OP protests Pfizer, ALEC joining 7 N.E. Occupies

Members of Occupy Providence protest Pfizer in Groton, Conn. on Wednesday.

Despite the cold rainy weather, about a half a dozen Occupy Providence members took part in the #F29 Shut Down the Corporations at Pfizer in Groton, CT. The national action was called by Occupy Portland to protest members of ALEC, the American Legislative Exchange Council, a front group that writes model pro-corporate legislation.

The coordinated inter-occupy direct action against ALEC and Pfizer in Groton resulted in a civil disobedience where 8 people were arrested after Pfizer refused to send a representative out to discuss their ALEC initiatives. It was a success by any standard. The coalition, which consisted of occupiers from Occupy New London, Occupy Shoreline (CT), Occupy Hartford, Occupy Worcester, Occupy New Haven, Occupy Boston, Occupy Providence and more, gathered in Groton to march to the Pfizer facility, and then participated in a dynamic teach-in to work on ways to build non-violent protest in the Occupy movement.

Occupy Providence’s Susan Walker said, “We couldn’t believe how many police cars and officers were there. It was a little intimidating at first. But we walked right up to the crowd and joined about 100 other protesters in mike checks about Pfizer and ALEC. The energy was great. The costumes and signs were creative- an activist costumed as Big Bird with a sign ‘Hey Pfizer, Test This Bird’ was my favorite.”

CT residents were angry because Pfizer negotiated $161 million in tax incentives to build the facility, bulldozed a residential neighborhood, and then laid off 1500 local workers once the tax incentives abated. Not only that, but they resented that Pfizer is a heavy hitter with ALEC in legislating for corporate greed.

The march ended back at the main gate where access was denied. Several Occupiers approached the gatehouse and asked for a representative to come out and speak to us as was requested in an advance letter that was sent. They were denied.  The group decided to march around the facility and approach all the gates and ask to speak to a Pfizer representative.

The police had painted a blue line demarcating a boundary protesters weren’t supposed to cross. One protester later mused “blue line from the blue pill (Viagra) company- did Pfizer plan it that way?”

In unified action of civil disobedience, the whole group crossed the line, and got within 20 feet of the heavily guarded gate. Eight protesters then walked straight up to the gate house, linked arms, refused to leave, and were arrested one by one.

Civil Disobedience arrestees were singing Solidarity Forever as the paddy wagon hauled them away. Occupiers chanted and mike checked for a little longer.

Walker noted, “I found the vibe of the police presence really interesting. It was intimidating at first.  I think it was almost a 1:1 ratio of officers to occupiers. Early on occupiers had chanted, “The Police Need a Raise! The Police Need a Raise!” which was a pressing local issue.  The officers were respectful and seemed to have our safety in mind.”

As the march around the facility continued, police made sure we stayed on the sidewalk, that traffic could flow, and even blocked traffic so we could cross streets.

Walker continued, “I’m willing to bet some of the officers know families who were hurt by Pfizer’s layoffs, or who were displaced when they built the facility in the first place.  But these are guesses, not facts.  It’s a fact that those arrested were treated well and released promptly. I really got the feeling some of the officers felt like they were marching with us.”

After a break, the group reconvened at the New London All Souls Unitarian Church for a teach-in by a War Resisters League member from Voluntown, CT.  In the workshop,  an energized 30-40 people from over 7 different occupations worked together to develop a stronger, more effective movement.  It included 3 first time occupiers whose excitement was palpable, one commented, “This is the most empowering day of my life.”

After protesters introduced themselves, CT Brian led the group reading off  #F29 highlights from around the country from Twitter, starting with a report from Tucson, where they forced a G4S prison deportation bus to cut a hole in their own fence to get the deportees on the road.

This an interesting snapshot video of a twitter reading at 3:15 ET.

#F29-#CT #OP-Snapshot-3:15 National Actions http://youtu.be/1cC4BhIpFxQ

The facilitator broke down the elements of successful activism into 8 components- constructive work/alternatives, common understanding, non-violence discipline, demonstrations, allies, negotiation, research/Info gathering, and legislative/electoral reform and let the participants break into groups to work on the aspect most resonant to them.

Then each study group was given a list of questions, like for the demonstrations sub-group focused on “how we can best demonstrate our concern”.

Each small group reported back to the whole group their observations. The demonstration group reported that they felt the ALEC protester was a good model as it was focused on a key issue that connected with the central messages of Occupy.  A person from one of the last standing of the New England encampment, Occupy New Haven camp resident Danielle DiGirolamo, reported on Alternatives- that much of this has started with natural medicine and alternative energy becoming more mainstream and Susan Walker added that “basically we feel there are a lot of alternatives to what the corporations are spoon feeding us.”

Then the group was asked to order the different parts of a campaign with respect to the sequence they should occur in. They selected- Common understanding, Research, Allies, combined Training/Education, create Constructive alternatives, Negotiation, Non Violent Discipline, Legislative Action, to which the facilitator commented, not the usual order but  “I’d say that’s perfect.” At the end materials on non-violent training were distributed.

Protesters nationally were successful in raising awareness about ALEC a legislative shadow organization as Occupies around the world united for systemic change.

Check out the embedded video from the Occupy Portand Video Collective.

The large  Anti-Corporate greed protest in LA included masked Anarchists and possible young actress marching behind a banner of People  Over Profits in the middle of a large crowd. One tweet reported that- when the March arrived at Walmart, many workers from WalMart stepped outside. The police responded by telling them to go back to work or risk arrest.  An interesting accidental exposure of the Police bias to protect corporate property before people.

Perhaps the management had called.  A t that time the LAPD was not threatening the protesters with arrest, only the Walmart workers, seeming to be more of an  attempt to suppress worker solidarity with any movement that dares to unite people behind pro-worker programs- living wage, right to organize, right to strike to name a few. Had Walmart succeeded in forming the Grass Roots Union they sought, management wouldn’t have been so quick to suppress what could have been interpreted as a walkout.

Walker summed up her experience this way. ” It’s inspirational that Occupy Providence got to participate in a national coordinated day of action against ALEC. The bottom line: retailers, for-profit prisons and pharmaceuticals are writing legislation, and paying legislators to get it passed. The prisons are writing the laws? Really?  It’s not OK. “

By Robert Malin & Susan Walker

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