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By Evan Harmon

KCPD warns Occupy KC to immediately take down all structures

Police officers from the Kansas City Police Department showed up at the Occupy KC camp in Penn Valley Park to inform the Occupiers that all structures, including tents, will no longer be tolerated. Read on…

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Friday
Jan062012

America occupies a fork in the road

By Evan Harmon

The truism today is that we all agree that something is very wrong in our country. We know the status quo isn’t right so we support change on some level. The problem is that we have yet to agree on what exactly the problem is. Our country speeds toward a fateful fork in the road, but if we can’t come together as a country and agree on how to handle these historic challenges, we’ll just end up going straight.

Illustration by Grégoire Vion

The choice we face is not Left or Right, Democrat or Republican, or Obama or Romney. It is more fundamental than that. Down one road is our choice to disengage from civic involvement for the sake of prioritizing the people close to us. That is the path I have taken for most of my life. With such challenges and threats to our loved ones’ well-being, it is natural to disengage from our duties to our community and our country in order to ensure that those we care for the most are safe and cared for. What else can we do when things have reached such dysfunctional levels?

There is absolutely nothing wrong with taking that road when our loved ones’ welfare is at stake. In fact, it is praiseworthy because there are far too many who disregard personal responsibilities altogether. But I believe there is an even more praiseworthy road to take. That road is the choice to not only take personal responsibility for ourselves and those we care about, but also to take a vested interest in the functioning of our government and society on both local and national levels. Today, personal responsibility is sorely needed, but civic responsibility is a dinosaur. The United States has not had a voter turnout for a presidential election above 60% since the 1960’s. (Local elections are often worse.) And this says nothing about our civic and social duties beyond voting.

Occupy KC supporter at Death of the Social Safety Net Funeral March on December 30th, 2011. Photograph by Mike Nickells

As a country, we seem to have substituted our historic tradition of civic responsibility for merely articulating our political beliefs to the glare of our TV screen or on our Facebook Wall. Perhaps we vote if we can remember the date. I have been as guilty of this as anyone. But I have grown tired of screaming along with my choice of TV pundits. They almost never hear me anyway.

Down this latter road is the choice to take ownership of both our personal responsibilities as well as our wider civic responsibilities. It is to take the stance that we get the communities and government we deserve, and we deserve better. That the people we voted for to look after our needs have failed us for far too long. That the indictment of our leaders needs no justification beyond the crumbling of our roads, the incompetence of our schools, the absurdity of our courts, and the injustice of our economy. That it is time to do more for our country than just vote for others to fix it for us. That it is unacceptable that our government and economy leave so many Americans figuratively and literally out in the cold. That it is time to create new forms of civic and community engagement to reassert a government of, for, and by the people. This is the proverbial road less traveled, the high road, and no significant challenge our country has ever faced has been solved until a large enough number of patriotic Americans has cared enough about their country to take it upon themselves to do something about it.

We have a ways to go. But I think the Occupy Movement just might be the way to go.

Occupy KC We Are One Rally. Residents of the Historic Northeast Neighborhood spontaneously joined the march. Photograph by RadiomanKC

If you have remained neutral up to this point, it is probably because you are lucky enough to have that luxury. You are probably one of a decreasing number of people that has a financial blanket big enough to keep you warm during this economic downturn. However, if our economy and government are not fixed soon, fewer and fewer of us can remain comfortable through our country’s hardships. Unemployment, underemployment, debt, dwindling career prospects, razor thin profit margins, cutbacks, a devalued dollar, a stagnant economy, foreclosures, and layoffs claim more victims every day. The only ones truly safe from the downward spiral of our economy are not the 1%, but the 1% of the 1%.

I am lucky to still enjoy a decent standard of living. I have a job and my son and I can live fairly comfortably. I have some debt, but I am far more indebted to the support and stability my family and friends have provided me than I am to any debtor. But I am well aware that this comfort may not continue much longer.

An Occupy KC supporter at Occupy the Bridge event on November 17th, 2011. Photograph by Beka Noble

I am part of the Occupy Movement because my usual political cynicism has been transformed into wide-eyed optimism by what I have experienced and what I have seen accomplished in the Movement so far. I used to be completely baffled as to what might return this country to sanity, but I believe the Occupy Movement is our best hope yet.

However, my hopes for what this Movement can do to get America back on track is not possible unless more people join us. We need your help. We need the 99%.

The Occupy Movement is no revolution. Rather, it is more of a last ditch effort to avoid the potential of revolution if the unemployment, poverty, and suffering reach the epidemic levels they are headed toward. Personally, I’d like to do whatever I can to try to avoid such a tragic situation, if not as an act of compassion for my fellow man and country, then as a completely selfish one.

