Make Art, Not War

Tuesday, July 31, 2012

TRIUMPHANT VICTORY! (ok, it was more like a plea deal)

But it was, in the end, what we had been asking for from the beginning. Yesterday in court, it was more like we skidded into the sweet spot of possible out comes. Thanks to the fancy footwork of our lawyers, the judge saw it our way about the added charges, and about the seriousness of the offense itself (he did deny our motion that the arrest was unconstitutional, but he said that this was an "unusual case", meaning it was occupy related and not simply about blocking the street) and he gave us his own deal to get this to go away. We entered a straight plea, essentially bypassing the prosecutor for refusing to deal, and all got charged the same thing. A petty misdemeanor with a fine. (Which is what we, as a group, decided was acceptable 9 months ago when we had our first appearance).

Woo-hoo! To be clear, this isn't a "not guilty" verdict. We didn't go to trial and we didn't win. The deal is just a reasonable thing to agree to. The reason the prosecutor had two of us singled out for harsher charges was because we had past arrests for political reasons and he wanted to make an example. For that same reason (our past experience) we were unwilling to take such a bad deal. The prosecutor was being heavy handed and we knew better. This kind of thing (engaging in civil disobedience as an act of free speech) USED to be a fifty dollar fine and a sharp reprimand about not doing it again for a year. Maybe you served some community service time (of your own choosing) something I would not have been at all opposed to because it enriches our community. It is a punishment that is much better suited for the crime.
The fact that the city is being so hard on non-violent protesters is cause for grave concern. In context with the broader political repression that we are seeing from the FBI raids on activists homes, to the conduct of police in Anaheim, it becomes more and more important that we speak out (and stick together).
Me in the street in front of US Bank plaza

The first time I was arrested it was at a political protest with the Anti-War Committee. We were upset about the latest war spending approval or another, so we blocked traffic in front of then-senator Coleman's office on University ave. We were there to demonstrate what check points and road blocks were like in occupied Iraq, where people were dealing with the consequences of war in a way U.S. citizens never had to see. The police chief, when asked by the press, said that while people have the right to Free Speech in this country, sitting down in an intersection was akin to yelling FIRE in a crowded theater- there are some things you just can't do.

My response to that was, and has always been,  that it isn't illegal to shout FIRE in a crowded theater if there IS one. If there is a fire, it is our duty as concerned citizens to say something. In fact, to get up and DO something about it. If there is a crisis, it is up to us to respond! In this case, the crisis is home foreclosures. The banks are forcing people out into the streets while the houses sit vacant. Over 25,000 homes in the last year in this state alone. And that's just one bank!. That is a crisis, if you ask me. And its up to us and our neighbors to stand up and say something!

And the cost of my speaking freely about it, that day, was a fine or some STS (picking up trash on the side of the road for the county). But others are facing much more serious charges. The more heavily they charge folks, the more difficult it is to fight. And the city has made it clear that they are going for real convictions. And what started out being about the foreclosure crisis is now raising all kinds of questions about police misconduct, the clogged and dysfunctional "justice" system, and how Free our Speech can really be if non-violent protesters are going to be dealt with like this by the state.

For now, I am glad to be done with this battle, but we have by no means won the war. Now we need to rally support for the next group of occupiers up for court, the Cruz home defenders. I still believe the next step is to take this thing all the way to trial. People need to start standing up to the banks and to this faulty criminal "justice" system. We have to put our foot down and say "No More". We need to be ready to fight them in the streets, and in the courts, and in our own homes. The prosecutor said at one point that if we were allowed to "get off so easily"  it would embolden other protesters to do the same and I think he's exactly right. We need to empower people to stand up for themselves and know their rights and use them.Then we can win.

Peace and Solidarity,

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Occupy activists go to trial Stop Foreclosures Now!

