Direct Action


(A mid-May) May Day

Saturday, May 11
4:00pm Rally and Celebration

Watson Williams Park in Utica
(on the corner of James and Steuben Streets)

Worldwide, May Day is traditionally Workers’ Day – a day of labor solidarity, and a public holiday. It’s a day to celebrate and rally in support of worker and immigrant rights. In protest of the corruption of the worldwide marketplace, which has led to illegal foreclosures and evictions, mass unemployment, low wages, high taxes, and a penalization of all those who do not own the world’s wealth, come out to voice your concerns and to envision a world built on social and economic justice.

This year, Utica is celebrating May Day on May 11th, a Saturday, to allow more people to come out who would have been at work on May first. Please come and listen to speakers, music, eat food, play games and celebrate with the community.

For more information, please call 732-2382 or contact

The roots of May Day are in Chicago when a general strike was called to enact the eight hour workday in 1886. Hundreds of thousands of workers went on strike but the peaceful demonstration deteriorated into violence when the police started a riot in Chicago’s Haymarket Square. An unknown number of workers and police were killed. The authorities rounded up strike leaders who were later executed, not for any crime they committed, but because they were union organizers and anarchists. May Day is celebrated the world over and has long been a day of protest in the US. In 2006, the largest strike in US history occurred when undocumented immigrants, workers, and many others went on strike for immigration reform.

“If you think that by hanging us you can stomp out the labor movement, then hang us. Here you will tread upon a spark, but here, and there, and behind you, and in front of you, the flames will blaze up. It is a subterranean fire. You cannot put it out. The ground is on fire upon which you stand.” – August Spies, Haymarket Martyr

For a history on the origins of May Day, read historian and IWW member Eric Chase’s article:



When: April 13 – meet at The Other Side on Genesee Street (across from the Uptown Theater) this Saturday, April 13 at 2:30pm for a carpool heading to Colgate University for a 3:30 peaceful protest.

On Saturday April 15 at 5:00pm, Colgate University will host former Mexican president Felipe Calderon as an honored guest and speaker. Calderon came to power in what was largely viewed as a stolen election in 2006. He waged a failed and bloody “war on drugs” that resulted in the torture, forced disappearances, and extra-judicial killings of up to 120,000 people.

He violently repressed the democratic political movements in Oaxaca and the indigenous Zapatistas in Chiapas. In 2011 he was charged with crimes against humanity in the International Criminal Court mostly for his handling of the drug war. His disastrous economic policies pushed millions of Mexicans into poverty while only the wealthiest in Mexico and a number of U.S. corporations profited.

Unfortunately, Colgate is not alone in applauding the policies of Calderon. The former president was awarded a fellowship at his alma mater of Harvard. Protests erupted in response, both in the street and in the form of a petition.

Calderon’s ability to speak at prestigious U.S. universities unfortunately comes out of the long history of the U.S. government supporting human rights violators and dictators that do the bidding of U.S. big business. A change in policy is long overdue.

Sign the petition to appeal Harvard’s decision to grant Calderon a fellowship.

Harlem’s historic Riverside Church where Martin Luther King delivered his “Beyond Vietnam” speech was packed with hundreds of people who came to listen to a panel about mass incarceration on September 14, 2012. It was the second annual gathering at the church where the theme of the night was ending mass incarceration and closing Attica Prison.


In 1971 the world witnessed the Attica Prison uprising which started in response to the targeted assassination of Black Panther and prisoner George Jackson at San Quentin Prison by guards. Jackson, sentenced to life in prison for stealing $70, was a leading voice in the prisoner movement of the 1960s-70s. This movement included the organization of prisoners’ unions, prisoner strikes and the support of celebrities like Pete Seeger and Muhammad Ali. The demands of the Attica prisoners included an end to slave labor at the prison and religious freedom among others.

The uprising ended with the tragic killing of 39 people, including 10 prison guards and employees, at the hands of NY State Police sent in by Governor Rockefeller. After the prison was recaptured a number of white officers were heard yelling celebratory chants of “white power!”

The uprising marked the height of the prisoner movement of the time but the conservative Right soon dominated the narrative over the prison and criminal justice systems. The emphasis was now on law and order, maximum sentencing and the extensive use of cheap prison labor for profit.

