My Playdate with Democracy: Parents for Occupy Wall Street

On Friday, October 21, 2011, a group calling themselves “Parents for Occupy Wall Street” planned  the world’s largest sleepover in Zuccotti Park at the height of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Kirby Desmarais, the organizer of Parents for Occupy Wall Street was younger than I expected her to be, not yet thirty. She’s a a young mother, too — her daughter is not yet three (and adorable). Kirby manages EverythingInddependent.com, a company she built herself, which helps independent artists and bands find success, “through management, placement, networking and analytics.”

Despite an already-busy life, full of work and family obligations, Kirby and her then husband Mark were able to organize PFOWS in about eight days — from passionate concept to successful execution (over 200 people stayed the night) — including a website, a banner and hot yellow t-shirts reading “Parent SECURITY”. Oh, and they also secured a CNN crew to embed themselves for the duration; beloved kid’s musician Dan Zanes and band to play for the crowd (“Pay Me my Money Down”, of course, among other favorites), and Dana and I to film the event, as well.

That’s right — just your typical law-less, job-less, communists-hippie types. Like those NYPost headlines warned you.

Kirby and her husband and daughter had visited Zuccotti a few times before and noticed many parents with kids doing the same. She got the idea to create a safe, designated place for families within the park, so parents could participate in the occupation and take care of their kids’ needs at the same time. She reached out to the organizers of OWS, aka the General Assembly, with her idea for a family sleep-in.
The GA welcomed Kirby’s idea and the group, and said they would designate an area on the Broadway side of Zuccotti park for the congregating parents. Kirby also spoke to the New York City police department to discuss safety issues, and together they helped her devise the security guidelines employed that night (all parents had to bring a child to be welcomed into the space, show photo ID, and sign in and out) as well as an exit strategy, should the need arise to leave the space quickly.

Kirby was expecting 200 parents to show. During the course of the evening, from 4pm when the first few parents and kids trickled in, to 10pm when I finally left, they would have to expand the roped-in space two times.

By the time the event ended Saturday morning, over 500 people had signed in at the checkpoint in Zuccotti Park.

* * * * * * *

Countries with Paid Parental Leave, left. On the right, countries with NO Paid Parental Leave; Liberia, Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, and the United States.

Mommy, Why Do We Occupy?

Many people are waiting for the organizers of Occupy Wall Street (and by extension, Parents for OWS) to declare an official agenda, and publish a list of demands. But my experience at the park Friday night tells me that’s not going to happen anytime soon.

In my opinion, Occupy Wall Street’s first accomplishment was to bring international attention to the devastating effects of the criminal action(s) of the multi-national banks and financial institutions on American taxpayers — specifically the years of fraudulent lending that created the mortgage-apocalypse, the housing collapse and the 2008 recession — which has yet to be prosecuted (although the Federal Housing Finance Agency is now in the process of suing 17 of the financial institutions involved).

OWS’ next action, or actions, will be determined by the crowd.

The people organizing and participating in Occupy Wall Street are practicing (and expanding, daily) a horizontal, consensus-driven, living form of democracy. Here, the whole truly reflects the sum and the strength of the individual parts. Yes, there is a body driving the concept and execution of OWS — the General Assembly — but there is no one, elected, governor of the park directing it’s actions.

The head of this body keeps changing, depending upon the needs and desires of the group, at that moment. This structure may ensure it’s survival — if you chop off the “head” of OWS, another will grow in its place, immediately.

Members of various working committees — completely volunteer-powered — execute the tasks necessary to keep things flowing in Zuccotti; i.e., food service, sanitation, press and publicity and daily events, like hosting PFOWS.

Direct Actions, such as the march to Columbus Circle on Friday the 21st, to join Pete Seeger, is voted upon by everyone in the park, using the now infamous human megaphone method. (An incredible thing to witness).

