What started as an awareness raising and ethnographic styled walk through Sierra Leone, this site now details the encounters of a not so academic academic who spends more time occupying Wall Street and squats than a university...

Monday, December 24, 2012


So this time of year I have noted at other points has become my favorite.  It is the time when I get to look at the future with hope.  Not the future in general, but mine.  It is school application season.  The time of the year that I can at least hope that this time next year I will be in a PhD program, and the time of year that I always get to engage with my own intellectual interests.  I have put in a number of applications now and still have a few more to go.  UC Santa Barbara, UConn, UC Davis, Hawaii, UC Santa Cruz, Boston College, Rutgers, Pitt, and York (Canada) are all in.  BC and York still have materials that need logisticing, but otherwise there are just a few more to go.  I've got three more spots to fill in my limit and four schools, SUNY Stony Brook and Binghamton, Vanderbilt and Northeastern.  I also have a fall back school in the University of Ljubljana should all go array.  But anyway, I'm almost there.  I'll give a full break down of the costs and finagling it took to bring that down once I've got everything in, but for now I am just about making that last decision and promoting myself at each school.

This Tuesday I just started what should be a few school visits that will help me both decide where to apply and hopefully get in.  Despite having some form of the bubonic plague I jumped in my car and headed up to Storrs, Connecticut to visit UConn and their sociology department.  What I thought was going to be a last minute, one half to maybe an hour's worth of time with a professor or two turned into a four hour red carpet tour of the program and school.  I met with pretty much every professor there on campus at that point and the grad students.  I met with two of my top three choices for supervision and was very happy with them.  One works on social movements and such with a focus on Africa and Ghana and the other has won an award for a published article about a new theoretical way of looking at social movements.  Both were really nice and I felt that I had a good intellectual engagement with them.  The graduate director as well, who works on closely related issues - mostly labor issues - was great also.

The campus itself is getting a major overhaul as they are adding building after building and new professors.  Sociology alone will get 5-6 new professors for next year and one of them would benefit me apparently.  There will probably be more as well in the coming years. While the building they are housed in could use a face lift - it is one of the oldest buildings on campus - it is a classic new England school architecture that is nice.  The school is out in the middle of no where though.  And when I say this I do not mean like Morgantown, WV out in the middle of nowhere (a town of 30,000 in the middle of nowhere), I mean, no town at all in the middle of nowhere.  Like an intersection with a couple shops in it is the whole town.  Suffice it to say, moving there from Brooklyn would be tough.  But then again, I've always dreamed of a cabin in the woods!!  hahaha!!

The program itself has received a face-lift in the last 15 or so years as well.  They have consciously made it more structured.  Not the best thing for me, as they now have two classes required in both qualitative and quantitative methods.  I would like to only have to take one quants class at most, but overall its still really good.  They have moved away from exams as well - a good thing for me - and only require one comprehensive exam to move the next levels of the program.

Anyway, as it is, it was a great visit.  I would do well there and with their staff.  The mere fact that they rolled out a little carpet for me makes me think that I am going to be well considered there.  They'd seen the NY Times videos and went out of their way.  I feel good about my chances.  I was told that they would be starting to make their list in the end of January.  They have pushed their Dec 1st deadline back to January 15th - I would assume because they didn't get enough applicants or as good of ones as they'd like.  They are also likely to be a fall back school for a lot of Ivy type candidates.  The impression I got, was that I should be patient and allow the process to take its course.  That I will be on a list, wait list at worst and that I should just let it all play itself out.  They brought in 11 people last year, which is a lot more than a place like Rutgers that had two last year.  Plus with more Sociology programs in the country there is not the squeeze that there is in Anthropology.

I feel good about the visit.  We'll see where the other schools fall.  I'd certainly like to be in more of a city, but all the same might do well with no distractions!  I am going to go to York in Canada during the first week of January and stop at Binghamton on the way back.  I'll try to sneak out to Stony Brook one day here when I have off from work.  I'd love to get to Cali and check at least Davis and Santa Cruz.  I need to sell myself to these people, bring out my strengths for them.  I'm never the strongest on paper, but in person I carry more merit.  So that's the plan, and its moving forward!


So I officially have a job!  I had an interview a little bit back with a large health foods supermarket retailer and am very happy to say I have gotten the job.  I will be doing delivery in and around midtown Manhattan of groceries.  It is not the greatest job in the world - and not lost on me that it is the same job I had in High School - but it is steady work in a good company with room to grow.

I just had orientation this past week, and it was actually quite refreshing.  I spent two days learning about food and environmental justice, GMO's, the importance of buying local, eating good healthy foods, etc.  It was not really anything new to me at all, but there were some new tidbits that helped.  For the most part I was answering all the questions in the class and adding stuff to the teacher's discourse.  But for me it was great to get to the end of the day and say hey, they are not saying anything here that I really disagree with.

Yes, they are still a business and still are trying to make money - I will most certainly have my critiques as it goes - but in terms of overall company principles, they are a massive company pushing to have more people eat better healthier food, with less industrial food production, and less capitalist contamination of the food and environmental systems.  Now obviously, in trying to make money of this there still are going to be issues.  But they're whole principle seems to be, the more people we convince to eat more organic, local, healthy foods, and the more people we get to buy in to our corporate image of 'green' and environmentally and social friendly, the more customers we'll have.

They seem to be using a growth model for their business that will mirror the growth of the health food industry in the US.  They are not trying to take customers from similar competitors, but trying to take customers from industrial chemical laden food chains, and get them eating health food.  It is tough for me to argue with that or the logic of it.  I'm sure things will play out that bother me, but on the whole, I believe in what they are trying to do - even if it is just a ploy to make money - the outcome is a better place than we started in.

I did walk through the store quick after and certainly still have some research to do; for example: while they spout on about local local local, my honey from there is from Brazil and India   They are using recyclable this and that, and biodegradable bags and such which usually are made from corn - which drives up food prices in the global south.  Obviously, there is never going to be a perfect company to work for.  It is after all a company... and this one is of course intertwined within the expropriative capitalist system, but still, it seems like a good step for me.  Income from someone that is at least trying (even though the owners politics are appalling).  And they are at least saying good things in terms of labor and how they treat their employees.  Including that there is a lot of room to move up in the company.  They will be tripling their stores over the next ten years - 340 to 1000.  Lots of opportunity there if I wanted it.  So we'll see, I feel ok with it all.  Work itself starts Wednesday.     

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Poverty's Snowball

So yesterday I had the chance to go to an event that would have been not only been a wonderful event, but a really good thing for me to do in terms of my career and in support of two great friends and supporters of mine.  The event, Reels for Rights was a small screening of several films advocating for human rights.  It was open bar and going to be packed with the whole of the NYC human rights community.  As my friend said: there will be countless important people there, and I need to come schmooze them, and get myself into job consideration.  I RSVPed weeks ago and was looking forward to it that whole time.  But when the day came I didn't get to go.  I was dealing with the trail of bread crumbs of my own poverty, the repercussions of a life as a poor person.

A year and a half ago I was unemployed, sleeping in a tent, and clutching at straws.  When I was finally offered a job I had no choice but to take it.  It didn't pay me enough to live on my own, and wasn't career oriented at all, but it was work.  There was one catch though, I had to have a car.  I of course didn't have the money to buy one though.  I had $500 to my name at the time, and a hundred dollars a week from unemployment.  I was forced to go into debt to get a car and of course got the absolute cheapest car I could get financed for.  $7,200 for 2001 Honda Accord.  It was nice enough, leather seats, good gas mileage, nice sound system... I really liked it, still do.  But it had few unknown issues at the time.  Like that the transmission was slipping, and it cost $3000 to replace it.

The job itself wore on the car too.  In 6 months at that job I put 22,000 miles on the car driving all over Connecticut, New York, and Massachusetts.  I stopped working for that company last November and moved to NYC, but I am stuck with the car.  It is worth $5000 now - if it didn't need a new transmission, shocks, and have its dents - yet, I still owe $4500 on it.  Even if I could sell it, I am not going to get enough to pay back the loan.  I'm underwater on it and I'm stuck with it. 

