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...

Friday, May 11, 2012


MAY DAY!!!  What a great day!  This post may take a while or a few because of simply how dense the day was with stuff!

6am the alarm went of and of course it was pissing buckets outside.  I will be the first one to say that I immediately thought, sh*t, this is gonna suck!  But I've gotta suck it up and get it done!  So I dragged - literally - dragged myself out of bed and got some things moving forward.  We got to Bryant Park for 8.  Yes, believe it or not, I even think I was a couple minutes early.  There were several hundred people there already - which is saying a lot in OWS land!

We all milled around for a bit, catching up, talking to people about their plans and thoughts for the day.  that didn't last long though as we started organizing for the morning's pickets.  We had a whole list of different locations and companies for Occupy and the coalition to picket.  Our affinity group (details to follow) ended up "bottom lining" the Citigroup picket up at their headquarters on Park Ave.  We headed out at about 8:30, marching, chanting, and even a bit of dancing.

Our affinity group was made up of two groups of Occupiers that have a lot of overlapping members.  The Think Tank and the Occupy Town Square crew.  Th purpose of an affinity group for a day like this is really about safety.  Obviously everyone hears loads about police brutality and violence at Occupy events.  So most people in Occupy were trying to get together with similar minded people that had similar tolerances for  safety and risk.  Our affinity group was made up mostly of intellectual types not so keen on police run-ins.  It actually worked fabulously.  We set things up before hand to have a celly service that we were all connected on by phone.  When one person wrote something, everyone on the list received it.  It allowed us all to stay informed and connected on where we all were and what we were doing.  We all had "buddy's" that we were responsible for and contact info should something happen.  Sad I must say that so much safety precautions must go into a day of free speech and protesting.

But anyway, back to the day of.  Or maybe we should start this part with the day prior when a small group of our affinity group got together and made "puppets" for the march. 

The obvious point was that a heart plus a brain were much greater than money!  We carried them around with us all day! Including the trip up to Citigroup.

The Citigroup picket was another part of the #99 pickets that I've written about before and came with some pretty good chants and information.  Citigroup received a 2 million dollar payout from NYC to add jobs, yet their NYC workforce has shrunk by 67% since.  The company also made 10 billion dollars in profits last year, yet has paid no real taxes in over three years.  Yeah, it's funny, even the cops "monitoring" us were smirking and looking befuddled.  I'm sure they pay their taxes.  The most interesting part of the picket though was just about at the end when some thread bare business guy in a suit started shouting - very angrily -  that we should all just get a job and give it up already!  We of course hear this ignorant rant all the time - as if the amount of 'lazy' people in America just doubled in 2008 overnight.  So I clicked into "lets debate trash talkin football player protestor mode" and went and gave him the business: 
"We all actually have jobs.  I have two right now, some of us three."
"So go to work and stop complaining. It's 10 o'clock in the morning "
"Not everyone works a 9-5 Monday thru Friday!" 

"So get a job at Duane Reed," veins popping out of his seemingly uncomprehending head.
"Why do I need another shitty minimum wage job, when I've already got one?"
"Go to school then, learn something!"
"I already have almost two masters degrees!"
"Well go get a job at Duane Reed then!" He fumbled out, subconsciously conceding that he was really at a loss in this one.

He really didn't know what he was talking about or what to say.  He was too emotional and angry.  People like this baffle me.  They are so full of anger and disgust.  It's almost as if because they think that because they are working and absolutely miserable that everyone else should just accept that working is miserable and do what he does.  It's as if he never stopped to think that perhaps another world is possible.  That maybe if he stopped wasting his free time distracting himself from how unhappy he was and instead spoke up about it, that it might change!  And yes, I'm speculating completely and to a fault!  But the body language and true anger was something we've seen so much before.  People that lash out, angry at their situations, but unable to come to terms with it, to understand and place the sources of their anger.  So they lash out at "dirty hippies" in a park or whatever else the vilified are labeled as. 


So it's now August and I'm jsut gonna give this a quick sumation (hopefully).

