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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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Entries by Evan Harmon (6)

Tuesday
Mar272012

KCPD warns Occupy KC to immediately take down all structures

By Evan Harmon

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. The cordial cops showed up at the park early Tuesday evening and politely warned members of Occupy KC that if they do not immediately remove all structures from the park they could be confiscated and trashed, including their personal belongings.

Facebook, Twitter, and email lists lit up soon after the police officers’ warning, eliciting support, confusion, and clarifying reports of the incident. “It seems to some of us that tonight is the night. 5 local officers showed, while 3 other cars and an suv stood on, the 5 officers left camp without giving detail as to when,” Occupier Shaun Lee reported on Facebook.

Officer Greg Williams, who led a ten minute discussion with the park’s Occupiers, clarified that structures such as tents are against city code, but sleeping bags are acceptable. “You have a right to be here. The tents do not. … Enjoy the park. It’s open 24/7,” Williams said.

Occupy KC has received similar warnings in the past, and confusion remains when, if, and how this latest warning will be enforced. When asked for a specific timetable, Williams said, “It can be enforced at any time. It could be five minutes.”

As of now, the structures that Occupy KC has put up at Penn Valley Park are considered abandoned property, according to Williams.

When asked what would happen if someone were to refuse to take down their structure, Officer Williams said they would be subject to arrest.

Occupy KC is currently deliberating how to respond to this turn of events.

Livestream video of the event

Friday
Mar022012

Letters to the Editor

Occupy Wall Street needs a message!

Occupy Wall Street needs a message! All I hear from these clueless idiots is that they are apparently pro-camping. Oh, and also something about a civic duty to protest social and economic injustice with rationally and empirically-based critiques of a political system that has caused unprecedented and ethically egregious levels of income inequality and a justice system that has failed to hold the perpetrators of the economic collapse accountable and instead fights for the corporate control of the democratic process rather than acting as a bulwark against it. It’s like, what’s your message people!? Do you idiots even know what you’re protesting?

–N.A. Sayers

Occupy Wall Street won’t shut up about their message!

The thing that irks me the most about those Occupy Wall Street characters is that they won’t shut up about their message! All those facts, figures, and insights are overwhelming, and I’m starting to wonder how long it is going to be before I am forced to believe something I don’t want to believe. I have a right to my own opinion, and when these Occupiers lord their oppressive logic, mountain of evidence, and convincing arguments over me they infringe on my First Amendment rights. And frankly, their constant reminders about the injustice and dysfunction of our political system just plain make me feel bad. What a bunch of downers! It is my sacred right as an American to jam my head so far in the sand that I can see the poor Chinese kids that sweatily stitch my Ed Hardy shirts. Well, wait, not that far. That would make me feel bad too.

–Will Phil Ignorance

Friday
Mar022012

ALEC at the center of corrupt legislative process

By Evan Harmon

The American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) has gradually carved out a powerful place at the heart of the legislative process in the United States. Founded in 1973, ALEC describes itself in its mission statement as “a nonpartisan public-private partnership” created “to advance the Jeffersonian principles of free markets, limited government, federalism, and individual liberty.”

Or to put it another way, as Wisconsin state assemblyman Mark Pocan puts it, “Alec is like a giant corporate dating service [for] lonely legislators and their special interest corporate allies.”

ALEC is a policy organization that drafts bills at exclusive triannual ALEC conferences which are attended by some of the nation’s biggest corporations and politicians from across the country. ALEC then makes these “model bills” available to state legislators so they can introduce them as their own. There is no way for non-ALEC members to know whether or not a bill introduced to a state legislature is based on one of ALEC’s model bills.

Florida state Representative Rachel Burgin was recently caught in the middle of this dubious process when she introduced a bill to reduce corporate taxes that inadvertently included ALEC’s mission statement in its wording, which had apparently been copied verbatim from ALEC’s model bill. Burgin promptly withdrew the bill and then resubmitted it the next day without the glaring connection to ALEC.

With members in all 50 state legislatures, as well as 85 members of congress and hundreds of corporations, ALEC’s true function might be best understood by considering where it gets its funding, almost all of which comes from some of the country’s largest corporations. ExxonMobil, Pfizer, Wal-Mart, State Farm, BP, AT&T, and Bayer are just a few of the members on its corporate board.

A recent file leak of ALEC model bills clearly reveals how this “public-private partnership” works due to the bills’ carefully-worded exemptions, loopholes, immunities, and tax breaks which benefit these powerful corporations’ profit-driven goals. In other words, these are not bills to, for example, turn a vacant lot into a community park.

