By Jim Daly
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.