Tag Archives: Occupy Wall Street

The War on Wisconsin Water

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Shawano, WI - As another Fourth of July is nearly upon us, many Wisconsinites are already enjoying their time on Wisconsin’s waterways. The state enjoys more than 15,000 lakes and 13,500 miles (21,700 kilometers) of navigable streams and rivers. Wisconsinites have always taken great pride in their state’s natural beauty. This is, until recently. The 2010 election of Wisconsin Republican Governor Scott Walker has led to the immediate unraveling of water and other environmental protections, regulations, and oversight, jeopardizing the future stability and supply of Wisconsin’s clean water. Knowing that only 3% of the world’s water exists as fresh water, we need to make sure we are standing up for our current and future generation’s water rights or face a future with a vastly deteriorating quality of life.

The rollback began in 2011 with GOP legislature voting to ease restrictions on wetland development with the sole purpose of allowing a corporate big-box retailer to encroach upon Wisconsin. Citizen opposition to the legislature’s vote in favor of the bill was so strong that the big-box retailer eventually decided not to move to the site. It was, however, crystal clear that the Walker Administration was going to be erring on the side of corporations instead of the people of the State of Wisconsin through the lifting of DNR oversight and other forms of deregulation. Another early indication that the Governor was not interested in continuing Wisconsin’s legacy of environmental stewardship was through his appointment of former Wisconsin Republican State Senator Cathy Stepp as the state’s new lieutenant of the Department of Natural Resources (DNR) despite her obvious conflict of interest as co-owner with her husband of a construction business.

The next major regressive piece of legislation action by the Governor and state controlled GOP legislature was to fast-track, by gutting rigid environmental review, a gigantic, open-pit iron-ore mine near the Penokee Hills, a pristine state forest, and, downstream, a native American tribal reservation and its wild-rice fields. This has also opened up the state to massive frac sand mining that also uses an exorbitant amount of fresh water from local aquifers. These mines will undoubtedly have a destructive and lasting environmental impact on the pristine waters of Wisconsin.

The most recent dagger to the future of Wisconsin’s fresh water is the approval of a new high-capacity well for a factory farm.

This approval comes immediately following a Republican-controlled panel who voted 12-4 in favor of a motion that would bar persons from challenging construction of a well if a regulator decided not to consider cumulative environmental effects of the well on others. The operation would house 4,300 cows and pump nearly 73 million gallons of well water annually, irrespective of any impact on smaller wells, aquifers and surface waters in the state’s productive, yet lovely, Central Sands region.

We’ve seen the damage incurred on other states that have allowed corporations this unfettered loosening of environmental regulation and oversight.

 

As fresh water aquifers around the world are being destroyed, Wisconsin is following suit with damaging changes to environmental regulations, while disenfranchising its citizens from future water decisions. The citizens of Wisconsin must prevail and increase the fight against the ever-expanding war on water.

All photos come from the Overpass Light Brigade in Milwaukee, Wisconsin (Flickr album).

“Stop the Mines” photo comes from Michael Pecosky

Death of Democracy in Detroit

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Lane and Lisa

Detroit, MI - This weekend I had the chance to visit the massive city of Detroit as part of a workshop, as a member of the Overpass Light Brigade, for the Allied Media Conference (AMC). As a first-time visitor to the city of Detroit, the first thing I was awakened to was the incredible breadth of ruined, blighted, abandoned and foreclosed buildings and homes. City residents and elected leaders are saddled with the infrastructure of a city built for 1.7 million people but the racist and neoliberal policies of the last several decades have decimated Detroit and other midwestern cities like it across the country, reducing its population by one-million residents. This reality has left remaining residents with an absurdly oversized city, built entirely around the automobile with less than half of the tax revenue the once-thriving metropolis enjoyed.

The ruins abandoned ruins of the once mighty Michigan Central Station.

The abandoned ruins of the once mighty Michigan Central Station.

