Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Organizing Principles for 99 Percent Clubs

99 Percent Clubs can be organized at your school, at your workplace, in your home, at your neighborhood community or senior  center or in your church, synagogue or mosque,  Here are four simple organizing principles for these clubs
1. To disseminate accurate information about the Occupy movements in the US and around the world.
2. To provide material support ( which may  in the form of food and clothing, legal assistance,  or pressure on elected officials) to the Occcupy movement in your own city and town
3. To organize around economic inequality issues and threats to freedom of expression where you live and/or where you work.
  4. To create networks among people who support the Occupy movement that enable them to mobilze support for demonstrations organized by that movement.
  The strength of these clubs is that they allow people a wide variety of situations , including those who are homebound or disabled, to participate in the Occupy movement.
Mark Naison and Ira Shor

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Crusade to Destroy a Conversation

The Occupy Wall Street People's Library prior to
the November 15th midnight raid.
Last week Mayor Bloomberg sent hundreds of police officers in the dead of night to Zuccotti Park to evict the Occupy Wall Street protesters as they slept peaceful in their tents. The sleepy protesters were ordered to leave immediately or face arrest. Many were, of course, arrested. Others gathered whatever possessions they could and left with what they could carry. Protesters who returned to gather more of their belongings were barred from re-entering the park.

All of this happened under the cloak of darkness, both literal and figurative. Press were barred from covering the police action. Public transportation to the site was halted as subway service to the nearby stations was suspended. People in neighboring buildings were also barred from leaving their lobbies as the raid unfolded. One cannot help but assume that the Mayor did not want any lingering images of this stealth attack, whether those images were captured by the press or by concerned citizens.

The morning after Mayor Bloomberg evicted the protesters, he held a press conference to defend his administration's actions. He concluded those remarks by saying that the protesters had already had two months to occupy the park with tents and sleeping bags. "Now," he said, "they will have to occupy the park with the power of their arguments."

Mayor Bloomberg's position seems to suggest that ideas and arguments can somehow be crafted without the minds and bodies that generate them. Somehow, in the world that the mayor occupies, ideas spring fully-formed from the foreheads of men who never want for any corporeal need. Their bodies, so well-fed, and exercised, and groomed, and scented, so well-rested, and warm, and safe, fall into the background, allowing them the fantasy that their minds are somehow independent of their bodies and the vast labor that supports and sustains them. Nestled in the comfortable cocoon that is economic privilege, their bodies become the sites of various pleasures and perhaps the occasional discomforts of the diseases that medical science has yet to ameliorate. But seldom are their bodies the sites of desperation, hunger, pain, and need. Were it not for the utter insensibility that such privilege fosters, the mayor's remarks might seem not just disingenuous, but utterly cynical.

The notion that citizenship should only be the legal right of the propertied has its roots in this sort of fantasy about ideas: reason, it is argued, is only possible when one is free from the drudgery of laboring for a living. (See Hannah Arendt's analysis of these ideas.) The frustration, anger, and rage that emerge from economic inequality, and that animate mass movements, are deemed irrational. Protesters are characterized as crazy or criminal. Their status as citizens is impugned. They are cast as a mob, as unruly and unreasonable. Often they are described as malodorous, ill-kempt, and unclean.

That is one reason that the Occupy Wall Street People's Library was such a threat. The library, along with the non-violent civil disobedience of the movement, suggests that the occupation is guided by ideas and ideals. The image of a movement that had assembled a 4,500+ volume library in just two months was starkly at odds with the media fantasies of irrational, marauding hooligans or filthy, unkempt hippies. A 4,500+ volume library that was organized, cataloged and circulating, suggests that reason, reflection, and dialog are at the heart of the occupation. A collection that included volumes inscribed by renowned authors supporting the movement suggests an alarming level of cultural resonance. Beyond that, such a distinguished and significant collection might some day be archived for historians to consider as the story of the occupation is written. But instead of continuing to circulate amongst library users, instead of being preserved for the archives of the future, much of the occupation library was crushed in the trash compactors of twenty-eight Department of Sanitation trucks that carted away the property of the occupying protesters.

