May 2012 19

by Nicole Powers

[Tom Morello and a crowd that sartorially supports a Robin Hood tax]

After 50 hours on the road, and three days without a proper night’s sleep, tiredness was becoming a serious factor. Our ragtag group of activists, occupiers, and livestreamers had gathered in Pershing Square between 3 and 4 AM on the morning of Wednesday, May 16, and most, including us, had foregone sleep the night before in order to make last-minute preparations. The expected 4 AM departure of the three 99% Solidarity-organized and National Nurses United-funded Los Angeles occu-buses had been delayed for two hours while we awaited the arrival of the Bay Area Nine – a heroic group of Oakland and San Francisco occupiers who had traveled down via Greyhound after their direct ride to Chicago had been cancelled at short notice. It was therefore around 6 AM before we finally set off from Downtown LA.

Our journey time had been further extended by two separate cases of overheated-engine syndrome as we convoyed through the Nevada desert, and a minor medical emergency 100+ miles away from the Illinois state line. A few over-extended, but essential, pee and smoke breaks had also impacted our ETA. When we arrived at our final destination, a short walk away from Occupy Chicago’s Convergence Center at around 6 AM on Friday May 19, we were nearly half a day late. But despite the exhaustion, our spirits were for the most part high, boosted by the excitement of what was to come, and by the beauty of the city, which the majority of our group had never visited before.

As one of three designated bus captains, I hung around to make sure everyone was situated. Since the lateness of our arrival meant we’d mostly missed our accommodation opportunities for the night, some of our group decided to join other occupiers who were occupying Lake Michigan’s beach, some headed off to meet with friends, and the rest followed representatives from Occupy Chicago, who had kindly greeted us with an offer of breakfast, which would be served was soon as their Convergence Center opened at 8.30 AM.

With photos to edit and upload, and words such as these to file, I headed to a motel room which was serving as 99% Solidarity’s temporary base. Having been starved of a reliable internet connection for the past two days, there was much to catch up on, and very little time, since the march leading up to the NNU organized People’s G8 / Robin Hood Tax Rally was scheduled to star at 11 AM.

Following a shower, and a frenzy of emails, uploads, and social media posts, I grabbed a much-needed Starbucks, a liquid breakfast/boost being all I had time for. (Unfortunately, sometimes, corporate crack is unavoidable – and this was one of those occasions!) I met up with a core group of occupiers and activists at Michigan and Madison, and headed over to Daley Plaza with them.

As we made our way down East Washington, we admired the barricades which the Chicago Police Department had kindly laid out on either side of the street to make out of town occupiers feel right at home. Given the much-publicized increased police presence, which involved importing officers from several other states, the atmosphere was surprisingly relaxed. When a group of CPD officers wearing full-on riot helmets cycled past on bikes, at this juncture, quite frankly the sight was more ridiculous than threatening. But as we closed in on Daley Plaza, the police presence was far less frivolous.

[Tom Morello rages against Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s bullshit machine]

It was heartening to see an impressively large crowd had turned out to support the nurses and their call for a Robin Hood Tax. This overworked and underpaid group are on the frontlines of the war against the working and middle class – the breakdown of the economy being particularly salient to those who staff our emergency rooms. There is therefore a natural affinity between the goals of Occupy and the nurses union, who were among the first of the traditional labor organizations to support the fledgling alternative grassroots activist movement.

Another stalwart supporter of the Occupy movement is Tom Morello, who performed at the rally once the talk was done. He gleefully taunted Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who had attempted to silence the Rage Against the Machine guitarist by pulling the NNU’s permit after they announced he was scheduled to perform. The resulting public outcry, and the tenacity of the nurses who were determined to exercise their right to free speech with or without a permit, having forced Emanuel to relent.

“I know damn well I’m welcome in Chicago” Morello said to the cheering and appreciative crowd. “The mayor’s office tried to shut this whole thing down…How ridiculous for the mayor’s office to think I would do anything to hurt Chicago? Chicago is my favorite city on the whole world.”

After Morello’s perfectly pitched mix of rhetoric and rebel songs, the rally dissipated. The nurses took to their buses, occupiers took to the streets, and, after another burst of essential online activity, this activist/journalist voted for sleep.

[Freedom in the crowd]

Visit our gallery at for oodles more images from the event.

To keep tabs on the progress of the Chicago bus trip and actions, subscribe to the 99% Solidarity media Twitter list and check in with us via the following livestreams:


Full disclosure: Nicole Powers has been assisting with 99% Solidarity’s efforts and is in no way an impartial observer. She is proud of this fact.

Related Posts:

99Solidarity Occu-Bus: Day 1 Of Our Epic Coast-To-Coast Road Trip From Los Angeles To New York By Way Of Chicago
99Solidarity Occu-Bus: Day 2 Of Our Epic Coast-To-Coast Road Trip From Los Angeles To New York By Way Of Chicago

May 2012 05

by Blogbot

Above: (Left) OccupyLA’s First GA, October 1, 2011 / (Right) their special May Day GA, May 1, 2012. Both were at Pershing Square in Downtown LA.

We last had the folks from OccupyLA in the SG Radio studio on October 6th, 2011. Since then, a lot has happened for them – and the Occupy movement as a whole.

Back then, OccupyLA’s occupation of the grounds outside City Hall was barely a week old, and no one had much idea of what the future might hold. Certainly few outsiders would have predicted they’d be alive and kicking seven months on.

Though they lost their permanent encampment in early December, 2011, after a brutal police raid, you can’t evict an idea – and OccupyLA had a big one – to mark International Workers’ Day with a massive day of action.

The resolution, which was first tabled by members of OccupyLA in a General Assembly (GA) held in November 2011, was taken up by other occupations nationwide, and on May 1st thousands of people in well over 100 cities participated in the May Day General Strike.

