marching to Textron and Bank of America, to support taxing the rich.

4/17 Tax Day in Westerly.  Demand taxing the rich, including a tax on Wall Street transactions.

Photo by Joseph Mendez

4/22 Occupy Sexism.  Support rally, march, dinner and teach-in by RI Anti-Sexism League.

4/24 Robin Hood March.  March in Robin Hood costumes to House Finance Committee hearing, where we testify in support of bills to reverse tax cuts for the rich.

4/25 Robin Hood Tax Rally in New York.  Join ACT-UP on its 25th anniversary to support a tax on Wall Street transactions.

6/7-10 Occupy Netroots.  Four-day sidewalk occupation on Sabin St. during Netroots Nation conference in Providence.  Demands: No bailout for 38 Studios, Tax the 1%, Solidarity not austerity (locally, nationally, and internationally).

6/7 State Budget.  During House floor debate on balancing the budget, OP members mic-check from the balcony, calling for balancing the budget by taxing the wealthy and corporations, not by layoffs and pension cuts.

Photo by Chloe Chassaing

6/8-9 Two days of marches to 38 Studios and State House, opposing the planned bailout of 38 Studios’ Wall Street bondholders. Marches include stop in Providence Place Mall and a portrayal of the dead-on-arrival jobs at 38 Studios’ offices (picture above).

6/10 Chalking: Messages in chalk on the sidewalks of downtown to support the 99%.

6/28 Eviction protest. Support Joann Manning, who is being threatened with eviction from her family’s home even though she is willing to pay rent to the bank that foreclosed on her.

7/4 4th of July parade. Join EBCP “Patriots for Peace” float in the Bristol 4th of July parade.

7/27 Oppose junkfood subsidies for agribusiness.  Join RIPIRG to oppose Congress’s farm bill which pays large subsidies to big agribusinesses for producing junk food ingredients.

The above actions were approved by votes in the Occupy Providence General Assembly, an open democratic meeting of the 99% where OP’s main decisions are made.  Occupy Providence members also participated informally in many other actions.

Rhode Island’s Economic Development Boondoggle

By Tom Sgouros

You hear a lot about “economic development” in discussions of state government these days, and about the various agencies charged with promoting it, but why?  It’s not because casinos are now important (though they are) or because jobs are important (though they are) or because our economy is in such terrible shape (though it is). The reason is much sadder.
In large part, the best things the state can do for the state’s economy have to do with those essential things that the private sector can’t (or won’t) do: universal public education; maintaining roads, bridges, water and sewer lines; policing the marketplace; protecting the environment; facilitating basic scientific research. These are the factors that could make ours a stronger economy, and each of them affects hundreds or thousands of companies at a time and millions of citizens, even here in Rhode Island. What an economic development agency can do will only ever be a minor effect compared to these others.
Unfortunately, the last 30 years of tax-cutting lawmakers have left your state unable to provide these services well. In the name of keeping taxes down, we have deferred maintenance and borrowed too much. We have pushed responsibilities onto cities and towns, to be funded by regressive taxes, and now Central Falls is in bankruptcy, with Woonsocket, East Providence, and Providence teetering on the brink. We’ve avoided discussion of programs meant to save money, like early childhood education and maintenance. So we pay too much for the little we get, and public services are a shambles.
Enter the economic development apparatus, a collection of functionaries who promise we can still have a thriving economy without paying enough to manage the fundamentals. This is a very appealing pitch, and Governors and legislators around the country have fallen for it, in Rhode Island as much as anywhere else.
Here in Rhode Island, the Economic Development Corporation is a free-standing quasi-public agency, which, through a quirk of its history, has almost unlimited borrowing authority, none of which has to be approved by voters. And borrow they have, for good and for, well, less good. They blew $30 million on Alpha-Beta, a bio-tech flop (they did recover about $25 million of it eventually), and EDC’s authority was a pivotal part of the deal that allowed state debt to balloon in order to pay for the I-boondoggle rearrangement of Route 195, loading up the state with hundreds of millions of dollars in new debt. There’s plenty more, including $14 million for the Masonic Temple hotel project, and over $30 million for the troubled Wyatt jail in troubled Central Falls. The prison, far from being a source of support for that city, recently announced it would not try to make up for its past lapses in payments, let alone meet its current obligations to the city. (After all, says their management, they have to repay their bondholders and make a profit before they have anything to spare for city government.) Now EDC is again in the news, having thrown $75 million at former Red Sox pitcher Curt Schilling’s failed video game company, 38 Studios.
What’s more, as a freestanding agency, EDC was free to pay its executives whatever they please, and to conduct their business however they pleased. Their executives could wear good suits, house their operation in first-class office space, and generally conduct themselves just like the overpaid CEOs they spend their time with.
There are two problems with this. The first, and biggest, is that the EDC vision of a healthy economy for Rhode Island isn’t really sustainable. Attracting companies from elsewhere will only get us companies who don’t care about Rhode Island: empty growth, if growth at all. There’s already enough corporate irresponsibility in the world. We absolutely don’t need a system that encourages more.
The second problem is more theirs than ours: about the only tool that RIEDC has at its disposal is various kinds of tax breaks to offer companies and a limited amount of money to lend (much of which they’ve dedicated to 38 Studios). Without much of the infrastructure to support a healthy economy, they have to put their faith in salesmanship and tax breaks, not in fundamentals.
What happens at an agency with such an ill-defined and difficult role? Failure, that’s what. Over the years, EDC has seen some good people come through its doors, along with the inevitable few who only look good in a suit, but they’ve been tasked with the impossible. Their mission has been to make our state’s economy bloom despite the fact that we are shrinking our investments in our infrastructure, our workforce and our environment. And what have we seen?  Tremendous pressure to do something has produced ill-considered loans, and nebulous and occasionally laughable plans.
A future EDC or something like it could play a useful part in monitoring the state’s economy, and in technology transfer, trying to push new technologies into the market to advantage local businesses. They could be useful promoting networking and centralizing some information businesses need. But our EDC has served mostly as an ATM for corporations, and as a state-paid corporate lobbyist, pushing tax cuts in the legislature, oblivious to the effects these cuts have had on education, police forces, bridge maintenance, and all the rest.
The time is long past when we can afford to continue this way. We have to understand government as an integral part of keeping our economy sound, sustainable, and just.