OWS librarian Stephen Boyer displays a damaged copy of
Philip Levine's What Work Is that the poet had inscribed for the library.

Yesterday I attended the press conference where the librarians of the People's Library displayed the books that they had recovered from the midnight raid. Of the 4,500+ books confiscated by the NYPD and the Department of Sanitation, only about 1,300 have been returned to the librarians. And of those, a third are damaged beyond repair.  Books destroyed ranged from copies of the Bible and the Bhagavad Gita to popular potboilers and children's books. Milton Friedman and Karl Marx shared shelf space (and the protection of waterproof plastic bins) under the trees at Zuccotti Park. No book was rejected because its ideology might be at odds with that of the occupation: Andrew Carnegie's The Empire of Business was not far from Mayor Bloomberg's own memoir Bloomberg on Bloomberg.

The mayor and his administration may have been aware that the destruction of a library represented a potential PR problem.  Perhaps that's why they released a photograph via Twitter the day of the raid, suggesting that the library had been well-cared for by its temporary custodians at the Department of Sanitation.

Images from yesterday's press conference suggest otherwise. 

At a time when budget cuts have shortened public library hours and bookstores are filing for bankruptcy protection, the image of a press conference table covered with crushed and moldy volumes was more than simply disturbing. The remnants of the sacked library were a sobering reminder that, as OWS librarian Danny Norton observed, "this is a crusade to destroy a conversation." 

On this Thanksgiving Day, at tables across the country — and in newspapers, and blogs, and twitterfeeds — I'm grateful that the conversations (and occupations) will surely continue unabated.

Monday, November 21, 2011

OWS Espanol

I wanted to share an article that appeared in the Observer (10/31/11) by a student, Emmanuel Pardilla, in my Introduction to Anthropology class about his activity with OWS Espanol:

I volunteer within the overall movement of Occupy Wall Street. But I am more focused on "Occupy Wall Street en Espanol." Some of our members along with the translation working group help translate the "Occupy Wall Street Journal Newspaper" in spanish. We have a table in the park where we have people answering questions pertaining to the movement to our spanish speaking, hermanas y hermanos. The reason why I joined the group is b/c it is a given fact that the Latino community and the African American community, here in the United States are some of the most oppressed communities. I am from the Bronx, and the Bronx is one of the most oppressed and poorest communities here in all of the United States. From the hardships of an Immigrant; sacrificing so much to simply live another day. To the racial profiling experiences that our high school students face on their way to school by the NYPD. Mothers losing the seeds they planted here on the concrete jungle b/c of police brutality . Many do not understand these hardships and it is difficult to expect others to relate to those kinds of injustices. These are the injustices that most, if not all, Latinos and African Americans face here in America. We are here to represent them, so that they can relate to this struggle against a system that has oppressed the 99%. We just like the everyone else there are putting the issues that mostly effects us on the table. Occupy Wall Street is a movement but it is also a platform.

The Media portrays the movement as a predominantly white male movement, hence how most of the interviewees or the random snapshots of OccupyWall Street depicts white males in the fore front. The movement isn't being represented candidly by the media. There are women , African Americans and Latinos like myself out there like myself. There's even Indigenous people out there, and Asians that want to get involved in setting up there very own occupation in their communities. But what I am doing in all essence is trying to get people from my community (Latino and African Americans) out there. I want to be out there, I want to be on the cameras, I want them to see that they do have representation here!

The Town hall meeting was great even though I wasn't able to stay there for the bulk of it. I'm glad to see organization from students. However, I feel like this must be organic. We must look at how the CUNY students organize b/c CUNY students have been organizing against their tuition hikes, even before Occupy Wall Street, yet that type of organization is non-existent here in Fordham University, at least to my knowledge. Students are students everywhere, I feel like we as students can identify with what the CUNY students are doing. All in all, I feel like this can possibly be the beginning of something here at Fordham University.
I hope this article helps inspire the students and staff here at Fordham.
By the way, 11.11.11 Occupy Central Park

In Solidarity,
Emmanuel Pardilla

It’s Time to Start “ 99 Percent Clubs” at Your School or in Your Neighborhood to Support the Occupations

If you are part of the large and growing number of Americans who support the Occupy movement, but may or may not be able to “Occupy” yourself, you might want to form a 99 Percent Club at your school, your workplace or in your neighborhood, to organize financial, legal and political support for the Occupy movement and educate people in your community about what it stands for.