It's a $300 a month burden that I obviously can't afford still being unemployed, so I've been doing a car share with a friend.  But is has put a lot of wear and tear on the car - a thousand miles on the car in the first three weeks of November, and Brooklyn miles.  The transmission is night and day worse and all of a sudden needs new shocks.  You give it to someone and three weeks later its rattling away....  They've gotten in two fender benders in three months, one that left a dent on the door.  Needless to say, the car's been beaten up.  It is not their car, it is like a rental.  And while I love this person like a sister, it has really been a horrible thing for me and my longer term fortunes, even if a necessary evil for my short term survival.

But I have had no choice.  I was poor. I'd finally found a job, and had to have the car.  I couldn't afford to buy or lease a good car, so I got the cheapest I could.  It was bound to have problems, just like anything you buy cheap.  Just like the two can openers I've bought at the dollar store during the last two months, both broke within weeks.  The cheap things poor people are forced to buy break much more easily than quality goods that those with money can afford.  So for a year and a half now I've been stuck with this car and its problems in New York City - the unfriendliest place in America for cars! 

So last May the car inspection was up.  I hadn't paid attention to when it was up - I was busy trying to find food and not paying attention.  When do you think about those little things when spending all of your time trying to survive?  Needless to say, I got a ticket for an expired inspection and made an appointment to get it done, but I got two more tickets in the four days I had to wait for the appointment to get it inspected.  $180.  I didn't have the money.  So I just didn't pay it.  I kept thinking about it.  Can I now?  Nope.  Food, rent, whatever.  The tickets went up to $75 each, but that was still under the $350 threshold before they tow you.  At least that was a month ago when I last checked.  I came to find out Thursday when my car was gone that they went up again. 

I saw the empty spot in front of my house at noon.  And I had a 2pm job interview to get to.  Sigh....  How can I concentrate on the interview when I'm screwed.  It now costs $700 to get it out of impound.  I don't have that kind of money.  I can't even pay rent right now, nevermind have extra cash for that.  So here I am, scratching to make ends meet, I have to triage money every day and didn't pay the tickets because food and shelter were more important.  I literally just made a decision two weeks ago.  I had $650 from working, what do I do with it?  I gave $500 for rent and kept the rest for food, phone, insurance, car payment, etc.  $650 isn't enough to live on.  I just didn't have the money to pay for the tickets, for the car that I had to get, so that I could get myself out of poverty.  And now - without that job - couldn't get rid of the car, because the only car I could afford when I was in poverty (and had to have one) has no resale value because it has too many problems.  My poverty is snowballing upon me, and driving up the costs of my poverty just because I can't afford things that will last.  And now here I am on the Friday I am supposed to be going to this career benefiting event, and instead I am dealing with the car I's rather get rid of but can't. 

I had a decision to make, do I just leave it and walk away from it?  If I do, the impound lot auctions it and covers their costs and my tickets first.  But if the the sale isn't enough I'm still saddled with that, and regardless I would never cover the value of the car and would default on my loan.  But where do I get $700 from?  If I can't I'm out of the car, the credit, and all the value included in the vehicle.  Enter the white knight...  yeah, my friend offered to pay for it.  She has really sound logic in it all.  If I go to school next year outside of NYC I'll have to have a car.  But how do I buy one with what would then be bad credit, and little money?  And what kind of car do I buy for $1000?  What's to say it won't have all the same problems this one does?  The only difference then is that I've lost every penny I put into this other one and have crappy credit.  If I can come up with the $700 I keep going, keep trying to make ends meet. 

I accept her offer.  But these kinds of things don't always come free and clear of repercussions.  Yes, I don't see this as an issue for she and I.  But it still is a burden within yourself no matter.  Taking money like that from someone else, hat in hand, desperation as your sole motivation.  More importantly though for the plight of the poor is how many people in poverty have that type of resource?  How many poor people have friends with cash like that?  And if they do, at what cost?  Someone does you a favor, gives you a loan.... what is the social cost of this exchange between friends, families?  Loan sharks, what have you.  It is a tough one to navigate.  Poverty drowns itself in its own minescule capacity. 

For me though, this decision wasn't about the car, my credit, favors, or friends, it was about  my security.  My life is very insecure.  I am living in a wholly precarious housing situation that could end at any minute.  My car has been the only steady thing I've had over the last year and a half.  I have lived in it, used it as a closet, moved with it, and escaped in it.  Without it I am truly at the mercy of my poverty.  So I took the favor, and went to get my car out of impound.  But I had PhD applications due that day, so I couldn't leave right away.  Then I rode 8.5 miles to the place to pay, then back past my house another 12 miles to the impound lot where I proceeded to stand outside (yes, there was no indoor waiting area) for almost two hours in a windbreaker and sweaty clothes.  It was dark by now and with a temperature in the 30's I was shivering and worrying about catching hypothermia while I waited.  I finally got my car, but I was deliriously cold.  I rushed in got the heat on, and left.  I get home to realize I left my bike there, so I drove back, got it and then back to Bed-Stuy again.  Twenty plus minutes each way.  I'm at least warmish by now though.  But I haven't eaten much of anything all day as I've been running around and my housing situation doesn't afford me the power to be able to cook whatever I want.  Normally I'd have a crock pot going to just be able to eat and go.  I'm famished, so I grab some pizza (which of course costs more than a home cooked meal), and need to get in the shower to warm up. 

But its 8:30 by now.  The event was from six to ten in Manhattan.  I've missed it.  Missed a chance to better myself for the simple fact that I am not already better.  My poverty has snowballed upon me, an avalanche of debt, worries, bills, and stress that consumes me to the point of near ineptitude.  Poverty sucks, is systemic, and endemic here.   But at least, despite the calamitous pressures surrounding me, I nailed the interview.  I will be taking my almost two masters degrees and eight some-odd years of international business experience, to a gourmet super market where I will be a delivery boy - yes, the same job I had while I was in High School!  I've come full circle!  But at least I'll have food and shelter... and a platform to keep fighting from!


Saturday, December 1, 2012

My Statement of Purpose

I started my academic career as an undergraduate in sociology. Growing up in a household that always had to make do with a modest income, my studies emphasized economic injustice in American society and issues of race and ethnicity. I was especially influenced by the way that economic sociology brought social and cultural depth to scholarship on economics that tended to focus almost exclusively on “the maximizing, rational individual.” After completing my BA in sociology, I pursued an interdisciplinary MA in Economic and Social History at the University of Manchester, where I gained exposure to theories and methods from economics, social theory, political science, and history. Together with my supervisor, Peter Gatrell, my research centered on the social transitions that accompanied economic and political transformations in post-Soviet societies. My thesis on post-war Czechoslovakia examined how Cold War politics shaped socioeconomic institutions. Specifically, this project examined how multilateral aid efforts had been undermined by geopolitical shifts, creating economic challenges for the local populace and hampering the reconstruction process. The Manchester program helped me to refine an abiding interest in the relationship between crisis and economic transformation.

Once I completed my MA, I found myself living abroad with no visa and few employment options. So, I took a job in an industry that drew on my past research, although ultimately tested my ethical and political boundaries. Based in Prague, the position involved working on security and economic development in Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition to research, writing, and improving my Czech language skills, my job included work on private and institutional financing, planning and proposing economic development strategies in war-torn areas, government contracting, and aid work. It quickly became clear to me though that I was flirting with war profiteering. The political and ethical conflicts with this job created one of the most challenging periods of my life. However, my disillusionment helped to develop my critique of the relationship between militarism and economic and political development. I saw first-hand how neoliberal development priorities penetrated all facets of everyday life in developing regions, limiting individual and collective empowerment as exploitative low wage employment led ordinary people to make distressing choices between feeding or protecting their families. I watched as neoliberal institutions, corporations, and political interests worked to “rebuild” countries and societies upon the “blank slate” created by war and destruction.

