Sunday Dec. 4 marked day 50 of Occupy Phoenix. The movement that many pundits dismissed as the political equivalent of "Seinfeld" i.e., a movement about nothing--scored a triple play of successes this week.
First was a loud protest against the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) which held its members-only States and Nations Policy Summit at the swank Westin Kierland Resort in Scottsdale. ALEC bills itself as a "nonpartisan individual membership organization of state legislators which favors federalism and conservative public policy solutions." In Arizona this has translated, for example, to the "construction of private prisons as for profit entities.
At last count 50 members of the Arizona legislature were full-fledged members of ALEC, which also includes corporations like Exxon, WalMart and Koch Industries. The organization gets together and comes up with legislation that benefits private companies. This time however, thanks to 200+ protestors from Occupy Phoenix and allied groups, local media actually took an interest in all things ALEC. Especially after Phoenix PD began pepper-spraying and arresting protestors.
Occupy Phoenix media volunteer Ezra Kaplan was at the front line. Before he knew it, a cop looked at him and said, "All right, you're number one" - and he didn't mean it as a compliment. Ezra went down, held in place with a knee to the neck, and the cuffs went on.
"The violence I experienced at the hands of the Phoenix PD was nothing in comparison with the violence that people endure as a result of laws written by ALEC," said Kaplan, a 23 year old student working his way through college.
Meanwhile, back at the Occupy ranch - er - plaza, the Rev. Jesse Jackson showed up Nov. 30 to offer support to Occupiers huddled against the cold of a rare winter storm. Jackson returned the next day to lead a march and rally, greatly reinvigorating everyone's spirits. After surveying the daunting odds faced by Occupy Phoenix in a state most recently deemed the fourth worst-run in the nation and home to Sheriff Joe Arpaio, the National Field Director of Jackson's Rainbow PUSH Coalition, Bishop T. Lane Grant, deemed Occupy Phoenix "the Mississippi of this movement" and vowed to lend continued assistance.
And on Friday, December 2, five people were treated for pepper spray injuries while handing out Occupy literature at the popular "First Friday" art walk in downtown Phoenix. According to Phoenix PD, someone not affiliated with Occupy Phoenix hit an officer with a skateboard (unconfirmed), which apparently necessitated an immediate use of pepper spray into the crowd. The Phoenix police have not yet released a statement about the incident.
And on the seventh day -- December 4 -- Occupy hosted another rally. This time a spirited gathering of union members from the WE ARE ONE Coalition, AFL-CIO, AFSCME, Progressive Democrats and Moveon.org stood in unison to remind Occupiers that while few might actually live at the plaza, the 99% is, well, 99%. About 300 folks shouted chants that bounced off surrounding high-rise buildings.
Democratic Senator Steve Gallardo reminded attendees that Arizona voters were able to get rid of Russell Pearce and sent a warning to elected officials of both parties: "We will send you through the same door we sent Russell Pearce."
Local AFL-CIO Executive Director Rebekah Friend said it is understandable that relatively low numbers of people are occupying the plaza full-time.
"Some of it is the economy," she reflected. "People I know are focused on finding a job. There's also a fear of not being accepted by people you don't know. It's up to us to find a way to relate in a deeper way."
Friend indicated there is another, possibly more insidious reason that more Arizonans stay away. Arizona is notorious for having right-to-work laws that ostensibly prevent forced union membership. In reality, the laws work against all middle-class Arizonans on a number of levels.
"There's a huge fear of taking time off work [to protest] because people feel they'll be fired - even union members," Friend said.
In the meantime, traffic on the Occupy Phoenix web page, www.occupyphx.org, continues to grow. The Cyber99 is watching, listening. will they come down to the plaza? Stay tuned.
Diane D'Angelo is a Phoenix-based writer and civic engagement enthusiast who has been following the Occupy Phoenix movement and Arizona politics. If you would like to contribute as a citizen journalist to The Huffington Post's coverage of the 2012 campaign season, please write to us at www.offthebus.org.