By Chris Hedges
This week on Truthdig Radio in collaboration with KPFK: Rep. Dennis Kucinich and Chris Hedges explain why the 99 percenters are “the best among us.” Plus: Occupy L.A., Obama’s “secure communities” and modern midwifery.
A full transcript is available below.
Listen to the show:
Chris Hedges on “the best among us”:
Rep. Dennis Kucinich on the 99 Percent Movement, his new jobs bill and the redistricting that could force him from office (rush transcript below):
The occupation on Wall Street has spread to cities across the country, with protesters camping out in downtown Los Angeles since Saturday. Reporter Howie Stier has been at the scene every day. He files this report:
The White House is trying to thread the needle on immigration by reprioritizing deportation rules. Leilani Albano has this report from Free Speech Radio about the so-called secure communities program:
Ina May Gaskin, author of “Birth Matters: A Midwife’s Manifesta,” has been an advocate and innovator of natural birth for decades. She speaks to Truthdig’s Kasia Anderson:
Peter Scheer: This is Truthdig Radio in collaboration with KPFK Los Angeles. I’m Truthdig.com managing editor Peter Scheer, wishing you a warm and crispy Wednesday on this rainy day. The 99 percenters, who began their occupation of Wall Street Sept. 17, are finally getting national attention, but mainstream journalists seem baffled by who these people are and what they want. In a minute, Rep. Dennis Kucinich and Chris Hedges, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, will tell us why the protesters are what Hedges calls “the best among us.” Later, we’ll hear from the 99 percenters themselves as Howie Stier reports from the occupation in downtown Los Angeles. Also on today’s show, Leilani Albano reports on the president’s Secure Communities program, and we hear from the mother of modern midwifery, Ina May Gaskin.
Let’s begin with Chris Hedges. He is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, the former Mideast bureau chief for The New York Times, and a prolific author, most recently of “The Death of the Liberal Class” and “The World As It Is.” He writes a column every Monday on Truthdig. Chris, welcome to Truthdig.
Chris Hedges: Thank you.
Peter Scheer: How are you? Where are you?
Chris Hedges: Princeton, about to leave for Washington.
Peter Scheer: And you were, last week, you were at Occupy Wall Street in …
Chris Hedges: Well, no, I’d been there several days, yeah. But we’re occupying a plaza in Washington tomorrow.
Peter Scheer: Can you talk about that real quick?
Chris Hedges: Well, that’s the October 2011 movement, which has been building over several months and actually pre-dated the call by Adbusters for the occupation of Wall Street, but has since worked closely with them, and is a very similar kind of attempt to take over a public space with no terminal date.
Peter Scheer: And where is that going to take place?
Chris Hedges: I have to—I think it’s called Liberty—I think it’s actually called Liberty Plaza, but people should go to the 2011 website to get directions. I haven’t gotten directions yet because I’m not on the train yet.
Peter Scheer: So let me ask you about these 99 percenters. You spent time with them; people can find online, there’s a great series, a really extensive interview you did with them on YouTube, which they can also find on Truthdig. With “them,” I say; it’s clearly not one single group of people, which seems to have really frustrated journalists. There’s this narrative emerging that these people are confused about what they want, or not really clear about what they want.
Chris Hedges: Well, the only people who are confused are the journalists. They’re not confused; I can sum up what they want, or what they’re doing, or what their goal is in one word, and it’s called rebellion. They don’t have any faith in the corporate systems of power, nor should they. They recognize that electoral politics is a farce; that the judiciary and the press are wholly owned subsidiaries of the corporate state; and that the only way they are going to be heard, both as citizens and as people who care about protecting the planet, is to build a movement, and that’s precisely what they’re doing. They are so savvy, so smart, so clear and so well organized. From the outside, they may not look organized, but when you’re inside the park, boy, they’ve really got it together. And it’s just—I ran into the managing editor of The New York Times, Dean Baquet, who’s a friend of mine, Thursday and I said you know, you have to send a reporter down. Instead of going down for a few minutes and looking at them , you have to send a reporter down there, and write about how they put this thing together. And Dean did, and it was in the Saturday paper. Because it’s really remarkable. And because it’s non-hierarchical, the authorities don’t know what to do with it. I mean, one of the funny sort of scenarios that is constant within the park are these undercover cops who appear in Yankees baseball hats and tell you they’re students from Rollins College, even though they look to be about 35. I mean, it’s sort of out of a Doonesbury cartoon. But the question they always ask is, you know, ‘So, who do you think the core leadership are? So where are the leaders?’ And the fact is it’s ruled by consensus. And what the cops want to do is find out who that cobble is of manipulators and decapitate the movement, but since they don’t exist, they can’t do it. And that’s part of the whole confusion; they run up against a structure they don’t comprehend and they don’t understand. And that not only is true for the New York City police department, but it’s also true for the press that comes down and isn’t prepared to think outside the box.
Peter Scheer: Let me ask you, we sent a reporter out, Howie Stier, to the Occupy L.A. protest today. And he reported—and we’ll get to this later in the show—that there was a remarkable lack of a police presence. Is this particular to New York? You’ve encountered this a lot in your protests in Washington. And how have the police been, in relation to the protests …
Chris Hedges: Well, in New York, it’s very heavy. Because they have essentially militarized the financial district of lower Manhattan. Every single street going in to Wall Street has metal barricades with police, and there are phalanxes of motorcycle cops, patrol cars, paddy wagons—which every once in a while, just to remind all the protesters they’re there, in the middle of the night they’ll circle the park with the sirens and the lights going. Because everyone sleeps there, of course. So no, the police presence has been very, very, very heavy. And …
Peter Scheer: Has it changed with more attention?
Chris Hedges: What’s that?
Peter Scheer: In terms of the abusiveness, has it changed with more attention on the police?
