SCCC & Occupy Seattle – Missed Opportunities

I attended the Seattle Community College Board of Trustees meeting Wednesday that evicted (or, rather is trying to evict), Occupy Seattle from our school and was very disappointed in my college. I was at least glad they weren’t sending in the police with pepper spray to tear down their tents and send them off in the freezing rain the day before Thanksgiving as I feared, and would be given time to leave. I am also glad Occupy Seattle sued to prevent the eviction and a Judge has delayed their eviction at least until they can argue their case in court next Friday.

Lights Out

To add to the surrealness, the lights were out when I first got to the meeting due to a downed line somewhere that was also responsible for no traffic lights at the intersection of Broadway & Pine and lunch in darkness at Taco del Mar. Our main campus, fortunately, was not affected. I was also “greeted” by an overly aggressive security guard, wanting to know why I was there, which did not set me off on the right foot. It was a public meeting and I’m a student at SCCC (which, come to think of it, he should know that as I actually do recognize him after nearly a year of going to school here).

Board Hears from Dr. Killpatrick

Sadly, SCCC President Dr. Killpatrick and the school administration have seemed hostile to Occupy Seattle ever since they moved up from Westlake in October. Which seems very ironic to me, as the issues the Occupy Wall Street and our local chapter bring forward are very relevant to our discussion at school a day earlier on lobbying Olympia next week to try to prevent another 13% budget cut of SCCC’s budget (after very serious cutbacks this year).

SCCC VP Dr. Brown & President Dr. Killpatrick - Budget Discussion

It’s a shame no real attempt was made for a dialogue between SCCC and Occupy Seattle, or rather, it’s  a shame the attempts by at least one of the teachers, Karen Strickland, weren’t listened to.

Karen Strickland on Budget Panel

That we even have the meager offer of Governor Gregoire to put a measure on the ballot of a half percent sales tax to restore some of the draconian state budget cuts has a lot to do with the Occupy movement. It’s also a situation that, even as the early panelists at that meeting who put it forward as our main hope acknowledged, isn’t enough and is a regressive tax. If we have any real hope of change and our legislators being bolder, it will be due to actions by Occupy Seattle and the unions (as well as letters, calls, e-mails, etc from the rest of us; and lobbying by SCCC and others). There’s money there, if we start insisting all these big companies getting out of paying their taxes start paying. There is no reason we should be cutting funding for kids, the elderly, health care and schools instead of having wealthy corporations pay their share.

Seattle Community College Board of Trustees

Sadly, the board had really already made up their mind, and were looking for an opportunity to evict Occupy Seattle, which came from a sensationalized account of an attempted sexual assault on our local Fox affiliate, Q13, that was played at the hearing. I don’t want to make light of the assault, nor the concerns of the young woman student who testified, nor say that Occupy doesn’t have to come up with a better security plan. It’s just that this was what the board was looking for, to prove their painting of the demonstrators as dirty and dangerous was correct (along with health department reports, which the camp is trying to comply with).

That some of the real homeless have joined the camp and become members of the Occupy Seattle community is one of the issues.  I actually think they should be commended for that and agree with the post of the Antifa working group of Decolonize/Occupy Seattle (which I believe is short for Anti-fascist) that in general the homeless belong. Nothing highlights the disparity of our society more, and why this happened probably has a lot to do with 15 shelters closing and throwing out about 300 people into the cold in October as the Occupy Seattle was getting going at Westlake. Thankfully the shelters reopened a couple of weeks later, though I imagine some of them came to Occupy Seattle and stayed. I doubt the homeless who are causing problems were from the shelters though.

The Antifa working group’s post does come with the realization that they can’t handle people too seriously messed up with drugs, no matter how nice they are when they’re not using. I think there has been a learning curve and one thought is for them to talk to people at Nickelsville and other tent cities who must have come up with some kind of plan early on, both for the safety of themselves and the surrounding community, and because they are under constant scrutiny from people who see the very fact that they’re homeless as a threat. Where possible, they could try to hook people with mental illness and drug problems with people who can help, and DESC comes to mind. It’s just that, unfortunately, the whole safety net has been seriously slashed. Very much part of the issues that the Occupy movement has taken on. I just don’t think they’re in a position to deal with those with the most serious issues along with changing and challenging the economic order that creates the situation.

Lost in all of this, for the most part, has been the opportunity for real communication between my fellow classmates and the members of Occupy Seattle. SCCC a school with a mission to educate all, and draws from a diverse student body, probably more from working class or poor backgrounds than most 4 year colleges.  Immigrants, students who many have struggled through high school, returning students like me on worker retraining or VA benefits. In short, the 99%, with even more of a common cause with the Occupy Wall Street movement than schools like US Berkeley, UC Davis and Harvard that are actively protesting on Occupy issues, if they understood.

Unfortunately, there hasn’t been much of a dialogue, and between administration warnings, news reports, and a few actual bad encounters, many of my classmates are either hostile or fearful of Occupy Seattle.


