Yesterday morning, 50 students at Cooper Union in New York, took over their university president’s office. They promise to remain until he resigns.
The occupation is the latest battle in a war to keep Cooper Union free. Cooper Union is one of the only colleges in America that doesn’t charge tuition. But on April 23, Chairman of the Board Mark Epstein announced that, starting in 2014, the college would cost students $20,000 a year. That’s a 2 zillion percent increase. It was, according to protesters and students, a betrayal of the principles on which Cooper Union was built.
“Education should be as free as air or water,” the school’s founder, industrialist Peter Cooper, once procliamed. Cooper was the most progressive of the robber barons, a simple-living abolitionist Unitarian who invented Jell-O. He founded his university to provide an education to cash-strapped geniuses of both sexes. He positioned it where Bowery meets Broadway, as a geographic nod to class transcendence—where the upper and lower classes collide.
Since 1859, Cooper Union has been free. Cooper’s original endowment is supplemented by donors, alumni, and, most crucially, rent from the land under the Chrysler Building, located 39 blocks away.
Growing up in New York, I viewed Cooper Union through the filter of legend. Because it was free, it took only the best.
My friend Zak Smith, a Cooper art graduate who went on to exhibit in the Whitney Biennial, told me via text: “The great schools in the US are all too often just places that make rich families richer. Cooper Union was the exception.” Smith comes from a working-class family, but thanks to a free education at Cooper, he landed a Yale scholarship for his master’s degree and later became a world-renowned contemporary painter. “Not anymore. If it wasn’t for Cooper, people like me wouldn’t get to be artists.”
Occupy’s Rolling Jubilee Wants to Give Americans Money for Nothing
Walking the streets of New York City this spring, you would have been hard-pressed not to come across posters promoting the Occupy Wall Street-led May Day general strike. “A day without the 99 percent,” is how it was billed. With the strike, the group was attempting to light a fire that might bring down capitalism and launch the US into an American Spring. However, Occupy’s rallying cry fell on deaf ears, as the rally had poor attendance and limited impact. Looking back, it seems like that was the moment that the pied pipers of political and economic discontent’s critical mass finally dissipated. The group’s momentum seemed to have run its course, and the fickle media’s attention turned to the sideshow that was the 2012 presidential election.
After May Day, Occupy had to find itself all over again. Call it an identity crisis. But in an organization as decentralized as OWS, where individual efforts and actions are constantly emerging as branches and nodes of a shape-shifting whole, identity is a fluid concept anyway. The post-May Day breakdown was a chance for rebirth—a function of Occupy Wall Street’s built-in eternal recurrence mechanism. It was in this ferment that Occupy forged its next project: Rolling Jubilee, a plan to buy anonymous medical debt, thus offering relief to Americans burdened by exorbitant healthcare costs.
“From the very beginning of Occupy Wall Street, the question of crippling debt that people are forced to carry has always been part of the agenda,” says Yates McKee, a member of Occupy’s Strike Debt team, which is leading the Rolling Jubilee project. “Student debt, mortgage debt, medical debt, and municipal debt—all of that has been a part of Occupy from the very beginning.”
Activists within Occupy Student Debt, an early sub-group of Occupy focused on the debt crisis, had the idea of using Occupy’s I Am The 99 Percent Tumblr to present real people who were debtors and break the silence around debt. It was a issue that was close to their hearts, as many of the original Occupy campers were debtors of all stripes.
As Yates explains it, Occupy Student Debt went on to create the Pledge of Refusal, which many Occupy participants signed. “It wasn’t about forgiveness,” Yates emphasizes. “It didn’t say, ‘Let’s come up with a piece of legislation that forgives our debt.’ Rather, it noted that going into debt is systematic. In order to live, you have to enter into this predatory debt. So the Pledge of Refusal was non-compliant with the debt system. It was similar to a debt strike.”
Originally, the debt strike concept gained a lot of traction within the Occupy movement, but people across the country weren’t ready for such an idea and conditions across the country couldn’t support a mass default. So in the post-May Day void, where Occupy’s idealism finally gave way to reality, they knew they had to take another approach to fighting debt. Luckily, the Occupy Student Debt movement still had a great deal of enthusiasm behind it, even after May Day.
“The only campaign that still had a lot of energy was the Occupy Student Debt campaign,” observes Yates. “So over the summer, we decided to have what we call ‘thematic assemblies,’ where in one assembly we talked about the environment, and in another assembly we talked about labor. And then we did one on debt. And we made sure to invite everyone from Occupy Student Debt, Occupy Universities, Free University, and Occupy Labor.”
The larger assembly then got together and discussed what would it mean to build a political movement around debt in all its forms and not just on certain types of debt in isolation, like student loans. This ultimately lead to the transformation of Occupy Student Debt into Strike Debt, the sub-group which now healms the Rolling Jubilee.