The idea for these 99 Percent Clubs came from renowned educator Ira Shor and they are modeled on the “Friends of SNCC” organization that mobilized support for the non violent Southern civil rights movement in the early 1960’s. Given that the Occupy movement is under assault from elected officials and university presidents around the country, and that people in this movement, like their counterparts in the southern civil rights movement, face arrest and beatings, along with more modern police weaponry such as pepper spray and rubber bullets, it is definitely time to create a support group to raise funds and educate the public about these brave activists

A 99 Percent Club is one vehicle that can do just that. We have called for a first meeting of such a club at Fordham and the response, from students, alumni, and staff has been overwhelming. Our Fordham group does not have a program- just a commitment to support the Occupations. So far, nearly 30 people are committed to attend

Occupy Wall Street and its counterparts around the nation have put the questions of economic inequality on the nation’s agenda for the first time since the 1960’s. And the response from policy makers has been ferocious as that of southern segregationists confronting a challenge to their way of life

It’s time for Americans who support the goals of the Occupy Movement,even if they don’t feel they can participate in it directly, to mobilize in support of popular democracy and economic justice. Forming 99 Percent Clubs is one way to do so.

If you would like to start a 99 Percent Club in your area, please email Ira Shor at with a cc to me at

Dr Mark Naison
Fordham University

Thursday, November 17, 2011

November 17th Day of action

OWS is calling for a national day of direct action and celebration to mark two months since the start of the Occupy movement. It began this morning with a march at Wall St. at 7am, and is continuing with "Occupy the Subways" actions at 3pm--including the Fordham Road station in the Bronx and several in Manhattan. For those interested in knowing what's planned, here's a link

On a more straightforwardly analytic and scholarly note: the movement, however leaderless and de-centered, has produced some striking images. Below, for instance, is the poster for today's actions.  Some of the signs and images in Zuccotti Park and elsewhere have also been notable. I'm wondering if anyone has started working on a visual analysis of the movement, or has come across any good such work online or elsewhere. 

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Berkeley and Penn State

I've been trying to come up with a good way of articulating my intuition that there's something significant about the fact that the police violence against Occupy Cal (on the UC Berkeley campus) and the pro-Paterno riots (on the Penn State campus) happened on the same day...but I haven't really found a way of doing so that doesn't come across as stunned outrage. My best draft of a posting started with the sentence: "I wonder what those Penn State students will think about themselves years from now when they realize that--whatever their intentions--what they really did was riot in defense of child-rapists and the people who protected them." But it was hard to figure out where to go from there.

Fortunately, Dave Zirin just posted a piece in The Nation that says pretty much what I wanted to say, and more eloquently than I ever could have. I hope readers of this blog--especially students--will go and read the whole piece, but to give you a small sampling, here's how it concludes:

November 9 was a generational wake-up call to every student on every campus in this country. Which side are you on? Do you defend the ugliest manifestations of unchecked power or do you fight for a better world with an altogether different set of values? Do you stand with the Thugs of Penn State or do you stand with Occupiers of Berkeley? It’s fear vs. hope, and the stakes are a hell of a lot higher than a BCS bowl.

New York City Students in Support of Occupy Wall Street

There is a sizeable group of New York City students who are organizing in support of Occupy Wall Street.  I recently received this information from a colleague at another institution in the city:
The NYC all-student assembly meets on Saturdays in Washington Square Park at noon and is composed of students (high school, college, and postgraduate) from NYC and universities in NJ, PA, CT, VT, etc. This group has called for a student strike on 11/17 in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street (on its 2-month anniversary). There will be rallies, marches, and other actions across the city organized by trade unions, students, and activists. More info:
I wanted to share this information to keep our Fordham students in the loop on the activities of their peers across the city.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Fordham and the Bronx

Why is it that there is only ONE student from the Bronx among the 45 students in my Rock and Roll to Hip Hop class?

