Chris Hedges, senior fellow at the Nation Institute. He is a former foreign correspondent for the New York Times and was part of a team of reporters that was awarded a Pulitzer Prize in 2002 for the paper’s coverage of global terrorism. He is the author of a number of books, including Death of the Liberal Class and The World as It Is: Dispatches on the Myth of Human Progress. His most recent article for TruthDig is called "Why I’m Suing Barack Obama."
Marina Sitrin, postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Globalization and Social Change at the City University of New York. She is author of the book Horizontalism: Voices of Popular Power in Argentina. She is researching global mass movements from Spain to Egypt to Greece. Most recently she co-authored the forthcoming Occupying Language, part of the Occupied Media Pamphlet Series published by Zuccotti Park Press.
Amin Husain, editor of Tidal magazine and a key facilitator of the Occupy movement in August 2011, leading the first General Assembly in Zuccotti Park. He is a co-founder of the Plus Brigade, which has been central to the weekly Friday protests down at the Stock Exchange. Amin Husain is a lawyer who left his job at a corporate law firm in Manhattan representing financial institutions to become an artist and activist.
Teresa Gutierrez, co-coordinator for the May 1st Coalition for Worker and Immigrant Rights.
Ryan Devereaux, former Democracy Now! correspondent, now with The Guardian.
As Occupy Wall Street plans nationwide protests marking International Workers’ Day, or May Day, we discuss the movement with Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter, Chris Hedges; Amin Husain, editor of Tidal magazine and a key facilitator of the Occupy movement; Marina Sitrin, author of "Horizontalism: Voices of Popular Power in Argentina" and a member of Occupy’s legal working group; and Teresa Gutierrez of the May 1st Coalition for Worker and Immigrant Rights. We also get an update from protests on the streets of New York City from Ryan Devereaux, former Democracy Now! correspondent, now with The Guardian.
"People all over the country are talking about May Day as our day, whether you want to call it workers’ holiday or immigrant rights or the 99 percent," says Martina Sitrin, who notes Occupy activists hope to use May Day as a way to build solidarity with the student movement and non-unionized workers, as well. "This year is an important year to revive the struggle for immigrants in the wake of a million of our people being deported," adds Teresa Gutierrez.
Meanwhile, a debate over tactics continues within the Occupy movement. Chris Hedges discusses his recent column titled "The Cancer in Occupy," which critiques Black Bloc anarchists who cover their faces during protests and sometimes destroy property. "The Occupy movement expresses what the majority feels. And the goal of the security state is to sever the movement from the mainstream," Hedges says. "The way they will do that is by using groups—and some of these people may be well-meaning—but by using groups that will frighten the mainstream away." But "nothing is off the table," responds Amin Husain, who says the Occupy movement needs to reconceptualize how struggle works, how decisions get made through dialogue, and how to build power from within.
Husain and Hedges also discuss how they became involved in the Occupy protests. Husain is a former corporate lawyer who was working on Wall Street when he decided to leave his position of privilege. Hedges went from being a New York Times reporter to getting arrested in front of Goldman Sachs and challenging the legality of the Authorization for Use of Military Force as embedded in the latest version of the National Defense Authorization Act signed by President Obama.
We end the roundtable discussion with an excerpt of poet Stuart Leonard reading his poem, "Taking Brooklyn Bridge," which tells the story of the personal and political awakening he experienced while participating in an Occupy Wall Street march across the Brooklyn Bridge last fall. It is part of the Occupied Media Pamphlet Series published by Zuccotti Park Press. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: A coalition of groups spanning the labor, immigrant rights, Occupy Wall Street movements and beyond are joining together today for nationwide demonstrations marking International Workers’ Day, or May Day. Well over a hundred actions are planned for around the country as a day of protest traditionally led by workers and immigrants is joined this year by added numbers from the 99 percent. The slogan: "General Strike. No Work. No Shopping. Occupy Everywhere."
May Day actions are also being held around the world, as many countries observe official government holidays and hold mass demonstrations, rallies and marches to express labor solidarity and celebrate workers’ rights. Protests are planned, and in some cases already underway, in Toronto, in Barcelona, in London, in Kuala Lumpur, in Sydney, among hundreds of cities in North America, Europe and Asia.
Here in the United States, May Day is not a government-sanctioned holiday, even though the commemoration did originate here. On May 1st, 1886, the American Federation of Labor called a national strike to put an end to the 12-, 14-, even 16-hour days that were commonplace then. Two days into the massive strike, the police opened fire on a crowd of protesters in Chicago, killing four. The following day, a bomb was thrown at police officers as they descended on peaceful protesters in Haymarket Square. The bomb killed one police officer, injured many more. The police fired into the crowd, killing at least one, wounding dozens. Although it was never known who threw the bomb in Haymarket Square, the incident was used as an excuse to attack the left and labor movement. Eight of Chicago’s most active labor leaders were sentenced to death, four of them ultimately hanged. News of these executions sparked labor protests throughout the world, and in 1889 the Socialist International declared May 1st a day of demonstrations.