At the time of the Attica Prison uprising the US prison population was roughly 200,000. That number reached   1.2 million by the early 90s and through the draconian policies under the War on Drugs is currently over 2 million and growing. While the US has 5% of the world’s population, it claims 25% of the world’s prison population.

The Justice Department recently proved that the War on Drugs has absolutely nothing to do with ending the sale and use of drugs in the US in their decision to not criminally prosecute anyone from HSBC after it was revealed that officials in the bank laundered millions of dollars to narco-traffickers.

The San Jose Mercury News journalist Gary Webb proved this in 1996 with his award-winning coverage of the crack-cocaine epidemic. He uncovered a damning story that revealed the proliferation of crack-cocaine in poor urban communities started with the CIA and the rightwing paramilitary Contras in Nicaragua working together to bring the drugs into South Central LA. Drug kingpin Ricky “Freeway” Ross sold these drugs to gangs in LA who then sold them elsewhere. The rest, as they say, is history.

Drugs have taken a heavy toll on Utica. But while the ones who bring drugs into the community remain above the law, those caught with minor possession are thrown in prison. In the New York Times bestseller “The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness” written by Michelle Alexander, the author argues that the criminal justice system  acts as a form of racial control and has created, in part through the War on Drugs, a caste-like system in the US.

Alexander shared the stage with Angela Davis, Cornel West, Jazz Hayden and Marc Lamont Hill. They all spoke of the movement now forming to end mass incarceration. It was no coincidence that the event in Harlem took place 41 years and a day after the Attica uprising. It is important to not just reflect but also act to ebb the rising tide of mass incarceration, not just for Black people but for all that are affected by this prison nation we live in.

Brendan Maslauskas Dunn

Facing foreclosure, Mary Smith of 53 Cutler Street, Rochester, NY 14621, is pledging to stay in her home and not let American Tax Funding put her out of her longtime home.  Take Back the Land Rochester is pledging to support her. Mary and her community are prepared to nonviolently resist attempts to displace if necessary.


Her house is scheduled to go to auction 10am February 26 at the Monroe County Office Building. A petition circulated both by door-to-door canvassing and online posting is calling for ATF to call off the auction and negotiate. Over 525 signatures have been received to date and the number continues to grow.

Mary Smith has lived at 53 Cutler Street for 30 years, raising six children. She paid off her mortgage to ES&L 12 years ago. She is the Vice President of the Cutler Street Plus Block Club and has been a commanding force in the community for decades. She is affectionately known as the “Mayor of Cutler Street,” who has severed hundreds of hotdogs to neighbor kids at kickball games. In her dining room she displays a large promotional poster featuring her as a poster person for volunteerism.

Although Mary has a long history of paying her bills, serious health problems have fell on Mary and she fell behind on her taxes.  Although she always tried to catch up it seemed she was only paying off the interest. To make matters worse, the City of Rochester and the County of Monroe sold her tax liens to a for-profit company in Florida called American Tax Funding (ATF).  A predatory privatization scheme, American Tax Funding charges usurious interest on the liens of Rochester residents going through financial hardship even though it buys the liens from the City and the County from .43 to 49 cents on the dollar.

After having serious health problems that often left her unable to work, Mary has now qualified for disability, has steady income, and is willing and able to pay off her liens to American Tax Funding.  However, despite repeated attempts to set up payment plans and, to work out a settlement.  ATF will not answer her lawyer’s calls and is planning to auction off her house for as much profit as possible on February 26, 2013.  Mary is courageously and defiantly standing up against American Tax Funding and we stand will her.  An auction protest is scheduled for 10am at February 26 at the County Building and a community eviction defense is planned if ATF (or an investor ATF sells the house to) tries evict the Mary from her home.

On Monday, February 11th, Mary and a dozen supporters from Take Back the Land Rochester hand delivered a letter pleading her case to the local law firm, Phillips Lyttle, representing American Tax Funding.  There is an early but preliminary indication of movement by ATF as a result of the letter.  You can stay updated at

“Strike Story”, a play based on the events of the Little Falls 1912 Textile Strike, will be presented on March 2, 2013 at 7 PM at the Masonic Temple in Little Falls. First produced for the Strike Centennial in October, the play uses newspaper reports, government documents, and personal memoirs to tell the story of the strike in the voices of the participants.


