Thursday, October 20, 2011

Notes From the Occupy Tucson Kitchen

Posted By on Thu, Oct 20, 2011 at 1:43 PM

There's a kitchen at Occupy Tucson.

Well, OK, it's not a real kitchen, but it's the place that seems to host the real heart and soul of this occupation, like a kitchen does in almost every home.

That's food for you. If you have a protest or march, everyone comes together, holds signs, shouts and goes home. But when you hold an occupation, you need to feed people. Under a set of trees that seem to provide the most perfect shade sit the food/donations working group — folks responsible for running the food area and procuring donations and food.

I went there to specifically talk to Mike Bartlett, a retiree and veteran I'd seen running around all day in his jeans and UA Wildcats baseball cap. During the afternoon general assembly, there was a bit of commotion over at the kitchen that offered a bit of excitement and a minor distraction during the long consensus-driven general meeting.

A group of people drove up and walked over with several blue plastic tubs filled with brown bags. Bartlett immediately walked over, and then the Rev. Tom Hill and his wife showed up behind these volunteers. Soon, Bartlett was at the general assembly wanting to make an announcement.

A group of homeless people had donated their bag lunches to Occupy Tucson.

The Hills run WORKship, at the Z Mansion, 288 North Church Ave., which they also own. Hill made it clear to The Range that no one went hungry, but that "the people wanted to help Occupy Tucson. They wanted to be part of this and help in some way."

"That was something special," Bartlett said.

Bartlett and four other volunteers were getting ready for their work group meeting when I asked if I could sit down and specially ask them why they are volunteering and participating in Occupy Tucson. Bartlett explained that he wasn't hurting — he's retired and has benefits — but he's been feeling more and more frustrated and concerned that his vote no longer matters in this country.

Right now, the country is fractured. Bartlett said there are Tea Party members participating in the occupation, because they share the same concerns. Maybe, he agrees, this new movement is one way to bring everyone back together.

"The Tea Party was co-opted by the Koch brothers," Bartlett said, "and it became a radical extremist movement."

The occupy movement is about calling attention to the growing economic disparities in this country and unjust decisions, like Citizens United v. the Federal Election Commission. One year ago, the Supreme Court handed down a decision that found that corporations have a First Amendment right to spend unlimited and unreported amounts of money to influence the outcome of elections.

Bartlett considers himself left of central politically, but he's worried things are not improving for people in this country. Three years ago, he said, folks had hope that there would be change. But that hasn't happened, or at least it hasn't happened fast enough or in ways people need it most — jobs and economic security.

"What I say, who I vote for doesn't matter. I feel angry that corporations get to decide what my country is going to do," Bartlett said.

Bartlett pointed to fellow volunteer Mike Robins as another example. For the last few years, life has provided Robins and his wife and their two children some major challenges—he owned his own contracting business, but got sick. There were medical bills, and Robins is now physically unable to do the physically intense work he did before. Then his wife got sick, too, and the medical bills just piled on.

They lost the business. Robins' wife works, but it isn't enough and now their home is in foreclosure.

"I figure I'll never find the kind of job I had again in Tucson," Robins said.

Roberta Jansmann, Rebecca Cramer and Matthew Pence are also volunteering in the Occupy Tucson "kitchen."

Jansmann said she came across a local blog called Southeast to Southwest. While she doesn't know him, the blog is written by Tucson marriage-equality activist Buck Bannister. The post that inspired her is on patriotism, and how one camp, like tea baggers, will assume they hold that prize. This, Occupy Tucson, is about patriotism, she said.

Later, Jansmann sent me a link to the blog post. You can read it here.

Here's a highlight:

Do you agree that protestors should not be allowed to flout local laws that govern when and where protests can take place? For example, if they want to protest in a park but don't have a permit or permission from the city should they be arrested or the protest broken up? Or if they stay past the park's "closing time" should they be subject to arrest or citation? If you do, you would be a Loyalist in 1775.

A woman is arrested in NYC for demonstrating in public.
In the 18th Century it was not uncommon for local officials of the crown to break up protests or demonstrations by people who were angry over some act of the government. Whether peaceable or not, protests were met with swift and often lethal force. Reading the "Riot Act" was not just a turn of phrase back then but an actual prelude to violence by militias or regulars against citizens seeking redress from the government. If you have ever waxed "patriotic" over the Boston Massacre but feel that the Occupy Wall Street protestors in various cities around America have no "right" to stage a protest without government permission, permits, or outside proscribed times - then you are a hypocrite and you would have been a Loyalist.

Do you think that a "flat tax" or sales taxes or other types of "equal" duties should be implemented or raised so that landowners and the wealthy can enjoy lower taxes? Would you rather have everyone pay higher sales tax and no income or property taxes? If you do, you would probably be a Loyalist in 1775.

The people who love to tout sales tax laws as a way to do away with property taxes or income taxes are definitely following in the footsteps of Great Britain in the colonies. After all, a sales tax is pretty much what the duties that kicked off the American Revolution were. You place a tax on a product to generate revenue for the state so that it can do things like - keep up military spending (more on that in a moment). Today, the people who call for flat taxes which disproportionately hit the poor and middle class as well as those who advocate for unconscionable sales tax rates are wanting to impose the same types of taxes with the same economic disparity as Parliament in the 1760's and 1770's. We even have kept the Stamp Act intact in America to some degree although we don't use it on paper anymore. Today we have other items that must be "stamped" to be legal in most states: Tobacco, playing cards, and alcohol are common stamp act items! If you buy a bottle of Jack Daniels bearing a tax stamp without public protest you probably would have had no problem purchasing other items in 1765 with a stamp!

Cramer said her biggest challenge is dealing with student loans and trying to make it every pay period.

"I squeeze and squeeze, but I don't know how much longer that can continue," Cramer said.

Pence told the Range he's worried about his future. He's in his early 20s, and is scared about what kind of life he can have at the rate the economy is going—but he's also worried about what kind of country will exist for his children.

"What will be here for them?" he asked.

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