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Berkshire Barbers Take Manhattan

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Matthew Ketchum gave his boss Steve Vilot the '99%' treatment. More photos by Rogovoy can be found here.
Journalist and reviewer Seth Rogovoy's posted a great piece on his Zuccotti Park adventures with local tonsorial artists Steve Vilot, BC “Dez” Desautels and Matthew Ketchum on Monday.

Vilot owns Sim's Salon and Barber Shops in Pittsfield and Great Barrington and is a recognized authority in shaving (Rogovoy says Vilot was in New York the week before to give Pink tips on portraying a barber in an upcoming film).

The barbers went to the Occupy Wall Street camp armed with capes sporting the names of banking conglomerates to symbolize the need for financial institutions to "take a haircut" for the other 99 percent. They had plenty of customers and spent three or four hours giving old-fashioned ("non-electric") haircuts and shaves.

The media were all over the barbers – TV, radio, print. Not even two hours into the protest, Kink pulled up an AP report posted on the Wall Street Journal’s website that told about the event and quoted Vilot. “We barbers are happy to help bankers take a haircut on behalf of the 99 percent,” he said “We won’t even charge them for it, and they don’t have to tip us. I hope that inspires them to do likewise.

Kink is Michael Kink of Great Barrington, who is executive director of the Strong Economy for All Coalition. The coalition has offices not far from Zuccotti Park.

"Big banks are all too happy to take a haircut when it involves the one percent, but for working families on the brink of losing their home or students trying to pay off their loans it’s an entirely different story," Kink told Rogovoy.

Check out the MSNBC photo gallery here and scroll down to see Vilot's "99%" coiff.

  • Among the Occupiers
    Wall Street Journal - 13 hours ago
    Associated Press Steve Vilot, left, was among the barbers who came from Massachusetts to give free haircuts to protesters. As luck would have it, ...
    7 related articles

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Gleaning the Meaning of Occupy Wall Street

By Joe Durwin
Special to iBerkshires
Editor's Note: Contributor Joe Durwin spent the weekend in New York City with Occupy Wall Street. Here is his take on what on the OWS movement.

NEW YORK — The questions on the minds of New York City civilians I spoke to Saturday mirrored those of many in the nation following the Occupy Wall Street movement's apparent victory over Zuccotti Park.

They are similar to the questions that much of America has asked since the occupation began last month, but were given a greater gravity as the occupiers demonstrated their staying power and prepared to stand in solidarity with more than 1,000 cities worldwide the following day.

What do they want? What are their demands? When will it end?

These are complicated questions, with many possible answers.

I quickly realized upon settling in at Zuccotti Park — Liberty Square to the occupation movement — that trying to solidify answers to this, or indeed, "cover" or represent my gleanings of what the occupiers were feeling or saying in any traditional journalistic sense was extremely difficult. What follows is a result of many hours of informal chats, innocent questioning, and constant eavesdropping as I spent the day with them at this pivotal turning point in their occupation.

So, what do they want? One possible answer is: A Lot.

The laundry list of things individual participants tout as priorities to them are nearly as diverse as the occupation supporters themselves. Better banking regulation, tax reform, campaign finance reform, wage increases, unemployment, the healthcare system, outsourcing, military spending, environmental concerns ... the list goes on indefinitely. It is difficult to think of any political or economic issue that has been on anyone's radar in the last few years that I didn't hear mentioned at some point in my day spent at Liberty Square.

As people kept reminding me, though, one of the things that distinguishes this from any other mass demonstration movement is that there isn't a true party platform. There isn't a set agenda or list of formal demands.

Some of the occupiers are concerned about this, worried that the effort cannot be taken seriously or produce any concrete changes until it does produce some kind of "99 Theses," to borrow one woman's clever reference to Martin Luther's "95 Theses," the document which sparked the Protestant Reformation.

Others contend that it is precisely the movement's slippery, hard-to-pinpoint structure and purpose that has made it so successful. "All we're saying for sure is that the current situation of injustices, inequalities, and corruption, and really all of that ... in this country is simply not acceptable," a college student named Ann says, "and people are going to start Occupying everywhere in this whole country until it changes. It's going to be a nuisance ... it's going to be an inconvenience. Deal with it."