The readers’ theatre format makes the immediate connection between the original language and the story of the strike. Written by Angela Harris of Little Falls, the play is directed by Matt Powers, also of Little Falls. Among the cast are local residents Katie Drake, Laura Hailston Powers, Tom Stock, Frank Wilcox, and Robert and Barbara Albrecht, and former resident Jeanne McAvoy.

The Strike began on October 9, 1912, with a walkout of women mill workers in response to a reduction of weekly wages. Lasting three months, the strike involved Polish, Italian, Slovak, and Slovenian immigrant workers who were assisted by national union organizers, including Matilda Rabinowitz, Big Bill Haywood, and Ben Legere. Helen Keller contributed to the strike fund. The Strike brought a national spotlight to the city; and locally, one hundred years later, there are still strong feelings about the implications of the strike for the long term economic health the area.

March is Women’s History Month, and “Strike Story” presents a piece of Little Falls history that shows the role of women in cultural, social, and economic history of the city.

Tickets are available at $5 at The Mustard Seed in Canal Place. Tickets will be available at the theater door, starting at 6:30 on Saturday, March 2 before the performance. The Masonic Temple is at 5 Prospect Street, Little Falls.

Resistance Against Drone Warfare Heats Up


While President Obama’s inauguration was underway, three antiwar activists sat in jail in a Syracuse, NY suburb for protesting the use of Reaper drones at Hancock Airbase, one of countless air bases that operate drones in the US. The three activists are part of a growing resistance to the use of drones by the US military. On December 16 they were sentenced along with nine others for protesting outside the base’s main entrance. Two other activists already spent time in jail for taking part in the actions.

Senator Chuck Schumer made a recent visit to Utica to address a pressing issue. It was not however the deteriorating local economy or public school budget cuts. The pressing issue of the day was the need to revive the F-16 fly-over at the end of the Boilermaker Road Race. A more pressing issue Schumer danced around was the reason why the F-16s no longer do the fly-over. Hancock Airbase in Syracuse switched its primary function from piloting F-16s to remotely pilot un-manned drones in 2010.


Schumer is a fervent supporter of drone warfare. In 2011 he pushed for the use of drones to fly over the Adirondack Park for testing and surveillance purposes. Drones are the unmanned military aircraft that have greatly expanded the theater of war. President Obama has greatly increased the use of drones for surveillance and targeted assassinations from his predecessor. Although the US military argues drones are safer than using troops on the ground, create little to no “collateral damage” (military speak for civilian deaths) and ultimately protect US soldiers, the reality on the ground is a drastically different situation.

President Obama has increased the use of drones in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen. And although his administration claims the use of drones is to target al Qaeda militants, the majority of deaths have been civilian. The President personally signs off on the names of people to be assassinated on an ever-growing “kill list” that has human rights and civil liberties supporters worried.

In Washington D.C., social critic and author Cornel West and rapper Lupe Fiasco made statements critical of the President’s pro-war policies and use of drones. In a panel moderated by Tavis Smiley, Dr. West criticized President Obama for placing his hand on Martin Luther King’s Bible for the inauguration.

“You don’t use his prophetic fire as just a moment of presidential pageantry without understanding the challenge that he presents to all of those in power no matter what color they are,” said Dr. West. He distanced the pro-war President from Dr. King who called the US government “the greatest purveyor of violence in the world” in his famous 1967 speech “Beyond Vietnam: Time to Break the Silence” given at Harlem’s Riverside Church. West also challenged Obama for the use of drones in killing “our precious brothers and sisters” in Pakistan and other nations. Lupe Fiasco was thrown off a stage by security during an inaugural celebration he performed at after stating he didn’t vote for Obama and performing a piece highly critical of the president’s foreign policy. Fiasco has made statements in the past criticizing the use of drones.

The targeted assassination of US citizen Anwar al-Awlaki on September 30, 2011 was the first apparent targeted killing of a US citizen since the War on Terror started. Al-Awlaki was once viewed as a moderate imam and was an invited guest to the White House during George W. Bush’s presidency, but the War on Terror pushed him to more extreme views and eventual involvement with al Qaeda. The Obama administration took an even more extreme measure when Al-Awlaki’s 16-year-old American son was marked for assassination. He had never committed any acts of terrorism. He was looking for his father he had not seen for two years and was assassinated two weeks after his father.


