The Great Hall at Cooper Union in lower Manhattan was packed, standing room only on this November 22nd, 1909 day. Garment workers from all over the city came to the same auditorium where Abraham Lincoln had denounced the proliferation of slavery nearly fifty years earlier. They were there to consider an industry-wide strike in support of the striking Triangle Shirtwaist Factory workers. Union leaders (men) droned on for nearly two hours, when suddenly a 23 year old, immigrant union organizer named Clara Lemlich burst up onto the stage uninvited, and said, “I would like to say a few words.” She then turned to her audience and said, “I have listened to all the speakers and I have no further patience for talk. I am a working girl, one of those striking against intolerable conditions. I am tired of listening to speakers who talk in generalities. What we are here for is to decide whether or not to strike. I offer a resolution that a general strike be declared now!” Her peers were wildly supportive. She then led a modified version of an old Jewish oath, “If I turn traitor to the cause, I now pledge may this hand wither from the arm I now raise.” And so began what was soon known as The Uprising of 20,000.
The next day, all over the city garment workers walked off their jobs, and met in Union Square Park for a solidarity rally. The eleven week strike saw over 700 arrests. Strikers were being beat by company-hired thugs, and prostitutes, and police often turned their backs, and in some cases even participated in the beatings. Finally it ended with a Peace Protocol, with the hundreds of clothing manufacturers making different deals with their workers. Many companies became union shops where only union workers could be hired. The owners of Triangle Shirtwaist Factory resisted, giving in to only modest wage and hour concessions. The unsafe, over-crowded conditions remained the same at Triangle with doors only opening inward, shabbily constructed fire escapes, a barrel of oil stored on the floor, cloth tailings that were not removed on a regular basis, and incredibly exit doors that were locked during working hours.
Then late in the afternoon on a beautiful spring Saturday (March 25th, 1911), while having tea with a friend near Washington Square Park a woman named Frances Perkins suddenly heard screams and sirens going off. She ran across the park and came upon the horrific site of seeing the first of 50-60, mostly women jumping out of the fire engulfed upper floors, of the ten-story Asch building. Triangle Shirtwaist occupied the 8th-10th floors. In the little more than a half hour that fire raged, 146 people died; 129 of them were women; Italian and Jewish immigrants mostly; the average age was 19, and the youngest, Kate Leone and “Sarah” Rosaria Maltese only 14. The bodies were brought to a covered pier on E 26th St so families could conduct the gruesome task of identifying their loved ones, if they could.
New Yorkers were gripped with an immense feeling of grief and mea culpa. A meeting was called on April 2nd at the old Metropolitan Opera House to see what could be done so that these young women did not die in vain. The meeting became tense as people from different socioeconomic groups started squabbling - that until a young, immigrant, union organizer, named Rose Schneiderman started to speak. She held her audience spell-bound with her angry, chastising speech. Decades later Frances Perkins who was in attendance said, “..Wonderful, what a speech she made.” After the meeting, and that incredible oratory, a safety commission was formed. Ms. Perkins became the lead investigator, and their mission expanded into looking at all aspects of factory life in the over 2,000 factories that were inspected in New York state. Over thirty new laws were passed, and many of them were emulated by other states.
At no time were the feelings of guilt and sorrow probably more evident than on a cold rainy April 5th day, when between 80-120,000 people gathered in and around Washington Square Park where a funeral procession was to begin for the victims of the fire. It was led by six horses pulling an empty hearse, followed by victims’ families, survivors of the fire, and garment workers from throughout the city. It is estimated that another 200-400,000 people lined the streets of the route towards, and up 5th Ave.
This tragedy caused union enrollment to soar. People started to feel a sense of empowerment, and knew that there was strength in unity. Religious groups, community groups, unions, radicals, and reformers all banded together, putting aside their differences for the greater shared goal of improving people’s lives. And they did not ask for change, but rather they demanded it.
The social advancements in this era, and in the decades that followed were made possible by people who had courage and were willing to make tremendous sacrifices so that they, and their progeny could live a life with dignity. And it is undeniable that most of us and our loved ones, past and present benefited greatly from the pain that those people endured to secure those gains. What we have forgotten is that - it is a never-ending battle to keep what we had inherited. The crisis that we find ourselves in today begs the questions; Do we have an economic system that can be adapted to a sustainable world in which not only the environment is taken into account, but where the peoples’ well-being is considered more important than profits? And the next more important question is; Do we as a people possess the mettle that our ancestors had to make the changes that we must make? Well..
It was said, “The New Deal began March 25th, 1911,” and the woman who said that was the first woman Cabinet member, Secretary of Labor, Frances Perkins - Yes that same Frances Perkins whose tea was interrupted on that fateful, shocking, life-changing day for her, all those years ago.
But in the United States, we find that no less than 62% of all bankruptcies involve medical debt. Of these people, three-quarters actually had medical insurance. So many drugs and procedures are not covered, and so high are the deductibles, that an insured person can easily find themselves unable to cover their medical bills. Two-thirds of working households do not have the resources to cover a $1000 emergency. One hour of a specialist doctor’s time can cost that alone.
