Key personnel with Occupy Albany gathered late Sunday afternoon to reflect on the past, present and future of the movement.
On Saturday, Occupy Albany marched from the city's downtown Central Avenue McDonald's to the state capitol to support "food and jobs with dignity," an anti-"factory farming" initiative that's been around a few years. The group is best known for its trademark "Occupy Albany" event: weeks of squatting in a city park in solidarity with the 2011 effort that began in New York City, as part of the response to the U.S. financial crisis, when "occupiers" converged on Zuccotti Park.
The action fostered a return to activism not seen in the U.S. since the late 1960's. The Albany effort included young and old, people from all walks of life. Ultimately, with the coldest months approaching, the protesters were removed by police from their Albany perch.
Three years ago today, UAlbany activist Sharmin Hossain told WAMC why Occupy had a special meaning for all college students. "The education system is deteriorating because it's getting privatized. Our tuition is getting hiked as well as all our resources are being cut. We're asked to pay more for less resources, and as students it is our role to stand up and speak up."
Sunday afternoon, hardcore local Occupiers gathered at the Social Justice Center on lower Central Avenue. During a meeting themed "Occupy the Future," the agenda included the role of Occupy, projects to consider, and solidarity to build out.
Longtime Albany Occupier Daniel Plaat says that while the local organization hasn't made front page headlines lately, they're actively plotting a "future draft agenda" and monitoring fellow activists. "From cyberspace to meet space. Real space. More people are doing things. When you're looking for what's going on, you'll find it."
Plaat emphasizes one must look beyond the mainstream media's constant tirade of ISIS and Ebola stories. "In California there's 'Block The Boat,' people stopping certain shipments coming in from Israel, a way of anti-Apartheid work. There's school walkouts in different regions because of education struggles, whether it be Common Core, or in Colorado where school boards wanted to change education standards towards a more nationalistic stance. There's Ferguson, that's flaring up right now, more people getting killed by the police. There's the Rolling Rebellion for Real Democracy..."
There's also "Occupy the FCC," which is all about net neutrality, and Plaat adds there are several ongoing "occupations" including the pro-democracy protest Occupy Central, the civil disobedience movement half a world away that at one point saw tens of thousands turn out to rally against the Chinese government's ruling on who can be a candidate in the 2017 elections for Hong Kong's leader. "More mass movements are coming to a head," quipped Plaat.
People in major Chinese cities like Beijing and Shanghai are clandestinely following Occupy Central, nicknamed the Umbrella Revolution, after protestors used the devices to shield themselves from pepper spray.
Local activist Sister Honora Kinney, a board member of the Homeless Action Committee, goes right to the movement's roots, shining light on longstanding concerns of Occupiers, including raising the minimum wage and restoring food stamp benefits to needy New Yorkers. "We need to build that climate where you improve everybody's situation By improving everybody's situation, and not just saying 'let the bottom end starve.' And I think that in one sense for me was the fundamental insight of Occupy, that 99 percent or whatever percentage you want, 85 percent of the people are being taken advantage of by the 1 percent and this is something that has to be fought against."
Occupiers agree the worldwide movement has succeeded in raising public awareness about social inequalities and injustices. They say the mission of "Occupy the Future" is clear: identify what the nation's principles are, whether we as a people are living up to them, and what can be done to ensure those principles are both preserved and carried out by government leaders.