Embody the Movement: Dancing for Economic Justice

The following is a guest post by Rae Abileah with contributing writers Sharon Shay Sloan and Eva Lyons. An uplifting and timely read, especially for those who’ve been following our various Occupy Wall Street West posts.

A day of hard rain and wind could not dampen the spirits of activists representing the 99% as they gathered at Justin Herman Plaza (dubbed Bradley Manning Plaza by locals) in San Francisco on Friday, January 20th, 2012, to mark the dark anniversary of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision with a day of action. Organized by a coalition of over 55 Bay Area organizations and dozens of OccupySF affinity groups, protestors disrupted business as usual with demands that banks end predatory evictions and foreclosures and that corporations lose the rights of personhood.

The day was called Occupy Wall Street West (OWSW), alluding to the power of the SF financial district and state in the global market – California is the 9th largest economy in the world.  Activists executed plans for traditional nonviolent direct action to block the doors to big banks, effectively shutting down Wells Fargo Corporate Headquarters and occupying Bank of America’s main branch.  And then came a surprise tactic: dance.

A flash mob called “One People” converged on the plaza affront the building that houses Bank of America and Goldman Sachs and commenced with a freeze.  A single dancer called out “Mic check!” and the group responded, “Mic check!” and commenced a piercing scream of anguish, which collapsed into a die-in and then transformed into an upbeat dance.  The dance gave a positive message for our collective future with creative prowess, illustrating a cry of pain against oppression and injustice, and, through street theater, invoking a powerful bridge of reconciliation between the 1% and the 99%. This is a bridge that can only span the chasm of class divide through significant financial reform and the recognition of shared humanity.  The dance finished with a chorus singing “Now is the Time,” words from Dr. Martin Luther King’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, apropos to the actual time, since Dr. King’s birthday was observed a few days earlier.

“The flash mob gives the opportunity for people across generations and walks of life to voice their rage and dreams for the future through public art,” said Magalie Bonneau-Marcil, who produced the flash mob and founded Dancing Without Borders.  Former world-class athlete Bonneau-Marcil is using the organizing skills she learned from collaborative training for the Olympics to work for social justice.  She started Dancing without Borders in August, 2011, to reclaim the healing and unifying power of free-form dance and flash mob as a ritual, community-building and empowerment vehicle for real change.

The One People flash mob appealed to many who felt an urge to support the message behind Occupy but were not inspired by picketing and marching.  It brought together dozens of dancers between 8 and 80 years old, of all socio-economic backgrounds. For many, this was their first direct action and their first time dancing in the streets.  It also brought together three women-led organizations: Dancing Without Borders, CODEPINK, and the San Francisco chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW).  Leaders of these groups believe that the power of the feminine is essential in cultivating this new movement, and sought to emphasize the role of women’s creative leadership through their collaboration on this project.  CODEPINK has started a network of women across Occupies to weave this connection even further (see www.womenoccupy.org).

“Dance illustrates that it will take creativity and collective action to uplift American society and redirect our precious financial resources away from corporate greed and war profiteering and into green jobs creation, education, health care and renewable energy,” said Rae Abileah, co-director of CODEPINK Women for Peace.   “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for.  And we’re not waiting anymore!”

Flash mobs leverage the power of social media, art and collective participation, drawing attention to the essential messages of Occupy. A film showing footage of a recent performance of the One People flash mob had 150,000+ views on YouTube within a mere few weeks. Queer activists with SF Pride at Work created the “Occupy Telephone” flash mob in the lead-up to OWSW, to protest Wells Fargo’s role in the economic and housing crisis, and their video has also been seen by thousands on YouTube. From the massive “I Will Survive Capitalism” parody flash mob during the Occupy Oakland General Strike to the “Democracy is Dead” shopping mall die-in flash mob from Occupy Sydney, Australia, footage of flash mob actions is creating a visual declaration of accessible, celebratory, and action-oriented art.