Above: Many experience their first GA on May Day in DTLA.

In Los Angels, the day was marked with marches from the 4 Winds in the North, South, East, and West corners of the sprawling metropolis, which converged with other immigrant/workers rights protests in Downtown LA. A special OccupyLA May Day GA was then held in the evening in Pershing Square, where it all began.

By sundown, Pershing Square was packed, with many new and perspective occupiers experiencing a GA for the first time. The overwhelming sense of camaraderie emitted by the large crowd was palpable, as strangers were quickly united by a common goal and the process of radical and truly representative democracy.

The momentum of the movement (that most in the mainstream seriously underestimate) continues as the focus shifts to Chicago, with large gatherings and protests planned in honor of the People’s Summit, NATO, and the (hastily relocated) G8.

On Sunday, as OccupyLA encamps in the SuicideGirls Radio studio, we’ll be reflecting on May Day, celebrating the many triumphs of the movement, and talking about its future hopes, dreams, and grounded, pragmatic and attainable goals.

For more on OccupyLA visit their website, Facebook and Twitter.

We’ll also be hearing from our good friend George from Occupy affinity group 99% Solidarity. He’ll be calling in from NYC to give us the skinny on the FREE Chicago bus trips the group is organizing to coincide with the various planned protests there later this month. For more details visit:

Tune in to SuicideGirls Radio live on Sunday May 6 from 10 PM til Midnight PST at:
(hit the top right “listen Live” button)

For updates on all things SG Radio-related, “like” us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.


May 2012 03

by Aaron Colter

[Images: lucasmopdx]

As unpopular as black bloc tactics are with the general public following vandalism across the country during May Day, the Occupy movement still needs support from more radical members if it’s to continue to be effective.

First, understand that black bloc isn’t just a handful of young punks dressing in all black to smash windows. Unfortunately, all black bloc members and anarchists have been categorized as people who engage in ill-targeted property destruction. In fact, however, one core idea of black bloc is to act as a wall of protection against potential police brutality at non-permitted marches — a human circle of sacrificial activists who are willing to push the line forward and become the first to defend protestors from riot cops.

There are many who considered the entire notion of having to request a permit in order to protest to be absurd given the language of the Constitution and the rights guaranteed within, and have no desire to be financially liable for any potential expenses appraised by the city following such a protest or march.

Considering the aggressive, indiscriminate, and, at the very least, excessive use of force by police departments against protestors in nearly every major city in America during non-permitted marches, at least some black bloc tactics seem necessary in order to engage in any form of mass public protest today.

Second, while it’s true that the adolescent, mostly male contingent that has been breaking windows of late negatively effects the perception of the Occupy movement as a whole, the aggression and desire for destruction should be understood.

Like in London, when mass looting engulfed portions of the city in the summer of 2011, the smashing of windows in American cities in the spring of 2012 can be seen as natural, albeit ignorant, physical projections of a society that has raised its children under the absent culture of unchecked capitalism and the systemic corruption of nearly all leaders.

But just as both the looting in London and the smashing of windows in America is a failure of society as a whole to install civic responsibility in its youth, it is also a horrendous failure on the part of the Occupy movement for not properly channeling the anger of its more radical protestors into actions that have a more substantial effect towards the goals of abolishing economic injustice.

Furthermore, the misguided actions of the youth today are not necessarily the foundations for a violent and unproductive future. Consider, for example, Bill Ayers.

While aggressive male behavior is a serious issue for public safety in modern culture, there are strong tones of hypocrisy in what is considered acceptable forms of these outburst on the part of society when reflecting on the response of police towards vandals following a sporting event riot compared to the outcry when similar destruction is born out of political outrage.

Those who have become disenfranchised may not see any hope or value in appealing to government representatives inside the legislative process. Still, there are types of vanguardism that could satisfy the primal urges of frustrated individuals unquenched by standard marches, and even some tactics that can be employed by individuals too indifferent to work on projects both within and outside the established system to cause incremental change.

Guidelines for defending against agents of the state, engaging in property destruction, and other radical actions are necessary to encourage the following:

1. That supporters and other members of the community who have not sanctioned such actions are not physically harmed. The idea that provoking police brutality will call attention to the violence of the state is false as such brutality is well-known and often ignored in the mainstream media, and also because it creates a sometimes lasting rift between individuals who might otherwise become collaborators.

2. That targets selected be those that are the worst violators of community sustainability, those that are activity contributing to the demise of workers’ rights, organizations profiting off the erosion of personal liberty, and global corporations continuing to economically exploit underprivileged people.

3. That actions are intelligently focused on spreading a message that will ultimately convert more people to the cause of ending oppression.

By considering the above ideas, a wide range of tactics can be adopted by those who wish to directly confront organizations they see as damning to their well-being through subversion without compromising the security of less extreme individuals or the much-needed populist support.

Breaking the windows of random cars owned by ordinary citizens during a mass gathering is not a tactic that falls within any of the guidelines above. A well-positioned display of graffiti art on a billboard, corporate bank, or police station that is deployed during the night, however, could be a worth-while action depending on the values of the community and possible support the movement could gain from such a tactic.

Marches, rallies, and other large public display of dissidence are ways to encourage the amiable base of current supporters and perhaps a way to change the modes of thinking of potential comrades, but such gatherings and actions are rarely a way to provide concrete alterations in the economic structure of our society.

In the end, if a successful revolution is to happen – one that does not completely destroy the framework of a functioning community, but dynamically changes the systems in which we as humans relate to one another through the exchange of goods and services in harmony with the environment – then a great and diverse amount of support will be needed.