An Occupy Seattle Circle of Protection

Blessed are the peace makers! I am totally in awe of Reverend Rich Lang and the scene I witnessed yesterday at the Occupy Seattle press conference calling for police accountability following Tuesday night’s pepper spraying of Reverend Lang, 84-year-old Dorli Rainey, a young pregnant woman who had to go to the hospital and many others. Following his testimony, and after we heard from Dorli and the young woman, Reverend Lang asked us all to form a circle of protection around the police officers. He proceeded to talk with the officers, and a captain responded, about seeing each other as human beings, not using excessive force and the problems militarization of the police have caused, and how the issues we’re protesting with Occupy Seattle affect them and their families as well.

Reverend Rich Lang Talks With the Police

The stories we heard first were serious and reports were made to the Seattle Police Department’s Office of Professional Accountability and no doubt lawsuits will be filed. This kind of police abuse has to change and coming together and seeing each other as human is one step in the right direction. Police training, policy and accountability have to change as well, though. Sadly, this is all seeming too familiar, thinking back to WTO and the protests of that era and a series of police shootings in the African-American community around the same time.

Dorli Rainey

Dorli Rainey spoke first, and it was awesome to be part of her mic check. Dorli is an inspiration, taking her assault by pepper spray with a sense of humor, and using it to bring forward the issues.  It’s still very disturbing that members of the police department pepper sprayed an 84-year-old woman directly, which is a new low (as was a police spokesperson afterwards saying pepper spray is okay for all ages).

Young Pregnant Woman Who Was Pepper Sprayed

We had a lot of media coverage for Dorli; but most of them were gone before we heard from the young woman, Reverend Lang and others.  The young woman’s story was even more disturbing. In addition to being pepper sprayed, she was pushed by an officer with a bike and punched in the stomach. All after telling them she was pregnant, and, when she confronted one of the officers when she saw him later, he said she deserved it. Even more disturbing, now that I think about it, this is not new. We had several incidents of officers getting really abusive of young women protesters in the demonstrations immediately following WTO.  Not much has been said in the mainstream media about what happened to her case.

Reverend Rich Lang

Reverend Lang spoke briefly to the crowd about his pepper spraying before suggesting we form a protective circle around the officers and starting a dialogue with him. Six officers sprayed him directly in the face Tuesday night, in spite of his clerical garments. Reverend Lang talked to the officers about how much we have in common with them. He spoke about how they were there to protect us and the militarization of the police was the wrong path. He talked about the way society is heading with the increasing gap between the rich and the rest of us. That the police are affected by the same issues and his concern for the younger generation, which is feeling the brunt of this; and that it affects the officers’ children as well. He talked about seeing those of us in the Occupy movement as individuals and that we are not the enemy. You could tell that the officers and Occupy Seattle people alike were really moved by what the Reverend said.

Police Captain

The police captain spoke next and acknowledged our commonalities and asked us to view them as individuals and not brand them all on the actions of a few. A fair point, and I am glad Reverend Lang created a space for us to see each other as people. Which isn’t to say the issues of police accountability and policy don’t still need to be addressed.

Young Man Who Was Pepper Sprayed

Then a young man spoke who had talked earlier about having been pepper sprayed at Tuesday’s demonstration and one earlier that he had filed a report on. He wanted to know if he had been targeted for reporting the previous incident. He found this particularly upsetting because he had been “raised by the cops,” in his words. It turned out he knew many of the Seattle Police officers from years of participating in the Special Olympics and volunteering for their events. That human to human connection evidently lost for the moment Tuesday night and in the other incident.

Woman Clergy Member Pepper Sprayed

Then a woman who described herself as the “other clergy member” pepper sprayed Tuesday night spoke about the need for redemption. She talked accountability and a change in the way police are viewing groups of people, not only the members of Occupy Seattle (particularly the ones camping out), but driving while black and also treatment of those homeless or drunk. One important accountability issue she asked for was that records of correspondence and the orders given to the police in handling the Occupy movement be made public. I’m wondering not only about SPD, but orders from further away, as it has already came out that Homeland Security is involved in coordinating raids on Occupy encampments nationwide. The use of pepper spray against peaceful demonstrators is an ongoing theme. Is it just bad policing in so many cities and campuses, or are orders coming from further up?

Buddhist Peace Fellowship Member

A member of the Buddhist Peace Fellowship led us in a round of Keep Your Eyes on the Prize to close out the press conference. I saw many conversations starting between demonstrators and officers.  It turned out one of the officers was in the awkward position of having the same last name as one of the officers accused of punching the pregnant woman in the stomach and pepper spraying her. This was not entirely coincidental, as the two officers were related, perhaps a reminder not to judge people on the actions of their family members as well, and he hugged the woman.

It was an incredible moment to have witnessed and I think there needs to be more dialogues of peace like this opened up nationwide.

Occupy Seattle Baptized in Pepper Spray

So, Tuesday night while I was getting ready and literally running late for the cross town 48 to go to the inaugural Transit Riders Union meeting the police were downtown pepper spraying (A) an 84-year-old woman, (B) a minister in clerical clothes, (C) a pregnant woman or (D) all of the above?

