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...

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Police Guarding Barnes and Noble?

So I went into Barnes and Noble the other day and was surprised to see two uniformed police officers in the store.  I thought at first that it was simply a guy shopping on a break.  Then I saw the second one and later approached them both when they were together.  I asked if they were specifically guarding Barnes and Noble.  They explained that they were on their day off and that they did this work on the side to make some extra cash.  I questioned the uniforms and they said that the department said they were allowed to wear the uniforms for the work.  They were kind of vague and trying to pander to the, "hey, we don't make enough money, you know, gotta get it somewhere."

Now fast forward a couple days and I'm in another Barnes and Nobles and there is another cop there in uniform guarding the place.  I asked him as well and got a bit more information.  Seems the department gets something out of it.  Some kind of money or something?  It was vague, but I have some serious questions about this here.

So lets rewind this whole thing now and put it into context.  For all intents and purposes, to the innocent onlooker, Barnes and Noble is protected by the New York Police Department.  They even don't bother hiring some crappy security firm, no they go all out and get the NYPD, uniforms, guns, and all.  WHAT!?!?!  I must admit this needs a little more research here, but that is NOT right as far as I'm concerned.  That is a private company that is being protected by the police, i.e. a private corporate interest being protected by the state, i.e. tax payer money being used to protect Barnes and Noble.  Granted Barnes and Noble is paying the officers personally, but where do those uniforms come from?  Who pays for them?  Who pays for their training?  And most importantly, what kind of message does that send?!  It tells me and anyone that doesn't think to ask that the state is willing to use their own means and mechanisms to protect corporate and private interests.  This of course is what we have been saying down at Occupy for months.  We are treated differently in security terms, the police crack down on the protests in disproportionate and hypocritical ways as per Bloomberg's dictate of the day - including in the protection of private property and interests - and now the NYPD is visibly protecting a private retail chain?  I think it is absolutely appalling, but not even remotely surprising.  yes, if the individuals want to do it on their own free time, and they want to wear whatever rent-a-cop uniform B&N has them wear, then so be it.  But full on NYPD uniforms?  Guns, badges, batons and all?  No way.  That's wrong on so many levels.  The state should not be protecting private corporate interests. 

(Oh wait, that is actually exactly what the modern capitalist state does... foreign policy, economic policy, bank bailouts, student loans, NAFTA, imperialism, structural adjustment programs..... all designed to promote national (or really the private interests of members of those nations) both domestically and abroad.... ..........sigh.......... shaking my head...) 

At what cost?

Written 3/28/2012

So I feel a bit like I'm up against a wall on this.  I have to get myself to the right place in terms of the quota, but today was a straight disaster.  I got one contribution for less than 10 dollars.  I was trying.  I was engaging with people, having great conversations, and completely getting people familiar with everything we do and the party itself.  In fact I would certainly say I did a hell of a job today, just not my job today.  As I've said before.  My job is to make money for this party, not to get out the vote.  I'm great at that, but that isn't how the game works in our world.

Anyway, so the gist of it all is that it is tough to work hard, to try daily, to push yourself, but to not succeed.  It is not something I am very familiar with.  I tend to have success in many ways and in most things I try to do.  This has been a bit different of late though I guess.  I haven't gotten very far with schools and jobs back here in the US, so maybe I should no longer say that.  But I guess more pointedly, I haven't done good getting jobs and into schools.  Once I'm there, doing, I usually always do well.  But not in this sense.  Not this job. Seems I generally fail at this kind of sales and fundraising throughout my life.  Everyone always thinks I've got the personality for it, but it doesn't seem I've got the heart or character for it.

No matter, tonight was a tough night.  Felt like I was just trying and trying (too hard probably) to make it work.  Not only was I pushing and pressuring myself, but I was taking it kinda hard.  I was having great conversations, but then nothing would come of it.  I'm actually kind of disappointed with myself over it all.  Here I am measuring success in a political sphere on whether people give me money.  Its so far from where I have and want to be.  I can feel this ugly transition in me, toward measuring my self through this outcome.  It is so sad.  I believe in these mutual and communal ideals, yet here I am now, forced to deal with and become driven by this job and a success based on monetary outcomes.  It is so sad that society can't function as Occupy does, and the Occupy couldn't provide a sustainable life for me.  It doesn't pay, and in our society it seems that this is the first and foremost thing that matters.  Food, shelter, clothing, they all come from money these days.  Money I don't have, and that I need this job to provide.  But at what cost?

The pressures on me now!!

Written 3/28/2012

You may recall a couple weeks ago that there was a guy there at work that got called into "the room" and came out with "that look" on his face: half distraught, half pissed, and have trying to look as unaffected and as stone faced as possible.  So a couple days ago, I walked out of the room with "that look" on my face.  I was not getting it done!  (As you might have gotten from my last post!)  The pressure has been put on me now and somehow, while I don't feel like I've put pressure on myself since then, my numbers are up a bit.

