Monthly Archives: May 2012

Forgive Us Our Trespasses, or, Hunger Strikes: Historically, Globally, Here & Now

British and American suffragettes did it in the early 20th century, with Marion Wallace Dunlop leading off in Britain 1909 and Alice Paul a few years later in the U.S.  Many were force-fed while in prison.  They considered force-feeding to be torture, and some died of it.

Gandhi and others did it as part of the Indian movement for independence from Britain.

Irish republicans did it, too, throughout the 20th century.  Like the suffragettes, they were subject to force-feeding, and some died of it, while others died of starvation.

Hundreds of Palestinian prisoners had been at it for weeks this spring, in response to being indefinitely detained without charges or trial under the Israeli government’s policy of “administrative detention” (to which NYC’s own stop & frisk policies targeting young men of color could be considered a little brother), as well as the conditions under which they are held.  The first two strikers, Bilal Diab and Thaer Halahleh, stopped eating on February 27, with at least 1500 more later joining.  Just last Monday, as the longest strikers were close to death, Israel conceded to some of the strikers’ demands, and almost all the strikers have lifted their strikes.

This Tuesday prisoners at the Red Onion State Prison in Virginia refused their first meal.  They are striking in response to inhumane conditions and treatment inside the prison.  “Phil Wilayto, of the Richmond Defenders, said “The most important thing about the prisoners’ demands is that Red Onion need only follow their own regulations with regard to meals, medical care, sanitation, grievance procedures, and humane treatment of prisoners. In order to press these demands the prisoners have to take the extreme step of risking their health and even lives.””  There have been several hunger strikes in the U.S. in recent years, such as those by prisoners in Georgia, Ohio, and California.

And last night I saw that my buddy Jack has begun a medication and hunger strike here in New York.

Trinity Church, located on Broadway at Wall St. in Manhattan, dates from the late 17th century — it received a charter from the King of England in 1697.  The current building was consecrated in 1846.  It is an Episcopal church.  It owns a shit-ton of very valuable land in Manhattan, and since its inception has been frequented by wealthy and influential locals.  Like all religious institutions in the U.S., it is tax-exempt, in exchange for being supposedly non-political and due to the separation of church and state, which usually seems to all boil down to nothing more than not explicitly endorsing political candidates.  (If we’re demanding a restructuring of tax law in the U.S., changing that exempt status is one of my demands, let me tell you.)  As is also common among religious institutions, especially large, wealthy ones, they give a lot of lip service to serving humanity, but when presented with the nitty-gritty of it tend to balk.

Back in December, OWS attempted to occupy Duarte Square, a vacant, gravel covered lot on Canal Street that is owned by Trinity Church.  It was well-publicized beforehand, as were attempts to negotiate with Trinity for use of the space without interference by the NYPD.  It didn’t work, on both counts.  Several hundred people showed up, but so did the cops.  After folks went over the fence, about 50 were arrested and charged with trespassing.  The most iconic images from that day are of George Packard, a retired Episcopal bishop (yes, same branch of Protestant Christianity as Trinity), in his scarlet robes climbing over the fence and subsequently being arrested.  (He was also arrested on May 1 at 55 Water Street at the end of our May Day activities.)  It is now nearly six months later, and those folks are going to trial on June 11.

In response to the complete shit-fuckery of a church charging members of an economic justice (among other things) movement with trespassing on an empty lot, Jack is going on a medication and hunger strike.  Jack is 57.  We’ve done a bunch of jail support work together.  He helps keep some of the other middle-aged white men in line.  Pertinent to his strike, he is HIV+.  He won’t be taking medication or eating until Trinity drops all charges.  (He is an occupier, though, so cigarettes and coffee are still in!)  Today is day 5 of his medication strike and day 2 of his hunger strike.  I’m sure Trinity has heard by now, but you might want to contact them in support of Jack and in support of our comrades who will shortly be in court.

Video statement from Jack that I can’t get off of Facebook [halp?]

