Occupiers have tried to squat in bank lobbies before, but never with as much style as this crew from Occupy Wall Street:
Notice how the occupiers look like they are having fun, instead of foaming with anger? "That was completely conscious," says Nelini Stamp, an organizer with Occupy Wall Street whose mother lost her home to Bank of America in 2006. "This is not a shutdown. We want to make light of the situation but also carry the message that this is a serious thing."
The creators of the video are members of Occupy Wall Street's Fight BAC group (BAC stands for "Bank of America), which formed two months ago to highlight the bank's foreclosure practices and too-big-to-fail business model. They're coordinating March 15th protests against the BofA in Manhattan; Phoenix; Danbury, CT; and Sarasota, FL. Many of them come from the anti-foreclosure group Occupy Homes, which is holding a national week of action starting today. The #M15 events are online at FTheBanks.org ("F" stands for "Foreclose"—or "a different thing if you use your imagination," Stamp says).
And yeah, in case you were wondering, $230 billion is how much taxpayers spent bailing out Bank of America.
Could last fall's Occupy fever portend a progressive takeover of Congress?
The answer could hinge on the outcome of an upcoming Democratic primary in a congressional district near Chicago, where a corporate-friendly centrist faces a remarkably stiff challenge from a 25-year-old Occupy Wall Street supporter who has even cut an OWS-themed campaign ad.
"What excited me about Occupy was that the target of this anger and frustration was finally the right one," says Ilya Sheyman, who stepped down as national mobilization director for MoveOn.org early last year to compete for a seat held by a vulnerable GOP congressman. "I think what's happened is people feel like, 'Wow, we've changed the national conversation. Now we have to change leadership in Washington and deliver on that.'"
Sheyman's main rival in the March 20 primary is Brad Schneider, who is running on his experience as a former accounting exec. The two have dueled for money, volunteers, and endorsements, with Schneider locking in the centrist New Democrat Coalition and moderates like House Minority Whip Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), while Sheyman has won support from MoveOn, Democracy for America, and liberals like Russ Feingold (D-Wis.). So far, Sheyman has the edge in buzz and fundraising, although competing polls have put both men in the lead.
An Occupy protest on Capitol Hill: SOBPhotography/Flickr
Unlike the tea party, the Occupy movement hasn't involved itself much in elections. But that hasn't stopped a slew of progressives and political outsiders from capitalizing on the movement's energy. Here's a rundown of 10 electable House and Senate hopefuls who, one way or another, have made Occupy part of their campaigns:
Hakeem Jeffries (New York): "Income inequality is worse now that it has been since prior to the Great Depression," the state assemblyman said during a passionate speech at an Occupy rally in Brooklyn this fall. In January, Jeffries announced that he'd run for Congress in New York's Tenth Congressional District against 15-term incumbent Ed Towns, who'd angered labor unions when he cast the deciding vote in 2005 for the Central American Free Trade Agreement. Since then, Jeffries has picked up endorsements in the Brooklyn district from prominent unions such as the Communications Workers of America. Prospects: Fair. Jeffries' success could hinge on stopping the Tenth District from being redrawn to exclude his state assembly district, where he's popular.
Lori Saldaña (California): "Lori Saldaña has leapt headlong into the Occupy movement," writes the San Diego Union-Tribune. While that may be a bit of an overstatement, the Democratic former assemblywoman certainly caters to the cause with her campaign slogan: "Fighting for America's middle class." In January, she joined a rally organized by Occupy the Courts in protest of Supreme Court rulings that give corporations the rights of people. Prospects: Good. A recent poll ranks her as the frontrunner in the primary and just six points behind incumbent Republican Rep. Brian Bilbray. But an independent who may enter the fray could strip away some of her supporters.
The lobbyist who helped kill California's Proposition 19, the 2010 ballot measure that would have legalized recreational marijuana, has constructed an entire business model around keeping pot illegal. While fighting against the proposed law, lobbyist John Lovell accepted nearly $400,000 from a wide array of police unions, some of which he also represented in attempting to steer millions of federal dollars toward California's marijuana suppression programs.
The revelation, reported yesterday by the Republic Report's Lee Fang, illustrates how Prop. 19 threatened the paychecks of some of its biggest foes. Police departments stood to lose lucrative federal grants like a $550,000 payment in 2010 to police departments in three Northern California counties that covered 666 hours of police overtime spent eradicating marijuana. And Lovell would have presumably lost a job as a guy who helped land those kinds of grants. Here's a copy of a notice sent to a police department in Lassen County, California:
Police unions and their lobbyists weren't the only economic interests with a stake in Prop. 19. The alcohol industry and prison guards also contributed money to fight the measure. And on the other side, the passage of Prop. 19 would have given thousands of "hempreneurs" behind the state's $1.3 billion medical marijuana industry a stimulus stronger than a vaporized bowl of Hindu Kush. The likely side effects—a decline in budget-busting law-enforcement costs and millions of dollars in tax revenue for the state of California—don't seem all that bad compared to what we got stuck with: A war on drugs that makes people like John Lovell even richer.
Also read: Tony D'Souza's "The New Dealers," a tale of recession-strapped Americans who turned to dope dealing to make ends meet.
march1strikeucsc.orgIn the past three years, California has slashed funding for public education by $20 billion and laid off 40,000 teachers. Once known for its stellar public school system, the state now has the lowest staff-to-student ratio in the country. Even its crown jewel, the University of California, is losing luster. Tuition has gone up by 300 percent since 2000. Other states' public and university systems are in similarly dire straits.
In the era of offshoring, digitization, and corporate downsizing, public education remains one of the few hopes for sustaining the middle class. While a generation ago, high-school graduates (or even dropouts) could reasonably expect to earn enough working a factory floor to buy a house and put their kids through college, those jobs have mostly been replaced by an "innovation economy" that demands even factory workers to have years of specialized training. As Adam Davidson ably explores in "Making It In America," his article in the current Atlantic, we live in a world in which "the opportunities for being skilled grow and the opportunities for unskilled Americans diminish."
Nobody understands the importance of reinvesting in education better than the students who now depend on it for their futures. As tuitions skyrocket, some of them are being priced out of a college education. Others are entering an uncertain job market saddled with mountains of student debt, which now totals more than a trillion dollars nationally.
Today, many students are joining protests organized by Occupy Education, a coalition of 80 occupy, labor, and community groups, to launch a week of action around the idea that "education is a human right." Rallies using the Twitter hashtags #OccupyEducation and #M1 are taking place in seven cities. Students will stage walkouts in Boston and Philadelphia. In Oakland, organizers will embark on a 99-mile march from Frank Ogawa/Oscar Grant Plaza (the old home of Occupy Oakland) to Sacramento, where they plan to occupy the state capitol on Monday. Their demands: Killing a proposed 24 percent tuition increase at UC Berkeley and getting the university to support a tax on millionaires that would raise $6 billion annually for public education.
"I think this is the beginning of an uprising of the 99 percent on campuses this spring," says Charlie Eaton, a UC Berkeley PhD student in sociology. He believes "the stakes are huge" but the students' demands aren't: All they want is to "get an education without taking on a huge amount of debt and have an opportunity to get a job when we finish."