Occupy: Behind the Movements for Change in Burlington and Around the World

Immediate Release                      November 17, 2011

 Because The System of Debt is the System of Death

Behind the Movements for Change in Burlington and Across the World

“Government officials … use their own refusal to provide basic public services to justify raids against Occupations.”

–Author Ted Rail

Global Justice Ecology Project Press Conference on the National Occupy Day of Action. Photo: Langelle/GJEP

Burlington, VT–Two days after a late-night raid of the Occupy Wall Street encampment and one week after the Occupy Burlington camp was shut down, Global Justice Ecology Project held a press conference with members of Occupy Burlington at the site of the shut down Occupy Burlington encampment, to speak about protests being held in cities all over the world to stand up against the unprecedented consolidation of wealth by the 1% and its resulting devastation of people and the earth.

“Occupy Burlington was established to provide food and shelter and a space for people to self-organize, explained Cecile Reuge, a Senior at the University of Vermont and a member of Occupy Burlington.  “We never claimed City Hall Park as our own.  It sits on the traditional land of the Abenaki people, who never ceded it.  And more recently it has been the home for homeless people who were otherwise made to feel unwelcome in public and private spaces downtown. Occupy Burlington transcended class backgrounds, for the first time I could see on such a grand scale.”

“This is the heart of the Occupy movement: building a society that manages itself, democratically, towards real solutions instead of platitudes, campaign promises, and empty “outcomes” determined by the 1%,” added Ian Williams, a Burlington-based community organizer. “We’re trying, quite simply, to deal with real problems right here and right now. ”

Puja Gupta, a member of the Vermont Workers’ Center stated, “We, the 99%, are all striving for a livable and peaceful life. Rather than relying on politicians, we are relying on ourselves for real change; we are organizing; we have the answers.”

“We stand at a crossroads,” said Anne Petermann, Executive Director of Global Justice Ecology Project.  “The Earth is fast approaching a tipping point.  Forests are falling faster than ever, the oceans are being poisoned, species are going extinct at a rate not seen since the dinosaurs.  The web of life is literally falling apart.  But the power to transform this unjust and suicidal system lies with all of us.  It lies in the Arab Spring; and it lies with the Occupy movements.  You cannot arrest an idea, and this is an idea whose time has come.”

[Complete statements by the above speakers follow this release.]

Occupy Burlington events are planned throughout the evening, beginning with a march at the Burlington Post Office at 5:30pm.  There will also be a teach-in about labor issues at Edmunds Middle School at 6pm and a workshop at the Vermont Workers’ Center at 7:30.

Global Justice Ecology Project will be blogging daily and issuing press releases from the UN Climate Conference in Durban, South Africa.  They will be covering the official negotiations and the massive climate justice protests planned outside of the UN Climate Conference.

Contact: Orin Langelle, Global Justice Ecology Project, 802-578-6980


Complete statements by the above press conference speakers:

Statement by Anne Petermann, Executive Director, Global Justice Ecology Project

Anne Petermann, Executive Director, Global Justice Ecology Project. Photo: Langelle/GJEP

Today, November 17th, the two-month anniversary of the launch of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, people around the world are rising up to say no more to the 1%.  Huge protests are planned or are underway in New York, Seattle, Chicago, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, Boston, Portland, Miami, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, Detroit, Milwaukee, Minneapolis and Washington, and there is a national call to occupy college campuses.

This is a lesson the 1% never seem to remember.  The more people are put down, the more they are repressed, the more they will stand up to power.

And it is not only in the United States that people are rebelling against injustice.  There are also protests in Greece, London and other cities across the world.

The 1% are the ones who’ve kicked millions of families out of their homes, they’re the ones who’ve left millions of Americans with no health care, they’re the ones who’ve cut social services to the point where children are going hungry and college students are graduating tens of thousands of dollars in debt.