"We're the real majority," her friend adds, "and we're just going to swarm and stick like sore thumbs everywhere until America's ours and its government is ours and then we need to make sure we never lose control of it again."

Another young man touts the inclusive nature of the "99 percent" strategy in a rant to some curious visitors.

"If you have a problem with Occupy Wall Street, come change it. If you think it's too this or that, show up and add your voice, your perspective. The Occupation isn't an agenda protest, it isn't a platform, it isn't left wing or right wing. It's an attempt to restore participatory government and participatory society. If you think there is something that needs to be addressed, why not step up and address it, now that the whole world really is watching, too ... here or in a city near you. If you think it's too silly, come make it serious. That's the thing - we know we're not representing the whole 99 percent - not yet. We're calling ourselves that so you'll know that you're all invited."

I asked a lot of people if they foresaw an end date for the New York occupation.

"Who says it's going to end?" Said one young man, as we both moved quickly to get our ponchos on as a brief torrential downpour begins. "Eight hundred people have been arrested, we're still here. A month has gone by, we're still here. The mayor of New York tried to evict us, we're still here."

He points up at the heavy shower falling on us. "And when it snows, we'll still be here."
"I think it's one of the obstacles," said Donald, an older gentleman who said he was a veteran of protest actions going back to the '60s, "that people think it will end. That the Powers That Be think it will go away, that they don't realize yet this time it's different. Nothing will change until they realize this time it's not going to blow over."

These sentiments are mimicked in the weekly community newspaper circulated through the park, the Occupied Wall Street Journal. "It will not stop until the corporate abuse of the poor, the working class, the elderly, the sick, children, those being slaughtered in our foreclosures and bank repossessions stop. It will not stop until students no longer have to go into massive debt to be educated, and families no longer have to plunge into bankruptcy to pay medical bills. It will not stop until the corporate destruction of the ecosystem stops ... ."

While the reaction of many casual passers-by around Liberty Square on Friday was one of vague confusion, and sometimes open resentment, some New Yorkers not directly involved in the movement seem to appreciate the logic of their approach.

Sherry, an attorney in Manhattan, described herself as an "interested spectator" who had been coming down to the park occasionally on her lunch break. While she understood why some in the city were agitated by the demonstrators, and that the behavior of a few had been "over the line," she seemed generally positive about their approach to what she called "a problem we all see, but have no clue what to do with."

"These people never claimed to have all the answers ... they know that it's not necessarily going to be up to them specifically to craft the solutions or rewrite the laws," she said of the perceived lack of agenda. "They don't need to do it all themselves, and they know it. The longer they stay here, the more it inspires and shames the rest of us into doing more about these things."

"They have an appeal right now that no political party has going for it," said Thomas, a "communications expert" in town from Chicago on business who came by to check it out. "They don't have a platform to pick apart, or a recognizable leadership to scrutinize for personal flaws and scandals."

Most of the demonstrators to whom I repeated Thomas' point seemed to agree. They said that while there were certainly people who stood out as having natural leadership skills, just as there were occasional "bad apples," most of the order implicit was arrived at by consensus.   Most felt this made them stronger, and contributed to the sense of solidarity that seems to be spreading like wildfire, as the demonstrators against economic injustice spilled into what amounts to hundreds of thousands, if not millions, worldwide over the course of Saturday for the coordinated Oct. 15 effort.

It all begins to sound less like hyperbole now, as tens of thousands joined the New York movement as it went on the march Sunday, filling Times Square in the evening, defying a small army of NYPD, and expanding the scope of action with an eye toward beginning long-term occupation at Washington Square. Hundreds more have been arrested in more than 100 U.S. cities in recent days, and in states like Massachusetts, governors have taken it upon themselves to go down and see and hear these scenes of discontent. Despite continued downplay from many major media outlets, the scale and tenor of this movement can no longer be ignored, and for some the uncertainty around these core questions about what they want and demand, and when it will end, has become ominous.