“One phrase we started to use was ‘Debt is the tie that binds the 99 percent’” says Yates. “There is something structural about the debt economy we’re forced to go into in our lives. And this was when we flipped the idea of a debt strike to Strike Debt. What would it mean to strike debt, to attack debt from all these different angles and metaphorically cross it out?”
Occupy describes the vast swaths of America’s debtors as “an invisible army of defaulters.” What if this invisible army were to come out of the shadows and become a political force? Out of this thought experiment came debt memes like “You are not alone” and ultimately the Rolling Jubilee program.
Jubilee, as laid out in the Bible’s book of Leviticus, was a time when debts were forgiven. Strike Debt appropriated the concept in a symbolic way and used it as the namesake for its first major project, in which a fund—financed by donations—buys debt.
What with the overthrowing of the Spanish government not really happening and skulls getting cracked left, right, and center, the 25-S protests in Madrid last week turned out to be a bit of a bummer. However, there was one image that shone like a ray of karmic light through all the police brutality and debris of smashed dreams. Or actually a bunch of images, most of which were taken by pervy Spanish photographers, who may or may not have been suffering from pee-filled kettle boners.
But whatever, let’s not ruin the moment:
Through her profile on Modelmayhem, I tracked down Jill Love: model, actress, independent filmmaker, and the best publicist Spain’s anti-capitalist indignados movement could ever hope for.
VICE: Hi Jill. You’re a Catalan-born American filmmaker who lives in Santa Fe. Is that right? Is there anything else you’d like to share about yourself? Jill Love: I’m Catalan, I was born in Tarragona. At the age of 18, I moved to Madrid to start a new life. At the age of 26, I moved to the United States to start another new life. I’m still moving and I’m still having new adventures every day.
Clearly. Did you expect the photographers to go so wild? Not at all. I was on my knees in front of the police, praying to Isis. My eyes were closed. When I opened them I was surrounded by many photographers. It all got a little out of control. I left once it got too crazy.
Have you been getting much attention since the protest? Yes, I’m getting a bit overwhelmed with the situation, to be honest.
What’s the reaction been like from the rest of the 25-S protesters? Loads of people understood that my act was one of LOVE and PEACE. Others think it’s an easy way to get attention.
I SAW A MAN BURNING ALIVE ON THE STREETS OF TEL AVIV
Last year, on the 14th of July, a girl called Daphni Leef pitched a tent on Rothschild Boulevard in central Tel Aviv. She was protesting against the high living costs in Israel that had left her unable to pay her rent, and the lack of opportunities for young people that had driven a close friend of hers to suicide.
Within weeks, half a million people had joined her in what had turned into the biggest protest in Israel’s history. That was the beginning of a new social justice movement in the country called J14, its members demanding an end to the rule of the tycoons and for a return of the welfare state.
Yesterday, J14 celebrated its first birthday with another large-scale protest. The turnout wasn’t as massive as last year’s, but an estimated 10,000 people gathered on Rothschild Boulevard to march along Kaplan Street towards the financial district, shouting stuff like “Social justice for the people!” and, “The people are united in opposition!” as they went.
Daphni Leef (front left)
When the march reached its destination, it turned into a giant street party with music and chanting blasting from all directions.
But then, suddenly, flames leapt up from the ground at the edge of a large crowd. It wasn’t a burning bin some kids had set on fire, as many had initially thought when they ran towards the scene to see what was going on. Instead, they were faced with the burning body of a man in his late forties named Moshe Silman.
Nobody will know what it was like if you weren’t there, as the media and the PR and personal accounts are all over the place, decrying arrests and violence and terrorist threats. Actually, I was there, on the streets for 12-plus hours all weekend and I still barely have a grasp on what happened. Thousands of police patrolled downtown, even the river, drastically outnumbering protesters, as usual: billy clubs, riot shields lining the perimeter of banks, guns drawn on the street. I went where I was not supposed to, behind police lines. I ran through alleys and watched the police in the silent moments before they beat everyone.
Yes, everyone knows the story, demonstrator vs. police officer, and it happens like this to take the focus off what’s going on inside the buildings, the reason why we were protesting in the first place. It was deeply disturbing to see my city emptied out for the relatively few elite, leaders around the world that are wasting money and watching people get killed.
I have a poetry minor; I’m not a trained journalist. I don’t want to show the same stuff everyone else has been proliferating, all the protest porn. I had to keep taking breaks to look at the emptiness. Local business were slaughtered that weekend; the media told people not to bother showing up to work. So who really came and destroyed the city?