From Citigroup we headed back to Bryant park, I lost the crew though as a woman that saw me get after the business guy wanted an interview.  We missed paths as they apparently stopped to disrupt traffic at some point.  But yeah, We got back to the park and started a think tank.  I can't remember what it was on right now.  I left early to get invovled in the immigrant workers justice working group tour of the biggest restaurant worker expropirators.  It was amazing, the whole sidewalk by the capital grill was shut down hundreds of people on both sides.  Then on to Chipotle.  Was incredible.

We ended up back in Bryant park again and then down to Union Square with the "Gituarmy" carrying our puppets.  I'm not big on this kind of stuff, but ended up getting in on the puppet action as its a long walk and arms get tired.  There were all sorts of estimates of people on the day and with this march, but by a couple blocks south of Bryant park the march took the whole Avenue.  Thousands of people.  We ended up down at Union Square where we were joined by the unions.  They had an event going on with speakers and we all just milled about.  As the evening went on their was a planned march downtown to Battery park.  I just remember being at Canal street and hearing that people were still in Union Square and hadn't left yet, while the front of the march was almost downtown.  We got down to the Wall st. area and hour after the speaches happened.  There was an estimate of 100,000 people there that I heard.  Probably generous, but there were a lot of people and it couldn't have been much less. 

From there we spilled into some park down on the other side of the ferry terminal from battery park and had a giant general assembly.  The park closed at ten and there was discussion of staying and trying to "take it", of course the huge police presence seemed to dissuade a lot of people.  Most marched out around ten into the zigg-zags of lower Manhattan.  Tthere was a lot of police violence reported, but I mostly steered clear.

All in all, it was months ago now, so I'm not giving you much to work with here.  Just trying to get posted what I had.  But bottom line was that it was an incredible day.  Unprecedented in its collaboration of unions, NGOs, Occupiers and citizens.  Even if it didn't achieve the absurd goal of a general strike (duh).  Tens of thousands of people in the streets, yet virtually NO media coverage.  The NY Times coverage was actually so obviously comical as to convince me of the media/powers that be conspiracy once and for all.  Buried on page A29 or something they talk of 35 occupy arrests and snarled traffic and mentioned a few hundred people and nothing else.  I've written about it somewhere, I'll try to find it and get it up here.  Sorry, this is so late, so poor, and with no analysis, but so is life right now!!

Monday, May 7, 2012

Care for those who care!

In circles we go!
So as part of the 99 pickets actions on Thursday April 25th a few of us went to support home care workers protesting for a better contract.  They were members of the SEIU 1199 Union who are currently working without a contract.  These are domestic workers - mostly minorities, immigrants, and women - that do home care and nursing care for the elderly and disabled.  Put bluntly, they are the people that come to your grandparents houses when they can't walk anymore and clean up for them.  They are the people that go to your autistic or disabled cousin's house and help them clean themselves and make sure they take their medication.  They are the people that work in the nursing homes and assisted living communities that we send our parents to when we decide we can no longer care for them by ourselves.  Basically, these are our relatives.  They are our families.  They make the lives of our loved ones directly better on a daily basis.  And they are working without a contract and without benefits.

These are not nurses per say, just home care workers.  They work hard long hours for little more than minimum wage and with little to no benefits at all.  And deserve our support.  I mean imagine you are a home healthcare worker looking after the people other can't or won't look after and you don't have healthcare yourself?  They work for private companies, foundationally bent on profits and earnings, not on the care of their workers or even their patrons in some senses - and they are hell bent on union busting.  Now say what you will about unions, but these people just want honest pay for an honest - and valuable - days work, AND they want HEALTHCARE for themselves!!  I don't think that is too much to ask.

So we picketed them.  It was a great and spirited affair.  We started around 11:30 and marched in circles as our numbers slowly swelled.  We were the white people there.  It was mostly all women, some literally walking out of the building from work and joining the picket!  Singing, dancing, drumming and tambourines.  Festively somber you could say!  I held a sign that said "Be fair to those who care!"  It is fairly commonsensical.  If you are a healthcare giver, you should get healthcare for when you need care.  Tough argue with that one.

Sunday, May 6, 2012


So timing is something that I will never quite understand, and probably shouldn't even attempt to...  On Sunday April 15th I learned I would not be starting a Phd program in September, that Wednesday I lost my job and my relationship was in dire turmoil.  Seemingly every part of my life had schismed aimlessly within just a couple days of each other.  Time as I knew it had stopped. 

