McPherson SQ. • Washington, D.C.
Vol 11 •Issue 2 • Year 2011 Vol • Issue 1 Year 2011
2 Banking on Transactions
The case for instituting a financial transaction tax. And why it would help us all.
Inequality fuels D.C. HIV epidemic
By Ben Zucker Washington D.C.’s HIV crisis transcends the virus itself. One in twenty adults living in the District is HIV positive, and half of the people infected with the virus are unaware of it. Over three-quarters of D.C. residents with HIV are African American and 4.7% of Washington’s AfricanAmerican population is living with the infection. In correlation with the city’s HIV rates, one in five D.C. residents live below the Federal Poverty Line ($22,314 for a family of four). Although Washington has some of the highest health insurance rates in the country, D.C. has the highest HIV rate in the country at 3.2%. The system is not working for those who need it most. The groups with the highest rate of infection in the city are African-Americans, Latinos, intravenous drug users, and men who have sex with men. Barriers to healthcare for these communities include income inequality, concerns about immigration status, discrimination, and social stigma. In 2008, according to the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, African-Americans households had a median annual income of $39,200 compared to $107,600 for white households. The explosion of the HIV epidemic over the last three decades has coincided with the largest widening of the class gap in our nation’s history. The top one percent of Americans now own over a third of the wealth in this country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that “the socioeconomic circumstances of persons … strongly influence their health.” The crisis in Washington is both cause and effect of poverty and inequality. City officials face obstacles in local governing, as D.C. laws and budget need to be approved by Congress. “D.C.’s lack of self-determination is central to any understanding of why social issues in DC are so bad,” said Dany Sigwalt of the Washington Peace Center. In the 1980’s, when the epidemic was first hitting major urban centers, many cities were able to institute needle exchange programs to reduce the spread of infection by providing safe needles to drug users in exchange for used ones. Continues on A4
2 Occupy the Road
Marchers trek from NYC to DC to raise awareness. Story continues on A2.
Letters to the
The community asks questions, and the OWT Editorial board answers.
3 Blame Game 4 Occupiers
Who pays what, and where the heaviest burden lies.
Occupy DC stages a solidarity march with Occupy Wall Street after their encampment at Zucotti Park was raided and cleared out early the morning of Nov. 15. Occupy DC protested at the D.C. headquarters of Brookfield Properties, the “owner” of the park. (Photo by Craig Hudson)
First Occupy supporters march toward D.C.
By Karina Stenquist In the midst of raids on Occupy camps across the country, occupiers are looking for new ways to keep their momentum going. One group has decided to take their occupation on the road. “Occupy The Highway” began as a group of 23 Wall Street occupiers who decided to put on their best pair of hiking shoes and set out for the nation’s capital. The group planned to complete the 240-mile journey in two weeks, at a pace of 20 miles a day, in order to reach Washington, D.C. in time for the Congressional Supercommittee’s Nov. 23 deadline. The 12 member committee, composed of six members from each political party, will be deciding how $1.2 trillion should be cut from a mix of defense and social welfare programs in order to decrease the deficit. “I didn’t have a personal goal when I started,” said John Aldous, who started with the march in New York City on Nov. 8. “It symbolically represented the deep ties between D.C. and Wall Street.” Organizers also hope to raise the visibility of the Occupy movement outside of large cities, and “bring the message of Occupy to rural areas,” he said. As of this writing, the marchers have passed through New Jersey and Pennsylvania and are approaching Baltimore, camping and staying in whatever accommodations they can find on the way. Personal contact with small town America has given the journey meaning for Aldous. “People who can’t go on an occupation or a march are really counting on us to do this,” he said. Elizabeth, N.J. resident Ken Londono, who housed the group after receiving an email via Couchsurfing.org, was one of those people. “I always wanted to do something when [Occupy Wall Street] started,” he said. “But being stuck in the rat race, I couldn’t get around to it.” When Londono, an employee at the Prudential Center sports arena, first received an email from organizers explaining that Elizabeth police had said they’d be arrested if they camped in a parking lot, the group had about half a dozen planned marchers. continues on A2
McPherson Square’s longtime residents speak about taking up the cause.