Wanting to situate this critique intellectually, I pursued graduate study at Central European University in the Sociology and Social Anthropology department. Whereas my work at Manchester was focused on macro-level socioeconomic analysis, CEU's program was far more anthropological, providing the opportunity to explore local systems and individual agency to a far greater extent. Classes on development, globalization, power, and resistance exposed me to the scholarship of Karl Polanyi, James Ferguson, Giovanni Arrighi, David Harvey, Arjun Appadurai, and Jean and John L. Comaroff, among others. This line of inquiry led me to realize that the theories and methods employed in many types of economic analysis were inadequate to the social problems and historical contexts that comprised the focus of my research. I was inspired by the insights sociological and anthropological approaches could offer the study of economics and politics.

At CEU I broadened my interest in post-conflict societies through sustained attention to the history and development of Sierra Leone. My research highlighted social and economic crises in the context of the patchwork of structural adjustment programs and various genres of civil strife experienced there. My work centered on the theoretical concept of “liberal peace” (or “democratic peace”), which posits that liberal societies—with their focus on the individual, private property, civil liberties, and free markets—are inherently more stable and peaceful. My research suggested that, to the contrary, an idealized notion of individualism often led to more competition. Because competition is inherently antagonistic, it often leads not to peace but more readily to conflict, increasing the probability of outright war. Following my research on Sierra Leone at CEU, I planned, fundraised for, and undertook an investigative/awareness-raising trip to Sierra Leone to learn and to identify opportunities for community-based entrepreneurial and humanitarian work to help people recover from civil war. As part of building local alliances, I worked on increasing cultural awareness, became proficient in Krio, and used my time to set up a community-based organization in the city of Makeni aimed at small-scale projects that could create jobs and provide investment for the local community. This work helped me appreciate the logistical problems of development aid in Sierra Leone, symptomatic of analogous situations elsewhere in the global South.

Back in the United States, that course of inquiry shifted in the beginning of October 2011 when I became active with Occupy Wall Street (OWS) and channeled my intellectual energy into applying this socioeconomic critique here. For years, I had hoped to establish an online People’s Think Tank for research and discourse using democratic and participatory approaches. When the Zuccotti Park occupation began, I used these skills and resources to help create and facilitate the Think Tank Working Group, which expands direct democracy through the collection and dissemination of ideas by directly engaging and empowering individuals. We continue to facilitate informal, open, and documented discussion forums throughout New York City and have expanded the Think Tank to other Occupations, community groups, and now to a weekly radio show here in New York City (wbai.org). Discussions range widely, from health care policy and corporate personhood to race relations in Zuccotti Park and Hurricane Sandy relief efforts. We have yet to realize the full potential of the project and are currently working on the logistics of how ideas generated in Think Tank discussions can be more accessible to the public, as well as part of public Think Tank research projects involving the ideas generated both through this process and those surrounding the greater movement.

My involvement with OWS has led me to a fuller appreciation of the relationship between economic and social change and academic scholarship on societal transition. My participation has only raised more questions for me about the relationship between liberal democracy and neoliberalism. In particular, I’m interested in mechanisms of social control in neoliberal society. For instance, the state's exceedingly violent crackdown on the protests has been largely shaped by military tactics and narratives based on the so-called “legitimate” use of force. These tactics have repeated modern methods of social control: a monopoly on the use of force, control of ideas, social messages, and protests. My experiences within the movement, and especially my interactions with the media, have raised unavoidable questions for me: Was there a systemic attempt to use repressive/oppressive and ideological apparatuses to exclude ideas, and to unfavorably skew public opinion away from the movement? What (if any) collusion was there between public and private actors—especially regarding the media and policing? How did the movement's own structure and message (anarchic, amorphous, and without clearly enunciated direction) affect coverage and public understanding of the movement? And most importantly, what does the Occupy movement and its interaction with state, private, and informational apparatuses mean with regard to “democracy” in neoliberal America and the world?

These are the questions I hope will frame my PhD work. Broadly conceived, the crux of my inquiry looks at a broader contradiction that has regularly surfaced in U.S. society in the face of civil unrest: On the one hand, U.S. national identity is often articulated in terms of rights and freedoms to political assembly and free speech, civil liberties and property rights, economic and social freedoms, and freedom from the use of repressive tactics often seen in “less democratic” regimes. Yet, this ideal has been in direct conflict with an institutionalized response using brute force, censorship, and coercive methods to suppress the Occupy movement. This was on prominent display during the slow transition of public empathy for the Occupy movement to the "law and order" and state/corporate message that many people bought into, even despite its obvious contradiction to the freedom of speech, expression, and fight for economic and social justice—the true democracy—that people are taught and wish to believe America is about. Are media, police, and public perceptions mere outcomes of a greater contradiction? And if so, to what origins? As the aforementioned institutions are largely shaped by state actions and interactions with private and corporate interests, the study's core would look at neoliberalism's dominant position within the shaping of American policies, worldviews, and culture, as well as exploring whether there is a growing part of America that has become so entrenched in “the system” (media, education, law and order, mass culture, etc.) that they can no longer assess and critique “the system” surrounding them.

Having spent the last year on the ground with OWS, sleeping in the park, organizing discussion groups, being actively involved with the media, engaging with Occupy on every level, and feeling the very repression I look to study, I am uniquely positioned with ties to the movement's core to carry out this study ethnographically, historically, and archivally....

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Addendum to the Barriers to Entry

Ooops.....  update to the Barriers to Entry..... it seems that the $17,000 I made in 2011 exceed the $15,600 threshold I need for the fee waiver on the application fees.  It doesn't matter that in the last year I haven't made $5600 dollars, only that over a year ago I made slightly more than the threshold.  What about now?  What about that I haven't made much of anything since and have been living off of the assistance of others right now?  As if the only people that need fee waivers are the perpetually poor, not the recently unemployed or underemployed.  Does poverty only exist in line with the tax year?  No, it is endemic and symptomatic of American society, yet we can't even offer education for our citizens to bring themselves out of poverty.  Basically, the system that's fucked you, just keeps on fucking you.  That's no meritocracy.  That's capitalism.   

The Barriers to Entry

So I am applying to PhD programs again this year.  But as is the American motto, it takes money to make money (or even to try to get the chance to learn how to make money).  This is an issue for me.  I am poor.  I have made maybe 4 to 5,000 dollars this year so far.  I've been staying places for free, working whenever I could find money - political fundraising, childcare, construction, catering, whatever.  All the while looking for real work and doing volunteer stuff.  Nothing has been materializing in my over/underqualified world.

So here I am, back to the old dream and applying for schools.  This of course is met with a broad smack in the face at America's true shame: the barriers to entry faced by low income individuals.  To get into programs I need to "apply widely" (as I've been advised) to increase my chances of entry.  This is something I intended to, but did not do last year for various reasons mostly revolving around my involvement with Occupy.  But the shear barriers to be able to apply to a number of programs are immense.  Between application fees, the cost of sending GRE scores ($25 per school), and transcripts ($25 to send them from all three schools that I attended), is a lot of money.  If I want to apply to ten schools, that is $250 for the GRE scores, and then another $250 for one set of transcripts each (though many schools require you to send two), before you even look at application fees.  The cost of fees which are usually between $75 and $100.  So that's $12-1500 to apply to ten schools.  I have 18 on my short list and 12 that I feel that I need to apply to.  So I'd be looking at $1600 minimum and over $2000 to apply to the bulk of them and give myself the best shot at getting in.  NOt to mention the cost of my time to do the research and write the applications.

Now granted some schools offer application fee waivers for low income applicants.  But not all.  Three of my first six don't.  And it is $275 for those three.   I had been counting on them all having waivers, but there are solid schools for me that I really have to apply to for the best chances of admission.  Two of these I have connections at already working for me that are strongly encouraging me to apply.  But I may not be able to now.  To everyone that thinks America is a meritocracy take a second look.  I may not even be able to apply to some schools because just I don't have enough money.  And one of these mentioned is my fall back school.  I have to apply, it is the only way to try to guarantee my acceptance.  

But what if I was rich?  I could apply to 20 schools, 30 school, whatever.  My chances of getting in would be greater, thus my chances of success in this field greater.  But no.  Not mine.  I'm low income.  I have to make strategic decisions (such as the one that I made last year and then didn't get in anywhere).  I have barriers to my entry.  The Lohan's, Kardashian's, and Hilton's, and Drake's of the world throw money around on glitter, bottles of champagne, strippers, and superficial material things, yet a person looking to go back to school and make both themselves and hopefully some day the world a better places can not do it for the simple cost of one of those bottles of champagne. 