The NATO Demonstrations continued throughout the weekend, beginning on Saturday on the North Side, when at least a thousand people gathered and marched to mayor Rahm Emanuel’s house. Later in the night, there were two more marches: one, an anti-capitalist gathering leaving from Haymarket Square, and the other, in solidarity for those detained from the illegal raids last week, from Daley Plaza. What started as a chaotic, disorganized couple marches turned into a living, breathing organism: Beautiful kids running their hearts out away from police telling them, “I can’t wait to smash your head in.” The march would split, scatter, get trampled and hit by the police. Then marchers would push and try to gain access down any one of Chicago’s wide streets. Then, pissing the police off, they would turn backwards and run the other way.
It seemed like a standoff happened every 15 minutes; meanwhile, two kids (one 12, one 14) were killed in drive-bys on Saturday night. While little kids were getting murdered and actual violence was happening elsewhere, the cops were beating up protesters in the ghost city of downtown.
Sunday was the big protest—it seemed like tens of thousands showed up, though official counts just say “thousands.” Girls with Forever 21 bags in Ugg boots joined in from a day out shopping. If you weren’t over 30 and balling, you joined. It was an organism that didn’t go the route of violence, mischievous yet innocent… young kids smiling and running in the streets like a fucking musical.
Ten city blocks were jammed tight with demonstrators chanting, a march organized by the Iraq Veterans Against the War. A rally made its way to McCormick Place around 3:30. Here, the vets tossed their medals back to the government and addressed a crowd of thousands. Police outnumbered protestors like 50 to one, it seemed. They weren’t allowed much freedom to move. It was slow and hot, and the police started some shoving. “GET ON THE SIDEWALK!” they yelled, or “GET ON THE STREET!” It was total chaos.
Around 4-ish, the permit ran out. We got orders to “move west” in English and Español. Eventually, according to a lot of people, undercover police threw some bricks and bottles. That’s when the riot police charged and demonstrators fought back. It was mayhem for an hour, with police slowly emptying the area. Forty-five people were officially arrested; at least 20 protesters were injured, many using makeshift clinics and not the hospital.
By 7 PM the crowd was gone, but still moved to march again. Catching police by surprise, a game of cat and mouse ensued for several hours. Demonstrators sprinted, tossed barricades, made a peace sign out of bodies and chanted, “Stop throwing shit!” at litterbug cops. Firemen were called in and were about to hose but decided not to.
Monday, today, there was a demonstration at Boeing that went through downtown. Everyone’s exhausted, and it’s still continuing tonight.
May Day 2012 is finally upon us. The video above is a live stream from New York City hosted by our editor-in-chief, Rocco Castoro, and maybe some relief reporters if Rocco loses his voice or gets hit in the head with a Molotov cocktail. The stream below is a live blog from the VICE global offices around the world. Stay tuned.
Free The Network - Occupy Wall Street Protesters Work to Build an Independent Internet
You’re on the Internet. What does that mean?
Most likely, it means one of a handful of telecommunications providers is middlemanning your information from Point A to Point B. Fire off an email or a tweet, broadcast a livestream or upload video to YouTube, and you’re relying on vast networks of fiber optic cables deep underground and undersea, working with satellites high above, to move your data around the world, and to bring the world to your fingertips.
It’s an infrastructure largely out of sight and mind. AT&T, Level 3, Hurricane Electric, Tata Indicom – to most these are simply invisible magicians performing the act of getting one online and kicking. To many open-source advocates, however, these are a few of the big, dirty names responsible for what they see as the Web’s rapid consolidation. The prospect of an irreparably centralized Internet, a physical Internet in the hands of a shrinking core of so-called Tier 1 transit networks, keeps Isaac Wilder up at night.
This Saint Patrick’s Day, occupiers and undercover cops with green ties celebrated OWS’s six-month anniversary. The goal was to reoccupy Zuccotti Park, and it went pretty smoothly till police raided it once again, around midnight. For most of the day, the protesters gallivanted around the downtown area, bringing back the drum circle and eating loads of birthday cake. Many attempted to throw up tents and pick fights with the cops. Once all these Direct Action troublemakers were escorted out of the park and into paddy wagons, the movement reached a peaceful standstill. A few hours later, a large group of foreign bagpipe players showed up and were instantly shut out by the cops. A cop broke one of their bagpipes and when a protester asked why, the infamous hipster cop responded, “They are French.” At this point of the evening, the protesters had enough and began putting their own barricades up around the park. Hundreds of cops regrouped and moved in, dragging them out by their faces.OWS activists are calling for a general strike on May 1 to protest these arrests.
Yesterday at 10 AM Occupy protesters from all over the country gathered at Capitol Square in Washington, DC for Occupy Congress. The day was intended to be a civil exercise in democracy, and, by and large, it was. When some of the protesters shouted things like “When the revolution begins we are going to stick pinecones in the pigs’ asses! Fuck the police! Freedom of speech!” the more peaceful members of the crowd told them they were “making [them] look like shit,” and that “New York City cops are the ones who beat [their] asses!”