Occupying in Solidarity
BY KEN LEE
They descended on downtown parks last fall and winter, drawing hundreds of protest participants. Thousands more poured love and material support into the Occupy encampments. Drawn mostly from local organizations, Occupy Tucson organizers have been tirelessly funneling their efforts back into the groups from where they came.
Occupy Tucson was not the first activist rodeo for most of these highly motivated organizers. Although unique and part of a burgeoning global movement, much of the energy and action of Occupy Tucson has been accomplished by stitching up solidarity with existing groups which span the gamut of the progressive left. A sampling of these efforts includes:
- Dozens of bank protests were staged at “too big to fail” bank branches throughout Tucson in collaboration with MoveOn’s local chapter. These protests numbered in the dozens, ran from early January through late March and featured two different nationwide days of protest.
- Occupy Tucson joined American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME Local 449) to protest Arizona legislation designed to strip collective bargaining rights from public service workers. They later joined members of the American Postal Workers Union, The National Association of Letter Carriers, AFSCME, Jobs with Justice and MoveOn in an Occupy the Post Office/Tax Day protest at the Cherrybell Post Office and Distribution Center which has been slated for closure.
- Occupy Tucson again teamed with AFSCME Local 449 and Derechos Humanos, Citizens for Educational Excellence, Fortin de las Flores, Las Adelitas Arizona, and Tucson High MEChA to protest as the TUSD Board voted to terminate its contract with the Director and one of the creators of the successful Mexican American Studies Program, Sean Arce. Occupy Tucson is presently promoting a fundraiser for Citizens for Educational Excellence and UNIDOS, two student groups fighting the removal of the MAS program from the curriculum at TUSD.
- Occupy Tucson attended the Tucson Festival of Books, sharing a booth with The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) and The Southwest Organizing Project (SWOP). SWOP has been active supporting the TUSD students in their unsuccessful effort to save Mexican American Studies at TUSD. They provided Occupy Tucson with a carton of one of the books that was removed from Mexican-American Studies classes, 500 Years of Chicano History/500 anos del Pueblo Chicano.
- Occupy Tucson promoted and participated in a protest action with Tucson Climate Action Network, National Institute for Peer Support, Clean Air Task Force, Physicians for Social Responsibility, Sierra Club and 350.org gathering at Lacuna los Ninos Park to demand an end to coal burning at the nearby H. Wilson Sundt Generating Station. The plant is currently burning only natural gas, but can and has operated in the past burning coal. The groups seek to ensure that Sundt does not revert to coal burning should it become more cost effective.
- Occupy Tucson activists also participated in an International Women’s Day event sponsored by WILPF, YWCA, Salt of the Earth Labor College and Code Pink, and helped promote a fundraising event for the WILPF and The Borderlands Theater at La Cocina, downtown Tucson. Tucson is the winter home of CodePink’s Peace Ribbon project comprised of hundreds of panels each representing a fallen soldier or civilian in the Iraq war. The international Peace Ribbon has been displayed at each of the three encampments of Occupy Tucson in addition to hundreds of locations around the nation and world.
- OT organizers help populate a bus to Phoenix to Unite Against the War on Women as part of nationwide protest organized by UniteWomen.org. Occupy Tucson also promoted a demonstration in support of Planned Parenthood at the Annual Komen’s Race for the Cure event held at Reid Park here in Tucson.
- Occupy Tucson also joined efforts with Nuclear Resister in a protest at Raytheon. Raytheon is the world leader in the design, development and production of missile systems and one of Tucson’s largest employers.
One notable organization approached Occupy rather than the other way around. From the first General Assembly through all three Occupy Tucson encampments and most of the larger marches and protests, Veterans for Peace emerged as the core of the peacekeeping, standing between protesters and the police to ensure the safety of the protesters. They provided the confident professionalism learned from their service to our country and non-violent techniques developed over years of service protecting the activist community during protests. Several of the most active organizers at Occupy Tucson are also Veterans for Peace members.
Many of our youngest organizers traveled to Olympia Washington for a Solidarity Summit that brought together Occupy activists from across the western US. More recently a core group traveled to Phoenix for 99% Spring Training coordinated by MoveOn, returning to host a 99% Spring Training in Tucson which drew dozens of activists from throughout the region.
Occupy Tucson has two web platforms (occupytucson.org, facebook), a digitally distributed weekly bulletin, two General Assemblies per week and has demonstrated a willingness to use all as a stage to give full throated support to causes and organizations near and dear to our collective heart.
CORRECTION: “Cherrybell Post Office and Distribution Center which has since closed.” has been corrected to read “Cherrybell Post Office and Distribution Center which has been slated for closure.”