By Chris Hensley
Locash Magazine | locashmagazine.com/
Solidarity action S17 a.k.a September 17th, 2012 was an exciting day for Occupiers and corporate lobby receptionists across the country. This date marked the One year Anniversary of The Occupy Wall Street Movement and at Occupy Phoenix we partied like it was September 17th, 2012! The receptionists on the other hand, who very well could be secretly not against us, had the usual sterile tranquility of their high-rise lobbies broken by either chanting protesters, mean mugging cops or managers screaming “This is PRIVATE PROPERTY!” at some points, all three.
In the early morning hours of S17 word got out that on the national legislation battle front, civil rights groups everywhere won a small victory on the ongoing drama of the NDAA act. Truthdig columnist Chris Hedges,along with Noam Chomsky and five other plaintiffs,submitted challenges to Section 1021(b) (2) of the National Defense Authorization Act (indefinite detention) which U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest accepted and ruled that the law was unconstitutional. Mr. Hedges broke the news to a cheering crowd who were gathered at Zuccotti Park, the original home of the Occupy movement; it was a great happy birthday gift for everybody involved. Good job New York, as always. Here in Phoenix we had our own party planned at our favorite ballroom Cesar Chavez Plaza downtown.
As I jumped off of the light rail I realized, it’s a beautiful day for revolution. Then again revolution can make any day beautiful. As I approached Cesar Chavez Plaza I was greeted by many smiling faces of all ages. As I watched the crowd get bigger I noticed people had an excited wide-eyed expression on their faces, which seemed to say “This is the fun part, let’s do this”. I felt exactly the same way. In the next 30 minutes more members and organizers arrived. So did more signs, bullhorns and drums. There was even a huge 1% piñata to be smashed at the end of the march.
Around 3:45 an original OPHX member yelled “Everyone grab a sign; let’s take this sidewalk like it’s all we have left again!”. Referring to 9-months earlier when the police repeatedly smashed their camp and limited them to the very same sidewalk. The curb quickly filled with people holding signs and cheering. Organizers did a couple of T.V. interviews for major local networks. Did they air? I doubt it, do they ever? What was in the air was an amazing smelling smoke from a small wooden bowl held in the hands of a woman named Alti. She used this smoke to bless the crowd with positivity. When I asked her if she was affiliated with any group she replied simply “the 99%”.
As the 4 o’clock hour drew near everyone gathered up their gear, banners unfolded and a quick mic check from organizers commenced which was short and to the point, “This is our day, these are our streets! Let’s hit it!”. Hit it we did, as we all fell into as much of a line as that many people can fall into. Our chant leader with the bullhorn, we’ll just call him O, started doing his thing with the rhythmic cadence of a veteran emcee “This is what democracy looks like / This is what the people look like!”. As we all repeated his lines as loud as we could I had goosebumps. It feels good to yell with that many people again. I felt like I was in a therapy session that no drug pusher with a degree could ever give me.
We had many stops planned, but our first priority and always on our shortlist, was the downtown Maricopa County jail on N. 4th Ave. One of the many facilities run by the black-hearted, small-minded, criminal (who happens to also be the Sheriff of Maricopa County) Joe Arpaio. This facility has been the site of several protests just this past week, besides ours. The increase in activity here is due to the passing of Arizona’s private prison industry motivated SB 1070 “show me your papers” law, that went into effect on Sept 18th.
All the stops along our march were strategic and meaningful. We did not just go places and yell. Well, we did that too. Each stop had a key-note speaker explaining why we were there and sharing stories. We have been telling you, Occupy is smarter this year. The first speaker was Fernando Lopez, an Occupier that has recently returned from actions at the DNC where he was aboard the Undocubus which traveled state to state challenging anti-immigration laws. He spoke of encountering dozens of “Arpaio’s” across the country, intimidating and arresting members of Latin and black decent. He also spoke of the power of uniting communities and dissolving racial lines.
But we weren’t done with Sheriff Joe yet. Stop #2 was The Wells Fargo building at 100 W. Washington St. Not only does this building house Wells Fargo,one of the most discriminatory global banks ever, but also 2 floors are home to Arpaio’s “business” offices. I can only imagine the grimy deals going on in this place. A community organizer named Erica spoke here. Erica’s topics covered blatant abuse of inmates and an ever-increasing police state perpetrated by Sheriff Arpaio. She also called to mobilize local cop watches. Our emcee “O” also spoke here condemning Wells Fargo for predatory lending and their heavy investment in the for profit private prison corporation GEO, of which the bank owns 4 million shares. Wells Fargo and GEO also share the same lobbyists in the Washington D.C. firm, The Podesta Group.
Stop #3, and one of my personal favorites, was 201 E. Washington St. which is also known as The Bank of America–Collier Center. After marching up the giant stairs chanting “Boycott, Boycott B of A” OPHX reps and some of the anarchist quickly noticed the doors were not locked and took advantage by swinging the glass doors open and yelling “C’mon in”. Many protesters entered the lobby and let B of A know how we felt, loudly. OPHX representative Michael spoke here briefly about moving your money being the best way to hurt giant banking corporations. Our exit from here was a little quicker than the previous stops, due to a noticeable increase in police presence.
Video taken by Jay Slomin
At this point I noticed we had gained a few people as we marched through the streets. Some people in cars honked and gave us peace signs or raised fists. I did see one guy eating McDonald’s and angrily texting probably about a bunch of hippies blocking the street and he was going to miss the beginning of Jersey Shore. Sorry for the inconvenience sir, we are trying to change the world.
