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...

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Moving Forward(ish)

So this week has seen a lot of different things come and go.  I have spent a lot of time looking for work for now, but also working on finding a way forward for the longer term.  Of late though, it's mostly been about conflict.  no matter what it is that we do in life it conflicts with something that we either believe in or should/must do.  I've been getting a lot of advice of late an it all seems pretty much unmanageable.  No matter what I do, whether it's in life or specific situations, there is no victory.  If I get a job in international development like my experience and degrees point to, in some people's eyes I run the risk of becoming a colonialist, imperialist, or even a missionary.  I can of course stay working where I am and just not get paid for the too few hours that I'm working.  But even then, the job is really just another capitalist wage-labor position bowing down to the man (not paying me).  I've applied to do commercial interior painting, I followed up on a nannying lead for a toddler.  Applied to more retail, and got a networked in an application for post-conflict reconstruction work.  Who knows what if anything will bare fruit.  Yapo has also come back with some work he needs done on a prospective funding line from England.  I am not sure it is feasible though at first glimpse.  But will get further in as I can.

The heart and soul of my time has been of course on Occupy stuff though.  I am really getting further into this sustainability issue.  We have to find a way to sustain the movement's individuals in a way that leaves them empowered and energized to progress the movement.  We also need to try to find a prefigurative way to illuminate the inequities of the current system by showing that another way is possible - and functional - under current auspices.

I've had some really good conversations with a number of people about it and am starting to see a solid research project, and maybe even a group for moving forward.  It would certainly be a long slow project, but ten years from now the movement will be judged on what it achieved, not how long it took to map out a structure for success.

So there we are: I am trying to juggle life, work, occupy, and social relationships and whatever else gets thrown in there that day.  I know as per societies wishes I should just be settling in and working away.  But that is just what keeps the cycle going.  If I stay both dumbed and numbed down the status quo will maintain and most of our lives will just continue to lag behind just a few.  But I can't and won't allow it.  We will all find a way forward personally and professionally, so that we can keep working on finding a way forward for the movement and in turn a more economic and socially just society.  The journey of 10,000 feet starts with a single step....

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Blood in an open container...

So there was a sort of surreal moment the other night here in "timistan".  After a late night at a rather ritzy potluck dinner party with OWSers in Williamsburg (thanks MTA for sucking - yes that's the same MTA that's been raising rates and cutting services), I dragged myself out of bed Saturday and ran to work at the hiking store.  I spent the day in Park Slope selling high end hiking gear and chatting with local outdoorsy types.  From there it was off for a quick shower and then a celebration of a superfriend's Phd graduation (yes, she wore a cape all night!).  It was about a 7 or 8 block walk through Bed-Stuy to get there.

Saturday night in Bed-Stuy is an interesting occurrence.  Cops upon cops everywhere.  Barbeques on front steps and walkways, loud Afro-Caribbean beats pumping from blocks away.  It has a sort of gritty festive feel to it, the kind of thing that turns of many, but is the utmost of fun for those willing to scratch through the tough exterior and find the fun being had underneath.

We got to our friend's and had a little good conversation, a drink, some nachos and some more conversation.  The true surreality of the evening really kicked in when the chips were down and I went out to get some more at the local bodega.  Of course I wasn't barely out the door yet when I happened upon an older man laying face down at the corner.  I couldn't see his head as it was blocked by a fence.  I thought, well its NYC, I've seen some odd things and people laying face down on the sidewalk is not uncommon (the last time I saw this a guy was humping the sidewalk).  But once I came fully upon him and saw the awkwardness he lay there with I was a bit more concerned.  As I got to the other side of him to try to catch a glimpse of his face I saw a large pool of blood gushing out of him.  It was the same as you see it in a movie.  You know, the kind that is slowly expanding and flowing down hill as it pours out of a person?  I was joined by a group of other people right away as well.  One older gentleman and myself were assessing the situation as a younger group of people were checking in to see what was going on.   He was unconscious with his neck and head cocked in a very awkward way.  I called 911 and with the other man we tried to make sure no one moved the injured guy and that he had space. 

No one seemed to have seen what happened.  While we waited for help people speculated about it all.  Some say they heard a thump and looked over to see him laying there with no one around him, others that they saw him drinking earlier, he apparently lived just two buildings down.  The contents of his one pocket were strewn about, lotto tickets and some dice.  A couple of kids wondered if he'd been mugged or had his pocket contents snatched after he fell.  There was only speculation among by-standers, it seemed to me that if he was drunk he might have just simply stumbled over the curb and smacked his head on the ground.  It didn't really matter at this point though.  He lay there awkward and unconscious.