OccupyDC in Photos Congressional “Supercommittee” a magnet for special interest money
A D.C. occupier waves the American flag during a Nov. 15 protest march in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street. Protesters marched from McPherson Sq., through Washington’s Chinatown neighborhood, to an action protesting extreme right-wing policies held outside the D.C. Convention Center. (Photo by Craig Hudson)
By Benjamin Daniels
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DONATE ONLINE AT www.OccupyDC.org/ Newspaper
After Congress failed to reach compromise on deficitreduction measures last summer, legislators and President Obama agreed to give a committee of 12 of Congress’ 535 elected members the power to make fundamental decisions about who to tax and how much to cut from programs like Medicare, Social Security, and the Pentagon. The task of this “Supercommittee” is to reduce the country’s $15 trillion deficit by $1.2 trillion though revenue increases and spending cuts over the next ten years. Any bill the Supercommittee recommends will be presented to both the Senate and the House for a simple up-or-down vote without the
possibility of further amendment – making its six Democratic and six Republican members immediate targets for intensive campaign contributions and lobbying efforts. A Sunlight Foundation financial disclosure analysis found that some 200 groups spent nearly $40 million to directly influence the Supercommittee in the six weeks following its creation. These groups are not required to report the specific recipients of the contributions, and congressional disclosures will not occur until after the Supercommittee’s November 23 deadline. Additionally, there is no requirement for the committee’s members to disclose meetings Continues on A4
November 23, 2011
contined from A1 By the time they got to his house a couple days later, there were 25. “Some way, some how, we found space,” said Londono, who shares his house with his mother and a cousin. After the encounter, Londono said, the house feels a bit empty; “The next day we started missing them already.” He makes sure to call at least one of the marchers every day to check in. In Bristol, Pa. the
OWS marches south to D.C.
marchers were welcomed by the local Quakers, who put them up for the night in their meeting house. Paul Shaffer, a member of the Bristol Friends community and an old hand at political action said he was delighted by the different procedures like the General Assembly, and even the simple People’s Mic, in which the speaker’s words are repeated by those around her in order to amplify her voice in an engaging way. “I did a mic check to tell them breakfast was here,” he said. “It was wonderful. For the first time in my life I had this feeling of being so richly involved at such a broad level. And for something so simple.” Marchers say they are connecting with a forgotten, even neglected part of America. “We were being told not to walk certain routes, that they were dangerous,” said Santiago. “But they were the warmest places we were welcomed. When we told them we were marching to the capital for the betterment of all they were like ‘Wow! Someone cares about me here in this ghetto?” Aldous agreed that the personal encounters make the trip worthwhile. “There’s one I’ll remember, probably for the rest of my life,” he said of a lunchtime stop on a busy street on the walk from New Brunswick to Trenton, N.J. “All of a sudden this woman approaches us, she comes up to one of the
d from Zuicotti Park in New York City to McPherson Square in Washington, D.C. - a nearly 230-miley which took them through five states and the District of Columbia. (Photo by Kevin Londono)
Occupiers and supporters of Occupy Wall Street march near Philadelphia, Pa. on day five of their journey. The group, which numbered over 40, marched from Zucotti Park in New York City to McPherson Square in Washington, D.C.--a nearly 230-mile trek, which took them through five states and the District of Columbia (Photo by Citizen Kepler)
marchers and gives her a big hug, for like, a minute, with tears in her eyes.” According to Aldous the woman said she had been feeling hopeless after coming out of a doctor’s office, after having been diagnosed with cancer for the second time. “But she said she’d walked out of the office and seen us and said she’d be okay and had the strength to fight it.”
“Regardless of what comes out of this,” said Aldous, “that alone is worth the whole two weeks.” The encounter that sticks with Santiago is meeting a woman who was waiting for the marchers on a street corner in Delaware with a $40 donation. The woman told her that all her friends were 65 and over and still working, and that
their husbands couldn’t find jobs. When hecklers yell, “Get a job!” Santiago said, she keeps that woman in mind. “I don’t see anyone on Capitol Hill working this hard, with blisters on their feet and bleeding.” • With reporting by Darwin Manning.
