Dear Mr. President: An Open Letter to President Obama ~ Dave Imbriaco

Dear President Obama,

…….I am writing to you (and to any other American who wishes to share in this) because I, like many Americans, want to help our country get back on track.  Call it a cry for help or a public plea of a distressed citizen, but I digress.

…….My personal situation is hardly the worst it could be: I’m a graduate student living with my parents and partially self-funding my education with my own personal savings (I’m taking out loans for the rest).  On the other hand, I graduated in May of 2010 and have worked a total of only five months since then at a variety of jobs, always for $12 an hour or less.  Compared to other people my age, I consider myself to be incredibly lucky.  Think about that – lucky to have a supportive, loving family that has the means to keep me afloat while I struggle to get out on my own, barely holding down a poverty-wage job.  It’s heartbreaking and discouraging to know that so many others my age aren’t so fortunate, and I wonder how their futures will unfold.

…….Mr. President, I donated to your campaign, voted for you, and have defended your actions to the people that I encounter who disagree with or disapprove of them.  I, and many others like me, were swept up by your lofty rhetoric and cool demeanor.  I genuinely believed that your election would spell slow but steady improvement in our lives.  You campaigned on hope, but since your election Americans have only grown more hopeless.  Our situations are worse off now than when you took office, and as of now, I will be neither voting for you nor donating to your campaign in the next election because honestly, I and many others in my position – the very same people who put you in the oval office – feel betrayed by you.

…….I am very much aware that you did not create the enormous problems that our country currently faces.  You didn’t enact the policies over the past 30 years that triggered an economic collapse that some Cassandras knew was coming.  You aren’t responsible for the way wages have stagnated for 30 years while corporate profits have skyrocketed.  And of course I cannot blame you for the disgusting gridlock in Congress.  But your failure to make any credible attempt to rectify any of our problems has now made you complicit in them.

…….You are now two and a half years into your term and have been nothing but a disappointment.  The way you refused to fight for a public option in the health care debate.  The way you refused to expend any political capital to punish the people whose recklessness and greed caused the collapse (and how your administration, bafflingly so, is resistant to any attempt at holding those people accountable)! The way you cave to John Boehner and the Tea Party every single time a confrontation arises, be it the debt ceiling or the date of your supposed major address on jobs.  The way you allow blatant falsehoods about the economy and policy to circulate like the bubonic plague while refusing to provide your own narrative of what has happened in America.  The way you try to negotiate with those who have made clear their only goal is to bring you down.

…….You do not lead, you preside.  By the same token, you do not compromise, you capitulate.

…….In fact, your governing style (or lack thereof) is mind-boggling.  Mr. President, you refuse to stand up for your supporters while you try to reason with the unreasonable.  The opposition party has made it clear that they have absolutely no interest in working with you.  Don’t you remember when Mitch McConnell said on the Senate floor that his primary political objective was to deny you a second term and to not solve our country’s problems?  I understand that good politics is about compromise, but when have any of your priorities not been sacrificed on the altar of bi-partisianship with nothing in return?  You just recently gave away the ability to regulate smog and got what in return?  That’s not a negotiated compromise, that is a giveaway – a sign not of strength, but of spinelessness.  You are actively abdicating your responsibility as President to be a leader.

…….Maybe I should have paid attention to the fact that you voted “present” more times than not in the Illinois legislature – a sign that you were afraid to do anything that might present an ounce of risk.  Maybe I should have thought twice when you tossed to the curb the man who married you and your wife, who was your “spiritual mentor” after a smear campaign comparable to John Kerry’s swift-boating.

…….Now, I have noticed how you stubbornly refuse to take positions beyond vague ovations of improving health care and appeals to a supposed American Exceptionalism.  At a time when the American people needed someone who would stand up for them, who would lead them and be unafraid to take a controversial position that he truly believes in, they mistakenly voted for someone who flees at the first sign of confrontation.  Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the man who said of the Wall Street banks (your campaign contributors) “I welcome their hatred” is rolling over in his grave.  Not only have you been an ineffective President, but also a failed Democrat – a party I was forced to abandon after years of active support when I felt that they turned on me.

…….I say with complete, unshakable honestly that I take absolutely no pleasure in doing this.  But with my firsthand experience and things I know about the current state of our economy, the trend is dismal, and reasons to be optimistic are harder and harder to find.  Your inability to successfully govern the country coupled with the undeclared war against the average American people by her own elites are causing America to crumble right beneath your feet.  I don’t even know for sure who’s side you’re really on anymore, the side of the people or the enemies of the people? Please be the president that I voted for in 2008. Otherwise, get out of the way.

