A Different Kind of Occupation

On this blog when the words “Occupy” or “Occupation” are mentioned I am usually referring to the ongoing Israeli Occupation of Palestine.  In 2011 a different kind of Occupation sprung up on the streets of NYC and spread to many other cities.  As someone who has been involved in protests I know that what is seen from the distance on the news is not always the reality on the ground.  So I asked someone else for their first-hand account of the Occupy Wall Street Movement.

Enter my friend Tony III … below you will find a guest post written by him reflecting on some of his initial involvement in the Occupy Movement.

I need to apologize to him first and foremost as this post is looooong overdue for posting.  He sent it to me at my request last fall and it is only now being published.  I have asked him to send me another post giving his current thoughts on the Occupy Wall Street Movement and I promise to publish that 2nd article in a more timely manner.

Just for a little context … I met Tony in high school.  He was a curly haired city-kid with a denim jacket, heavy metal demeanor, and a satanic bible in his back pocket.  I was a country boy who went to church twice a week, went to Christian music festivals and wore whatever was on sale at K-Mart.  We were unlikely friends but united by our creative spirits and a love for role playing games.  After high school we lost touch but were reconnected via Facebook awhile back.  It was great to reconnect … I found out that Tony had become a father, a small business owner, and a practicing Buddhist.  His love for music had persisted and I wasn’t surprised to find out that he was still in a band.

One thing that has impressed me about Tony since reconnecting with him is the diversity of his Friends list on Facebook.  He truly is friends with people from every walk of life.  This often leads to lively Facebook discussions between complete strangers that have only Tony as their common denominator. This has always been beneficial for me personally and I value Tony’s input on the matters of the day.  When he started getting involved in the Occupy Wall Street movement I asked him to write a guest post.  Without further ado, here it is …

MIC CHECK (MIC CHECK)

MIC CHECK (MIC CHECK)
My name is Tony (MY NAME IS TONY)
I’m a 38 year old father (I’M A 38 YEAR OLD FATHER)
and small business owner (AND SMALL BUSINESS OWNER)
I pay my taxes and I vote (I PAY MY TAXES AND I VOTE)
And I’m here because I want change (AND I”M HERE BECAUSE I WANT CHANGE)……..

And so the People’s Mic continues to shout the voice of the people. Anyone can use the People’s Mic in these local democratic groups that have been born out of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Just shout “Mic Check” near any Occupy encampment or march, and anyone in ear shot will echo back. You now have the floor to voice your story; your thoughts and suggestions; your message to others around you.

On my first visit to Zucotti Park, during the second week of October 2011, I witnessed The People’s Mic for the first time.  It was about 8pm and an hour into the nightly General Assembly (GA) meeting. A person stood in the middle of a massive group of hundreds of people near the park steps. Using a mouthful of syllables at a time, the message was relayed like a wave over the crowd. This crowd was big enough to have to repeat the initial phrases 3 times for the whole group to hear.

The GA was voting on if the “media group” could use $2000 (of the amassed money the group had received from donations) for the printing of flyers and other material. “Are there any blocks?” the People’s Mic echoed.

At that point, I learned, anyone present could “block” the vote, if truly opposed. Arguments may be presented and a new vote taken. There were no blocks.

A second check for no blocks was made

“I don’t see any blocks. Do we have consensus?”

Almost all hands went in the air, fingers wiggling – The signal for agreement. Some, wrist bent down (the No vote) but only a few in the crowd.

“It appears we have consensus,” The announcement echoed through the crowd.

We had consensus. The media group would be allotted what they requested. As simple as that.

Observing Real Democracy In Action

There were probably a few other small bits of “rules” that went along with this communication and voting process that may have eluded me at that time but when I realized what I was witnessing I was a little taken aback.

This was democracy working.

Everyone had a voice and a vote. Anyone could propose almost anything. And it was rare when I saw this People’s Mic abused. The People’s Mic always seems to “break” when people start to speak hateful or violent things as this is very much a peaceful movement and the people, WE, control the People’s Mic.