I wish it wasn’t so, but the answer is (D), which tells you a lot about what has been happening with the police once again with the Occupy movement. Ironically, former Police Chief Norm Stamper just wrote an article in the Nation Magazine about his regrets for giving the orders during WTO and the increasing militarization of the police.

My support for a militaristic solution caused all hell to break loose. Rocks, bottles and newspaper racks went flying. Windows were smashed, stores were looted, fires lighted; and more gas filled the streets, with some cops clearly overreacting, escalating and prolonging the conflict. The “Battle in Seattle,” as the WTO protests and their aftermath came to be known, was a huge setback—for the protesters, my cops, the community.

Indeed, that mentality still exists in Seattle. A quote on KOMO news (and this was after reports that the victims included 84-year-old Dorli Rainey, a pregnant woman and a priest – ok, there was slightly in error – on Reverend Lang’s religion): ” ”Pepper spray was deployed only against subjects who were either refusing a lawful order to disperse or engaging in assaultive behavior toward officers,’ said Seattle police spokesman Jeff Kappel.”

Hope the pregnant woman and her future child are okay. Dorli Rainey and the Reverend Rich Lang have come out of this energized, as violence only helps galvanize a movement.

Dorli tells what happened in the video above, on Keith Olbermann’s Countdown and there is no excuse for it. The crowd was getting ready to leave, and as Dorli notes, the way Occupy works this is no secret, there was a “mic check,” which would have loudly told them that. Instead of letting the crowd peacefully disburse, the police corralled them into the intersection with bicycles and let loose the pepper spray. It could have been much worse for Dorli, who nearly fell and could have been trampled by the crowd, but an Iraq vet nearby helped her. Listen to Dorli’s historical perspective on this, having lived in Austria during Hitler. Interesting as well, her perspective on the money interests from JP Morgan to our downtown developers for the downtown tunnel.

From the Countdown site:

She cites the advice of the late Catholic nun and activist Jackie Hudson to “take one more step out of your comfort zone” as an inspiration, saying, “It would be so easy to say, ‘Well I’m going to retire, I’m going to sit around, watch television or eat bonbons,’ but somebody’s got to keep ’em awake and let ’em know what is really going on in this world.”

Equally inspiring was the response of the Reverend Rich Lang of the University Temple Church posted by Bob Beatie on Facebook.

You could feel the tension and raw energy crinkling throughout the air as the marchers once again began their journey into downtown Seattle. The Occupy Movement is the prophetic voice of God calling out to the nation to “repent” and turn from its ways of corruption. Those who camp are a rag-tag, motley crew made up of mostly young adults, mostly unemployed, almost all of whom are alienated and cast out of America’s promise of liberty and justice for all. They are our canaries, the first fruits being devoured by the Beast of Empire.

The police knew who Reverend Lang was. “Throughout the march I, as a Pastor in full clergy alb, stole and cross, acted as a peacekeeper placing myself between the police line and the Occupy Movement. On four occasions I stepped between verbal battles between the police and the protesters.”

What happened?

The incident was minor in nature. A girl, dressed in Anarchist black waving the Anarchist black flag was plastered side by side with an officer on the bike. They were jawboning each other. At one point her flag was thrust in his direction — a provocation yes – threatening?—no. The officer grabbed the flag and in the pulling, pulled down the girl. Her friends reacted jumping in to pull her away from the officer. It was at this point that the first wave of pepper spray went off.

Point — one might think the officer acted within reason, that the officer was suddenly threatened. But with what? By whom? The friends of the offender were grabbing for the girl, they were not grabbing at the police. Basically the officer, and his comrades, were trigger happy as if they couldn’t wait for just this moment. And so the spray went forth.

I leapt to the front and tried to place myself between the parties — with spray in the air the protesters were also fleeing. Separation between the police line and the protesters was clearly visible … there was certainly no threat of the “mob” suddenly rampaging into the well armed police. The separation had occurred (as can be clearly seen on the video captured by King 5 News). But the spray continued. I walked between the lines, I was alone, I was in full clergy dress, everyone knew who I was and what I was — with the protesters fleeing and the police line holding — with my back to the police and my hands waving the protesters to get back — alone in full alb, stole and cross — six officers turned their spray on me thoroughly soaking my alb and then one officer hit me full throttle in the face.

Wow. . . “Seattle’s finest”. . . ?

I praise the courage and compassion, the discipline and the decency of the Occupy Movement. Out of the rag-tag mob came help, grabbing my hands, leading me (I was blind by then) to the wall and administering care and concern for my well being. The protesters were assembled around all the wounded, and maintained the discipline of nonviolence (granted the nonviolence was in behavior but not language). And they were not afraid. The spraying had been a baptism sealing them into the security of knowing that their prophecy of repentance was indeed the Spirit-Word through them — it is as if they did not prophecy their very bones would melt within them. Against the wall in increasing pain and burning I realized I was in the midst of church.