………………………………………………………Sincerely in Frustration,

………………………………………………………Dave Imbriaco

______________________________

Photo courtesy of projectcensored.org

(http://www.projectcensored.org/top-stories/articles/22-obamas-trilateral-commission-team/)

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Occupying the Brooklyn Bridge and the Power of Protest ~ Matthew D’Elia

Part I

I did not know what to expect when I decided to go to New York on Saturday to check out Occupy Wall Street. In fact, I had only opted to go after seeing the now famous footage of police brutality, courtesy of inspector Anthony Bologna aka “Tony Baloney”(video). I had originally planned to go with a couple of friends, but that did not pan out. For a moment I was hesitant to go by myself because I rarely travel to New York City, let alone get involved in a protest in which people have been beaten, pepper sprayed, and arrested. But I decided to go anyway. After walking out of the PATH Station at the World Trade Center I was immediately taken aback by the number of police officers stationed in the area. Apparently the police have occupied their own portions of Lower Manhattan where they are keeping vans, buses, equipment and personnel at the ready just in case the word comes in to start making mass arrests.

I wandered a bit until finally making it to Liberty Plaza Park (formerly known as Zucotti Park), where I continued to wander aimlessly, snapping a few pictures until I happened upon fellow Rutgers University students, Kristin Clark, Matt Cordeiro, and Joel Salvino, who were looking for a bathroom. Joel pointed out a ninety-five year old Marxist-Leninist who had been yelling at a few Ron Paul supporters. I wanted to know why this man was so insistent on being a Leninist as well as a Marxist, so I decided to have a chat with him while I waited for them to come back. Here I learned a valuable lesson: ninety-five year old men do not take shit from anyone. He formed his political beliefs in the 1930s and they seem to have not changed since.What made him a Marxist-Leninist was the idea that radical social change was only possible through a tightly structured organization with ideological cohesion,  a specific set of goals, a powerful leadership and the willingness to achieve their ends by any means necessary. Occupy Wall Street does not follow this model at all.

It is usually difficult to categorize or try to make sense of mass movements and protests that emerge seemingly out of nowhere. Occupy Wall Street is marked partially by a strange alliance of both Ron Paul supporters on the far right (Anarcho-Capitalists) and socialists, Marxists, and Anarcho-Syndicalists on the far left. Barring their consensus on the full expansion of civil liberties, the only agreement among the two sides is that greed and, to borrow a quip from the historian Thomas Bailey, the “international gangsterism” of the global finance industry and powerful states has crippled the global economy and propped up the power of a handful of elites at the expense of the majority.

Liberty Park is not only Occupy Wall Street’s staging ground, but has also become a temporary, indefinite home for the movement’s core group of organizers, including Zu, a former Rutgers student and resident of New Brunswick, who after getting laid off decided to sublet her apartment and move into the park. Most of the youth living in the park seem to be in a similar situation.  In order to accommodate themselves they have set up sleeping spaces, a kitchen of sorts, a medical station, and even a library.

As we began preparing for the 3:00pm march, there were whispers that we would be marching over the Brooklyn Bridge. At the time—and even now—I did not know whether this meant that we would be marching over the walkway or one of the traffic lanes. In any case, the march got underway without incident. We were positioned in the back because Zu had taken up the task of setting the pace from the back of the march. The senior citizens were to take up the vanguard. Ironically enough, there is a much higher chance of getting arrested in the rear of any given protest march, because from there it is much easier for the police to use the “kettling technique” to trap demonstrators. However, being positioned there actually prevented us from joining those on the traffic lanes and subsequent arrest.

The group of marchers was increasing in size as we moved north along Broadway towards the Brooklyn Bridge. This was easy to notice because in order to continue setting the pace from the back we had to keep moving behind all of the new people joining the march. People were getting really excited. There was a very energetic young woman (one of the organizers), who was running around starting up chants and trying to get everyone to close off the gaps between marchers. She accidentally stepped on the back of my shoe, causing my foot to fall out. She quickly said “Sorry, baby!” with real sincerity, and ran ahead to energize the rest of the group.

As we were approaching the bridge, I was still not sure if we were going to cross into the traffic lanes. The police had blocked traffic from travelling eastbound into Brooklyn, but had also formed a line to prevent protesters from entering. We were still at the very back of the march. The police were patrolling up and down the lane parallel to the walkway. It was not until we had travelled a few hundred yards up the bridge that we realized protesters had somehow made it down into the street. I had assumed that the police formed that line blocking protesters from entering the entire time; apparently that was not the case. A large number of protesters had stopped on the walkway to look, take pictures, and express solidarity with those who were fenced in on the street below. The police had already started making arrests, singling out specific individuals and grabbing them as the opportunity presented itself. After making our way a bit further up the bridge, past the penned in group, I heard a familiar shout. I squeezed over to the side to get a look and saw that energetic young woman, struggling and yelling as two police officers were dragging her away.

Those who were not trapped on the street or standing on the walkway to provide moral support made their way across the bridge into Brooklyn, where we rallied at Cadman Plaza Park, surrounding the William Jay Gaynor monument. Here the organizers passed along information regarding our fellow protesters on the bridge as well as advice on what to do next: who to call if a friend has been arrested, etc. Because Occupy Wall Street demonstrators are not permitted to use loudspeakers or megaphones, communication is done through a massive game of telephone. One person shouts the original message, and the surrounding crowd shouts it along to those standing out of earshot of the speaker.  I noticed that the same person never spoke twice. A different person conveyed each message.

