Occupy Albany, two months later

occupy albany 2 months composite

Occupy Albany's permit to continue the protest in Albany's Academy Park ran out at 7 am this morning, and it's possible they could be booted by the city tonight (though it doesn't appear likely, at this point). Update: The city ">moved in this afternoon and took down tents.

The Occupy protestors have been in Academy park since October. This seemed like a good time to ask some of the OA protestors about what effect they think they've had during the last two months -- and what happens next.

Colin Donnaruma

Who?
Colin Donnaruma, doctoral student in political philosophy at UAlbany.

Why did you join OA?
I think we're in a period in which economic inequality is growing more severe, in which the
pervasive nature of corporate money in politics is getting worse and worse, in which we see our democracy eroding and money controlling politics. So the idea was to start a movement in which we articulate this was not acceptable, in which we try to organize ourselves in a much more truly democratic manner and push back against corporate money in politics and growing economic inequality.

Has OA made any difference?
In a broad sense, we've really changed the narrative nationwide. We kind of went from a Tea Party narrative of individualism, smaller government to this idea of we are the 99%, which is a slogan which articulates the fact that 1% of the country has way too much wealth, way too much power and influence.

I think on a tangible state level we had a really large impact in being able to have a partial extension of the Millionaire's Tax, which is going to shift $2 billion in additional revenue toward schools, toward infrastructure, toward jobs that otherwise was going to go to tax cuts for the wealthiest New Yorkers. I think Governor Cuomo indicated a complete refusal to budge on that issue before the Occupy movement took off and I think we had a large part in having that compromise struck.

What's next?
I will say that on Friday we are closing on an indoor support space on Hudson Ave. Our idea is to maintain a hybrid model -- we have the encampment in the park and then an indoor space where we can have teach-ins movie nights, meetings in a warm, dry space. In the unlikely event that we will be evicted, we can shift most of our operations into this indoor space that we'll be moving into on Friday.


OA Hezzie Johanson

Who?
Hezzie Johanson, Contemporary Arts Center, Troy

Why did you join the OA movement?
I was inspired by Occupy Wall Street. The first day I was there was when they had the 700 arrests on the Brooklyn Bridge and that was pretty much the most powerful display of people rising up to have their voices heard that I had seen in my adult life. I wanted to make sure something like that happened in Albany. In the past several years I've seen our access to a true democracy being whittled away and I've felt relatively helpless to do anything about it -- and then all of a sudden I felt there is a wedge in that door. Now there is a way to get into that process -- we can have an uprising, we can have protests so that this issue really come to light.

Has OA made any difference?
I definitely think we've accomplished a lot of things. For me one of the most exciting things is seeing all the people from different walks of life and different ideologies come together and say, "Yes, there is a fundamental problem in our country let's fix it."

We have also seen Governor Cuomo kind of back step a little on the Millionaires Tax where of course it's still expired, but we have gotten 2 billion put into the state economy because of this insistent protesting against the expiration of the Millionaire's Tax.

And also expanding the dialogue, because I don't know that it's something people actively understand is happening to the nation. And I think it's something that could very slowly get eroded by complacency. I think that we've stepped up that dialogue. I know nationally the amount of tweets and times that things have been searched on Google -- like income inequality and corporate control -- has gone up. So I think that just having that inserted into the dialogue has been good.

OA John Jaye.jpg

Who?
John Jaye, business owner, Troy

Why did you join the OA movement?
In the past I've been interested in politics but I've never been active. But now I feel there's a palpable sense that change is possible. My personal interest is small farming and agriculture. I think the way concentrated money can exert itself on the political system, the people's voice is drowned out. I think a lot of subsidies laws are written, and just the way the government support goes to large corporate farms is systematically wiping out small farmers and wiping out a distributed agricultural system. I don't want to live in a country where that happens. We are systematically wiping out the small farmer.

Has OA made any difference?
I believe we can unify the country to root out this problem. I've dropped my work to part time and I've committed 40-50 hours a week to this. I think this is not a partisan or dividing issue. I would say absolutely. I think public discourse around these issues has completely changed in the last few months. This week the city of Albany was only the second state capital in the nation to pass a resolution speaking out against corporate personhood and the effects that it has on our democracy. Having our state capital openly reject it unanimously -- I think sends a message.

Also this sort of distributed grass roots involvement in this movement has kind of galvanized an entire generation of people in a way that I think isn't yet apparent. But over the next couple of years, I think, as people see that these sorts of grass roots actions are changing the way people are sort of empowered to get their voice heard and get out there and make the world into the kind of place that they want to live in.

What's next for the movement?
You know, Zuccotti Park got cleared out in New York City a few weeks ago and there's energy there and people are organizing. If anything, people's energy has become more focused on organizing. I think anyone who speculates that the movement is going to die now that winter is coming and the park is being cleared doesn't understand the situation.

Abby

Who?
Abby, high school senior, Berne

Why did you join the OA movement?
I think I'm really sort of fed up with the government and the way I feel that as a people we are being treated. I really don't feel like we really have a voice in our democracy. Democracy is for the people and by the people but that's not the way it is right now and I think that should be changed.

Has OA made any difference?
The Occupy movement has caused so much more student activism and activism in general. It's made people think about the government and think about what they're doing and what difference they can make. Instead of being passive and just watching things happen people are actually voicing their opinions and talking about things.

Matt

Who?
Matt, CUNY student

Why did you join the OA movement?
I'm here because I think money in politics is at the heart of almost all the issues that we care about: society, health care, war, peace, community development, the environment -- it all comes back down to money. And so it's really important that we can take effective action soon to reclaim our democracy so that all people can have a say in their government, not just those who can afford to give campaign contributions.

Has OA made any difference?
I think the Occupy movement has made a huge difference in shaping the conversation. Before Occupy the notion that corporate power needs to be put in check wasn't nearly as visible as it is now. So I think the dialogue has really changed. It's really exciting to see so many people from different walks of life coming out and saying, "We want democracy and we want people to have a voice."

I've been working on campaign finance reform for a long time -- seven years. And a lot of times it felt a bit discouraging... I almost felt delusional working for it because it seemed so far out of reach. But now we have a movement -- now we have an army. It's motivated people and united people and I've had a chance to meet organizers that I hadn't met.

What's next?
We feel very strongly about being in the park because it's a space for open civic discourse and I think that space is essential. Many citizens don't feel like we have that voice anymore so to have this space for open discourse is essential. But we're doing so many things out in the community and we have an indoor space now so all of those things will continue.

Daniel Morrissey

Who
Daniel Morrissey, founder and director of Water Equality

Why did you join OA?
I see this country spiraling down a black hole of corruption. I look at this country having such potential to be an example of equality but that's not necessarily going to happen, so I think that it would be best to create at least equity. I don't think it's fair for corporations or CEOs to be able to influence government to the extent that they are now. It's just a huge problem -- rampant -- no matter what sector you look at: the energy sector, the food sector, the financial sector.

Has OA made a difference?
Sure, we got a partial Millionaire's Tax -- a two-fifths millionaire's tax. But the point of the movement is not to necessarily negotiate with politicians for partial anything. What I want out of this movement is a complete sea change. I want to literally be able to participate in my democracy. That's why I'm here for general assembly everyday, because I'm able to participate in direct democracy -- consensus-based process and that type of decision making is more engaging in so many ways because once you start making decisions about your life and learn how to hash things out and how to vet things with others then you begin to really understand what your life is about. You begin to understand what you are able to accomplish. So, for me this has also been about personal growth.

Earlier on AOA:
+ Occupy Albany's demand
+ Arrests at Occupy Albany
+ Why they're occupying Albany

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