Watching five hundred or more people get things done in a civil, cooperative way was a breath of fresh air. What if more people actually took an hour a day to involve themselves in the process of making things happen in their community? This was a group of people who didn’t know each other more than three weeks before, and they seemed to have a functioning micro-government. They had a sanitation crew, a working kitchen, a sacred space for prayer and meditation, a medical tent with real doctors, a library and so much more already in place.

If this organization was left to our government they would have likely still been debating and re-voting on what type of bottled water to have ordered during the breaks. This was direct action without the red tape and it appeared to be working.  There were no specific leaders., but there were plenty of people who were willing to step up and take jobs to help the new community.  However, no single person that looked over or gave final say. Final say came from the General Assembly votes and anyone present had a vote.

Are We All Created Equal?

I’ve had a cynical outlook on our government and many aspects of American society for a long time. I had watched what it did to the Veterans of the Vietnam War, through seeing what my father and many of his friends went through in the system. I witnessed the economy get worse and worse as I got older. I watched us, as a society, put profits over lives in many ways, over and over…..and it all sickened me.

This breath of fresh air was the first time, in a very long time, that I felt a bit of real hope for society and this country of ours. I was brought up being told I could be anything I wanted if I tried hard enough. I was told that this was truly a free land of opportunity where “all men were created equal”. If anyone really believes that last statement to be honest and true at this point, I would love to sit and discuss that with you, because I can see, blatantly, that those with more money have more power.

And that is NOT in line with “all men are created equal”.

I have no issues with people having money or extra things if they work for it. But let’s level the playing field and work towards that “created equal” goal and slightly change the verbiage to “all PEOPLE created equal”.

Getting More Involved in the Occupy Movement

I found a new feeling of hope, that enough people felt like I did, that the social and political issues of this country needed to be brought to light, discussed and remedied and that we might actually be able to change some things for the better. Health care, education and private/ corporate funding of politicians were MY main issues. I have a few smaller ones too. And many have other issues that should be addressed. Some agreeable and some not.

But overall, we all wanted the same basic thing: social and political reform and accountability of those that put this country in its current disastrous shape.

That would mean politicians, banks, lenders, corporations and WE the people. After all, at some point we started caring less that we no longer have a say in our system and started caring more about either which color our iPod is or how we were going to survive the next month in such a declining economy. We left the governing to “those in charge” and they sold us out. It was time to reclaim our voice in OUR nation.

Over the next few weeks I attended what I could. Sometimes just visiting the occupation site to help out in small ways. Pick up some garbage, donate winter clothes, lend people my phone and help the People’s Mic be broadcast. I started discussing the movement everywhere I went. Educating people on what REALLY goes on and not what the main stream media depicted as “truth”. They after all are run by the corporations that fund the politicians and have something to lose if the message gets out to too many people. So I became the media. With a sense of empowerment and a better understanding of our laws and our Constitution I was ready to discuss issues with people from all walks of life and I loved it.

Since that fateful day of discovering the movement, I’ve attended several rallies, marches, occupations and General Assemblies. I’ve stood face to face with riot police, maintaining my stance on non-violent protest, even as I’ve watched some police officers and local politicians blatantly break laws to try to subdue both individuals and the overall voice of the movement. I’ve made friends from Occupations across the country. I’ve been invited to other cities for marches and rallies.

Overcoming Cynicism and Working Together for Change

Because of my participation in the Occupy Movement I’ve watched my cynicism in having hope for this country lessen.

I want this land to be all I was told it was when I was a kid. I want our Constitutional rights re-established. But most of all I want my kids to have a future and a fighting chance and if I can assist in bettering this country I’ll try my best to do so. I’ll risk arrest, taunts and violent “peace keepers.” I will face off with corporate America, and the politicians & police forces they keep in their back pockets.

I will do this so that maybe, just maybe, my kids won’t have to worry about doing the same thing down the road. They’ll have that fair chance I was never given. They’ll live in a country where they have a voice that means something and a government of the People that helps them better themselves and their social environment at the same time.