Chris Hedges: Yeah. They clearly—I mean, the feeling among the protesters is that when those attacks took place a week ago, where they used pepper spray on those women, it was an attempt to provoke the crowd. I don’t know whether that’s true; I don’t know what the motives of the NYPD are. But there is a feeling, there was a feeling among the protesters that what they wanted was a violent response, maybe even a riot. Because that’s the kind of language they speak. I mean, pictures of people smashing the windows of cars is not going to garner any kind of sympathy among the wider public. Well, they didn’t respond. And what’s fascinating is that because the mainstream media wasn’t there, they created their own media, just like your dad did with Ramparts, and started doing real journalism, just like your dad did. And shamed, just like your dad did, the traditional media into responding. So the only people that were recording this pepper spray incident were people who had cameras from the protest group itself; indeed, the nerve center for the protesters on Wall Street is the media center in the center of the park. And it’s interesting that one of the decisions, if the park is raided, is that large groups of people will surround the media center to try and keep it going as long as possible. So once again, the commercial media was not doing its job, and these people found a way to have a voice by creating a media system of their own. And they’ve done a very effective job of it. So since that exposure of Anthony Bologna, this inspector who—you know, it’s just an amazing piece of footage; these women are seated on the sidewalk and he’s spraying them in the face, till they can’t breathe, with pepper spray—the police have had to back off. I mean, the pressure has not been as intense. I mean, they did arrest large numbers of people on the Brooklyn Bridge, and there’s a gigantic march today, by the way, that’s been joined with unions; unions have joined in. But that has given the protesters some space that they did not have before.
Peter Scheer: Let me ask you about the police again, because—not to dwell on this, but you’ve written extensively in your column about how—and in your books—as we make this shift to a more oligarchical society—feudalistic—that the elites will have to surround themselves with a security apparatus to protect from the public anger. And we saw, I just want to bring up, in 2008 what happened at the Republican Convention, Amy Goodman and two of her producers were trying to report on protests there and they were surrounded by an extreme police presence. And then they were beaten and arrested, and they just won a settlement from the cities, St. Paul and Minneapolis, and from the Secret Service. And I wonder if you see this, how this will affect media coverage in the future. The settlement, and the reaction to the protesting.
Chris Hedges: I don’t think the settlement’s going to affect the coverage too much. I mean, police were, for instance, arresting reporters on the Brooklyn Bridge; they were beating reporters on that Saturday march when those women were sprayed in the face with pepper spray. So anybody recording acts of police brutality is instantly seen, I think, as the enemy no matter who they work for. And I expect that if they go in and try and shut this thing down, the first or the primary target will be making sure that it can’t be broadcast to the outside world. I mean, they certainly understand the role of the media system that the protesters have set up, and how much it has hurt them. And it’s hurt them a lot.
Peter Scheer: There was a post that was sort of going viral around the Internet, a commentary, a guy writing in sympathy with the 99 percent protesters, but also urging them to—sort of a humorous commentary but semi-serious—urging them to put on a polo shirt and khakis. And made the argument that they shouldn’t come off as more, I don’t know, radical; that they should think about how they’re represented in the media. Do you find that compelling at all?
Chris Hedges: No. I don’t think the media is going to give them much slack …
Peter Scheer: I mean, there were these photos, for instance, of women, topless women …
Chris Hedges: I mean, look, the whole reaction of the media has been, in essence, to make fun of them. I mean, Ralph Nader wears a suit and a white shirt and a tie everywhere he goes, and they make fun of him.
Peter Scheer: Yeah.
Chris Hedges: I mean, you’re about to have Dennis Kucinich on; Dennis always looks pretty sharp, and I’ve watched the media make fun of him. No. You know, they will find—because there’s no cost. They can’t do this to the tea party. Because the Koch brothers and all their backers will come down on them like a ton of bricks. But they can be snarky and snide and dismissive of the left, because the left has no power within this country, yet. I mean, let’s hope that that changes. And so they do. And if you look at the early coverage, especially in The New York Times, it’s just … I mean, it’s disgusting. And you know, why should everybody look like they, you know, shop at The Gap or J. Crew, or—is that really such a great look? [laughter] I think the people in the park look great.
Peter Scheer: So, let me ask you. You know a hell of a lot about the Middle East. You were The New York Times bureau chief there; you speak the language. This movement is said to be inspired by what happened in Tahrir Square, in Cairo, and the Arab Spring youth movements there. Obviously very different culture, different things going on, but do you see—what similarities and differences do you see there?
Chris Hedges: Many similarities. First of all, it’s driven by highly educated—these, most of the people are very young and very smart and very well educated. That was also true in Egypt. They’re very tech-savvy, and that’s also true. They’re very, very adept at using social media. Not as a form of activism, because it’s useless as activism; but it is very useful in terms of communication, communicating a message; and so again, that’s very similar with Egypt. And I think finally, the third similarity would be that many people at Wall Street, you know, they did everything right; they worked hard, they studied, they went to good schools; they got massive loans to do it; got out in the wider society, did not want to be whores for JP Morgan Chase or Goldman Sachs or somebody, and realized that everything had dried up. They’d been had. We are no longer a society that remunerates anything that has to do with truth or beauty or education or journalism, or art or teaching; we only pay public relations, which is propaganda and corporate management, and that’s about it. And so they sort of got hit in the face with a two-by-four. And again, that’s similar to Egypt. I mean, these are highly talented, creative people who frankly should be in positions where they can help us reorient ourselves in a time of severe climate change, and weaning away our dependence on fossil fuels, and you know, they’re the best among us. I mean, that was the last line of a column I wrote, but it’s true. And the society has just pushed them to the margins. And so they have a kind of consciousness about the degradation of the American political system that I think perhaps others have up to this point lacked, but I think are beginning to see.