“Nothing symbolizes Detroit’s grandiose rise and spectacular fall like Michigan Central Station. No other building exemplifies just how much the automobile gave to the city of Detroit — and how much it took away.” This monumental building stands ruined and rusted, a lasting symbol of what Detroit once was. For this very reason, we held an “ENDGAME” message with the towering remnant behind us.

Endgame meaning: ”the final part of a game, battle, or political process when the result is decided.”

End Game

The city’s recent fortunes have worsened, as Governor Snyder has decided to deal with the city’s struggles to right itself from the failed policies of the past by disenfranchising the predominantly African-American people of Motor City. Snyder has appointed an “emergency manager” who has been given the authority “…to over-ride the votes of local citizens and the decisions and contracts made by their locally elected mayor and city council. The manager has the power to abrogate previously signed union contracts with city workers and sell city assets to pay off the city’s creditors.” In response to this draconian action from Gov. Snyder we thought it was necessary to prop up one more message that shined the truth on what has happened in Detroit and other cities in Michigan.

End of Democracy

Flickr photo album of other Overpass Light Brigade actions.

Striking Milwaukee Fast Food Workers Join A Growing Movement

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Wisconsin State Representative Mandela Barnes speaks to striking fast food workers.
The Overpass Light Brigade kicked off the Milwaukee fast food worker strike on Tuesday night by displaying this message over I-43 for drivers leaving downtown.

The Overpass Light Brigade kicked off the Milwaukee fast food worker strike on Tuesday night by displaying this message over I-43 for drivers leaving downtown.

Milwaukee, WI - Hundreds of fast food workers didn’t show up to work in Milwaukee on Wednesday. Instead they decided to stand up in a one day collective action called “Raise Up MKE“ demanding a living wage ($15.00/hr) and the ability to organize a union without reprisal from bosses. They became the fifth city (Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis, and New York City) in the nation to organize and strike in the last month for better working conditions in what appears to be a growing movement.

Striking worker leave the Milwaukee County Courthouse after rallying for 45 minutes.

Striking worker leave the Milwaukee County Courthouse after rallying for 45 minutes.

Workers rallied in front of several local fast food locations successfully coaxing other workers to join them. After making several stops around Milwaukee many workers descended upon the Milwaukee County Courthouse, where they rallied for about 45 minutes before finally marching down Milwaukee’s most prominent thoroughfare, Wisconsin Avenue, where other striking workers met up for a massive rally in front of Grand Avenue Shopping Mall, shutting down Milwaukee’s busiest street. There several speakers spoke in support of the striking workers, including Wisconsin State Rep. Mandela Barnes, Jennifer Epps-Addison (Citizen Action of Wisconsin), and Rev. Willie Brisco (MICAH).

Hundreds of striking fast food workers rally in front of the Grand Avenue Mall in downtown Milwaukee.

Hundreds of striking fast food workers rally in front of the Grand Avenue Mall in downtown Milwaukee.

Striking workers state that their current wages are not enough to support themselves and their families. Many workers complain that their employers have limited their hours under the critical threshold of thirty hours to evade national healthcare law provisions that would require the employer pay health care benefits. This current dynamic pushes many fast food workers and other low wage workers onto government assistance programs. These costs are then passed on to the rest of society, while the corporations, who employ them, rake in record profits and pay out unprecedented bonuses. Current fast food wages have not kept up with inflation while corporate executive pay has ballooned for decades. It is more than time that low wage workers be paid living wages and given stronger protections to organize unions. After all, shouldn’t workers who get up everyday and contribute to society be afforded the ability to purchase housing and food for their family?

Wisconsin State Representative Mandela Barnes speaks to striking fast food workers.

Wisconsin State Representative Mandela Barnes speaks to striking fast food workers.

The Reverend Willie Brisco speaks to striking fast food workers assembled in front of a downtown shopping mall.

The Reverend Willie Brisco speaks to striking fast food workers assembled in front of a downtown shopping mall.