 

 

ETA: 5/30/12.  Via Facebook, Jack asks, “[P]lease send Rector Cooper, jcopper@trinitywallstreet.org, an email in support of my medication/hunger strike. Today is the 11th day I have been without my lifesaving medications and the 7th day without food and necessary nutrition. I am deadly serious about this strike…”

4 Comments

Filed under #D17, Direct Action, Friends of the Library, Jaime, Solidarity, Video

OWS and People’s Librarians File Federal Lawsuit against the City for 11/15 Raid on Zuccotti Park

Today, Occupy Wall Street and several librarians from the People’s Library filed a Federal lawsuit against Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, and Sanitation Commissioner John Doherty, as well as other unknown city officials and employees, charging them with unconstitutional and unlawful seizure, damage and destruction of the Occupy Wall Street People’s Library in the middle of night on November 15, 2011, part of the wider raid on the occupation of Zuccotti Park.

On that night, with a scant 45-minute warning, NYPD officers ordered Zuccotti Park cleared and vacated. Occupiers were told they would be allowed to return when the park had been cleaned and that remaining property would be transported to a DSNY garage on 57th Street, where it could be recovered with proper identification. However, the NYPD blocked librarians—inside and outside the park—from gathering the library’s books and equipment. With most occupiers and journalists expelled from the park, workers loaded items from the park into “crusher” trucks, only later switching to flatbed trucks. The next day, when librarians went to recover books and equipment from the 57th St. Sanitation Garage, they found just a small percentage of the books that were taken. Of the approximately 3,600 books seized that night, only 1,003 were recovered. Of that number, 201 were so damaged while in the possession of the City of New York that they were made unreadable. Thus, at least approximately 2,798 books were never returned—presumably victims of the “crusher” trucks—or were damaged beyond repair.

Most of the library simply disappeared: the books, the tent, the shelves, our stamps, our donation box, and more. The books that came back destroyed stank with mildew and food waste; some resembled accordions or wrung-out laundry.

None of this is new. We made the results of Bloomberg’s raid public back in November, asking the city to replace the books and admit wrongdoing. However, Bloomberg has not admitted wrongdoing and has denied that any books or property was damaged or destroyed. We know that is not true.

We cannot allow the Mayor and his commissioners to get away with these violations of law and constitutional rights. We have now filed a Federal lawsuit to demand accountability from the city and its officials, demanding both compensatory and punitive damages. We believe that the raid and its aftermath violated our First-Amendment rights to free expression, Fourth-Amendment rights against unlawful search and seizure, and Fourteenth-Amendment rights to due process, as well as the laws of the City of New York regarding the vouchsafing of seized property. We are demanding compensatory damages for the lost/destroyed books and equipment, which we have estimated at at least $47,000. In addition, because we believe the seizure and destruction of the books went beyond negligence to constitute a reckless and callous indifference to our constitutional rights, we are demanding punitive damages of at least $1000.

These books—and the library itself—arose organically with Occupy Wall Street; visitors and occupiers (as well as authors, publishers, and editors) brought books and other materials to the park, and librarians —some professionals, and others not—stepped forward to steward what at the time of the raid became a collection of 5,500 titles with an honor-system borrowing policy. The library was a common space for education, debate, relaxation, and information. While lawsuits use the language of “property” and “damages,” what is at stake here is much more. Our books—and these were all our books—should not have been destroyed. We hope to hold the Bloomberg Administration accountable for their actions on Nov 15th.

Full complaint is here.

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Filed under 11/15 Eviction, Announcements

Lawsuit Press Roundup

A round-up of today’s lawsuit in the news:

As Reuters and the AP have picked up the story, it’s now appearing in dozens of papers and web sites nation-wide. From the Reuters coverage:  “Occupy Wall Street filed a federal lawsuit Thursday against New York City, claiming authorities destroyed $47,000 worth of books, computers and other equipment confiscated from the protesters’ encampment in lower Manhattan last fall.” and includes the case information “The case is Occupy Wall Street et al. v. Michael Bloomberg et al., U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 12-4129.”

The Republic uses the Reuters coverage and writes of  the November raid and today’s lawsuit: “Police conducted a surprise overnight raid at Zuccotti Park . . . clearing scores of protesters who had set up tents at the plaza near Wall Street and dealing a significant blow to the movement’s potency. As part of the sweep, Occupy claims, police officers seized more than 3,000 books from the “People’s Library.” While some of the books were eventually returned, many were in unusable condition, while the rest were apparently destroyed, according to Occupy’s lawyer, Norman Siegel. The lawsuit also questions whether the raid itself was constitutional, Siegel said.”