Never in the history of mankind have the rich and powerful given up government control, the means of production, or positions of unearned entitlement willfully. Only a well-coordinated effort on the part of all working class people can alleviate the burden the classist machine now in place. To do so, we much embrace different approaches, but always be mindful of our common goals.

“Anything you can do to rebel against economic tyranny and financial oppression in a nonviolent manner is welcome. You are the leader!”

This phrase was one of the founding calls to action when Occupy Wall Street first began in October of 2011. Now, tactics must advance to ensure actions undermine the structure of global dominance born from the unholy marriage of big business and big government while converting hearts and minds to the cause of personal liberty and communal happiness for all people.

Engage. Educate. Evolve.


May 2012 01

by Nicole Powers

[Above: Free Speech TV #M1GS Feed]

This #M1GS post will be updated as news comes in throughout the day. We’re working with Media for the 99 Percent to bring you up-to-the-minute coverage. If you have a photo, link, or news item you’d like us to diseminate, please Cc. @SuicideGirls and include the #M1GS hashtag in your tweet. have put together an excellent Checklist for May Day protesters, which includes advice on what to bring, how to deal with the police, and what to do if you find yourself facing arrest.

For a nationwide directory of May Day actions visit:

[Above: OccupyFreedomLA live from DTLA]

Catch the OccupyLA #M1GS Action Via The Following Livestreams:

[Above: Tim Pool aka @timcast live from NYC]

Catch the OccupyNYC #M1GS Action Via The Following Livestreams:

3:03 AM PST: May Day gets off to a flower-powered start as masked protesters distribute thousands of roses and carnations to commuters at London’s Liverpool Street Station. Attached were tags which read: “This flower is a May Day gift from Occupy London. Please put it in water and enjoy it. There is something better out there.”

3:46 AM PST: The NYPD have been doing their homework and studying the history of #M1GS. In a report titled “NYPD Shield: Countering Terrorism Through Information Sharing” (fo’ realz!) they note:

The “General Strike” was initially proposed by the Los Angeles node of OWS in November 2011, endorsed by Occupy Oakland at the end of January 2012, and subsequently endorsed by the OWS New York General Assembly on February 14.

3:53 AM PST: The media lineup to report in NYC (but will their coverage be fair and balanced?). @Occupied_Air reports that “At least 18 Media Vans already line the streets around #BryantPark In preparation for #Mayday events.”

4:18 AM PST: Embrace your inner Pagan and get your Wicker Man on! (But watch the original 1973 version featuring Britt Ekland and not the well dodgy 2006 remake with Nicolas Cage.) May Day is an ancient holiday which celebrates fertility. In Europe traditional rituals include Maypole and Morris dancing.

4:28 AM PST: And tents will fly!. A flying tent is spotted rising above London’s Barbican heading towards Paternoster Sq. Let the spring silliness begin.

5:35 AM PST: We’re with the band. @macfathom reports that unofficial #OWS house band the Rude Mechanical Orchestra is jamming out on “Which Side Are You On.”

6:12 AM PST: First reported #MayDay arrest in NYC at the protest outside the Bank of America at 6th Ave and 50th St. Vietnam vet stands in the middle of street as an act of pre-planned civil disobedience. Keep moving if you don’t want to enrich the prison industrial complex folks.

6:48 AM PST: A woman’s place is in the revolution. Great pic from NYC via Laurie Penny a.k.a. @PennyRed.

9:59 AM PST: 4,000 registered nurses strike in Northern California. Nurses at 10 Sutter Health hospitals walk off the job following a contract dispute that has lasted over a year. CBS reports that “though the strike is only supposed to be one day, the nurses have been told they won’t be allowed back to work until Sunday.”

10:19 AM PST: “Twitter is over capacity.” A sight I haven’t seen in a while – the Twitter fail whale blows.

[Above: Images of E 40th, Bryant Pk, and Madison Ave, NYC via @ZDRoberts]

10:36 AM PST: Occupy Oregon in da house. Portland schedule is in full effect. PDX students take the Broadway Bridge before marching on City Hall, and a foreclosure liberation is underway. This is what effective resistance looks like! A Roving Dance Party is to be held at 6 PM in the South Parks. Wanna tune in? A full list of PDX streams can be found at:

11:04 AM PST: Tom Morello and his big band stage in Bruyant Park before marching to Union Square for an epic performance of “Worldwide Rebel Songs” featuring the OWS Guitarmy.

[Above: Tom Morello & the Guitarmy on the march via @JAMyerson]

11:17 AM PST: Time for a sleep-in at London’s Stock Exchange. Tents now occupy Paternoster Square.

11:41 AM PST: #M1 protesters and the Guitarmy take 5th Avenue. Protesters spill from the pavement onto the street.

12:02 PM PST: Occupy Denver rally at Civic Center Park. See pics via @EisMC2. The Wikileaks truck arrives – “Now the party can officially start!” A sleep-in protest on 16th Street Mall is planned later (9.30 PM thru 5.30 AM).

12:22 PM PST: Solidarity rally/concert feat. Tom Morello, Dan Deacon, Immortal Technique, Das Racist, Bobby Sanabria, and more is underway. NYCs Union Square in packed. “Let Freedom Spring!

12:31 PM PST: Things have taken a turn for the worse in Oakland. Mother Jones writing fellow @garonsen reports that tear gas has been deployed and that arrests have been made. In his latest tweet he states “Police have backed off again and are warning protesters to clear the street. Unclear how many arrested.”