Tom Sgouros is the editor of the Rhode Island Policy Reporter, at whatcheer.net, and the author of “Ten Things You Don’t Know About Rhode Island.” Contact him at
ripr@whatcheer.net.

What Should Education Look Like?

by Lisa Niebels
While the needs of our economy have changed, the educational structure has not.  It continues to use a top-down industrial model in which creativity and individuality are discouraged. In most schools today, the individual learner and the family’s role in personalizing the educational experience to meet the needs of each learner as well as the community are ignored.
It is time to reform our current compulsory educational practices.  One “reform” is already being attempted.  This has been the implementation of a high-stakes testing requirement for all public school students. While the goal of this is supposedly to provide every student with the skills needed for the twenty-first century, the result is sadly that many students are instead finding themselves without these skills— and also without a high school diploma. According to an article published in February by the Rhode Island affiliate of the American Civil Liberties Union, students who do not pass the RI Dept. of Education’s “high stakes testing” requirement, slated for implementation in 2014, will not receive a diploma. Based on this year’s recently released NECAP testing scores in math, close to half of all students currently enrolled in Rhode Island schools may not graduate, and the proportions are much higher for some sectors of the school population.  For example, 84% of special education students, and 70% of all African American and Latino students are likely to fail.  Not surprisingly, the prospective failure rate is unevenly distributed throughout the state:  While 13% of Barrington students and 14% of those in East Greenwich may not qualify for a diploma, the figures climb to a dizzying 69% and 79% for those enrolled in Providence and Central Falls schools, respectively.
In our schools today we are cramming as much testable data into our children as possible and medicating the non-compliant ones in order that they meet the expectations of a fear-based culture.
What are the alternatives to the current ineffective educational system?  I have come to believe that providing students with personalized educational experiences is the most effective reform we could implement.  Learners and their families should always have the opportunity to be active participants in their education, and, for some, homeschooling may be the best approach.  Some schools also take an individualized approach.  I worked for over ten years at the Met School, which empowers high school students to “take charge of their learning” through internships and individual learning plans, and I have spent a year in Roger Williams University’s College Unbound program, which integrates personalized learning with other traditional offerings, classes and online learning.  According to College Unbound’s philosophy, “Requirements are learning goals, not courses— and different students meet them in different ways.”
Choice is ultimately what we need to offer.  Education is too important to waste on regimented learning taught with military precision and uniformity.  Such education will not enable learners to realize their full potential as human beings, and the adoption of high-stakes achievement tests will only serve to create a bigger gap between the haves and the have-nots in Rhode Island and elsewhere.
If you are interested in working to stop the defective, and potentially disastrous educational “reform” being promoted by Commissioner Deborah Gist and the Rhode Island Department of Education, please e-mail me at lniebels1@gmail.com.
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