Transaction tax puts the brakes on banks
By Prentice Delong When you go to the store to buy something, you pay a tax. When a banker trades a stock, bond, option, future or any derivative instrument, he or she pays no tax. As deficits soar and government slashes social programs, those in the top 1 percent — with access to the capital and tools to make frequent trades — are exempt from a tax that even the poorest Washington, D.C., residents pay for life’s necessities. It wasn’t always this way. The United States had a tax of 0.2 percent from 1914 to 1966 on stock trades, but even 0.2 percent is minute in comparison to the 10 percent a hungry man in D.C. pays for a cheeseburger. But Wall Street has expanded far beyond that original role by indulging in trades of risky derivatives, including the mortgagebacked securities that triggered the housing market collapse. Many such financial tools even most traders themselves do not understand. Bankers are insulated from the downsides of risky trades by contracts guaranteeing high salaries and massive bonuses regardless of how their investments perform. The institutions themselves are implicitly protected by the federal government, i.e., it is likely the federal government will bailout banks should trades go spectacularly wrong, as they did in 2008. “These trades have allowed many Wall Street types to get enormously wealthy while producing nothing of benefit to, and quite possibly harming, the productive economy,” says Dean Baker, economist and co-founder of the Center for Economic Policy Research (CEPR). Wall Street’s share of the Gross Domestic Product—the value of everything produced within U.S. percent on stock trades for more than 50 years. According to CEPR, England raises the equivalent of about 0.2
“The U.S. can do it too. A similar tax would raise revenue equivalent to almost 1 percent of U.S. GDP, or $150 billion dollars a year.”
borders in a year—has quadrupled between 1975 and 2009, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. Considering the volatility in housing and stock markets, the nation is not financially better off due to Wall Street’s growth. Wall Street is bloated, but a tax on financial transactions would raise money that could be spent on health care, infrastructure or education while helping trim the financial sector down to efficient size. Such a tax is more than feasible. England has had a tax of between 0.5 and 1 percent of its GDP from this tax without substantially affecting the volume of speculative trades. The U.S. can do it too. A similar tax on a broad range of assets would raise revenue equivalent to almost 1 percent of U.S. GDP, or $150 billion dollars a year — $1.5 trillion in the course of a decade, according to Baker’s estimates. This would dwarf revenue lost from former President George W. Bush’s tax cuts. Support for a financial speculative tax is growing around the world. It’s time the U.S. got on board. •
McPherson Sq. Occupiers at a glance
society. I’ve had friends locally look at me when somebody said something out of the way to me saying, “Bear, why aren’t you on the way to the hospital to have your foot extracted from out of your ass?” Usually it’s survival to me. I can’t put up with BS from people otherwise they will walk all over me. But here, I’ve been able actually to relax. If this is what the new America is going to be about I swear I’m all for it. I’m ready to roll. Stand up America, let’s go. Well so far my occupy experience has been phenomenal. I came here the second day rolled right out of bed and made sure I marched my little behind right over here. I’ve watched it grow from eight people with 22 dollars to; at least…we had so many thousands of people on marches here at tent city with thousands of dollars now. It’s amazing. This is what true democracy looks like. It’s an experience and a chance to talk to people who under normal circumstances you wouldn’t speak to about real legitimate problems that are going on today.