The police, on the other hand, were afraid. Their quick use of chemical warfare reveals how cowardly they are. The unwillingness of their commanders to maintain discipline reveals how incompetent they are becoming — the only tool in their bag is brutality and like a drunken raging father beating wife and kids, the police have increasingly disgraced themselves. Step by step they are being shaped into the front face of fascism, the emerging police state that protects the property interests of the Marie Antionette’s who have seized control of our government, commerce, media, military and increasingly the Church itself.

Wow again, and this time for the Reverend speaking truth to power.

There’s more. . . Reverend Lang not only calls out the police, he calls out his fellow clergy members to act:

My question to my clergy colleagues is this: Where are you? How much longer can you preach without practice? How dare you remain protected in your sanctuary while your people (the rag-tag mob of the least, last and lost whom Jesus loved) are slaughtered doing that which God has commissioned you to do (prophecy!). Where are you? Who have you become in this age of baptism by pepper spray? Do you not know how much power you have to stop our national descent into chaos? Don’t you realize that the world is your parish and right before your eyes the Spirit of God is doing a new thing? Can’t you hear that God’s judgment is upon the land? God is against the thieves that bankrupted our nation. God is against the armies of the Beast who pillage other lands in our name, and turn and destroy our people on our own soil. Are you blind? — Perhaps you need a baptism of pepper spray in your eyes to restore your vision.

And to the police I say this — there are always the brutal ones in our midst. As colleagues you have the moral responsibility to police your own. If your commanders order you to brutalize your people you have a Higher Command that says, “disarm yourself, turn away from your sin, renounce the orders of unrighteousness.” And in doing so, cross the line, come over and join us because we are the winning side of history. And we welcome your repentance and heal you of your shame.

And to the church, beloved church I say, you cannot sing the hymns of faith if you are too afraid to live that faith. In Amos it says to silence your sacred assemblies and let JUSTICE burst forth. Our nation, with the nations of the world, are under an assault of tyranny and treason of the 1% against creation itself. You may not worship God until and unless you care for the image of God living in those tents and prophesying on your behalf. Once the Powers sweep the Tents away, if you dare to lift your voice even a peep, you too will be swept away. But the destiny of the church, the Body of Christ, is not one of quiet passivity and fear, our destiny is to bear witness having no fear of the Cross because even now we have crossed over into resurrection.

I am reminded of the preacher in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath and Springsteen‘s The Ghost of Tom Joad (below with Tom Morello, who sang his intense version when he was in town at the Crocodile last month – more on that soon, hopefully):

We really have gotten that dark again, and for a lot of people it is already like the Great Depression times. What the Reverend recognizes in the Occupy Seattle encampment members that most people don’t want to see. We can’t keep going down this road without there being dire consequences.  Yes, there is more desperation for the homeless and others on the bottom.  How far down have we gotten as a society, as a state – the supposedly progressive state of Washington, when we already have kids living in tent cities because their families have been permanently cut off after reaching a lifetime maximum of assistance as the PI reported? Yet Chase is going tax-free on their mortgage interest income in Washington state, and, oh, surprise, as Dorli Rainey mentions in her interview, their affiliate JP Morgan has their hand prints all over that tunnel.

On the pepper spraying, the Mayor McGinn did apologize to Dorli Rainey (whom he knows personally) and the others, and I was glad to see his statement on the city website. I have to say, after reading the Mayor’s comments in the Seattle Times article after hearing Dorli Rainey and the Reverend Rich Lang’s accounts, that I agree with Occupy Seattle that his response was inadequate. Mayor McGinn echoed the police claim about a “violent element,” and from my own experience the night Chase CEO Jamie Dimon came to town and Dorli & the Reverend’s accounts of Tuesday night, the “violent element” trying to provoke a reaction is the Seattle Police Department. The crowd has been amazingly restrained, even after being pepper sprayed. Maybe the Mayor’s statements below were before he heard from Dorli Rainey and others?

He said he understood that some protesters in the crowd Tuesday, as well as during previous clashes with police, used the cover of the crowd to provoke violence.

“We’re well aware that there are individuals who have been extraordinarily provocative to police over the last six weeks. That was my point in apologizing to peaceful protesters.”

We’ll see how the police treat everyone when we cross the Montlake Bridge tonight. Union members as well as Occupy Seattle will be present. If I hadn’t been through WTO, I would believe that would mean a little more restraint from Seattle’s finest, who claim their guild as a union when they try do prevent meaningful police accountabilty from coming to Seattle.

Then, shades of Footloose in Seattle again, the Seattle Parks Department is trying to deny a permit for a hip-hop dance Friday night for Occupy Seattle at Westlake because it’s too late after dark. Now, what time does it get dark in Seattle in the winter?:

Dewey Potter, parks spokeswoman, said nearby residents had complained about noise during two previous concerts. The department asked the Occupy Seattle representatives not to amplify music after dark, which falls at about 5:30 p.m.

