Occupy Wall Street: “You Should Have Expected Us”

By not asking for anything in particular, they are inclusive of every person and every idea in general. In modern-day parlance, this movement is “open source.” Anyone can add to it, alter and improve it.

San Francisco has it. So does Boston. It’s heading to Phoenix, Chicago and even making its way across the border to Toronto. “It” is the movement the media only acknowledge when it shuts down a bridge or broadcasts police brutality. “It” is the movement that Glenn Beck claims will lead to “gas chambers, guillotines” and “millions dead.”

The Occupy Wall Street protest is now in its third week. It’s stubborn, plucky, organized and here to stay—weather and cops be damned. For the third week in a row I am dedicating this space to an undertaking so captivating it has garnered grassroots support throughout the country despite obvious and ignominious attempts to stamp it out. Forgive me as I provide some context to my preoccupation by regurgitating a segment of this column written only days before the occupation began:

Those in my generation lost the chance to capture the spirit of revolution by looking the other way for a decade. We bought homes, started families and tried to return to ordinary lives during otherwise extraordinary times. We slept. Younger generations have substituted Haight-Ashbury with Facebook and protests with Twitter. In their frenetically hyper-connected lives they are ironically disconnected digital beings living a purgatorial existence that knows neither revolution nor responsibility. In fairness, how exactly would one protest genetically modified foods, the derivatives market or the carried interest tax loophole?

As it turns out, America’s youth is keenly in touch with its rebellious nature and wholly capable of harnessing it through social media and on the ground. Moreover, it seems, they know exactly how to protest derivatives and tax loopholes. Occupy Wall Street is not an exercise; nor is it a group of out-of-work malcontents and spoiled brats as some pundits and commentators would have you all believe. But given the disgraceful job my colleagues in the “traditional” media have done covering the last three weeks, it’s little wonder there is such a misconception about the protest or the character of the protestors themselves.

Fox News, CNN, MSNBC and other hack, ratings-hungry news operations have done their level-best to seek out the most outrageous or ill-informed members of the movement in an effort to discredit the entire affair. This has served only to embolden the members of the occupation and play directly into the hands of the organizers who are able to maintain their underground “street-cred” while pointing a finger at corporate media with righteous indignation. It’s one of several ingenious ploys (or anti-ploys depending upon which side of the barricade you reside) being exploited by Anonymous, the group at the heart of the protest.

Most of the news reports and the people I speak with about Occupy Wall Street have the same question: “What do they want?” It’s little wonder why the reporting has been so poor because the question itself fails to grasp the meaning of the gathering. Asking “What do they want?” is placing the cart before the horse. It’s not that it’s a bad question; it’s simply impossible to answer. The purpose of Occupy Wall Street is to begin a dialogue among disconnected citizens and encourage a process of self-discovery. Although they have posted a declaration of principles that lists pernicious policies and highlights social and economic inequities, it only serves to provide the framework for the discussion.

But behind this grassroots and organic process is an organizational brilliance in the restraint shown by Anonymous and the surreptitious group in charge of the demonstration on the ground. By not asking for anything in particular, they are inclusive of every person and every idea in general. In modern-day parlance, this movement is “open source.” Anyone can add to it, alter and improve it. It’s why dimwitted reporters have a hard time grasping it and why renowned authors such as Chris Hedges and Jeff Sharlet have been here to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with young people in Ron Paul tee shirts, Vietnam Veterans, union construction workers, lawyers and even some Tea Party activists. They have managed to truly make this the “people’s movement.” Or, as they say: “We are the 99%… and so are you.”

Life In The Park

As for life in Zuccotti Park, the scene is rather surreal. Between the time I first visited the encampment on Day 4 and Day 18 on Tuesday of this week, a mini-city had emerged. Rules of conduct are posted along the walls of the park. There is a media center, a volunteer booth, food line, barrels of drinking water, a compost pile, rows of books and a tobacco-rolling station. They even have their own newspaper, the Occupied Wall Street Journal. Every evening at 7 p.m. there is a General Assembly meeting where the faithful gather to air their grievances, plan for the days ahead, and coalesce some of the more substantive ideas that have percolated throughout the long days of demonstration, learning and discovery.

