When I decided in October to occupy my own life back in Washington Heights, it meant a physical disconnect from the goings on in the financial district. I kept up to speed through facebook and twitter, but I largely devoted my energies to volunteering at Word Up Books, serving my local church community (the TGC Heights plant launched on Saturday, woot!), working for my roommate, busking, planning road shows and writing new music. Like so many other occupiers, I put OWS on the back burner for the winter.
I'm still fairly distant (both geographically and tactically) from the actions at Zuccotti Park and Union Square. But I am again grafting my energies (and presently my writing) to the Occupy movement here in NYC as the city warms with the spring.
My involvement in present actions began just as it did last September: a mass email from one of the freegan.info organizers. The message was to notify us of a seminar being held at Union Theological Seminary on the Biblical basis for squatting and reclaiming land.
The man in charge of the seminar was an educator and activist, a minister with decades of squatting experience in the Lower East Side and the South Bronx. He has since started Organizing 4 Occupation (O4O), an activist group dedicated to reclaiming and occupying unused land and property on behalf of the homeless. I've been interested in squatting for many years now but I had never heard an explanation or justification through the filter of the Christian faith. So I was certainly intrigued by this man and the seminar he was to lead.
The seminar also featured speakers from an organization called Picture The Homeless, which seems like a great program run for the homeless by the homeless themselves. I don't know too much about PTH at this point, but I do hope to learn and be more involved with them in the future. The seminar overall was rather inspiring and I resolved to also be involved with O4O in the near future.
So I jumped at the first opportunity: a so-called foreclosure auction blockade at the county courthouse in Queens, organized by O4O and students from Union Theological. As far as I could tell, it involved civil disobedience to stop banks from fraudulently selling off poor folks' homes. And it involved singing. So I was on board.
A few days before the action, I attended the training and information session, again at Union Theological. I learned the song that we were to sing, a beautiful lament in solidarity with distressed homeowners:
All the people here
We're asking you to hold all the sales right now
We're going to survive but we don't know how...
Listen auctioneer... (repeat indefinitely)
The auctions themselves are actually open to the public so there's nothing illegal about simply being present. I at least wanted to be a witness, to watch and be in solidarity, even to document. I wasn't sure whether I would willfully risk arrest until the very day of. I also wanted to sing, to use my voice as a chisel, chipping away at injustice, but I determined that it would not be in anyone's best interest for me to be arrested that day. So I committed instead to shooting video of the action (also illegal but probably easier to get away with) and otherwise keeping quiet and still.
The security team at that courthouse in Queens was well prepared for us. They quickly (efficiently) checked all our phones and recording devices at the door, ensuring that we would not get away with any footage at all. As it turned out, the owners of the properties that were on the auction block had filed for bankruptcy, so all the auctions were cancelled for the day anyway and nobody sang their way into handcuffs. But I was relieved and excited to learn there was another action planned for the Bronx just a few days later, supported by OWS.
I was one of about fifty people who came out for this action - impressive, considering that there was probably no more than three or four investors there to actually do business. Our phones (and hats and pens and etc) were again checked at the door, a queue which occupied the entire hallway and forty-five minutes of processing. I saw several of the occupiers that had shared the grounds with me at Zuccotti. They were energized as ever.
We all found our seats in the court room and quietly waited for the proceedings to begin. At least a dozen officers stood around the room with clusters of zip ties at the ready. We were warned that any disturbance would be against the law and offenders would be arrested. Then the show began.
As the auctioneer began calling out for starting bids, dozens of voices chimed in protest, petitioning for a halt to the sales, a halt to the exploitation and injustice: "we're asking you to hold all the sales right now. We're going to survive but we don't know how." And they were arrested, one by one, escorted calmly out of the court room. After about fifteen minutes and twenty-five arrests, the auctioneer announced that the auction was over - they had somehow completed the sale, even over the cacophony of this choir for justice.
We sing on. Further actions will take place on April 16-20 and I highly encourage others to participate, especially since I'll be #ontheroad myself, unable to attend. This is a great opportunity to learn more about the housing crisis, bank corruption and greed, and most importantly how these are adversely affecting the poor in our communities. It's also a great way to stand in solidarity with the poor and effectually stop their unjust displacement. It's true that our action was essentially unsuccessful - this time. But I anticipate that with creative changes in tactics and growing numbers, we can and will beat the banks.
And let me just repeat: there is nothing illegal, at all, about being physically present at the auction even if you don't intend to make a bid. It's totally open to the public. So there is no real risk of getting arrested unless one is singing. SO: if you are interested in learning more about the actions but not sure whether you'd want to risk arrest, then I definitely suggest checking it out and being a witness! Here's hoping that the actions will grow in participation and support in the coming weeks. Please check out this link for more info!
Thanks for following these posts. Believe it or not, there is yet one more entry regarding spring actions in solidarity with the Occupy movement. That is soon to come, stay tuned!