Friday
Jan062012

Spotlight an Occupier: Monroe Perez

By Tyler Crane

Monroe Perez is a loving father of two boys, a full time college student at Penn Valley with a double-major in engineering and alternative energy, as well as being a dedicated Occupier camping five nights a week. Monroe spent many years on the road traveling with a nomadic ministry. They traveled around to cities devastated by natural disasters, and upon arrival would assist in the clean-up and rebuilding of homes. Most notable was his time spent in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. There he helped rebuild homes in the Lower 9th Ward; one of the cities poorest and hardest hit neighborhoods, and one neglected by the Government and FEMA. Witnessing firsthand the carelessness of the government has led to a politically active life and involvement in the Occupy Movement.

Monroe Perez protesting at Occupy the Bridge on November 17th, 2011. Photograph by Beka Noble

Monroe joined the Occupation in Kansas City during the second week and he quickly took on the role of organizing and operating the comfort work group, a task well-suited to Monroe, as he is deeply concerned about the comfort and well-being of others.

The comfort work group is tasked with collecting and organizing donations such as clothing, blankets, and camping gear. Monroe has done amazing work at Occupy KC. He has clothed and sheltered many homeless people in Kansas City, many of whom have since joined the Occupation and have now become active in the Movement. These are the kinds of selfless acts that embody the essence of the Movement because they directly improve the quality of people’s lives, which is something that Monroe does daily.

One of my earliest memories of Monroe is of him walking around the occupation site offering back alignments and shiatsu massages. His intent was to help people relax, promote health, and most importantly to make people feel good. I knew then that he was an excellent addition to the growing Occupy family. For Thanksgiving, he organized the community to come together to provide dinner for all the Occupiers. He stated, “This camp has become people’s home, a place they can feel safe and included. I felt it was important to have a holiday dinner to build on that feeling of inclusiveness and family. I wanted to share that feeling of love.” He organized enough food to feed 40-50 people. The community showed their support by donating food which included three turkeys, a glazed ham, Tofurky for the vegetarians, side dishes, pumpkin pies, and dinner rolls. He organized all this out of the love from his heart and for the love of the people.

Monroe Perez gives a heartfelt speech in front of Bank of America at Occupy KC’s Death of the Social Safety Net Funeral March on December 30th, 2011. Photograph by Christian Soulliere

From his perspective, the Occupy Movement is a chance for middle America, for the oppressed people to come together to restore their voice in the American political system. It’s a chance to rebuild our communities and give back to the people who for too long have been neglected by a corrupt and greedy government. He envisions Occupy KC as a model for other Occupations to follow, a model of community building and compassion. Monroe stated:

“Without healthy, safe communities we fail. We have been failing, and its because of the systematic destruction of what our communities represent. This is why the Occupy Movement is so important. We are restoring the people’s voice. We are bringing awareness to so many issues and showing people how to get involved.”

I asked Monroe how long he planned on occupying. He replied:

“As long as it takes to create real positive change in our political system and until there is economic justice. It’s not fair for my family and myself to have to pay taxes while companies like GE do not pay anything, even after making billions in profits. It does not make any sense. I will occupy forever if it helps create a better world.”

He went on to say that everyone has something to offer to the movement:

“We all have unique skillsets and talents that often go unused in the current system. At Occupy, your talents as an artist, poet, carpenter, teacher, yoga instructor, preacher, etc…, these talents are not only welcome, but necessary to cultivate and create a better world for all. We need to learn how to work with one another’s skills. To not have one person do all the work, but to spread the load evenly, and the passion evenly so that everyone can be able to actually change something.”

Monroe encourages everyone to get involved and share in the process of creating a new and better way of co-existing. He is an inspiration and a motivator, a civic-minded activist committed to improving the lives of everyone around him.

It is for these reasons that Monroe was selected to be spotlighted. Your hard work and love for the Occupation has been a critical element of the Movement’s success in Kansas City.

Thank you for being a part of the Occupy family.

Wednesday
Nov302011

Bill Black yells "Fraud" in a crowded theater.

UMKC Economics Professor William BlackSpeaking to a full house at the UMKC Student Union yesterday, white-collar crime expert William Black made a compelling case against the one-tenth-of-one-percenters.  Black explained how these self-described plutocrats were largely responsible for the mortgage crisis and the ensuing economic meltdown, but that unfortunately, they are not being held accountable for their fraud.

Judging from the audience’s response to his speech, Black was preaching to the converted, which included a substantial number of KC Occupiers.  Occupy KC was one of the co-sponsors of the event.

Tuesday
Nov292011

Occupy KC Prepares for Winter

 

Protesters face Valley Forge-like test, some intend to go the distance.