How can anyone say this is the greatest country there is?  We claim to be a place where you can do anything!  Well I may not be able to apply to go to school because I am not wealthy enough.  In most places in Europe, school tuition is free, never mind applications.  If you are good enough to go, you get to go.  I may not even be able to apply, and for no other reason than that I am poor.     

Monday, November 12, 2012

Individualizing Desperation

It is amazing how the human psyche works.  I am continually working and acting in cooperative and communal ways.  The work I do, the volunteer stuff, my Africa project, academically and intellectually, everything is team focused, egalitarian, and about working together.  But it is amazing how when times are tough and a longstanding at that, that your body and mind enter into a survival mode that is tough to work through sometimes.

My situation is well chronicled here on this website.  Lots of education and experience, a keen analytical capacity, hard working, whatever.. but no professional place to use it right now.  It is tough.  But beyond just the remorse of not being in the place I'd like to be, there is a desperation that comes with poverty and the basic human struggles for food and shelter.  What I'm referring to is a selfishness that comes about.  A selfishness that would drive the starving to snatch food out of a child's hand, or knock an old lady down to get to a loaf of bread.  Now obviously I am not there, and would like to think I could always overcome something like this.  But I can feel and see subtle moments of it seeping into my conscious awareness and attacking my subconscious on many levels.  The instinctive self medicating that so many of us do when we are hurting such as rushing to "comfort foods" (I ate a bunch of doughnuts yesterday, which I have no business eating with my allergies), or to liquor, or risky things, sports.  Things that make us feel rebellious  alive, viral, whatever.  We all do this stuff at some point.  Act out in individualistic ways that inject enzymes, adrenaline and such, into our world and brains that make us feel "better", if even for a moment.

What I am talking about right now though is an overlooking of others and even perhaps sometimes basic protocols of human interaction and attention based on immediate feelings of personal desperation.  Not taking the time to say thank you, somehow feeling it is implied, not responding to a call or text, not paying attention to someone else's efforts to help you with or care of their ideas and works in respect to what you are so desperately trying to do.  I am finding myself doing these things.  Just so desperately focused on trying to change my situation that I am pushing myself internally, working to market myself, survive myself, that I lose track of those surrounding me and the attention they deserve.

I have been speaking in "we" terms for years, and have really struggled focusing on the proverbial "I" - marketing myself.  But that is where I have to be right now.  My resume needs to make me sound like King Kong, my writing projects need to sound like I am the smartest thing ever, my PhD prospectus like I thought of all this shit myself.  At times I lose track of the care for others that has been the cornerstone of my adult existence   I've rescinded into home-life more and more, and am not paying attention to others in the way I am accustomed to.  Not saying thank you, not working with someone in a way that expresses a team effort....  sad.  I know I am better than this.  I know I will be back there some day.  But I am worried that some of these situations and ways of life may become bad habits.  Since I left Europe I have gone in the wrong direction.  I've been training myself in desperation ever since I got back to this country over three years ago.  I definitely don't like these desperation and individualistic habits I'm picking up here.  But what can you do?  I just want to get back to being stable - if such a thing ever existed.  

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Hurricane Sandy and the Frankenstorm

This is where it all hits you.  That you have no outlet for your skills.  Last night a devastating storm hit the New York area and the eastern seaboard of the US.  Deaths, destruction, power failures, explosions, high winds, flooding...  "unprecedented damage and destruction" they are saying.  Yet here I sit, on a degree in post-conflict reconstruction and additional business/graduate work in reconstruction - all of which dove tail with disaster reconstruction.  The theoretical and logistical situations of the two are the same, the only difference is security; an additional factor in war torn areas that you don't have to deal with in disaster reconstruction.

In 2002 I organized independent flood clean up and reconstruction in Prague when most of Central Europe flooded.  I organized funding and donations from abroad, flew in supplies from the US to Prague by creating relationships with air carriers, set up a team of volunteer workers in Prague, and cleaned up several locations in the worst hit area of Prague, an area which was under 9 meters of water (about 25 feet).  We then helped fund, rebuild, and rejuvenate the area. 

I ended up in school after that and studied rebuilding in the historical perspective of World War II, then I worked on Iraq and Afghanistan for a couple years, and went back to school and studied current day issues of rebuilding from sociological and anthropological perspectives - rebuilding after war in Africa, but more pointedly economic development in general.  I went to Sierra Leone and walked around the country assessing needs and how to build society and economic infrastructure after the brutal civil war.   But back here in the US, these skills have gone unused.  They don't seem to be able to find a "market".  It makes me want to shake my fists and say "I can do anything - if someone will just give me the chance!"  The bottom line with it, is that what is about to happen in the New York Metropolitan area is something I have both experience and training in.  I have a lot to offer.

I have no outlet for these skills and experience though.  I am sitting at home in Brooklyn writing rather than troubleshooting, engaging, and problem solving ways to rebuild the areas destroyed by this storm.  Do I volunteer?  Do I just go out and try to get into the mix?  The mayor though has said everyone should stay home, home and interfere with trained workers.  I'm trained, but I'm not a worker.  How do I reconcile this within myself?  If I go out and volunteer I am then sacrificing my capacity to find work and pay rent next month.  I have no job, and despite every inkling within my heart, finding income has to be my priority - sadly, beyond helping others - if I can't eat myself I am of little help to anyone.  Why can't I find this kind of work helping others?  So here I sit, wasting my time venting to my electronic devise that my skills and experiences are just wasting away.

Could someone give me something to do?  I've tried to do it myself, but haven't gotten anywhere.  Could someone give me an outlet for my training and skills?  I can help.  

Thursday, October 18, 2012


So I have had to leave my place in Brooklyn for a couple weeks. I don't have enough money to pay for a month and the owner has someone that can come in and pay something for a bit. I knew this prior to my moving in, so I've had time to plan. But it has forced me to try to piece together places to stay and opened up some old wounds in doing so. Family, friends, whatever. It makes for a very tough time again. I seem to have isolated that one of, if not the key, to my internal feelings of security comes from secure housing or a home. Jobs, relationships, activities, they all seem to be able to come and go with normal levels of stress, but housing puts me into a different place. This last couple weeks have seen that type of involuntary emotional response and reaffirmed what I felt in August when my housing was about to run out.

I am right now writing this from my grandparents house upstate, spending time with them and my relatives from Colorado. This always provides for an interesting point of departure in an assessment of the self.  The other night I said to my Uncle, in reference to work and trying to find a way to squeeze any money I could out of things, with a sigh, “it sucks to be desperate.” He looked at me and laughed, “you're not desperate.”  Shunning off my situation with a smug chuckle.   I responded with “huh, $200 to my name, no income, and unstable housing certainly feels desperate to me.”

 So what does this mean? Am I desperate? If I have family to stay with for a few days here and there do I not qualify? In a conversation with a friend the other day I likened the way I am living right now, to a cat that has stopped grooming itself. You know, when they get sick and can no longer attend to the general maintenance of daily life but rather just making it through just that one day. All I do is make lists of things that could help me gt out of this situation and just try to get those things done.  The basic things needed to get done, eating, cleaning, etc, not remotely being taken care of as they need to.

But this is where I am right now. And I wonder if it is something that most people can really get their head's around. A situation yesterday brought this to light for me. A friend had been helping me with my prospectus for academia and amidst, uncertain housing, food, and the general difficulties of the life I am living within right now I seem to have cut corners and didn't get a response back to her right away about an extensive email she wrote to me. It was so amazing and invaluable to me, but I blew it by not thanking her immediately and trying to piece things together conceptually before I responded to her. I posted a blog post about a synthesis of my ideas and several other's (but mostly her's) before I responded to her. It didn't go over well. The writing itself as well wasn't carefully worded as it was thrown together hastily. It just failed on so many levels. But this is where I am right now. I am desperate and in survival mode. I am clutching at straws and up against walls that people don't seem to understand the height of.