This year’s May Day is the first to occur after the emergence of the Occupy Wall Street movement last fall. Organizers are hoping a massive turnout today will help relaunch the movement after a winter lull and propel it into the summer months.
To discuss May Day, we’re hosting a roundtable discussion with four guests in our studio.
Teresa Gutierrez is co-coordinator for the May 1st Coalition for Worker and Immigrant Rights.
Amin Husain is editor of Tidal magazine and a key facilitator of the Occupy movement in August 2011, leading the first General Assembly in Zuccotti Park. He’s co-founder of the Plus Brigade, which has been central to the weekly Friday protests down at the New York Stock Exchange. Amin is a lawyer who left his job at a corporate law firm in Manhattan representing financial institutions to become an artist and activist.
Chris Hedges is with us, senior fellow at the Nation Institute, former foreign correspondent for the New York Times, was part of a team of reporters that was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for the paper’s coverage of global terrorism. He’s author of a number of books, including Death of the Liberal Class. Among his pieces, "Why I’m Suing Barack Obama." He’s suing the administration over the National Defense Authorization Act, or NDAA, and was arrested in front of Goldman Sachs recently.
Marina Sitrin is with us, postdoctoral fellow at Center for Globalization and Social Change at the City University of New York, author of Horizontalism: Voices of Popular Power in Argentina. And she’s also researching and preparing in—participating in global mass movements, from Spain to Egypt to Greece. Most recently she co-authored the forthcoming Occupying Language, part of the Occupied Media Pamphlet Series published by Zuccotti Park Press.
We welcome you all to Democracy Now! Why don’t we begin with Amin? I know that you—I don’t even know if you got any sleep last night, but talk about the preparations for today and what you see happening.
AMIN HUSAIN: I think it’s been ongoing since we got thrown out of the park, and we started thinking how this movement can exist without physical space, since we became very apparent that the city wasn’t going to let us have it because they recognized its power in how we organize. So we picked out May as another day to kind of build the type of solidarity that’s necessary with other social movements that have already been doing stuff, so that we asked the question, "Where are students? Where is labor in all this?" and that if you want a mass movement, which I am a person that does, we need to create that space within this movement and get to work with each other.
AMY GOODMAN: Teresa Gutierrez, May Day over the last years has been a mass day of movement for immigrants and people supporting immigrants’ rights. Talk about how—
TERESA GUTIERREZ: Correct. Well—
AMY GOODMAN: —things are going.
TERESA GUTIERREZ: —in spring 2006, we saw a tremendous upsurge of immigrant workers that took to the streets in the millions, not just once, but several times. And thanks to that struggle, May Day has been revived in this country. I think it’s extremely exciting that the Occupy Wall Street movement has not only just made its effort to organize around May Day, but it’s spent hours in deliberation with immigrant and labor organizations to find ways to come together. The OWS movement has a noble attitude of not applying for permits, for example. But when you are dealing with a vulnerable population such as those that can be—that are undocumented and don’t just spend a night in jail, but could be deported, permits, security, marshaling, those sort of things are very important on May Day. So the OWS movement was extremely—it took a position to be in solidarity with immigrants. And so, the message of the deportations, of legalization, has not been lost, even within the solidarity that we are putting together with OWS and labor. So, this year is an important year to revive the struggle for immigrants in the wake of a million of our people being deported, so this year is very important for us.
AMY GOODMAN: Marina Sitrin, the last decade has been major on this day.
MARINA SITRIN: It has been the kind of—what we see now happening in New York today, you can actually go back for the last decade and see the roots of it. But I do want to say just—not just "Happy May Day," but that today is already a success—I mean, that people all over the country are talking about May Day as our day, whether you want to call it workers’ holiday or immigrant rights or the 99 percent, but that it’s already part of our vocabulary again, that we’ve taken this really important holiday.
But going back to what Teresa was saying, in 2006 millions of the immigrant workers organizing in the streets throughout the entire country, demanding and then continuing to organize for rights—and then that also goes back even earlier in Europe, and coming out of the globalization movement, the kind of post-Seattle-1999 movements where people began to organize Euro May Day. I mean, Euro May Day was a linking of immigrant rights with precarious workers. So, as more and more jobs are not unionized, and workers face uneven, precarious situations of work, people started to talk about precarious work and organizing workers not just in the formal, traditional trade unions. And then also injecting some of what we saw in the global justice movement, of theater and play as a part of protests. So now what we’re seeing planned for today is a combination of the immigrant rights movement working with the traditional labor movement, which is a part of May Day today—and, in fact, in some places there are strikes organized around the country called by unions—and then there are radical caucuses of unions that are participating, and then Occupy organizing direct actions and using theater. So we kind of see the play and the immigrant rights and precarious labor kind of redefining what May Day is, particularly over these last 10 years.
AMY GOODMAN: Chris Hedges, you’ll be speaking today on the issue of war?