This really is just the beginning of a movement that will evolve and transform into bigger and greater things. I’m very proud and happy to be a part of it and welcome the rest of the 99% of the world to step up to those that socially or economically oppress you. Together it can create change and a better world for all.

You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one

PEACE!

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Some other bloggers’ thoughts on the tides of change in Jordan

A friend of mine pointed out that Glenn Beck is apparently now speculating on the demise of the Kingdom of Jordan.  I didn’t bother to confirm if Beck said anything about it or not.  Why?  Because my blood pressure goes way up whenever I read/listen to him, especially about the Middle East.  He serves up some of the best ignorant fear-mongering around when it comes to this part of the world.

MommaBean recently blogged about this and also gave her strong opinion about people back home peppering her with their opinions on her sanity due to her choice to remain here in the Middle East in the midst of growing (read non-existent in Jordan) “turmoil”.  As always … a memorable read!

Also, if you are looking for a well-thought out local perspective on the recent government reorganizing here in Jordan, take a look at the Black Iris of Jordan.

Also, over here, you can see some pics of a recent peaceful solidarity rally held here in Jordan outside of the Egyptian embassy in support of the protests in Egypt.

All you readers in America – I know you have plenty of time to surf the web today, what with Snowmeggedon on your doorstep.  Take a minute to check out these other bloggers from Jordan.

Why the Kingdom of Jordan will NOT be the next Egypt

Headlines about the Middle East have been full of news and speculation on the protests and potential regime change in Egypt.  What is happening there is a moment that will be remembered in history for years to come.  It is a popular uprising against a regime that has too long looked the other way and allowed corruption to flourish, the economy to languish and the lives of everyday citizens to fade into nothingness.  The protests seem to be a massive grass-roots effort (not needing western politics as a catalyst) to force a change that is long overdue.

Over the weekend some new sidebars accompanied the main articles about the situation in Egypt.  Many of these speculated about the potential for the Kingdom of Jordan to be the next Middle Eastern nation to be engulfed in widespread popular protest after Tunis, Yemen, and Egypt.  Friday’s post-prayer anti-government street rally and a protest near the Prime Minister’s residence fed fuel to the fire of this speculation.  And today headlines announced that His Majesty King Abdullah II had disbanded the cabinet and appointed a new Prime Minister.  Some articles characterized this move as “caving to public pressure” and painted a picture of huge street protests in Jordan forcing the King to the action.

Nothing could be further from the truth.  There have not been huge, widespread protests here in Jordan.  To my knowledge there were two significant rallies as I mentioned before.  I live in Amman currently and many people I have asked about the Friday rally near the mosque downtown weren’t even aware that it had happened.  If you were not in the neighborhood or on the street where these were occurring, you wouldn’t have been aware they were even taking place.

I saw some video posted of the anti-government rally.  There were a lot of flags being waved and there was a truck with big loudspeakers and some chanting.  But the crowd was peaceful and orderly.  There was a much bigger stir here in Amman during the month-long protests against the Israeli airstrikes in Gaza in January 2009.  I attended one of those demonstrations and that ended up in stone throwing and tear-gas being shot.  The recent protests here in Amman didn’t come anywhere close to that.

Were these small protests enough to force HM King Abdullah II to do something about his government?  I find it hard to believe.   The King has demonstrated his low tolerance for government corruption and ineffectiveness before when he disbanded the entire lower house of parliament a few years ago.   There has been a growing sense of dissatisfaction with the the economy and politics here in Jordan over the last several months (since Parliamentary elections) and years.  Consumer prices have been on the rise and some people view politicians as affluent and out of touch with the people.  (Of course that could be just about any country in the world right?)  So is today’s government house-cleaning in response to a couple of weekend protests?  Is it because of what happened in North Africa?  Or is this a wise move that has been in the planning for a while?

Who knows.