My family is reconstructing their house and truly put out in their living situation, they are struggling. But they have a home and will have one. They have a place to live and food to eat. My friend that deserved a thank you and adoration for the help she is giving me, deserves better from me. Just as every job application requires more attention, and every networking opportunity, and PhD application, and, and, and....

Basically people, I can't do it. I can't live up to all of your expectations. I don't know where I will sleep tomorrow night, I don't know what I will do about food, I don't know what my future entails, all I do know is that most of the things I am doing in life right now – at least in ways that our society usually measures successes – are more failure than success. Job application after job application goes unheeded, unrealized. I am an utter failure there. I can't correspond as needed, I can't keep up networks, and friends, and family, and job prospects, and future prospects or any of that as I should or want to. I am living a life that most people seem to not understand or not want to understand. I am not the man I want to be or you want me to be. I am an impoverished, unemployed, and overqualified guy that is struggling with so many facets of his life. Yes, there are a few great people in my life helping me hold it together. But on the whole. I am sorry to everyone else out there that expects me to be more, or at minimum expects me to be the man that I have been the rest of my life. Right now I am not that guy. I am desperate. Desperate for place in this world, for an income, a job, a home, a career, a realizable purpose, whatever. I am desperate. And desperation leads to many things that do not fulfill either my or others expectations. So what else can I say, I am sorry I am not the man you want me to be. It hurts me too, but I am doing the best I can to just hold things together enough to get to the next day and to just keep trying to move forward.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


So it is about that time again; where the academic calender is calling my name.  This year of course its especially loud as the job market proves to have no love for me.  Thus it brings me back to my eternal quest to get into and funded at a PhD program.  I thought for sure last year would have bore fruit.  But it didn't.  I cut my academic nose off to spite my occupation.  It seemed like a great idea at the time, stay in the New York area to be closer to Occupy.  But I overestimated my capacity within the power and strength of the advice I was getting from others in the know about my PhD applications.  I was surrounded by people that knew and fabulously supported me.  I felt like I'd get in everywhere!  But admissions department's don't know you like your friends and colleagues do.  I got overconfident I suppose, and applied most;y to the most sought after programs in the country.  It didn't work out as I got in to one place with too little funding and wait-listed at my top choice.  A couple hundred plus applicants for two spots.  I was in the top ten it seems, but I didn't get in.  Most of the advice I got from friends and family at the time was to give up, walk away, and find a new career option.  How many years to you keep trying before you realize they may just not be interested in my application?

So I put my efforts into Occupy and finding work in the non-profit and/or international development sectors.  It hasn't worked thus far.  My resume seems to not get me far in these communities and today's economic climate.  Not to mention that, as always, I find myself yearning for intellectual discourse, to be able to focus, to just sit and learn and analyze and try to come to new alternative ways of doing and contemplating things.  I always come back to it.  My passion will always lie in this type of work. I just need to find the best outlet for it.

So I've been looking into how to go about this in academia again.  What lessons have I learned from the last several application processes?  What can be changed?  What in fact should I be studying?  I've started formulating some prospective concepts in my mind over the last few months, and reached out to some people that I trust and have helped me throughout.  I feel like this past year and the people that I've found myself involved with has really honed some of my thoughts/perspectives, especially in formulating this concept.  A year on the ground as a part of a social movement brings a lot of concrete insights that are tough for those outside of it to replicate.  Combining this ground level Occupy stuff with my previous work has really broadened my context and critique of society.

In my head this summer I have been musing about writing a book about some things that make a lot of sense in terms of a PhD project as well.  I keep thinking about the meaning of the systemic, institutional, and successful suppression of the Occupy movement.  The main question that came into my head when thinking about American democracy and society as a whole was the question: "when do you give up on America?"  If Occupy can so easily be suppressed and marginalized, what hope do we have?  As I've been conceptualizing this thought, it centers around the systemic suppression of this open and democratic movement using the private media, the use of "legitimate" power in the form of the police, FBI, homeland security, etc, and a myriad of other tools to sway public opinion in unfavorable directions regarding the movement and the use of free democratic speech as well.

The point of it to me though is not to make another report on the suppression of another movement, but to focus on what this means for our society as a whole and our interest/ability to bring about change.  The main premise is that while "America" believes itself to be so many great things, it is in fact statistically falling far behind much of the industrialized world, and that the suppression of this movement (one envisioned to exactly address these issues and to do it with basis of free speech, economic and social justice, and a more inclusive society) tells me that the country could be on the brink of being lost to real change.  Is our society so systematically controlled as to stifle the exact cure of our ills?  Have the individual people (I know loaded and generalized statement) have become so entrenched in the system that they can no longer assess and critique the system?  It seems that we as a society are forced into a steadfast maintenance of daily life and survival, and that we perhaps blindly trust media and the state to the point of ignorance.  Hence what seems like an easy and slow transition from empathy towards the Occupy movement, to an eventual siding by many people with the "law and order" and the state/corporate message, as opposed to freedom of speech, expression, and the fight for economic and social justice/true democracy that we are taught America is about.  Basically, what does it mean for American society to have had a movement aiming to care for and give voice to all people be so resoundingly squelched by the establishment, and for this to seemingly be accepted by the general public as ok. 

I think these are very important issues to be addressed, and which stretch well beyond NYC and the US.  Even to the global issues and Africa work that matter so much to me easily play into it.  When contextualized through a global light, there is a systematic repression of justice movements throughout the world using the same tactics and weapons used here in the US and that all fall within the framework of neoliberal systems.  The police, media, state resources, the corporate control and influence over global political and economic systems.  The pictures and tactics from around the world are all the same.  Police forces and intelligence services being used as tools of capitalist and authoritarian regimes, all in the name of local or international order.  Public money being spent for police to guard private property.  These images even bridge the international political science discourse on liberal/democratic peace theory that I've done work on in the past with domestic issues of democratic voice and internal conflict/force. 

Obviously this global framework would be an important part of understanding the broader issues affecting things here on the ground in the US regarding democratic voice and the Occupy movement in an interconnected world.  But for me in these purposes, Occupy and the US would be a specific research focus to investigate the systemic issues inherent within the neo-liberal system, what the past year means about the strength of this system, and what "its" hold on power and social control is.  I wrote something touching a bit on some of these issues in a really short piece for the MetrOccupied newspaper.

That article brought me to some very poignant research questions that I feel should be asked regarding the media. While there was a wealth of coverage in the beginning by countless media outlets, what happened after the park was lost and the media coverage slowly dwindled away?  Was the media coverage suppressed?  Was it just the news cycle and fickle nature of private media?  Why did the mainstream coverage eventually seem to solely show negative clashes with the police rather than the movement's outputs?  And what of the alternative media that still covers the movement to this day?  What differentiates these media outlets?  I made some decent friends in the media over this past year and my conversations with them only raised more concerns and questions I'd love to ask.

There are also an equal number of questions to be raised in terms of the physical suppression of the movement by law enforcement.  This has drawn a great deal of attention in alternative and liberal circles and there are a number of projects on going that point out the inequities and illegalities throughout both this movement and others.  These studies would provide a solid foundation for a more expansive inquiry/analysis into the nature and legality of physical suppression by "legal" actors. 

That line of thought brings me to the crux of my interest:  the contradiction and conflict within America's national identity - based so profoundly on different types of freedoms - that I feel that the Occupy movement has shown.  From political voice, to assembly and free speech, to economic and social freedoms, civil liberties, property rights, and everything else in between, there is a devout contradiction here as despite this American self-image of being exceptionally free, the violent suppression of the Occupy movement (and others before it) shows that the country is in fact as repressive as many other countries from whom we like to differentiate ourselves.  The question then becomes where do these contradictions and conflicts come from.  What can the Occupy movement show us regarding this contradiction?  What is the "individual American's" role in this?  Do people uncritically accept their circumstances?  How does the concept of law and order and the "legitimate" use of force factor in?  To what extent does the media's telling of this tale factor into people's opinions, their social critique, and an American concept of "freedom"?  What does it mean to believe the media's representations?  And what would a critique of this "America" look like if it should exist?