CHRIS HEDGES: Yeah, I mean, I look at what’s happened since September 17th, when Zuccotti Park was taken, as the launching of a process that’s probably quite long. I think of where we’re headed as a revolution. And all revolutions begin long before their ostensible date. The stamp Act of 1765 was sort of the dress rehearsal for the uprising against the British a decade later. The uprising in 1905 in Russia was the precursor, sort of created the system by which eventually the czar would be overthrown. And I think that it’s unfair to sort of pin this movement on a particular day or a particular action. I think it’s begun. I think it’s going forward. I think it could be years in the process. But I think that the power elite, the oligarchic corporate class, is as corrupt, as fragile, and as decayed as bankrupt regimes in the past. 1789 in France was ungovernable. You know, the elite had retreated into Versailles as our elites have retreated into their gated compounds, utterly out of touch with the suffering of the ordinary American. And so, I think that what’s today is momentous, not because of the numbers they may get or not get, but because this isn’t going away.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break, come back. Our guests are Amin Husain—among his titles, he’s one of the editors of Tidal magazine. Chris Hedges is with us, Teresa Gutierrez and Marina Sitrin. This is Democracy Now! It’s May Day. Back in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: "Todos Somos Ilegales (We Are All Illegals)" by Outernational, Tom Morello, Calle 13 and Chad Smith. For our TV and online viewers, you can go online to see the photos of uprisings of people around the world. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. Special thanks to our team at Democracy Now! en Español, who asked social media followers to send us photos, what they saw on the ground as change swept though every corner of the globe. Again, check it out at democracynow.org.
We are joined today by four people. Teresa Gutierrez is with us, May 1st Coalition for Worker [and] Immigrant Rights. Amin Husain with Tidal magazine. Chris Hedges will be speaking at one of the mass gatherings today in New York City. And Marina Sitrin is a graduate student at CUNY, has been looking at these grassroots movements and participating in them around the world.
What is Tidal magazine, Amin Husain?
AMIN HUSAIN: It’s really a magazine for Occupiers, whether they’re actual or potential. One of the things about this movement early on in August is that we intentionally chose not to pursue specific demands. And the other thing is to organize horizontally. But then how do you have the substantive conversations about the issues that concern us all on a daily basis? And in the processes that we take, we’ve created this magazine that is meant to engage intellectuals and people on the ground in conversations that are accessible to, you know, people with ordinary—you know, just average people during the day, from worker to student. And we wanted to elevate the type of thought and thinking. So, for example, Judith Butler wrote a piece on, you know, why no demands, or what are the demands. And Marina Sitrin wrote a piece. And then people within the movement have written pieces, and they’re in constant conversation.
AMY GOODMAN: And "Tidal" is T-I-D-A-L.
AMIN HUSAIN: Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Why the title?
AMIN HUSAIN: It’s a wave. And I think that refers to what Chris Hedges was talking. This is just one wave. And we, all of us, know the moment that we’re in and how important it is. And the manifestations on the ground, whether they’re visible to everyone or not, the conditions that brought it about are only going to deteriorate. And people are beginning to understand that we need another thing, another system, another way of thinking, one that’s more inclusive.
AMY GOODMAN: Teresa Gutierrez, what exactly are the plans today?
TERESA GUTIERREZ: Well, the plans are diverse. There’s many things going on. It’s a day of action, not only in New York City, but across the country. There’s events starting from 8:00 a.m. and earlier. The May 1st Coalition will be gathering at 12:00 noon at Union Square. And the—
AMY GOODMAN: Here in New York City.
TERESA GUTIERREZ: Here in New York City. And the labor, Occupied Wall Street and immigrant rights coalition will gather from 4:00 to 5:30. And then—
AMY GOODMAN: How involved are unions in this?
TERESA GUTIERREZ: Actually, very involved. There’s been hours and hours of meetings in putting together May Day, and all of these organizations have been meeting almost every day, in one way or the other. We’ll be ending our march at Wall Street. We’re marching further than we’ve marched in other years. And we’ll be ending in front of the MTA office. And the president of TWU will be closing that rally. That’s quite a message to Wall Street, that immigrants are uniting with one of the largest unions in the city and are supporting the call to respect their contract. And there will be, of course, immigrant rights organizations that will also be closing the rally at Wall Street.
AMY GOODMAN: Taxi drivers are also involved?
TERESA GUTIERREZ: Exactly, exactly. So it’s very exciting. And these are news that are going on across the day.
I do want to say that it’s important that the May 1st Coalition is emphasizing what’s going on in the Supreme Court right now. It appears as if sanctioning racial profiling and sanctioning the witch hunt against immigrants is going to become the law of the land. And so, we definitely want to send a message of solidarity to the people of Arizona today. We understand that one of the key organizers in Tucson, for example, in Arizona, Isabel Garcia, received a threatening email. And if I received a threatening email the day before May Day, it wouldn’t be such a big thing. But with Isabel receiving such an email in Arizona, it’s very serious. And so, we want to make sure that we’re clear that we want to take a stand against what’s going on in Arizona today in—at Union Square.