[Above: The scene in Oakland via @garonsen]

1:03 PM PST: Mother Jones has posted some powerful pictures from earlier on the Williamsburg Bridge. They report that 200 people marched from Brooklyn to Manhattan and were met by 100 cops “in varying degrees of riot uniform.” Nice police to protester ratio! #YourTaxDollarsAtWork

1:37 PM PST: Two arrests reported at Occupy Philly during action to close Wells Fargo branch. @GoPHARE says “All Other occupiers evade arrest” as they “Shut It Down!@OccupPhilly says they’re now “Regrouping at rittenhouse.” More Philly #M1 action is planned for later in the day – see schedule.

1:54 PM PST: Stream is now live at London’s Paternoster Square sleep-in. (Watch at: Police tell protesters they are “blocking the highway” and have just given them a second verbal warning. Having been threatened with impending eviction in 10 mins, sleepers are currently deciding how to respond. Should they stay or should they go? *Update* Protesters cautioned that if arrested they may be subject to an injunction which will ban them from the UK’s capital for 6 months.

2:27 PM PST: Union Square crowd estimated to be 8,000+ strong by Guardian and Independent writer Laurie Penny.

[Above: Union Square via @Penny Red]

2:51 PM PST: Massive march snakes away from still packed Union Square. @OccupyWallStNYC reports that NYPD was “totally confused about how 2 let this huge permitted march happen” and that cheers erupted “as police finally back off and allow marchers to enter onto Broadway from Union Square.”

3:31 PM PST: OPD declares “unlawful assembly” and issues a dispersal order for Broadway & Telegraph. Watching livestream as instructions for leaving are given: “You must leave now. If you refuse to move you will be arrested. If you refuse to move chemical agents will be used.”

3:49 PM PST: Occupy Chicago own the banks. @occupychicago tweets: “just shut down the 5th boa of the day!” Strong turnout too – check out this great shot from above the streets posted on their Facebook.

4:09 PM PST: Thousands make their way down NYC’s Broadway and yet more are still stuck at Union Square – and Reuters just said “Occupy Wall Street resurgence a dud.” Call yourselves reporters; Try looking out your window people!

[Above: Inside the march at Broadway & Houston via @barentroth]

4:39 PM PST: NYPD has barricaded Wall St. even though unions apparently had permit for their Solidarity March there. Thousands of protesters are heading down from Broadway; The NYPD is telling them to move on, but there’s no where to move on to.

5:44 PM PST: Thousands converge for celebratory People’s Assembly at 55 Water in NYC’s Financial District – and more are on their way.

We’re signing off now, and heading down to Pershing Square for OccupyLA’s special May Day GA.

In Solidarity.

[Above: OLA M1 GA via @nicolepowers]

11:48 PM PST: Just got back from the special May Day Occupy LA GA. Following the 4 Winds marches, a massive crowd converged at Pershing Square in DTLA. A truly inspiring way to kick off the American Spring.

[Above: OLA M1 GA via @nicolepowers]

For more images from Occupy LA’s May Day GA visit our gallery.

Support Media for the 99 Percent by donating here.


May 2012 01

by Blogbot

SuicideGirls just got back from Occupy LA’s final pre-May Day General Assembly. The assembled 99 percenters noted with some pride that the motion to mark International Workers’ Day with a General Strike, which was first tabled by the group in November 2011, has become a reality, with occupations in 100+ cities poised to join in the May 1st action.

At the meeting, held in Downtown LA’s Pershing Square, a last minute resolution to take action against employers who retaliate against striking employees was unanimously passed. This was followed by a refresher course in what to do if you are stopped and searched or questioned by the police tomorrow. The three key phrases to remember being:

  • “Am I being detained?”
  • “I do not consent to a search.”
  • “I would like to speak to a lawyer.”

As Los Angeles occupiers march from the 4 Winds in the North, South, East, and West corners of the sprawling metropolis to converge at 6th and Main at 2.30 PM, hopefully these phrases will be surplus to requirements and the subsequent afternoon actions in the Financial District will be peaceful. Occupy LA plans to close the day out with a special General Assembly at 7 PM. All are welcome. For more info visit:

For a nationwide directory of May Day actions visit:


Apr 2012 30

SuicideGirls is proud to be working with The Media Consortium’s coalition of free thinking publications and news outlets to bring you coverage of tomorrow’s May Day actions nationwide.

More than 25 independent media outlets belonging to The Media Consortium are collaborating to provide coordinated, national coverage of May Day events from around the country.

Calling themselves “Media for the 99 Percent”, these diverse outlets will offer a live TV and streaming broadcast, an interactive map, breaking news reporting, and coordinated social media coverage across their sites, reaching a combined audience of more than 50 million Americans.

“With this May Day collaboration, independent media will show that live national coverage can reflect the breadth, diversity, and complexity of the American people,” says Jo Ellen Green Kaiser, executive director of The Media Consortium.

Outlets involved in the Media For The 99 Percent project include Free Speech TV,
Mother Jones, The Nation, Truthout, and our friends over at

SuicideGirls will be tweeting and posting May Day updates throughout the day before heading down to Occupy LA’s post-4 Winds GA at Pershing Square in DTLA. If you have a photo, link, or news item you’d like us to include in our coverage, please Cc. @SuicideGirls and include the #M1GS hashtag in your tweet.

Support Media for the 99 Percent by donating here.


Apr 2012 26

by Aaron Colter

“Occupy was impossible the day before it happened; the day after it was so obviously inevitable.” – Bill Ayers

As a co-founding radical member of the Weather Underground, Bill Ayers is still a polarizing figure in America today, even though he’s dedicated most of his life to changing the way teachers approach childhood development and learning. In advance of his appearance at Portland, Oregon’s Stumptown Comics Festival this weekend, Ayers was kind enough to answer some questions about reforming public education, President Obama’s first term, and the future of the Occupy movement.

Question: Your connection to now President Obama was greatly over-hyped during his campaign, but as a Chicagoan, a citizen, and a leftist figure in America, how satisfied are you with his first term?