What Do the Parents Want

Some of the values of PFOWS are reflected in the sign posted under their banner Friday night, pictured above. The broad mission they commit to is written on their website:

“With our children’s best interests in mind we join together peacefully to support the Occupy Wall Street movements across the US on our children’s behalf. We’re speaking for the 99% that can’t speak up for themselves. ”
and
“[We are] a collective community for Parents & Organizations in support of Occupy Wall Street. We choose to remain nonpartisan and offer a platform and forum for all to be heard in support of the Occupy Wall Street Movement.
Isn’t that the first job of any parent? To speak for those who cannot speak for themselves? To protect their children and teach their children to use non-violent means, to “use their words”, to express their demands and concerns?

I found no one at this group advocating for the re-distribution of anyone’s wealth. What I found were thoughtful, educated, concerned parents joined together to protest an injustice, and to re-assert the democratic values this country was founded upon.

These parents believe that their children can build a life rich with reward and meaning — without diminishing the lives of others in the process.

How To Get to Zuccotti Park

#OCCUPYWALLSTREET (@OccupyWallStNYC)
2/11/12 2:15 PM
Nothing like a good chart to show #IncomeInequality we haven’t seen since the Great #Depression (from @JoshHarkinson) ow.ly/90Sbh
Mind-Blowing Charts From the Senate’s Income Inequality Hearing

How to Get to Zuccotti Park, In Five Easy Steps

Historical Background

Economists may hold different points of view as to the best economic system for a peaceful and productive society, but all are united in tracing the origins of our current economic woes to the period following the Great Depression.

After the crash the US government, facing enormous pressure from a jobless, hungry, and increasingly angry populace, was forced to act in order to prevent a full-scale revolution. Roosevelt stimulated the economy by creating jobs through the Works Progress Administration, as well as a safety net for the unemployed, which included unemployment insurance and social security.

At this time the government also introduced regulations and oversight agencies for the stock market and financial institutions. Needless to say, this was not received equally well among the corporate giants of the time. They pushed back then and keep pushing to this day, all in service to the holy bottom line.

Each item described below serves one, common goal: for corporations to maximize profit by any means necessary. But in chasing the bottom line, corporations have marched themselves right to Zuccotti Park. This is how they got there.

KEEP WAGES DOWN
Employee wages have not been increased, along with the cost of living, for four decades, declining steadily since the early 1970’s.  However, worker productivity has steadily increased — along with corporate profits.

The mission to keep wages low is partly seen in employers’ efforts to systematically and consistently fight to weaken and dismantle employee unions.

(Visual: flat wages chart from Richard Wolff’s lecture, Capitalism Hits the Fan.

PROMOTE UNSECURED DEBT
Lower wages inspire the consumer credit market. With lower wages, workers are perfectly positioned to use credit to replace income and lenders take full advantage of that fact.  Consumers go on a binge, borrowing much more than they can pay back, paying interest on their faux-income, and driving themselves deeper into debt.

SPECULATE WITH EMPLOYEE MONEY
Several things stem from the flattening of wages including the replacement of salary with benefits, such as employer pension and healthcare plans.

Employee pension fund money is used like cash by the employer, who use these funds to speculate in stocks, equities and currently, the commodities market, without express knowledge or consent from the employees contributing to the funds.

The 2008, near-collapse of the financial sector exposes these practices, as numerous employee-funded, employer-administrated pension funds are revealed to be entirely bankrupt.

http://www.aarp.org/work/retirement-planning/info-09-2011/ellen-schultz-interview-retirement-heist-author-speaks.4.html?plckOnPage=6

CHEAT, LIE & DEFRAUD THE PUBLIC
When legal ways to make money fail, or don’t work quickly enough, there is always outright criminal activity. Ample evidence shows how fraudulent practices created the housing bubble of the early 00’s—and ultimately, caused it to burst.

Appraisers were instructed to over-value homes by mortgage providers or be blacklisted from the industry; mortgage brokers were encouraged to change stated incomes on mortgage applications after customers signed off on them. And financial firms bundled bad mortgages with worse, testified to their credit-worthiness and sold them like candy.