AMY GOODMAN: I mean, it’s interesting that this movement has grown up under President Obama. President Obama, who—when you look at the polls now, for example, looking at Latinos and who their choice is, Romney is so low in these polls, and yet the largest number of deportations have taken place under President Obama.
TERESA GUTIERREZ: Exactly. One million. One million people have been deported. This is quite shocking. It’s really a union issue. It’s an issue of the progressive movement. We’ve got to get behind the call to stop the deportations. We’ve got to get behind the call for legalization. And that’s one of the beauties of what’s happening today, along the lines of what the brother here was saying from Occupied Wall Street movement. Yes, the issue of demands has been an interesting discussion, but the immigrant rights—the immigrant community has earned legalization by the amount of wealth that they have contributed in this society, and we’ve got to stop, you know, the attacks on immigrants.
AMY GOODMAN: Ahead of May Day, new reports have emerged of major banks working with police to monitor Occupy protesters. According to Bloomberg News, the nation’s largest banks are sharing information about protesters’ May Day plans amongst themselves as well as with police. This is Paul Viollis, CEO of the firm Risk Control Strategies.
PAUL VIOLLIS: We’re looking at a group of folks that are in fact organized, even though we don’t give them credit for that. These are educated people. These are not only educated people, but they’re intelligent. And on top of that, now they’re well funded. So, if you put all of those things together, and then you take away—like our, you know, good old Maslow used to say, you know, hierarchy of needs—you take away their food, their water, their shelter, you take away their ability to earn, and now you have people that are just genuinely angry. And their disdain—their lips drip with disdain towards those that have. And I’m not saying it’s justified or not justified: it is what it is. And that leads you into where we are today, this platform of risk, where the trajectory is going to be very clear. It’s going to be: how do I interrupt business, and how do I make you pay? Someone is going to pay, according to them, for their lot in life. And that’s the direction it looks like they’re going to take.
AMY GOODMAN: Paul Viollis, CEO of the firm Risk Control Strategies. Chris Hedges?
CHRIS HEDGES: Well, there you go. That is a window into how frightened the elites are of this movement. And he laid it out, in pretty stark terms. It’s classic counterinsurgency tactics, something I watched up close for five years covering the war in El Salvador. You deny your upon a fixed base, because it makes logistics extremely difficult. You keep them constantly on the move. You make it hard for them to organize and sustain themselves. You carry out constant harassment. And you mentioned the breaking down of the door of an Occupy activist in Brooklyn last night—that’s just sort of de rigueur. And you infiltrate the movement.
We’ve seen the external forces that have been deployed against the Occupy encampments in a coordinated attempt to sort of wipe them out. What we don’t see is the systematic effort to break the movement from the inside. And that is by creating divisions, discrediting the most effective leaders or locking them up. The resources of the state, which I think that this interview began to give us a glimpse of, are an indication of how worried they are, because this movement articulates a truth, a fundamental truth about our system, about the corporate coup d’état that we have undergone, and—
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean by that?
CHRIS HEDGES: That over the last decade or two, we have seen corporate forces seize all levers of power—the executive branch, the legislative branch, the judiciary. Certainly look at all of the Supreme Court rulings, including the most recent one on strip searching. It is—
AMY GOODMAN: Which said?
CHRIS HEDGES: Which said—it was a complete inversion of law. It said that corrections officers and police officials are allowed to strip-search you even if you’re innocent, because the person who brought the suit was—had been stopped in a car, he had been innocent. They had accused him of not paying a fine, that he—a fine. They held him for a week. They strip-searched him. So this person had committed no crime. He was in the passenger seat of the car that had been pulled over. And that’s just an inversion of law. It means that you cannot question the abuse of authority. I mean, that’s just a small window.
[In 2010], Citizens United essentially extinguished what is left of participatory democracy in this country. And as Amin correctly pointed out, we are spiraling downward in this new world of global neofeudalism, this world of masters and serfs. And as more and more people wake up, they are going to have to implement the harsher measures of control that we see being made into law, such as the Espionage Act, which has been used six times by the Obama administration to shut down people who have exposed war crimes and malfeasance by the government, so that only the official narrative is palatable or permissible. And we’re seeing that as they leak information about the murder—let’s be clear, Osama bin Laden was unarmed—the murder or assassination of Osama bin Laden. Investigative reporters in this country will tell you sources have utterly dried up. And that, as you mentioned before, is why I and other plaintiffs, including Noam Chomsky and Daniel Ellsberg—and Cornel West is going to join us, and Naomi Wolf—are suing over the National Defense Authorization Act, which allows the military to become a policing agent in this country, to detain American citizens, hold them without due process, including holding them in our offshore penal colonies, until, in the language of this bill, the end of hostilities, which in an age of permanent war is forever.
And we have to stop looking—Teresa correctly pointed out, I mean, and you pointed out, that this is a president who has carried out the most—more—the most egregious assaults on our civil liberties, far worse than the Bush administration. And through the magic of public relations, we continue to be utterly fooled by what’s happening.