Pressure is an interesting thing for me these days though.  My boss actually seemed quite disturbed by what he seemed to perceive as a "laissez-faire" attitude to it all.  But then again, laissez-faire is a word that is as misused as much of my general philosophy of life is misunderstood in the West.  If you read back into much of my writing, you'll see Daoist philosophy and thought come into play.  This is why this pressure stuff is so interesting to me.  How is it that pressure fits so readily into our concepts of drive and pushing for the things we want?  My boss gave a related version of the old Yoda mantra: there is no try... you're just going to do it.  I of course responded with a much more pensive and calculated, "well my history has shown me that the odds are against me in this kind of work, but I believe in the causes we are fighting for and am working hard, analyzing my self and working to make myself better each day and each hour.  The results will be what they are and they will be, but pressure won't become me."

He seemed baffled by this.  A willingness to just work as one works, do as one does, ground one's self in the heart of  history and reality while simply allowing life to happen, your world to happen, things to just be.  Yeah, it made no sense to him either!

It's all so funny though, I spent so much time in life embracing pressure, stepping up and thriving in it.  Especially in sports, and then even in business settings.  But now I take an approach very different from then, one that allows my heart and soul to feel at peace with life.  I just work at things, and allow them to be.

I think some of this is why Occupy works so well with me.  It's a place where things just happen, are done.  People don't seem to try, they just come together, think of something to do, and it just happens collectively, communally, and organically.  It is an amazing place. 

Friday, April 6, 2012

Politics, the Art of Making Money

So here I sit in my cubicle, thinking I'm fighting for the good cause, fighting the political fight, trying to raise the minimum wage in NY.  Turns out that while that might happen at some point in a future as of yet unseen, really I'm just here to try to make money.  Actually its a little more nuanced than that, I'm not exactly here to 'make' money but here to get people to give me money.  And while the difference in wording is really just about semantics, in reality, politics is as much a business of making money as anything else in America.  Where I am REALLY struggling with all this is that I spend my days and weekends protesting to get money out of politics, and then I am spending my evenings trying to get money in to politics.  Now granted, at this organization we don't take corporate money and I'm simply calling individuals and asking for small monthly contributions, $5-10 in most cases.  But all the same, even politics 'light" in America is all about money.  
It doesn't matter how many people I get "involved" (sign petitions, write letters, pledge to vote for the party, or just activate and inform), its all about money at my job.  I am blowing away the quotas for everything but the fundraising goals.  Yup, that's right, I'm having lots of interesting and informative conversations about the issues, getting people excited and activated, engaged with the issues and the party itself, but this isn't enough.  I have now seen first hand of how politics really all works.  I guess it would be really easy if they took large sums of corporate money, but they don't (hence their appeal to me and many others) so the whole operation becomes simply about making money.  I suppose that is why the entire organization is a group of fundraisers.  The two ways into the organization are through door-to-door "canvasing" and telephone "organizing" (both just fancy names for asking for money either on foot or by phone).  The organization only promotes from within, i.e. from either of those two avenues.  
This is of course proving to be an issue for me.  For while I'd love to be doing some solid research and analysis on the issues I don't seem to be successful in fundraising like this.  Thus, that chance may simply never present itself as its money or nothing!!!  I of course find this really sad.  Here I sit with all this experience; almost two masters degrees, years of business, developmental, and whatever other kinds of experience I have, and yet there doesn't seem to be much of a place for me.  Sad, guess I'll just have to keep Occupying!  ;)     

Reflections on an Ugly Night

Written 3/21/2012

The most disturbing thing about Saturday night (3/17/2012) was not the police brutality - though it is very difficult to think of anything more disturbing right now - but it was the systemic nature of the obvious strategy that the NYPD has undertaken in response to Occupy.  Firstly, they now have a special Occupy detachment.  It is the same officers and the same commanders there now.  People are starting to know officer's names and to identify the particular officers who seem to be continually "getting off" on the use of violence and absolute control of the protestors.  And the stories of things said, commands given, and the general disinterest in anything remotely professional or compassionate is so overtly obvious now as well that it is shocking only in how unapologetically blatant it is. 

The methodology seems obvious also.  The department has decided that they are going to be brutal and discriminatory in their suppression.  They know that we are going to pick up things on camera and video, and while they are doing what they can to keep camera's and mainstream media out of the area and break or take personal cameras and recorders, they really just want to minimize their exposure on video, voice, and pictures throughout the broader general public.  To minimize the sensationalism and thus largely get away with as much as they can. 