While all this was happening, the police were slowly surrounding the park and making their way inside. According to them, we would not be arrested so long as we “did not break park regulations.” They conveniently failed to enumerate these regulations.

I would have loved to stay at Cadman Park, but I had a few obligations that night in New Brunswick. Joel and I decided to walk back across the bridge to get to the PATH station. As we started up the walkway, two police officers warned us that “protesters were blocking the path up ahead and not letting people through.” We snickered to ourselves, musing at how we could assume different identities by not walking with a large group of people.

The police were stationed throughout walkway, telling people that they had to keep moving to the other side of the bridge. Now there were buses (some of which were from MTA) lined up in the street below, outside of which arrested protesters were waiting to be loaded up and taken down to the station. Joel and I shouted down to one of the protesters asking, “how did you get down there!?” The response was “I don’t know, I was just following the group!” We then came upon the group of alledgedly obstructive protesters who, roughly twenty strong, were standing on one side of walkway in solidarity with those below. A few police officers were standing around them, telling them that they had to get off of the bridge. One man questioned the legality of forcing people off of a public walkway, to which an officer in a white shirt responded by grabbing the protester and threatening arrest. They said that we were allowed to be on the bridge, but that we “had to keep moving.” One of the officers began approaching me as I was trying to take a picture, so I quickly put down my camera and walked away.

As Joel and I walked to the train station, I could not help but mull over the greater significance of what happened and what my role was within these events. It was a shared role, of course. I am grateful to have had support from Matt, Kristen, Zu, and Joel. I feel like we are a part of what could become the largest social movement of our generation, but I do not yet know how to classify it.

Part II

History certainly verifies the power of protest, but despite this common technique, Occupy Wall Street is decidedly different from its predecessors in its organization and goals.

Solidarity, which with roughly ten million members would become the largest trade union in history, emerged  from a strike at the Lenin Shipyards in Gdansk, Poland, in 1980.  Solidarity used civil disobedience and nationwide strikes to demand workers’ rights and social change from a government whose legitimacy was founded upon notions of workers’ rights and social change. Though this movement was violently suppressed by the Communist government in 1981, they would remain underground throughout 1980s until finally reemerging in 1988-89 to successfully negotiate for democratic elections. This set into motion a chain of events leading to the Revolutions of 1989 in the Eastern Bloc and arguably the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

Similarly, the Civil Rights movement demonstrates the efficacy of non-violent protest and civil disobedience in an American context. This movement exposed the inherent contradictions in a supposedly liberal, democratic state, which emphasized human equality in theory while in practice systematically marginalized the political power of a select group. In this case, the legal basis of the state itself had provided the means for its own criticism. The Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution could be used as effective tools to compel the U.S. government to concretely meet its theoretical obligation to guarantee political freedom for all citizens of the United States.

When compared to Solidarity and the Civil Rights movement, Occupy Wall Street lacks the means to make very specific demands because the enemy is not so clearly defined. For those living in the Eastern Bloc, information came from the Politburo and one could either accept it as fact or, as most did, reject it entirely. The goals of the Civil Rights movement were legitimized by the state itself.

Today’s issue is far more nuanced: the enemy is amorphous, and mainstream sources of information provide no basis from which this systematic oppression can be criticized.

Wall Street has become an institution fundamentally embedded within the political and economic structure in not only the US, but the entire world. So much so that its sudden failure carries with it the threat of global collapse through a process that practically nobody–let alone Wall Street bankers– truly understands. By creating specific demands that fit into the typical logic of American politics, the Occupy Wall Street movement would compromise its essence and surrender its claim to representing “the 99%.”

For example, demanding a specific tax increase on large corporations or a clearly defined fiscal policy on Wall Street–within the framework of mainstream economics–would do little curb their power over society.Wall Street and other corporate interests have gained such influence over the political and economic sphere that any such maneuver would require the support of these institutions to succeed. Having the power to convert and move its capital anywhere in the world in an instant, Wall Street could easily adapt to new economic circumstances. Large corporations, using the money they have already accumulated, could likewise send their productive potential outside of the country. In short, operating within the mainstream political, economic, and social paradigm would be self-defeating.

The failure of this paradigm  is apparent in its inability to predict the economic crisis of 2008, while Libertarians like Ron Paul and Marxists such as David Harvey had a sense that the system was untenable.

More importantly, creating narrow demands would undoubtedly alienate individuals who, although they support the revolutionary spirit of Occupy Wall Street, may see certain demands as being counterproductive to the overall intent of this movement. If the group’s demands do not receive something like unanimous consent, leaders would have to take the charge and set the agenda. Such an organization has certainly worked for movements in the past, but conditions in the present seem to belie this kind of structure.

Solidarity was lead by the personality of Lech Walesa and individuals such as Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks were specific figures of inspiration within the Civil Rights Movement. These were all charismatic figures around whom personality cults formed and served as a source of inspiration and ideological cohesion.