ALEC bills consistently push profits over people, and toward that end, many of these bills are also anti-environment, anti-union, anti-regulation, anti-corporate-taxes, and anti-immigrant. In fact, ALEC is behind one of the most racist bills in recent U.S. history–Arizona’s controversial SB 1070, which Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach helped draft. Two of the many criticisms of this act are that it encourages racial profiling and that it consumes limited police resources by requiring police officers to determine a person’s immigration status if there is “reasonable suspicion” that he is an illegal immigrant.

SB 1070 was actually modelled on ALEC’s “No Sanctuary Cities for Illegal Immigrants Act.” This model bill was privately drafted by an ALEC task force that included prison companies which would likely profit from the bill’s passage due to increased incarceration of illegal immigrants.

Due to the file leak, we now know that ALEC model bills have found their way into state legislation across the country.

Many are calling for this process of corporations writing bills that turn into state law to at least be a more transparent and democratic one. One group critical of ALEC, Government watchdog Common Cause, wants to revoke ALEC’s nonprofit designation due to its claim that it “spend[s] most of its resources lobbying, in violation of the rules governing nonprofit organizations.” And lawmakers in Arizona and Wisconsin are trying to pass the Alec Accountability Act, which would require ALEC to reveal where it gets its funding and to register as a lobbying organization.

Illustration by Marc Saviano

On February 29th, Occupy Movements across the country joined together in a mass protest against ALEC’s corporate members that seek profits over people and greed over democracy. They want corporations and their deep pockets to stop bending yet another of our nation’s democratic institutions to the whims of big business. Dubbed #F29 to match the action’s Twitter hashtag, more and more people are putting their money where their mouth is and working to improve the fate of Kansas City as well as their country.

Representative Pocan went on to say, “Alec operates best when it operates in the shadows. Once people find out that it’s really nothing but a front for corporate special interests you start to know that the ideas they put forward aren’t in the public good.”

Friday
Mar022012

The more you know: Corporate personhood and the Citizens United ruling

By Evan Harmon

The issue of corporate personhood and the Citizens United ruling are two of the most common topics within the Occupy Wall Street Movement. But what do these terms mean? And why do they matter?

Illustration by Marc Saviano

Corporate personhood is the idea that a corporation should be granted some of the same rights people have. While corporations have been given some legal rights as early as the 18th century, the idea gained steam when the Industrial Revolution resulted in a proliferation of limited liability corporations.

Back then, under common law, owners of businesses were held liable for the businesses’ debts and wrongdoing. However, with limited liability corporations, the corporations could break the law and the owners could not be held liable because of the corporations’ limited liability status; but neither could the corporation be prosecuted since it was not considered a person subject to the law. Applying some form of personhood to corporations, therefore, was justified as a convenient legal fiction intended to hold corporations accountable for wrongdoing when otherwise they would not be subject to the legal system.

But since then, this basic idea that corporations should be considered legal persons so that they could be held accountable has been gradually corrupted by new interpretations of corporate personhood that have the effect of expanding the rights of already powerful corporations instead of keeping that power in check.

In the recent Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission decision (2010), the Supreme Court nullified decades of hard-fought campaign finance laws limiting the corporate manipulation of elections by taking the very dubious position that money is speech, and that since corporations are “people,” many types of restrictions on corporate spending on campaigns are unconstitutional.

Because of these additional rights granted to corporations, the already muddied waters of U.S. elections will have a never-before-seen level of corporate money flooding the campaigns, influencing politicians, and making a mockery of the democratic process.

Reaction to the Citizens United ruling was swift and widespread. Politicians, academics, journalists, and citizens around the country decried the decision. An ABC-Washington Post poll showed that 80% of the respondents op- posed the ruling. Many made light of the odd ruling by asking Why, if corporations are people, could they not be put in jail or given the death penalty? Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert regularly satirize the effects of Citizens United on campaign finance laws with the creation of their own Super PAC, which they use to show how easy it is to get around what few campaign finance laws remain. And John McCain has stated, “there’s going to be, over time, a backlash … when you see the amounts of union and corporate money that’s going to go into political campaigns.”

Advocacy groups quickly sprung up calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn the ruling and abolish corporate personhood. One of these groups is Move to Amend which is a nonpartisan national organization with local chapters across the country, including Kansas City.

These groups, with the help of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, are successfully bringing this issue to the forefront. City councils and state legislatures across the country are considering, or have already passed, resolu- tions calling for various combinations of either ending corporate personhood, ending the equivocation of money and speech, or overturning Citizens United.

In February, President Obama announced support for a constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, but not specifically corporate personhood or the treatment of money as free speech like many are calling for.

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.