Yes, that’s right, kids – Seattle rolls up it’s sidewalks at 5:30 pm Friday nights! No demon rock and roll hip-hop! So, given the concern for sensibilities of downtown residents, I guess all Downtown Seattle Association‘s evening holiday festivities at Westlake are also cancelled this year? After all, this isn’t just about silencing the freedom of speech of young people, is it?

Occupy Town Hall – Establishment Tells The Ki. . .MIC CHECK!

The words to The Times They Are a Changin’ were running though my mind at Town Hall Saturday night, especially the lines “Your old road is rapidly agin’/Please get out of the new one if you can’t lend your hand.” I’ll admit at times being frustrated and/or befuddled the mostly young Occupy Seattle members, but I was always inspired.

JM Wong from Occupy Seattle Speaks

While I may not fully understand the people’s mic (everyone echoing what the speaker says), or at least the usefulness of it when there are real microphones, the fact that everyone learns to really listen seems to really have made the movement “leader-full” as they put it, rather than leaderless.  We have not seen a generation of young and/or marginalized people find their voice like this since the 60s. . .and. . .they weren’t taking any guff (or sound bite management) from the establishment (some of whom, well, maybe Nick Licata at least, may have been those young people fighting the establishment in the 60s).

Councilmember Nick Licata Moderates

Now, Nick is one of our better politicians, but I had to acknowledge that even he represented the status quo or establishment Saturday night. I came even more around to seeing the young people’s point of view when I just checked out who the other establishment members of the panel were, other than Nick Licata and Lynn Dodson of the Washington State Labor Council, both of whom I’ve voted for in the past. While I appreciate the unions being out there on this, and, in fact am more likely to be involved in a protest they and some of the other more established groups are involved in, I was glad to see that Occupy Seattle members were not willing to be co-opted by the unions or Democratic operatives.

But, who else was on the panel, from the establishment side? I checked the Town Hall event page tonight before I blogged to figure that out. . .

Occupy Town Hall

Why were a venture capitalist (Nick Hanauer) and a, umm, yes, Democratic operative (Frank Greer), chosen as part of the panel in an Occupy Seattle discussion?

Frank Greer

Greer, who it turns out was a consultant for both Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, especially grated as he tried to lecture the Occupy movement into developing neat little, sound bite ready, goals. While I appreciate his involvement in the Civil Rights movement in the 60s, it was considerably more of an inspired movement and struggle than the couple laws eventually passed he claimed it was all about.

Mic check!

Mic Check!

Come to think of it, the Occupy people were right on with their mic check that anti-establishment paper The Stranger so lampoons.

Vote on People's Mic vs Real Mic

While you can count me as one of those people who didn’t see the point of having a people’s mic when we had a real mic (hey, I’m over 50, long past the age you can trust me), and it did take a bit of time out of the discussion to have the vote (which turned out to be in favor of using real microphones), only a few people left over it, and the room remained packed, with the people engaged. Many in the audience were older  than me and didn’t seem at all offended by the young people (and for that matter, there were members of Occupy Seattle, older than me, voting with them).

People's Assembly Signals

We also got instructions on all the hand signals for an Occupy Seattle People’s Assembly, including twinkling (with raised fingers) instead of clapping in agreement. Something missed by The Stranger reporter was that most of the cheering or booing was by us those of us who weren’t really Occupy-ers (though, by hand count early on, most of us in the room consider ourselves Occupy-ers. . .well, maybe at least we’re part of the 99%). Occupy folks used their hand signals, including the hurry it up signal for Greer, which he complained about. The groaning earlier on about his sound bite strategy came from many of the non-active Occupy-ers in the room as well.

While I think the Occupy Seattle folks should take into account, that especially to the un-initiated, heading straight into a people’s mic style might not always be the best way to communicate (and the world does need to hear what they are saying), I also think the rest of the panel represented the status quo, lesser-of-two evils system that brought us to this point.  I think at least a couple of the other panelists said they were waiting for this movement to come along. Yet now that it has, they want to change it, back into their image, of sound bites and Democratic party politics; which hasn’t been working well (maybe because the Democrats are owned by Wall Street almost as much as the Republicans?).

Somehow, I don’t think that’s what the Occupy Seattle folks are camping out in the cold for. . .

. . .and I’ll admit, I don’t get the long-term camping out strategy; especially as I’m hoping to avoid ending up in a tent city as the economy tanks and my worker retraining funding seems shaky. I am impressed at how dedicated these Occupy people are, and that they’re not willing to be co-opted.

Josh Farris

I think Josh Farris of Occupy Seattle made an important point when he responded to the other panelists trying to craft the Occupy movement into what they wanted it to be, which is why don’t they go out and do what they think needs to be done themselves? I think there are two points to that. One, why were already established organizations like the unions waiting for something to come along (and, I think, are too willing to let the Democrats they elect sell out)? Second, now that the Occupy movement is shining a light on the inequities and the corruption of Wall Street money and corporate greed on the system; why not take a strong stand, maybe in coalition with Occupy and others?