The Wall Street Journal is using the AP report which says that the “federal lawsuit accuses New York City of violating the Constitution by raiding an Occupy Wall Street site last year and destroying books.”

The Gothamist coverage quotes Norman Siegel, “one of the attorneys who filed the lawsuit says ‘It not only addresses the seizure and destruction of the books, but it also seeks to show why, how, and who planned the raid on Zuccotti Park.’ Siegel adds that the city should have been subject to a court hearing before seizing and destroying the thousands of books that made up the library—including Bloomberg’s own book. ‘Every other city did it before they raided encampments, but not here. The city violated the civil rights of the librarians. The Bloomberg administration had the power to do what they did, but not the right.'”

The NY Daily News reports “The bookworms of Occupy Wall Street have slapped the city with some hefty library fines.

Democracy Now! reports on the lawsuit, noting that “With thousands of books, the library was a proud fixture of the occupation of Zuccotti Park” – video at 11:44.

The Paramas Post covers the lawsuit here.

4 Comments

Filed under 11/15 Eviction, Media, Michael

Media Alert for Library Press Event/Lawsuit: THURSDAY, MAY 24, 11:00 AM

For Immediate Release: May 23, 2012

Press Contact: press@occupywallst.org, 347-292-1444

For this action only: William Scott, 412-390-6510

Occupy Wall Street and Occupy Wall Street Librarians to file Federal Court lawsuit against Bloomberg, the City of New York and NYPD — legal effort to uncover November 15 raid details.

New York–A lawsuit will be filed tomorrow, May 24, in Manhattan Federal Court seeking redress for the destruction of books, materials and equipment from the popular and respected People’s Library of Occupy Wall Street (OWS). NYPD raided and forcibly evicted Occupy Wall Street, including the People’s Library, from its Liberty Square camp (also known as Zuccotti Park) on November 15, 2011. The middle-of-the night raid, by members of the NYPD and other city agencies, was authorized by NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Journalists were prevented from witnessing the attack; some were arrested. The raid struck not only at Constitutional rights but at a fundamental tool of enlightenment – thousands of library books and materials were destroyed.

What: Federal Court lawsuit filing, press availability with OWS Librarians and lawyers. Copies of the complaint will be available.

When: Thursday, May 24, at 11:00 AM

Where: United States District Court (Manhattan Federal Court), Manhattan. Press availability OUTSIDE — directly across the street from the 200 Worth entrance, on the sidewalk in front of Columbus Park

Who: Occupy Wall Street Librarians from the People’s Library, lawsuit attorneys Norman Siegel and Herbert Teitelbaum of Siegel, Teitelbaum & Evans.

Occupy Wall Street is part of an international people powered movement fighting for economic justice in the face of neoliberal economic practices, the crimes of Wall Street, and a government controlled by monied interests. #OWS is the 99% organizing to end the tyranny of the 1%. For more info, visit www.occupywallst.org and www.nycga.net

# # #

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Filed under 11/15 Eviction, Announcements, Betsy, Cops, Media

Art & Labor

This is how I feel about labor lockouts.

So, one of the four versions of Edvard Munch’s The Scream — pastel on board, and the only one still in private hands — sold for $119.9 million at Sotheby’s (including buyer’s commission) here in New York on Wednesday, setting a record for the highest price ever paid for an artwork at auction.  (Some people think there’s better things to spend that much money on, even in the art world.  I’d probably buy a bunch of lesser-known Impressionists and a shit-ton of Italian Art Nouveau everything.)

I have so much to say about this!

I take a professional interest, as this is my industry.  I’m an art librarian, and, as the stalkers, fanboys, and government info-mining creepers know, I work at a small art auction house. (Don’t judge, a girl’s gotta pay her student loans, and, anyway, my boss doesn’t mind if I take occasional time off to occupy shit.)  As such, I like to keep tabs on the art market (current thoughts — only really cheap and really expensive stuff sell around here; the destruction of a comfy middle to upper-middle class with a good outlook on the economy has also destroyed that large middle part of the arts & antiques market).  I also am really onboard with organizing labor around industries, rather than trades or workplaces.  To paraphrase Utah Philips, if the pilots, baggage handlers, air traffic controllers, and flight attendants all organized together, we’d own the airline by now.  An injury to one, and all that.  In that light, the Sotheby’s art handlers’ problems are my problems, too, even though I’m a librarian rather than an art handler and I work at a different house.