Before marching on Grand Avenue Mall, striking workers met up in front of the Milwaukee County Courthouse.

Before marching on Grand Avenue Mall, striking workers met up in front of the Milwaukee County Courthouse.

Poster put together by the Overpass Light Brigade in response to the fast food worker movement.

Poster put together by the Overpass Light Brigade in response to the fast food worker movement.

Find more photos here:

Flickr Album

“Homeless Chronicles” – My Embedded Life as a Homeless Person

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Madison's homeless population often sleep standing over building heating vents to try and stay warm in the winter months.

Madison, WI - The treatment of Madison’s homeless population has recently been in the spotlight, as the city has forcible evicted Occupy Madison and a homeless encampment from several different locations. This cruel and callous government treatment of the growing homeless population has prompted Madison activist Chaous to embed herself with the city’s homeless population in an effort to receive a firsthand account of what life really is like for a Madison’s homeless population. She is secretly documenting unusual or negative interactions with anyone outside of the homeless population via a Ustreaming (live online video) application on her phone. This “Homeless Chronicles” series of Chaous’ experiences as an embedded homeless woman will be featured here on Occupy Riverwest.

First Night Out

My first night out as a homeless person was fairly uneventful but heart warming. I carefully chose my layers. I needed to stay warm but also needed the ability to move fast if needed. This is Madison but lets face it, its really not as safe as people like to think. I couldn’t wear my warmest jacket either as it is pretty noticeable. After getting ready I tossed my backpack and sleeping bag into the truck and headed up town.

Once I reached my destination I decided to forgo the sleeping bag. I had a pretty busy day ahead and knew it would be more of a pain in the butt. Grabbing my backpack I was off. I walked down state street and back up. I stopped in at the fountain to let Craig know what I was up to and what area I would be in. I was quite amused by the fact no one recognized me. Like an idiot I stayed long enough to have a root beer. Then I started at Veterans Plaza.

Madison’s homeless population often sleep standing over building heating vents to try and stay warm in the winter months.

It was spitting snow off and on but it wasn’t too cold yet. If you could get out of the wind it was almost warm. I think the temp was around 35. One guy was sleeping standing up under the oven heat vent for ians. You have to sleep standing up most of the time because the cops will get you for loitering if you don’t. One guy was on the other side wrapped up in blankets and a tarp. I sat down in the plaza and did what most do. Stare at nothing and watch everything.
The bars were starting to close down at this point and I watched a drunken couple dancing a waltz across from me by the bus shelter. Young, old, suits and ties, tattered jeans, high heals to tennies. They were all pretty trashed. But did the cop slow down to check out any of them? No, he slowed down to watch the dangerous homeless person sitting down trying to keep warm and minding my own business.

A young college girl walked up and asked to bum a smoke. I thought to myself that they give tickets to homeless people for this very thing. She sat down next to me and said her boyfriend told her to ask me for one. She told him she couldn’t ask a homeless person but he goaded her into it. I just smiled and gave her one. She offered to pay me for it but I said no. She reached into her pocket and tried to give me 7 bucks. I told her to keep it and if someone asked her for one later on in life to give one to them. That was payback enough. She kept asking if I was sure then once satisfied with my answer she then asked if I needed a warm place to sleep for the night. I again convinced her I was ok and she finely left.

Madison police squad that was patrolling State Street’s homeless population.

The cop comes by again slowly. By now the cold has definitely creeped into my clothes and my toes were getting quite cold even with -60 socks on. I think I will write to the company and tell them their socks suck!

Another lady comes by and started giving us homeless people five bucks. She came up to me but again I refused the money. I told her other people needed it more then me and sent her to the car campers.

After a bit I got up and walked around the plaza a little trying to warm up. I was considering going back to the truck for my sleeping bag. The temp was down to 32 which isn’t really cold unless your in the cold continuously. I work outside but I wasn’t working.