Meet Your Neighbors
Why McPherson Square? Location, location, location
To the OWT editors, As a local employee of the evil machine (but with a salary of 99%-er), I would like to humbly request the use of our park back. Is there a particular reason McPherson Square was chosen? Is there a chance you can have a temporary camp that moves between parks so all of DC knows what you’re doing? It’s just some of us feel you guys are pushy about it being “your” park that you “occupied” and ironically enough we’re also 99%ers who wish to use our park that we’re collectively subsidizing with taxpayer dollars. Also, can we ask that you refrain from putting down hay that seems to miraculously attract even more pigeons than previously existed in the park? Together, we can be 100% in sharing a park that we all own. Sincerely, Your Friendly McPherson Square Neighbors Dear Friendly McPherson Square Neighbors, Thank you for your letter of concern. Situated between K Street and the White House, Occupy DC’s location in McPherson Square was chosen specifically to highlight the financial pipeline between K Street, Wall Street and our lawmakers’ pockets. While the transgressions are plentiful, lobbyists on K Street are involved in private campaign financing, lawmaking and the direct financial courting of lawmakers themselves. While most of these actions are currently legal, many of us believe they are corrosive to a well-functioning democracy. It should be clear that this park belongs to no one person or group, including occupiers. A tenet of the Occupy movement is inclusiveness and community participation. As such, you are always welcome, as before, to occupy McPherson Square with the understanding the space is shared. Media outlets such as the Washington Post and the Washington City Paper have commended Occupy DC on sporting a “vibrant urbanism” that has “activated the urban core.” Like the occupiers, you have many opinions about the upkeep of the park and are invited to share such opinions at General Assembly meetings or in individual committee meetings. We invite you to partake in the re-imagination of our city and our country, pigeons and all. Warm regards, The OWT Editorial Board
I am a lot more laid back here than I am in mainstream
I grew up in this city. My family has been here for a couple of generations. For me it’s
like a personally meaningful thing that we have an Occupy. I kind of helped get it off the ground - starting the Twitter and all that. Lying in bed on October 1st wondering if anyone would show up. A little over a month later we have a beautiful park we call home. Right now we are in a space where we are hearing from everyone and we are hearing everyone’s stories. We are hearing from a lot of people from different political ideologies, cultural backgrounds and looking forward to building up and figuring out a common ground. beyond anything I’ve seen or experienced and the learning curve is taking a beautiful direction and we’re all on that learning curve, whether is be someone 60 years old who I believe is on the press team, up to the 80-year-old person, we’re all learning. And it’s working. I think even though we have such diversity, the most incredible thing is that people are willing to work together, people are willing to listen to each other, like I’ve never seen anywhere in my life, never experienced anywhere in my life. Makes me think.
100% pay taxes, while 1% get breaks
By Jim McBride
There has been a lot of talk lately about who pays which taxes. Fifty-three percent of Americans pay federal income taxes, and most bear a state or local burden as well. One hundred percent of American workers contribute payroll taxes to federal programs, but even so, the 99% are being asked to carry a heavier load every day. According to ThinkProgress, “If you look at state and local taxes, the working poor actually pay a higher percentage of their income in these taxes in every state except for Vermont. In Alabama, for example, low-income families (who make less than $13,000 annually) pay 11 percent of their income in state and local taxes, while those making more than $229,000 pay just four percent.” The federal government employs a progressive income tax structure, but the burdens of payroll taxes are actually regressive because they only apply to earned income up
I have a history of activism, but I don’t want to push that on people because the organic direction this is taking is
to $106,800. Earnings above that amount and capital gains from private investments are exempt from these taxes. Warren Buffett, the second-richest person in the United States, wrote in an oped for the New York Times: “What I paid was only 17.4 percent of my taxable income — and that’s actually a lower percentage than was paid by any of the other 20 people in our office. Their tax burdens ranged from 33 percent to 41 percent and averaged 36 percent.” “Over the past 50 years … the federal tax burden on the nation’s 400 highest annual incomes has shrunk by twothirds,” according to Wealth for the Common Good, a network of business leaders, high-income households and partners working together to promote shared prosperity and fair taxation. This group of top earners understands that they are unfairly advantaged by the tax system and recently created a blog entitled “We are the 1 percent. We stand with the 99 percent.”
Got something to say? We want to hear it! Send all letters – with name and contact info – to Submissions@OccupyDC.org
I have a tracheotomy that renders me mute and I use a wheelchair, or I would be there with you. My health care and benefits might go away because of the 1% who screw around with our money like it’s toilet paper. Without economic justice there’s no economic growth.