Despite their effectiveness, Solidarity and the Civil Rights movement often did not represent “the 99%.” They represented certain classes of people who were clearly being oppressed within the legal framework of society. So they applied pragmatic political means, within the structure of their society, to achieve their ends. After taking power, Solidarity itself, as a political organization, succumbed to infighting among the leadership, causing its decline (Paradox of Change). Even Dr. King had to refrain from openly opposing the Vietnam War until after 1965, as doing so would have undermined support for the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts.

Occupy Wall Street has no definitive leaders, just familiar faces.

This movement is not about playing politics with actors in a broken system. It has emerged as a result of the inability of so-called “leaders” to deliver on their promises and fix these errors. The masses of unemployed, underpaid, or indebted are sick of these political games and are seeking to build a new system in which they are free to use their vast creative potential and are not subject to all of the crap being shoveled by our political institutions. The only option is to try to create a movement that stands outside of this paradigm.

Occupy Wall Street should be seen as continuation of the Arab Spring, like the protests in Wisconsin, the demonstrations against austerity measures in London, and the protests in Greece and Spain in May. This is a global protest against the current organization of power: one that is suppressing the power of most individuals through exceedingly complicated mechanisms which are run by only a few. But this movement may be even more than just a reaction to thirty years of lying by global elites that is to be considered only within the context of recent history. Perhaps it is the enduring idea that those in power, whether they are political, bureaucratic, financial, or industrial elites, must be held accountable for their actions. An expansion of democracy beyond polls and voting booths, following through with principles established during the Enlightenment. In this regard, it may be more appropriate to consider this movement as a part of a tradition that dates back to the revolutions of 1688, 1776 and 1789.

_____________________________

Photos by Mr. Matthew D’Elia. All rights reserved by the artist.

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Occupy Wall Street (Day 13) Video and Photography ~ Dan Bracaglia

#Occupy Wall Street – Day 13

I avoided the enigma that is #OccupyWallStreet for nearly two weeks, despite it essentially taking place in my backyard. However, this past Friday I made my way down to Zuccotti Park around 2pm, to experience it for myself. Well, that is not completely true. I originally left work early on Friday, with a Canon 5D Mark II (with a 70-200mm 2.8 L lens) and Nikon D3s (with a 35mm f/1.4 lens) in hand (how’s that for democracy?!), at my boss’ suggestion, due to circulating  rumors that Radiohead would be performing in the park around 4pm. I was to shoot the show, if it happened, for Sound and Vision Magazine. Those rumors proved false—and that is probably for the best.

I ended up spending about 6 hours with “the movement,” on Friday, mingling about, talking to protesters, police officers, local shop owners, and bystanders alike. The day went a little something like this:

At 2pm I arrived in Zuccotti Park and found between 300-500 individuals present—most stood around one of two drum circles either dancing, playing instruments, or simply observing, while others were mulling around the makeshift sleeping areas, library, and media center.  Admittedly, the music coming from the circles was intoxicating.

By 4pm, the number of individuals in the park grew to somewhere around 3000, as a “General Assembly,” began to take place. The second and third image in this series are from that general assembly, which is a free-form open forum, in which anyone can address the crowd by shouting “Mic Check,” to which everyone in the park repeats back “Mic Check.” Messages are passed around the enormous crowd in a “telephone” like way—those standing nearest to you repeat the message back to you even louder, those who hear it then repeat it even louder to those even further away. It is by no means an ideal way to get information around, but worked surprisingly well.

By 5:00pm, the number of individuals in the park was probably somewhere between 4000 and 5000, excluding police officers. It was at this point I learned that the group was set to march down Broadway, 15 blocks, to One Police Plaza, in solidarity for those individuals who were allegedly beaten by police during a march the previous week.

By around 6pm, all 4000 to 5000 protestors had peacefully made it to One Police Plaza without any incident—their cheers upon entering the plaza were deafening. I stuck around there for another hour and a half before going back to my office.

You will notice several things in the images and audio slideshow that follow. First and foremost you will notice the immense diversity of those participating in this movement. That was by far what most impressed me. This is not a movement to support any cause in particular, in fact, I am not even sure you can call this a movement (however I will continue to as I don’t know any other name to call it).

The second thing you will notice is how dismayed, embarrassed and simply exhausted the NYPD looks in all of these images. All in all, I think the NYPD drew the short straw in all of this. Sure, a handful of police officers a week and a half ago may have abused their power and perhaps acted criminally, but in comparison to the number of times a day these protesters are marching, and the insane amount of man power it takes to keep everyone safe and traffic moving, the NYPD has beyond earned my respect. Every officer I encountered Friday was polite and courteous. In fact, I heard a protester use some pretty nasty language to a police officer who asked him to please stay off the street. The officer’s response? “Hey man, we are human too; we are just trying to keep you safe.”

I know 700 protestors were arrested Saturday for blocking traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge. There are conflicting reports from several individuals, that police tricked the protestors, saying at first it was OK for them to march on the bridge, and then arrested them all. I find this very hard to believe. Every officer I encountered Friday made it very, very clear that IF you were to block traffic in anyway, you WOULD be arrested, no questions asked. To those protestors who now have to deal with NYC municipal court, many of which I probably spoke with the day before, you have my condolences, however you have no one to blame but yourselves.