While waiting for the ambulance he started to move a bit, an arm and then a bit of his head.  This was very much a relief for me.  All that time playing football makes me very leery of neck injuries, and to see him moving his head was big.  I kept trying to get him to stay still but he seemed completely lost as he was awakening, kind of taking stock of all his bits and pieces.  He picked his head up to show a massive gash on his eyebrow/temple area.  He was completely out of it, dazed and wobbly.  At this point a cop car puled up and he all of a sudden got very nervous.  He tried to stand up and subsequently fell straight back down onto his backside.  Varying consistencies of blood covering the whole side of his face and arm.  The bleeding had slowed down, but it was certainly still bleeding.

The police officers came out and tried to get him to sit back down and to remain calm and subdued till the ambulance got there.  He was visibly agitated and claiming nothing on the ground was his.  He definitely seemed to be quite nervous and maybe even afraid of the police.  But nothing about him seemed certain of anything.  There didn't seem to be any reason to be afraid of these two officers though as they seemed harmless enough.  They were just trying to help the guy and were very thankful to those of us around him, but who knows the context of his life and the complexity of the neighborhood.  The cops got him pretty settled down though until the ambulance pulled up.  At that point the officers told us we could head out upon our way as everything was under control.  I went over to the bodega and got tostitos and water before heading back.  I checked in on the way and they said everything was ok - he'd be fine.  They had him sitting up on the back of the ambulance and were cleaning the blood from his arm at that point.  He seemed resolved to accepting the care from the EMT's and what had happened to him.

I went back to the party.  We fired up the nachos, got another drink, and no one else really seemed too bothered by it all past an initial query.  As the evening winded down, we headed out towards home.  We past the corner were it had all happened and there was still a huge blood soaked spot of the sidewalk next to some of the bits of his pocket that were strewn about.  We paused and then kept walking.

Another couple blocks away up Franklin we saw some police lights and commotion in front of us.  There were 7 police officers and a cruiser surrounding a kid who couldn't have been much out of his teens.  He looked befuddled, annoyed, and all together caged; standing with a semi-circle of officers around him and his back to a wall.  We asked him if he was ok, he said yes with some thankfully assured and bonding eye contact.  We thought to continue on but lagged as we listening to the banter between them all:
"No, come on, tell us you're a drug dealer.  Come on, tell us you are please."  
"No, I'm not a drug dealer." He said almost seeming bored of it.

It went on, a constant verbal berating of him.  We decided it just didn't seem right, so we stayed and videoed it.  The police reacted with some surprise, as if this type of stuff didn't happen out here in the hood.  A couple of white passers-by videoing them stop and frisk and shake down a kid on the street.  The one police officer of course tried to get us to move away:
"You're too close to the officer here, please go back there or across the street."
"Then we can't see or hear what's happening." We said as we stayed.  
The officer seemed to hesitate, kinda of surprised be our lack of immediate compliance.  He then offered another side where we still could see and hear everything.  So we swiveled around to that spot.  The kid seemed glad to have the support.  It was no longer seven to one.
"Yeah, film this!  This is bull shit, seven cops cause I got a little something extra in my cool-aid."
That's what it was all about.  As he'd said when we walked up, they were writing him a summons for an open container.  Seven cops and a squad car for an open container violation.  He started telling them what he really thought.  As if he'd never had the chance to tell the cops what he actually thought about how they treated him and people in his neighborhood.  With us there filming, the cops couldn't do anything even if they wanted to.  Who is to know what would have happened if we hadn't shown up.  They could have given him his citation and parted ways, or they could have hassled him, pushed him around or who knows.  As he was telling them all about their business though, the one main cop told us we should get back:
"We don't know what he's got on him."
We responded:
"It's not him we're worried about."

The police think somehow that their presence automatically makes people feel safe.  But fact of the matter is that the NYPD has killed 6 people this year.  There are video's upon video's of cops beating and harassing people all over youtube everywhere from the hood to Occupy.  The police do not make me feel safe.  You can argue with me all you want, but that is the way I FEEL.  I have been pushed, I have been berated, I have had all sort of unlawful, hypocritical, and arbitrary abuse of power dealings with cops at Occupy, and every one of them pales in comparison to what happens in black and brown communities every day of their lives.  No I do not feel safe.  I saw a statistic two days ago that in the whole of Germany last year the entire police force fired their guns 85 times - total!  In America police have dispensed that in one incident and on one person - multiple times!  We have a very specific mentality of law enforcement in this country that does not make me feel safe around police officers.