The Obama administration stresses that the use of drones is legal but the entire program remains largely secretive, with the administration still refusing to divulge any details of the program or any legal justification for it. The use of the Reaper Drone, which operates out of Hancock Airbase, was called “al Qaeda’s best recruitment tool” by Syracuse antiwar activist Ed Kinane. Faisal Shahzad, who attempted to bomb Times Square, justified his terror plot against civilians by stating to his judge during his 2010 sentencing, “When the drones hit, they don’t see children.”

An antiwar activist for most of his life, Kinane was in Baghdad to protect civilians during the “Shock and Awe” invasion of Iraq in 2003 with the peace group Voices in the Wilderness. He said the experience was “terrifying” as he described in court the shaking of his hotel and having no idea when or where the next bombs would hit. It was not the first war zone he was in as a peace activist and would not be the last. He traveled to Afghanistan in 2011 where he witnessed the harrowing effects of the US occupation. He told the packed courtroom, which included three uniformed Air National Guard soldiers from Hancock, about the drone attack that killed an entire jurga, or political council, in Afghanistan.

In the aftermath of the mass shooting tragedy in Newtown, CT, author Vijay Prashad highlighted the deaths of children that the US public ignores and the US government sanctions. He wrote in the Daily Hampshire Gazette on December 17 that, “No memorials exist as well for the 178 children killed by U.S. drone strikes in the borderlands of Pakistan and Afghanistan.” He also lamented the loss of 83 children who were killed while in their school in Bajaur, Pakistan on October 30, 2006 from a US drone strike. There was no mass mourning in the US over that tragedy.

Eyewitnesses on the ground in Pakistan describe how drones attack people. The first hellfire missile is shot by a drone to kill its intended target. After neighbors and first responders arrive on the scene, a second hellfire missile is shot in a scene of indiscriminate killing. This pattern has led first responders to wait, sometimes hours, before going to sites suspected of being targeted by drones.


“Everyone is scared all the time. When we’re sitting together to have a meeting, we’re scared there might be a strike. When you can hear the drone circling in the sky, you think it might strike you,” said Dawood Ishaq (anonymized name) who lives in Pakistan. The fear of death is a reality and Ed Kinane and his fellow activists tried in court on December 16 for protesting Reaper Drones argue that because of what the drones operated out of Hancock are doing in Pakistan, Central New York, and De Witt in particular, are now part of the war zone and are at risk of future attacks.

John Hamilton was tried along with Ed Kinane and 10 other co-defendants. His family came from the South and grew up during the Civil Rights era. He learned about lynching growing up, an act of terror that had a profound impact in shaping his worldview. “Judges allowed extra-judicial murder in their jurisdictions in the South,” he told the packed courtroom. He drew comparisons between Southern judges that refused to go after whites who lynched Black civilians and judges today who refuse to do anything about the “lynchings” of Pakistani children.

De Witt Judge Robert Jokl was not swayed. Five of the activists were sentenced to 15 day jail terms each. But many agreed that their sentencing would not deter future actions at Hancock. A Ground the Drones, End the Wars weekend of education and action is planned for April 26-28. As the death count of civilians killed by drones rises, more resistance is inevitable at Hancock. As John Hamilton said in court, people need to “end lynching, not in some backwoods Alabama town, but here in De Witt in 2012.”

Brendan Maslauskas Dunn

For more information, visit:


(This article was first published in The Utica Phoenix in print and online in April 2012. Unfortunately, the paper’s website was hacked into oblivion months ago and this article was one that disappeared. If supporters of John McDevitt, who is still active with Occupy Utica, want to nominate him to be this year’s grand marshal for the Utica St. Patrick’s Day Parade, please email saying so.)

Occupy Utica delivered a major public relations blow to Bank of America last week and won a victory for the Occupy movement. Master Sergeant John McDevitt of Clayville, in an epic David versus Goliath battle with an institution too big to fail, took national media by storm after he and a few Occupy Utica activists picketed the Bank of America branch on Mohawk Street. Every Occupier has their own story of why they joined the movement. This is the story of John McDevitt.