“The Occupy Movement is not a war against evil,” said Bonneau-Marcil. “And if that’s how we frame it, it will never produce the results that we seek. This is a movement that’s about accelerating the shift of consciousness away from separation and scarcity.” The OWSW Day of Action raised awareness by engaging hundreds of people in action; generating major mainstream media coverage of the myriad of colorful protests, arrests, and creative disruptions; and putting big banks and investment firms on red alert.  Many reporters and politicians have asked what the demands of the Occupy Movement are; this flash mob responded to those questions by embodying solutionary thinking and revealing a new narrative of reconciliation.

Dancing is not the answer, but it is an important tool to reveal and amplify the vitality, dignity and resilience of this growing global movement.  As Bonneau-Marcil proclaimed, “You can’t evict an idea that has been embodied.”

This article was written by Rae Abileah, codirector of CODEPINK, rae@codepink.org, with contributions by Sharon Shay Sloan, Eva Lyons, and Magalie Bonneau-Marcil.  The One People flash mob was organized by Magalie Bonneau-Marcil, founder of Dancing without Borders, who lives in El Cerrito, CA and can be reached at m@dancingwithoutborders.org.

Rainy, wet and fabulous.

1/23/2012 Update: Watch the new video “Embody the Movement” of J20 & the One People Flashmob just added towards the end of this post.

On January 20, Occupy Wall Street West made ‘business as usual’ uncomfortable in the financial core of  San Francisco. Despite copious rain, protests began at 6am, continued at Wells Fargo and Bank of America branches, moved to the courts, back to Bechtel and the banks, labor and immigrant rights marches targeting I.C.E offices and culminating with a huge and spirited march up Market St as night fell. Occupy SF later held a General Assembly on the top of the vacant Cathedral Hill Hotel and dropped the ‘People’s Food Bank of America banner off the side of the building.  Read a report back from the morning’s actions here.

Disrupting business at three banks or more was no small feat.  Kudos to those that peacefully blocked the doors by locking arms inside PVC pipes and sat there for over 8 hours, preventing the banks from opening. Rainforest Action Network was hard at work looking for the corporation/person Mr. Bank O. America, highlighting the result of the FEC vs Citizens United Supreme Court ruling which prohibits governments from placing limits on corporations or unions on independent political spending. Throughout the day people carried signs and chanted, “Corporations are not  people”, “Money is not speech” and “People before profit”.

Members of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), Global Exchange, Fellowship of Reconciliation, New Priorities Campaign and others were present outside the Bechtel headquarters all day, protesting Bechtel’s practice of greed and destruction. A record of the day, as well as links to Bechtel facts is at the @bechtelaction twitter feed. Bechtel spends millions on campaign contributions and lobbyists who secure war contracts, undermining democratic process, while directing billions of public dollars to build nuclear weapons and make its CEO a billionaire. Bechtel received more than $2 billion in U.S. taxpayer funds to fund infrastructure rebuilding projects in Iraq. Its Pentagon contracts increased $700 million in 2009 after heavy lobbying on the military spending bill, and rose to $2.49 billion in 2011. Kirsten Moller describes the morning’s events here.

At 3pm about 75 people gathered to hear testimony about Bechtel, the impacts of war and occupation in the US and abroad. Global Exchange’s Dalit Baum spoke about corporate profiteering from war and ‘conflict management. Watch it here. At the end, IVAW members staged Operation First Casualty – recreating the situation and conditions present in Iraq which allow US military to arbitrarily detain civilians, by abducting members of the teach in. IVAW members had staged this action at different locations throughout the day and created a loud, aggressive and frankly, scary environment that brought home the sense of terror that people in Iraq and other occupied countries experience every day. The action is captured here. It contains strong language.

The action drew attention to a provision in the National Defense Authorization Act that obliterates constitutionally protected due process rights, permitting the the arrest and indefinite detention of US citizens anywhere in the world, including the US. More information about the NDAA can be read here.