Shouldn't Fordham be working harder to recruit students from the working class and immigrant neighborhoods outside the gates of it's Bronx campus?

Should Fordham adopt Roosevelt High School and the 5 academies inside it and do intensive programs with its students to assure that at least 50 students each year end up going to Fordham?

What do you think?

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Does it matter how you're taught...economics?

Here's a link to a story about a group of students at Harvard making a connection between the way they're taught introductory economics courses and the economic policies that led to our current economic problems.

Student readers of this blog: are you being taught in ways that help you understand the ongoing crisis? Or do you feel, like these Harvard students, that you're being taught, without question, the same ideas that caused the crisis in the first place?

I am asking this question hoping not for criticism or praise of individual professors; I'm more interested in comments about, and critiques of, the ideas in your classes. Feel free to reply in the comments section below.

Police State, or the Halloween State of Exception

Last week my downtown neighborhood geared up for the the annual Greenwich Village Halloween Parade. Usually that entails a couple of police barricades along Sixth Avenue for crowd control, a number of parade vehicles staging on side streets, and an influx of ghosts, goblins, and vampires.

But this year was different. This year whole streets were blocked off hours and hours before the parade began. After 4pm there was no traffic on Spring Street. I had to pass through three police blockades to walk home from a doctor's appointment. Still, that was no big deal: I had my identification with me.

Unfortunately it was a big deal for my daughter. She attends a school for children with special needs; she has a disability that requires that she take a yellow school bus home. Typically she arrives home around 3:45. But on Halloween she got home at 5pm, after her frantic father retrieved her from the bus that was mired several blocks from home. Her school bus had been driving round and round and round the neighborhood trying to find a way into our block to no avail. 

When I arrived home and learned about this after just having navigated my way through three police blockades, one of my seldom-deployed subject positions emerged: indignant mom of special needs child. When I called the police community affairs number they referred me to the desk of local precinct. There the desk sergeant told me that he was awfully sorry and yes there was more security in the neighborhood this year than usual.

When I countered that the neighborhood had been made less secure for my disabled minor child by the actions of the police, he conceded that perhaps they had gone overboard and that he'd look into it. He was sorry, he said. Maybe, he said, I should call them in advance when they're going to close down the neighborhood streets to let them know about my daughter.

But how would I know that you're going to close down the neighborhood streets when you haven't done this before? How am I supposed to know how your unannounced actions are going to affect my daughter's well-being?

I don't know, he said. There is a lot of security this year, he said. He'd look into, he assured me, and we concluded our deeply unsatisfying conversation.

One of the reasons that I keep my child-avenging indignation well-contained is that once it's out of the box, it's not all that easy to put it aside. With plenty of steam still coming out of my ears, I put on my shoes and headed out to find the police supervisor on the street who had prevented my daughter from getting home. As I closed the door behind me her dad called after me, Don't do it, don't go out there. I know you. You're going to get arrested. 

A blue shirt on the corner told me there were no supervisors around, but then I spotted a Community Affairs Officer over at Thompson and Spring. I walked over and told him what had happened and he was all apologies. Wow, he said, that's terrible. And it's a yellow school bus? Yes, it's a yellow school bus. You know, he said, there is a lot of security this year. I repeated my concern that preventing a yellow school bus from driving handicapped children home did not seem like a big improvement in neighborhood security.

You know, he said, there is a lot of security because of Occupy Wall Street.  They're going to try to march in the parade.

And that would be a problem because . . . ?  It's a public parade, right?

Well, they might take over the parade, he said.

And so, I said, the police think that protesters from Occupy Wall Street are going to sneak into the neighborhood on a yellow school bus carrying disabled children home from school?

No, no, they should have let the bus in, this was just a mistake, he said. I'm going to tell you something, he said, leaning in and lowering his voice in a conspiratorial tone . . . I'm going to tell you something. You're not taping me, are you? he asked.

No, I said.

Reassured, he continued.