– Message from a donor to Occupy DC
The unbalanced system of capital gains and payroll taxes moves America toward a greater burden on the 99%, and on New Year’s Day, the problem could get worse. Due to congressional inaction, the 2% payroll tax cut American workers have received since 2009 could expire just after consumers make their best annual attempt to stimulate the economy during the holiday season. For someone making $25,000 annually - such as a staffer on Capitol Hill or a service associate at a retail store - that means about $500 less in their pocket for repaying student loans or going to a week-
ly movie with friends. For a middle-class worker earning the median household income - about $50,000 annually - that means roughly $1,000 less to make mortgage or car loan payments. A failure by Congress to extend the payroll tax cut would further damage the economy and depress job prospects. The exemptions and evasions of the top 1% means that they contribute less than ever, while the middle class and the working poor are paying more despite earning much less. It’s time for Congress to ask the 1% to pay their fair share and stand up against tax hikes for the 99%. •
November 23, 2011
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Five things you can do Donor money floods “Supercommittee”
Visit McPherson Square during the day or stay the night. Bring your tent, sleeping bag, instruments, signs and artwork. Food and water are always available. Continued from A1 with lobbyists or to open the committee’s meetings to the public. “A committee that has unprecedented power should have unprecedented transparency,” said Sunlight Foundation Editorial Director Bill Allison. But it’s not just the Supercommittee that suffers from a lack of transparency, he said. Wendell Cochran, an associate professor at American University’s School of Communication, attributed the system’s lack of transparency to outdated campaign finance laws. “Campaigns have changed greatly since the Federal Election Commission was formed in the 1970s,” he said, “to the point that many are yearround small businesses.” According to Allison, old reporting rules make it impossible to match contributions to their recipients until well after legislation has been passed. “Occasional reporting is insufficient,” he said. “We have the technology for complete, real-time disclosure.” What is known is that members of the Supercommittee have already taken large contributions from financial interests. Since 1998, the six Democrats on the Supercommittee received over $5.3 million from labor groups, $5.2 million from healthcare companies and $4.7 million from financial, insurance and real estate PACs. Over the same period, the six Supercommittee Republicans accepted over $5.6 million from financial, insurance and real estate PACs, followed by $4.3 million from healthcare and $2.8 million from business groups. Despite concerns about transparency and a long history of contributions, most of the selected representatives continue to accept campaign contributions from lobbying groups. Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D - MD) “is only proceeding
Attend a General Assembly, held everyday at 6pm on the south lawn of McPherson Square. Join a committee working group (media, outreach, action, resource allocation, cooking, and many others). Join marches, teach-ins and rallies.
SPREAD THE WORD
Visit our website at www.occupydc.org for general information and updates. Follow us on Twitter: @OccupyKSt, @Occupy_DC, @ OccupyDCMedia, @OccupyWallSt. Find us on Facebook at “OccupyDC K St”.
Visit the ever-growing People’s Library at McPherson Square, featuring a collection of hundreds of donated books, CDs and DVDs. Spend time online or with a book reading about growing inequality, corporate personhood, activism and political transgressions. Talk to friends about the Occupy movement.
There is always a need for food, water, and warm clothes. Give in person or arrange for a pick-up. Support Occupy DC by visiting www.occupydc.org/donate.