In the beginning of the night they had roughed up a few people, cuffed them, dragged them away, and then were letting them go.  It seemed given individual comments expressed to me by some of these individuals, that this must have been deliberate to keep the headlines to a minimum.  High arrests mean lots of news coverage.  While the pictures and video's on youtube tend to have a specific reach, it is limited to certain demographics and the mainstream news outlets seem reticent to disseminate these "amateur" "grainy" videos.  Where was fox news' coverage of Saturday night?

No, the NYPD seems to have a very deliberate strategy that is very savvy of both their place in society and of our society on the whole.  They know that corporate control of the media is their ally.  They know that there are going to be a relatively small number of people in the country that are going to see these things, and while perhaps those individuals will be horrified, that the images will likely not be disseminated widely, or at least to the point of TRUE repercussions - meaning tens of millions of people.  Even though they humiliate themselves on live stream and blogger posts, most of America never sees it. 

It seems to me that a lot of people involved in Occupy think they are winning these wars with each swing of the baton.  But really, the media savvy of the NYPD, Bloomberg, and all their goons seemingly outpaces us.  These messages and visuals are not getting to the American heart land, and if they are they are accompanied by narratives of Occupiers as terrorists, hoodlums, and evil anticapitalist anarchist bastards.  (ps. not case!)

Case in point:  Now maybe there are technical issues with grainy, unclear "amateur" video, but more likely they really think its news worthy.  MSNBC, which has had really good coverage in the past, started their article by saying that the batons came out after a protestor threw a bottle at the bus carrying away arrestees.  This is completely false to ANYONE that was down there (save whoever from the police was paid to give distorted, agendaed accounts).  Another part of their strategy comes in this vain, they always get asked for a comment, and it always gets printed.  As if their opinion holds more merit than anyone else's.  Its all propaganda.  We protestors are just a bunch of drunk hippies in the park right?  Fact is, batons where out long before they needed the buses to haul off all the people who had already been hit with batons while getting arrested.  And what got thrown if anything?  Did someone drop an empty Poland Spring bottle?  The horrors.  MSNBC compiled the article from news wires without doing any real journalism on the ground themselves (which evidently neither had the wire services).  I saw no obvious reporters there that night (and we've gotten to know most of them by sight), save a NY1 camera.  The NY Times covered it in its blog the next day.  Otherwise?  Occupy it seems is no longer so important at the editorial level at these big national news outlets to send reporters down there anymore.

The NYPD knows all this, they have it in a well versed strategy that puts us all in a bind.  Always at the wrong end of the sword.  We open our mouths as the constitution guarantees us able to do, only to have a sword shoved down our throats at just the right angle so the camera can't quite make out whether it went down our throats or just might have.  No unequivocal proof.  And it is that grey area that the police navigate in a very strategic and methodical way.  sigh... this system is a tough one, we must find better ways to react, or better yet - ways to act!   

Unfamiliar Bedfellows

Written 3/21/2012

For years now since my undergraduate days and on through my graduate work as well as in life in general I have been trained and/or socialized in what is proving to be a very certain direction.  Much of this training has come from academic classes in the social sciences and research training in support there in.  I have taken all sorts of things from participant observation to archival research to (the dreaded) quantitative methods, but the approaches that have resonated with me most have been centered in, about, and around ethnographic styled encounters and methods.  I have realized something in the last few days regarding this though: ethnography and sales do not work well together!

At work, I am tasked with selling and fundraising.  Short sweet, controlled conversations with a very pointed and desired outcome.  Ethnographic styled interaction on the other hand is about sitting, listening, and engaging in subtle ways that do not control much of anything.  You are a participant, you are observing, but you are not imposing your will or your cultural paradigms, or anything else onto the situation anymore than is unavoidable. 

Its no wonder why I seem to suck at sales/fundraising!!  You are taught NOT to listen, to hear objections and to brush them off, to mostly ignore what people say (unless of course it helps lead you towards your objective).  In this "game", it doesn't matter if you actually want to empathize with people or their stories, you have to let it go.  They tell you to work on the pretense that what you are asking for is inherently in "their" best interests as well as yours and society's.  In short, to assume that you know what is best for "them" - whoever "they" are.  This is of course exactly the opposite of any participant observation/ethnographic endeavor.  Participate, observe, denote, and analyze later from the confines of seclusion and through other similar works or analysis.  How does one switch up speeds so quickly?

This has been one of my issues here at this job.  I have been tasked with switching up years of training, and in fact an entire way of life, overnight.  Its not coming easily.  Not to mention the fact that I actually care about these stories, I actually want to engage with them in dialog, learn and get to know the people on the other end.  But sales isn't about people, it is about money, and the only thing you need to learn is how to make more of it. 

Student Debt and House Bill H.R. 4170

So I just thought I'd weigh in quickly on this house bill HR4170 (summary, full, petition) that is trying to forgive aspects of student debt.  And before anyone gets all excited... no you would still have to pay your existing loans - there would just be an end in sight.  I do though have some very serious reservations about the whole thing.  Yeah, great, so the one trillion dollars already accrued in student loan debt may become more manageable for those of us buried under it, but that does NOT solve the problem or the causes.