Peter Scheer: Let me just ask you a final question. You wrote in your last column that you mentioned, “The state and corporate forces are determined to crush this. They are not going to wait for you; they are terrified this will spread.” And it is starting to spread. You’ve been calling for movements like this for a long time. Is this real? Is this happening, or do you see it fizzling out?
Chris Hedges: No, it’s real. And it’s happening. But I’m too good a reporter to tell you where it’s going. You never know where it’s going, you know; I will say that, certainly, having spent a lot of time with the Wall Street protesters, they are very determined and very resilient. And even if the cops shut this thing down tonight, there is within the DNA of the hundreds, perhaps few thousand people that have been through that park, a kind of consciousness that wasn’t there before. And in that sense, they’ve already won. Where is it going to go? Can they shut it down? Will it spread? These are just unknowable questions. These kinds of movements, when they spring up, have a kind of centrifugal force that even the purported leaders—and I used the example of East Germany—don’t grasp; I mean, they don’t know where it’s going and none of us know where it’s going. I’m certainly going to work overtime to make sure it goes somewhere.
Peter Scheer: Chris Hedges, thanks so much for speaking with us about this.
Chris Hedges: Thanks, Peter.
Peter Scheer: Chris Hedges is a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist whose Truthdig column is published every Monday. He is the author most recently of “The World As It Is.”
Later in the program, we head out to the occupation at City Hall, and we’ll dig into the president’s Secure Communities initiative. Also, stay tuned for a special segment on modern midwifery. But first this.
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Peter Scheer: Earlier today, Josh Scheer spoke with populist Congressman Dennis Kucinich about the 99 Percent Movement, his new jobs bill and the redistricting that could force him from office.
Josh Scheer: Congressman, we’re talking about H.R. 2990. What is it, and what is it going to do for America?
Rep. Dennis Kucinich: Well, what it will do, it’ll help secure America’s economic future by providing the resources to build America’s infrastructure. With 14 million people out of work, and the government saying well, we can’t create any programs because we can’t afford it, we’re missing something that is fundamental to our economy, and that is that while the Fed has been busy creating over $2 trillion for banks since the fall of 2008 through programs like quantitative easing [rounds] 1 and 2, and you’ve got banks that got $700 billion in bailouts and they too can create money out of nothing through fractional reserve banking—meanwhile, we’re being told that the government can’t do that. Well, actually, it’s a sovereign power that resides in the government: the ability to coin or create money. I’m saying government needs to reclaim that power, spend the money into circulation to create jobs, to put millions of people back to work rebuilding our roads, bridges, water systems, sewer systems, and put the Federal Reserve under Treasury so we have control over what they do, and end fractional reserve banking, which in this historic period has actually helped to contribute to the wave of speculation that swamped our economy in 2008.
Josh Scheer: In the bill itself, you talk about the 14 million people unemployed, the 12 million people in low-wage jobs, 3 million estimated homeless. What exactly do you think your bill [is] going to do, and then what about the Obama jobs bill that he’s been kind of promoting?
Rep. Dennis Kucinich: We need to go very deep into the underlying questions of why do we have poverty in America? Why is the wealth of the country being accelerated upwards? And one of the chief reasons is our monetary policy, which in 1913 was privatized, which gave the Federal Reserve the ability basically to direct the economy through the banks and be able to create money out of nothing, give it to banks. And banks are using money right now for mergers, acquisitions, parking it, gaining interest, but they’re sure not, you know, helping to create jobs on Main Street, which is why in August we had a defined stall in job creation. So what we need to do is to reclaim the power of government to be able to spend money into circulation and not borrow from the banks. Why should we have to borrow money from China to fund our economy? Or Japan, or South Korea? Why should we have to borrow money from banks? The government itself has this power to be able to get our economy moving, to create the jobs. We need a job program of New Deal-type proportions. And that’s what I have ready; I have the actual infrastructure job numbers and all the infrastructure categories on how we can put 7.2 million people to work creating good, full-time, permanent jobs with good take-home pay, distributed evenly across the United States, and create an average of 16,500 new jobs per congressional district.
Josh Scheer: Now, I want to ask you, because the way you’re talking and the way—obviously, there’s a lot of problems going on in this country, and we see these protests across the country like Occupy Wall Street. I wanted to get your take on that. What do people in Congress—but especially you—when you see this, what do you guys think?
Rep. Dennis Kucinich: Well, first of all, I think that the occupation of Wall Street is a very important protest that needs to gather strength around the country. Because Americans have to be visible in our objections to the fact that the wealth in our country is being concentrated at the top. And unemployment leads to the concentration of wealth. When you have the top 1 percent of Americans owning half of the country’s stocks, bonds and mutual funds; when you have the top 1 percent of America taking in more of the nation’s income than at any time since the 1920s; we have to be concerned about the impact on our democracy, because an economic democracy is a precondition of a political democracy. And so what’s happening in our economy is manifestly unjust; people have finally caught on; they’re taking to Wall Street and cities across the country to be heard about the demand that we have a government that is responsive to the practical aspirations of people for jobs, health care, education, retirement security and peace.
Josh Scheer: You know, I was just at Occupy L.A. today, and there were a lot of peace signs and people—obviously, the wars are important. And obviously, you’ve been a strong opponent of the war since it first started. What do we need to do with the wars? How much is this costing us?
Rep. Dennis Kucinich: Well, if you look at Joseph Stiglitz and Linda Bilmes’ report on Iraq alone, they said that—they called that the $3 trillion war. The cost of the war in Afghanistan this year hit the half-trillion dollar mark. We are squandering the resources of our nation on wars—the war in Iraq based on lies, and the war in Afghanistan based on an abysmal misreading of history. We need to start understanding that every bomb that’s being dropped and every war machine that’s being put together is really a denial of the educational aspirations of our children; a denial of the crisis in housing we have with the rising foreclosures; a denial of the unemployment problem. Why can’t America get its priorities straight and say that our priority should be to create jobs for all, health care for all, education for all, housing opportunities for all, retirement security for all, and peace? Why can’t America stand for that instead of becoming so famous as standing for war wherever our government so chooses to wage war?