This is the statement that I wrote up for the 7 of us protesters that were arrested last Oct. for Occupy Mpls. We will have to see what happens tomorrow, but if we have to go to Court just to make a point about this, it is one more soap box to yell from. So here goes:

Call for support of Occupy Mpls activists as US Bank activists go to trial.

The first group of occupy protesters to be arrested locally will be going to court this week, starting Monday July 30thth at 9am at the Hennepin County Government Center (also known as the building attached to the people’s plaza). 7 activists were arrested at a demonstration outside of the US Bank branch in downtown Minneapolis last fall, where they were protesting foreclosures and homelessness. US Bank foreclosed on 25,000 homes in Minnesota alone in 2010, forcing families into the streets. On October 20th 2011, 100+ protesters occupied the intersection of 2nd Ave and 6th St in front of the bank where several of them pitched tents and occupied them, demanding that housing is a human right. They are now facing criminal charges of obstruction of traffic.

Anti War Committee member Misty Rowan, who is one of the defendants, had this to say about the coming trial “It’s unfortunate that we live in a society that treats protesters like criminals for speaking out and calling attention to such practices, when the real criminals are the big banks that are forcing people out of their homes after being bailed out with our tax dollars. Its time to stand up and fight back. They can arrest us but they can't stop us. Because you cannot evict an idea whose time has come.”

Supporters are asked to fill the courtroom on Monday July 30thth to show solidarity, and to call and demand that they drop the charges against the US Bank activists! (phone numbers below)
Housing is a human right!

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

My day in court

Well, this is just taking forever. After several continuances, and some mean-spirited new charges we might actually be on our way to court next week for an action taken last fall. I wish I had my thoughts collected enough to post my full argument here, but I probably should save all that passion for the stand. I hope to post my thoughts (of triumphant victory) after the case is settled, but until then here is the statement put together from our friends in the People's bailout coalition (regarding the new charges and a call to action for our supporters).

Wish me luck, folks. 

Say NO to political prosecution of anti-foreclosure protesters!

We need to stand up for the right to protest!

CALL…Mayor R.T. Rybak at 612-673-2100,
Assistant City Attorney Mary Ellen Heng at 612-673-2270
City Attorney Susan Segal at 612-673-3272
  • Ask them why Occupy protesters are facing unusually harsh charges.
  • Demand that they drop ALL CHARGES on anti-foreclosure protesters
including the 4 people in the U.S. Bank action who are going to court on July 30th and those arrested at the Cruz home.
On October 20, 2011, hundreds of people participated in a demonstration in front of U.S. Bank in downtown Minneapolis to draw attention to the fact that over 25,000 Minnesotans lost their homes to foreclosure in 2010 alone. 7 people were arrested in the intersection in front of the bank and charged with “interfering with pedestrian and vehicular traffic.”
Four of them are scheduled to go to trial on July 30th, but on July 20th they had 3 more charges added (unlawful assembly, public nuisance and not complying with a “peace officer”)!
Nationally, the Occupy movement is facing increasing police brutality, police infiltration, and trumped up charges. Locally the Minneapolis city attorney’s office has decided to try to shut down the growing movement of people standing in solidarity with families struggling to save their homes from foreclosure by giving protesters outrageous charges. For example, the city prosecutors have escalated charges on the 14 protesters who defended the Cruz family home on May 30th. Prosecutors at the City Attorney’s office originally charged supporters with trespassing, but have now moved to significantly more serious charges including 3rd degree riot – a gross misdemeanor which carries a sentence of up to one year in prison and a $3,000 fine.
The city of Minneapolis is trying to scare people from standing in solidarity with people being thrown out of their own homes. Solidarity is not a crime! Don’t jail the movement, jail the bankers! We, the People’s Bailout Coalition, know from our work defending the homes of Rosemary Williams and Leslie Parks that it is essential to our movement for people to be able to protest home foreclosures. The foreclosure crisis is a central issue in the U.S. economic crisis – we cannot be scared away from this important issue and from the tactic of civil disobedience!