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Occupy Baltimore Takes on Public Education System

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DAVID DOUGHERTY, TRNN: McKeldin Park in downtown Baltimore has undergone a profound transformation, as dozens of people have moved in with tents to participate in Occupy Baltimore, one of hundreds of similar occupations to have popped up across the United States in recent weeks. The movement that began as an act of solidarity with Occupy Wall Street in New York is seeking to draw attention to political and economic injustice and democratically generate solutions to a number of social problems. Several local unions, including police and firefighters, have declared their support for the movement in a letter to the mayor’s office, urging the city to exercise restraint in their response to the protestors. Occupy Baltimore participant Kate Khatib serves as one of the facilitators for the general assemblies that are held each night in the park. She explains how the general assembly is more than just a way to generate discussions and make important group decisions, but is an emerging form of popular power that serves as a democratic motor for occupation movements across the country.

KATE KHATIB, OCCUPY BALTIMORE: The general assembly is kind of the heart of the occupation in some ways. Everything that happens here is important, but the general assembly is where we all come together as a group once a day, every day, at 8 p.m. and we talk through what’s been happening, we talk through what’s going to happen, we make decisions. And it’s really where we have a laboratory for trying to figure out the best ways to use participatory democracy. So we bring everyone together. We try and make all of our decisions by consensus. It’s a long and grueling process sometimes, but it’s also a pretty amazing one. I think the general assembly is where a lot of people are learning that the world could be a really different place.

DOUGHERTY: One of the general assemblies held in Occupy Baltimore focused on the crisis of public education in Baltimore City, drawing connections between the city’s specific local problems with education and those on a broader national scale.

BRYANT MULDREW, PRESIDENT, BALTIMORE ALGEBRA PROJECT: We look at 2011, what we are experiencing is that we don’t have the right to quality education. We’ve made this connection that education is the new civil–the right to quality education is the new civil right that we need to be fighting for. A educated general public will make well-informed decisions, be able to chose the right representation, and will be well employed. And these are some of the crisises we’re experiencing now. We went to Philly, we went to New York, we went to Boston, we went to LA, we went to Atlanta, and we realized that they were experiencing the same educational crisis we’re experiencing in Baltimore. And the crisis we’re experiencing, as–just like Frank said, that the state is systematically underfunding the Baltimore City Public School System and other school systems within the state.

DOUGHERTY: Some occupation movements in other parts of the country have become the targets of police repression aiming to evict demonstrators from public places. In Oakland, California, protestors have returned to the streets after police cleared out the Occupy Oakland campsite on early Tuesday morning, before later using flashbang grenades and tear gas at a counterdemonstration. The subsequent crackdown by police left occupation participant and Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen in a coma with a serious brain injury after a tear-gas projectile fired by the police fractured his skull. Other cities such as Washington, DC, and Philadelphia have agreed to allow the occupations to remain. In Baltimore, campers remained on alert after the city declared the occupation illegal, though the mayor’s office later expressed that it did not desire a violent confrontation with demonstrators.

KHATIB: On Monday we received an official response from the city, basically saying that they’re deferring our application for a permit and instead they’re offering us a compromise. The compromise, there’s a lot of great things about it. It’s really nice that the city was willing to talk with us and send us a draft working document that we could kind of take a look at and go back with our concerns. But, you know, the major problem with that document is the fact that it says that we can only have two people here overnight. And if you look around you, there’s a lot more than two tents here, there’s a lot more than two people here, and we want to keep it that way. We feel safer if there’s more of us. We feel like asking us to not be here overnight is really impacting the political statement that we’re trying to make and it’s really antithetical to the heart of what we’re trying to do as Occupy Baltimore. So the deadline for us to acquiesce to the request that the city gave us was tonight, or was today, Wednesday, October 26. So right now it’s late in the night on Wednesday, October 26, and we don’t exactly know what’s going to happen. We’ve heard rumors floating around that the police might come and ask us to leave. We’ve also heard rumors that the police are not going to make a move on us tonight. So right now we’re just trying to be aware of what’s happening. We’re trying to recognize that the police are not necessarily our enemies until they give us a reason for us to treat them as our enemies. And our goal is just to try and keep things as peaceful, as respectful, as legal as we possibly can here on the site and to protect everyone who’s here.

DOUGHERTY: A diverse multitude of people have come out to see and participate in the occupation, which maintains that anyone is welcome. A number of Baltimore’s homeless have been drawn to the movement, which distributes free food and blankets and maintains area security to ensure the safety of everyone in the park. Occupy Baltimore continues to grow and develop an agenda for action that seeks to address the local issues facing Baltimore while forming part of the broader national fabric of occupation movements popping up in cities across the country. It remains to be seen whether the city will agree to let the demonstrators stay, or attempt to remove or reduce their numbers in Baltimore’s McKelden park. This is David Dougherty with The Real News Network.

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