The contradictions of course go well beyond just the media, police, and public perception.  They are shaped by state actions and their interactions with corporate interests and messages.  Do the police merely protect the interests of the corporate state and state-like corporations?  What is the outcome of this physical repression on the general public's sense of freedom and democracy?  And what of the possible "repression" of information by both state and private institutions?  Does it actually exist and if so under what context?

This inquiry also requires much more than just an interrogation of whether "America" has allowed the Occupy movement to by pushed a side, but what role did the Occupy movement itself play in its suppression?  How does Occupy's general choice not to engage with electoral politics play in?  How does the strong influence of anarchist ideology/principles factor in to the movement's appearance from the outside give current and historical constructs/prejudices?  Realistically, the media came out in droves early, and in many ways provided the support and interest in Occupy (and its related issues/messages) that allowed the movement to explode into a global movement.  So how and why did that change and what was Occupies role in that?  There is a lot of work to be done analyzing media content and frequency, and Occupy's role in framing this coverage, just as there is to discussing Occupy's reactions to the policing and suppression of the movement throughout the multiple levels of the US's social and political fabric.

Ultimately, this project takes me personally so far in the right directions.  It is a long way from Sierra Leone yes, but it tugs at the heart of my larger interests and interdisciplinary soul that will resonate further than "capitalist expropriation in Africa" - which is not a new topic to academia.  This project with Occupy, which has grown within me while having been on the ground with OWS for the whole year, puts me in a very advantageous position.  I mean how many applicants could say that they were living in the park, organizing daily, getting pushed by the police, being both propped up and stifled by the media, facilitating large discussion group every day and turning that into research outputs?  Nevermind maintaining an involvement?  How many applicants would have the background I do and would be applying for PhD's in the same places?  I the parlance of my neighborhood, I've got knowledge and street cred here.  And I've earned it.  I want to use that knowledge and leverage to get to the next level and to provide a proper break down and analysis of both what's happening here and its meaning.

Wooo.....  right, but where do I do this study?  I had been applying mostly in Anthropology over the ast couple years; a discipline that is great at accessing individual agency, power, national cultural images, and critiques of the media, but I've done a lot of work in Sociology as well, a discipline that is really strong on Social Movements.  I also already have a masters degree in history and could piggy back off that; assess the movement through the historical suppression of social movements and of social change in general and in American ideals.  There is also the legal aspect to it all.  There are law schools out there tied to interdisciplinary initiatives that could be very interested in this work.  I personally usually think in interdisciplinary terms as it usually bridges my interests well - giving the the best of many worlds.  But it also has its limits in the depth of analysis.  Those programs are also hard to locate.

I think the key for me is going to be to find progressive/critical mentors, academics and programs that are going to work with me, understanding that I am not just an academic, but an activist, a protester, a dyslexic football player... an all-together different sort of fellow.  So how widely do I apply?  And how do I afford the application fees?  If I am going to do it, I need to get it done this year and i need to get the applications done early.  I need all my ducks in a row, to do lots of research, and make some really astute choices to get in to the right schools.  We'll see.  Time to get reading so I can frame the study in the right way, reach out to the right people, and try to make things happen... Oh yeah, and try to figure out where to sleep next week, whether I'll have enough food, and what to do for the next year until a program would start - if I was to get in!  lol.  What I wouldn't give for a job!!  ;)

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Free Learning

So during the last week I have been getting out of the house a bit.  I went to two study groups, and wanted to illuminate that these are the types of things that Occupy is doing and bringing to the social critique.  Despite what the media may cover, we are not just yelling in the streets, we are learning in small groups and helping to impart and exchange knowledge and ideas.

The first group was organized by the Urban Rebuilding Initiative based out of the Bronx.  They are doing tremendous work on activating communities, growing and giving out healthy food, and trying to energize communities to bring about real change.  They are also very engaged with the think tank.  We met in Manhattan for a reading and discussion of the first two chapters of Walter Mosley's book Twelve Steps to Political Revelation.  We had about six people there and ended up with a rather lively discussion about education and its place in society/society's place in education.  There were a few people I knew from Occupy, a few activists, and a young student just testing the waters of the world.   Great cooperative discussion that you don't find elsewhere.  Intelligent, informed, and experienced people those Occupiers!

The second group was last night.  The Free University, Occupy, and the Strike Debt campaign had a discussion group of about 15 or so people discussing debt and its meaning.  There was not the same focused discussion as with URI, but still, all the same it was an interesting discussion.  It was at the New School and included a lot more of an academic feel.  I don't know if I will go back to this one though as it wasn't what I expected.  I wanted to get more insight and understanding of debt rather than personal anecdotes on debt.  I have a fabulous debt resistors manual that my time trying to add that knowledge would probably be better spent reading.  But no matter, these things are tremendously worth going to for both learning and socializing.  Occupy has set up all sorts of networks and these types of learning things all over the city.  Lots to learn, nothing to pay!!

Monday, October 1, 2012

The Job Search

So in the last two weeks I have put in over 20 applications.  16 of them were for working with people with disabilities.  Funny how we come full circle.  I spent all that time in Connecticut working with the disabled population only to have left that job and joined Occupy.  Now here I am trying to get back into it.  But you know I didn't leave that job as much as I left that area and ran to Occupy.  If I was working and living in the city doing that I don't know that I would have left it as I could have done both Occupy and that job.  And that's where I am right now - trying to do both.  I was successful with that work.  So I'm looking at it again.  It's been a couple weeks now though and I haven't heard anything yet.  So my hope is dwindling with each day.  I've also put in a few of the typical idealist.org stuff that I've been doing - after school things, project management, economic and social justice stuff.  Same old.  And you know this is not me belittling anything, but me lamenting the waiting and the decreasing marginal levels of hope attached to each application as time slowly passes.

I did catch a break though this past week when one of the women I work with for the Occupy Radio set me up with a guy that does set construction.  At this point I know nothing more other than he needed someone next Thursday evening/night.   But good pay/work, so I'm there!  I must admit that while for the first three or four minutes it didn't seem to affect me too much, all of a sudden hit me.  Wow!! I'm excited.  I so desperately just want to work.  Just want to do something productive and have some income coming in.  Anything.  I am not sure what will come of this, but I am excited to have an opportunity.  Any opportunity really.  And this would be good.  I would get to do some building, it wouldn't be something that I would have to spend time thinking about outside of work, and would afford met to make rent payments!  What more could I ask for?!  I mean other than the obvious real career job of course!  But you know what?  I don't know what that is anymore.  Maybe that's just gonna have to change....


So its been a while now that I have been skipping meals, buying less nutritious food, eating smaller meals, and losing a bit of weight.  I haven't bought meat in months it seems.  I check prices and just walk to the bean section.  I've decided that eating meat when I eat out makes more sense.  You pay maybe a dollar extra for meat in a restaurant other eatery, as opposed to like six dollars a pound minimum for some kind of low grade meat.  Now of course NYC is really expensive, the highest in the country by far.  But that's I guess all part of it. 

In the last month I have been forced to really address these issues.  I have started looking at Food Pantries and finding ways to get food without paying for it.  I have not been dumpster diving as of yet, but others I know have been.  It is part of what the world is coming to it seems, even as we throw away millions of pounds of good food each year.  I have been really lucky that my mother has runs a community garden that gives its food to the needy.  I have been the recipient of bags of kale and other produce that have kept me healthy of late.  And that is no small thing.  Healthy food is expensive. 

But I have gotten to the point where enough is enough, I no longer can keep trying to spend money I do not have on food.  I spend my days trying to apply to jobs that don't seem even remotely interested in me, have few if any prospects at this point, and will possibly be homeless in just a couple weeks.  I have no place to turn for help in my situation.  Family, the government, neither really has the means to solve my income issues.  It is only up to me it seems, yet, resume after resume I am getting no where.

So Friday I applied for food stamps.  They were quickly approved and I picked up my card today and went and bought some meat.  It's actually probably not the best impulsive decision as 200 dollars of food a month does not go very far, especially in NYC.  But this is the way it is.  I will be back to beans the next trip to the store.  I will start trying to strategically mix home cooked meals, and food pantry stuff.  This is an issue for me though as I have these allergies.  If I want to be at my peek - the best position to get a job - I need to be able to get the right food in me.  But hey, I'll have to take what I can.  I stopped eating wheat for 3 or four days last week and started felling pretty good.  Even the bike accident injuries seemed to heel a bit.  But immediately, one weekend back eating wheat and I could completely see the difference, even started having issues with hypoglycemia again.