What do you think happened that very next day?  I was standing in Union Square talking about getting a think tank going, and to people about this crazy couple of days when my phone vibrated and three quick successive emails came through.  They were from Yapo!  Now, anyone new to this blog won't know him, but he is my guy in Sierra Leone.  Around the turn of the year I had scratched together some money for our Africa work and sent it out to him.  We needed to get our national and municipal registrations up to snuff for our community organization in Sierra Leone and the bank account open.  We went back and forth for a while as it took me longer than expected to get the money and get it to him.  Things had kinda gone quite  and then when I sent the money I didn't hear anything.  He had told me he would be doing some election monitoring and be a way for a bit so I didn't know what happened.  I was worried, but Sierra Leone is an interesting place.  There is no electricity pretty much anywhere and communications are really tough.  He basically never got my messages saying the money had been sent, thus never picked it up.  He thought I just didn't send anything.  So he slowly got together some cash to do the registrations himself.  When he sent me the certificates I immediately asked if he had gotten the money.  No!  He went that night and got it all.  So now we have a sizable chunk of cash sitting in the bank!  We still have to do a couple administrative things, but we are up and running!

We do not have a specific project yet that we have committed to, but as of right now we are strongly looking at verma composting (composting with worms) of waste, and also at a sustainable internet cafe/office to work from.  That is where the most interest came from the government and seems most viable.  It is really tricky though as without personally going there and getting to work on it, it is very difficult to make things happen. 

All in all though, it was fortuitous that he simply popped back up when he did.  Down to the day itself!  Perhaps there is something to our connection that is in fact incomprehensible!?  Or maybe things just happen incomprehensibly... But I do know that it brought a huge smile to my face, and I immediately ran around the park and told everyone.  Any rain on my face that day was quickly washed away...  I had hope again of finishing what I started.  :)

What's next??

So as you will see in the previous post (schools), I have no immediate plans for the future.  A dream of mine may finally need to come to a close... meaning it's probably time to reassess life, put all options back on the table.  I can only imagine how many people are doing this this time of year.  Students for sure, but probably countless others in general.  The weather is starting to turn nice, people want to get out and do things, be with people they enjoy.  Instead, a lot of us our sitting around wondering what our lives are about and how to afford to leave the house - if we have one.  Unemployment is still drastically high, wages still drastically low, health care, housing, whatever.  This is a time when many people are reassessing life, and wishing they had more options.

So for me, what this means is that for years I have been working towards an academic styled career with lots to show for it but little pragmatic return.  It's been said to me about this round of applications that if I didn't get in to schools that maybe it was time to recognize that while I could keep doing things in the present to better my applications that my past couldn't change.  I will always by the dyslexic guy that went to college to play football, and ran across some interesting academic stuff along the way.  Maybe it is that part that will just never get me far in academia.  What choice do I have?

So as it is, what do I do from here?  I was let go from my political job because I was not a good cold calling fundraiser.  I have picked up work in a hiking store doing retail sales and as a guide since, but this is supplemental income at best.  Therefore, I am back to the same old dilemmas.  I have Occupy, it's in my core, and there are a lot of things I'd like to do within it - countless really.  But Occupy doesn't provide an income.  And as we all know, the world we live in requires an income.  The trick for me has always been about how to find a way to express my passions and principles through work.