In the morning I caught up with Julian, who had casually greeted me on Day 4 with a warm and comfortable smile. Upon hearing of the protest, Julian had purchased a one-way ticket from Oregon to attend the occupation. He couldn’t say how long he would be there, only that he planned to stick it out as long as possible. This time around, Julian had the look of someone who had spent the better part of two and a half weeks battling sleeplessness and, at times, punishing weather. He was grittier and weary, though he claimed to have finally snagged a decent night’s rest.

“I would say this has far exceeded my expectations” he said, a hand-rolled cigarette tucked behind one ear and a scraggly beard adorning his tired face. “The growth of the movement speaks to the level of despair in this country and desire for change,” he said, as he greeted another volunteer who clapped him on the back and hung close for our conversation. When I asked whether he had booked that return ticket yet, his warm smile returned as he said, “I decided to keep the next six months to a year totally clear.” Politely, he then excused himself and settled in behind the volunteer table. Julian was all in.

I spent the next couple of hours weaving my way between citizen journalists, musicians, poets, activists, union workers and teachers. Another familiar face from the first week was Gio Andollo, an artist and musician from Harlem who has spent “some part of the day, every day and usually nights” at the protest since it began. He too is committed to occupying Wall Street for “as long as it takes,” and thinks the protestors have “done a really good job of diffusing potentially violent situations.” Gio, like so many of those involved in the Occupy Wall Street protest, is disappointed with the media coverage but shrugs it off. “What we’re trying to accomplish here doesn’t lend itself to media-friendly sound bites,” he says. But unlike others who cry foul at the blatantly misdirected coverage of the protest, Gio is somewhat sanguine. “It’s just a matter of time before even politicians start paying attention.”

Ironically, across the plaza a group began to gather around two men who clearly stood out from the crowd. Lo and behold, politicians had finally found their way to Zuccotti Park to engage the activists in person. City Council Members Daniel Halloran (R-Queens) and Ydanis Rodriguez (D-Manhattan) took center stage for a while to participate in the ongoing dialogue with Wall Street occupiers. Halloran, a self-proclaimed Libertarian Republican, told those around him that he supported their “constitutional right” to gather in protest, but the only way out of America’s economic mess was to “elect better people” to office and “get out and fucking vote.” He touched on hot button issues like diminishing the influence of the Federal Reserve and putting “teeth back into anti-trust regulations,” while Rodriguez, no stranger to controversy and an early supporter of Occupy Wall Street, said, “Wall Street should contribute more,” instead of the city having to “cut agencies and education.”

Despite advocating for things over which neither councilman has control, they caused a stir by at least engaging in the conversation. But their presence only highlights the lack of support and involvement from the elected federal representatives who have stayed as far from the protest as humanly possible. But then again, as Gio pointed out, it’s just a matter of time.

The “Occupy” demonstrations sprouting up around the nation illustrate the strange and uneasy predicament we face. On one side, we see a group of disenfranchised Americans taking to the streets to raise awareness of an increasingly inequitable economic system by exercising their First Amendment right to gather peaceably and protest their grievances. On the other side of the spectrum are charlatans like Glenn Beck, who is warning his ever-dwindling flock of minions to stock up on food and guns because young people have decided to mobilize against the government—pretty fucking hilarious coming from a false-wannabe-prophet who organized his own march in D.C. against the very same government.

Here’s the funny thing. The smallest step back from the fray only serves to highlight our similarities rather than our differences. Like diminutive points on an impressionist painting, there is room in America for every color, from the muted tones of conservatism to the most colorful hue of progressivism. Independent of one another they inevitably clash, but when blended together on the artist’s canvas the true portrait of America is revealed—but only from a distance. In Zuccotti Park, Anonymous may have just emerged as one of the great impressionist masters of our time, portraying America at its finest and capturing the single greatest expression of democracy to occur in my lifetime.