Josh Scheer: There was a Pew study, actually, a Pew poll that says 1 in 3 veterans of the post-9/11 military believes that the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan were not worth fighting at all. So, I mean, it’s not even with just the general public or the Congress; it’s now with soldiers who are actually fighting, or were fighting, in those wars. So, I mean, we obviously have to do something about that. I want to get into something that also came out today, a poll that says Congress’ approval ratings are at 14 percent, very obviously a low. And I want to know what you can do in Congress, and what other members of Congress—are they doing anything? Do they care about these polls?
Rep. Dennis Kucinich: Well, Congress should pay attention to how the American people feel about the declining economy. This is a synergistic matter; it’s Congress, it’s the administration, it’s a failure of the government to be able to address people’s practical aspirations for jobs and health care and education, retirement security, for peace. And government has become too much of an insider’s game. And as a result, the American people are finding that 14 million are unemployed; 50 million people without health insurance; 6.5 million people will lose their homes, perhaps, in the next year to foreclosure; business is failing. Meanwhile, the wealth accelerates to the top, wars continue. People have a right to be upset with their government—Congress, the administration—and they have a right to demand that their basic concerns be met, and that’s not happening. And it’s really a function of the failure of both political parties; of the legislative and the executive branches of government; failure of the judicial branch of government with its decision on Citizens United and before that Buckley v. Valeo, which basically have given corporations carte blanche to be able to set an agenda for their own narrow concerns, adverse to the broad interests of the American people. America’s in trouble. But it’s not as though we can’t chart a path out of that trouble. And so that’s what my legislation, H.R. 2990—called the NEED Act , the National Emergency Employment Defense Act—that’s aimed at putting America back to work. You know, imagine—imagine, instead of 14 million people out of work, we chopped it down and could cut the unemployment in half in this country with a bill that just has the simple concept of instead of borrowing money from banks or China, Japan, South Korea, we spend the money into circulation—which, by the way, is consistent with Article 1, Section 8 of the United States Constitution. The founders understood the importance of that provision to coin or create money. And so that’s what this legislation is based on. It really is one of the most important pieces that is in the Congress right now to deal with the problem of massive unemployment, which is really undermining our democracy.
Josh Scheer: Now, I want to ask you—I’m angry, obviously; we see the Occupy Wall Street people, they’re angry; there’s a lot of angry people in this country, with the approval ratings and everything else. But we don’t maybe want to vote Republican; we don’t want to be part of the tea party; we, obviously, maybe no one will vote for the president, the current president. What do we do? I mean, what do you do if you’re just angry? Should we just go out and protest and make our voices heard?
Rep. Dennis Kucinich: Well, let’s talk about the nature of any protest movement. The importance of protest is—and particularly today—is that people become visible. It is through our personal physical presence, through our own visibility merging with others, that we are able to demonstrate, en masse, our objection to the current affairs. And this is a very powerful statement. It’s consistent with our constitutional privilege of freedom of speech and right to assemble, and it’s consistent with the American tradition that wherever change was brought about, it was not brought about because Washington suddenly decided, through its munificence, that one day it would create a situation where people of color would have full rights; where one day it would create a situation where women would have the right to vote; one day it [would create] a situation where there would be a health care program for seniors. So many of these movements started in the streets. And so we really need a movement for economic justice, and the only place it’s going to start is in the streets. But not, you know—it’s profound that we’re seeing Wall Street be the target, because people are making the connection. Instead of just coming outside the Capitol, they’re going outside Wall Street. It’s a different kind of “capital,” c-a-p-i-t-a-l. And that kind of capital has great power to direct the affairs of our nation. And that’s something, that the awareness of the Wall Street occupiers is such that all over the country people are starting to pay attention, and they’re starting to create similar protests in their own communities. And frankly, I think there are millions and millions of Americans who are demanding a level of economic change that the system currently can’t even begin to comprehend; and yet the failure of the system to do so will result in the system being dramatically changed within the next few years.
Josh Scheer: Well, I just want to wrap up with one quick question about your redistricting. And I know that you’ve been redistricted, and I want to let our listeners know what they can do for you, but also, what’s the situation in Ohio?
Rep. Dennis Kucinich: The district that I’m running in right now is a district that has been created through the merging of two congressional districts, the 10th District—or three congressional districts—the 10th District, which I represent; the 13th District, which Betty Sutton represents; and the 9th District, represented by [Marcia (Marcy)] Kaptur. So 54 percent of the registered Democrats from my district are in a new district, and 34 percent are from Ms. Kaptur’s district, and 12 percent from Ms. Sutton’s district. So at this point, it looks like I’m headed for a primary against my friend from Toledo, Marcia Kaptur. It’s nothing that I sought, but the Republicans drew a district that extends a hundred miles along Lake Erie. So, you know, I have a primary election on March the 6th, and I am preparing for it. Because the election’s now—it’s about, oh, roughly about 153 days. And so it becomes urgent that I organize and do all the other things that are necessary to be able to get people involved in the campaign.
Josh Scheer: And then, obviously, you’re on H.R. 2990, and I just want to let people know again it’s the [National Emergency] Employment Defense Act. And you can write your congressman, if you’re listening to this in any other part of the country, to vote for it. Thank you so much for joining us.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich: I appreciate being on the phone with you, and I look forward to speaking with you again.
Josh Scheer: Oh, yeah. Have a great day, congressman.
Rep. Dennis Kucinich: Bye, now.
Peter Scheer: That was Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich speaking with Truthdig’s Josh Scheer.
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Peter Scheer:This is Truthdig Radio. I’m Peter Scheer. Coming up on the program: modern midwifery and deportation. But first, the occupation on Wall Street has spread to cities across the country, with protesters camping out in downtown Los Angeles since last Saturday. Reporter Howie Stier has been at the scene every day. He files this report.
