Settlement seeks change

Students participate in campout and city-wide protests

| Editor in Chief

Matt Mitgang | Student Life
Dozens of students and local community members pitched tents and camped out in downtown St. Louis Wednesday night to kick off a series of demonstrations aimed at rallying the community to stand up against corporate power.

The People’s Settlement is a five-day event in which participants camp out at Poelker Park at night and participate in demonstrations during the day on issues ranging from LBGT rights to environmental ethics.

This series of demonstrations draws from a variety of local activism groups and fosters a collaborative effort to combat what participants identify as “frustrations with corporate control of politics.”

Around 20 organizations are involved in the demonstrations, and hundreds of people are expected to attend throughout the five days.

Some of the participating activist groups include Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment (MORE), Climate Action St. Louis, Washington University Co-Op and the Catholic Action Network.

Matt Mitgang | Student Life

Students and community members camp out at Poelker Park as a part of a five-day event filled with protests targeted at corporate power and influence.

Anyone is allowed to attend any of the events.

Junior Harry Alper, who plans to stay at the settlement all five nights, said the environment at the settlement is equally important to the event’s mission as are the demonstrations.

There will be free food and some forms of entertainment each night.

“I am really excited about the settlement itself, the bonding opportunity and the knowledge-sharing opportunity, and learning how a settlement like this operates,” Alper said.

Sophomore Deanna Parrish said she decided to attend the nightly planning meeting on Wednesday because she was interested in activism in the St. Louis community.

“I am interested as to how the few mobilizers on campus have been interested in expanding outward into the city and city movements and what [activism] is like outside of campus,” Parrish said.

Sophomore Mariana Oliver had never participated in an activism event before and was encouraged by Naomi Klein—an activist known for her criticism of corporate globalization who spoke on campus Wednesday afternoon—to become involved.

“I have never been part of an activism movement before, this is my first time and I figured it’s an awesome way to start it,” Oliver said.

The People’s Settlement started with a sit-in at Bank of America to protest the recent foreclosures. Protesters chanted in the lobby and demanded that an executive come down and speak with two customers whose homes were being foreclosed.

MORE Organizer Hannah Allison said the event was successful and the bank’s national office agreed to send someone from Washington, D.C., to St. Louis to meet with people and explain their practices.

“We were able to secure at least the beginning of our demands—the beginning of our process of how to meet these demands,” Allison said.

On Thursday morning approximately 35 people protested outside Laclede Gas Company’s office on Olive Street to speak out against the company’s LGBT policies.

According to a survey conducted by the Human Rights Campaign, Laclede Gas tied with Exxon Mobile in 2009 as the worst company in the nation for gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender people to work for.

On Friday the demonstrations will continue with a protest against Peabody Coal—the world’s largest private-sector coal company.

According to participants, it is important for people to be engaged with the community because St. Louis is the home to many major corporations. Demonstrators said that these companies feel they can get away with unethical practices because there is not yet a strong movement in St. Louis that will stand up against them.

“[Students] are in this city and we are purchasing customers of these companies in this city,” sophomore Arielle Klagsbrun said. “A lot of people don’t know that St. Louis is the hub of corporations who do a lot of not-so-awesome things.”

The People’s Settlement schedule of events:

All demonstrations start at Poelker Park at 13th and Market streets
11 a.m.-1 p.m. • Peabody Coal Action
3:30-5 p.m. • Anti-War Action

11 a.m.-1 p.m. • Race to the Top and the Privatization of Public Education Teach In
1-3 p.m. • Privatization of Education Bake Sale

1-3 p.m. • Faith-Based Action Catholic Action Network
3:30-5:30 p.m. • Labor History Tour

  • FYI, in a discussion of agent provocateurism at the people’s settlement, one progressive activist, after airing his grievance about disruption of progressive events by tea party activists, went on to say, “I guess that’s fair enough. I have done that sort of thing myself.”