It is amazing what food insecurity does to people.  The system itself is set up in a way that does not put me in the best position to succeed.  If I had no dire need to find food and shelter, and could put my best foot forward, I would be able be the best I could be.  But that is not where I am right now.  So I have to take what I can get.  I am no longer able to support and provide for myself.  Hundred's of job applications in the last three plus years and little to show for it.  I have tried, and anyone that says otherwise I would love to have words with. 

But as of now, I am one of those many people out there on "entitlement programs".  One of those many that some how don't feel like they have to work hard, that can just skate by and live off everyone else's hard work, right?  Yeah, like facing death in West Africa to better your resume, trying to start businesses, non-profits, and volunteer endeavors, officiating girls lacrosse, selling shoes, applying to schools, etc.  If you think I haven't tried, haven't educated myself or worked my ass off to make a place for myself then you are out of touch with the world we live in.  I am not an exception, I am just another of millions - in fact billions - throughout the world that just want to work hard, and make a difference in their own and others lives through these efforts and the fulfillment of their abilities.  The world is failing us, just as I am failing in my job search and ability to support myself.  But hey, at least social services in New York City treated me with dignity and respect.  That is a far cry from the way social workers treat you upstate in Poughkeepsie. 

Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Real Occupy Think Tank

So Friday I met with a Think Tanker about moving things to the next level.  We have been thinking for months (really since its inception for me) about creating a true research institution surrounding the work and issues we are focusing on at Occupy.  We met about trying to make this happen.  There are three of us that may really be interested in working on it.  We don't really have plans as much as guidelines.  But it is a good thing to move forward with.  The general concept was free-written as such:

We would structure this research institute under different auspices and governance structures than found in typical institutions.  We would incorporate a horizontal decision making structure into a managerial structure sharing input throughout ll levels of the institute and its research process.  Focusing on horizontal ideals while still working to maximize efficiency and expertise.  The research process would be facilitated by trained intellectuals doing research and working to guide projects on specific areas of interest and expertise.  These individuals would work within their main areas of inquiry or subject matter, but would largely be responsible for managing information and what would mostly be crowd sourced research supplemented/done by the general public.  The teams would be open and charged with briding public participation in reaserch and ideas while working with the scientifically valid research methods.  The idea would create a think tank that was far broader than a few PhD's sitting in stuffy rooms reading books, but for qualified intellectuals to act as  facilitators and discussion/project leaders aiming at producing a research process that includes and brings to the fore the public's voices and ideas both in terms of subjects and as researchers. 

From a methodological perspective, the research process would include at least four areas of data collection:
  1. The general public on the ground. Open discussions, town hall style roundtables, community lead research/questions. This would take the form of individuals going out into public/private spaces (in cooperation with local community groups), asking questions, and engaging in public dialog with citizens and local communities.
  2. An expansive web presence that would act as an idea/information conduit and repository that would open information and research to the public and researchers.
  3. There would still be standard academic styled research and discourse.
  4. Survey or phone based sampling to try to include everyday citizens into the dialog. This could be part of number 1.
The key component to this think tank would be a foundation based on open/crowd sourcing of the research, and teams of researchers that could be anyone and everyone from throughout the process.  At every level of society you can have a conversation with people with profound ideas and initiative; from CEO's to carpenters, there is intellect everywhere.  All the researching, writing, editing, and decision making would be done by and for us - the people.  With a large focus on engaging the general public both in the process of learning and engaging with their voices while coming to outcomes, options, and policy suggestions.  We believe that this will put individuals and groups that have traditionally been on the periphery, or marginalized throughout the whole process of intellectual creation, at the forefront of understanding and recreating their own social, political, and economic outcomes.  

The research focus itself would be within Occupy's principles and interests of political, economic, and social justice.  The research would however not inherently be done on the Occupy movement itself, but focused on doing research that viewed the world through the prism of an occupied lens and used this as its analytical and thematic point of departure. The institute would be designed to become the nexus for the ideas, research, and actions surrounding and produced by the Occupy movement.

Beaten and Bruised

So as I wrote about a bit ago, I was hit by a car on my bicycle a bit over a week ago.  It was a pretty rough experience and one that still leaves my back in a decent amount of pain right now.  I didn't get medical treatment at the time though because of insurance and my own pain tolerance/aloofness.  It happened on a Thursday, and while I seemed ok right after, by Sunday when I woke up I decided to head up to Bellevue and get checked out.  I just wanted to confirm that I was ok. 

It was an all day ordeal.  I biked up there from Bed-Stuy (yes, I know, shhhh....) and got there around 11:30 or so.  I was there till about 5 getting checked out.  They were far more concerned with my neck than my back or hip.  I ended up in a neck brace and with a CaT scan of it.  X-Rays of my lower back and pelvis.  Luckily everything checked out and while still in pain I headed downtown towards Occupy's daily #S17 events.   

I was tired and starving.  I hadn't eat since I left that morning.  Figured I'd eat my lunch when I got downtown.  My head was racing.  Moments, events, thoughts on cycling, my body, and how I feel like I'm more of an educator on a bicycle than a cyclist.  I mean I spend the whole time teaching New Yorkers about the laws involving bicyclists.  They are so oblivious....  and then WAM!!!!  IT HAPPENS AGAIN!!!  I wasn't a block past the same exact spot as last time.  The same bike lane, the same stuff.  Woman pulled out in front of me not looking or seeing me and hit the back of my bike.  The bike shimmied and flew out of control.  I somehow jumped off of it and managed to land on my feet (on a positive note I feel like this may have been one of my most impressive athletic feats, and hopefully a pleasure for someone to watch!  But as it was I did something to my knee.  It's been sore since, a little loose even.  I of course didn't really pay much attention to it at the time.  I'd just spent the whole day in the hospital, I was famished, and I couldn't stomach waiting another hour for the cops.  So I spoke with the young lady that hit me, took her information and agreed that she would get my bike fixed.  Looking back on it, it wasn't so smart.  I should have gotten checked out and called the police, but I decided to do things as they should be.  She and I would trust each other and work together.  She didn't need her insurance to go up, and I just wanted my bike fixed and to eat.  I don't think I wanted to deal with the cops again either!

Anyway, is what it is.  My knee is still not right, but I'm working it back into shape.  I got the bike fixed and the young lady responded to my text about it.  I should head up to her work this week and sort it out.  I got her the lowest price I could and feel good about it all.  Like there is trust and honesty in this world.  We'll see though.  I haven't gotten reimbursed yet.  But I think I will.  Accidents happen, and integrity may have surrounded this one.  It does still exist you know!!   ;)

Occupying our Airwaves

So Wednesday we started what will hopefully be a wonderful pathway forward for the Occupy Think Tank, and one I must admit I'm pretty excited about as well.  There is a pretty solid chance that we will be filling a vacant slot on the 6:30-7pm Occupy Wall St. Radio show every Wednesday on wbai.org, 99.5 fm in nyc.  Here is a link to the show from Wednesday, and below you can see a proposal that I wrote a few months back but that was not capitalized upon until just this week.

WBAI Radio, Occupy Wall St. Radio

The Occupy Wall St. People's Think Tank was on occupy Wall St. Radio Friday, February 17th for one hour doing a version of the discussion forum that sprung up in Zucotti Park in the Fall, and has been expanding throughout the region, country, and world since. We would like to formally propose a structured think tank radio program that could appear regularly on WBAI's Occupy Wall St. Radio show or elsewhere. The concept would be as follows:

  • One facilitator guiding the discussion using Occupy's facilitation techniques based on horizontality and equality of voices. The facilitators would also not always be the same so as to get a mix of genders, races, creeds, etc.
  • Ten plus studio participants. A usual OWS think tank has one recording device that is passed around similarly to a speaking stick. In the radio studios at WBAI there were 5-6 microphones, it would be very easy to have at minimum 2 people to a microphone as the facilitation technique would actually be aided by this method. The whole point of Occupy's facilitated dialog is to allow for patience and only one voice speaking at one time. Thus, people addressed to speak step up or pull the mic close to them. Our conversations are not about everyone always having a mic and being able to jump in, but waiting and holding collective, pensive, and pointed conversations.
  • Telephone participants would buttressed the studio group. A phone call could be the equivalent of going on “stack”. The called could then be there for their part of the dialog, perhaps be allowed a direct response after others, and then hang up. This would depend on logistics and the number of phone lines as well.