John McDevitt has been in the Army for most of his life. He joined in 1978 and saw combat in the first Gulf War, Bosnia, and most recently in Afghanistan where he was sent to Kandahar in 2010. While there he worked as a budget analyst with the first unit deployed to Afghanistan tasked to analyze and monitor money being spent by the military. He acted as an internal watchdog to see why so much money was spent so quickly and where it all went. Both on the job and off he was meticulous with tracking money – an attribute that would eventually haunt Bank of America. While stationed in Afghanistan he went on two weeks Rest and Relaxation in November 2010 to a place he had always wanted to visit – Athens, Greece.

While in Athens he took some time to relax from the war zone and visited ancient ruins, temples and walked the winding streets of the historic city. One night he asked a taxi driver to bring him to a night club and was dropped off at one called Palia Plaka. He stayed for a little over an hour at the bar and bought a few drinks, charging them to his Bank of America debit card. He left the nightclub, never to return for the duration of his trip. When his two weeks were up and he flew back to Afghanistan he checked his Bank of America account online and was shocked to discover that over $25,000, $25,243.71 to be exact, was charged to his debit card. A red flag should have gone up to Bank of America but if it did the bank did not bother to temporarily close his account. When asked if he spent that amount of money he said, “I wish. No one spends that kind of money in one day except the one percent.”

He immediately notified Bank of America and found himself struggling to get his money back for the next year and a half. He was eventually able to secure sales drafts from the club with signatures that were clearly forged. Although McDevitt pointed this out to the bank they sided with the merchant. He diligently kept track of all the correspondence he had with bank representatives. The paperwork continued to pile up. Bank of America’s position was that it was not their responsibility to protect their customer; rather, it was entirely the responsibility of Palia Plaka and McDevitt to find closure in the case. His claim went all the way to the Office of the CEO and President of Bank of America only to be shot down.

When he found that his bank would not stand up for him, he reached out to lawyers and government agencies for help. He went all the way up to the newly formed Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) for assistance. The CFPB was established by the Obama Administration for the very purpose of helping people like McDevitt but was unwilling to do so. Every bank, corporate and government official he went to either denied his fraud claim, or ignored him outright. He felt that he had exhausted every avenue of seeking justice and getting his money back. He had nowhere else to go and much of this money was saved up for his daughter’s wedding which was rapidly approaching. Then he heard about Occupy and it changed everything.

Finding Occupy

McDevitt stumbled on an article online about a group calling itself Occupy Atlanta. He had never heard of Occupy Wall Street, the occupation of Zuccotti Park in Manhattan, the mass arrests on the Brooklyn Bridge, or even Occupy Utica. In December, Occupy Atlanta activists occupied the home of Iraq War veteran Brigette Walker when she was fighting an imminent foreclosure of her home by JPMorgan Chase. McDevitt recalls hearing this story. “This poor girl was fighting Chase. Chase was so cold hearted, [but] Occupy Atlanta put them on the spot.” In the end, Occupy Atlanta was able to get JPMorgan Chase to offer a loan modification and the home was saved. Occupy Atlanta continued to occupy abandoned homes and fight foreclosures but had no idea their action would transform an Army veteran in rural Upstate New York.

The message Occupy Atlanta sent was clear: Occupy helps veterans. McDevitt discovered Occupy Utica online, found the group’s nightly internet radio program Occupied Radio, called in and told his story. Occupy Utica was quick to respond, meeting him at his house to make sure his fraud claim was accurate, interviewing him, setting up the website, spreading awareness and working with him every step of the way to develop a strategy to get his money back. The group took tactics of escalation borrowed from Seattle Solidarity Network, a grassroots organization of workers and tenants that takes direct action to fight for the rights of those wronged by abusive bosses and landlords.

Direct Action Gets the Goods

Occupy Utica decided to start small and simple in a series of escalating protests against Bank of America. On March 10th several occupiers accompanied McDevitt into the Bank of America branch on Mohawk Street. The group split up with some outside with signs and two accompanying McDevitt in the bank. A demand letter was given to the acting manager of the branch with the “one simple demand” that John McDevitt be given his money back. The letter ended by informing the bank that “this issue no longer solely belongs to Mr. McDevitt: it belongs to Occupy Utica and Occupy Wall Street.” John was no longer alone. He now had the backing of the big bank’s rival. A two week deadline was given.