The guy rolled up in the tarp woke up. He walked over wanting to know the time so I told him. He wandered off in search of a bathroom but no one seemed to let him use one. He came back over to me and asked if I needed a blanket. He had extra and was willing to let me have one so I didn’t get cold.

At this point I started to need a restroom myself. The Fountain was closed along with the other bars. The only place still open was a pizza place and they wouldn’t let me use theirs. I wont tell you much more about it except if your homeless and a woman, do not be an idiot and drink anything. Especially root beer at the Fountain.
Besides the cop coming around again and again it was uneventful. I ended up moving away from vets plaza because I didn’t want my cover blown yet.  I did notice though that it seems like the ones who care seem to be women and other homeless. I will keep a tally and see which category wins the caring more for others title.
So far the tally is
woman 2
homeless 1
men 0

Night Two:

 After working 14 hours I headed for home and got all snugly in my pj’s and climbed into bed. I lay awake for a bit listening to “the mouth” chattering away to his mom in a nearby room. I realized I wasn’t going to be able to fall asleep. I’d been going so hard that anything over three hours of sleep seemed to be too much. So I donned my “street” clothes and headed up town.

I parked my truck and and again laughed at my stupidity. I had attended a family function last Saturday and to make room in the truck for Sara I tossed my sleeping bag into the back. I knew that I wanted to be warmer than the other night and it was quite damp out. So there was my sleeping bag in the back of the truck, all covered in snow. As I brushed off the snow I could only hope the cover was water proof. Dodging snow and slush as much as I could I walked up to my “spot” and looked around. The two guys who were there the last time were there again. I was relieved. For one, familiar faces gave me comfort and two, I knew they were okay and no harm had befallen them. This time the top of State Street was quiet. The snow had pretty much quit but it was misting and very damp.

A cop cruised slowly by.

I sat down and pulled my sleeping bag out of its sodden cover. My fears were realized; the sleeping bag was soaked. I could only hope I had enough layers on to keep me dry as I wrapped myself up in it. I figured it could at least break some of the wind, or that was the logic behind my thoughts, even if it was flawed logic. I hadn’t had much sleep. That was my excuse and I am sticking with it. Funny how it didn’t seem to be windy when I was in my nice warm cozy plow truck.

As I felt the water from the sleeping bag slowly seeping into my clothes I thought about this latest development. I know from my own past that its hard to stay dry when you live outside. From Tami’s “pot luck” every Saturday we know this is an issue. Street people come to her and Connie asking for either a different sleeping bag that’s dry or maybe some quarters so they could dry them in a laundromat. So what, Dear Reader, do we do about this? Wet sleeping bags will not keep you warm or dry and can be very hazardous to your health. We could get water proof covers but those only work while the sleeping bag is in it. Garbage bags rip eventually and only work if they cover the bags. Maybe small tarps to wrap around the sleeping bags as they sleep would help? I think that this is something we definitely need to work on.

The cop cruised slowly by again.

Wrapped up in a soaking sleeping bag I snuggled up to the nice hard cold cement wall and ducked down as much as I could to escape the wind. Very few people were out and those that were kept there noses down into their scarfs, looking down at the ground and scurrying off to their destinations. Off around the corner I heard one of our city plow trucks clanking away down State Street. I watched as they drove by intent upon their job. I couldn’t see who it was and knew they wouldn’t recognize me even if they had looked over and I waved. I never understood how loud those trucks were till I tried snatching a few minutes of sleep out on the street. I could hear it from a few blocks away.

The cop stopped this time and stared right at me. He continued on after a few moments. I knew that it was only a matter of time until they tried and roust me from my “spot”. I was ready for it though. My phone sat with me locked and loaded, ready to ustream at a moments notice.

The belongings of a homeless person sleeping on State Street.

About 4am my clothes were totally soaked from my wet sleeping bag. Not moving was better than moving. Even though the clothes that were touching me were bone cold, the area that wasn’t touching was even colder. I needed to get some type of sleep before going to work but I really didn’t want to walk the few blocks to my truck. I just knew I would get colder once I got out of the sleeping bag. I finely just bit the bullet and climbed out into the wind. And yes it was much, much colder.

