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occupy birmingham


When the Occupy Movement was born, I was teaching at the national Academy of Journalism & Communication in Hanoi.

A primary reason I remain an expat is due to the abuses and immoral acts we justify that happens to us. I had totally lost faith in the American spirit.

Where else in the world would a nation send young men and women into combat and once they became disabled veterans strip them of all judicial review rights and the right to have their cases heard in a Article III federal court heard by a jury of their peers with the right to present evidences and call witnesses in support of their claims?

Rights under the Constitution they fought for and are still denied; but, such is not the case for child molesters, illegal aliens, and convicted felons? Hard to believe? Check out the 1940 Veterans Benefit Act and more recently ‘Marozsan v. the United States and Veterans Administration (7th Circuit).’

Where else in the world would a group of Republican women, during the 1970s, spearhead a movement to kill the Equal Rights Amendment that would have granted all American females equality with their male counterparts?

How does one explain the United States condemning Apartheid in South Africa, yet allowing similar ‘Jim Crow’ laws to exist in the South as a matter of state’s rights? We are conditioned to accept unjust, illegal, and immoral acts because they have carefully been masked in false patriotism and false religion. To challenge or question this has become “anti-American.” The mistreatment of veterans is purely economics.

We Vietnam veterans were allowed to be discounted because of the nation’s perception that we, as individuals and not the policy that sent us into combat, was a losing proposition. Reagan was allowed to gut services we were promised at enlistment because he was a popular president and it was presented that people like us were a drain on the economy.

To treat women as inferior to men is a fundamentalist belief which is somehow bad if you are a Muslim but “godly” if you are a Christian. These misguided beliefs have also set the tone for our nontransparent foreign policy.

Capitalism, American business interest, and democracy, in whatever form, is always good. Anything else is generally seen as evil.

When Reagan financially supported repressive right wing South American regimes that tortured and killed socialists and communist; somehow that was viewed as the right thing to do.

When Kennedy green lighted the invasion of Cuba, which resulted in our defeat at the Bay of Pigs, we punished the Cuban people with an embargo that still exists today.

occupy birmingham

When the colonialist French were defeated and expelled from Vietnam, the 1954 Paris Peace Accords provided for national elections in 1956-a process the Eisenhower administration prevented from happening as it was “not in the best interest of the United States” (Pentagon Papers). However, media spin was that “the Communist” violated the agreement and America had to “stop Communist aggression.”

When Saddam was in power in Iraq, he was a great friend of Bush I and the United States assisted in funding their war with Iran. Our hatred of Iran was so blinding that we overlooked his murder of the Kurds, with chemical weapons we supplied him, and oppression of his own people; however, when “W” came to power, the Bush II administration needed to divert attention away from the administration’s allies in Saudi Arabia, so Saddam quickly shifted from “good guy” to “weapons of mass destruction” guy. Although Iraq had absolutely nothing to do with 9-11, they provided the out Saudi Arabia needed as the American attention span is not that great and to question this, post 9-11, was “un-American.”

After Occupy was born around 1 September of last year, I began to feel a cautious new hope. Last week I attended my second meeting of Occupy Birmingham in Birmingham, Alabama. I entered Heritage Hall at the University of Birmingham to the tune of Mississippi John Hurt’s “I shall Not Be Moved.” The meeting room displayed the Thomas Jefferson quote: “Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without government, I should not hesitate any moment to prefer the latter.”

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However, the Occupy movement is not currently a cheerleader for the mass media due to the way most mainstream organizations have either slanted their reports against the movement or failed to report the reality of what is really happening.

When peaceful demonstrations happened in Egypt, Tunisia, Spain, and indeed throughout Europe and the Middle East, our mass media reported this as a phenomenal democratic event. In cases where the police or military attacked the unarmed demonstrators, we feigned outrage.

When those same type of events began occurring here in the United States, after 1 September 2011, the press coverage was overwhelming negative. Protestors were characterized as “socialist” or “Communist inspired” and “anti-American,” “anti-capitalist” which would set the tone for unprovoked police attacks against them.

Eric Cantor (R-VA) called the Occupy protesters “mobs.” Mitt Romney stated they were attempting to start “class warfare”, while Newt Gingrich dismissed them as an Obama ploy (NBC Carrie Dann, MSNBC Michael O’Brien.) Only Ron Paul, in the Libertarian magazine REASON stated he “encouraged” such peaceful protests.

A University of Delaware study concluded, regarding the Occupy movement, “Fox News was the least informed and most negative” as they felt Occupy wanted “too much regulation (and big government) when it came to business and industry.”

Outside of DEMOCRACY NOW, it was not widely reported that many Egyptian protestors actually came to the United States in support of Occupy Wall Street. Additionally the savage attack on veterans has equally gone unreported or underreported. In Boston two Vietnam veterans, one 74 years old, were savagely beaten by police; in Oakland an Iraq veteran was shot in the head with a tear gas canister. When peaceful protestors rushed to his aid, as he was in serious condition, the police threw a flash grenade into their midst.

These days are akin to police goon squads of the past when they were used as tools of big business to crush union organizers. In New York, Michael Bloomberg also utilized the police to crush the peaceful demonstrators. He then went on his weekly radio show and stated such demonstrations were “not productive” and that Occupy was attempting to “destroy jobs.”

It is ironic that when the Occupy masses utilized their First Amendment right of freedom of speech and peaceful assembly they somehow morph into “Communist agitators.” As Don King would say, “Only in America.”

The Birmingham Occupy group is a diverse crowd: old, young; black, white; students, retired. They operate in a unique area where many of the city and county government is black with a memory that spans back to the not too distant past when blacks could not vote and the state constitution made it illegal for any black person to marry a white. Some of these same officials were beaten, subjected to Bull Conner’s police dog attacks, and targets of high pressure water hoses used against them by the Birmingham Fire Department for peacefully protesting for the right to vote.

This makes the atmosphere here somewhat different and unique. The mainstream press has criticized Occupy for not “being focused” and having no “identifiable leaders.”

However I see this as an organic positive. Occupy has many areas of concern: corruption in government, education, foreclosures, the tax structure, corruption in business, the environment, sustainable communities -- just to name a few.

Their zeal for justice and truth is refreshing. Occupy Birmingham has a series of educational programs that examine a multitude of problems. They also engage in peaceful demonstrations and social action programs. The mainstream press has been critical of Occupy’s “failure” to provide alternative solutions, but I assure you they are being developed in spite of the built in mechanisms that guarantee failure.

For example, the insurance and banking industry as well as Wall Street need reform measures. The only way this can be achieved is by legislation in Washington. The problem is our senator (Richard Shelby), according to Map Light, receives most of his campaign donations from Travelers, JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley.

So because the system is corrupt, the possibility of real reform is not realistic. To add to this dilemma, the Democrats on Capitol Hill fall into this same category.

jim rhodes

The Birmingham Occupy’s credit, they will meet with Senator Shelby this month to discuss these concerns. Dismiss Occupy if you may, but as the current system decays and crumbles, I see real hope here.  James Rhodes