But it is not just economic injustice; it is ecological injustice as well.  In a few days, Orin Langelle and I will travel to Durban, South Africa for the UN Climate Conference.  There is an Occupy movement building there too because the UN Climate Convention is another institution co-opted by the 1%.

This is because the 1% and their predecessors are also the people who’ve trashed the atmosphere–who’ve clogged it with pollution and greenhouse gas emissions so that here in Vermont we now get hit by hurricanes.

But in other parts of the world the impacts are much worse.  In Africa, there are large regions that have not seen rain in years.  The people there have lost their livelihoods.  All of their animals have died and many people are starving.  But the 1% have decided that food crops–like corn–grown here in the US, are better suited to make ethanol to feed cars than to feed starving people.

And now the 1% are in search of new riches–this time in the form of land.  They are using climate action as the excuse to grab the forested lands of Indigenous and forest peoples all around the world–but especially in Africa and Latin America.  Entire communities are being displaced, their cultures destroyed so that the carbon stored by their forests can be used to “offset” greenhouse gas emissions from industries run by the 1%.  This way they can claim to be reducing carbon emissions while their industries go right on polluting and poisoning poor neighborhoods nearby.  Meanwhile climate chaos is causing increasingly violent weather worldwide–and there are now more climate refugees than refugees from armed conflict.

We, the 99%, stand at a crossroads.  The Earth is fast approaching a tipping point.  Forests are falling faster than ever, the oceans are being poisoned, species are going extinct at a rate not seen since the dinosaurs.  The web of life is literally falling apart.  But the power to transform this unjust and suicidal system lies with all of us.  It lies in the Arab Spring; and it lies with the Occupy movements.

The authorities will try to discredit us, they will try to crush our movement.  They will use every excuse to try to shut us down.  But you cannot arrest an idea.  And this is an idea whose time has come.

Statement by Cecile Rouge, University of Vermont Senior & Occupy Burlington Participant

Cecile Reuge, member, Occupy Burlington. Photo: Langelle/GJEP

My involvement with Occupy Burlington began when I attended the first rally outside of Citizen’s Bank that happened to coincide with a free meal distribution by Food Not Bombs, which I was, at the time, coordinating with my friend Sydney. The Occupy Burlington movement was then made up of folks with different employment statuses, academic backgrounds, political stances, etc. but very few that I recognized from the many summer months I spent serving free food in the park. Although Food Not Bombs attracted a wide array of community members, never had I met so many people who were living without a home or had spent a period of time being homeless in the past. This contingent seemed to be missing from the 99% movement that I stood otherwise so firmly behind.

Just a couple weeks after the general assembly process was introduced into the group, the idea of a downtown occupation seemed imminent. On October 29th, 2011, this widespread sentiment culminated in the construction of a tent city on the south side of the park. Immediately, there was an outpouring of community support that took the form of donations of tents, sleeping bags, coats, sweaters, tarps, wood pallets, and many other materials we had requested on bulletin boards at the camp, through working groups and simply by word of mouth. As several general assembly and occupy participants noted, this land did not ever belong to Occupy Burlington group, but to the Abenaki people, who never ceded their territory, and more recently to the homeless who were otherwise made to feel unwelcome in public and private space downtown. The promise of food, shelter and space to talk and organize created an environment that transcended all class backgrounds, for the first time I could see on such a large scale. The 99% movement does not tolerate discrimination or stigmatization.

When Mayor Bob Kiss, less than one week ago, cited tents as a public safety concern, I could not help but question the legitimacy of this argument when I have met several individuals who cannot access temporary shelter or receive the health assistance they need in Burlington. How have these issues endured for so long and remained unaddressed?  In addition, a recent study released by the Department of Mental Health stated that the rate of suicides in the state of Vermont has increased by 13 percent in just the last two years. Why is this not a public safety concern?

