Pete Woiwode figures that if the 1 percent is going to take a stand against the 99 percent, it might as well be at a country club.
"I mean, we have a right to golf," the 29-year-old community organizer proclaimed on Saturday. He was wearing a khaki suit and standing under the palms of Pleasanton, California's Castlewood Country Club, where a dozen or so protesters had gathered near the 14th hole, next to a tent on which someone had written, "Save the 1%!" The group had come together to support Castlewood's two-year lockout of its unionized cooks, dishwashers, and janitors—people who "are asking for so much," Woiwode told me as another demonstrator sipped Perrier. "They are asking for health care and asking for their good jobs back. Why don't they go out there and find other jobs?"
Pleasanton, a town of 70,000 southeast of Oakland, is fertile territory for a 1 percenter movement; the Census Bureau ranks it as the nation's wealthiest mid-sized city. Located a short drive from the cute Main Street, the grounds of the Castlewood Country Club once surrounded a 53-room mansion inhabited by Phoebe Apperson Hearst, the mother of the Gilded Age newspaper magnate. Porsches typically clog the club's parking lot and weekend warriors zip past its fairway on carbon-fiber Kestrels. On this day, one of them slowed down just enough to shout a single word at the Save-the-1-Percenters: "Idiots!"
Whether the biker thought the protesters ridiculous or just not rich enough was hard to say. Instead of the club's de rigueur golf shirts and yoga pants, members of the group sported a faded top hat, wrinkled knickers, and a full-length evening gown of questionable vintage. Woiwode's suit seemed ill-tailored and his Dockers the knockoff kind, but he didn't let that curb his enthusiasm. "The real idiots are the people who are talking about trying to spread the wealth around," said Woiwode (who works for anti-poverty groups in Oakland when he's not advocating for the rich). He clutched a handmade placard that read: "Can I pay you to hold this sign? (It's heavy)".
Members of Save The 1%
The conflict between Castlewood and its employees began three years ago during labor contract negotiations, when the club's new management told employees that it would no longer cover as much of their health care costs. Workers whose families had received free health insurance would have to pay $739 a month, or 40 percent of their average salary, according to their union, Unite Here Local 2850. When negotiations broke down in early 2010, the club locked out its workers and hired scabs in violation of labor laws, the union alleges. The National Labor Relations Board will hear final arguments on the case on Thursday.
This past Saturday, not everyone was in on the joke. Observing the protest from the doorway of the nearby golf house, a club membertold me that that the "Save the 1 Percent" message "seems a bit contradictory."
Closer to the demonstration, a union backer furrowed her brow as the mock 1-percenters launched into another chant: "The wealthy, united, will never be indicted!"
"Whoever you are, support the workers," she chided. "Do a chant for the workers!"
A few minutes later, several hundred union members marched to the club and staged a mock confrontation with the 1-percenters. "We won't be silenced!" Woiwode yelled at them through a bullhorn. "We own the media!"
Organized by Unite Here and members of Occupy Oakland's labor solidarity committee, the protest reflected a marriage of strategies. In recent years, California unions have embraced mock demonstrations, most notably in the lead-up to the 2010 gubernatorial election, when the California Nurses Association drew attention to the wealth of former eBay CEO Meg Whitman by hiring an actress to make appearances as "Queen Meg." And of course, the 1 percent vs. 99 percent concept (and fixation on the ultra-rich) has roots in this fall's Occupy Wall Street protests.
Speaking to reporters at the edge of the protest, Castlewood spokesman Vintage Fostersaid that the club offered a health package comparable to what other country clubs in the area provided and was justified in passing on rising health care costs to its workers. "Every company has had to go through this," he argued. "That's why Obama pushed through health care reform. It's a societal issue, not specific to Castlewood."
But Unite Here organizer Sarah Norr told me that the union offered to accept lower wages in exchange for better health benefits, saving the club money over the package it had offered prior to the lockout. "This is not about economics for them," she said. "It's about a philosophical opposition to workers having a union and having rights."