But in the end I don’t believe Jordan will be the next Egypt, and here’s why:

  1. The economy is bad – but not that bad.  Inflation in Jordan was around 0% in 2009 and just over 5% in 2010 compared to 18% and 10% in Egypt in those same years.  Consumers have certainly felt the 5% pinch this past year especially in key areas such as fuel and staples like flour and sugar.  These increases have hit the poor hard, but life in Jordan is still much better than life in Egypt as attested to by the vast number of Egyptian guest workers who come here for little pay rather than sit unemployed in Egypt.
  2. The population of Jordan is only 6.4 million.  The entire population of the Kingdom is around 1/3 the size of the greater Cairo metropolitan area.  The population density of Cairo is over 44,000 people per square mile compared to Amman’s relaxed 4,300 people per square mile.  (For reference NYC is only 27,000 people per square mile).  When it comes to the development of and controlling of civil unrest what is Cairo going to do?   When you have that many dissatisfied people in that small of an area the potential for unrest is huge.  Amman is just not the same.
  3. Related to #2 above.  Everybody is related to everybody or knows everybody else in Jordan.  Everyone is interconnected.  Tribal affiliations still mean something.  Less than 100 years ago most of the population was made up of bedouin tribes for whom family and honor meant something.  These values still exist today and fuel the protection of the common good of the kingdom.
  4. The King is well-loved.  And so is his father.   There is an Arabic saying, “If you know the son, you know the father.”  Despite grumblings about the economy and the job-performance of elected or appointed officials people still love and respect HM King Abdullah II and HM the late King Hussein.  This ruling family has held the Kingdom of Jordan together for well over half a century – not by force and oppression nor by turning a blind eye.  They have ruled with wisdom and concern for their people.  Although not elected, from what I have seen, they have the respect and allegiance of their people.  Hosni Mubarak on the other hand has been re-elected by sham elections for 30 years.  He might well have been called king rather than president.  A “king” who ended up a petty tyrant perhaps in the eyes of his people.  Much different than the wise and respected Kings who have ruled Jordan.
  5. Despite #4, of course there  has been opposition to the government over the years.  In recent years certain Islamic groups have been particularly outspoken.  In fact these groups have been instrumental in the recent protests.  They are not satisfied with HM King Abdullah’s new Prime Minister, either, citing him as the reason they lost many parliamentary seats in the 2007 elections.  They forget however that those were the first elections after the 2005 hotel bombings.  In any event, the current opposition leaders have made it clear in a public statement that they are not seeking regime change in Jordan, but rather political reform.  Which leads me to my last point . . .
  6. Jordan is the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.  This means that HM King Abdullah II traces his lineage to the prophet Muhammad himself.   Islamic groups here have stated that they recognize the Hashemite’s right to rule.  I have to imagine that it would take quite a lot for Muslims to seek to overthrow a King who is descended from Muhammad.  They may take exception to his appointees, but I think it will be quite some time before we see widespread violent protesting in the streets of Amman.

Of course this is just my layman’s outsider point-of-view.  I could be totally off base, but I doubt it.   Throw a few hundred flags and a PA system in the street these days and you’ll have the western media hearing “regime change” in every slogan.

Faces of Jordanian Politics

Today (Tuesday, November 9th) was election day in the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan.  Like in America, the fall has been “election season” and politics have been in the air.  Quite literally, actually.  As it turns out Jordanian elections are preceded by weeks of banners being strung up across every major thoroughfare and on every light pole, palm tree, and street sign.

Political banners have lined the streets in Amman for weeks

Who would you vote for?

For weeks the pictures of these politicians have been our constant driving companions.  Back and forth to work and school we have spent time with them every day.  As outsiders we really have no idea about any of the candidates or their positions.  Our opinions have been 100% formed by our impressions of the candidates based on their posters.  It’s probably a good thing that we are not voting.  Many candidates proudly put their job title on their  posters.  The Lawyer, The Professor, The Engineer, The Doctor.  My favorite for awhile was The Gardner – I thought he was a man of the people.  But I found out “The Gardner” was his last name.  Oh well.  And, as it turned out the old adage that you can’t judge a book by it’s cover is true.  Two of our favorite candidates (based on their congenial smiles and general good looks) turned out to be duds.  One is apparently very wealthy and corrupt and the other is ….. drum roll please . . . . . the father of the classroom bully at my son’s school.