I’m heartened to hear that even the people I’m calling the establishment panelists are going down to Olympia to fight Governor Gregoire’s new budget, with its draconian cuts once again; but. . .are they just going to take the establishment line, like our Democratic Governor whom most of us voted for, that we can’t raise any taxes because of the Republicans?We can’t ask all those businesses we let go tax-free, including Chase getting an in-state tax break just for buying WAMU at a fire sale (while laying off thousands of Washington state workers), to pay any taxes. We  have to instead make a Sophie’s choice of which group of societies most vulnerable we cut and send off to Nickelsville.

Seriously, according to the Seattle PI, we now have families with children living in the Nickelsville tent city. Families who have had their safety net totally cut away in the last round of budget cuts, with a lifetime cap on assistance some of them have already reached.

We can’t have corporations like Chase pay their taxes, though. . .

Mic check!

Un-Occupy-ing the Big Banks

People are breaking up with the big banks! Tuesday’s protest against Chase CEO Jamie Dimon and yesterday’s National Bank Transfer Day were truly inspiring. According to the Credit Union National Association (CUNA), at least 650,000 people have joined credit unions within the last month as of Friday, the day before the official National Bank Transfer Day (further inspiring – a movement started by one woman’s Facebook post!).

A number of people went into and closed their accounts Saturday at both the Chase branch across the street, then the Bank of America branch at Westlake park.

Bank Transfer Day - Seattle

While I understand they are part of the 99% and don’t blame the big banks’ local employees, they do need to either get educated or stop telling lies about credit unions. I forget what else they claimed to one of the customers closing their account that set me off, but one of the things they were whining about was that credit unions don’t pay taxes. That would be income tax, which is true – because credit unions are non-profit cooperatives, where all the customers are co-owners who get to vote on polices and there are no shareholders getting wealthy off ripping people off with bad loans and excessive fees.

I’ve been with the Seattle Metropolitan Credit Union for several years, having left Washington Mutual (or WAMU!, as they liked to call themselves), before the crash and Chase taking over. I still have free checking, no charges from SMCU for using other institutions ATMs, and a nationwide network of  credit unions and ATMs I can use for free (including ATMs at 7-11, which admittedly is a little strange).

There are a number of reasons to take your money out of the big banks and go to a credit union or community bank. Fees are one of them. I couldn’t afford $5 or $10 a month for my checking account, yet it’s the customers who have the least money the banks like Chase and Bank of America charge (although they did back down, due to the protests, on charging a monthly fee for using their debit cards as well).  True, they are a business, and if they want to run a business model charging those who can least afford it to subsidize those who have the largest accounts, they can do it. I fortunately still have a choice not to keep my money there (and wouldn’t even if I were one of the wealthy. For shame! Exploiting the poor, like you need it more?).

However, taking taxpayer money for a bailout (with your CEO, who makes $10,000 an hour, on the Fed board, no less), not paying any taxes and foreclosing on homeowners trying their best to pay their bills is not okay, even if it is legal.

Which is what brought so many of us out into the street in the rain Tuesday night, to protest Chase CEO Jamie Dimon:

I’ve already mentioned in my last post some of the reasons we’re protesting Chase (and in my post before that, Bank of America).  Here’s a little more from Working Washington‘s blog entry, November 5: We’re breaking up with the Big Banks (and remember, according to the Seattle school teachers at the other protest, Chase is getting away with not paying taxes on mortgage interest as an in-state bank):

Chase Bank hasn’t been a good relationship. When they first took over Washington Mutual they fired 3400 employees as a way of introducing themselves to our state. They then raised fees on social services like EBT for which they were already being paid by the state at the ridiculous cost of $8 million a year, your tax dollars not at work.

Chase Bank didn’t stop there. They then gave even larger bonuses and pay to their CEO Jamie Dimon ballooning his pay to nearly $10,000 per hour. In fact, he is the highest paid banker in the United States. His earnings have exploded while he continues to foreclose on Washingtonians; nearly 10,000 and counting while making a profit on food stamps from folks who can least afford it.

Now, don’t feel too bad about Jamie Dimon, according to a Seattle Times article about his visit and the protest, he doesn’t lose any sleep at night. Having a lot of money and no conscious will do that for you!

Too much pepper spray flying once again (shades of WTO and the protests shortly after), and I evidently just narrowly avoided getting hit both at the protest I happened upon after my last class let out (maybe 2:30 or 3 pm) at the Chase branch on Capitol Hill on Broadway and at the Sheraton where Jamie Dimon was speaking (video below by Jonathan Walczak of the Seattle Weekly). Ironically, the Sheraton is within a block of the Washington State Convention Center which hosted the WTO a decade ago.

While I wasn’t crazy about some of the “f@#k the cops” chants or the challenging people just trying to get home by the mostly young protesters at that earlier protest; after seeing the photo of the cops pepper spraying them in the Seattle Times, I’d have to say that they were remarkably restrained.

I was heartened to see so many more people, and including a lot of union members and a Marine with an American flag, by the time the rally and march to greet Chase CEO Jamie Dimon started at 6 pm, in the cold and pouring rain. We even had older people in wheelchairs taking to the streets and one woman on oxygen (which made me very nervous, as she was near the front, like I was, just behind some young people in bandannas and even gas masks, with the already itchy fingered SPD with their hands on their pepper spray canisters. I was glad when her friends persuaded her to move back).