Think back to when you were a kid and had gone sledding. Remember how wet you got and how cold and miserable you felt walking home? But you got to go home, put on dry clothes, and drink something hot. You didn’t have to stay outside in the cold with wet clothes and nothing warm to drink. You got to go to a nice warm bed instead of waking up and wondering if you would ever feel warm again.

As I sit here typing this I wonder about another thing. Can lack of sleep make you go nuts? I’m a snow plow driver and I’m used to getting very little sleep. I am awake but things are very bright and crisp. Even I will need to play catch up soon. So how do the homeless do it? You do not get any real sleep when you have to worry about what could happen to you. Jerks throw things at you,and you live with the constant fear and threat of rape, or cops chase you from place to place because you can’t loiter. Noisy ass trucks drive by throughout the night, and you wonder if you’ll even wake up the next day. That’s life on the streets. That is the night soaked to the bone on your cement bed.

I will be out there again as soon as I can in order to tell these stories.

Where Can We Live? from Occupy Riverwest on Vimeo.

Wisconsin’s Overpass Light Brigade Stands in Support of Michigan Workers

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The Overpass Light Brigade took out a "RIGHT TO WORK IS A LIE" message on Saturday night in support of the workers in Michigan.

The Overpass Light Brigade took out a “RIGHT TO WORK IS A LIE” message on Saturday night in support of the workers in Michigan.

West Allis, WI - When the news hit Wisconsin that Michiganders had been locked out of their state capitol, while a group of lame duck Republicans rammed through a “Right to Work” bill, many upset and sympathetic Wisconsinites immediately stood up in support of Michigan workers. One such group was the Overpass Light Brigade (OLB) out of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The OLB (an affiliation of volunteer activists that use LED letters to spell out messages on Wisconsin pedestrian overpass bridges) was born out the 2011 Wisconsin Uprising, where Governor Scott Walker introduced a Budget Repair Bill that curtailed collective bargaining rights for most public state employees. The group took out numerous “Recall Walker” related messages till the recall election and has since taken out messages in support of other causes, but on Saturday night they focused their attention and message on the serious situation in Michigan.

At the conclusion of the OLB’s bridge action in support of Michigan workers, they lined up on the adjoining street and took some final photos.

Close to twenty OLB “Holders of the Light” gathered Saturday to hold the chosen message over the southbound lanes of I-894. Each individual LED letter was turned on, where the holders stepped up and grabbed each one of the 17 letters. From there the message was paraded up to the bridge for Wisconsin drivers to see. The “RIGHT TO WORK IS A LIE” message proved to be quite popular with passing drivers and received a steady flow of, what Wisconsinites have come to know as, democrabeeps, in which drivers passing underneath honk their horn in support. Many drivers even honked out the chant “This Is What Democracy Looks Like” (a familiar chant from the 2011 Wisconsin Uprising). After standing for close to 90 minutes the group marched their message off the bridge and onto the adjoining street, where they snapped a few last minute photos.

The workers of Wisconsin remember clearly the early days of the Uprising and their dedication to the Movement compelled them to brave the cold Wisconsin weather, standing behind their personal message of support for workers both then and now. We learned in our battle then that unions need to do much more than simply show up, shout, and rattle for a few days, but that there needs to be a concerted show of force, resolve, and unity. This legislative action is a crushing blow and Michigan unions and their allies will need to stand strong and fight together. Michigan unions can learn greatly from the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) and the Oakland SEIU dock workers union, that they need to fight or die trying. Solidarity and support from Wisconsin!

Right to Work Is A Lie from Occupy Riverwest on Vimeo.

 

If you want to support the Michigan workers, there will be a large rally in Lansing on Tuesday the 11th. Follow the Facebook event link below for details.

Day of Action at Michigan State Capitol