  • The topics could range from all over the spectrum of economic and social justice, the occupy movement, global issues, etc, and would be set in advance (though we have mostly decided on the spot in public).

  • The facilitation technique would follow “stack” and allow direct responses, but would be limited to the specific facilitator's discretion and methodology. Some limit direct responses in length, some in number, some don't use them much at all. This can also be determined with your production staff. Clarifying questions, points of factual information, etc. will all go through the facilitator and be explained prior and online. Individuals must wait until thoughts are complete and facilitation calls upon them, rather than jumping in when people pause.
  • The facilitators themselves would bring diversity to the show. One day a show facilitated by a white male graduate student on the future of the occupy movement, and the next show could be facilitated by an African-American man from the Bronx on issues of school pushout, and the next by a women leading a discussion on energy dependency and war. The beauty of this type of facilitated environment, is that it is about inclusion and leadership for and by everyone.

  • With the conversation set in advance it could be advertised around the occupy movement in order to get maximum participation both in studio and via phone. This could also be promoted on WBAI and such to have as many different voices as possible. There could be an online sign up at WBAI and Occupy's pages to be in the studio shows. As the show would be about inclusiveness, openness to everyone, and horizontal voices, so too would the ability to sign up.


This type of interaction should be very different from typical media dialog, and will in many ways be a learning tool for the audience on how to communicate with more patience. Many people describe the practice of being involved with occupy facilitation and the think tank as transformative. It teaches them to wait, to listen, and to allow for both themselves and others to formulate and carry full thoughts through to their conclusion.

We envision this show being able to air once a week for one hour. It would seem appropriate for it to be on Occupy Wall St. Radio, but could just as easily be on at a different time. We have a team of facilitators that could host the show. We would also help to fill the preset studio seats and promote real time phone participation through our channels.

Monday, September 17, 2012


September 17th was great...  Occupy's one year anniversary was a truly festive day that I didn't know how much I'd be able to be a part of.   After getting hit on my bike again (yes, again, coming back from going to the hospital to get checked out from the first time), I was pretty tense and sore.  Neck, back, hip and now knee.  I thought for the day that I'd sleep in and see how it felt when I woke up/if it was swollen, and I didn't even go to sleep until almost 2am.  But wouldn't you know, that my soul knows better that to take such absurd precautions.

I was already partly awake at 5:45 when my friend texted to see if we could go in together.  I wavered for a sleep deprived moment thinking of my plan to be prudent about my knee.  But I quickly found absolutely no reason not to get my ass up and get in there.  Passion is passion after all.  I mean, its the year anniversary!  I/we put so much into this, and it means so much to me.  My body, heart, and soul knew what my mind was trying to rationally ignore: nothing was gonna stop me from being there.

I had this song coursing through my head all day....

So the Think Tank crew met up around 7 at 55 water street as part of the debt area protest.  Lower Manhattan was divided into four areas, the 99%, education, eco, and debt.  We sorted out our crew, took our precautions, and started off with everyone else.  The morning was planned to be pretty open and fluid.   We were going to keep people from getting to the stock exchange.  But I'm not as much of a direct physical action type and not interested in getting arrested, so I didn't get to far into all that.  As people saw the next day though, there were a lot of arrests.  Many for people sitting down in the streets or blocking the way to the exchange (typical civil disobedience ala Ghandi style), but sadly most of the ones I saw were pretty random and absurd.  Grabbing people out of crowds on the sidewalk and arresting them seemingly just for being there.  But that is an old and tired discourse. The police are absurd, and the media's coverage of it all are of course going to be as well.  Again, we know this.  So lets talk about things we don't know!!

My feeling from that morning as I limped around lower Manhattan was that there were swarms of occupiers on every corner.  Around every building we turned, swaths of people.  Yes, I know the media will say there were 100 people marching and 180 arrests.... but I swear to you that something within that statement is inherent false!  There were a couple thousand people down there in the morning probably.  The point of the whole protest though was for them to be dispersed and to not move as one large mass.  The groups just kept moving and swirling their way away from cops and blockaids. 

It was a really good and inspiring action as I saw it.  But one that will not get good press given it seeming smaller than it was and fragmented - even if by design.  After a while I sat down with my co-occupier (who recently found out that she was being occupied by a little mini occupier!  Yes, be wary, we do multiply!!  ;)  Anyway, we caught a rest and then headed back out for some fun and excitement.  We walked around for a while, getting back into the flow of the day and the different actions.  

Eventually a number of us settled into liberty/zuccotti park and started up a Think Tank discussion.  WOW!!!!  We went for FOUR AND A HALF HOURS!!!  Talking about how to reach the 99%.  There was so much interest.  Our group varied from about 40 to maybe 70 people at any one time.  Such incredible insight and vantage points.  You can see notes here and someday audio will be up there as well.

The Think Tank discusses reaching the 99%

After this I poked around the park for a few hours.  Meeting new people, catching up with old people.  It was great.  We then had a popular assembly to discuss the day, what people thought of it, and what they did.  My group had a guy that had come up from New Orleans, one in from London, four more local stalwarts, and a new older woman there for her first time.  Everyone had different expereinces of the day and different perspectives to add.  you know the media has complete over blown the hurricane issac story?  That's the word on the street...  London can't do like we do in NYC, but their doing it like they do and are doing it, doing it, doing well!!  (yeah, to the melody of LL Cool J...).

It was getting late at this point and we were over 12 hours straight with little rest or to eat.  We wanted to stick around for the OWS Birthday cake, but that was apparently coming much later.  We slowly started to disband, but two of us ended up grabbing some of my favorit indian food around the corner and talking Occupy with the owner.  I've been going there for a year, and as I do, am tight with the owners.  Good perspectives to be learned there from local business owners.  In it for the long term, they agree with teh cause and the issues, but still, have additional issues with the methods of the movement.  Time to make the think tank happen!!

Home I went.  I was asleep 20 minutes after I got in the door.  Exhausting, invigorating, and inspiring.  I am so glad I was there for it all, and so glad that Occupy will be around forever.  

Yup!!  Free Kisses!!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Occupying Decency

Occupy!!!!!  So yesterday was wonderful!  Back in the occupied saddle.   It was lovely.  I saw so many friends and acquaintances that I have sweat with and stood ground next to, even bled with.  I was at Occupy town square for the anniversary festivities.  The first occupy town square was at washington sq park, and this one was much better and bigger!  Not that the first one wasn't great.  But this one seemed more magnanimous and had a whole crew of people from all over the world there.  A huge convergence for the Occupy S17 anniversary.  I guess all I can say is that it was so nice to be back around these people that are all working towards such great causes, and focusing on treating people with such dignity and respect.  I don't ever have to convince anyone down at occupy about world views or my contempt for the political system. The minute I step out of Occupy I run across people where I am always seemingly taking a "radical" stance.  I am the crazy guy tearing apart the system, raising issues that others don't see or don't maybe care much about

But this is where I came to yesterday: I don't care what you think about occupy or its methods, but if the world was full of people with Occupy's values we would have no problems.  Caring, loving, patient (or at least devoutly trying to be), they just fundamentally view the world in a way that respects everyone and everything in it.  Imagine a world where everyone respected everyone?  Everything?  No really, imagine if every person you came across today treated you with dignity and respect from the depths of their and your core?  Imagine if governments, businesses, services, everything was designed by and for people that fundamentally respected each and every person and thing in the world above all else? Black, white, brown, male, female, both, young, old, religion, ethnicity, whatever.  Imagine if EVERYONE was like this and had a world view that was like this.  The world would be a TREMENDOUSLY different place.... a much better place I think. So say what you will about Occupy, but they are good people, with great values.  We would all be so lucky to be surrounded by such good people.