But that is not where the absurdities lie within that evening's stories as my feelings for the police are not what's important.  The true concern to me is that a young male walking through Bed-Stuy with a fountain soda cup spiked with alcohol merits seven plus cops and a car, yet it takes over ten minutes for officers to arrive on the scene of a man laying unconscious in a pool of blood on the sidewalk.  They weren't but a couple blocks from each other.  The whole place was crawling with cops and no one could run over and check on it? 

Anyway, eventually they get the kid's summons written and he grabs the ticket and takes off.  Literally as if he was a penned up animal given an open gate - half used to it, half ready to just expand his wings and fly as high as could be.  With that we exchanged a few snippy pleasantries with the cops and went upon our way. 

We weren't a block away though when out of some odd hallucinogenic cartoon movie these two white hipster kids riding completely impractically tall bikes ride straight through a red light.  It was like sitting in a film watching Armageddon when all of a sudden the film stops, the lights in the theater come on, and a purple elephant struts across the front of the screen... Poof!  The lights go back off and the bombs and guns start again!    

The whole evening was such an odd slice of Americana.  Face down and bloodied in a island of coplessness in a sea of cops, a text book stop and frisk harassment of a kid with the same spiked cool aid we've all had in our hands so many times, the absurdly princely white hipster kids perched so obliviously high atop their hobby bikes without a care in the world, gentrifying the neighborhood with each pedal, all the while while a couple of white people wander around one of the roughest neighborhoods in Brooklyn never once feeling unsafe amidst the carnage and chaos, as if our skin somehow created some sort of force field that shielded us from the atrocities of others' lives.  Resting in an island of aloofness, amidst a storm of uncertainty and social paradigms. Such an odd, surreal world we live in.

Hiking for free!

So I'm at work at the hiking store the other day and I finally get my tax paperwork and such in and ask: so when is pay day?  It's every two weeks, 1st and 15th is the response.  BUT, due to a warm winter with no snow and the growing/planning pains of a new store, they didn't do much business over the winter and struggled to stay afloat.  So they are right now only going to be paying for February!  ........  yes, a moment to digest....  Now, I can only assume that means that on this 15th they will pay February, and then the 1st will be March and then the next 15th finally to April when I should get some cash.  What?!?!  So I was hired in mid April and won't get paid until mid June?!?  Sigh....

Now yeah, anyone reading this blog regularly is going to understand that I am certainly not in a position to have to wait so long to get paid.  There are also a few people that know me going back that know that this isn't the first time that this has happened to me.  When I was in Prague I was working in a much different situation and position, but under similar compensatory circumstances.  I was a big part of a small company there (working pretty much as the chief operating officer) and was going to be getting a small percentage for all my work and sacrifice.  As we looked for an investor I was not paid much of anything for months and was owed thousands of dollars.  I was trapped then.  They had stalled my visa process so I couldn't get a different job and they owed me money.  I couldn't either justify or actually leave with so much invested.  Not to mention that I had a lot of me personally invested in this company trying to bring medical evacuation services to Iraq and Afghanistan.

This situation here is different.  I am trying to take New Yorkers with disposable income hiking in the Hudson Valley and I have no personal stake in the company other than the energy I bring to work that day.  I am just a laborer, working for the man, and I should be paid by the man.  Yeah, that may sound a bit mercenaryesque, but isn't that the problem of it all?  We take for grated in so many ways the rights of management and ownership.  Ownership takes it for granted that they can ask us to wait to get paid.  There are only so many jobs out there, so they hold a certain amount of power and control over us.  I don't know how much cash the company has or how much the owner is taking for himself.  But few people today think to look at that company itself and shame them for having the audacity to ask their workers to make such sacrifices.  If I don't just acquiesce my loyalty comes under question.  Will I continue to get hours?  to have my job?  How many people immediately question the employers "loyalty" to their employees and to society?  In a hierarchical work structure, it is always about being "loyal" to the boss, the owner, whatever.  If we were all truly seen as equal, no one would be asked to be loyal to anyone over the other.

I am sure the owner is paying his rent.  And all told, he did offer to give me something as an advance if I was really hurting, but who is he to "offer" such a thing?  Where does he assume his power to do that comes from?  As if his situation or business is somehow presumptively more important than whatever it is that I have going on?  Like we are a team or something with equal shares in victory?  I wish we were a team - all equally working towards one goal, but we are not.  We are laborers working to make him money, to make his company grow, his ownership and capital expand.  Yes, we get our wages but hold no stake in the ownership of the means of this production.  That is the system we live in.  We are the tools he will use to hopefully get rich.  So why should we, or how can he ask us, to make sacrifices not commensurate with our relationship with this entity? 