    Why do our demonstrations have to be so carefully choreographed and photographed, with no outside signs? To prevent disruption of our demonstrations. Unfortunately, such self-censorship can lead to cooptation of grass roots organizations by national political parties, as seems to have happened with some of the tea party groups (or so a tea party insider tells me). This could happen to progressive movements too, if we are not very careful.

    At the people’s settlement, we were free to make our own signs, with our own messages. Free speech forever!

    • Claudine

      I read the Guardian acltrie last night and ever since can’t seem to get your work out of my head. Hold on tight Louis, your career is about to be launched into a new realm of success, very much deserved I might add. If you ever want to do some sea-side painting come visit me in Brighton one day. Good luck Louis, I’ll be rooting for you. humbly yours, darvish

  • Please see this coverage of the March of the Jobless, “Unemployed workers march through downtown St. Louis,”

    I was amused to see an advertisement for First Community, a local credit union getting very good reviews from the People’s Settlement folks as a local alternative to Bank of America, along with Pulaski Bank. You may see this just after you click on the video, before it plays.

    Please see also “No Mortgage on My Soul,”

  • I am back home after the best possible vacation: five days camping at the People’s Settlement, talking to homeless folks and challenging foreclosure, overdraft fees, mountaintop removal, permanent war economy, and every other kind of injustice. The police were wonderful! They are on our side! The police captain negotiated for 45 minutes to persuade Bank of America to send their loss mitigation team here to work with the Hope Alliance loan counselors for a people’s settlement: that is, keep us in our homes and let us all get back to work. We chanted “Police need a raise!” The bad cops famous for police brutality were nowhere to be seen. We only saw the good cops!

    The good cops need a raise! The rest of us need a good job with a living wage, and a roof over our heads. Camping in a tent is fine for a week. Now let’s get back to work.

    We met a homeless man who was trying to run his consulting business from the street, even after having had his laptop stolen at a homeless shelter, and having a negative Bank of America balance due to cascading overdraft fees when his clients could not pay him on time. He is self educated and so cannot get past HR, but his capability is far beyond most of the college graduates who will get the good jobs (so a computer professional who also talked to him told me). Steve Jobs and Bill Gates both dropped out of college and became successful entrepreneurs. Is this still possible in our corporatist economy? Stay Hungry Stay Foolish. Indeed.

    I enjoyed watching Michael Moore’s “Capitalism: A Love Story” on a laptop, in a tent while the rain fell. Moore is a capitalist himself, and he is not really against capitalism, he is against corporatism. He supports cooperative business.

    Now I am trying to find a way to employ that homeless computer entrepreneur, as IT specialist for our cooperative university. We are cooperating with other cooperatives to make this happen, with tax deductible donations. How can YOU help?

    At the March of the Jobless, I overheard two Chamber of Commerce folks tell each other, “You really cannot blame them.” Another, a short stout man wearing a three piece suit, called us a “bunch of crazies,” sneered at my sign that said “People Before Profits,” and asked me “How much did they pay you to carry that sign?” I held my silence.

    I work pro bono, as you know.

    I proudly wore my “Living Wage Now” t-shirt, from the 2005 SWA Living Wage Sit-in, at which I was a special guest participant-observer. In 2005, I remember being confronted by an angry WashU student from the People’s Republic of China as I conversed with one of my graduate students, an American Studies specialist who worked in the occupied Admissions Office and was there to get some papers so he could get his work done. When the Chinese student proclaimed, “We sure could not do this in China,” I responded, “That’s the whole point. We can do this here. In China you will be gunned down or run over by a tank. The issues under dispute are not trivial, but we can settle them without becoming violent or even uncivil with each other. As long as this is true, I will not move to China. As long as this is true, people from China will want to move here.” My student nodded in agreement and so did the man from China. He told us he had decided not to write the angry letter to Student Life that he had intended to write. I was never more proud to be an American citizen, or a WashU faculty member, than on that day.

