The Class Movement
Evolution of a revolution
The message of Occupy Wall Street isn't a simple one. The problems being addressed aren't simple, either.
We've seen activism in the last several decades that battles racism and sexism. This movement's mostly about cash money—class.
It's about foreclosed houses.
It's about bailouts.
It's about the buying and selling of politicians.
It's about 1 percent of Americans controlling 43 percent of the wealth—leaving the remaining 99 percent to fend for themselves.
It's about basic needs.
Occupations took root around the globe—Dublin, Tokyo, São Paolo.
And they bloomed like mad in the U.S.—Galveston, Texas; Casper, Wyo.; Salem, Ore.; Fayetteville, N.C.; and, of course, Albuquerque, N.M.
Caro Acuña, who organized the first “occupy” protest in town, says at first she didn’t know whether two or 20 people were going show up. "I didn't have big expectations," she says. She created an event on Facebook to invite people to that first outing. As of this writing, that post was still up, with about 780 social networkers saying they would attend.
Hundreds of protesters gathered at the U.S. Bank in Nob Hill on Saturday, Oct. 1. They marched up Central. Afterward, some of them landed at the University of New Mexico. They decided to stay on the grassy knoll at one corner of campus. They started calling it Camp Coyote.
The protesters are occupying a university, Acuña says, because it's a safe and visible place to be stationed. Plus, there's added symbolism in the educational aspect of the demonstration. "People who cannot afford to go to college or be on campus and pursue and education can still be here at our camp and be educated about issues we face in the world."
Acuña is not in charge of the Albuquerque group. There is no boss. It follows a horizontal leadership model, not a hierarchical one. So Acuña—and anyone else within the 505 crew—speaks only for herself. "My main focus is to really challenge and question the financial institutions of this country," she says. As she speaks, cars passing by on Central honk their horns at the camp.
The honking is constant. At all hours of the day and night, horns blast every few minutes. Occasionally, there's a shout or a long, angry honk from someone who seems to disapprove. But mostly they're short bursts in rapid succession, showing solidarity. "There's a general feeling of support," Acuña says. "It keeps the spirit energized so we can keep on doing what we're doing."
What they're doing is demonstrating day-in and day-out, holding meetings and teach-ins, and talking. At daily “general assemblies,” ideas are voted on and information is disseminated.
Ilse Biel says it's totally different from the protests she's participated in before. Biel's from South Africa, and she marched in demonstrations against the intense racism that plagued the country before apartheid was terminated.
This movement, she says, is unlike anything she’s seen in the world of activism.
"With all the other things I've done, there was more of a finite time frame," Biel says. "This is going to continue until something happens, and we don't even have to define that something, as long as we can see people are starting to listen."
The group is resilient, she adds, because it's so diverse. There are new faces at each general assembly, and she says they come from everywhere. "People realize they've got a voice. There's this heartfelt feeling that something's got to give."
Biel says the camp's done its best to be cordial and get along with the university. When the administration asked the camp to move its outpost further up Central from University Boulevard to Yale, demonstrators complied. Biel's been a liaison between administrators and Camp Coyote. There were roundtables, and there was dialogue. Demonstrators learned they needed to obtain a permit and so began working to acquire one. On the afternoon of Friday, Oct. 7, they learned they had filled out the wrong form. "There's been some serious miscommunication," Biel says.
In the early morning hours of Monday, Oct. 10, police came to the new encampment. "We were a bit shocked," she says. One protester estimates in video testimonial taken directly afterward that there were about 75 officers—some UNM police officers and some state police. Cinnamon Blair, UNM spokesperson, says she's not sure, but she thinks that number's more like 17.
No one at UNMPD—not even its spokesperson—would comment for this story, though directly after the police intervention, the department held a press conference. All subsequent questions have been deferred to Blair.
She couldn't say who decided to ask the protesters to leave that night. "I think there were several administrative areas that made that decision." Calls had come in from buildings near the camp, she says, from people who had concerns. "Campus police feels protesters have been incredibly cordial and responsive, and they're really here to protect people's safety, especially that of the protesters," she says. "Basically, it was a request. You can't go up and kick them off. It was: You can't be here overnight. Could you please leave? And people got up and left."
Demonstrators had been warned on three occasions by UNM representatives that they could not stay overnight, Blair says. When the police went to the camp, she says, it was not an evacuation order. So what would have happened if they'd refused to leave? "This calls for speculation," is Blair’s answer.
A permit was granted allowing the protest during UNM's operating hours—7 a.m. to 10 p.m. The permit expires on Oct. 18, but occupiers are expected to re-up it.
At the first general assembly after the police came, a facilitator announced that UNM would allow Camp Coyote's information kiosk and kitchen to remain standing, even during the off hours. And at the appointed time, protesters moved off the grass and stood on the sidewalk to keep the occupation going and to watch the items remaining in Camp Coyote.
Blair says the demonstrators have been compliant with their permit, and there haven't been any issues with the occupation since.
In fact, she says, UNM is taking advantage of the educational opportunity this presents. Faculty penned a letter to President David Schmidly and UNM Police Chief Kathy Guimond supporting the occupiers. The letter sparked the idea that perhaps UNM could host teach-ins in the atrium of the Student Union Building. The events are ongoing and sponsored by the Graduate and Professional Students and the Peace Studies Program.
Eric Williams ericwphoto.com
Biel says the teach-ins are wonderful. "It creates a lot of interest," she says. "We're encouraging the people who are participating to actually go to the camp and get to the source of it. Otherwise it's academics talking about something, even though it's actually happening on their doorstep." Several classes have come to the camp, she adds.
Acuña says the movement is growing, and solidarity protests have sprung up in other New Mexico cities, including Las Cruces, Santa Fe, Taos, Roswell and Carlsbad. "I feel really inspired that this has pulled on the hearts of the people—the amount of gratitude, the amount of giving and sharing."
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