The bill is marketed as both helping individuals and the economy.
Excessive student loan debt is impeding economic growth in the United States. Faced with excessive repayment burdens, many individuals are unable to start businesses, invest, or buy homes. Relieving student loan debt would give these individuals greater control over their earnings and would increase entrepreneurship and demand for goods and services. (full)
But obviously there are some serious issues that quick summaries and marketing doesn't lay out.  Firstly, debt default does leave a hole in the banks balance sheets (often covered by insurance or hedging with other investments, etc. etc ( and whose loses I don't have much sympathy for)).  It also makes the act of student lending more risky and less profitable - especially with a cap on interest rates at 3.4%.  This is not as I think things should be, but as capitalist lending is based pretty much solely on rate of return.  Thus, there will in the longer term be less money lent to students making school actually perhaps less accessible.  And while, according to the petition, "since 1980, average tuition for a 4-year college education has increased an astounding 827%, [and] since 1999, average student loan debt has increased by a shameful 511%."  So how are we going to cover this gap in the future?
"While current borrowers would be eligible for full forgiveness under the plan, future borrowers would be subject to a $45,520 cap on forgiveness (based on the average overall cost of a four-year degree at a public university). The aim is to incentivize students to be mindful of educational costs and for colleges and universities to control tuition increases." (summary)
(fyi: $45k doesn't cover one year of most any graduate school)

Yes, if we forgive some student debt right now you are going to make the people holding the 1 trillion dollars of debt happier, but you are actually harming the education system in this country for the future as "the bill would not affect funding for existing student aid programs", or the educational and research systems themselves.  The ONLY way to sort out the education issues in this country are to FUND the educations themselves.  Fund the schools, fund the research, fund the students, FUND IT ALL!!

It is great to say things like:
(1) A well-educated citizenry is critical to our Nation's ability to compete in the global economy.
(2) The Federal Government has a vested interest in ensuring access to higher education.
(3) Higher education should be viewed as a public good benefiting our country rather than as a commodity solely benefiting individual students. (full)
It is an entirely different thing to actually do something about it.  This bill is a start to help the people buried under this debt.  But tuition is not going to come back down on its own, nor is people's ability to pay for it going to somehow miraculously appear.  For the future of education (and the economy) you must do so much more.  Among other 'minor' things (like changing the entire way our socio-economic and political system operates), SPEND GOVERNMENTAL MONEY ON EDUCATION!!!!

Billions and billions of dollars.

At EVERY level.

(and EVERYONE knows where that money can come from!!)

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

The Occupy Think Tank on "Deliberately Considered."

A couple weeks ago I posted a piece on the Occupy Think Tank.  You can find it here.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

are you scared yet?

Written mostly on 3/10/2012

So last night (3/9) I went to a really great event at Judson Memorial Church in Greenwich Village put on by the Occupy Legal working group. It was about US domestic spying, counter intelligence, and activism.  The event started out with an hour discussion about the newly published “zine” called “The dissident's survival guide”.  There was a great discussion of it, with commentary by and often arrested and antagonized dissident that has been raising a ruckus for years.

We then watched a movie about COINTELPRO which is the US domestic counter intelligence program.  The film, called COINTELPRO 101, was really quite disturbing under our current protest climate in the US.  Here we are in our "free" society, and have been survailed going back decades, and continue to be today.  I mean this movie wasn't new news to most everyone there.  But to see the description and dialog by the Black Panthers (one of which was there to discuss it afterwards), about the way they were systematically murdered by the US government was really amazing.  

The whole gist of the evening was quite disturbing in the depth of its fearmongering.  Obviously there is a lot of truth to these fears, but I think the fear comes from years of being taught that this didn't happen in our country!  We were repeatedly told about how shady this all was, and told story after story of actual events that have been going on.  Things you never read about in the media. Basically, we were all going to be political prisoners.  Did you know that the US has three prisons specifically designated for political prisoners.  One of the panelists had been incarcerated there for 8 years.

Now I am finishing this post weeks later, so much of the details are not making it into this post.  But it is very much worth saying that we live and have lived in a police state.  The reason we don't all know this is because they are good at it.  People that protest and voice dissent should be aware of the history of not just protest in America, but of the suppression of it as well and of the actual danger that it may bring to them.  I think personally that it is so absolutely absurd to think of Occupy in this way - as a danger to the fundamentals of America and its original values - especially being as deep into it as I am.  But the powers that be are certainly threatened by the messages and awareness coming out of the Occupy movement.  Society is waking up to the economic injustice of our social and economic system.  Those powers that be don't want this to change, and COINTELPRO is as solid a case-in-point of that fact.