Stop #4 was APS at 400 N. 5th St. APS is one of the largest power companies in Arizona. This is where an original Occupier and Media Co-op representative, Kevin, took the mic. Kevin spoke of how APS owns dozens of coal plants in Arizona and New Mexico. Even though APS is based in the sunniest place on earth it does not stop APS from importing fossil fuels into our state at 20 times higher cost than the alternative of solar. They continue despite the proven cost effectiveness and a strong public support for solar energy. APS still refuses to adapt to modern ecological problems in the name of dirty coal profits. Kevin also took a moment to address that APS only recently left A.L.E.C. and how the Occupy movement can take a lot of credit for the recent hard blows A.L.E.C. has taken.
This was a great stop. Kevin’s speech was really good and it was a nice grassy courtyard where we could all sit down for a minute and socialize. We did not stay too long. Once we stopped you could not help but notice many cops circling us block by block on foot, bikes, motorcycles, SUV’s and creepy blacked out van’s. Whatever, we pay them no mind. Ominous army of our tax dollars “hard at work.” We’ve got some work of our own to do at stop #5 which is Arizona Center at 565 N. 3rd St. Arizona Center is a service industry based outdoor mall, where OPHX Rep. Michael told the very familiar story to most of us, of low wages and lack of dignity the service industry is plagued with.
Stop #5 also held another highlight of the day when a retired Navy veteran representing Vietnam Veterans Against Romney spoke for about 10 minutes about how the landscape of America would drastically change if Romney is elected. He also brought up Citizens United, the new “Corporations have the same rights as people law” and urged everyone to vote out as many Republicans as we could if we wanted to get the law overturned. I think his speech sunk in a lot for the younger members of the crowd who were hearing current perspective from someone a generation before their own. Especially with lines like “Mitt Romney will eliminate the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) and the F.C.C (Federal Communications Commission). He will try to make you think Capitalism will regulate itself. You and I know that the Great Depression cures us of that notion.”
Stop #6 was the Arizona Republic/ NBC Channel 12 studio at 200 E Van Buren St. This stop was one I took a personal interest in. Why would we stop at Channel 12 news? Many people feel Channel 12 practices “media blackouts” of news from different perspectives. As I type these words and you read them we are both participating in what the spirit of what this stop represents, the people’s media.
Liisa from Arizona Community Press did an amazing job of explaining the importance of independent voices and that it is one of Occupy’s successes that the people are taking back the media. ”With independent voices, it’s an opportunity to tell the stories that are not being represented in the main stream media” says Liisa. ”It’s a place where you do not have to buy advertising to make your voices heard.” I did notice a Channel 12 news guy filming us protest his station, but I have a strange feeling it wasn’t for the nightly broadcast. Someone who was filming truth with intent to distribute was OPHX Rep. Mickey who live streamed most of the day to our comrades who couldn’t make it out. You can check out his raw footage marked September 17 at OPHXMickey.
As one can see we had many special engagements throughout the day and each one was awesome and important but none like Stop #7 at Freeport-McMoRan on 333 N Central Ave. Here we were meeting up with friends. Freeport-McMoRan is an especially nasty global mining corporation who houses its giant headquarters in downtown Phoenix. In fact, the top twelve highest paid CEO’s in Arizona all work at Freeport. This corporation is one of the World’s heaviest polluters and they have a continuing history of workers dying in their mines. Two protesters were also shot by police last year at a Freeport protest in West Papua, where the company has decimated the country with pollution for years.
One could definitely see how deplorable acts like this could bring a lot of heat from not only OPHX, but the friends we were meeting here was none other than the local branch of I.W.W.(Industrial Workers of the World). I have definitely heard of them but wasn’t aware of the energy spike we were about to experience, as we rounded the corner to Freeport’s doorsteps it was definitely a “F-yeah!” moment. I.W.W. already had a thick picket line rolling. When I got up to the windows I saw the most cops I had seen all day packed inside the lobby looking real annoyed by us but this sidewalk was undeniably ours. The I.W.W. speaker here was fiery and on point. So much so that I didn’t catch his name or picture, I just listened. Here’s my footage from the sidewalk.
Stop #8 was our final “official” stop and one of the most informative in front of the ASU financial offices on 710 N Central Ave. We wanted to point out the crushing student debt most of us are facing and the horrible under funding of education in America. Air Force technician and ASU student, Nate, closed out this march with a stirring speech. ”We spend more money per prison inmate that we do per student in America. What does this do? It creates more prisoners!” shouts Nate. ”80% of prisoners are high school drop-outs because we didn’t invest in them.”
Nate also stressed the importance of voting no matter who you support, especially in this election where a corporate hostile takeover of the presidency is on the line. ”If more of the 99% voted, the 1% would be less of a problem” Nate proclaimed. ”When you don’t vote, your surrendering and letting other people decide your fate. Don’t let them, have your own voice.” Nate also commended the people’s voice on speaking up against the SOPA and PIPA, the recent internet censorship bills. ”This was a great example of people power, we killed those bills!” This was a very poignant way to close out the day with the biggest issue we are all currently facing, the 2012 election.
What do you do after a OWS anniversary celebration march? An after party of course. We all headed down to Civic Space Square to hang out and network. The 1% pinata got smashed here by some of the marchers kids. Some of the members bought boxes of burritos, which were handed out to unemployed occupiers first. This is how OPHX builds, networks and connects. This may end up being the most important stop of all. I definitely can not forget to thank The Haymarket Squares for performing here. If anyone wants to be involved with Occupy Phoenix come to any of our actions and talk to us.