AMY GOODMAN: Marina Sitrin, you’re organizing—you’re one of the people who will be teaching about legal rights today.
MARINA SITRIN: I’m part of the activist legal working group in Occupy, and we’re doing and we’ve been doing trainings.
AMY GOODMAN: And explain the working groups.
MARINA SITRIN: Well, there are dozens, hundreds of working groups, actually, that do everything from medical care, mediation, media—dozens of groups all over that will be, you know, kind of coordinating all kinds of infrastructural things, as well as theoretical conversations. So there are many pieces of working groups that are working on, like the free university today, which is in Madison Park, which is going to have tons of popular education with CUNY professors having their classes outdoors. My seminar—
AMY GOODMAN: In New York City, that’s over at 23rd Street and Fifth Avenue.
MARINA SITRIN: In New York City, right. And so, the legal working group is an activist working group that works with the National Lawyers Guild and other radical lawyers who are supporting us in the movement. And what we do is both informing people of their rights, of these egregious, kind of outrageous attacks on our rights, but then we also talk about solidarity, how do we take care of one another, which is what this movement is really about.
So, yes, there are all of these attempts by the state to demobilize us, to create fear. So what we do is actually practice what happens if a police officer knocks on your door or what happens in the process if police try to pen you in, and how to create solidarity with one another, which is really what this movement is about. And something Chris said earlier, you know, talking about revolution or what kind of process we’re on, and Marx talked about revolution as a train, and then Walter Benjamin talked about actually perhaps it’s not a train, perhaps it’s actually the moment when everybody on the train pulls the emergency brake. And I think that’s what we see with our movement. And that’s what May Day is about, is about pulling that brake, saying "Stop," and opening up new spaces where we can create the alternatives, supporting one another in solidarity without that kind of fear.
AMY GOODMAN: You all sound somewhat like you agree, but you don’t. Chris, you wrote a piece called "The Cancer in Occupy." Lay out your concern.
CHRIS HEDGES: My concern is that the tactics of people who identify themselves as Black Bloc—i.e. petty vandalism, taunting the police, covering your faces—are the portal by which the agents provocateurs can enter and destroy the movement. The power of the Occupy movement is that it is a mainstream movement. It expresses and articulates the grievances of the mainstream, which are not articulated during this political process. They are not articulated on MSNBC or Fox or any of the other commercial, corporate networks. If you look at the opinion polls, whether it’s on healthcare, whether it’s on the looting of the U.S. Treasury and the largest transference of wealth upwards in American history, whether it’s on foreclosures and bank repossessions of homes, whether it is this failure to confront egregious levels of unemployment, especially for those under the age of 25, the Occupy movement expresses what the majority feels. And the goal of the security state is to sever the movement from the mainstream. And the way they will do that is by using groups—and some of these people may be well-meaning—but by using groups that will frighten the mainstream away. You do not want to have demonstrations where you permit people to cover their faces. That’s a gift to infiltrators. We cannot beat the security and surveillance state at their own game. We can’t. Our power — and Václav Havel wrote this in his 1978 essay, "The Power of the Powerless" — there’s a kind of incongruity to it, but our greatest strength is our powerlessness and our transparency. And we can’t give that up.
And, you know, I’m not a member of Occupy. I’ve never identified myself as a member of Occupy. I’m deeply supportive of the movement. But I think, like any writer or any intellectual, you know, one has to be critical. And I know that this has caused a great deal of dissension, because within the movement there is this noble idea that, you know, we can include everybody, it can be all-inclusive. But, in fact, in order for the movement to survive, it’s going to have to make some tough decisions about agreements, about nonviolence, about transparency, because the way that revolutions work is that you create paralysis within those pillars of authority.
Most revolutions, including the Russian Revolution, were nonviolent enterprises. It’s when you have the Petrograd riots, the bread riots in 1917, the Cossacks are sent down to quell them, and they don’t—they join the crowds. The storming of the Bastille was only made possible because French troops defected and joined the crowds to overthrow the prison. This is always how revolutionary movements work. And the fact is, because we articulate a truth, because we expose the deep corruption within the system, there are always elements within that system that are hesitant to use force, or use force effectively, because they know how rotten it is. And I saw that in East Germany, when—which I covered, the revolution there. Erich Honecker sends down an elite paratroop division to Leipzig, where the candlelit vigils that eventually swelled to half-a-million people, and the paratroopers wouldn’t fire on the crowd. Honecker lasted another week in power.
And so, my criticism of the Black Bloc is one over tactic. And I will just conclude by saying I’m not a pacifist. I was in Sarajevo during the war. Human beings can be pushed to a point—you were in East Timor—where violence is the only way that they can protect themselves, their families, their communities. But we’re not there yet. And hopefully we’ll never get there.