The People’s Food Bank of America served up food to everyone at Justin Herman/Bradley Manning Plaza and Dancing Without Borders and CodePINK staged the ‘One People’ Flashmob before we marched up Market street behind the ‘Seize the Banks’ banner. Many folks sought shelter before arriving to the Cathedral Hill Hotel to post photos (a great stream of photos from the day are here), videos and blogs, warm wet feet and reflect on the Day of Action – believing that whatever happens next – we are unstoppable.

Added 1/23/12: Check out this new video “Embody the Movement of J20 & the One People Flashmob:

Hundreds of people have gathered in downtown San Francisco’s Financial District today despite the wind and rain to take part in a day of mass action against corporations, banks, and the courts. While people from many different walks of life are joining the actions today, there are a few consistent messages which are being voiced: corporations are not people, money is not speech, and people should come before profit.

Line of people holding US budget banner in front of Bechtel

Since early this morning; a multitude of people, groups, movements, and communities have self-organized and taken action to disrupt business-as-usual at various corporations and banks throughout the financial district. Global Exchange chose Bechtel as a target for today, partnering with our friends from of Iraq Veterans Against the War (IVAW), Fellowship of Reconciliation, New Priorities Campaign and others, forming the Bechtel Action Group, to protest the waste and corruption of the Bechtel corporation and the ways that it’s power has influenced the nation’s budget priorities.

The action began at 6am this morning when several dozen people successfully blocked the entrance to Bechtel’s San Francisco headquarters. Global Exchange’s Organizing Director Kirsten Moller along with other staff were present for the early morning action which lasted until about 9:30am when people peacefully exited the building. The Carnival of Resistance bus led by Occupy Oakland stopped by Bechtel and there was singing and chanting throughout the morning while a group of people stood in front of Bechtel handing out information to people passing by and holding a 30 foot banner outlining the current US budget and a breakdown of where American tax dollars are being allocated:  59% to military and military contractors, with only 4% going to Education and 6% to Health and Human Services.

Umbrellas painted with 'People before profit' at Bechtel

Why Bechtel?

  • The Bechtel Corporation is one of the largest engineering and construction firms in the world, and the fifth largest privately held firm in the United States.
  • It is one of the world’s leading nuclear engineering and construction firms, providing construction support services for nuclear power plants around the world.
  • Bechtel is one of of the major corporations that has profited from the Iraq War through reconstruction contracts. On April 17 the US Agency for International Development (USAID) awarded a contract worth $680 million to Bechtel Corp.
  •  It builds and manages huge petrochemical, transportation, energy and mining projects worldwide and is one of the largest U.S. military contractors.
  • It is involved in the construction of oil refineries, pipelines and dam construction and built the infrastructure at Hanford, Washington for the secret Manhattan Project that developed the atomic bomb.
  • Bechtel and its alumni have become an integral part of the U.S. power structure serving as a chair of the Atomic Energy Commission and director of the Central Intelligence Agency; serving  as  Reagan’s Defense Secretary (Caspar Weinberger) and Secretary of State (George Schultz) .
  • Bechtel plays a significant role in the privatization of infrastructure. In Cochabamba, Bolivia they tried to privatize the water system and were thwarted by local and international opposition. Still Bechtel proudly bills itself as “a one-of-a-kind industry leader in infrastructure privatization.

Food Bank of America

Some of the other actions that have unfolded so far have included groups blocking the entrances to major banks including Wells Fargo and Bank of America where organizers set up a ‘Food Bank of America’ distributing fresh, hot food cooked by volunteers, Occupy the Courthouse led by Move to Amend, and street theater actions led by Iraq Veterans Against The War (IVAW) throughout downtown.

At 3pm the Bechtel Action Group will reconvene at Bechtel’s headquarters (50 Beale Street) for a teach-in and at 5pm Occupy Wall Street West will converge on Justin Herman/Bradley Manning Plaza for a massive march down Market Street.

For more information on Bechtel, visit http://www.globalexchange.org/BechtelAction to download some resources.