Bill Ayers: During the campaign, Senator Obama said consistently that he was a moderate, pragmatic politician. The right built up a story that he was a secret socialist who palled around with bad people; liberals said, “I think he’s winking in my direction.” The reality is that the president is surely a smart, caring, kind person who is politically exactly who he said he is: moderate, pragmatic, politician, leader of one of the two great war parties.

He also was asked during the primary fight, “Who would Martin Luther King support?” His answer: “King would be in the streets, building a movement for justice.” Exactly right. Rather than wring our hands as we stare helplessly at the sites of power we have no access to — the Congress, the White House, and the Pentagon — we might get busy organizing in the communities, schools and work-places, places of power we have full access to, and take it to the streets.

Q: Many liberals seems to be unhappy with how the President has handled military action in the Middle East, especially in regards to drone attacks, and also the President’s signing of the NDAA, the controversy over Wikileaks, the detention of Bradley Manning, etc. – how do you feel about those issues and what would you say to those on the left who might not want to vote for Obama this fall?

BA: Voting cannot be the be-all and end-all of participation. And in an electoral system so awash in money, so corrupted by cash, we would be foolish to rely on an election to answer our deepest needs and dreams. Organize, build a movement, and come to Chicago in May to say No to NATO!

Q: Speaking of dissatisfaction, the Occupy Wall Street movement is potentially poised to return in force this summer, do you think the movement has had a positive effect in helping change economic inequality?

BA: Occupy is an invitation and an opening, not a point of arrival, and it’s already won in important ways: the 1% is exposed, the frame is changed, and the 99% are getting mobilized against war and planetary destruction, for peace and simple fairness.

Q: What advice would you give to protestors today? Are there tactics you see as being effective? And conversely, are there things Occupy protestors are doing that you see as having a negative effect?

BA: I’m no tactician. But fundamental radical change is what we need now more than ever — we need to change ourselves, we need to remake the world. We need a revolution in values — against militarism, racism, materialism, consumerism — and a revolution in fact for peace and sharing the socially produced wealth and saving the planet. There is no single answer, but refusal to go along with exploitation, oppression, conquest and greed will open a path. Public space is created whenever people come together authentically and freely to name themselves in opposition to injustice. Those spaces can surely turn into their opposites, but let’s resist. Symbolic actions can play an educational role, and the educational value of any symbolic action — and this can include demonstrations and sit-ins and strikes and more — is impossible to fully assess in advance. Meanings are forever contested and never settled. We do the best we can, and then we reassess and try again. But our goals must be pedagogical, and our rethinking hinges on two questions: Did we learn? Did we teach?

Q: Do you see property destruction performed by the so-called “Black Bloc” today, or in the 1990s by the ELF, as having any merit? What would you encourage young radicals to do today?

BA: Sometimes, it depends. I urge activists to become more radical (go to the root of things), study, learn, organize, talk to strangers, mobilize, display your ethical aspirations publicly. On the important issues of the last two centuries, political radicals from Jane Addams and Emma Goldman, John Brown and Harriet Tubman, to Eugene Debs and WEB DuBois have gotten it right. The legacy continues with the work of Ella Baker and Septima Clark, Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X 40 years ago, and on up to today. Of course as Ella Baker said, “Martin didn’t create the Movement, the Movement created Martin,” and it’s true; for every remembered leader there were hundreds, thousands putting their shoulders on history’s wheel. We might reflect then on the people as they make and remake history.

Everyone should wake up every day and pay attention/ be astonished/ act/ doubt, and repeat for a lifetime. We begin by recognizing that every human being, no matter who, is a gooey biological wonder, pulsing with the breath and beat of life itself, eating, sleeping, pissing and shitting, prodded by sexual urges, evolved and evolving, shaped by genetics, twisted and gnarled and hammered by the unique experiences of living. Every human being also has a unique and complex set of circumstances that makes his or her life understandable and sensible, bearable or unbearable. This recognition asks us to reject any action that treats anyone as an object, any gesture that thingifies human beings. It demands that we embrace the humanity of everyone, that we take their side.

Our country is first of all an extremely diverse immigrant society, with fantastic resources and accomplishments, but it also contains a redoubtable set of internal inequities and external interventions that cannot be ignored. We are faced with the enduring stain of racism and the ever more elusive and intractable barriers to racial justice, the rapidly widening gulf between rich and poor, and the enthronement of greed. We are faced as well with aggressive economic and military adventures abroad, the macho posturing of men bonding in groups and enacting a kind of theatrical but no less real militarism, the violence of conquest and occupation from the Middle East and Central Asia to South America.

Encountering these facts thrusts us into the realm of human agency and choice, the battlefield of social action and change, where we come face to face with some stubborn questions: Can we, perhaps, stop the suffering? Can we alleviate at least some of the pain? Can we repair any of the loss? There are deeper considerations: Can society be changed at all? Is it remotely possible—not inevitable, certainly, perhaps not even likely—for people to come together freely, to imagine a more just and peaceful social order, to join hands and organize for something better, and to win? Can we do anything?

If a fairer, saner and more just society is both desirable and possible, if some of us can join one another to imagine and build a public space for the enactment of democratic dreams, our field opens slightly. Occupy! There would still be much to be done, for nothing would be entirely settled. We would still need to find ways to stir ourselves from passivity, cynicism, and despair, to reach beyond the superficial barriers that wall us off from one another, to resist the flattening social evils like institutionalized racism, to shake off the anesthetizing impact of the authoritative, official voices that dominate so much of our space, to release our imaginations and act on behalf of what the known demands, linking our conduct firmly to our consciousness.

Q: Protestors around the country are preparing for marches and actions on May 1st as part of a General Strike. How useful do you think will be?