Myself? I sometimes moved back, and sometimes was up near the front, taking pictures, and I checked out the action at all the exits the crowd had eventually blocked. I was generally hanging back just a bit, but ran into a friend and ally who came to America after being involved in the protests at Tiananmen Square in China, and really didn’t feel like chickening out as she went up front and even talked to one of the police officers (fortunately, not while they were into pepper spraying). Which did put things a little in perspective, as I don’t think SPD would get that bad, at least not deliberately, but one of the did have a gun with, I think, rubber bullets ready; and as Oakland showed, people can be seriously hurt by “less-lethal” (and unneeded) weapons.

I noticed the headlights on the police helmets, which I suspect was to make it harder to photograph or videotape their excesses. On the other hand, I could read their name tags and they didn’t seem to be covering those over, which was an issue during the WTO era.

SPD's Helmet Lights

I know a lot is made of the excesses of a few protesters, like the “black block” anarchists in Oakland that same night. I’m not defending them, but anyone focusing on the actions of a handful, when thousands were peacefully taking the highway and closing down the port in a mostly peaceful general strike in Oakland is missing the point.

Teachers Educate Chase Bank

I went down to Westlake and joined Occupy Seattle‘s Robin Hood Tax protest yesterday. I got a good education on Chase Bank‘s corporate greed from Seattle’s school teachers.

Teachers Give Chase a Lesson

It turns out Chase hasn’t been paying any state tax on mortgage interest income, thanks to a loophole created for Washington Mutual as an in-state bank. Chase is based in Manhattan, so how did they get to keep that loophole when they bought WAMU for pennies for a dollar? According to the Social Equality Educators website: “Their fair share would add nearly $100 million per year to our State’s sorely strapped budget.”  Closing loopholes for out-of-state banks sounds like a good place to start to turn around our grim budget our Governor proposed to us Thursday, instead of cutting education, health and social services.

I, ironically, missed the largest march so far, the previous Saturday, catching up on other things, and having been to the march the Saturday before that.  I want to mention that because if, like me, you missed that one, it might seem like energy is waning.

Here’s a video from their march through Pike Place Market:

They were protesting Chase then as well. Following Governor Gregoire’s draconian proposals for our state budget, even though she and other Democrats say they don’t want to do it; I think we need to push them and the Republicans, who are all too willing to cut social services, health and education, on why we’re giving an out-of-state bank a free ride. Its time to end corporate welfare, and they are the ones who should be shamed, not the people who end up out of work or underemployed, just struggling to get by for themselves and their families.

Ironically, Chase even profits on that:

Chase Profits for Food Stamps

Why does Washington, and other states, pay to have their food stamp cards run through Chase bank? Why not have them through a credit union, say for Washington, WSECU, the Washington State Employees Credit Union? Why, in fact, is there apparently a state law that limits cities like Seattle to using only the largest banks, according to the city budget director interviewed in The Stranger, in response to Nick Licata’s proposed resolution for the city to review its banking and investment practices?

OK, I’m off on a tangent. Back to this Saturday’s rally, which was about a proposal to pass a version of the Robin Hood Tax, an idea that originated in England. What Adbusters proposed is taxing 1% of financial transactions and currency trades.

Sounds like a good idea to me. Sadly, the money has been going in the other direction, with the public bailing out the poor bankers, who apparently can’t manage their money properly. Shouldn’t we have some case managers if we’re going to have corporate welfare?

How much corporate welfare? Just for starters, the results first Federal Reserve audit, which happened thanks to an amendment added to the Wall Street reform law by Senator Bernie Sanders (VT):

The first top-to-bottom audit of the Federal Reserve uncovered eye-popping new details about how the U.S. provided a whopping $16 trillion in secret loans to bail out American and foreign banks and businesses during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression.

$16 trillion – that’s a lot of money, and with some of that (plus interest – it’s a loan, right?) would do a lot towards balancing the budget and we might not need to take a Credo action to tell Congress not to use Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security as bargaining chips.

 “As a result of this audit, we now know that the Federal Reserve provided more than $16 trillion in total financial assistance to some of the largest financial institutions and corporations in the United States and throughout the world,” said Sanders. “This is a clear case of socialism for the rich and rugged, you’re-on-your-own individualism for everyone else.”

Not to mention the conflicts of interest that the Federal Reserve routinely gives waivers for:

For example, the CEO of JP Morgan Chase served on the New York Fed’s board of directors at the same time that his bank received more than $390 billion in financial assistance from the Fed.  Moreover, JP Morgan Chase served as one of the clearing banks for the Fed’s emergency lending programs.

Would that be the CEO of Chase who is coming here to Seattle, and Occupy Seattle is planning to protest, starting at 5:30 pm Wednesday? Seems like we have a lot to talk about. . .

Occupy – Reason for Real Hope?