I mean, I don't really hold anything against him personally.  I definitely like him.  He's a good guy just trying to keep his business a float.  But I've been in that position before at another retail store in New Paltz, NY as well.  I worked and worked and worked for them on the floor, making them money, probably holding their store together for a time.  I tried to offer marketing and industry specific advice (I'd worked in other successful stores in that industry), but it went unheeded and the company went out of business a few months after I stopped working there.  So it is tough to see familiar things and have little power to change them, yet still be asked to make sacrifices as if I had power to change something within the company.  I think at minimum he should have mentioned it to me when I was hired.  At least then I could have factored it into my decision making and/or planning/budgeting.  But he didn't, he just left it unsaid.  There is certainly little integrity in that.  

That however is perhaps why he didn't.  He needs people to work for him to help his company move forward.  He can't do it all on his own and he is apparently losing two people that have been with him for a while.  I don't know why, but it is easy to speculate regarding a lack of both payment and even probably work.  I was also just informed, that while I was originally told that I was being hired for both retail sales and as a guide, that I really wouldn't be doing much retail work.  And as I see the demand for the tours, it looks like I am really just a standby guide depending on the number of people on the tours (i.e. the company and his ability to market - the same downfall faced in New Paltz). 

So the gist of all this here is that I am caught in another powerless dilemma that illustrates how little control most workers have over their lives.  What play do I have here?  I can say I'm not going to work anymore until I'm paid, but then I'm causing "a problem" and then if he wanted he could just cut my hours/not schedule me.  That would actually be the prudent business decision if he couldn't afford to move that expense forward a few weeks.  I would also become the guy that isn't "loyal" or isn't a "team player."  After all, he holds the power, it is his opinion of me that matters as to whether I work for him.  If I do keep working, he gets me more and more by the balls, the more and more that he owes me as the less apt I am to leave him and run the risk of losing everything I'm owed.  This is what happened in Prague.  I knew that if I left the company, we would never get any investment and I would never get paid what I was owed for the months I had worked.

What we all don't realize is that this is the intended dilemma of capitalism.  There has to be the "excess labor pool" of willing but unemployed workers that owners can always go to to replace "bad" or "uncooperative" employees.  They can thus act in their own interests as employees are mostly dispensable.  If I want to keep this job, and maintain any chance of my getting paid as a business priority or even in general, then I have to do what he tells me.  For if I stop working there he is certainly going to pay other bills and workers before employees no long with the company.  I am powerless.  I have to have a job, and I want to get paid for the time I've already worked.  So I can't leave and I can't really cause any commotion.  One person told me I should start picketing out front of the store and that I'd be paid by the end of the day!  Yeah, and then that would be my last day.

The point of all of this is, that this system as it exists today is not functional.  Why should a worker have so little power?  Because they "didn't take a risk?"  Maybe they didn't have the same opportunity to take a risk, or the same capacity to be able to take risks, or education on how to create a niche and plan through taking on both the risks and the business.  The fact is, that without average everyday workers, laborers, businesses can not and would not function.  Our system requires both managers and the managed to do their tasks for businesses to succeed.  Why then should one side of that equation be so powerless?  Why should it be so unbalanced?  I go to work, I do my job, and I get paid.  That is one of the general principles of capitalist production that little to no one would argue over.  So why then am I not getting paid?  And why am I so powerless to do anything about it?

A system with such disparities of power is not sustainable for one reason: because intrinsically we all are equal and thus all have the same amount of power.  Any system that alters that and skews it so blatantly in one direction or the other is unsustainable, and can only be viewed as temporary.  The question we face is just how long are we going to allow ourselves to be so powerless?  To be subjugated.

Monday, May 14, 2012

A call back from the abyss!!

Started on 4/29..

So the political party called me back.  They wanted me to do some campaign work for them.   Not fundraising stuff, but door to door, advocating stuff in New Jersey.  I got a vague voice message and then had a quick but nondescript conversation about doing something with them for a few days till that campaign ended.  The lead guy on it was going to get back to me.  I heard nothing for a week. 

I then got a call from the one HR guy that I had originally interviewed me (and mislead me).  I had questions about it all and he was a bit taken aback that I was questioning it all.  I wanted to know the candidates name and a bit about them before I just jumped in.  He had this air of arrogance and bewilderment in his stance though, as if I actually had bought into the sh*t they were shoveling over there and had really wanted to work for them; that I would be unconditionally involved with whatever candidate and issues that they were pushing and how they were doing it.  No... I'm sorry, I am skeptical of you.  I am skeptical of your party.  I am skeptical of your means, your methods, and definitely the entire system you operate in and can't separate yourself from.  You are after all just another political party, you stump for money first, and ask about votes later.  No, I do not trust you.  After all, I was let go because while I could get you votes and turn people's opinions, I could not raise you money.  You are bought and you are sold. 

