42 Dispatches

O U T O F R AN G E

OCCUPIERS
Anita Naidu with Occupy Wall Street participant John Walters in New York.
PHOTO SUBMITTED BY ANITA NAIDU

The hellish, the normal and the opulent
OCCUPY WALL STREET FROM THE INSIDE THROUGH THE EXPERIENCES OF A WHISTLER RESIDENT
by tobias

c. van Veen

Editor’s note: The Occupy protests around the world have seen various levels of acceptance. For example, when Occupy Vancouver supporters tried to set up a new camp in East Vancouver local residents turned them away.

“J

ust walking into New York is an assault on every one of your senses,” says Anita Naidu, who has been decompressing since returning from two weeks in New York’s Zuccotti Park. “There is every variety of corruption and person that you can possibly imagine waiting to greet you.” Naidu recently flew from Whistler to participate in the epicentre of protest against the inequalities of the global financial system. “I was in Whistler mode where everyone’s talking about the season. I got off the plane at JFK, and it was like: OK, Occupy Wall Street (OWS). It’s always this big switch doing political work from living in a resort town.” Naidu is a consulting engineer and a dedicated snowboarder, climber and mountain biker — and although she’s undertaken some political advocacy, she doesn’t usually put her life on pause to protest. But this time, she said there was no choice. “If I didn’t go, then I’m not who I think I am. “There’s very much an emotional belief connected to these ideas. To not go would be a false choice. I also live in a place [Whistler] where the characteristic of the population is very easy, where life is very easy. . . . Living in a place where life is so easy makes you more fragile. Not participating in [OWS] is just a greater input to injustice.” If the response of the public in media, at the camps and on the Internet is any indication, the demands of the Occupy movement, though diverse, have resonated

with a population feeling the effects of financial collapse. Figures from developed nations continue to demonstrate that personal debt is escalating; that inflation is becoming all the more evident; and that real wages have been stagnant for decades. Not only the Occupy movement, but also many economists argue that the debt crisis downloaded responsibility for reckless financial speculation onto the already overburdened. The result of the 2008 financial crisis is a huge number of disaffected and impoverished people with nothing to lose and nowhere to go, many evicted through foreclosures and with no work in sight. As media reports document, everything from curtailing campaign spending to demanding constraints on corporate lobbying, has been emphasized in the signs and actions of the Occupy movement. Demands for a maximum wage, housing for the homeless, an end to foreclosures, and for the banks and financial speculators to be held accountable is at the heart of the Occupy movement — and which is why it all began on Wall Street. “Wall Street. That’s the engine of change,” says Naidu. “It’s like having your finger on the pulse . . .. Basically, everything galvanized at Wall Street. Right there you’ve got the Federal Reserve, you’ve got the New York Stock Exchange. That’s where the one per cent exists.” Naidu describes the infamous stroll amongst skyscrapers and American flags as “the hellish, the normal, and the opulent” all on one block. And it was effective, she says. Being down on Wall Street “scared the crap out of the political class,” says Naidu. If this had happened in the Bronx or Harlem it wouldn’t have been the same. It brought the fight against inequality home to the financial district. When she was there, the movement was reaching its “climax,” says Naidu, “its greatest acapella statement.” “People have turned their resentment into revolt,” adds Naidu. The day after Halloween, Naidu got

off the plane, dropped off her bags at her brother’s place, slept for an hour and then went straight to the Zuccotti camp, where she stayed for two weeks. “It’s very difficult to stay long periods of time at Zuccotti,” says Naidu, who returned to the apartment a few times to get clothes and supplies. Naidu’s brother is Suresh Naidu, an Assistant Professor of Economics and Public Affairs at Columbia University. Suresh led public discussion groups every Sunday addressing the maddening intricacies of the global financial system. Naidu’s first task at OWS was kitchen duty, where she chopped tomatoes and onions for three hours. “Sometimes you just show solidarity,” emphasizes Naidu. “It’s about being a part of something that is larger than you. Because I can’t separate who I am from what I do. It’s about grunt work. Where can I help right now? So I just rolled up my sleeves and cut onions.” The day’s hard labour was made easier in the company of others who were always interested in learning more about the issues and systems that had so deeply affected their personal lives, she says. Discussion pervaded every moment of the camp’s daily (and nightly) life. Naidu helped organize daily think-tank sessions on everything from campaign financing to minding the media, from the housing crisis and the Federal Reserve banking system to political theory. “One day I sat down and talked about Sun Tzu’s The Art of War,” says Naidu. “The next day it was Machiavelli.”