Speaking of the NYPD, other things you will notice from the audio slideshow are that a large number of police officers were equipped with video cameras and documenting the protest. I can only assume that this is the NYPD’s response to backlash from the protestors’ and journalists’ videos showing uncalled-for and illegal brutality some day’s prior. Either way, it is very interesting.

All in all, a lot has been said about #OccupyWallStreet in the past two weeks, some of it true, some if it not. If you are curious what this movement is all about, I would highly recommend taking an afternoon and experiencing it for yourself. Overall, I must say, I am impressed with the courage and passion of those core individuals who are so dedicated to this. What they aim to change, when it will happen, how it will happen, they don’t even know. But they aren’t going away anytime soon, and I think that is a very good thing.

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The Popular Capitalist View, No. 16: Where Once Was Capitalism by Carl Peter Klapper

Time was when your family could make something or buy the somethings your neighbors made, hang a sign on the front of your house and enough neighbors and visitors would walk by and step into your mom-and-pop store that you could make a decent living being a “merchant”. You and the other merchants in your town and nearby towns, the ones you could walk to if you didn’t have a horse, would provide enough of a market for can openers or canned goods, that some folks in the area would see an opportunity for a new canned food or can opener. These folks and others could all pitch in their spare cash as a company to buy the metal presses and what not (capital) and pay to employ some of their number or others to use the machinery to make the product which the mom-and-pops would then buy and stock on their shelves. As the mom-and-pop stores sold their product, they would order more to re-stock their shelves and, once this process hit a groove, the company would be paying dividends to the people who pitched in money to buy the company stock. These stockholders would be happy to get a little extra money later which they might otherwise had wasted sooner and, more importantly, to have played a role in starting an enterprise which benefited their communities with productive employment, better products and not a little local pride. Years later, they would be electing the Localsville Canned Beans Queen and holding parades down Main Street celebrating the success story of their local genius.

Time was before planning for the automobile. With the automobile-based development, or sprawl, came the demise of the mom-and-pop stores upon which the entire structure of capitalism was based. Hardly anybody walks from their house to the store anymore and, if you tried to sell anything from your house today, you would be cited for a zoning violation. Your neighbors deserted the local stores when the national stores started opening up branches “convenient” to the highway. Some of the national chains moved into the vacated storefronts, got the town to knock down some other houses with storefronts, and to seize the backyards by eminent domain so they could put up a parking lot to “serve” Main Street. The local manufacturing companies got fewer orders, none from the national retail chains, of course. As those companies failed, the remaining local stores started stocking fewer local items, until you couldn’t tell the difference between the mom-and-pops and the chains. The only real difference was the mom-and-pops were less convenient to the automobile driver. The mom-and-pops become denigrated even as they try to conform to sprawl. People actually talk about a new chain store opening up as if that was something to be proud of. At that point, capitalism is dead in their town. To be certain, there are, here and there, some vestiges of capitalism left, though they may strike us as unremarkable. It was always misleading to characterize capitalism as a road to unfathomable riches. People confuse it with debt and global mercantilism, with the creditor sultans oppressing their people, which is very much in evidence.

The Localsville Canned Beans company was bought up by investors from out-of-town using borrowed money — it was purchased in a leveraged buyout by General Foods — and General Foods now grows and cans the Localsville Canned Beans in South America. The plant is closed and the people in Localsville, those who are left, now work and shop in the Walmart down Highway 666. They had to cancel the parade this year. They didn’t choose a Localsville Canned Beans Queen, either.

Copyright © 2011 by C. P. Klapper

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Road Trip: To Sanity and Back ~ Matia Guardabascio

I have been struggling all week to write about the Rally to Restore Sanity, which Alex and I attended in Washington D.C. last Saturday. At first I thought I was just tired after having driven one thousand miles to D.C. from Boston and back. I had many conversations with people about the Rally, and was able to speak about it with ease. Why then could I not strap down my thoughts to some loose leaf? Why?

I spent the week pondering this simple question until finally, the answer dawned on me. Why can’t I think of one meaningful thing to say about the Rally? Because people don’t care about it. How can I write about something no one cares about? Or what’s more, why don’t people care? Could it be because the whole event was immediately buried by the media, practically the moment it was over? Could it be that the comparison to Woodstock, made by countless media outlets prior to the event, turned people off, or caused them to dismiss it as some crazy hippie gathering? Could it be that the event, which was also labeled as “entertainment” by those same countless media outlets, instead of as the political gathering that it was, caused people to dismiss it even further? Perhaps the answer is “all of the above”.

Let me be clear about one thing: I did not go to the Rally to be entertained; I went to be empowered. And I was.

