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Home » Clarion » 2011 » November 2011 » PSC Members Assist Occupy Wall Street

PSC Members Assist Occupy Wall Street

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Many people from CUNY have been involved in the Occupy Wall Street protests, in a wide variety of roles. Here are a few of the ways PSC members have taken part:


Jackie DiSalvo
, professor of English (emerita), Baruch

A lifelong activist and a recent retiree, Jackie DiSalvo has been involved with Occupy Wall Street from the beginning.

In its early planning meetings, DiSalvo found that she knew many of the young organizers from their work together in “Bloombergville,” a three-week, round-the-clock protest encampment across from City Hall that sought to rally opposition to the Mayor’s proposed budget cuts. DiSalvo was one of many who slept on the sidewalk during the Bloombergville protests, which a judge ruled was protected by the First Amendment as a form of free speech.

What OWS and Bloombergville had in common was a search for more effective forms of resistance to political and economic policies that favor the wealthy at others’ expense. That could also be said of Wisconsin’s labor upsurge earlier this year, where DiSalvo – an alumna of the University of Wisconsin – took part in the occupation of the State Capitol. Joining the organizing in Madison was “inspirational,” she says. “It was the first time I felt I was participating in an actual labor movement.”

Soon after the OWS encampment was established in Liberty Park, DiSalvo helped organize Occupy Wall Street’s Labor Committee, which went on to play a pivotal role (see above, also page 10). She’s excited about the new level of labor solidarity that’s started to develop since Occupy Wall Street began.

What does DiSalvo want to happen next? “Get the unions to take up each others’ struggles. If this happens,” she says with a smile, “that would make my life complete.”


Penny Lewis
, assistant professor of sociology, Murphy Institute

When Penny Lewis saw coverage of the NYPD attacking and pepper-spraying peaceful demonstrators during a September 24 march near Union Square, she was outraged.

“I felt somebody had to have their back,” said Lewis. “They were protesting the right things, police were trying to shut them down, and we needed to support them.”

When Lewis couldn’t find anyone organizing a protest, she checked in with Jackie DiSalvo. “Well, why don’t you do it?,” DiSalvo asked.

Lewis reached out to Alex Vitale, an associate professor of sociology at Brooklyn College who has written extensively on policing and civil liberties. They chose a date and divided the work: Vitale publicized the demonstration through Facebook and Twitter, while Penny worked through what she calls the “old-fashioned” technologies of phone and e-mail. They put together a leaflet, announced the rally at an OWS General Assembly and wondered how many would come.

On September 30 upwards of 1,500 people turned out for the rally at One Police Plaza, a milestone in the growth of Occupy Wall Street’s public support. It took the organizing work of many people to make it a success – but it started when one union member saw a video and was outraged.


Manissa McCleave Maharawal
, graduate assistant, Baruch, and PhD student in anthropology

As Occupy Wall Street activists considered their first declaration of principles in late September, Manissa McCleave Maharawal says there was one line “that hit me in the stomach.” A draft of the “Declaration of the Occupation spoke of “being one race, the human race, formerly divided by race, class…”

As Maharawal later wrote, this framework essentially “erased all power relations and decades of history of oppression” from consideration – though she and the other South Asian activists with her knew well that those power relations are still very much alive. So they took a firm stand in the consensus-driven meeting, persisting when their concerns were initially brushed aside. And they got the language changed.

That discussion and the discussions that followed were a “crash course on racism, white privilege, structural racism, oppression,” Maharawal wrote in an article that’s gained wide circulation online. “It was hard. It was real. It hurt. But people listened. We had to fight for it. I’m going to say that again: we had to fight for it. But it felt worth it.”

The experience of that night helped spur the formation of an Occupy Wall Street People of Color (POC) working group, which now holds twice-a-week meetings that draw upwards of 60 people. The POC working group has played a key role in furthering an anti-racist analysis at OWS, and has inspired POC working groups to form at Occupy protests in other cities.

“A movement that is inclusive on race, gender and class is the only way you can have transformation on a bigger level,” Maharawal told Clarion.


Luis Barrios
, professor of psychology, Graduate Center, and professor of Latin American Studies, John Jay

In the Old Testament, the Golden Calf symbolizes the worship of false gods. On Sunday, October 16, Christian, Jewish and Muslim religious leaders carried aloft a modern-day Golden Calf made of papier-mâché in a procession from Washington Square to Liberty Park.

One of the eight people who carried the Golden Calf on their shoulders was Father Luis Barrios, a priest at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Harlem. Barrios is also a faculty member at CUNY, where he has taught since 1992. “We’re doing this so people can wake up and see what’s going on,” Barrios told Clarion.

Barrios is a professor of Latin American studies at John Jay College, and a member of the Graduate Center faculty in social-personality psychology. “This country has created a false god: the idea that money and greed are all that matters,” he told the Daily News after the procession was over. “There are many people to blame for this, but Wall Street is the beating heart of the problem.”


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