Howie Stier: [Dragnet music] That memorable theme accompanies the establishing shot of TV’s “Dragnet,” depicting the iconic Los Angeles City Hall building—that towering structure of marble and limestone, a monument to municipal corruption erected at a staggering cost during the Great Depression. And this past
Saturday, over a thousand people representing Southern Californians of all stripes descended upon it, following the movement that erupted Sept. 17 at a park vis a vis Wall Street in New York City. Dismayed at the staggering disproportionate distribution of wealth in the United States, many protesters have adopted the appellation of “the 99 percent.” Those who showed up for today, as well as those who would commit for the duration, came from the ranks of the unemployed and the overworked—and those with the insight and anxiousness that any day, their staff jobs and freelance clients could disappear.
The presence of mass “hacktivists” and bandanna-ed anarchists, professional protesters, the uninsured, college students and college dropouts embracing the moment they had long anticipated. “Oh, how goodly are your tents, Jacob”: those words of a strange prophet, inspired by the sight of the camp of the Israelites, come to mind, evoked by the scene this morning in downtown Los Angeles on the fifth day of the Occupy L.A. demonstration. Not just because of the physical deployment of some 60 tents of the protesters’ high-speed camping gear, neatly arrayed around two sides of L.A.’s City Hall, but because the atmosphere here, in the early morning rain, is charged with a feeling of spirituality and a communal outpouring that is greater than an expression of discontent with the way things are.
Those who set up camp the first night were mostly people who, according to organizers, had, open quotes, “challenged living conditions,” but since then their two dozen tents have grown to some 60. This is part Burning Man, part wartime field seminar. The occupiers are kept busy by organizers who have the day scheduled out as ambitiously as any Dragon Mom. At 8 a.m., a breakfast of coffee ladled from a cooler, and eggs and fruit donated by local businesses, is served. Then the arts and entertainment committee kicks in. Throughout the day, occupiers listen to speakers, discuss the issues that drew them here, and share skills. Pizza pies arrive en masse, the boxes quickly recycled into perfectly proportioned signs, and on Monday afternoon the group rallied for a march through the streets of downtown Los Angeles. Support from those commuting during crunch hour was evident when drivers dropped beats, honking horns in solidarity rather than in frustration at marchers snarling traffic.
There are two elements common to any public gathering in L.A. that are noticeably missing from this action; first, the smell of California super-weed; and second, there are no men in blue—no cops to be seen anywhere. And only a single strand of yellow tape cordons off the upper steps of City Hall. And the protesters abide; and to a person, none are fearful of a confrontation, or catching a wooden shampoo should a change in policing come down.
Howie Stier: Tell me your name.
Protester No. 1: My name is Anonymous.
Howie Stier: You’ve been out here all weekend?
Protester No. 1: Oh, yeah. I’ve been out here from the beginning, from Saturday till now.
Howie Stier: What do you expect to accomplish?
Protester No. 1: I’m not sure any of us know what our goals are. As you can tell, even on Wall Street they don’t know what they’re doing yet. The only one thing that they do know is that something is wrong with this world, and it needs to be changed. We’re not going to get any specific demands, and people should know that, because some people don’t want this system anymore. This system is far beyond corrupted. Some people just want a whole new way of life.
Howie Stier: And how long do you plan to be out here?
Protester No. 1: As long as it takes. Couple weeks, couple months, couple days.
Protester No. 2: It’s not OK to …
Child: Take away money!
Protester No. 2: Ah-hah. Or …
Child: Take away jobs.
Howie Stier: What do you do?
Protester No. 3:Right now I’m unemployed. But I’m trying to get work in the software industry. I’m a software engineer.
Howie Stier: You studied software engineering?
Protester No. 3: Yes, I have.
Howie Stier: You have student loans to pay back?
Protester No. 3: I have over $100,000 in student loans right now.
Howie Stier: And how long have you been unemployed?
Protester No. 3: Since June.
Howie Stier: You haven’t been unemployed that long.
Protester No. 3: No.
Howie Stier: There are some people here who haven’t worked in years. You’re not that personally affected, yet you’re prepared to stay here for the long haul. You’ve got a pillow, you’ve got a cooler, you’ve got water. Why are you here?
Protester No. 3: I’m here for two reasons. One is my generation, the people who are 18 to 24, are in the 18th percent unemployment. We have a future that we’re trying to breed, and we can’t even get work. So that’s one part of the reason I’m here. The other part is I have family members, friends, people I talk to—they don’t know about these protests. Even the Wall Street one which is now two weeks, going into the third week. They have no idea what’s going on. So I’m here to just kind of broadcast to them why we’re here, what’s going on, what they’re about, just to kind of open their eyes.
Howie Stier: [To Protester No. 4] You’re currently homeless, living in a tent in Ventura County. What brought you down to City Hall in downtown L.A. today?
Protester No. 4: Well, my friends were telling me about the Occupy Wall Street movement, and they said that it was going to get going here in L.A., and I knew I had to be part of this. This is basically what my life belief is about, is changing the system and finding something that will work for the people.
Howie Stier: How do you think protesting here today is going to change the system?
Protester No. 4: I think most importantly it’s going to bring attention to the issues at hand. Most people don’t really know what is going on. There’s been such a vast media blackout that people don’t even know that there’s a protest. And one of my missions is that I want to get the word out to the people; I want the people to know that it’s not OK to just sit back and let ourselves be duped by these corporations.
Howie Stier: You said you’re currently homeless. How did you end up in that situation ?
Protester No. 4: Unfortunately, I was living with my boyfriend at his parents’ house, and they decided that they didn’t want us to live there anymore. So we were kicked out to the street, and we had nowhere else to go; we didn’t have any jobs to pay for rent. So it was basically a tent or nothing.
