Saturday, January 21, 2012

‘Occupy 4 Jobs’ action hits banks, stores

By LeiLani Dowell
New York
Published Jan 19, 2012 9:19 PM

Several hundred spirited and militant activists held a series of people’s occupations around New York City’s Union Square in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on Jan. 16. Six organizers with the newly formed Occupy 4 Jobs were arrested as occupations were held at banks, supermarkets and a drugstore.

The day began with a rally in Union Square, which is a major subway hub and busy shopping destination. The Rude Mechanical Orchestra opened by playing the Civil Rights standard “We Shall Overcome,” with some in the crowd singing and changing the words to “we shall occupy.” The orchestra also played “Which Side Are You On,” Bob Marley’s “Get Up, Stand Up,” and a portion of the working-class anthem the Internationale.
WW photo: G. Dunkel

Larry Holmes of O4J explained the day’s action: “Many don’t know that in King’s last days, he opened up a new Civil Rights struggle — that of the right of everyone to a decent, paying job. It’s not surprising that the media, the powers that be, the 1% don’t remind us of that. But today we’re reviving that part of King’s dream.” Holmes noted that the protest was inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement, which has provided an opening for militant action in various struggles.

Gavrielle Gemma described O4J’s demand that the city declare an unemployment state of emergency. “One million are unemployed, while the city gives $7 billion to the banks tax-free and another $1 billion to real estate developers,” she said. “That $8 billion could provide 250,000 jobs with $40,000-a-year salaries and full health benefits.”

High-school student Dinae Anderson told those gathered: “I am a youth who is tired of unemployment. They say we’re supposed to be free in the U.S., but we’re not free of the capitalist state of mind. We’re not free of poverty. We’re not free of hunger.”

‘Banks got bailed out, we got sold out!’

The protesters then began to march around the square, first stopping at Citibank, where Million Worker March leader Charles Jenkins stressed the importance of challenging the banks that received billions in bailouts, while working and poor people continue to be neglected. Marchers chanted, “Banks got bailed out, we got sold out!”

From Citibank, the crowd marched around Union Square, ending up at the Bank of America. Four activists — Gemma, Holmes, Tony Murphy and Caleb Maupin — entered the bank and were surrounded by cops, who blocked other protesters from entering. Inside, they displayed large posters of Dr. King in the bank windows.

Protesters instantly formed a picket line in solidarity with the occupiers, chanting “Jobs, not jails,” “Stop and frisk is a crime!” and “Banks got bailed out, we got sold out.” After a standoff with the cops both inside and outside the bank, the four were arrested.

The remaining protesters continued on to Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s supermarkets. Both stores have been picketed previously for union-busting policies. At each stop, activists entered the store and did a “mic check” — in which one protester speaks and the others repeat the words. The speaker announced, “Happy Martin Luther King Day. A special greeting to all the workers. … We know that most workers in stores like this are either part-time or temporary and paid low wages. These workers should have full-time jobs if they want them, and jobs that pay good wages.”

At the last stop, a Walgreen’s drugstore, police grabbed O4J organizer Toni Arenstein after she gave a mic check in solidarity with the unemployed and underemployed. As protesters rushed to her defense, she and O4J organizer Tim Barker were arrested.

Participating organizations in the action included Occupy Harlem, La Peña del Bronx, May 1st Coalition for Worker and Immigrant Rights, Occupy Wall Street, People’s Organization for Progress, Picture the Homeless, Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition (NYC), Workers World Party and the Transport Workers Union Local 100.

All six arrestees were released on Jan. 17. Charged with “criminal trespassing,” Gemma, Holmes, Maupin and Murphy have hearings on March 5.

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