One thing the Republicans have yet to mention when deriding the Occupy movements and their most visible target, Occupy Wall Street, is that it’s run by a bunch of community organizers. Community organizing was evident at the Occupy Tucson Presents: 99% Meet Yourself event held at the downtown, main library plaza, Saturday Feb. 18th, in Tucson, Arizona.
The event was well organized, with a stage, music and speakers from different community based local and national organizations, tables that had information from these organizations, sign making, and information about the historical struggles of the 99%.
Several hundred people attended the event throughout the day to observe, share, learn and listen to the speakers and music and uncounted others that visit the plaza on weekends sat to witness and partake in the event. The event was also live streamed on the Internet for the world to see. Considering how dangerous the occupy movement has been portrayed in some media outlets, it was surprising that no counter protests occurred and there was little police presence.
The day focused on support and sharing of information regarding mutual and overlapping goals shared by the organizations at the event. As speaker Billy Lolos of Occupy Tucson (OT) pointed out, people ask what we in the occupy movements are about, why we don’t have one issue. The truth is, he said, was that we live in a “target rich environment”, and we will be there to protest and join in solidarity with those that share these concerns.
He then talked about the foreclosure crisis in the nation and in Tucson. Mr. Lolos urged us to get the Tucson and Pima County governments to use eminent domain to claim foreclosed houses and refinance homes for at risk owners. He also took aim at the banks and their bailouts and how if we let them, they will continue taking bailouts from tax payers to finance their risky ventures.
Steve Valencia, Tucson Chair of Jobs with Justice, thanked the occupy movement for helping change the discourse in this nation from cuts that would harm workers to investment in jobs and a sustainable future. He discussed what a “Job with Justice” means: a livable wage, dignity, benefits, collective bargaining, and so forth. Mr. Valencia also pointed out how the occupy movement is raising awareness for the push back against the dominance of corporations over our politics and the scapegoating of workers.
Joe Bernick, a leading voice in the Communist Party of America, author and director of the Salt of the Earth Labor College, added his voice of support and caution to the proceedings. He reminded us that change doesn’t happen without social movements working for change. He added that capital and capitalism will prevent needed change unless we overturn the faulty capitalist paradigm.
Sal Baldenegro, Sr, a preeminent voice in the Chicano Movement and defender of ethnic studies, more accurately “Mexican American Studies”, echoed the sentiment in his presentation. He pointed out that every time laws were passed to exclude Mexicans and others from participation as members of the United States, those efforts have been defeated. When the U.S. tried to keep Mexicans from owning property, it failed. When governments tried to exclude Mexicans from certain neighborhoods, it failed. When people tried to keep Mexicans segregated and out of their businesses, Mexicans opened their own businesses and over time, segregation became less of an issue. And this happened because of the work of people to overcome those obstacles. And the ban of Mexican American Studies will also fail, he pointed out, because of the efforts of the people.
David Yerkey of the KXCI show “A View from Slightly off Center” talked about the media’s role in censorship and promoting the corporate agenda and the way marginalized groups are kept out of the national debate. One striking example he mentioned was how Wikileaks was kept out of the UNESCO debate on Wikileaks by the U.S., and how the U.S. state department filled the meeting with Wikileaks detractors. With public media and the Internet, we can get the news out about these forms of political censorship.
Gayle Hartmann, director of “Saved the Scenic Santa Ritas“, thanked the support OT has given their cause. She added that the letter writing campaign to the U.S. Forest Service against the mine in the Santa Rita Mountains south of Tucson, specifically those questioning the water quality effects of the Rosemont project, were having an impact on the Forest Service’s support for open pit mine. And she made it clear that the mine “would create only a few jobs” and that mining jobs were already available in Arizona.
The music of the day was rousing, lively, socially relevant, and uplifting. The headline band, Relic Soup, played classic songs from Stevie Wonder to Pearl Jam. Ted Warmbrand entertained us with his folk songs and traditional sing-a-longs while local favorites The Raging Grannies sang traditional songs with new updated lyrics about the 99%. Arianna Solare played her politic songs while accompanying herself on guitar while singing in English and Spanish. Guest musicians Ron Pandy entertained us with his down-home folk originals while local character known only as “Iggy” entertained us with his improvised piano and scat style a cappella rapping.
Tabling at the event were groups as diverse as a local solar power company, Move to Amend, the National Writers Union, and Occupy Tucson working groups such as the Yoga and meditation working group, PR/Outreach (the main organizers of the event), among others. Occupy Phoenix also had a table at the event to present information and invite Tucsonans to their events in the coming month.
More than all the learning, teaching, an networking, the event demonstrated that Occupy Tucson is organized, issue oriented, talented and well spoken members of a community that cares deeply about what happens in our city, state, and nation.