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On September 1, 1987, while engaged in a protest against the shipping of U.S. weapons to Central America in the context of the Contra wars, S. Brian Willson and other members of a Veterans Peace Action Team blocked railroad tracks at the Concord, California Naval Weapons Station. An approaching train did not stop, and struck the veterans. Willson was hit, ultimately losing both legs below the knee while suffering a severe skull fracture with loss of his right frontal lobe. Subsequently, he discovered that he had been identified for more than a year as an FBI domestic “terrorist” suspect under President Reagan’s anti-terrorist task force provisions and that the train crew that day had been advised not to stop the train.

Mark Colman has lived in Portland, Oregon for five years. In the past 12 months, he has been working on a portrait project called Faces of Occupy. Each portrait is accompanied by words from the sitter; many of them thoughtful, loving and persuasive statements.

In addition to many original Portland Occupiers, Colman has photographed international figures including Ralph Nader, Dr. Vandana Shiva and Chris Hedges.

Please spend some time with each of the individuals upon whom he has trained his lens. As we know, Occupy touches upon many complex issues, and these are issues that deserve time. Any summary from me would be reductive. I did just have one question for Mark though. I asked what Occupy meant to him.

“Occupy is a way to spread awareness of many things that are wrong for 99% of Americans,” says Colman. “Whether it’s corporate personhood, Wall Street bailouts, illegal bank foreclosures, the government’s increasing attempts to take away our freedoms and constitutional rights with legislation such as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), police brutality, lack of a livable minimum wage. The list is long, but the sooner people wake up, the sooner we will begin to solve these problems.”

So far, Colman has made 43 portraits.

“I plan on having 99 people by year’s end,” he says.

Chris Hedges: “The Authorization to Use Military Force Act, the Patriot Act, the FISA Amendment Act, you know it’s just one piece of legislation after another to strip Americans of their most cherished constitutional rights. I mean even the Obama Administration has not found it within itself to restore habeas corpus. All of this was put in place by Bush, but it was codified by the Democrats. In some ways Obama is worse because he’s used the Espionage Act now six times to go after whistle blowers and leakers.”

“A united educated public is the biggest threat to those that seek to exploit us for power and profit. We are learning and evolving. Where Occupy is headed is up to those who take a stand and get involved. We can take care of each other and work together to improve our quality of life.”

“My first civics lesson came at five years old: I couldn’t watch any cartoons – the Watergate Hearings were on every channel.”

“We the people of Cascadia are learning – some slowly, some quickly – what it takes to live in harmony with the land; the principles of permaculture permeate. The blue, white and green stripes and symbolic doug fir of our flag acknowledge what is true wealth. Clean water, clean air, healthy ecosystems – that is what makes healthy, loving people. We say enough with greed, corruption, and exploitation.”

“Label us socialist, communist, trouble-makers, even Al Qaeda, just rest assured that we, The 99-percenters, will go away only when you, The Monopoly Capitalists, become content with being only millionaires instead of multimillionaires and when you allow some viable form of Democratic Socialism to become America’s form of government.”

International Commission Tent, St. Paul’s Camp. © Ben Roberts

Ben RobertsOccupied Spaces catalogues some of the communal and private spaces that were installed in the St. Paul’s and Finsbury Square camps. The traces of activity and inhabitance serve as a clear document of the utilisation of a limited space by a large number of permanent and temporary residents.

My colleague at Wired.com Jakob Schiller wrote about Occupied Spaces in November with his piece Pianos, Kitchens and Offices: Inside London’s Occupy Tents. It’s good to see this work progress into a book format.

Roberts says:

“On 15 October 2011, protestors representing the global Occupy movement set up a semi-permanent camp outside St. Paul’s Cathedral in central London. The aim of the protest was to encourage discourse and raise awareness of social and economic inequalities.”

“On 25 October, several UK newspapers and media outlets ran stories claiming that ‘thermal imaging’ proved that only 10% of the 250 tents in St. Paul’s Square were being inhabited overnight. I was immediately skeptical of these claims.”

Ben Roberts Occupied Spaces
210 x 288mm, 28pp 24 colour photographs Text by Naomi Colvin Digital indigo + riso print on uncoated recycled paper Elastic cord loose leaf document binding Bagged in clear self-seal polypropylene.
First edition.
You can buy the book HERE!
For further information contact: Harry Hardie harry@hereontheweb.co.uk +44 (0) 7813 431345

Matt Bor‘s statement is just terrific and pointed.

I’ve had a few conversation on my travels with people about the Occupy movement. For it to really drive the national agenda and to mold presidential candidates who will not be able to ignore the 99% the cause will need to unite workers, unions, students but most importantly the poverty-stricken.

The poor lose the most in a society where a select few control the majority of wealth.

I suspect poor folk might be more concerned with holding things together in their own neighbourhoods than having the time and incentives to join open-ended demonstrations in the downtown precincts of American cities.

But for a truly important Occupy movement the voices of the most disenfranchised are essential.

I’m left to wonder what the 2.3 million Americans behind bars (who obviously can’t pitch a tent or picket a capitol building) might think of the involvement of the people from their (usually the economically ravaged) communities. In fact I’m wondering what the incarcerated masses think of the Occupy movement generally.*

Despite the figure of incarcerated folk being actually about .7% of all Americans, we should note that 1 in 100 American adults are in prison or jail, and that 7 million American (approx 2% of the total population) are in custody, on parole or under other forms of supervision.

Matt Bor does a great job in confusing our presumptions about ‘freedom of assembly.’

I, for one, would appreciate seeing actual protest signs with this mantra at Occupy gatherings.

Check out Matt Bor’s blog and buy a copy of the cartoon here.

*Anecdotally, many prisoners I’ve worked with as an educator sympathise most with Republican notions of “freedom” and are suspicious of government “meddling”.

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