Howie Stier: Do you have an occupation?
Protester No. 4: No, I’ve only held minimum-wage jobs before. I’ve thought about trying to find a better job, but most of them require a degree, and that requires thousands of dollars spent on school that I don’t have.
Howie Stier: You’re college-age, but you’ve never gone to college?
Protester No. 4: I was in community college for a while, but it just wasn’t getting me anywhere. Because even if I did graduate with a degree, there’s no job for me anyway.
Howie Stier: [To Protester No. 5] Steven, where are you from?
Protester No. 5: I’m from North Hollywood, California.
Howie Stier: And how old are you?
Protester No. 5: I’m 22 years old.
Howie Stier: OK. And your immediate goal for making a show of demonstration out here is what?
Protester No. 5: To think. Ultimately, to make people think. I’m holding a sign here that says “Suffering From Realness.” Ultimately that just means that we need to return back to the state of nature. This is me being real in a silicone world, and all of us are real; all of us are one; all of us are human beings; all of us are unique. So we all have our qualities to bring to the table, and to this puzzle of life. I’m just asking everyone to come out here and bring that piece. Because ultimately, this revolution is more of an evolution of consciousness. We’re going to another state of just being and living. And answering this call, this red telephone of awareness, is the highest state of human existence. What are they going to reminisce about you? What is your history going to be? Everyone’s the main character of their own movie. So what is going to be that ending, what is going to be that monumental moment of your life, to where you can say hey, I did this for my people?
Howie Stier: A lot of people are struggling out here in the economy. You have told me you’re flourishing; you’re doing well, because you have a broad range of skills. Tell me some of the things you do.
Protester No. 5: I wouldn’t say I’m flourishing, but I would say that I’m pretty comfortable. I think that it’s about how well you adapt when things get tough, and not just being stuck doing one occupation.
Howie Stier: What are the jobs that you do?
Protester No. 5: I do anything from computer 3-D renderings, digi modeling, architectural drafting, gallery openings, logo design, graphic design, website building, I do installation work, actual construction work. I can use tools, I can use a computer, I can work from anywhere, basically. I work from home. And so I don’t have to go to an office. I’m moving to India in three or four months to actually work from India; it doesn’t matter where I am if I have that broad range of skill sets; you just kind of get in where you fit in, and if people need help then you have a lot of different things that you can offer. I think that’s the way to adapt in this world.
Howie Stier: [To Protester No. 6] Could you tell me your name, please?
Protester No. 6: My name is Solomon.
Howie Stier: Solomon, full name, please?
Protester No. 6: Solomon, you don’t get my full name.
Howie Stier: OK. Solomon, can you tell me what brought you to City Hall in Los Angeles today?
Protester No. 6: I don’t really know where to begin. There’s just so much, from half of my friends who are drowning in student loan debt; they can’t find jobs, to the fact that we’re spending god knows how much money on wars on drugs, wars on foreign nations, while the people here at home—we can’t even eat. I myself, I’m struggling to eat; I live paycheck to paycheck, and I have to give up so much just to be able to feed myself. And I know that I’m not alone here. And it’s almost more of an emotional thing to be able to see and look around and know that I’m not alone and we’re not alone, we’re all in this together.
Howie Stier: So other than it being comforting, what are you planning to accomplish by being out at City Hall?
Protester No. 6: You know, I personally can’t speak for everyone out here, but I tend to just kind of look at it from the perspective of we’re going to meet and we’re going to come and see what happens. We don’t, I don’t think anyone here knows exactly what this is going to accomplish. It might not accomplish anything except getting the attention of some people and stopping traffic. But even if that’s all it accomplishes, then to me, in my eyes, that’s a success.
Howie Stier: And you spoke about friends having college loans to pay back. How about yourself?
Protester No. 6: Oh yeah, I mean, I’m only $20,000 in debt, which you know, I’ve talked to my friends and that’s pocket change to some people. Because I have friends that are 70, 80, $100,000 in debt.
[Protesters chanting: “They Got Bailed Out, We Got Sold Out”]
Joe Briones: My name is Joe Briones.
Howie Stier: What’s your function here in the tent?
Joe Briones: I’m part of the media team for Occupy L.A.
Howie Stier: You have said that anytime you need some equipment, you need some resources, how do you go about getting it?
Joe Briones: You know, we throw it up on the live stream—we need pallets, canopies, towels, dry socks, warm clothes—and every time we’ve made a request, the public’s been very gracious and has been down here within 10 or 15 minutes with what we need.
Howie Stier: So you put out the word you needed pallets to keep your equipment off the wet ground, and what happened?
Joe Briones: And a guy came by with a big truck and gave us 12 pallets. And this happened within 10 minutes of our putting it out there.
Howie Stier: That’s what you’d call direct democracy.
Joe Briones: I believe so. You know, I think it’s an indication of the people’s support for what we’re doing.
Peter Scheer:That was the mustachioed Howie Stier reporting from Occupy L.A. for Truthdig Radio. This just in: The Guardian estimates 15,000 people are marching on lower Manhattan in support of the 99 percent movement. Amy Goodman is on the scene and reports that the number is even higher. This is Truthdig Radio.
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Peter Scheer: In a little bit, we’ll hear from Ina May Gaskin about modern midwifery. First, the White House is trying to thread the needle on immigration by re-prioritizing deportation rules. Leilani Albano has this report from Free Speech Radio about the so-called Secure Communities program.
FSRN Host: In Los Angeles, street vendors are often targeted by police. But this time, they’re getting more than a minor ticket. Many are being forced back to their countries and separated from their loved ones. Leilani Albano has more on the story.
Leilani Albano: It’s a hot afternoon as “Vicente” scoops up mounds of shaved ice from his food cart. For the last three years, the 56-year-old paletero, or ice cream vendor, has been concocting vanilla, bubble gum, strawberry and mango-flavored snow cones for passers-by. His customers might not know it, but most street vending in Los Angeles is illegal. “Vicente,” who will not use his real name, is aware of the dangers but continues to sell on the streets.