With very few actual club members present at Castlewood (union organizers claimed the golfers had "locked themselves out"), it fell to "Save the 1 Percent" on Saturday to represent the clubgoers' perspective. Holding up their signs behind Foster as he did TV interviews, the group seemed frustrated that he wasn't more outspoken. "I mean, I am the victim here," said a woman in a purple evening gown. "I've had parties over here with my children, and I've had to cross picket lines saying people want health care. How am I supposed to explain that to my children?"
In the battle for America's attention, the Occupy movement rocketed past the tea party this fall and remains in the lead, though not by much anymore. Here's a chart from Google Trends comparing the dueling movements' Google hits (top graph) and news mentions (bottom graph):
(The letters A-F are automatically generated by Google Trends)
Here's my best guess of what accounts for the peaks:
How do you get tea partiers and occupiers at the same table? Buy lots of beer. It certainly worked at last week's Conservative Political Action Conference, the nation's preeminent gathering of folks who love tri-cornered hats, fear Beelzebub, and hate Big Government—especially when it messes with their Medicare. A few occupy protesters and CPAC-goers took a break from yelling at each other one night to trade rounds at a nearby bar. Here's a condensed version of journalist Eddie Becker's account of what happened next:
Yesterday, a group affiliated with Occupy Wall Street submitted an astounding comment letter to the Securities and Exchange Commission. Point by point, it methodically challenges the arguments of finance industry lobbyists who want to water down last year's historic Dodd-Frank Wall Street reforms. The lobbyists have been using the law's official public comment period to try to kneecap the reforms, and given how arcane financial regulation can be, they might get away with it. But Occupy the SEC is fighting fire with fire, and in so doing, defying stereotypes of the Occupy movement. Its letter explains:
Occupy the SEC is a group of concerned citizens, activists, and professionals with decades of collective experience working at many of the largest financial firms in the industry. Together we make up a vast array of specialists, including traders, quantitative analysts, compliance officers, and technology and risk analysts.
The letter, which has been in the works for months, passionately defends the Volcker Rule, a provision of the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reforms meant to prohibit consumer banks from engaging in risky and speculative "proprietary" trading. That barrier had collapsed in the 1990s with the gradual watering down, and eventual repeal, of the Glass-Steagall Act. Occupy the SEC explains why this became a problem:
Proprietary trading by large-scale banks was a principal cause of the recent financial crisis, and, if left unchecked, it has the potential to cause even worse crises in the future. In the words of a banking insider, Michael Madden, a former Lehman Brothers executive: "Proprietary trading played a big role in manufacturing the CDOs (collateralized debt obligations) and other instruments that were at the heart of the financial crisis. . . if firms weren't able to buy up the parts of these deals that wouldn't sell. . .the game would have stopped a lot sooner."
What makes Occupy the SEC so unique and inspiring is the way that it straddles the two worlds. On the one hand, it's authentically grassroots, forged in Zuccotti Park's crucible of discontent. As such, it is transparent, open to anyone, and accountable to everyone. On the other hand, it includes financial insiders with the education and regulatory vocabulary to challenge high-powered lobbyists at their own game. That's a powerful combination that the SEC can't easily ignore. From the letter:
The United States aspires to democracy, but no true democracy is attainable when the process is determined by economic power. Accordingly, Occupy the SEC is delighted to participate in the public comment process. . .
Ever wonder what happens to that aluminum beer can, plastic yogurt cup, or cardboard pizza box after you toss it in the recycling bin?
Well, so did the good people at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, who in 2009 embarked on an ambitious effort to tag 3,000 pieces of trash with GPS-type sensors and track them through the national waste stream. They announced the project shortly after the publication of a three-part series in Mother Jones in which I followed my garbage and recycling through San Francisco's legendary recycling and composting system.
I'd also wanted to attach GPS tags to my trash, but unlike the nerds at MIT, didn't have $300,000 to drop on sensors. The MIT team synthesized their results into this fascinating video, which has been out for a while, sure. But it's still totally worth watching.