But before I get ahead of myself, let me boogie on back to the beginning: Boston, the night of October 28th. I left work at my normal time and rode the train home as I usually do. When I got to the station in my town I ran over to my already packed car and drove directly to New Brunswick. Nothing like a four hour race to Jersey after a long day of work with Issac Brock, Jimi Hendrix, and the Eagles of Death Metal for company. I slept soundly that night after splitting a bottle of chianti with my hosts, who always put up with my silliness whenever I come to New Jersey.

The next day, a friend and former writer for the JVP met me at 8am. We visited the bank to exchange a bag of coins for cash, grabbed some pancakes at the Palace Diner, then hit the road by 9:30am. By the time we got to Baltimore, the party music was already bumping. We arrived at Alex G’s apartment around 1pm. The drive was shorter than I had anticipated. Somehow Alex managed to get us a serious hookup for parking. My little Masshole Jetta sat by itself in the half circle in front of his huge apartment building for the entire time we were in D.C. Thank you Alex.

After catching our breathe, resting our feet, and snacking to the tune of Nas for two hours, we set off on what would become a twelve hour drinking marathon. The only word to describe the nature of our situation during that time other than belligerent is excessive. Perhaps youth is cruel after all, or is it whiskey?

Regardless, youth is what got us out of bed the next day, armed with breakfast sandwiches, coffees, waters, cameras, film, and, of course, my press pass. While my driving buddy survived the twelve hour marathon, he did not make it to the Rally in time to meet up with Alex and I, so the two of us embarked on our mission to find a good spot at the Rally.

This endeavor proved to be most difficult. There were, literally, hundreds of thousands of people descending upon the National Mall for this Rally. When we realized that planting ourselves with a good view among the enthusiastic crowd was not going to work, we made our way outside the designated areas for the public attendees, and up toward the stage (which was about 5 blocks away). We took turns leading the way through the swarms of excited people; there were tons of young people, many in costume or carrying signs. I could say that young people made up the majority of the crowd, but I’d be lying to you. So in the interest of truth, I’ll tell you what I really saw. I saw babies– yes, infants– and their parents, and their grandparents, and their aunts, uncles, neighbors, their teachers, their preachers, and their future college professors. Every kind of person these babies will meet in their lives was at the Rally– except for Glen Beck, of course. I didn’t see him there, except on the giant TV screens when Jon and Stephen showed us what the platform of fear in the media looks like.

After forty-five minutes of weaving through the largest and most diverse collection of people I have ever seen or been a part of, Alex and I finally made it to the Press entrance. A press pass goes a long way, let me tell you. The security official inspected my pass and waved me to enter. I told him that my camera man (pointing to Alex) was also with me. The guard let us both through to the spacious, guarded press section, which came equipped with its private selection of portable potties! We were not only in great audio range of the stage, but our view was direct and close to it as well. We could actually see Cat Stevens and Ozzy Osborne perform together. We could really see Kareem Abdul Jabar come on stage to prove a point to Colbert on behalf of Jon Stewart: that he cannot make generalized statements about all Muslims hating Americans because it is simply false. We actually got to see Tony Bennett sing “God Bless America”; and we, or at least I, sang along with him.

Alex and I were lucky. We did not have to climb a tree, or climb on top of portable potties (even collapsed ones), or sit on each other’s shoulders to get a good view. We were not those people who tried to jump a guarded fence to find a better place to stand.

When Jon Stewart came out to make his speech, he thanked us all for coming out, and appeared to be humbled by the size of the crowd that had responded to his call. If I had to wager a guess as to how large the crowd was, I’d say there were at least a few hundred thousand in attendance. Still, that feels like a modest guess. After having been in that crowd, and having had a good enough view to see the magnitude of it, I would even go so far as to say that half a million people were there. Look at this shot, which was taken after the Rally had ended and we had walked several blocks away from the National Mall:

Rally5-1

Consider this: the crowd you see in this photo is only a fraction of the people who attended. This is just one boulevard going off in one direction away from the Rally.

As soon as Stewart started talking, the crowd quieted down immediately and gave him their utmost attention. The level of respect for the man that I witnessed among the crowd was grand. More than anything, it was uplifting to see, to witness in real life how one person can reach across generations, ethnicities, religious backgrounds, and states, to peaceably unite an enormous group of people. There was an electricity in the air as he talked to us and grew more passionate. He talked about how every day in this country people find a way to take care of their responsibilities while working together; the only place this spirit of ‘working together’ does not occur is in government. He talked about how the outlet for people to express their grievances and their discontents with our government, the media, is the system that is broken. As Stewart talked to us, he moved around a lot on stage, gesturing with his hands as he grew more passionate. And while his passion was obvious, it was not overwhelming. It was just right, in fact. 

Not surprisingly, when I got back to Massachusetts, people had hardly heard anything about the Rally, only what they’d heard prior to the event taking place. The question about the Rally that I answered more than any other was some version of this: “Was it really like Woodstock where everyone was… you know… (puts pointer finger and thumb to mouth to mimic smoking a joint)?” My answer: “No. It wasn’t like that at all. Not even in the slightest. People were there for the cause, not for music or for drugs. The spirit and energy of the crowd alone made that obvious.” What can I say really? People were attentive, respectful, eager to listen, and generally speaking, in good spirits. They really were. And as a result I felt connected to the people around me, even though I quite obviously knew none of them (except for Alex of course). For the first time in my short life I experienced that feeling of connectedness on such a large scale. The feeling is non-replicable. 