BA: Who can predict? Not me. We do our best, we act, and then we rethink and try again. Maybe we can learn from it. Occupy was impossible the day before it happened; the day after it was so obviously inevitable.

Q: There have been some Occupy protests aligned with trying to save schools that are set to close down due to budgetary constraints, and we’ve seen people try to occupy those schools to stop them from being shut down. Do you think that’s an effective tactic? What do you think people can do that would be more likely to bring about change?

BA: Keep trying, keep thinking.

Q: May will also mark the beginning of the occupation of Chicago to protest the NATO summit, now that the G8 has been moved to Camp David. First, do you think the fact that the G8 was moved can be seen as victory for Occupy protestors? And second, how do you think the city of Chicago will handle the situation?

BA: Yes, indeed. G8’s withdrawal was our victory. Now come to Chicago May 22, please and thank you, and help us drive NATO out as well.

As far as the city goes, a 1984-style national security dragnet is set to descend on Chicago in an attempt to lock the city down during the NATO summit. Mayor Rahm Emanuel has made it clear that he will happily act as the host of NATO — and that the 99 percent are not welcome. Emanuel is concocting a culture of fear, suggesting that it is the growing human resistance to NATO that represents danger, outside agitators, violence and invasion.

Universities and schools are being urged to close early in May; communities of color are told that NATO’s work is not their concern; merchants are preparing for assault from the dissenting masses. But NATO, and their G8 friends in hiding, are the real masters of war; it is they who are the greatest purveyors of violence on this earth.

It is unsurprising, then, that Emanuel has funding to further arm and mobilize the police and militarize the city. The Mayor has announced plans to contain and suppress demonstrators. He has pushed through legislation that restricts and criminalizes free speech and assembly and requires costly insurance for public demonstrations. He is issuing a steady stream of pronouncements about a fabricated Chicago, which he says is under siege from ominous and dangerous outside forces.

The mayor, not the popular resistance, is creating conditions for a police riot in Chicago against people exercising their right to peaceful dissent. Emanuel can still change course, and he should. So far, he has chosen to frame the coming convergence of protesters and the powerful solely in military and security terms.

Chicago is big enough for all — it is after all a nuclear-free and cease-fire city, cradle of the Haymarket martyrs and the 8-hour day, labor and peace actions, vast civil rights and immigration rights manifestations, home of Ida B. Wells Barnett, Jane Addams, Richard Wright, Gwendolyn Brooks, and Studs Terkel. Chicago is a vast public space with historic parks, monuments, neighborhoods and streets for popular mobilizations — Chicago belongs to all of us. We underline the right — the moral duty — to dissent and demonstrate, to resist and to be heard, to participatory (not billionaire paid-for) democracy.

The festival of NATO counter-summits, protests, and family-friendly permitted marches planned for May are the next chapter. Organizers and supporters will use humor and music, art and play, civil disobedience and imagination to voice their rejection of permanent imperial wars and the many forms of violence that arise from the same paradigm: discrimination and hate based on race, gender and ethnicity; epic income disparity; mass incarceration; inadequate resources for education, health care and opportunities for meaningful work.

Music, dance, teach-ins and peoples’ tribunals will overflow the parks and theatres. The protests are in the spirit of the Arab Spring, Occupy and the Madison labor struggle, drawing equal inspiration from the work of many others: the Pelican Bay hunger strikers, teachers and nurses, the undocumented DREAMers, returning veterans against the wars, women insisting on reproductive dignity, people resisting foreclosures/take-back-the-landers, those working for LGBTQ equality and more. People from everywhere will bring their spirits and their creativity, pitch their tents and stake their claims. Join us!

Q: Congress passed a recent bill that would make it a felony for protestors to disrupt events where the secret service was present. Do you think fears of a felony charge if protesting at the NATO summit are warranted? And if so, what do you think the proper response should be from protestors?

BA: Break the law.

Q: Politics in Chicago are seen as being inherently corrupt by many people in this country. Do you think that’s a fair assessment of how the city is run? Is there a structure in Chicago politics, for example the system of wards and aldermen, that makes changing policy and accountability more complicated than other cities?

BA: I don’t know that it’s any more or less complicated, but I do know it’s corrupt to the bone, that we should abolish the mayor’s office and the city council and build popular democracy — the model might be ancient Greece for the hundred years, or the Wobbly encampments in Nevada a hundred years ago, or Occupy!

Q: Switching gears a bit, what do you see as the biggest obstacle facing education reform today?

BA: The biggest obstacle facing education reform today is the accepted frame or the established terms of the discussion — the dull but insistent dogma of fashionable common sense. Whenever any two-bit politician gets to a microphone and says, “First we need to get the lazy, incompetent teachers out of the classroom,” he has not only framed the debate, he’s won. What can I say? “No, please leave the lazy teacher there for my grand-daughter!” If I get to the microphone first, I might say, “Every kid deserves a thoughtful, intellectually grounded, morally committed, caring, compassionate, well-rested and well-paid teacher in the classroom.” That’s a re-framing, and I win this one.

A flattering portrait of Secretary of Education Arne Duncan [“Class Warrior,” the New Yorker, February 1, 2010] perfectly reflects the dominant frame in today’s school reform battles: “there are, roughly speaking, two major camps,” writes the essayist. The first he calls “the free-market reformers,” the second, “the liberal traditionalists.” This unfortunate caricature is dead wrong, and it leaves out a huge range of approaches and actors, notably it omits those who argue, as John Dewey did, that in a democracy, whatever the wisest and most privileged parents want for their children must serve as a minimum standard for what the community wants for all of its children. Arne Duncan as well as the Obama children and Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s kids all attended the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools, where they had small classes, abundant resources, and opportunities to experiment and explore, ask questions and pursue answers to the far limits. Oh, and a respected and unionized teacher corps as well! Good enough for secretaries, mayors, and presidents, good enough for the kids in public schools everywhere. Any other ideal for our schools, in the words of Dewey, “is narrow and unlovely; acted upon it destroys our democracy.”