Gangsta Prankstas: Citizen Murdoch and Bill Oh’Really?

The actions of those involved in the evolving News Corp scandal are hardly surprising given the arrogance endemic to the organization as a whole.

Rupert MurdochIf it bleeds it leads.  With the specter of his News Corp getting hacked to pieces by the bloody politicians who have done his bidding, Rupert Murdoch has become the bleeding headline.  The miasma of Murdoch’s brand of “yellow journalism”, to quote frequent Fox News pundit, Congressman Peter King, has hung over Brits (and Yanks) like a London fog.  Now it is being dispersed by blasts from the media mogul’s very own supplicants.

Hacking into the cell phone of a murdered thirteen years-old schoolgirl to make room for false hope and more expressions of family anguish seemed just the ticket to keep a titillating tabloid story going.  Ditto that for terrorist bombing victims and dead soldiers.  There is no place for morality and ethics when titillation, manipulation, power and profits are the four corners of your world.  But sex, lies and payoffs have turned toxic for the Thunder from Down Under.     

Conservative British Prime Minister David Cameron, who appointed the editor of Murdoch’s offending newspaper as his administration’s chief spokesman, was shocked, shocked by all this appalling behavior: “The people involved, whether they were directly responsible for the wrongdoing, sanctioned it, or covered it up, however high or low they go, must not only be brought to justice, they must also have no future role in the running of a media company in our country.”

On this side of the pond, King wrote FBI Director Robert Mueller, to declare, “It is revolting to imagine that members of the media would seek to compromise the integrity of a public official for financial gain in the pursuit of yellow journalism….  If these allegations are proven true, the conduct would merit felony charges for attempting to violate various federal statutes related to corruption of public officials and prohibitions against wiretapping. Any person found guilty of this purported conduct should receive the harshest sanctions available under law.” 

To what degree has this gangster culture permeated Murdoch States-side operations like Fox ‘News’?  Exhibit A is the Bill O’Reilly Loufa Affair.  This sordid sortie was quickly covered up by $6 million in hush money Fox News president Roger Ailes purportedly paid to make one plaintiff female producer half O’Really’s age go away.   Leave aside the graphic recordings of phone sex and sexual predation contained in the Verified Complaint, Index No. 04114558  filed on October 13, 2004 in the Supreme Court of the State of New York.  In “Andrea Mackris, Plaintiff against Bill O’Reilly, News Corporation, Fox News Channel, Defendants,” O’Reilly rails into Mackris’ hidden microphone about what would happen should one of his victims complain:

“If any woman ever breathed a word I’ll make her pay so dearly that she’ll wish she’d never been born.  I’ll rake her through the mud, bring up things in her life and make her so miserable that she’ll be destroyed.  And besides, she wouldn’t be able to afford the lawyers I can or endure it financially as long as I can.  And nobody would believe her, it’d be her word against mine and who are you going to believe?  Me or some unstable woman making outrageous accusations.  They’d see her as some psycho, someone unstable.  Besides, I’d never make the mistake of picking some crazy, unstable girl like that…

“If you cross Fox News Channel, it’s not just me, it’s Roger Ailes who will go after you.  I’m the street guy out front making loud noises about issues, but Ailes operates behind the scenes, strategizes and makes things happen so that one day BAM!  The person gets what’s coming to them but never sees it coming.  Look at Al Franken, one day he’s going to get a knock on his door and life as he’s known it will change forever.  That day will come happen, trust me.” 

Oh really? Whitey Bolger couldn’t have gangsta-spun it any better, though he wouldn’t have gotten caught on tape.