This saddened us as many of the other candidates seemed as though they were badly in need of style consultants.

We often found ourselves saying, “Your staff really told you that was the best picture they had of you!?!?”  Over the weeks we developed some slogans for the candidates based on their looks:

“What?  I am smiling!”
“Vote for me, I look like your Uncle Lenny”
“Vote for me, I’m not as dumb as I look”
“Vote for me, or I will break your neck”
“Hey baby, call me, I’m still rich even though I wasted money on all these posters”
“What?  Oh, yes – trust me.  No really, trust me.”

These slogans were probably much more amusing in the moment of driving past myriads of posters.  Forgive me for not posting the exact pics with the exact slogans – even though election day is all but over I wouldn’t want any unnecessary flack, if you know what I mean.

Along the way we did learn a little bit about Jordanian politics.  Elections are held for the lower house of parliament.  To my understanding these are the only elected officials in the national government. (The upper house and all government ministers are appointed by the King).  There are 110 “deputies” in the lower house representing 10 or 12 electoral districts.  9 or 10 seats are apparently reserved for Christians and a few for Circassians and a handful for women.  There are a number of political parties, but I never was able to sort out any of their major positions.  As it turns out Jordanians tend to be a bit cynical about their elected officials.  The word on the street seemed to be that everyone in the election was either wealthy or crooked, or both.  Sounds a lot like back home, right?

Inside a candidate's HQ/rally tent

During election season candidates put up huge tents that serve as their election HQs.  They hold rallies in these tents, hand out literature, and if you bring your car you can have it outfitted with posters of the candidate.  The one thing that ties all of these HQs together is the presence of at least one if not two or three or four GIANT pictures of the King.  One candidate used an entire hillside to erect huge signs honoring the King and the royal family.

Buses for a candidate, ready to transport voters, parked under a giant poster of HM King Abdullah II.

On election day the candidates send out fleets of buses to pick up voters and take them to the polls.  Rumors are that some (if not many) of the candidates actually pay voters to ride on the buses.  I was unable to confirm this, but it seemed to be a widely held belief.  Apparently one of the Christian candidates lost in the last parliamentary election because he refused to “buy” votes in this manner.  The polls tend to be at schools – and actually may exclusively be at schools.  Today as we were driving around people lined the streets leading up to schools handing out posters and business cards of the candidates.  Giant posters of candidates were plastered all over the walls of the schools.  Apparently fine-tuned laws forbidding campaigning within a certain distance of polling places doesn’t exist.

We received a warning from the US Embassy about possible election related violence today and we kind of laughed about it.  Election violence, in Jordan?  But as it turns out there was a fair amount of low scale rough-and-tumble shenanigans between supporters of certain candidates and in some cases even candidates themselves.  In Karak the governor apparently exiled an entire tribe due to election day troubles.  I’m not even sure what that means.  A prominent Jordanian blogger gives the blow-by-blow on some of these goings on over at Black Iris, http://www.black-iris.com/2010/11/09/live-updates-of-jordans-2010-parliament-elections/

Jordan Times also has a report here: http://www.stumbleupon.com/su/41VgXx/jordantimes.com/?news=31704/r:f

Truth be told we saw and heard none of this and there is a polling place right across the street from us – so please no e-mails inquiring as to our health and safety during the raucous 2010 Jordanian parliamentary elections!

I know this is a fairly low-brow look at the elections, but, honestly, I’m a bit burnt out on politics and haven’t had the time or energy to invest in understanding the system here.  I guess I’ve reserved my right to remain an outsider and make off-hand comments with my son about political posters as we drive to school each day.  So I will leave you with this slideshow, “Faces of Jordanian Politics”

Note: If you hover over the bottom of the slide show box you should get controls to go forward or back or stop the pictures.  Enjoy!

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