The manager notified his superiors of the demand letter and said he was not responsible to handle this matter. McDevitt had heard this story numerous times before. He again got a letter in the mail from the bank telling him that the case was closed. On March 31st, with the intent to start small and escalate in the future, a very modest four person picket stood outside of Bank of America with signs, flyers detailing the Justice for John campaign, and brochures from First Source Credit Union so the picketers could urge customers of the bank to move their money to a sane financial institution. The police were immediately called and four cops arrived on the scene, leaving shortly after they learned what the situation was. John’s sign stated, “A Soldier that Puts his Country First, Should have a Bank that Puts the Soldier First” and grabbed the attention of WKTV news. Within only a few days the story was covered by ABC News, Good Morning America, Forbes, the Huffington Post and countless internet sites. Even the Fox News program Fox and Friends is planning on bringing McDevitt to their studio. The story took the nation by storm.

A mere four days after the picket Mcdevitt got a very unexpected call. Jeffrey Cathey, Senior Vice President, Senior Military Affairs Executive of Bank of America told McDevitt he had just gotten out of a meeting and wanted to talk. It took a bit of arguing on McDevitt’s’s part. David was face to face with Goliath and Goliath, for a moment, blinked. He hung up the phone and calmly told those with him that they were giving his money back in full. Who would have thought a four person picket would lead to that outcome? He was ecstatic. “They don’t know who they’re messing with! I’m a radical now! I’m with Occupy!” The old IWW union dictum that “direct action gets the goods” rang true in Clayville that night and soft whispers of the story travelled to Occupy groups, to active duty soldiers, to those robbed and cheated by big banks across the country. A small committed group was able to do what corrupt banks, and government bureaucracies failed to do – find justice and find it quickly.

Debit or Credit?

The story that was lost in the mainstream coverage of McDevitt’s and Occupy’s victory is how this could have been avoided. Corporate media outlets did not put the blame entirely on Bank of America – it was made out to be an individual consumer’s poor choice. Forbes was quick to jump on the story and point out that had McDevitt used credit he would not have been in this situation. But credit is a major contributor to the recent mode of our economic system and of the current economic crisis. Instead of creating an economy where people make a living wage and have all the necessities of life, we have one based largely on money that is not there – credit. And it’s the inability of millions to pay off this credit which chains them to debt. This is not an issue of whether credit is more secure than debit; it’s an issue of the type of financial institution Bank of America is. An institution that is too big to fail and, as Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibii called it in a Bank of America article, “too corrupt to fail” has cheated John McDevitt and millions of others like him out of money, out of homes, and out of livelihoods.

Occupy was successful in helping John McDevitt and it may be successful, if the cards are dealt right, in doing something our government will not – bust up the bank and break it down into smaller ones on the scale of state banks, credit unions and local banks. After all, if McDevitt had banked with a credit union like First Source he would have never been in this situation to begin with. All over the country Occupy groups are protesting Bank of America, having sit-ins, pickets and are encouraging people to move their money to local banks and credit unions.  A recent meeting was held in Utica dubbed the 99% Spring where over thirty people cheered when they heard about McDevitt’s victory and committed to take future action against Bank of America.

McDevitt Looks to the Future

McDevitt finally got his check in the mail and is excitedly planning on opening a new account with First Source Credit Union. He can finally give the money to his daughter for her wedding, thanks in no small part to Occupy Utica. While he was fighting his own battle, he also found time to help out Proctor High School students in planning the recent demonstration against education budget cuts.  John McDevitt and the students that protested the budget cuts are just a handful of people that have for the first time in their lives stood up and taken action against economic injustice. McDeviit put it simply: “I’m excited I finally see people caring. They realize the destruction that the financial system is imposing on us… it’s financial terrorism.” Justice for John was found but for millions of others it has yet to come. John McDevitt is more committed than ever to continue the struggle against those that profit at the expense of others and that includes Bank of America. He made a direct hit at Goliath and if enough people like him do the same, we can take Goliath down.

Brendan Maslauskas Dunn

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