But now reality settles in again. The media will (and did) treat the Rally as they see fit, not as it was. And while I felt inspired and empowered by Stewart and the atmosphere of the Rally, I find that at present, I have never felt more discouraged or powerless. Why the contradictory feelings, you might ask? Because here I am, sitting at my desk, writing this article, and I know that the connectedness is gone. Why is it gone? Because now, a week later, when the Rally has been successfully buried by the mass media, all I can feel is ignored. I feel belittled. And more so now than ever, I feel like change is neither imminent, nor possible.

Perhaps this is the great downfall of all political movements: what to do when the Rally is over. What do we do after we disperse and return home? How do we keep the spirit alive when our platform to do so, the media, refuses to acknowledge it, refuses to cover it, as if it never happened at all? A tree did fall in the forest. I was there to hear it. Hundreds of thousands of people were there to hear that tree fall. And yet, here we are, a week later, and no one knows that tree was there in the first place. It is a sad day for America when thousands of eager voices come together to be heard as one and someone turns the volume off.

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Original Publication Date: 11.08.2010

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JVP Speaks: Are you going to vote?

Hello and welcome to JVP Speaks! In this soon-to-be-a-recurring-feature, contributors will kick-off a discussion on a particular topic by writing on a single prompt. This week the JVP asked itself: are you voting? Why or why not? Feel free to answer the question yourself, comment on any of our answers, and to generally get the ball rolling on this important topic! Here’s what we had to say: Jhoany Benetiz: I believe that this upcoming election is crucial. People are losing trust in our president and the Democratic Party, which I find very upsetting. I think that people need to learn to be patient and not expect drastic changes overnight. My family and I have been affected by the recession, so I totally understand why people are growing desperate and need things to improve. But, still, people should not lose hope like that. Obama’s doing what he can. I know that not everyone agrees with this. I constantly hear my professors urge us to vote on Tuesday and make a difference. But, unfortunately, I will not be voting. Why? Because I’m a permanent resident and only American citizens can vote. Isn’t that something? But I would vote if I could. Believe me! Brendan Kaplan: Yes, I will be voting. I’m more concerned with keeping my pulse on the local state of things rather than any of the other races. Also, I’m going to be voting in Princeton, my hometown community. I’ve heard a lot over the past few years about students needing to make a bigger difference in the political landscape of New Brunswick. I think that that is great, as long as one plans on staying in (or owning property in) this city. Aside from that, I think a more genuine way to give back to the community that more or less graciously provides us a place to study is through local community action rather that local community politics. True service can’t be put on a resume and should be undertaken as a means to an end, in this case hopefully a healthier community. Additionally, there are a number of issues that are important to me in good old P-town. My parents still live and own property there. There are also a number of changes happening downtown there, especially with the construction of the new hospital getting closer and closer to completion. I’m going to follow the progress there with a watchful eye, and hope everyone takes the time to lend their own personal expertise to their hometown races. We grew up there, we know the issues. Bilal Ahmed: This question does not entirely pertain to me because I am a Canadian citizen. However, I would advise people to register their dissent. I understand that voting sometimes appears to be a means of enabling a broken system, but I have watched enough news programs in the United States to know that most statistics are based on registered voters rather than eligible ones. The only way for your decision not to vote to have any effect on how party politics are conducted is to register before staying home on Election Day. I realize that some will argue that both parties are fundamentally flawed, but I have noticed that most objections to the American political process in this area of the country come from frustrations with the Democrat Party. They are labeled as spineless, cowardly, and unable to take a firm stance on issues such as Afghanistan. If I were able to vote in the 2010 election, I would register as a Democrat and remain at home in protest because of President Obama’s decision to escalate the war. I’d register in protest of the Afghan troop surge, as I believe it to be a political compromise that relegates bloodshed to an international theater rather than risking it in Congress. President Obama has decided to place life and human morality below American party politics, and in response I would register my disapproval. Matia Guardabascio: Yes. I will be voting in the election. I am voting because it is my civic duty to do so. I am voting because I want to make sure I did my part to help the country avoid the wrath of incompetent politicians. Voting in a state—Massachusetts— that is historically Democratic (except for Scott Brown), my voting day is less of a hot spot than most. Still, the gubernatorial race up here has been heated and I am anxious to cast my vote for a man who has done a good job as governor for the last four years. I am also anxious to remind Barney Frank that he will always win his district back home, in spite of the lies and propaganda spewing from the other side. And given the issues on the ballot this year (particularly the lowering of taxes), I feel obligated to go out and vote to make sure that the reasonable and responsible decision is made. Mike Stuzynski: I’m voting because, even though I have honestly lost faith in politics, a right un-exercised is a right lost. And my faith in politics will be restored only when everyone who voted for the bailout is no longer in office. Ask Alex G if he remembers how exciting it was last year when we found out that the House