Last week Jesse LaGreca and I were in Washington DC together What transpired was a whirlwind of events that I have not even finished processing in my mind - let alone cogent enough to compose an accurate summary - but I will try.
Other Kossack's were down in Washington last week including Something the Dog Said and RLMiller (Who is a sweetheart I got to meet after being drenched on K-Street) for the event Take back the Capitol which was organized by SEIU.
Jesse LaGreca: My goal was to take that bill and to go to every Congressmember and congressional staffer we could find and ask them "Whose side are you on, We The People's or the special interests"
After a long bus ride down to Washington DC Jesse and I arrived at Union station a bit tired. I had been down to DC a few times in the past but have hardly ever stopped to look about and take in the grand structures. While they can be overwhelming they also seemed a bit soulless. There is an energy missing down there that I think we need to recapture but I've heard that when these buildings were originally built they were done in classical style for the purpose of impressing their European counterparts of the time. The effect has not been lost over time.
We headed together on the subway to a fellow Kossack's house who was kind enough to left us stay and we rested our bones. Monday was a day of planning action, excitement, travel, and passing out while reading Game of Throne. It was our consensus to wake early Tuesday and head down to Mcpherson Square. I had only been to OWS camps out in NJ and NY and was eager to see in person what they looked like.
Join me below the squiggly little line of truth below for what followed.
In the morning it had begun raining in a slight mist. We hopped on the metro train together and headed down to Occupy DC's camp at Mcpherson square. We arrived around nine am in the morning after pulling our bones and bodies together into some semblance of a fashion resembling looking human again after travel. The barn structure that had been raised and torn down two days before was gone. All that we could see was an empty space where earth was still hard packed into the ground. One of the first occupiers I noticed happened to be one of the cutest and I thought I'd make my own woozle or pootie picture:
Can I haz an occupation? Noz Pepper Sprayz!
Well back to the story. The camp was a beautiful thing to behold. Many were just waking still and we had missed their early morning General Assembly by a few minutes. Folks from different occupations across the country kept mic checking that they had arrived. We met folks from Wisconsin, Boston, New Mexico, California, Texas, and Michigan all in one breath. Jesse continued discussing politics while I explored the camp some more. I took in the similarities and differences of the sites and began missing Liberty Park more than ever. Everywhere you go across the country at the different sites I am imagining that the energy is the same. We see these things on TV and listen to them on the radio - but to experience them in person makes you
proud to be an American.
There were tents everywhere. Some were covered with tarps, others free standing. The park was not nearly as full as liberty park was but I think we were working with half the space that they have. There is actual grass there along with a giant statue in the middle of General McPherson a union army general . Guard rails surround the statue and signs around it speaking out against poverty, economic injustice, greed, hatred, and the corruption of our world wide system. Jesse was right when he dubbed this: One graph to rule them all. You can't argue against math.
We left Mcpherson square after an hour or so and headed towards the Capitol building. It was our understanding that the action of the day was going to flood the house congressional office buildings with SEIU, and OWS supporters. By this time it had started raining and we walked the two mile or so distance from the square. The line to get into the office was huge! People were milling all about, holding signs, drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes and talking politics on the steps. After waiting a half hour outside there was a MIC-Check that went up which directed us to head to the other side of the building for shorter lines. We heeded the call and were soon stalking the insides of the building.
SEIU and OWS were actively walking the halls. SEIU had organized people to go from office to office to speak to all the representatives. We had been invited to speak to Congressman Charlie Rangel in his office for 10 minutes. I filmed the interview and took some pictures. I know Charlie Rangel is not the most beloved of our democratic congresspeople - but listening to him speak in person and you get the sense that he is committed helping people especially for civil rights. The congressman had invited us to talk because he is introducing legislation that would offer a renters, or tenants bill of rights on a national level. I know in NYC we have similar legislation but to have it nationalized would go a long way towards stopping the banks from taking peoples houses without even the theater of a court process. Now Mr Rangel also speaks to involving religious leaders in the movement arguing that it is their moral duty now to help the poor and down-trodden as it was during the civil rights movements.