(Reporting from L. Randall Wray: http://www.economonitor.com/lrwray/2012/03/09/the-financial-crisis-and-shreks-onion-of-fraud)

GET THE GOVERNMENT TO HELP YOU
The job of the government is to balance the needs of the many against the needs of the few. But powerful industry lobbyists, the lack of campaign finance reform, and corporate cronyism (Wall Street to K Street) abounds. It’s clear, through laws like Citizens United and in the deregulation or lack of regulation in every sector — environmental, energy, financial, pharmaceutical — that our government chooses the best interests of corporations over citizens, again and again.

A major source of inequality in the tax code comes from how it treats investment income. Capital gains is only get taxed at 15 percent, versus the maximum of 35% for salary and income for those earning _______.

Though America’s wealthy are supposed to pay a higher tax rate than the poor (what’s known as a “progressive tax code”), they now benefit from so many loopholes that the tax code has, in practice, become increasingly regressive

LIMIT WORKERS/ CONSUMERS/ CITIZENS ABILITY TO PROTEST
To protect these unjust corporate alliances from citizen discovery or protest, the US government increasingly limits freedom of speech, as seen in The Patriot Act, the NDAA and most recently HR347. Catastrophic natural events, foreign terrorism, all are exploited to maximize restricting discovery and discussion.

And corporate America does it’s part to keep people quiet by buying up mainstream media. Keeping us all dumb and divided.

“It’s a complex problem but it’s not complicated. At the end of the day, it’s very simple. The rules have been changed — or removed — to favor corporations, not people. Not me, not you, not us. The majority of people now work to create tremendous wealth for the few and do so at their own expense.

As parents we have a responsibility to look after our kids and their future. If we can’t stand up to the corporate criminals, and to what they’ve done to our public wealth, health and resources for ourselves — then we should do it for them.”

The enemy of private profit is public monies.
If we accept the above, we understand why investments in education, socialized medicine, environmental conservancy and energy efficiency will never be supported and/or intentionally sabotaged. Any means to increase consumer independence and autonomy means lower and less profits for corporations. Any program or initiative that completes with the stated goal of preserving corporate wealth will be attacked, and often defeated.

The flat wage mentioned is not the result of a gradual deflation, like air escaped from a child’s birthday balloon. A flat wage is the conscious act of (corporations?) employers to keep wages low in order to maximize profit.

In the least it is an act of contempt for ones employees; in the worst it could be construed as a deliberate economic slavery: to pay a wage that is regularly eclipsed by the cost of living is to condemn your workers as indentured servants. The flat wage is a boot heel, resting on the neck of American workers.

Is correcting wage inequity the function of our government? Or is it the duty of working people to take to the streets in protest?

On whose neck does the boot rest?

Multi-national billionaire corporations are using and producing toxic products on a daily basis and poisoning our air, water & soil, but it’s the consumer’s sole responsibility to duck these chemical poison arrows, and keep them from hitting our kids?? Madness.

This article in Forbes unrealistically suggests just that. I’m tired of the buck being passed to the consumer, the end user who cannot possibly have the full knowledge of the damage our cheap food or products create — knowledge that these manufacturers, and our governing regulatory entities possess.

Yes, in an immediate but limited way the buck can stop here, in our pantries; we can make changes in what we put in our mouths, on our bodies and in our homes — but without governmental oversight aligned with the welfare of it’s citizens rather than these corporations, dedicated to policing and stopping this catastrophic environmental homicide, these poisons will continue to enter us and we will continue to die slowly, and now more quickly, of our individual good intentions.

Occupy Wall Street was about protesting the greed and profit that drives this short-sighted sacking and pillaging of the earth that sustains us and the people who labor in service of that obscene profit.

The piper has still not been paid. The greed continues. Will #OWS have a resurgence? Or will there be no one left to protest when the earth swallows us whole and craps us out, like the inconsequential krill we are.

(http://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2014/02/15/11-toxic-chemicals-afffecting-brain-development-in-children/ Article by Alice Walton in Forbes, which inspired this rant. It was based on In a study out 2/15/14 in The Lancet Neurology.