Mind you, this HR call came on April 30th, and he asked me if I could start the next day - May Day!!  Yes, the same international labor May Day that is celebrated all over the globe and would see a massive Occupy and labor coalition action that had been in the planning for the entire year!  He was oblivious, yes the "political arm of the unions" was completely oblivious to the largest planned day of action for labor and workers issues in decades.  This both amazes and scares me.  I had pushed for observance of it while I was working there to no avail.  I had gotten the same type of bull sh*t politically obfuscated response I had gotten to my questions about some of their fundraising leads came from.  Deflection, subtle dismissal, and general plea of not being responsible.  It was all bull sh*t at the time and I knew it.  On the call of course this was completely apparent.  I mentioned May Day to him and he was clueless and taken aback again that I would think people like them shouldn't be working that day.  The unions and Occupy are talking general strike and you not only aren't supporting it with your workers, but you don't even know about it.  Wow!!

I told him I'd get back to him after I looked into it.  Two days later exhausted from May Day (yes, a looong reportage of that day has been undertaken and will be posted in an amazingly untimely fashion!), I ran into another guy from Occupy that happened to start working on this same campaign jsut a few days earlier.  He was mortified.  A complete disaster.  He was working for the party, but was paid through a separate union maybe, yet could say none of this when he went to the doors.  He had to say he was a part of some specific New Jersey organization for change type of name that was supposedly unaffiliated with any part of the party, unions, whatever.  Yeah... Shady Super PAC stuff.  The essence of what Occupy's push for campaign finance reform - and that party's own campaign finance reform push - where specifically against!  Here it was, politics in America at its sleaziest. 

Yeah, sure, that's how the system works.  That's what Democracy looks like in America.  Shady organizations, cutting around shady corners, in shady ways, using shady money trails.  How does one get involved with that?  Yeah, it's money, an income that I need, but I am sorry.  I am in Occupy because our political and socio-economic system is corrupt almost beyond reproach and we have to change it.  Yeah, you could look at it all and say how can you work for this or that, retail, capitalist, etc.  But retail is a guy trying to put food on the table in a sh*ty system.  While I don't condone the system, I don't fault the singular person.  Politics on the other hand is the method to our madness, the means to bring about change.  Sure, it's idealistic to think the system is going to change from within without using the funding methods instilled within the system.  But I personally have barriers.  Things I won't do.  Lines I won't cross.  And I am not going to stand on someone's door and lie to them.  I am not going to tell them I work for someone I don't, and I am not going to pretend that money is more important than even the most basic forms of integrity.  At least when I sell someone an expensive sleeping bag I don't have to lie to them about where it's produced or what company made it.  I have no respect for this party or our political system at this point.  It must be changed.  It can not be run by money.  It can not be run by the rich, the powerful, and/or the corrupt for the rich, the powerful, and/or the corrupt.  It must be run by people.  One person, one vote.  Not one dollar, one vote.     

The Greatest People.

I just thought that I would publicly acknowledge the couple that I have mostly been staying with for several months now.  On the day of the eviction from Zuccotti Park I needed a place to stay and they were there.  A friend of mine from Occupy set it up, she (as wonderful a person within her own rights as exists) had friends with a room in the basement that said I could stay there if needed.  I had met one of them during a radio interview, so we weren't entirely new to each other.  There was no discussion of how long or anything of the sort, they just knew I needed a place to stay right away and they were happy to help a person - and especially an Occupier - in need.  I stayed one night, and the next morning they said I could stay as long as I'd like. 

It is months later, and at this point they are like another family to me.  I have met their kids - both of which I have protested with and am, or have worked and collaborated with on activist/occupy stuff.  They have been there for me at every step of the way.  Providing advice, a firm response or word either in favor of or against ideas or directions I have looked at.  They were there to encourage me to apply to schools, they were there to console me when I didn't get in.  They were there to help council me on think tank directions, occupy issues, possible next steps, and just general life as it came about.   

They are the type of people that the world needs and that we should celebrate.  They are truly inspiring people at the tops of their chosen professions.  Progressive to the core in every way.  Firm in their beliefs and caring for others in the utmost.  They both - literally - change the world each day they go to work.  I couldn't be happier to have them in my life and am truly lucky for everything that they have given me.  They surround me with meaning and hope everyday.  I could never begin to repay them for everything they have done for me.  From the bottom of my heart.  Thank you.  You are both special and inspiring people to me and to the world.