Right now a quick list of possibilities includes (in no specific order):
  • Working on a sustainability project for Occupy that would involve revenue generation through cooperative guild-like structures to accommodate housing, intellectual, and production needs for the movement.  This is much more complex and should be elaborated elsewhere.  Pluses: Occupy for the future! Minuses: no money
  • Occupying universities: A plan was floated to me well before I was rejected from schools that, whether I get in or not, we should organize a protest group to go to school anyway.  Bring together people at every level that can't afford school or can't get access to school and go anyway.  for me this would mean starting a PhD program without admission or consent.  I will go to a meeting tonight for the Occupy friendly Free University.  Also worth looking at this school set up in the UK.  Pluses: Occupy and education.  Minuses: no money.
  • Other Occupy projects:
    • 99 Pickets - help coordinate labor issue pickets and solidarity.
    • Police pickets - include Occupy somehow in the Police union's contract negotiations.  "While we don't support that you beat and repress us, we do support you as exploited workers."
    • Think Tank
    • Outreach and door to door and flyering work.
  • Occupy documentary/research trip: I was approached a few weeks ago by a documentary film maker with Occupy to take a few months to travel around the country and go to any number of Occupies to spread the think tank and help him with the documentary.  This opens doors in a lot of directions.  I would structure it as a research study and could even work with professors on the study.  I would be learning and connecting with Occupy on a much broader level and the research would have specific Occupy goals including bringing more ideas through the think tank and its web page.  Blogging and writing the whole way.  Pluses: Occupy, research, writing.  Minuses: Money, would be really tough to fundraise.
  • I can continue working on my writing, try to publish things and even work on finishing one of my book projects.  Pluses: writing.  Minuses: low probability of or no money
  • There is of course random work out there as well.  Retail work, athletic stores, service industry, etc.  (I haven't been able to do lacrosse officiating because of some vague issue with my fingerprint process, hmmm...).  Pluses: Money. Minuses: time lost in unproductive work.
  • I could finish my application for the Open Society Institute for a large funding stream for a year.  Pluses: lots of money, my research and writing.  Minuses: highly competitive (unlikely to get), takes months to hear back.
  • Think Tank funding:  I could look into ways to find funding sources and/or grants for the think tank.  Pluses: Occupy, research.  Minuses: unlikely
    • Could actually work in conjunction with documentary trip.
  • I can push wholeheartedly back into the development industry.  New York City is a great place to be for organizations and companies working on development issues.  Pluses: Money, working on issues I believe in and am experienced in. Minuses: me and everyone else... really tough to get this type of job.
  • Non-profit work.  Race relations, economic and social justice, democracy, individuals, society, etc.  I would love to get into domestic work along the lines of Occupy related issues, but I have little of the "concrete" experience employers seem to want.  Pluses: issues and Occupy.  Minuses: tough to get. 
  • Africa Project: I will be giving an update on this work asap, but the work I did in Africa is starting to bear fruit.  I could push further into this.  Pluses: heart, previous effort, finishing it, helping people, gaining experience.  Minuses: Money, really tough to coordinate all logistically and do other things.   
  • Work towards schools again:  I could continue to look at schools or work towards it.  I don't think I would spend much time looking in US though.  I know I'd want to go to Rutgers if here, and if elsewhere probably just go abroad so I was done in 3-4 years.  Pluses: see schools post.  Minuses: see schools post, lol.  But realistically... what is it they say about insanity?  Doing the same thing an expecting different results?
So that is probably not an exhaustive list as there is always running off to China and joining a Daoist monastery or marketing toothpaste in Eastern Europe.  lol.  No matter what though, I will be involved with Occupy and think that I need to be based out of NY for that.  Again though, the key is that I have to live.  All the Occupy related stuff requires longer periods of struggle and huge uncertainties with money.  All of which I am not against, but I know these options will be very tough and cause ancillary issues in my life.

The key to it all is that things need to be broken down into long and short term issues, and then I need to work meticulously towards the things I may want to attain.  Starting down as many pathways as I can until certain one's become more clear.  Short term I have to make some money.  I have the hiking store, but it is not enough to live on.  So I will have to find something else quickly.  That kind of goes without choice - random work!  Yes, it would be great if that random work was something I loved doing like researching and/or writing just to make a couple hundred dollars hear or there, but most likely it will be retail.

From there it is about the future...  What do I want to be down the road?  Do I want to go back into development work?  Non-profit?  What about trying to open doors with the Occumentary?  Basically, if there is one thing that the world has shown right now, is that good opportunities are tough to come by for anyone.  I spent years looking for work in my field, hundreds of applications.  What is to say today will not be the same as yesterday?  Frankly, there just aren't a lot of jobs out there that will allow me to pay student loans, housing, food, life, etc, no matter what my ideals are.  This is our world, and I am caught up in it completely.  Questioning it all, wondering how I got here, even while knowing full well that the past doesn't matter at all right now only how the hell the future is going to pan out, and/or if I have any control over it what-so-ever.  Kind of depressing actually.  Takes me back to a time and some writing I did a while back.  To have worked this hard in life to try to understand things, to try to gain experience, to try to stand up for people and good things, yet still to be faced with nothing but a dark void in front of you.  Tough.