“Vicente”: [Translator:] “There is no other option but to keep working here.”
Leilani Albano: Violators are accustomed to paying fines, but these days the penalties are much higher. With the introduction of Secure Communities, a federal program that allows local authorities and immigration officials to share fingerprint databases of anyone booked in jail, L.A. vendors now run the risk of getting deported.
Antonio Bernabe: “Before, they were just being ticketed or arrested. But without any kind of immigration problems.”
Leilani Albano: Antonio Bernabe is an organizer with CHIRLA, the [Coalition] for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles.
Antonio Bernabe: Now anybody that is in contact with any enforcement officer can be into the deportation process.
Leilani Albano: Immigrations and customs enforcement data shows that the program has led to the deportation of 16,000 immigrants in Los Angeles, and 120,000 throughout the country, since it was launched three years ago. An untold number of them are street vendors.
Antonio Bernabe: These vendors are being targeted from the police, to be giving them tickets and being arrested.
Leilani Albano: That has raised ire among Secure Communities opponents, who say the program, designed to capture serious criminals, is causing social and economic strife for vendors as well as witnesses to crimes, and even those who have never committed crimes. Demonstrators are demanding that law enforcement stop harassing vendors.
Antonio Bernabe: There is no reason for an ordinance to be in place. An ordinance has to open the possibility for the people to sell.
Leilani Albano: The Obama administration recently announced that it will cancel more than 40 agreements with states that have signed on to the Secure Communities program. But according to a letter obtained by the L.A. Times, the Department of Homeland Security says that the cancellations will not stop them from sharing fingerprint information. Professor Gabriel Gutierrez, a Chicano studies professor at Cal State Northridge, says Obama wants to maintain Secure Communities as a way to appeal to anti-immigrant voters in the 2012 elections.
Gabriel Gutierrez: Not only is he trying to enforce the laws that are already in place, he’s actually going further than any other administration has in terms of proving how bad-ass he can be against immigration.
Leilani Albano: Homeland Security, which runs Secure Communities, declined to be interviewed for this story. Most street vendors are prohibited from selling in Los Angeles, but the pushcarts that vendors use to hold their items are issued legal permits. The vendors sell ice cream and candy as well as anything they can prepare on their own. That includes cut fruit as well as hot dogs wrapped in bacon strips, tamales and pupusas. Others sell toys. They put in long hours, but earn very little—about $40 to $60 a day.
Antonio Bernabe: When you have nothing to eat, or no money in your home, you buy something, make up something and go out to sell.
Leilani Albano: Bernabe says many Mexican and Central American vendors are confused by the ban on street vending, which is a widespread and legal practice in their countries.
Antonio Bernabe: It’s an honest way to go out and resolve your economical problems.
Leilani Albano: Last February, police arrested Blanca Perez, a single mother of three, for illegal vending. She says she was unaware street selling is against the law. Now she faces deportation.
Blanca Perez: [Translator:] I don’t know why I am getting deported. I was just selling ice pops.
Leilani Albano: She may lose custody of her 1-year-old son, Jonathan, if she’s forced to leave the country. Bernabe says her toddler senses something is wrong, and is starting to cling on to her even tighter.
Antonio Bernabe: He’s feeling something. He’s feeling that there is a threat on his mom, I believe.
Leilani Albano: Secure Communities isn’t just wreaking havoc on families. It’s hurting businesses. Mauricio Funes, who manages Continental Ice Cream and Durango Paleteria in South L.A., says sales have fallen by 25 percent now that run-ins between workers and police have increased.
Antonio Bernabe: Probably in the last few years there has been more increasing [harassment] on the pushcart operators, and they’ve been taken to jail.
Leilani Albano: So far, his workers have received 25 tickets in a span of three years. The increased ticketing has led to an excess of workers who don’t want to run the risk of paying the $650 it costs to replace the confiscated merchandise and pushcarts.
Antonio Bernabe: We’ve been having that problem that people don’t want to work anymore, and so our business has gone down a bit because of that reason.
Leilani Albano: But for every one vendor that quits, others remain. Without other job options, there will always be street vendors who are willing to take the risk of getting deported. Street vendor “Vicente”:
“Vicente”: [Translator:] If they do get me one day because I am selling here and I am just trying to maintain my family, then that’s how it is.
Leilani Albano: Leilani Albano, FSRN, Los Angeles.
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Peter Scheer: This is Truthdig Radio and I’m Peter Scheer. Nothing is more precious to a mother than her child, and the birth process can be confusing and even controversial. Ina May Gaskin, author of “Birth Matters: A Midwife’s Manifesta,” has been an advocate and innovator of natural birth for decades. She speaks to Truthdig’s Kasia Anderson.
Kasia Anderson: I’m pleased to be talking with Ina May Gaskin about a very important matter, which of course matters to all of us. And that is her new book, called “Birth Matters.” Can you set up some background about yourself and your work for us?
Ina May Gaskin: I started out as an English major, had a master’s degree in English, and I was a Peace Corps volunteer in Malaysia. Grew up in the Midwest, had a dad who was a farmer; went into having a baby in the mid-’60s, which threw me into becoming a midwife, because the care was so inappropriate. I had an unassisted birth and thought, no, we have to have midwives. For my next three babies, I had to start a midwifery service.
Kasia Anderson: Well, what was it about your experience in particular? Was there some aspect of it, or was it just the kind of overall midwife-free moments? [laughs]
Ina May Gaskin: Exactly my question [laughs], at that time. I had to study like mad to find out the answers to it, because it just wasn’t out there. But through a lot of travel to other countries, and seeing how birth is done in other countries, especially wealthy countries, I noticed that midwives prevail. And every single country has 70 percent or so of births attended by midwives. In Germany, a midwife has to be at every single birth. So that’s just to show you how wide a range there is there. And then, as a country, we have always had an excess of intervention. So what we find ourselves with today is nothing new; it’s the way it’s been done here for more than a century. We were the first country that wiped out midwives to where people couldn’t even think that was the solution.
