by David Hartsough — November 7, 2011
The Occupation in Freedom Plaza in Washington DC (two blocks from the White House) and the occupations around the country and the world give me more hope than anything which I have experienced since the civil rights and anti-war movements in the 1960’s.
Hundreds of thousands or millions of people from all walks of life and all ages, races and religious backgrounds– and especially young people- are waking up and saying with their bodies “We aren’t going to take it any more. We will not put up with a society where the government does not represent the people, but too often represents the corporations and the wealthy. We will not put up with a government which gives unlimited hundreds of billions of dollars to fight foreign wars, create more nuclear weapons and build military bases around the world while making drastic cuts across the board to programs for education and health and welfare of the American people.
People in this movement are willing to put their bodies on the line and commit themselves for the long haul to make sure their voices are heard. People have found that there are many others out there with the same concerns and hopes and believe strongly that together there is HOPE we can make systemic and real change in our society and world. We are not alone. We are the 99% and with courage and a commitment to nonviolence, WE SHALL OVERCOME. There is no stopping us short of victory.
I believe the large majority of the American people support the agenda this movement is promoting:
*Tax the rich and corporations
*End the war, bring the troops home, cut military spending
*Protect the social safety net, strengthen Social Security and improved Medicare for all
*End corporate welfare for oil companies and other big business interests
*Transition to a clean energy economy, reverse environmental degradation
*Protect workers rights including collective bargaining, create jobs and raise wages
*Get money out of politics
What made this gathering in D.C. different from many demonstrations in the past was that this was not just a one afternoon demonstration and then we all go home. People came prepared to stay until our voices were heard and we stop the madness of the wars and occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq and bring those hundreds of billions of dollars home to meet needs here in the U.S.
Indeed, according to a recent poll by Time magazine, if Occupy Wall Street were a national candidate for president, it would defeat every other candidate on the stage, including Barack Obama and Mitt Romney. Fifty-four percent of Americans agree with the protesters whereas 44 percent think President Obama is doing a good job. Seventy-three percent of Americans want prosecutions of Wall Street executives for the crisis. Seventy-nine percent think the gap between rich and poor is too large. Eighty-six percent say Wall Street and its lobbyists have too much power in Washington. Sixty-eight percent think the rich should pay more in taxes. Twenty-five percent of the public considers itself upset, 45% is concerned about the country and 25% is downright angry.
The courageous people of Egypt who occupied Freedom Square in Cairo and forced their dictator to resign because he was not listening to and meeting the needs of the Egyptian people were our inspiration. So we came to Freedom Plaza to say with our bodies, Our government is not listening to us. We want to return to a Democracy of, by and for the people, NOT of, by and for the corporations and the wealthy.
My wife Jan and I went to Washington for the first ten days of the occupation of Freedom Plaza and were inspired that thousands of people from all over the country had come to help make history, save our Democracy and stop the horrendous wars which are not only killing thousands of people in Afghanistan and Iraq, but in the words of Martin Luther King, are “destroying the Soul of America.”
This campaign was organized by Veterans for Peace, Vietnam Veterans Against the War, young people of many races, homeless people and peace and justice activists from around the country.
There were a lot of creative signs and banners. Here’s a sampling: “We are the 99%.” Another said, “Tax the Greedy, Help the Needy.”, “There is enough for everyone’s needs, but not for everyone’s greed”. There is enough for everyone’s needs, but not for everyone’s greed”, “Support the Troops, End the wars”, “Affordable Housing is a human right”. “The military budget is killing us. Bring our Billions Home.” “W.A.R. = Wasted American Resources”, “I will believe corporations are people when Georgia executes one!” “Guided missiles, misguided men”, “US is not broke, just broken priorities”, “Windmills not oil spills”, “Separation of Corporations and State”
Here is a taste of some of the people I met at Freedom Plaza. One African American man in his late 20’s told me “This is the most exciting moment of my life. I’ve been waiting my whole life for this. I would have never dreamed it would be possible. Our government represents the rich and the corporations. We need a nonviolent revolution to take back this country for the people. We need a government of, by and for the people, not just the rich and the corporations. . I have found a community of people here who care and are ready to commit our lives to changing our society to one where there is justice and we are at peace with the world. I am ready to stay here the rest of my life if necessary. We shall overcome!”
A veteran said, “What we are producing in Iraq and Afghanistan in addition to thousands of civilian deaths are walking time bombs in our country, as PTSD damages loved ones and communities.” A young man on active duty stated, “The wars are based on lies, and our occupations are exposing the military and Wall Street.” A woman from Washington state said, “I’m fed up with the direction this country is taking. I’m here to rally for future generations.
We walked each day to a different manifestation of the military industrial Wall Street complex in Washington to Speak Truth to Power, voice our concerns and share our determination to change things. We marched to the offices of General Atomics which produces drones and we demanded an end to these long-distance death machines; we were chased out of the building. We marched to the Air and Space Museum exhibiting drones and were tear gassed; the museum was closed for the rest of the day. In front of the Chamber of Commerce we shouted “We want JOBS!”. We demonstrated in front of Washington’s Convention Center which was having a weaponry fair where corporations were showing off and selling their tanks and armored personnel carriers and every conceivable type of military equipment to the US Army. We called for an end to war profiteering and an end to the senseless wars. We filled the atrium of the Hart Senate Office Building with banners from the balconies of all seven floors and chanting: “Stop the Wars! Tax the Rich!” Senate aids later told us they had heard our message. We occupied the National Security Agency and 12 of us were arrested. We marched to the White House where Iraq and Afghanistan veterans and Military Families asked for a “beer summit” with the President to share their personal experiences in the wars and the urgent need to end these wars and military occupations NOW.
Most days some of us would be arrested at these demonstrations. On Sunday evening, Oct 9th hundreds prepared to be arrested rather than be evicted from Freedom Plaza. The next morning the Park Service offered to extend our permit for four months so we could continue our occupation of Freedom Plaza – and keep the tents set up to offer food, legal support, medical, and media.
Each night we had a General Assembly where all major decisions were made by consensus of the hundreds of people present. We also had visits and heard inspirational talks by people like Ralph Nader, Dick Gregory and Patch Adams. Dick Gregory said “We need to be like a turtle – hard on the outside, soft on the inside and willing to stick our neck out…We have already won. We have given people hope.”
Dennis Trainer, Jr said “American Democracy is broken. We are here to fix it. We are here and we are in revolt. We are the 99% and we can and must do this without violence.”
Ralph Nader called for Liberty and Justice for all, not just the few. He suggested that all around this country we surround the Congressional offices (or occupy them) until they agree to represent the people, not corporate interests.” Patch Adams reminded us that our revolution needs to be a “revolution of love” – for one another and for everything on the planet. “The revolution can be fun.”
The Occupy movement is VERY IMPORTANT and is a beacon of hope for not only the 99% of American people who want a return to Democracy and a government of, by and for all the people, but for all the people of the world who have suffered so much from American government acting like the world is our empire. If we can keep the tone and spirit of our movement nonviolent, even in the face of provocation and violence by the police or infiltrators, there is no stopping this movement short of victory. WE SHALL OVERCOME!
David Hartsough is a co-founder of the Nonviolent Peaceforce and Director of PEACEWORKERS, and a member of San Francisco Friends Meeting
For more information on the Ocupation at Freedom Plaza and the other occupations around the country and the world see www.october2011.org and www.occupytogether.org