with [fundraising] events that were scheduled prior to his appointment to the Joint Committee,” according to Bridgett Frey, spokesperson for his office. However, like the other committee members, he did not announce plans to disclose contributions prior to the vote. As of this writing, no other Supercommittee members had returned calls for comment. If the Supercommittee fails to agree on a bill or Congress fails to pass their compromise, a series of automatic cuts will come into effect. The reduction will be spread over ten years for an annual decrease of $109 billion. To reach this target, the defense budget will be slashed by nearly 10 percent, or $55 billion, Medicare will be reduced by as much as 2 percent, or $12 billion and all other discretionary spending will be cut across the board by about 7 percent to make up the remaining $43 billion. •
Homeless occupy McPherson alongside protestors
By Justin Jacoby Smith Long before activists descended on McPherson Square to sleep outside and draw the eyes of D.C. to the needs of the 99%, there were people in the square occupying the same park benches every night. The numbers of homeless and indigent have increased across the country as the recession has forced those on the brink into outright poverty. According to a September report by the Homelessness Research Institute, homelessness is expected to continue rising over the next three years, as an estimated 74,000 people are pushed onto the streets by the lingering effects of the financial crisis. The connections between economic inequality, corporate control of our government, and the struggle of homelessness are not lost on the people who’ve slept in McPherson for years. With his wild grey beard, imposing girth, and energetically jovial manner, the man occupiers call “Bear” calls to mind an Appalachian Santa Claus. Bear, who retired after a 20 year career in the Navy, is one of the 76,000 homeless veterans in the United States. “There are so many people sleeping in the streets every night, while at the same time CEOs are making millions, and our leaders aren’t doing anything to change it,” Bear said. “It’s time for all of us to stand up and change it.” Dennis Hinnant worked in construction until two years ago, when cutbacks at his employer left him without enough to make the rent and he was forced onto the street. “I want to live in a country where there’s justice and equal opportunity,” Hinnant leaned in to add, ”but I can see that our system is corrupted by dollars. The politicians aren’t looking out for us like they’re supposed to-they’re gonna look out for whoever put up that dollar to get ‘em into office!” Hinnant says he came from a rough neighborhood in the District, and that years of hard knocks sent him to the closest guidance he could find. “In the environment I was raised in, the only people that showed me affection were the gangbangers.” He looked around McPherson at the medical tent, the kitchen, and comfort tents where he regularly helps hand out provisions. “People here are trying to create a community of people that care about each other.” Another resident of the park asked this reporter to keep him anonymous. After cheerfully recounting the story of how the original occupiers of McPherson welcomed the youngsters “we thought y’all were just about the nicest people we’d seen!” - he gestured to a pair of fellow homeless men that have been his friends for years. He took a puff from his elegant tobacco pipe. “We’ve been out here 11 years waiting for somebody good to come along. Now you’re here.” •
D.C. poor most affected by HIV
continued from A1 Although there was city-wide support of a similar city-funded project in the District, according to Sigwalt, Congress refused to pass D.C. legislation on the matter. People with HIV and AIDS are protected by the American Disabilities Act, which protects them fromdiscrimination in the workplace. Unfortunately, stigma and self-stigma are barriers for emMobile testing units, increased contraception distribution, and dedicated case management have proven to lower incidence and increase early detection of the virus. Lewis said that late diagnosis leads to “salvage therapy” rather than a return to healthy and productive lives. Those who want to help combat HIV in Washington will find a broad range of opportunities. The Whitman-
“The high rate of poverty among HIV positive communities contributes to the stigmatization of the disease even as it reduces access to care.”
ployment for HIV positive individuals. Chip Lewis, Deputy Director of Communications at Washington’s WhitmanWalker Clinic, said the high rate of poverty among HIV positive communities contributes to the stigmatization of the disease even as it reduces access to care. Inadequate servicing of affordable housing, public transportation, childcare, and needle exchange funding, along with homelessness and illiteracy, all counteract the benefits of the testing and prevention programs provided by the city. Walker Clinic encourages people to get tested, talk about the issue and protect themselves during sexual activity. This upcoming July 2227, Washington DC will host the 29th annual International AIDS Conference. This is an opportunity for the city to showcase its successes and call attention to its needs, learn from the international community, as well as to highlight the root causes of the epidemic and build the social and political will to make proactive policy changes in our city. •
The longtime homeless, and recently established occupiers take a break to play a game chess on Halloween in McPherson Sq. Park. Moments of downtime between actions and discussions allow for bonds to be formed between the two groups. (Photo by Craig Hudson)
A disclaimer about OWT
The Occupy DC General Assembly in McPherson Square has entrusted a newspaper working group with the creation of a newspaper to document the social and economic injustices of our time and news of the occupation itself. A rotating editorial board, held accountable to the Occupy DC General Assembly, determines the final content and tone of the newspaper. The opinions expressed represent those of individual authors. In no way do we speak for Occupy DC or the Occupy movement. – The Occupied Washington Times Editorial Board
Jillian Blazek Anna Cole Jarrad Davis Benjamin Daniels Pat Farnach Sam Jewler
Karina Stenquist Ben Zucker Benjamin Daniels Craig Hudson Justin Jacoby Smith Prentice DeLong Jim McBride Caty McClure Corryn Freeman Robert Brune Bear Rose Jaffe Anna Cole