In schools focused on the needs and dreams of the broad community, we would be inspired by fundamental principles of democracy, including a common faith in the incalculable value of every human being. We would rally around the idea that the full development of each is the condition for the fullest development of all, and conversely that the fullest development of all is the condition for the full development of each. One implication of this principle is that in a truly democratic spirit, whatever the wisest and most privileged parents want for their kids — that is exactly what we as a community want for all of our children.

If we think of education as a product like a car or a refrigerator, a box of bolts or a screw driver — something bought and sold in the marketplace like any other commodity — and if schools are businesses run by CEO’s, and if teachers are workers and students the raw material bumping along the assembly line as information is incrementally stuffed into their little up-turned heads, then it’s rather easy to think that “downsizing” the least productive units, “outsourcing” and privatizing a space that was once public is a natural event; that teaching toward a simple standardized metric, and relentlessly applying state-administered (but privately-developed and quite profitable) tests to determine the “outcomes” is a rational proxy for learning; that centrally controlled “standards” for curriculum and teaching are commonsensical; that “zero tolerance” for student misbehavior as a stand-in for child development or justice is sane; and that “accountability,” that is, a range of sanctions on students, teachers, and schools — but never on law-makers, foundations, corporations, or high officials — is logical and level-headed. This is in fact what a range of noisy politicians, and their chattering pundits in the bought media call “school reform.”

The magic ingredients for this reform recipe are three: replace the public schools with some sort of privately-controlled administration; sort the winners relentlessly from the losers — test, test, TEST! (and then punish); and destroy teachers’ ability to speak with any sustained and unified voice. The operative controlling metaphor for these moves has by now become quite familiar, education is an individual consumer good, not a public trust or a social good, and certainly not a fundamental human right. Management, inputs and outcomes, efficiency, cost controls, profit and loss — the dominant language of this kind of reform – doesn’t leave much room for doubt, or much space to breathe.

In this metaphoric strait-jacket, school learning is a lot like boots or hammers; unlike boots and hammers, the value of which is inherently satisfying and directly understood, the value of school learning is elusive and indirect. Its value, we’re assured, has been calculated elsewhere by wise and accomplished people, and these school masters know better than anyone what’s best for these kids (for other people’s children) and for the world. “Take this medicine,” students are told repeatedly, day after tedious day, “It’s good for you.” Refuse the bitter pill, and go stand in the corner – where all the other losers are assembled.

Schools for obedience and conformity are characterized by passivity and fatalism and infused with anti-intellectualism and irrelevance. They turn on the little technologies for control and normalization — the elaborate schemes for managing the mob, the knotted system of rules and discipline, the exhaustive machinery of schedules and clocks, the laborious programs of sorting the crowd into winners and losers through testing and punishing, grading, assessing, and judging, all of it adding up to a familiar cave, an intricately constructed hierarchy — everyone in a designated place and a place for everyone. In the schools as they are, knowing and accepting one’s pigeonhole on the towering and barren cliff becomes the only lesson one really needs.

The forces fighting to create this new common-sense, school-reform-normal, are led by a merry band of billionaires—Bill Gates, Michael Bloomberg, Sam Walton, Eli Broad—who work relentlessly to take up all the available space, preaching, persuading, and promoting, always spreading around massive amounts of cash to underline their fundamental points: dismantle public schools, crush the teachers unions, test and punish. When Rupert Murdoch was in deep water in the summer of 2011, it came to light that Joel Klein, a leading “reformer” as head of the New York City public schools for years (and whose own kids, of course, attended private schools), was on Murdoch’s payroll. According to the New York Times, the two saw eye to eye “on a core set of education principles: that charter schools needed to expand; poor instructors (the now-famous “lazy incompetent teachers”) should be weeded out; and the power of the teachers union must be curtailed.” The trifecta!

And, of course, these imaginary reformers create a fictional opposition, as foolish as a straw man without a brain, and just as easy to knock down. So imagine escaping the logic and the metaphoric strait-jacket of the “marketeers,” wriggling free, Houdini-like, and swimming to the surface of the tank for a sweet kiss of life, that first breath of air: inhale…exhale…keep on breathing. And don’t get entangled in that silly, simple-minded binary of “reform” vs. the status quo. Let yourselves be free — think beyond what’s proscribed.

Here is a standard we might bring into this debate: What if this school/classroom/experience was for me, or for my child? That would not be the end of the matter, but a healthy and clarifying starting point for discussion. If it’s not OK to cut the arts programs or sports or clubs or science for my child, how can it be OK for the children of the poor? If I want teachers for my kids who are thoughtful, caring, compassionate professionals – well-rested and well-paid, completely capable of making clear and smart judgments in complex situations — how can I advocate for teachers who are little more than mindless clerks for the children on the other side of town? We should be highly skeptical of reformers who claim to know what’s best for other people’s children — whether Gates or Bloomberg or Bush or Obama — when it would be unacceptable for them, or for their precious ones. This kind of hypocrisy is endemic among the current crop of reformers, and this kind of test can be easily applied.

We might insist on recasting the entire discussion about education and school reform. We assume that good working conditions are good teaching conditions, and that good teaching conditions create better learning conditions — and the pathway toward good working conditions must include (not exclusively, but definitely) the independent, collective voice of the teachers.