I am here today as not only an individual troubled by homelessness and the lack of access to adequate health care, but as a student fighting for an affordable education and fair pay for the educators and maintenance workers at my University; and as a gardener perplexed by the inability of farmers to make a sufficient living in our current society. This is why the occupy movement appeals to me and to so many others. For the first time, I can express my urgent concern about these issues simultaneously with many others who are also expressing their concerns, because rather than being a competition over priorities, we acknowledge that all of these issues are interconnected.

The system is broken and must be transformed.

Statement by Ian G. Williams, Burlington Community Organizer and Participant of Occupy Burlington

Ian Williams, member, Occupy Burlington. Photo: Langelle/GJEP

I’ve been involved with the Occupy movement since the end of September, when I attended one of Occupy Boston’s first general assemblies while attending a conference of community organizations fighting for neighborhood self-management in cities throughout the US. I saw a natural alliance between the two, and after visiting Liberty Square in New York I was compelled to help develop the general assembly process in Burlington. I’ve recently been working in the nonprofit sector with immigrants and refugees.

The beauty of the Occupy movement is that it shifts public discourse from what’s “possible” to what actually matters. Crucial to this are assemblies, working groups, and the cultivation of democratic practices in everyday life. The occupation of City Hall Park was very much a part of this, creating a public space for ongoing dialogue. Occupying challenges us to push against the top-down repression by the wealthiest and most powerful, the 1%, be it through austerity measures cutting basic public services, while increasing war spending, increasing corporate bailouts as a reward for economic irresponsibility, or the recent surge in police violence against peaceful assemblies.

Here in Vermont, we have some wonderful things: Chittenden County contains the highest number of non-profits per capita in the United States, and is currently designated by the Office of Refugee Resettlement as one of the best regions for placement due to its relatively low unemployment, low crime rate, and general availability of essential services. Burlington has some of the most innovative community justice programs in the country. Vermont receives the most Federal funding for social programs. This paints a picture of a state with a vast array of social services, and many people who are committed to social change. It’s the Vermont many of us love, the progressive, open-minded state that’s paved the way for the nation to move forward with marriage equality and most recently, single-payer healthcare.

Amidst this rosy picture, however, are some grim facts. 81% of Vermonters cannot afford a median priced home. A recent analysis shows Burlington’s middle class shrinking faster than nearly anywhere else in the country. Over the last 15 years New England saw the fastest growth in income inequality of any region in America and the wealth gap grew faster in Vermont than in every other state but one. The wealthiest 1% of Vermonters saw their share of our income almost triple between 1970 and 2005. Put simply, the wealthy got more while most Vermonters saw their real incomes stay the same or go down.  In 2011 Vermont median household median income dropped 6.1%, more than any other state, a trend repeated in 2007 and 2008.

Meanwhile, as the gap between the rich and the poor widens, demand for services increases. State agencies faced a massive overhaul under former Governor Jim Douglas. Right now, nonprofits and social services face drastic funding cuts and must make difficult decisions about their futures. More Vermonters are in need of essential services while there is less funding available to provide them. Funding for essential services has further decreased under Governor Peter Shumlin, who in 2010 reported an estimated net worth of $10 million. Many of my friends working in nonprofits, frustrated with their situations, say they they feel inspired by Occupy Burlington to move their own issues from offices to the streets.

In the wake of Tropical Storm Irene, the state of Vermont is in an even worse crisis. Many state offices are closed or severely impaired, and the Vermont State Hospital was permanently shuttered. Relief programs are already underfunded, so disaster “recovery” has largely focused on private fundraising efforts. Public policy mouthpieces of the 1%, such as Bruce Lisbon, a retired JP Morgan Chase executive, and recent founder of the “Campaign for Vermont”, are using this crisis to argue for further cuts in public spending and a freeze on initiatives such as universal healthcare and alternative energy development,. This serves to remind us, the 99%, that politicians have failed us.  While the 1% who control politics in Vermont and DC battle over how best to further disempower everyday people and marginalize and dismantle the Occupy encampments, we are left with a question: do we wait for things to crumble around us, or do we try and solve our problems on our own terms, collectively, before it’s too late?