By Jeff Johnson

In Cairo, protesters are shot and killed. At UC Davis and in Denver, they are pepper sprayed and batoned. Here in Kansas City? The park sprinklers came on during one of Occupy KC’s events and dampened the grounds. Not shocking video material. No outraged citizenry, no city officials forced to step down, and a bunch of local Occupiers left wondering whether they are being taken seriously.

As it stands, Occupy KC’s imminent challenge is not The Man (as 60’s-era protesters referred to their oppressors), but Old Man Winter, who every Midwesterner knows can be unrelentingly oppressive. Observers and insiders wonder if it is realistic to expect Occupiers to sleep on frozen ground for the next few months, and are concerned that the local Movement might fizzle without a continuous outdoor presence.

Chad Moore is among those that plan to stay in Penn Valley Park through the winter.

So far, Occupy KC has gotten away with using tents at Penn Valley Park, their original and main protest site near the Federal Reserve Bank. However, even with tents and heaters, it is a big question mark whether Occupy KC can survive the entire winter outside. Adding uncertainty, local law enforcement has repeatedly warned Occupiers that they may at any time enforce the city parks’ no-tent rule.

As with most things Occupy, opinions are divided and plans vary. Some say it would be a waste of resources to support an outdoor camp through the winter months. Others are committed to the symbolic importance of the park presence.

Chad Moore, 26, stays at the site two or three nights per week.


“A bunch of us have decided that if we can stay out here through the winter, that will make an even stronger statement,” said Moore.

Another Occupier said the site serves as a unifying, physical hub for an Occupation that has seen its share of division.

Brian Gandreau intends to stay through the winter. He says efforts are in the works to obtain large military tents with room for communal sleeping, possibly to be set on wood pallets. As an indoor refuge on the most bitter of cold nights, Gandreau says they have leads on charitable organizations nearby.

For some of those dependent on the food, supplies and community of the camp, the political message of the encampment is not the priority, but instead, simply day-to-day existence. For these individuals, without an Occupy camp, there may be nothing remaining that identifies them with the Movement.

Linda Miller, who helps coordinate the receipt and distribution of supplies on site, says so far they have had a good supply of donated blankets and gloves, but sleeping bags and tents continue to be a need. Storms have already taken their toll. “We lost several tents, and the kitchen tent is about to go,” said Miller.

Tuesday
Nov292011

For Occupy KC's camp cook, being unemployed does not mean being idle

By Jeff Johnson

Talk to people around the Occupy KC site and they will tell you that nobody works harder than Linda Miller. “I guess that’s why I’m so damn tired and cranky all the time,” says Miller. Using donations from supporters of the Movement, and with help from other Occupiers, Miller, 38, cooks for and feeds between 30 and 50 people on site each day.

Occupy KC’s camp cook Linda Miller

“I’m the camp cook, but some people call me the kitchen Nazi.” Apparently, Miller runs a tight ship. She used to run the graveyard shift at the diner Nichols Lunch, until it closed in 2006.

Of late, Miller has been unable to find work. “I would take any job I could get, but preferably inside.” Miller has worked elsewhere since Nichols, but the loss of her position there came during a difficult decade for Miller; her mother, father, grandmother and husband all passed away.

Miller joined Occupy KC having no idea what it was about. “I’ve never been political. In my section [while she was waiting tables]I didn’t allow talk of sports, politics or religion.” She saw the October 9th march down Broadway and just joined in, even though she had a cast on her leg up to her thigh. “It was slow going,” said Miller.

At the rally after the march, she listened to an anti-nuclear weapons speech, and that night she grabbed some blankets and tarps and settled in for the night. Since then, she has been part of the Occupy KC community. “It was pretty mindboggling being down here the first few days,” says Miller. “There were a lot of people talking. It just blurred into one big conversation.” She said it was a week before she understood why people were there.

Linda Miller beside her tent at Penn Valley Park.

When asked about her concerns with the system, Miller replies, “Jobs would be nice.”

Miller says she was “raised dirt poor,” started working at age 13, and knew a better standard of living for a time when she managed apartment buildings with her mother. Now she contributes to Occupy KC by serving on the Town Planning and Peace Keeping workgoups.

Miller says she may have an opportunity to take a traveling job in the spring. In the meantime, at Occupy KC she experiences a welcome sense of community. Last week, after serving Thanksgiving dinner at camp, she joined Occupiers in a “mic check” of area Walmarts for Black Thursday, where she said they attempted to spread the message that the “meaning of Christmas is not in greed, or money, or power. It’s about loving one another. You don’t have to buy things to share that.” She said the cashiers were receptive. The shoppers, not so much.