of Reps rejected it the first time. We had quite the celebration, and that was honestly the last time I really thought that the government was paying attention to my interests and wishes. The current health care law is a joke, but you’d only find that out if you read the entire thing (hint: it’s long). Listen to the media and they either criticize it for the wrong reasons (the asinine–but possibly true–notion that it’s an unconstitutional use of the commerce clause) or emphasize one or two talking points again and again. The bill failed to establish the goal of government run health care, but also did little to change the already highly structured and monopolistic private health insurance industry. Instead of using the natural force of private competition to drive costs of care down, the law allows insurance providers to divide up the market and keep prices artificially high. Because of all this, the law just does more harm than good. It’s like you sent your buddies out for beer, and they come back with a keg of O’Douls, and you still have to pay for it! Alex Draine: It was my intention to vote, but I will not be voting because the great state of New Jersey has failed to send me my absentee ballot in a timely fashion. Either that or the US postal service lost my application for an absentee ballot in its journey to Trenton. Dave Imbriaco: I plan on voting today and in every future election. Why? Because it’s the LEAST that a responsible citizen can do in a democracy. I know it’s a trite expression, but democracy is not a spectator sport. You can’t expect to have your interests represented in government if you don’t take the time one day a year to cast a ballot, and that is really the barest minimum that someone who considers themselves a responsible citizen can do. I would never expect for people to get as involved in politics as I do (doing what I do requires a bit of insanity), but I truly don’t understand why people don’t vote (well I do, I just tend to think their reasons for not doing so are stupid). It doesn’t matter if your choice is between a giant douche and a turd sandwich (credit: South Park), you still have a choice to make. If voting was always an easy thing to do, it wouldn’t be called a civic DUTY. You are lucky enough to be born in a country where you have the fucking chance to shape your own government, anyone who puts that down is an unappreciative asshole in my book. Moreso, it’s ESPECIALLY important that us young people get out to the polls. Do you all really expect our parents’ and grandparents’ to solve all the problems that they created? If the American youth doesn’t step up and assert themselves and demand their place in American politics, no one will give it to them and we’re fucked as a generation and a county. The day that I’m convinced that my vote doesn’t mean anything, you’ll find me on the front lines of the second revolution. Marlana Moore: I am going home to vote on Tuesday. My dad is running for council in my very small town, and he needs every vote he can get. I should have just voted by mail, but I forgot to get the ballot. I am not sure if my vote will matter all too much. In fact, I haven’t yet looked up the other candidates. The last two elections have been pretty big ones, and I guess I have seen the most aggressive campaigning in other states that are voting on senators. As a culture, we stress the gubernatorial and senatorial candidates so much more than local county positions even though that is the sphere where your vote has the most direct impact. But does anyone know who is on the Board of Freeholders, or even what they do? How about the County Sheriff? I don’t, and I think that I should. In Merchantville, I know that my vote will count, at least personally. I will probably continue to vote, just because I can. Rebecca Zandstein: I will be voting in the elections on November 2nd. I do not think I can complain about certain local legislation and actions being taken by our House representative if I did not at least vote. Voting is the minimum that is asked of us to do as out civic duty [as citizens]; voting is an easy way to go out and show that I care about what happens within my district. I do not approve of those who complain about budgets and taxes (cuts and increases) and free markets versus extensive restrictions on businesses when they did not even vote for a candidate who abides by their ideology. Furthermore, voting encourages education: one needs to know the core values behind each candidate and many times research is required for values that are not understood in depth. Educating oneself within society for the benefit of self and others is, in my opinion, a primary benefit to voting. Ben Kharakh: While I’m currently of the opinion that voting is less than the least that one can do, I also recognize that the government exists. A lot of times people get caught up in criticizing and theorizing without admitting that, hey, the world is a particular way right now. If you’re going to try to change anything in anyway, you’re better off taking the current state-of-affairs into consideration. So, I will vote. At first I was going to pick the candidates who seemed like they’d come closest to voting in the manner that I would vote, but they all fell short of that standard. And that’s based on websites designed with the purpose of making the candidates look good! So, rather than voting based on who I think will do the most good, I will vote based on who I think will do the least damage.

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Are you going to the Rally to Restore Sanity?

WELL, YOU SHOULD!

It takes place on Saturday October 30th in Washington D.C. at the National Mall. Check out the website for more information:
www.rallytorestoresanity.com

If you can’t make it, then be sure to check in with the Johnsonville Press because I’ll be there covering the event and providing live updates on our Twitter page. Sign up to follow us on Twitter so you don’t miss out! (www.twitter.com/jvpress)

Also look for an article during the week after the Rally for a detailed account of the event along with photos for your viewing pleasure.

Cheers,
Matia Guardabascio
Editor-In-Chief

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Photo courtesy of bc.edu
(http://www.bc.edu/centers/cwf/global/meta-elements/jpg/natl_mall.jpg)

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