Kasia Anderson: When did that happen?
Ina May Gaskin: Early 20th century. And so someone like myself, my great-grandmother had been a midwife, and she was very important in the area where she was from [in] Iowa. So I grew up knowing that, for instance, my grandmother was the eldest of 13, and they were all born at home and they were all fine. So I could know that that’s possible. Well, it’s kind of special [laughs], you know, given what people think about birth today. And so I wrote the book because I want people to look at how it’s relevant to everybody. We all get born, and birth—how we do it makes this, like, water all around us; we can hardly put our minds around all the ways it affects us. But if we’re born scared, and if our mothers are terrified when we’re being born, we’re kind of different people.
Kasia Anderson: You believe that that experience carries over into kind of the tenor of a person’s life?
Ina May Gaskin: Absolutely. If you take any species, know any farmer—the farmers that I was used to as a little kid—I didn’t grow up on a farm, but I knew farm people and I knew they kind of looked down on us from the city because we were so ignorant. Not that they would, you know, rub it in all the time, but they would—‘oh, there’s some important things you don’t know.’ I would be very surprised that you could disturb the laboring mother so much so that she wouldn’t know how to raise her young, but I was told that by my aunt, who raised all kinds of things. And so I learned you can’t touch. You can’t do the things that a town kid would feel like, oh, it’s my right, of course. I mean well, therefore it won’t have a bad consequence. Well, as a country, we’ve stifled that opinion. We set humans apart from all other species; we have this special place; it’s human exceptionalism. We are exceptional [in] that we can do things that other species can’t; the flip side of that is when it comes to birth, we actually have shown ourselves that there are a lot of women who are so scared of giving birth that they would ask for surgery.
Kasia Anderson: Now, tell me about that part of it. It seems like—I’m not a mother, so I’m not attuned to a lot of the choices and issues around having C-sections and those types of considerations. But is it correct, my impression, that there are a lot of people getting them these days? A lot of women?
Ina May Gaskin: Yes, that’s very true. When I began as a midwife, 5 percent was the C-section rate nationally. And it was a big deal to have a Cesarean; I mean, there was, I think, a healthy fear of it.
Kasia Anderson: Well, it should be a big deal, yeah. [laughter]
Ina May Gaskin: I think so. Well, some—there are women who’ll tell you, who had Cesareans—and I have not, so I mean, their words carry some weight in some way, I would think, their having experienced it—what I hear from them, it’s everything from post-traumatic stress disorder; fatal complications that can happen right after or during or even years after, because the injured uterus is more liable to have certain problems later in life. And it’s not just the injured uterus, it’s what happens to the abdominal wall. When you—any surgery puts that person at a much higher risk for a bowel obstruction later in life. And a bowel obstruction, when ignored too long, and it’s quite painful, can be fatal. That has to do with scar tissue growing. And so that’s one thing. Then, future fertility for the woman, because sometimes a C-section, and it certainly is associated with loss of fertility in some women; then you also have placental problems. Oh, I forgot to tell you the current rate of C-sections: 34 percent.
Kasia Anderson: Wow.
Ina May Gaskin: Some hospitals 60 percent, 70 percent. And so what happens is there turns out to be this huge controversy over hospital birth and home birth, as if that’s something that we should be really excited about, when the C-section rate ought to be bigger news, because it’s correlated with a rising and rather unreported death rate for mothers. And this is not—this result doesn’t go with a lower rate of newborn deaths. So we used to rank around 20th when I first started hearing news reports on maternal death rates; then it was 30 percent; it was 40 percent; I don’t mean percent, I mean 40th in the world, following 39 other countries in lowering maternal death rates. When we think about it, we know that in poor countries it’s because you don’t have enough hospitals, in part, distributed well enough; and in a country like ours, you tend to have too much use of technology, and this too much can be fatal for the mother.
Kasia Anderson: Well, Ina May, we just have about a minute left. So I wanted to make sure I got a little hope in edgewise here, if possible. Do you have …
Ina May Gaskin: The body rocks. That’s the hope part, is that you know what? Contrary to what you’ve been told, our species can give birth as well as the other, you know, almost 5,000. And we just have to kind of learn from them that it does, and that to doubt it is really a little strange. So that’s something to think about, and … don’t obey when forced into a position that feels horrible, when you could be moving. We could start with that.
Kasia Anderson: That sounds like a good place to start. And hopefully some expectant mothers are listening.
Ina May Gaskin: I know that women—we can change this. So we have to count our dead; we have to analyze it, look at it, and go, what are we doing wrong and what could we be doing better? Oh, look around. Who’s doing it better? Oh, we have a lot to learn from Mexico. Those midwives know how to turn breeches; they know how to do breeches. But they’re not yet licensed by the government in large part. We have to think about all the ways birth matters, and change it so that it’s good.
Kasia Anderson: And our listeners can read more about this in Ina May Gaskin’s “Birth Matters: A Midwife’s Manifesta.” Thanks so much for your time.
Ina May Gaskin: Thank you.
Kasia Anderson: Bye.
Peter Scheer: That interview by Truthdig’s Kasia Anderson. That’s it for this week’s edition of Truthdig Radio. Find us next Wednesday at 2 on 90.7 KPFK or anytime online at Truthdig.com. The show was produced by Joshua Scheer. Thanks to Rep. Dennis Kucinich, Chris Hedges, Ina May Gaskin, Howie Stier, Leilani Albano, board op Gee, engineer Stan Misraje and Alan Minsky. I’m Peter Scheer. Thanks for listening.