You know, the police are a paramilitary organization.  If someone gives an order, the guys below just follow it. They don't think. They just follow the order. Someone should have opened the barricade to let the school bus through, but no one wanted to get in trouble. He paused.  Are you sure you're not taping me?

Yes, I said, I'm sure I'm not taping you.

I wish, of course, that I had been taping him. I have a very good ear for conversation, but there's nothing quite like having something on tape.

And so we read here my memory of the dialogue, in which the police community affairs officer first tries to put the blame for the disruptive neighborhood policing on the Occupy Wall Street protesters. Finding no sympathy for this tactic, he quickly switches gears and third-parties the police department (I'm with you, I'm not one of them, I don't know why they're so stupid.The police, he lets the secret out of the bag, are a paramilitary organization.

There was little more to say. I could have continued my harangue, but to what end? He was good. He was very good. He was very, very good at his community affairs job. He gave me his card. He urged me to follow-up with him.

So I went home, knowing that the ghouls, and goblins, and witches haunting my neighborhood that evening are not nearly as scary as the state of exception that allows the police to shutdown our neighborhoods because peaceful protesters might join in a parade.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Occupying Manhattan's Public Spaces, 1776 and today

An interesting historical commentary from the New-York Historical Society blog,  noting that the Sons of Liberty struggled with British authorities for control of public spaces.

As Eric Robinson notes on the blog, one of those battles culminated with the rebels tearing down and decapitating a statue of the King. Interestingly (to me) the head ended up on a stake "just outside Fort Washington in Upper Manhattan," which means it may have been right in front of my apartment building!

Friday, November 4, 2011

Historical Amnesia and the Aesthetics of Antisemitism

Who could not identify with their anger at the unfairness of it all – of an economic order that favors the rich; of politics that is utterly unresponsive to the needs of the citizenry; of a culture that celebrates the trivial at the expense of serious engagements in the affairs of our time.  More than anything, the protests in American cities, and similar protests in many other cities all over the world, testify to the failure of our democratic process.  People are taking to the streets because we lost our faith in our institutions and elected officials. All of us feel powerless. We can do nothing to change matters. We know that our votes are statistically meaningless and that the day after the elections the politicians that courted our vote will serve the lobbies that paid for their campaigns.

The crowds that gathered to protest, however, will only make matters worse. The more I learn about them, the less I’m impressed. Their devotion to consensus and belief in some mythical collective will is not only silly and impractical. It represents the worst historical amnesia possible. Weren’t we there before? Don’t they know that the worst crimes of the 20th century were committed in the name of such ideals? Have they totally forgotten how the very same idealism of the New Left in the 1960s gutted the left and led to the rise of popular conservatism? This kind of amnesia testifies to profound lack of forethought and seriousness of the protesters and their supporters.

Most alarming is the utopian aesthetics of the protest. Utopian aestheticism is the enemy of humanity. Aesthetics is about symmetry and clarity. People can’t conform to such categories. Check the declaration of principles they posted on line.
The protesters imagine some transcendent universal solidarity. They are engaged in a moral battle against a grand conspiracy that has subverted justice and freedom. Every evil on earth, from economic inequality to cruelty to animals is blamed on Wall Street. Apparently Wall Street bankers get together in secret (in cemeteries, perhaps) to coordinate quite a bit. Small wonder they are losing billions. They are too busy manipulating the banks and media, murdering prisoners, subverting freedom of the press in the US, manufacturing poisonous products, and "perpetuate colonialism at home and abroad." Oh, but if they were not there? If we could be rid of the subversive element that oppresses humanity, wouldn’t the world be a beautiful place?

The trope is unmistakably antisemitic. And while only a few of the protesters fingered world Jewry, (and yes there are Jews among the protesters and huge protests took place in Israel over the summer,) the logic and aesthetics are familiar to every student of antisemitism. We’ve been there before. We have a great deal of experience with these fantasies.