AMY GOODMAN: Amin Husain, can you respond to what Chris Hedges has said? Do you think—
AMIN HUSAIN: Well, I mean, I respect Chris Hedges a great deal, and he’s been a great supporter of the movement. I do think think that the word "movement" constrains our thinking. And I think, in the 21st century, where capitalism is everywhere, there needs to require a new type of struggle and reconceptualization of how that works. I think the way decisions get made in Occupy is by dialogue and by impacting each other in our way of thinking and growing together and building power within and amongst each other. And the statement—the concerns, though valid—and I was in the Palestinian uprising—
AMY GOODMAN: When?
AMIN HUSAIN: —and we covered our faces, in the first Palestinian uprising. And we did cover our faces, and then we made decisions at certain times not to cover our faces, depending on what action we were doing. And I think you have very smart people in this movement who are aware of the provocateur, which, covering your face or not, won’t necessarily stop that from happening, right? And Marina Sitrin has a great article in the second issue of Tidal talking about provocateurs and in this context of a movement and how we’re organized, how they can be very effective in disrupting that. But I want to get back to that.
There’s also, we have to rethink what is "we," because I think—and this ties into what you were saying, and the idea is like, we have demands of each other, right? We are not speaking to power, because we don’t think it’s legitimate. Our actions, by taking public space and having and doing mutual aid type of stuff—and I am—I don’t identify myself as an anarchist. I am coming from a strategic standpoint. Nothing is off the table. You empower individuals. You know—you don’t disempower them. There are smart people that are making strategic decisions over here. It’s an oversimplification of—to just say that the movement needs to make a decision without really kind of rethinking what—how we work.
The other thing I want to add is like, in this context of, you know, the article, though very good points and many people in the movement felt it was good because it sparked a conversation, it came at a time when it was—it almost derailed us. And we worked with each other, you know, on the issue of Trinity and Duarte Square, and it’s like, we would have appreciated a phone call, because we would have facilitated these conversations, which needed to happen. And because of—thanks to your article, we’ve overcome it, and we have a deeper sense, because we’ve talked about violence versus diversity of tactics back in August, and it was heated conversations. But many other people joined, and the conversation needed to be had again. And this is why we have Tidal, to always have these conversations.
AMY GOODMAN: Marina Sitrin, what about that issue of provocateurs?
MARINA SITRIN: I mean, there’s always—that is what the state will do, is try to disrupt this movement or what—it’s even more than a movement, because so many people, probably millions of people, identify with Occupy and whatever that means. And so, is that dangerous to institutions of power and the banks, like we saw in the earlier video? Yes, it definitely is, because we don’t even want to recognize that power, in the sense of we’re looking to one another and we’re trying to create something different. So, will they try to disrupt the movements? Yes, that’s history, and that’s why we do popular education, and it is why it’s so important that we talk with one another and create these horizontal spaces to do it.
It’s actually not useful at all, from the outside, to tell the movements what to do, especially with people who have access to publish in certain places. And there’s quite a few. Whether well-meaning—people, Zizek, telling us we must be serious revolutionaries and anti-capitalists and do this, that and the other. And, you know, with all respect, either engage in the discussion, because it is open—all of it is open, and we need to have these conversations, and we’d love to have more intellectuals who relate to the movements relating to us directly and having the discussions, not telling us what to do. That part is not useful. But we’re organizing despite all of it, and the movement is flourishing.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break, then come back to this discussion. We’re talking to Marina Sitrin. She is a graduate student at CUNY. Chris Hedges, who is suing Barack Obama over the National Defense Authorization Act and got arrested in front of Goldman Sachs, he was a reporter for the New York Times and a Pulitzer Prize reporter—winning reporter at that. Also, Amin Husain is with us, who is one of the editors of Tidal magazine and one of the key organizers of the Occupy movement. And Teresa Gutierrez with the May 1st Coalition for Worker and Immigrant Rights. This is Democracy Now! It’s May Day. We’ll be back in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: Ryan Devereaux is on the phone right now, former Democracy Now! fellow and correspondent, now with The Guardian. Ryan, can you tell us where you are?
RYAN DEVEREAUX: Hey, Amy. I’m standing in Bryant Park right now, on the West Side, where Occupy Wall Street folks have set up their sort of first stage of today’s May Day activities. There are a bunch of tables here with action info for what’s going to be going on today. The National Lawyers Guild is here. They have a pop-up library set up, a mutual aid table where they have food and, you know, just the different things for the needs of people that are going to be participating today. And a number of protesters just moved out, headed out to a few different sites around the city for their 99 pickets protest campaign, which kicks off this morning, targeting a bunch of banks and financial industry institutions around the city. So they’ll be doing these sort of atomized protests all around the city.
AMY GOODMAN: Who is there? Who is in the park? Bryant Park is the park outside the New York Public Library.
RYAN DEVEREAUX: Yeah, it’s a range of people here. There are a lot of old faces from the Zuccotti Park days of Occupy Wall Street, but there are a lot of—a lot of young people here. There are probably—you know, I was asking around. I think estimates to—the consensus here is about 300 people at the moment right now. But a good chunk of folks just left on—like I said, on the different 99 pickets marches and protests around the city.