Furthermore, education in a democracy — at least theoretically and aspirationally — is geared toward and powered by a particularly precious and fragile ideal: every human being is of infinite and incalculable value, each a unique intellectual, emotional, physical, spiritual, moral, and creative force; each of us is born free and equal in dignity and rights, each endowed with reason and conscience, each deserving, then, a community of solidarity, a sense of brotherhood and sisterhood, recognition and respect. In order to be true to that basic ethic and spirit of democracy, school folks must find ways to build on this foundation, assuming that their complex and difficult and yet deeply satisfying task is to create spaces that are happy, healthy places for children, spaces that help students achieve both individual and social fulfillment and well-being. School people who willingly dive into this contradiction realize that the fullest development of each individual — given the delicious stew of race, ethnicity, origin and background, the tremendous range of ability and disability — is the necessary condition for the full development of the entire community, and, conversely, that the fullest development of all is essential for the full development of each.

We might also align with the notion that education is a fundamental and universal human right, something every child deserves simply by being born, a moral obligation of the community, a phenomenon resting on the twin pillars of enlightenment and freedom, and principally directed to the full development of the human personality.

Now when the marketeers talk of “the market working its magic,” we can ask specifically and concretely how centrally-generated standards and an extensive testing regime, for example, or eliminating the arts, or replacing career teachers with a steady parade of short-timers, particularly in urban and low-income areas, does anything to improve education for each and for all. We can challenge the sterile notion that schools must be in every respect subservient to the market, or that the singular purpose of education is to produce workers, feed the economy, or win some trader’s war with China or India. And we can resist privatization, defending the public square and a culture of the commons — in schooling no less than other places.

So who is framing the debate today, and what do they want? All the noisy proponents of market competition in public education have managed to push their ideas onto the agenda by force of power and wealth, certainly not based on any moral suasion or even the paltry results that their schemes have produced. But the project continues, mainly because it is pure dogma — faith-based and fact-free. We need to challenge that freight train with evidence and argument and a vision consistent with our deepest democratic dreams. Organize, link up with their natural allies (parents and students) and fight back! This involves in the first place changing the frame of the discussion.

Q: In your opinion, is there something schools, regardless of their community, could do easily and immediately that would be a vast improvement over the current system?

BA: We might create here and now an open space where we expect fresh and starting winds to blow, unaccustomed winds that are sure to electrify and confound and fascinate us. Winds that tell us we are alive. We begin, then, by throwing open the windows. In this corner of this place — in this open space we are constructing together — people will begin to experience themselves as powerful authors of their own narratives, luminous actors in their own dramas, the essential creators of their own lives. They will find ways to articulate their own desires and demands and questions. In this space everyone will live in search of rather than in accordance with or in accommodation to.

Imagine a school or a classroom where asking, framing, and pursuing their own questions becomes the central work of both teachers and students; where the question of what is worthwhile to know and experience is taken up as a living challenge to focus all student activity; where we would practice participatory democracy; where all the themes, implicit and explicit, are built on a foundational idea that we are swirling through a living history, that nothing is guaranteed or foreordained, that we are, each and all of us, works-in-progress; and where every day we acted out the belief that the classroom, far from being a preparation for life, is indeed life itself. Building community and trust and traditions and engagement would then become central lessons of a successful school.

Q: There seems to be a greater number of people today in support of charter schools, especially in poorer communities – are these charter schools on the right track in your opinion? Or are they taking away from investments that should be put into more traditional public schools?

BA: I’m a bit agnostic about tactics, so it depends. But in poorer communities folks desperately want what everyone wants: a quality education for their kids that helps them become full participating members of society, and good people above all. Pressed and exploited, isolated and marginalized, communities fight for what they deserve as a human right: a decent education for our young. Tactics vary. But if charter folks want to revitalize the public schools — and not be a part of the wrecking machine — they should explain how they are doing that.

Q: Any big plans or projects that you’d like to talk about?

BA: I’m working over-time this year on occupying this and occupying that, occupying the future and occupying my imagination, occupying everything in and out of sight.

Revolution is still possible, democracy and socialism, possible, but barbarism is possible as well. I’m trying to live leaning forward, a pessimist of the head but an optimist of the heart. I find the tools everywhere — humor and art, comics and poetry, protest and spectacle, the quiet, patient intervention and the angry and urgent thrust — but the rhythm of activism remains the same: we open our eyes and look unblinkingly at the world as we find it; we are astonished by the beauty and the suffering all around us; we recognize that right next to the world as such is a world that could be or should be; we dive into the wreckage and swim as hard as we can toward a distant and indistinct shore; we doubt that our efforts make enough difference, and so we rethink, recalibrate, look again, and dive in once more. If we never doubt we get lost in self-righteousness and political narcissism — been there. If we only doubt we vanish into cynicism and despair. Awake/Act/Doubt! Repeat for a lifetime.

Oh, and I’ve got two new books on the way: Palling Around: Talking with the Tea Party, and What If? Releasing the Radical Imagination.

Exciting times!

[Note: Bill Ayers recently discussed his book To Teach: The Journey, in Comics and why comics are important to political discourse on the ComicsAlliance blog. Recommended reading!]

Images: Justin Bianchi and Michael Sauers


Aaron Colter is a writer and marketing consultant living in Portland, OR. A graduate of Purdue University, Colter has worked for a variety of clients, including the NCAA, Willamette Week, AOL, Dark Horse Comics and several others, in addition to being a guest speaker at a variety of publishing conferences. In 2007, along with Louie Herr, Colter founded the documentation project Banana Stand Media, producing and distributing live music recordings at no cost to independent artists. The pair are currently working on a Banana Stand Media compilation album featuring some of the best live tracks captured over the years. Their goal is to raise awareness for the artists featured and for Portland’s live music scene. You can sponsor the project via Kickstarter here.