Click here to go to the Home Page Not Farewell to the Occupy Movement - Solidarity America - By John Funiciello - Columnist

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With the removal of the tents and other accoutrements of the “Occupy Albany” encampment from Academy Park on Dec. 22, 2011, across the street from New York’s Capitol, many people in the area believed that the “occupy” movement was over.

It took the Democratic mayor of the state’s capital city a while but, with the continual urging of Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo to evict the demonstrators, Mayor Jerry Jennings could resist no longer.

While similar Occupy sites around the country were raided and all of the evidence of the protests was removed, Albany remained for several weeks one of the few places where it appeared for a time that the peaceful protest would be allowed to continue. After all, Albany County District Attorney David Soares had said publicly that he would not prosecute the arrests for trespassing, as long as the demonstrations were peaceful.

He ran afoul of both the governor and the mayor in taking that position, but the first African-American district attorney in Albany County asked rhetorically how he could teach his children about their civil rights and the civil rights history of their country, if he kicked peaceful protesters out of the park.

Representatives of Occupy Albany, including lawyers, had been negotiating with city officials for a few weeks and were led to believe that the deadline of Dec. 22 would not result in removal of all of the occupiers’ belongings, and that there would be further negotiations about a presence in the city-owned park.

A few weeks earlier, dozens of demonstrators had been arrested after the 11 p.m. curfew that had been set by the state (Governor Cuomo) in Lafayette Park, a state-owned park, which abuts Academy Park. It was those arrests that were dismissed, when DA Soares declined to prosecute the violations. It was widely believed that the “curfew” was set arbitrarily just for the occupiers, since no one could remember when the last time the general public was not allowed in the park after 11 p.m.

The morning of Dec. 22 passed without incident and the occupiers believed what they were told by the city’s negotiators: that negotiations would continue and there was a possibility that they would be allowed to maintain a presence, with perhaps a reduced number of tents. It wasn’t to be. At about 2 p.m., city police and the city’s clean-up crews moved in and began the process of taking down everything in the park and removing it to a storage area, where occupiers could reclaim their possessions within several days.

One large tent was picked up by the occupiers and taken from the park. With it, there was a march through the streets of Albany, holding the tent aloft. Later, the marching group reentered the park, where a large crowd of occupiers and supporters were cheering, along with a strong showing of police, some on horses. The police immediately moved in to take down the final tent, ripping and tearing the fabric and rending the poles.

A mounted officer was seen to reach down to his side for something, brought it up and tore at a small piece of it, took aim and pepper-sprayed several people in the face. Though there was outrage over the assault, the crowd remained, for the most part, peaceful. There were a few arrests, however.

The next day, there were only a few occupiers in the park (the mayor had stated on the day of the eviction that occupiers were free to be in the park, but not to stay) and some of the more cynical observers (that is, just about all of the press) virtually celebrated the eviction and wrote or broadcast their delight in being right about the Occupy encampments around the country: Once the authorities evicted them, they would disappear.

In Albany, they did not disappear and they don’t appear to be vanishing from their encampments across the country. They have changed gears. They have changed locations. They have gathered new friends and supporters (not that they didn’t have lots of support already). Rather, since the eviction, which was celebrated by the local press, the core organizers have rented space in the city to continue their work.

The press, of course, played a major role in forming the opinions of the average citizens, many of whom were vitriolic in their opposition to the occupiers and their grievances against the governmental and economic powers that be. Even at that, there was a sizable percentage of people who supported the Occupy movement, and they came from all corners of the political and social world, so it is helpful to look at that press role in the Occupy movement across the country.

Without solid and in-depth reporting of the causes of the Occupy movement, the press was reduced to reporting the way it covers political campaigns: There is little about the substance of the issues, even less about the proposed solutions (if there are any), and it is all about the polls and who is ahead, who is falling back. So it was with the Occupy movement. The press, like the other giants of Corporate America, was short-staffed and not inclined to do any digging for the real story of the economic collapse and all of the societal ills that spring from it.

Andy Zipser, editor of The Guild Reporter, the quarterly publication of The Newspaper Guild-Communications Workers of America, summarized well the problem of the news business in a front-page editorial in the Winter 2011 edition. What follows is an excerpt of the union editor’s commentary:

“…Moreover, the industry as a whole has been driven by the same forces that have pushed the country even further rightward. As cogently argued in a recent essay by David Frum, a conservative apostate: “The business model of the conservative media is built on two elements: provoking the audience into a fever of indignation (to keep them watching) and fomenting mistrust of all other information sources (so they never change the channel). As a commercial proposition, this model has worked brilliantly in the Obama era. As journalism, not so much.”

“No surprise, then, that when the OWS (Occupy Wall Street) phenomenon bloomed, the first reaction of the corporate press - its ranks depleted, its legitimacy fading - was to ignore it. OWS was an attack on the corporatist status quo, and the skeleton crews left to staff most newsrooms no longer had the resources, vision or nerve to act on their once fondly touted credo of “comforting the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable.” Yet, days turned into weeks, and the initial encampment in Zuccotti Park in New York metastasized into dozens of similar occupations all over the U.S. and then abroad. And when the pepper-spray started flying, ignoring what was happening was no longer an option…”

A big reason for the feigned ignorance of many Americans about the reasons for the Occupy movement is surely the failure of the press to cover it in any meaningful way. In fact, that failure is one of the reasons that we got to collapse in the first place. But there are millions of Americans of all ages and places and stations in life who do understand and, even if they did not participate in the encampments, they are occupiers in spirit.

In Albany, the Occupy Albany movement is calling on its supporters to gather in the capital city on Saturday, Jan. 7, to show that the movement is not going away and on that day participants will demand “economic justice and political equality.”

The Occupy movement has been launched across the country and it will not be stopped by the evictions that seem to have been coordinated by mayors and governors and law enforcement, in every city where it existed. The press may not be interested in explaining to its readers, viewers, and listeners the depths of the problems of the nation, so it is up to every American to learn about those problems, teach others, and work with people of like mind (especially the young people of Occupy), on strategies to replace those who have created the problems, whether they acted as individuals or through their corporations or through government, and find a new way to do the work of society in a democratic republic, so that there will be equity, equality, opportunity, and security for all. It is now up to the people. It’s up to you. Columnist, John Funiciello, is a labor organizer and former union organizer. His union work started when he became a local president of The Newspaper Guild in the early 1970s. He was a reporter for 14 years for newspapers in New York State. In addition to labor work, he is organizing family farmers as they struggle to stay on the land under enormous pressure from factory food producers and land developers. Click here to contact Mr. Funiciello.

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Jan 5, 2012 - Issue 453
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