Why Police Violence Has Contributed to the Growing Strength and Diversity of Occupy Movements

The reason police brutality has become such a major issue in Occupy movements across the nation and has helped those movements to grow is that it forges a powerful connection between the white, largely middle class youth, who have been the bulwark of every Occupation movement thus far, and Black and Latino working class youth who are a sizable portion of the population of almost every city where Occupations have taken place. Most middle class white young people have not been stopped and searched for drugs and weapons when walking through their own neighborhoods; have not been roughed up, thrown on the ground, or arrested when they challenge police actions or ask for officers badge numbers, and have not been kept for two nights in lock up for minor offenses. These experiences are common in most Black and Latino working class neighborhoods and have been a source of simmering rage in these communities, but few middle class people either know or care about such things. Now however, thousands of white middle class young people have been on the receiving end of such treatment and it has had two effects. First, it has enraged them, their friends, their parents and their teachers; and second, it has forged, for the first time, an emotional as well as programmatic connection with working class youth who have been trying to get policy makers to take these issues seriously for a long time. As a result, every time there is an episode of police violence, the ranks of the protesters are swelled with two populations- white middle class people who are shocked that people like them have been treated that way, and Black, Latino and working class people who know very well that this goes on and see that an issue affecting them that has largely been in the shadows has moved into the forefront of public consciousness

In short, police violence has not only made the Occupy movements larger, it has made them far more multiracial and diverse in social class. This certainly took place in New York after the pepper spraying and mass arrest of OWS Protesters, but it also has taken place in Oakland, making that movement, in its latest phase, far more representative of the population of the city than it originally was

Dr Mark Naison
African and African American Studies

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Leaderless Movements and Democracy

Just wanted to post two OpEds I wrote for the Washington Post about the leaderless aspect of OWS and issues related to the elections and democracy.
Let me know what you think!!!


Fordham faculty discuss Occupy Wall Street and its repercussions

This afternoon I wrote to all Fordham American Studies faculty asking if anyone was interested in joining a conversation, on this blog, about the Occupy Wall Street phenomenon and its national and international repercussions. The response has been great: in just the first couple of hours, six faculty members have volunteered to participate: Robin Andersen (Communications and Media Studies) Doron Ben-Atar (History), Leonard Cassuto (English), Heather Gautney (Sociology), Micki McGee (Sociology), and Mark Naison (African and African American Studies). Other faculty may join the conversation over the coming days and weeks.

Some may post once; others may have a series of postings. Some may primarily post links to things they think would be useful for others to read; others may emphasize their own writings. Anything is fair game if bloggers think it will help students and others gain a historical, analytic, political, sociological, or other perspective on the phenomenon. All political perspectives on the events are welcome: left, right, and other. A robust and diverse discussion is the goal, though of course it will only be as diverse as the people who volunteer to contribute.

My other request to contributors is that I would prefer that the postings not be merely polemical, either cheerleading or denunciation. That's not to say they can't come from a recognizable and passionate political perspective, but my view is that one important thing an American Studies program blog can do is model for its readers--students and others--ways of talking about controversial events and issues that are analytic and civil, but at the same time don't pretend to be purely objective. However, the bloggers themselves will be the judge of what meets these standards; the only things that will be taken down are postings that violate widely recognized online ethical standards and practices--for instance, personal attacks. But I certainly don't expect anything of that sort to happen.

I'm excited to see where this conversation goes. Subscribe to/follow/bookmark/favorite this blog, and check back often--the discussion is bound to be lively! And most importantly, feel free to reply to anything you read here in the comments section!

What is a general strike?

Occupy Oakland called for a general strike on Thursday, and the most recent news shows that they succeeded in persuading many businesses in the city to remain closed, and then effectively shut down the port of Oakland--a major west coast port--by taking it over with thousands of people.

To ask American Studies questions: what is a general strike? And what is the history of general strikes in the United States? This is not my area of expertise, but here's a useful journalistic article that surveys the history, noting that the two major examples of general strikes in US history took place in 1919 in Seattle and--interestingly--in Oakland in 1946. There's an extremely useful site at the University of Washington, supervised by history professor James Gregory, with lots of information about the Seattle strike. I haven't found as comprehensive an account of the Oakland strike online; but there's an overview here.

If any readers of this blog have knowledge about the history of general strikes, or insights or experiences pertaining to related current events, please feel free to post in the comments here.