AMY GOODMAN: We have reports of 53 picket protests already, on the way to that 99. Ryan, thanks for joining us from Bryant Park. Teresa Gutierrez, the police have approached your group.
TERESA GUTIERREZ: A few days ago, one of the police officers that we’ve been meeting with about the permits and line of march and so forth actually asked one of our organizers if he would be willing to sign on to a complaint after May Day against those that carried out certain kind of disruptive actions on that day. And our person who was approached, of course, said no. And I think this is a very important point for the movement. I think—I don’t agree necessarily with putting on a mask, although in Mexico it’s very common to wear masks. It’s sort of part of our culture to come out with masks. And I think that what the movement has to take a stand on is to stand with each other and not be divided if we have diverse tactics. And the state will infiltrate in many ways. They can be some of the most friendly activists and the most hardworking activists. They’re not just the ones that put on masks. So I think that we have to sort of take a stand and support each other on our different tactics. That’s what I believe. Whether I would be an anarchist or not, carry out that kind of action or not, is my own personal choice. But I think the bigger problem is what the police are going to do today, not what anarchists are going to do. I think that’s the biggest problem. Are they going to come in full force? Are they going to try to divide us like they have been, you know, by approaching us about signing on to complaints? The movement should not go along with that. The movement should be clear that we stand here, and the police and the other apparatuses stand over here along the—
AMY GOODMAN: Although it’s not always the case that the police stand on the other side. For example, in Wisconsin, the police and the firefighters—
TERESA GUTIERREZ: Right.
AMY GOODMAN: —stood with the protesters in the Capitol Dome—
TERESA GUTIERREZ: Right, right.
AMY GOODMAN: —taking on the governor—
TERESA GUTIERREZ: Sure.
AMY GOODMAN: —saying if teachers and nurses were targeted, then they felt they were targeted, as well.
TERESA GUTIERREZ: There’s some police who came out for Mumia in Philadelphia. But in general, in general, when it comes to signing on to complaints against a group that has different tactics than you might want to carry out, I do feel like, you know, you’re on the wrong side if you sign on to that.
AMY GOODMAN: Amin Husain, how did you go from being a corporate lawyer to where you are now?
AMIN HUSAIN: I mean, I think I’ve always been on this direction. The only other time I felt this alive and this meaningful in how I’m living is in the—during the first Palestinian uprising, when you felt that you can—you felt, just as a person, that there is a chance for a different organization of society, socially, politically and economically. And I think we’re at the beginning of that stage again. And in 2009, I mean, I came to America for the dream, right? So I went from being poor. I went to Columbia. I started working on Wall Street—well, actually, Midtown, you know, at a large law firm. And when I left, I was making—
AMY GOODMAN: You were working with financial institutions, banks.
AMIN HUSAIN: Yeah, yeah, yeah. You know, billion-dollar deals, for five years. And I was on the partnership track. The problem is, is that you’re always—it’s still exploitative. There’s—you know, it’s a position of privilege, but you recognize that your life isn’t meaningful and that you could be doing a lot more. And I think what’s added to that is that you’re perpetuating the system of, A, exploitation, disempowerment, and that’s producing all these things around you, which is, I think, what Occupy embodies, right? This sense of, like, our individual struggles are interrelated. And that’s why Occupy allows the space for a structural critique, where you can go after the legalization issue, but it’s in a broader context.
The only other thing I’ll add is, like—I left—that I don’t have healthcare right now. I don’t have anything. It’s not like I saved a bunch of money, and I’m doing this. It’s that I made a decision in 2009 that I just was not happy, and I made a decision to the detriment of my family, whom I support in Palestine, right? But the thing is, is like, right now, it’s vindicated by where people are. And all of a sudden, you’re on the streets. You have your time. You can do good with your time. You can grow and, in the process, at least feel better about what you’re doing in the world.
AMY GOODMAN: Chris Hedges, how did you go from being a New York Times reporter to getting arrested in front of Goldman Sachs and suing President Obama for the NDAA?
CHRIS HEDGES: It wasn’t as long a trajectory as you might think, because my work is—I worked overseas, and I was constantly battling authority, including the Israelis, who in places like Gaza were quite blatant about shooting rubber bullets into the legs mostly of photographers or camera people. I mean, I saw them just turn and do the—or in El Salvador, when the death squads would carry out a massacre and block all the roads, and we would have to walk in, or the same thing happened in Bosnia. So, my problem was that I came back, having spent 20 years overseas, having defied centers of authority that were not my own, and that same kind of ethic got me in tremendous amounts of trouble, especially over—around the Iraq war, from which I had a break with the New York Times because I was publicly denouncing it. So—
AMY GOODMAN: You gave a speech.
CHRIS HEDGES: Right, at Rockford—which you played, at Rockford College. And so, I mean, what I was paid to do as a war correspondent was defy authority. But those kinds of characteristics do not fit into a corporate environment, and the New York Times is nothing if not corporate. And I think that’s true with all war correspondents. They just don’t fit back into the home organizations.
