US Uncut's Anti-Austerity Protests Hit Bank of
Monday 28 February 2011
Protesters participate in a US Uncut action on Bank of
Anna Becker looks tired. Becker is leaning against the brick wall beside the entrance to Bank of America's Pearl District branch in Portland, Oregon, where one of over 50 nationwide protests by US Uncut has been underway for nearly two hours.
But Becker, a retired teacher, is just as energized as the protesters at the front of the crowd of about 60, who spill into the street and draw long, loud honks from the stream of cars driving toward the
"I have been waiting for 20 years for something like this to happen in
As a voice at the megaphone of the
"The $3 in my wallet is more than ExxonMobil, GE and Bank of America paid in taxes last year, combined," said Carl Gibson, founder of the first American Uncut group, US Uncut Mississippi, in a release prior to the February 26 protests.
"There's a direct connection between corporate tax dodging and what's happening to real people's lives," said Gibson. "Because of overseas tax havens and other tax loopholes, US corporations are making profits in
In its first weeks, the movement remains small but is already getting noticed. In
Demonstrations in some other cities owed part of their numbers to spillover from MoveOn's 30,000-strong rallies in solidarity with
Despite its size, the brand-new movement has already caught the attention of Fox News conservative talk show host Glenn Beck. In a February 24 segment, Beck painted the
"The fact that Glenn Beck is already coming after us, that's interesting to me," said Johnson. "When some big media gun gets on the airwaves and starts telling people that the organization I'm interested in is awful, that speaks to our power ... and I'm a lot less scared of him."
Kevin Shields, the high school senior who coordinated US Uncut Philadelphia's protest against Comcast, agreed. "I think that's actually some of the best press we can get," said Shields.
Other participants are less enthusiastic about right-wing interest in the growing movement. Some of DC's impromptu media representatives, who were culled from the event's participants, guarded their identities when speaking with reporters. One of them, a nonprofit-sector worker using the pseudonym Matthew, told Truthout, "Here in DC, we have a lot of sort of back channels to the UK group," who, in light of "some vicious right-wing hatchet jobs" against some of its members in the UK's conservative press, encouraged its counterparts in the United States to remain anonymous.
In addition to concerns about media smear campaigns, said Matthew, "We're dealing with a massive corporation with unlimited resources, and, as we've seen with the hacked emails, they're going to go after people." (When Anonymous, a group of hackers supportive of WikiLeaks, discovered the head of private security firm HBGary Federal claimed to have infiltrated Anonymous' ranks, it hacked the firm's emails and discovered that a law firm hired by B of A had approached HBGary about spying on Anonymous.)
The range of attitudes about identity and security among US Uncut supporters suggests a growing public uncertainty about how much a government increasingly indebted to corporations can be trusted to uphold its citizens' right to dissent. As of two days before the protest, at least one other city's Uncut organizers, in
Meanwhile, Johnson, a longtime activist who said he was arrested three times in the 1980's at protests against New Hampshire's Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant, insists, "My retirement plan has pretty much always been to get shot off the barricades."
"People who want to be cautious, that's fine if that's what it takes for them to discover their agency," said Johnson. For his part, he said, "I've got two children, and I think they are counting on me to be their father, and if that means I have to take it on the chin from the Bank of America, then so be it."
Priest says he chose to use his full identity in his participation in the
So far, US Uncut's self-described decentralized model appears to make room for multiple approaches.
"Americans are really searching for a new protest model. They don't want the same old thing of standing outside the mall every six months," said Matthew.
Shields, a labor activist, also welcomes US Uncut's unconventional strategy, which blends social media outreach with old-fashioned street protests. "As an activist myself, it's so frustrating - on the picket lines and everything, most people are fighting for things that affect their own lives - it's really tough to get people out for things that don't directly affect them." Shields said he was encouraged by the turnout in
The pro-democracy movements spreading through the Middle East have been credited with influencing the recent resurgence of direct democracy in the
A widespread sense of outrage could provide more fuel for US Uncut. In
Between megaphone sessions denouncing corporate tax dodgers and "selective austerity," Jen Nichols explained why she took a lead in organizing the
"I'm tired of paying taxes and being told there's not enough money for me or my daughter," she said.
Nichols is not the only one who is tired. In the lead-up to the protests, on February 21, a tweet sent out on the US Uncut handle seemed intended for those Americans who are struggling to meet their basic needs, plan for the future or get ahead in a recession. "THIS is your fight, the fight for a job, for benefits, FOR SURVIVAL, do not expend what little energies you have fighting for anything else."
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"The master class has always declared the wars; the subject class has always fought the battles. The master class has had all to gain and nothing to lose, while the subject class has had nothing to gain and everything to lose--especially their lives." Eugene Victor Debs