Implication in criminal activity has not been a disqualifier in the News Corp/Fox world.  Consider Fox pundit Karl Rove, who barely escaped prosecution for his role in leaking the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame.  Rove came to his Machiavellian station as “Bush’s Brain” by cutting his spurs on political prankstering.  At 19, Rove assumed a false identity to access the campaign office of a Democratic candidate for Illinois treasurer.  He concocted a campaign flier on a thousand sheets of stolen letterhead promising “free beer, free food, girls and a good time for nothing” and distributed them to derelicts who showed up to disrupt the Democrat’s campaign rally.   Rove’s fingerprints were all over rumors of John McCain’s POW-induced instability and black love child during the 2000 South Carolina Republican primary.

Grand Old Pranksters can track their tradition back through Lee Atwater, Donald Segretti to the godfather of modern political buggery, Tricky Dick.  But it was the grand old man of yellow journalism, William Randolph “You can crush a man with journalism” Hearst who can lay claim to one of the founding principles of Fox family values when he got the boot from Harvard for a bevy of pranks including the imprinting of professors’ names inside chamber (piss) pots.  Or so he claimed; turns out he was expelled for grades.  Could prankstering be a gateway drug for News Corp criminality?

Lawyer for the family of murdered thirteen years-old Milly Dowler provided the most damning judgment upon yet another resignation and arrest of a News Corp exec: “This is not just about one individual but about the culture of an organization.”

“Charles Foster Kane is a scoundrel,” said Citizen Kane 72 years ago.  “His paper should be run out of town.”

American Genocide

Stossel’s report is packaged as an investigative news feature and passed off as real journalism despite the complete absence of veracity. Stossel prevaricates so often in attempting to prove that every Indian in America is poor, stupid and lazy that this piece almost feels like satire. Only it’s not.

Writing a column is sometimes an arduous process. When a thought is in the embryonic stage, yet deadlines require it to prematurely take shape on the page, it can be utterly frustrating. There are times, however, when the column gods smile upon you and organize your experiences in such a profound and unambiguous way that the act of writing is a denouement of sorts that reaffirms one’s faith in the process.

On Monday of this week I was reviewing materials related to New York’s cigarette taxation policy on Indian territories—a frequent topic of this column—in preparation for an interview with a friend upstate named John Kane, who discusses Indian issues on his weekly radio show in Buffalo. While I was organizing my notes, John sent me a message asking if I had seen a recent news report about welfare and Indians in America by John Stossel. I had not.

Full disclosure: I had no idea who John Stossel was prior to viewing this report. It didn’t take long, however, to arrive at the conclusion that this reprobate masquerading as a reporter is a modern-day sophist who obviously sold his soul to the devil a long, long time ago in return for fame, fortune and the worst ’70s porn moustache this side of Geraldo Rivera.

Last week, this veteran television “journalist” broadcast a segment titled “Freeloaders” on Roger Ailes’ ongoing anti-intellectual jihad known as Fox News. It’s a subject Stossel has “investigated” before. Only this time he directs his vitriol at American Indians, a group he refers to en masse in his introduction as “wards of our state.” Stossel then proceeds to churn out quite possibly the most one-sided, racist commentary on TV news since Dodgers’ executive Al Campanis told Ted Koppel in 1987 that black people don’t have “some of the necessities” to manage in baseball and lacked “the buoyancy” to be good swimmers.

Stossel’s report is packaged as an investigative news feature and passed off as real journalism despite the complete absence of veracity. Stossel prevaricates so often in attempting to prove that every Indian in America is poor, stupid and lazy that this piece almost feels like satire. Only it’s not. He blames outrageous government subsidies for poverty on Indian territories, not the fact that over four centuries, the Indians who weren’t extinguished and disposed of were herded into the remote, resource-poor areas of our nation and stripped of their land, rights, dignity, habitat, game and whatever else our government could steal.