I am inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement and the local gatherings like Occupy Seattle.  I have hope, almost (which is scary, because I remember what happened last time, or rather, what didn’t . . . on so many issues). Pete Seeger, Arlo Guthrie and friends playing Occupy Wall Street at Columbus Circle reminded me of those heady days when so many of us thought “Change” was possible.

Yet, that is part of the hope, both in seeing what the people did via so much grass-roots activism in getting Obama elected, and in the realization of most of us this time not to put our faith in a candidate and on the Democrats being different enough from the Republicans. Turns out too many of them are owned by Wall Street, too (and that is one of the most crucial things that needs to change, which is indeed a formidable goal).

Occupy Seattle March

Why are people occupying and marching? Is it really as vague, incomprehensible and unreasonable as some pundits make it? Personally, I think the “We are the 99%” and “Banks got bailed out, we got sold out” slogans do a pretty good job of explaining why people are so upset.

Lets see, according to The Atlantic, “Half of all workers made less than $26,364, the median wage in 2010,” and “The size of the missing workforce is 10 million. ” In spite of being bailed out at public expense, banks are raising fees and trying to foreclose on people they talked into loans with unfair terms, even “losing” paperwork so they can foreclose, as in the case of Dixie Mitchell and her husband in Seattle which was reported in the PI (and fortunately, Washington CAN is helping them fight).

Alternet‘s article, Which Bank is Worst for America? details how the banks congressional influence led to the collapse.

One of its biggest coups was the overturning of the Glass-Steagall Act, a Depression-era law that created a firewall between investment banking and the commercial banks that hold deposits and make loans.

How much of our tax dollars went to the bailout?

Among our big five, Citigroup was the largest beneficiary of these funds, with $45 billion, but even Goldman Sachs got $10 billion. Wachovia/Wells Fargo and JP Morgan got $25 billion each, while Bank of America got $30 billion. According to ProPublica’s calculations, the big five have all paid back their TARP funds.

Oh, they’ve paid it all back? Wait, there’s more.

But TARP was only one way in which the federal government subsidized the big banks. The Federal Reserve also handed out trillions in unsupervised loans during the so-called crisis period.

And if those numbers weren’t big enough, just this August Bloomberg reported even more secret Fed loans to the big banks: “The $1.2 trillion peak on Dec. 5, 2008 — the combined outstanding balance under the seven programs tallied by Bloomberg — was almost three times the size of the U.S. federal budget deficit that year and more than the total earnings of all federally insured banks in the U.S. for the decade through 2010, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.”

Just a coincidence, I’m sure, that so many in Congress, Democrats as well as Republicans, had large donations from Wall Street.

Just who are the recipients of all this largesse? There are many, but most play key roles on Congressional committees that oversee their businesses. Consider just one example: Senator Chuck Schumer, D-New York, one of the most powerful members of Congress (Schumer is known as “the senator from Wall Street”).

According to the National Journal‘s rankings, Schumer is tied with two others as the 10th “most liberal” member of the upper chamber. But he owes his career to Wall Street.

The article also notes that “(t)wo of Obama’s top bundlers are also connected to Goldman Sachs,” but “Mitt Romney is the clear favorite candidate of Wall Street this year, having taken in $2,339,588 from securities and investment companies.” Don’t despair, or rather, do despair, if you’re not a Wall Street banker, because the Washington Post reports that:

. . .Obama has brought in more money from employees of banks, hedge funds and other financial service companies than all of the GOP candidates combined, according to a Washington Post analysis of contribution data.

As the Washington Post notes in another article:

(I)n the tug of war between Main Street and Wall Street, Obama has made his loyalties clear. Just take a look at the long list of Wall Street contributors to his campaign. Unfortunately, Mr. President, you are the company you keep.

How corrupt is Congress? According to the Spectator:

Uniquely among legislatures in the developed world, our Congressional parties now post prices for key slots on committees. You want it — you buy it, runs the challenge. They even sell on the installment plan: You want to chair an important committee? That’ll be $200,000 down and the same amount later, through fundraising. Unlike most retailers, though, Congressional leaders selling committee positions never offer discounts. Prices only drift up over time.

Bank of America is trying to get more taxpayer funds, to cover their derivatives, which apparently many be ready to blow.

Why is Bank of America moving derivatives from Merrill Lynch to an insured subsidiary? Is it because the derivatives could blow up at any time leaving Merrill with gigantic, unsustainable losses? If that’s the case, then it would make perfect sense to shift them into a depository institution that’s covered by the FDIC. That way, the taxpayers would wind up paying for the damage and no one would be the wiser.

Back to the Occupy movement. I’m inspired that people are on the street, especially because they’ve got the rest of us talking. That is something that cannot be taken away, even though some jurisdictions are trying to crack down on protesters and Twitter may or may not be censoring trends (and maybe even tweets, although that may be my own paranoia and lack of sleep at the time; more at a later date).  What is going to be exciting is what changes are we going to be pushing for?  No matter how impossible it seems, getting money out of politics has got to be a major one if any other changes are going to work.