For many campers, high school was their highest level of education, so there were many “inquiring minds,” says Naidu. Drawing upon the history of the Civil Rights movement, Occupiers focused on education and establishing teach-ins. Several participants, says Naidu, had been present during the struggles for gender and racial equality of the ‘60s, and had returned once again to the streets for Occupy. Naidu’s first time as moderator of a think-tank was especially memorable. As the discussion heated up — which included Wall Street financiers and employees, campers, passers-by, “political tourists” and the silent majority of the ever-present NYPD — a crowd of a few dozen swelled into over 200. “I couldn’t keep up with the hands,” says Naidu, excited at remembering at the experience. The camp was composed of a “really eclectic crowd,” from professional chefs to professors, drop-in compassionate celebrities to debt-laden students and doctors. “People who were consultants, people who worked in restaurants, people who were actors,” says Naidu — everyone from financiers to the foreclosure-evicted — in short, the destitute to the dedicated. Many were jobless; some were homeless. A few were ex-policemen and ex-military. People had travelled from Boston, Connecticut and California, with a noticeable contingent from hurricane-devasted Louisana. “I had this friend Bernard, and he was a drug dealer from Louisana,” recounts Naidu. “You’d ask him what he did, and
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Dispatches O U T O F R A N G E
Mountain News: Jackson Hole reducing energy use
By Allen Best

J

ACKSON, Wyo. — In ways large but mostly small, Jackson and Teton County keep chipping away at use of fossil-based energy, as Jackson had vowed to do when signing the Mayors’ Agreement on Climate Change in 2006. The biggest single largest consumer of energy by the local governments is the wastewater treatment plant, and that’s where the largest investments have been made. Aided by federal stimulus funds, the community installed 224 kilowatts in solar generating capacity. Since September 2010, it has produced 225-megawatt hours of production. Now comes a trio of projects aimed to more efficiently use energy at the treatment plant. One project, which improves the efficiency of aeration, will reduce electricity costs by $64,000 per year, given current rates. The entire frontend costs were paid by a $457,000 grant from the local electrical cooperative, Lower Valley Energy, using money from wholesale provider Bonneville Power. In 2008, the town and county rolled out a program called 10 X 10. As the name implied, the goal was to

reduce energy 10 per cent by 2010. The program directed attention to reducing energy use and, in some cases, spurred innovation. For example, one large user of energy is the gasoline used by police, who commonly keep their cars idling constantly, arguing that they can’t shut down their computers. An innovation achieved in the town’s public works department helped them overcome that complaint. Still, the town fell short in its goal for in-house operations — not achieving the full 10 per cent reduction until well into 2011. But it has done so with not just the big projects, but also the smaller projects in the town’s building infrastructure. “Most of it was non-sexy and boring: windows, doors, weather stripping, caulking. But it all helps,” says Larry Pardee, the town’s public works director. Pardee was among a delegation that went to Aspen in 2006 to attend a conference sponsored by that community’s Canary Initiative. They returned to Wyoming, with fire in the belly, determined to shrink Jackson Hole’s contribution to the world’s accumulating greenhouse gas emissions.
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Occupy Wall Street
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he’d say: ‘I sell drugs!’” Naidu, who had many conversations with Bernard, says that his motivation was clear — he had pilfered money from society; now it was time to give back. “This was also the first time I’ve seen the financial class come and dine with the unwashed,” says Naidu. Wall Street employees would often drop by the camp, as free meals were served three times a day in Zuccotti Park. “All of Wall Street would come down,” says Naidu. “People on their lunch breaks, people out of curiosity, people who were quite well to do — the one per cent would come down, out of simple curiosity and say ‘well, what’s going on here?’ You’d invite them for a meal, and they would sit down, and you’d have a conversation and engage in dialogue.” In this respect the Occupy movement achieved the impossible in today’s political climate — meaningful, face-to-face discussion, says Naidu. Anytime there is cross-pollination and discussion between disparate classes, it opens hearts as well as minds. Indeed, this is the basis of the general assembly, the “public space outside of capital,” she adds, that resides at the core of democracy. It is this core — a place of ideas and decisions untouched by commercial space — that the Occupy

movement believes has been threatened by corporatization, privatization, and greed. On the day Naidu left, the camp was raided. She got the call while boarding the plane. There is some irony that the evicted are being evicted again. With Occupy movements worldwide shut down in the name of bylaws and business, Naidu questions whether dismantling such dynamic spaces — “public spheres” where people discuss politics and economics — is ultimately in the best interests of the “99 per cent.” In the history of democracies, the noisy process of claiming and putting to use public space has always been the messy requisite for real and effective change — and eradicating such space, perhaps best exemplified in the enclosure laws of 19th century Britain that privatized common land, has likewise often served the interests of what Naidu and the Occupy movement are once again calling the “ruling class.” Anita Naidu is the narrator of a forthcoming documentary on Occupy Wall Street from Belgium independent TV channel EkkerGeM [http://tv-ekkergem.be]. Tobias c. van Veen is doctoral candidate in Philosophy and Communication Studies at McGill University. He publishes regularly on precarious labour and globalization in political economy. ■

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