You can continue watching the rest of the interview @ Tool's Youtube channel
We left Congressman Rangel's office in high spirits - Jesse recounted already how we went down to Boehner's office and were effectively shut out. None were allowed to even come inside the office and anyone who came out shut the door fast behind them. We started talking and an organizer asked us - if you had 20 seconds with Boehner and he walked out right now...what would you say? I said that I would ask him why he is allowing Americans to suffer needlessly in an economic depression we have not seen since the gilded age and how do you think history will judge your actions? The question got a round of applause and other activists continued walking up and down the halls reciting their questions. He never came out and we can assume there is a back way out because a vote was called and we were waiting for him to leave. After another half hour we headed down to the congressional lunch room. It was insane to see in practice what you only read about online. Everything was styrofoam cups and plates. I've seen homeless people better at conserving our planets resources then these folks. Paying 13.97 for lunch was not an experience I wish to repeat considering that if I had spent the same amount nearly anywhere else I would have ended up full.
We left shortly after eating and wandered about the city from the capitol building all the way down to the Mall and prepared for the first national General Assembly that was to take place in the evening.
Jesse LaGreca: Late Tuesday night we walked about the large tents that the Labor Unions had set down on the National Mall. Mud under my boots, I was happy. I grew up in Upstate NY with mud under my boots.
Over at the Washington Monument, we held the first National General Assembly. Around a dozen states were represented, most notably Chicago, Philly and Houston, but there were very large contingents from Boston, St.Louis, Florida and Wisconsin. Michigan, Baltimore, Virginia and Carolina's had lots of folk up here too, but my own New York delegation was small, no larger than a dozen including Austin and Myself.
We spoke among our countrymen at the foot of the Washington Monument in the light rain under the moon and spotlights, watching while on the other side of the monument a crowd of policemen started gathering and talking amongst themselves out of hearing distance.
Jesse LaGreca: We stand as witness. To a broken system. And a broken people. And today is our day. It begins here - and it goes on further - This is the first General Assembly of the nation of Occupy - I promise it will not be the last.
Now at this point we were both cold and tired and headed back for the evening after hearing most of the delegates speak to the GA. The next day was one of action and sadly I bid Jesse goodbye in the early morning so he could attend a panel in NYC with Ron Suskind and Paul O'neill. I was engaged in the massive street demonstration with SEIU and OWS where we shut down K street for most of the day.
What I did not touch on in that diary is that after I got back to the Mall and failed to upload anything I was contacted by an activist who I had exchanged information before the day before. "Austin - we're gonna go try and Mic Check Newt at his hotel!" Apparently Newt was having a fund raiser at a fancy hotel not far from the protests. We gathered in a small tent amiss fellow occupiers/SEIU calling themselves SEALS. From what I gathered about the group this was their 5th action that they had undergone since Monday and were planning more for the rest of the week. I offered what help I could saying I could video tape the whole thing with an HD camera. Much discussion went in about how we would get into the event - generally settling with a big distraction in the front where we would roll out red carpet and chant while throwing fake NEWT TASTIC bills at the people coming and going from the Walden Hotel.
After standing in the front of the hotel for a while we decided to pretend to leave. We declared victory and marched off to the backside of the hotel where we could see directly into Newt's gala. The people on the inside toasted us snidely and sipped their champagne while we sang. Even the local news 9 interviewed me and asked me what I thought about how they were acting and if I thought it was shameful. I told him we are trying to save these people from themselves - that we are against greed and crime - not against wealth. There is no reason that capital gains taxes should be stuck at 15% while we are fighting two wars and tax rates remain at the lowest levels not seen in generations. I said I hope they will one day understand what it means to be human and have empathy to those who don't have 30,000 dollar checks to political campaigns.
In this video you can clearly see all the rich patrons of the hotel actively turning their backs on us. Well what was even more galling is that when we went around the backway there was an entire line of police officers guarding the door. Is this what the police have been reduced to?
Peaceful protesters were kept at distance by the very people who pay their salaries with tax dollars so that they could protect a corrupt man who if elected would do everything possible to have states cut their salaries.
You can see me in this video holding the camera with one hand and the mic in the other charging up to the back entrance of the hotel. We managed to get several people inside but I was not able to find the video that corresponds to this night.
By this time I was tired and again soaked and headed to visit family who happened to live there. I showed up wet and ready to eat chicken. The next morning on Thursday is when most of the interesting things happened..I met up with Jesse on the steps of the congressional offices as he was concluding and interview with Rep Grijalva - the leader of the progressive caucus.