Unfortunately, the Affordable Health Care Act (aka Obamacare) will not address most of these problems. It will certainly raise access—to expensive “under-insurance” plans with high deductibles and lots of out-of-pocket costs.
Strike Debt believes that health care that covers all a person’s needs is not a “Cadillac” plan but a human right. Such human rights should not be limited to top executives and members of Congress, who award themselves 100% health care coverage. No one should be driven into bankruptcy by an accident or an illness. In much of the developed world, these sentiments are just common sense. It’s a measure of how reactionary neo-liberalism has become in the United States that they are received here as radical.
“Life or Debt” is the choice we are offered. We refuse. Strike Debt. You are not a loan.
Stand in Solidarity With the Community of East Flatbush
and the Family of Kimani Gray
March from 55th & Church to the 67th Precinct
This Sunday, people of conscience from across the city will gather in East Flatbush, Brooklyn to show solidarity with the friends, family and community of Kimani “Kiki” Gray as they express their grief, voice their anger, and demand justice. Gray was killed on March 9th by the NYPD, the latest in a systemic pattern of police violence against black and brown communities across the United States. The officers who killed Gray have a documented history of abuse. In order to legitimize the killing, these officers claimed that Gray pointed a gun at them. Eyewitnesses to the killing contest this claim. Gray was shot seven times, three of which were in the back. According to witnesses, Gray was left lying on the ground pleading for his life–“please don’t let me die.”
We call upon all Occupy networks and allies to participate in the Justice for Kimani event this Sunday as an intentional step to amplify this local community action, as well as the nation-wide movement against police violence, mass incarceration, and economic injustice. We stand with our allies who are organizing around Stop and Frisk, implementing Copwatch programs, conducting Know Your Rights trainings, and more. The crisis has been building, and the time is long overdue for people of all races, colors, and creeds to come together for racial justice. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “Justice too long delayed is justice denied.”
We also recall the words of Malcolm X: “You can’t have capitalism without racism.” This analysis remains as true today as it was three generations ago, even as oppression has taken on new forms. Predatory debt, public austerity, emergency restructuring, climate crisis: the disasters of Wall Street hit black and brown people the hardest, magnifying the history of racism in the United States and undoing the progress made after the Civil Rights movement. In our urban zones of emergency, there is no justice, only law enforcement; no prosperity, only poverty; no future; only prisons. The harassment, incarceration, and killing of young people like Kimani Gray, Shantel Davis, Oscar Grant, Manuel Diaz, Sean Bell, Ramarley Graham, Trayvon Martin, Amadou Diallo, and countless others bring the depths of this collective racial trauma into horrific relief. We refuse not to look when the NYPD tells us “move along, there is nothing to see here.”
Things have come to a head in East Flatbush: riot gear, horses, helicopters, barricades, mass arrests, intimidation, divide-and-conquer tactics. Bloomberg and the NYPD want to sow fear and enforce silence – especially among the young friends of Kimani who had the courage to take the streets and confront the police on the night of March 14th.
The blood marking the streets of Flatbush, Bronx, Anaheim, Oakland, and beyond fuels a movement already in motion. The movement combines indignant rage with militant love. The actions in East Flatbush and other neighborhoods are sparking something big that strikes at the heart of the system.
The affirmation of life, healing, and community is the true threat presented by the movement, as it charts a path from protest to reconstruction–the repayment of debts owed to communities for generations of stolen lives and incalculable sums of stolen wealth. Why are there plenty of resources for the Stop and Frisk patrols, while physical spaces in the neighborhood lie fallow that could be used as commons for the community?
Looking to the legacies of Frederick Douglass, Sojourner Truth, Marcus Garvey, WEB Dubois, Martin Luther King, Ella Baker, Fannie Lou Hamer, Malcolm X, James and Grace Lee Boggs, and untold freedom fighters throughout history, our shared dream is the worst nightmare of the 1%: a People’s City liberated from the violence of the police and the violence of Wall Street alike.
We are calling on comrades around the world to help raise awareness of the NATO 5 cases and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests. Please read the call-out below and start planning your action or event today!
On May 16, 2012, Chicago cops raided an apartment in the Bridgeport neighborhood of Chicago in an all-too-common attempt to scare people away from the imminent protests against the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) summit. With guns drawn, the cops arrested 11 people in or around the apartment and quickly disappeared them into the bowels of the extensive network of detention facilities in Cook County, Illinois.
After a few days, a few things started becoming clear: 2 of the arrested “activists” were actually undercover Chicago cops who had targeted the real activists for arrest, 6 of them were illegally held and released at the last possible minute before court action could be taken to force their release, and 3 had been charged with trumped-up, politically motivated terrorism charges. These three—Brent Betterly, Brian Jacob Church, Jared Chase—are now known as the NATO 3. They were ultimately charged with 11 felony counts, including material support for terrorism, conspiracy to commit terrorism, and creating Molotov cocktails. They face up to 40 years in prison and are expected to go to trial in September. Their lawyers recently filed a motion to dismiss the terrorism charges for being unconstitutional.