But for Stossel, enough is enough. It’s high time Indians pick themselves up, dust themselves off and start making money without the assistance of the federal government or revenue from casino gaming.  Declaring “Capitalist Indians achieve,” Stossel sets out to prove that the American dream is available for Indians too, if they would just stop being so poor, stupid and lazy. In fact, not only can they still be Indian, they can be rich. Like the Amish.

No, that wasn’t a joke. He actually asks a pro-native advocate during an interview, “How come the Amish got wealthy?” While his guest is attempting to recover from the idiocy of this question, he steps in with his own conclusion: “Maybe they weren’t relying on government rules and Indian trusts and lawyering that teaches Indians to be helpless.”

 Every conclusion that Stossel arrives at is based upon absolute lies. He holds the Lumbee tribe in North Carolina out as the ultimate success story, insinuating that they are all thriving because they choose to ignore government subsidies and don’t let the United States control their land like every other tribe in America. He uses this example as the benchmark against which every Indian nation should be compared and ignores the fact that the Lumbee Indians exist in perhaps the strangest Indian purgatory with a status exactly unlike every other tribe in America.

First of all, there is no Lumbee reservation. Moreover, Lumbee is just a colloquial name given to an amalgam of Indian tribes who are federally “recognized” as having authentic Indian roots though hailing from a large and disparate geographic area. This condition is vastly different from being “federally recognized.” The distinction is of no moment to Stossel, who goes on to falsely claim that the U.S. government actually controls Indian reservations. Footage of poverty-stricken reservations out west provides the backdrop for venomous lies such as this: “Because the government owns most Indian property, individuals rarely build nice homes or businesses.”

I have neither the time nor the inclination to detail the copious ways in which Stossel lies through his cheesy moustache in this shameless “report.” I’ve wasted too much effort on this lowlife bastard already. Instead, I leave you with the perspective I gained from witnessing the perfect counterpoint to his dripping filth.

Tuesday night my wife and I attended an event at the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County to hear Eli Rosenbaum speak. Rosenbaum, who hails from Westbury, is the director of human rights and special prosecutions for the U.S. Department of Justice and has the distinction of being the longest-serving prosecutor and investigator of Nazi criminals and other genocide perpetrators in history. His presentation was brilliant and captivating. But it was the courageous testimony of Eugenie Mukeshimana, a survivor of the Rwandan genocide who spoke before him, that broke the hearts of every person in attendance.

What struck me most as I sat down to pen this column, and what the column gods undoubtedly intended me to experience in this period, was not as obvious as you might think. The obvious parable is the dichotomy between Stossel’s blatant racism and transparent hatred and the purity of Rosenbaum’s work and the tragedy of Mukeshimana’s story. But it’s John Kane’s perspective that broke through to me, and perhaps saddened me the most.

No matter what I write here or how many dots are ever connected in people’s minds about life in Indian Country, there will never come a time when the majority of Americans recognize the genocide hidden in plain sight: the American holocaust. This is how Indians like John Kane refer to it, and casually so, because for them it is living history, an ever-present reality. But it isn’t spoken of or acknowledged in white circles. There is no one for Eli Rosenbaum to prosecute. There is no Indian Mukeshimana who can testify to the atrocities.

As Americans we view ourselves as liberators, and in many cases throughout history, we have been indeed. We go so far as to blame ourselves for not intervening in places such as Rwanda but our national guilt ends there. And while I was simultaneously bursting with pride last night listening to Eli Rosenbaum—a Long Islander, one of us—and breaking with sorrow for Eugenie Mukeshimana, I must admit to what is perhaps the grossest of human emotions: envy.

I was envious that there are good souls in the world who value human life enough to listen, understand and learn. Envious that there are people like Rosenbaum who selflessly dedicate their lives to justice, no matter how belated it may be. Envious because neither exists for the invisible indigenous people of our nation considered by Stossel (and I’m sure many others) as “wards of our state.”

CLICK HERE TO VIEW STOSSEL’S RACIST REPORT