For those who’ve missed it, the art handlers at Sotheby’s, Teamsters from Local 814, have been locked out for nine months — since last August 1.  A lockout is like the opposite of a strike — it’s what owners and managers can do to workers during a labor dispute; they literally or figuratively lock workers out of their places of employment, hoping that the economic coercion will force workers to concede.  In the meantime, companies will hire temporary workers [i.e. scabs] to keep the place running.  It can be a crapshoot for the owners, as it costs more than business as usual; Sotheby’s will almost certainly lose money this year compared to if the Teamsters had had their contract.  Historically speaking, lockouts haven’t been particularly common in recent decades, up until the last few years.  If you ask me, it’s one sign that the oligarchs aren’t looking at this all from a merely fiscal perspective, but are also using whatever tools they have to fight class wars, increase income and wealth inequality, and basically be a bunch of jerks because they don’t quite recognize the rest of us as real people in the same way they are.  Even if it costs them money to do so.

In 2011, Sotheby’s set records for sales and earnings.  And this, at a time when those of us who work — if we can find work — for a living are having a harder and harder time making ends meet.  It is unconscionable that a company doing so well should want to pay its skilled laborer less; it is the very definition of economic exploitation when someone other than those who perform labor profits from it.  The Sotheby’s art handlers — and their families —  lost their health insurance at the beginning of the year.  They are currently receiving $400 unemployment plus $200 a week from the union.  To paraphrase Utah again (I feel like I do that a lot), the issues are wages, hours, and conditions, of course.  The union wants a contract — decent pay, benefits, the ability to organize — and Sotheby’s wants to replace skilled union workers with low-wage, non-union workers, with no benefits and no collective bargaining rights.  Same shit as always.

Aside from picketing at Sotheby’s, the Teamsters, along with OWS folks and other allies, have been targeting their campaign on people and institutions who sell through the auction house.  I went to an action at MoMA in late February.  Two of the museum’s curators approached me — I had just come from work, and so I suppose I was speaking their bespectacled and elbow-patched visual language — and I got the chance to explain it to them, after telling them that I’m an art librarian and an auction house employee myself.  I hope I did my part in bridging the gap between the curators and the handlers; I think I surprised the curators a little, being from their intellectual world, but standing with the Teamsters and the Occupation.  It’s kind of a perverse glee, but that’s one of my great pleasures at the Occupation, sometimes looking all proper and getting approached by non-occupiers who think I’m part of their in-group, and then surprising them by laying some uncomfortable facts and well-thought-out theory on them.  Unfortunately I missed the demonstration outside the sale at Sotheby’s on Wednesday evening, as I was (once again) at Manhattan central booking to retrieve some of the 95 or so comrades who’d been arrested at Tuesday’s May Day actions.  The May Day arrestees included three of our librarians, who’d been grabbed off the sidewalk for nothing more than carrying the black flag and being recognizable as occupiers.  Which is messed up, but less messed up than, say, Shawn’s experience.

2 Comments

Filed under Art, Jaime

Best Spam Ever

Last night the Library got an unsolicited email, purportedly from a manufacturer in China, that began, “Dear Sir or Madam: Glad to hear you are on the market for cardboard box [sic] …”

 

*drops mic*  I think we can all go home now.

2 Comments

Filed under Jaime, LOL

May Day Verse

From the foregathered there comes a cry

an echo of all that has been said before

in every language

in every way

it sounds like music

it feels like spring

it seems a message

will play here forever

it reaches even those who cannot hear

those who refuse to hear

it sounds like music

it feels like spring

like an echo of all that has been said before

from the foregathered there comes a cry

here it is then

OCCUPY

visit

www.theowsreview.org

for new words from Peter Lamborn Wilson

and submit your literary arts to:

occupyreview@gmail.com

2 Comments

Filed under Announcements, Art, Literature, Poetry, Sean, Solidarity