The answer, as I was hearing it, is they have no demands, there is no one agenda, no piece of legislation they can be coopted or appeased on. Their grievances are almost as diverse as America. Their platform, as they depict it, is the platform of Everyman. What they're saying now is "Look around. It isn't going to end."
The message that's emerging, with a cautiously growing voice, is that they really do mean it, they haven't come to protest but to Occupy, and it's not just about Wall Street anymore. They mean for what they call the 99 percent to occupy America, and actually decide its future together.

After the events of the past two days, it's all starting to sound a little less crazy.
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Occupy Berkshires Assembles at Colonial Rebellion Site

By Joe Durwin
Special to iBerkshires

Protesters with Occupy Berkshires rally in Great Barrington on Sunday.
GREAT BARRINGTON, Mass. — The first "general assembly" for the rapidly emerging Occupy Berkshires movement was held following another sizable rally in downtown Great Barrington on Sunday, Oct. 16.

A Main Street demonstration, held from 1-3 on Sunday, drew around 150-200 supporters over the course of the afternoon.

About 40 people attended the assembly meeting held immediately after next to the iconic gazebo behind Town Hall. The location of this first Occupy Berkshires General Assembly is interesting, as it was at this location that the first open and armed resistance to British rule in America occurred on Aug. 16, 1774.

Basic ideas of how to proceed in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street and other Occupation movements now taking place in more than 100 cities in the U.S., and more than 1,000 worldwide, while adapting the movement to the practical needs of the local area were discussed. A few volunteer working groups were formed, such as one to facilitate communications within the local movement and coordinate with the large Occupy movement, and groups for education and outreach.

The "working group" model is one employed widely throughout the Occupy movement, following the example of Wall Street occupiers at Zuccotti Park, where there are about 15 such loose subcommittee-type groups.

Occupy Berkshires has another rally planned in Pittsfield on Thursday, Oct. 20, in conjunction with the final 3rd Thursday street fair. The group plans to hold weekly general assemblies for the local movement every Sunday hereafter, and are currently seeking an indoor location to relocate these meetings to as the weather becomes colder.

For more information, go to occupyberkshires.com.

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Protesters in New York Fill Park

By Joe Durwin
Special to iBerkshires

Images taken on Friday in Zuccotti Park in New York City where Occupy Wall Street has taken up residence. Contributor Joe Durwin sent us these images, including one of the pirate who prompted a flurry of images on Twitter.

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Zuccotti Park Eviction Delayed; Dozens arrested

By Joe Durwin
Special to iBerkshires
iBerkshires contributor Joe Durwin of Pittsfield drove to New York City early Friday morning for an on-the-spot look at what's happening in Zuccotti Park with the Occupy Wall Street movement.

Morning recap from OccupyWallSt:

A seemingly imminent large scale confrontation between NYPD and the Occupy Wall Street movement was averted early this morning as city officials announced that a planned evacuation of demonstrators from their home base at Zuccotti Park, ostensibly for park cleanup purposes, was postponed just before it was to begin.

Protesters with Occupy Wall Street in New York City.
This reprieve from the city came after a march to City Hall by demonstrators last night to present a petition started by MoveOn.org numbering more than 240,000 signatures, along with a flood of letters and calls received Thursday.

Thousands of demonstrators reinforced by union members, many of them alerted by an email appeal from the AFL-CIO last night, had amassed by 6 a.m., prepared to passively resist removal from the park if necessary. after general rejoicing and victory cries following the announcement to postpone from the deputy mayor, demonstrators began a march to and around the Wall Street area.

Tensions grew as protesters met with heavy police presence marching down Broadway, with small clashes breaking out at various intersections. White-shirted police, numerous mounted units and some in riot gear are warning demonstrators to keep to the sidewalks. At least 10 confirmed arrests have taken place, including some clearly bloodied protesters. N.Y. Civil Liberties Union, on hand all morning, has been reporting seeing officers punching demonstrators and is making efforts to collect any reports of police abuses from this morning's action.

A bulk of marchers returned to Zuccotti Park, where some access to the park had been blocked off by police, though the entranceat Trinity and Cedar remains open. The scene had returned to a state of relative calm at the park by around 10 a.m.
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