Storytellers: Our Trip to the 19th Annual Palm Beach Film Festival

We were thrilled to premiere our film at the 19th Annual Palm Beach International Film Festival this past Saturday, April 5. Our special guests included civic students from Boca Raton Middle School, who participated in our post-screening Q&A, moderated by their teacher, and festival volunteer, Mark Pollack. The students, and other audience members, offered great feedback on the subject of civil disobedience in this country and the role it plays in our democracy.

We were in excellent company, with 165 films beings screened, including 83 features and 82 short films. Of the features, 28 were documentaries which included such diverse topics as the Holocaust, the selling of Coney Island, the hunt for the greatest Buffalo chicken wings and sex trafficking in Cambodia.

Especially thrilling was to talk to writer and director Ho Yi and his lovely wife Vivian Chow Wong at Saturday night’s stunning party at the EAU Palm Beach Hotel.

The couple traveled from Hong Kong to premiere their feature ‘Red Passage’, a film “based on untold true events”, of a Hong Kong boy moved from a British colonial state school to mainland Chinese-run, “patriotic” indoctrination school, a common practice at the pinnacle of the Cultural Revolution (1966-1975), which adversely affected thousands of young people. Vivian told us that Hong Kong distributors would not distribute the film for fear of a loss of business from their Chinese partners.

Film remains a powerful medium for telling important stories, and it takes courage to tell a story that some people want never to be heard.

We are so proud to be among these brave storytellers and we say Bravo! — and good luck — to all the festival participants.

A Portion Of Our Film’s Profits Will Go To The Paul Robeson Freedom School

We are so happy to announce that a portion of the net proceeds for our film will be going to the Paul Robeson Freedom School in Brooklyn. The Occupy Movement has been kind to our film and we hope that in this small way we can give something back to it.

The values of the Freedom School are perfectly aligned with what we believe in, when it comes to community spirit and a child’s right to a good education. We couldn’t be more thrilled to support this wonderful organization and the children who so desperately need it.

DVD Now Available For Pre-Order!

We are so excited to announce that the DVD of our film is now available for pre-order!

Parents of the Revolution won’t be released until May 15th but you can reserve your copy by going to the link below:




The DVD also includes Stereo and 5.1 surround, closed captioning and director’s commentary.

Meet Shea Territo – Young Artist of the Revolution!

Shea Territo has grown so much since we first began following her and her family in 2011. It’s extraordinary to see how she has transformed from a quiet little girl to a young woman with a strong artistic and activist voice.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Shea about her drawings, which really capture her feelings about activism and the Occupy movement.

Shea’s parents have helped her create a site where her artwork can be purchased. All proceeds will go to helping Shea pay for art school.

Need A Great Summer Camp For Your Child?

In our mission to reach out to more progressive parents, we recently came across an amazing camp, named YEA Camp,  that is perfect for anyone with kids who are looking for a summer camp experience that teaches social activism. Below is a little more of what they’re about. Read on and if you do sign up, tell ’em we said ‘hello’:)

Life-Changing Summer Camp for World-Changing Teens!
Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp is a unique and inspiring leadership summer camp for youth 12-17 who care about community service, activism, and social justice. At a week-long sleep-away program in a beautiful camp setting, YEA campers choose an issue of importance to them (for example, some have chosen climate change, racism, homophobia, homelessness, or animal rights) and they build the knowledge, skills, confidence, and community to take action on that issue once they get home. Campers also build lifelong friendships between youth with similar interests in bettering their community and society. Youth who have participated in our programs report that the camp was one of the most fun, memorable and life-changing experiences they have had, and, with YEA’s support, many have gone on to start school clubs, plan fundraisers for nonprofits, organize a call-in to Congress, and attend hearings to comment about important community issues. Check out our short video or website www.yeacamp.org to learn more about this unique program.

“This camp has truly changed my life. You have inspired me to do so much with my life and to make the world a truly better place. You have inspired me to believe in myself and to not just say ‘I’m just a kid, what can I do?’ Because of you, I have been able to actually make a difference.” -Bianca, 15

YEA is offered in Portland, OR, Ben Lomond, CA and Charlton, MA. For dates see www.yeacamp.org
$975; some scholarships available
Contact: 503-347-0223 info@yeacamp.org www.yeacamp.org