    The People’s Settlement was, and will continue to be, at least as much a demonstration of our right to do this as anything else. If there ever comes a time when we can no longer do this, that will be the time to stop pretending we are free, take down our flag, and surrender. May that time never come.

    I was proud to see a counterdemonstration at Kiener Plaza, waving an enormous American flag and chanting “Abolish the Federal Reserve” as we prepared to march on Bank of America. They did not march with us (as far as I could tell) but they gave us a rousing sendoff, perhaps in agreement to disagree. I was proud of the Vietnam veterans who carried the flag and played the Star-Spangled Banner as we marched. There is nothing unpatriotic about wanting a good job and a fair deal.

    Lecturer Dr. Jerome Bauer
    –Co-Founder, WashU Cooperative Network, “saving our planet since 2003 with a kind heart and a sense of humor,” one of the sponsoring organizations
    –Proprietor, Cervantes Co-op House of the WashU Cooperative Network and host of the WashU Coop Library, “Don’t Ask Permission: It’s YOUR education.” Cervantes House was narrowly saved from foreclosure by student activism; we became a People’s Settlement cosponsor out of graditude
    –Who has never, and never will, post anonymously or pseudonymously to Student Life or anywhere else, except my transparent pseudonym, Shevek Nagarjuna Kundakunda

    Please see the KSDK Channel 5 News story, “Students rally to save professor’s co-op house,”

    Now let’s all pay it forward, and help others even less fortunate. It’s the American way, isn’t it?

  • amazing grace

    This does not deserve a page 1 article “People before profits” or Peoples Settlement is nothing more than Marxism revisited. 35 spoiled rich kids protesting corporate profit should ask their parents how they were able to afford going to Wash U.

  • Lee

    What a bunch of flakes! Who do you think pays in taxes for all of the services we receive? I would guess all of you will never work for a corporation. Any of you have a parent that works for a corporation? I suppose they did not send in a time to pay for your tuition. I worry for my responsible, productive and appreciative daughters who work hard for corporations…one a Wash U grad. You spoiled protestors will pay for the mistakes from this disgusting US administration. The anger is directed to the wrong place indeed!

  • Former Green Party

    The good in this story:
    1) Naomi Klein – it’s really cool that such an outspoken and recognized figure in the anti-corporate community is present at this demonstration. If you could get Stuart Archer Cohen, too, that’d be overwhelming reason for me to cancel some plans and attend.
    2) Free food – who is sponsoring this? Out of curiosity…

    The less savory:
    Reality is that 90% of Wash U will work for a corporation of some form at some point. That’s the lay of the land, given tax laws and legal threats. Corporations aren’t the only businesses who engage in behavior that some consider unethical – indeed if a small family-owned restaurant refused to hire a gay person out of, say, religious reasons would you picket that restaurant as well?

    While you can hold with disdain the corporate veil that allows certain behaviors to occur, you must also understand that a corporation’s purpose is three-fold:
    1) Employ people and resources
    2) Produce or provide something that people want or need
    3) Make profits

    The more we demand that corporations step away from their purpose, the less effective they’ll be at doing what they’re intended to do. I used to think that corporations needed to be cajoled into conforming to a progressive understanding of ethics, but I must admit after working for some years it’s incredibly obnoxious to be distracted at work by the myriad Awareness days and announcements of policies meant to appease the loudest rather than work towards improving our business.

    That said, I do admire the passion of those willing to give up 5 days of school work in order to speak their minds. I would only ask that you focus your efforts more singularly in order to be more effective. I used to be a Green, and a leader in the group at my undergrad, untli I got fed up with the constant disagreement over where to focus efforts. It seemed like we were constantly pulling ourselves in fifteen different directions, agitating for environmental, LGBT, immigrant, health care, education, political prisoners, peace and other issues all at once. The university community, bombarded, really just ignored us and we found ourselves holding disparate signs, shouting on the sidewalk at closed windows.

  • Scott

    They do not-so-awesome things… k.