This is the heart of the Occupy movement: building a society that manages itself, democratically, towards real solutions instead of platitudes, campaign promises, and empty “outcomes” determined by what the 1% is willing to fund. Instead of offloading and outsourcing social problems, we’re trying, quite simply, to deal with them right here and right now. It’s messy, it’s imperfect, but it’s a process that’s run by those most affected by the decisions, and one that takes seriously their concerns and objections. The 1% will say that we’re too messy–that we can’t possibly handle these complex problems. This misses the point: we don’t need experts to solve our problems for us. We need ourselves, in unity.

I invite Vermont’s civil servants, community organizers, and nonprofit workers to join us in directly addressing the rise in poverty, and the growing wealth gap here in Vermont.

Come out to the streets and join us. The time to act is now; there has never been a more urgent time in the struggle for justice.

Statement by Puja Gupta, member of the Vermont Workers’ Center and Participant of Occupy Burlington

Puja Gupta, member, Occupy Burlngton. Photo: Langelle/GJEP

Hi, my name is Puja Gupta and I am member of the Vermont Workers’ Center.  I am a participant in the Occupy Burlington movement.  The abuses of power that the Occupy Movement has brought to the forefront of the national discussion are the same oppressive forces that push down the labor movement.  In the US, we are seeing unprecedented wealth taken away from the working class and delivered to the top 1% over the past forty years.  Labor laws are stripping working people of the right to organize in Wisconsin, a reflection on the current political landscape for labor, nationally.  While the top 1% is reaping political and economic benefits over our country, the 99%, the workers, everyone else are subject to their whims.  The Wall Street created crisis is only making it harder for working class Vermonters, who are struggling, often working two jobs to make ends meet.  We are facing an economic crisis at a scale never before seen in Vermont. Surely this merits at least as much discussion as tent stakes from the media and politicians.

The Occupy Movement and labor are organizing locally in Vermont and at the national level to demand systemic changes to our broken system.  The Occupy movement values a diversity of tactics, including organizing. Organizing is a strategy that works.  The Vermont Workers’ Center Healthcare is a Human Right campaign is an example of organizing success.  The campaign is a grassroots effort amongst Vermonters that resulted in universal single payer healthcare legislation being passed at the state level.  We hold the principles of universality, transparency, participation, equity, and accountability at high priority as we continue to pressure our legislators through the implementation process.  The resurgence of energy that the Occupy Movements have initiated around economic and political injustices will fuel more efforts like these throughout Vermont and the country. Community and labor organizing are the democratic and empowering answer to the suffocated and ineffective system.  We, at the Vermont Workers’ Center and the Occupy Movement, the 99%, are each working to educate and organize ourselves and the entire state of Vermont.

Today, November 17th, is a day of solidarity and the two-month anniversary of the Occupy Movement.  In cities across the U.S, labor unions, community groups and the Occupy Movement are holding marches, rallies and protests to highlight the nation’s crumbling infrastructure and to demand economic justice. The national call to action comes from Occupy Wall St., the AFL-CIO, Move On, and SEIU, and from several major unions based in NYC. Occupy Burlington and a number of community and labor organizations are hosting a march, teach-in, and speak-out.  We are coming together to Resist austerity, Reclaim the economy and to Recreate our democracy.  The event will start at 5:15 with a march from the Burlington Post Office in solidarity with the Postal Workers, to Edmunds Middle School at 6:00 for a teach-in with workers issues and labor struggles.  Then at 7:30 the Vermont Workers’ Center is hosting it’s Put People First Community Meeting in which Vermonters will learn how to organize for their human rights, including the right to a livable wage, healthy food, affordable housing, public transportation, childcare, education, and healthcare.  As Vermonters, we are coming together and standing up locally for our human rights.

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