So, I mean, like Amin, you know, I mean, I had—same. You know, I lost my salary. I lost my health insurance. I lost everything by leaving the Times. And yet, I look back, and I think—you know, I would suspect Amin’s much the same. I mean, when you’ve seen that kind of suffering in places like Gaza, how can you not fight on behalf of those people and speak? It’s a real—it’s a kind of personal betrayal. And they can’t leave. I mean, they’re trapped. You know, they—those lives sort of haunt me every day. And what I’ve sacrificed or what we’ve sacrificed is really nothing compared to what they sacrifice. When you compare what we’ve done to what they go through day in and day out, it’s really—it’s hardly a sacrifice at all. So, I think a lot of it comes from having been around such tremendous human suffering. And let’s be clear, you know, on the outer reaches of empire, I’m very cognizant of how responsible we are for that suffering. Every time there was an F-16 strike in Gaza, we would pick up the fragments from the bombs, and it would say, you know, "Made in Ohio." "Made in Dayton, Ohio," I remember one said. Those bombs are delivered from us. And so, you come back from the outer reaches of empire to the heart of empire, and if you have any moral sense at all—and Amin, I understand completely where you’re coming from—how can you not do this?
AMY GOODMAN: One of the pickets that is taking place is outside the New York Times, that’s happening right now, Chris Hedges, your former employer.
CHRIS HEDGES: Well, I think I might go over—I think that’s where I’m headed after here.
AMY GOODMAN: And we just read a tweet from PennyRed, who says, "Vietnam vet blocking the intersection at bank of America- first arrest of the day #M1GS." Marina Sitrin, you’re a postdoctoral fellow at CUNY and a lawyer, and you’ve been covering protest movements around the world. You wrote a piece on—for Yes! magazine on occupying Wall Street beyond encampments. And you spent time in Spain.
MARINA SITRIN: Because that is—yeah, I spent time in Spain and in Greece. I’ll be going to Egypt really soon. I’ve been in other parts of Europe, and I lived in Argentina after 2001. So movements that are all very similar in occupying space and creating horizontal relationships. But the occupying of space, the beyond encampments, was looking at the importance of space, because it is where we are face to face with one another when we’re creating our new forms, our new relationships. But it was actually that I didn’t, and I don’t, believe we actually have to be sleeping in that space. And that’s a similar conclusion in Spain and in Greece and around the world, where people are more and more moving into neighborhoods, into workplaces, and then reorganizing in different ways—so there are health clinics that have been organized in Greece—where people are preventing foreclosures, refusing to pay taxes, organizing in different parts of the world, you know, using the forms of direct democracy to meet people’s needs. And we see that all over, and the movement is growing and deepening.
So, in Spain—well, in Greece, there is a strike today, but it’s mainly transportation. But in Spain and in Germany, in many places, what we’re going to see is actually mid-May, on the anniversary of the Quince eme, the 15th, the 15M movement, ¡Democracia Real YA! They’re moving towards massive mobilizations in the middle of May, kind of reenergizing the movement. But it’s not that the movement’s gone away. It’s that we’re organizing in neighborhoods, we’re in workplaces, we’re in dozens of places throughout just New York and nationally. I mean, the hundreds of cities and towns and villages that are having events on May Day today, I think, is crucial.
AMY GOODMAN: As we wrap up our discussion, I want to play an excerpt from a poem titled "Taking Brooklyn Bridge" that was written by Stuart Leonard and tells the story of the personal and political awakening he experienced while participating in the Occupy Wall Street march against the Brooklyn Bridge, part of the Occupied Media Pamphlet Series.
STUART LEONARD: "Taking Brooklyn Bridge"
I apologize Walt Whitman,
when I was young you spoke to me,
I would sit in the old church cemetery
surrounded by the tombstones of patriots
reading you out loud to the stray cats
and you came to me, you sang to me,
showed me myself in everyone and everything,
taught me a democracy of the soul, to live
in the rough and tumble world with dignity,
to grant that same dignity to the people around me.
I apologize Walt Whitman,
I let the song fade into the din
of everyday life, there are excuses
I could make, I will not make them,
I did not carry your song through the streets,
I worried about the strange looks and awkward postures
I might see in those who needed to hear it.
I got complacent, I was informed,
yes, informed, I read the papers, watched the news,
debated over dinners...
AMY GOODMAN: Excerpt of "Taking Brooklyn Bridge," written by Stuart Leonard, telling the personal story of participating in a protest that led to one of the largest mass arrests in U.S. history. Over 700 people were arrested soon after the Occupy Wall Street encampment began. Well, that does it for our May Day special. I want to thank our guests, Amin Husain, Teresa Gutierrez, Marina Sitrin and Chris Hedges. You can go to our website at democracynow.org to read, to hear, to listen, to tweet out the show, to share it with your friends. We will cover what happens all through today and bring it to you tomorrow on Democracy Now! Keep checking our website.
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