Two other Chicago-area activists—Mark Neiweem and Sebastian Senakiewicz—were also preemptively arrested. Mark was arrested in a spectacular snatch-and-grab as he was leaving a restaurant. He was charged with soliciting materials for an explosive device and is facing up to 30 years in prison; his trial date has not yet been set. Sebastian was arrested in another spectacular house raid and charged with falsely making a terrorist threat for allegedly claiming that he had explosive materials and wanted to use them during the convention. Facing 15 years in prison followed by deportation to his native Poland after serving his sentence, he took a non-cooperating plea deal last November. He was sentenced to 4 years with a recommendation of 4 months in boot camp. He is expected to begin his immigration proceedings immediately after completing his sentence.
As the one-year anniversary of these preemptive, politically motivated arrests draws near, we are calling for a week of solidarity actions and fundraisers for the NATO 5. All five defendants have been incarcerated since their arrests last May. Being held hostage in jail is extremely expensive for prisoners, as they are forced to purchase all their hygiene products, writing supplies, additional food to supplement the starvation portions given to them each day, and other basic necessities from the jail’s commissary at exorbitant prices. The legal defense costs for the defendants is also mounting, as their lawyers are working hard to help them win their freedom and there is a ton of evidence to sift through and other preparations to make.
This May, stand in solidarity with the NATO 5! Organize a house party, bake sale, silent auction, cabaret, raffle, rally, noise demo, art auction, street theater performance, concert…whatever you and your friends want! Send us an email at nato5solidarity(A)gmail.com to let us know what you have planned and then send us photos afterwards! You can also write the defendants to let them know what you have planned (https://nato5support.wordpress.com/contact/).
The NATO 5 cases are linked by a few common threads. People around the world have come together to protest NATO’s role in worldwide military expenditures and operations, the organization’s penchant for wantonly killing civilians for the benefit of its member nations—particularly the United States—and its disregard for human rights. Additionally, undercover Chicago police officers targeted and entrapped the activists because of their politics, which is part of a broader pattern of state repression against political activists, in which charging activists as terrorists is one of many strategies being used to silence dissent and dismantle activist communities. Other recent cases in which activists have been targeted include the Cleveland 4 (http://www.cleveland4solidarity.org/), the Green Scare cases (http://www.greenisthenewred.com/blog/), and the Pacific Northwest Grand Jury resisters (http://nopoliticalrepression.wordpress.com/).
We, the National Gathering Working Group 2013 (NGWG2013), propose a National Gathering of the Occupy Movement, and peoples’ movements worldwide, in Kalamazoo Michigan, to collectively assemble and embrace our different ideologies and perspectives; to find our common visions; to share our strategies and actions; and to leave this gathering with steps we can all take in both agreement and diversity; for ourselves, our communities, our nations, and for all of us all over the world.
We further propose that our convergence begin on Aug. 21 and continue for five days of Community and Movement building exercises including speakers, teach-ins, and
free-flowing open discussion at a location to be determined by the Occupy Kalamazoo General Assembly. We believe it’s time the people of the world spoke to each other about how to make a better world. We ask you to converge with us, to bring your ideas, your struggles, and your voice and come to Kalamazoo!
We already have networks on board with these broad areas of interest and welcome and need your suggestions, participation and contributions:
We also encourage the creation of local, national and global processes to communicate, organize and converge. We are meeting more and more on the internet, on mumble, on conference calls. Global infrastructures are appearing, to bring more people together and able to participate worldwide. We are able as a people to organize worldwide protests and actions. We envision a day of concerted worldwide actions focused on very local issues that expose those local issues as part of the worldwide fight against systemic injustice. We will gather and share this worldwide action through all the media tools and networks we continue to build through voluntary people power.
We embrace the value derived from face-to-face contact, and understand that no single gathering can be representative of our entire movement. We recognize that attending in person will be challenging, or impossible for many, so we also commit to pursuing an online component through which anyone can participate via the Internet. We encourage the creation of local, national and global processes by which movement resources could be directed towards funding travel for active movement participants that otherwise would not be able to attend.
In keeping with principles of the Occupy Movement, the NGWG2013 will continue planning this gathering only if this proposal is ratified by a preponderance of General Assemblies from across the Movement.
We are committed to operating in an open, inclusive, and transparent way. Therefore, most planning will be done via direct democratic conference calls, hubs and collaborative tools through the InterOccupy.net platform. All are welcome to participate. We endeavor to convene an historic gathering that will require a great deal of organization, so we invite participants from all Occupys and friends to join us in the planning and facilitation of this effort.
We invite you come to Kalamazoo Aug. 21 – 25. We ask for your endorsement, and would be honored if you would join us, live, online or in solidarity actions, and become part of this beautiful expression of our collective will!
The National Gathering Working Group 2013
The NGWG2013 is comprised of Occupy Kalamazoo on the ground, and other
Occupiers from across the Globe online, hopefully to soon include you! Please send your endorsement or intent of solidarity to firstname.lastname@example.org or comment on our website. We hope to soon have a form on the website!