Jesse LaGreca: First we visited Congressman Deutch (D-FL19) to thank him for offering the OCCUPIED Amendment. We asked him how many co-sponsors he had and he told us it was only a handful so far, DeFazio from Oregon, Rep Ellison from Minnesota and a few others, and they told us that Senator Sanders and Tom Udall from New Mexico also supported the bill. With that in mind, we thanks Rep. Deutch's staff and wandered around a bit more, poking our nose into several congressional offices, including Democrats Hank Johnson from Georgia and Republican Nan Hayworth from the district where I grew up, NY-19. We gave support and encouragement to the folks who we thought deserved it, and we were polite but firm with the folks we thought needed to hear from regular working class people instead of lobbyists. Unfortunately, we only really got to talk to staffers, as there was a vote taking place and most of the members of congress we tried to visit were not in their offices, but we did get to talk to one member of Congress, and here is the video.
Ted Deutch's OCCUPIED Act
‘‘SECTION 1. The rights protected by the Constitution
of the United States are the rights of natural persons and
do not extend to for-profit corporations, limited liability
companies, or other private entities established for busi-
ness purposes or to promote business interests under the
laws of any state, the United States, or any foreign state.
‘‘SECTION 2. Such corporate and other private enti-
ties established under law are subject to regulation by the
people through the legislative process so long as such regu-
lations are consistent with the powers of Congress and the
States and do not limit the freedom of the press.
‘‘SECTION 3. Such corporate and other private enti-
ties shall be prohibited from making contributions or ex-
penditures in any election of any candidate for public of-
fice or the vote upon any ballot measure submitted to the
‘‘SECTION 4. Congress and the States shall have the
power to regulate and set limits on all election contribu-
tions and expenditures, including a candidate’s own spend-
ing, and to authorize the establishment of political com-
mittees to receive, spend, and publicly disclose the sources
of those contributions and expenditures.’’
Now I love what this amendment does but we soon learned that Bernie Sanders was taking up the call and offering up a senate version. We decided to talk to as many senators as we could or at least their staffers before we had to head back to NYC. It was a success in so far that we got a ton of contact information and made some headway into getting a sense where different officers felt on the bill. It is a long shot most everyone agree but odder things have been known to happen.
Jesse LaGreca:Senator Sanders office has a huge wooden cut out of a milk cow in it. It looks like something out of 3rd grade science fair, and it offers a touchingly human feel to his office. There, we spoke to some of Sen. Sanders staff about the need for real campaign finance reform, real Wall Street reform and a number of things. I told his staff that I want to turn the bills offered by Rep. Deutch and Sen. Sanders into the working class version of Grover Norquist's pledge. Sen. Sanders staff thanked us, and then we left and noticed Senator Scott Brown's office nearby. We poked our nose in.
Senator Scott Brown's staff seemed like they were commanded to respond "no comment" to anything we asked. I asked them what they thought of the GOP filibuster of Richard Cordray's appointment to head the CFPA, and they stated that Scott Brown was the only Republican to not vote filibuster Cordray's appointment. I'm sure Elizabeth Warren had nothing to do with that. I then asked what the Senator thought of the folk down at Occupy Boston and how he would help protect their First Amendment right to freedom of assembly. They said "no comment". I guess they didn't get the Frank Luntz memo where they are supposed to say "I get it". Absurd.
Austin and I visited Senators Gillibrand, Lautenberg and Schumer's offices. I joked about running for office and Gillibrand's people said I should run against Republican Bob Turner in Anthony Weiner's old district. Senator Lautenberg's staff was the best we met during the whole week, polite and eager to help, and though we didn't get to spend much time there, we got business cards from everyone. We plan on setting up meetings with Democrats and Republicans, because frankly, they need to hear from We The People more and big money lobbyists less.
When we got to Schumer's office we met with a staffer from the Judiciary Committee, and he spoke to us about Schumer's support for the DISCLOSE Act from the last Congress as well as Senator Sanders's bill. I think this is a no brainer, and honestly, if Dems can't get behind this there is a huge problem. I keep saying this because I mean it, I'm tired of platitudes and empty promises, I want ACTION, I want these guys to stand up and fight for us. If that means I have to go down to DC from NY every week to show up in person and make them do it then I will. Both Republicans and Democrats need to look us in the face and tell us where they stand and why.
We are headed back this week. Any messages you'd like us to the halls of congress please let us know. Heck - please join us down there if you are able to and we can do this together. It was a long week and as a friend reminded me this Saturday over a fantastic Irish breakfast..
Winter is coming..
Also I will be livestreaming our lobbying efforts for Dailykos to see. Any support you guys can offer is most welcome as this is now my full time job for the time being and a little bit goes a long way. Happy holidays and I hope to see you guys in DC with us.
2:02 PM PT: Just realized I got a lifetime subscription!! I am beyond happy and can't wait to head down to DC tomorrow!!