It started with the WI State Capitol, the first real sustained occupation in this decade. Hundreds of thousands of people came to the Capitol Square to show support for the working class of WI, unionized or not, who were so brutally attacked by the horrible legislation which was then known as Senate Bill 11. The Capitol remained occupied for some time, then everyone went home (with the exception of a small group, of which I am part of, that has had a consistent presence almost daily since). There were a series of rallies and events, unfortunately, we never really did see the numbers back again, not even for a day. Months went by, we tried and tried, but although there was much talk of reoccupying the Capitol or people coming out once more in numbers, it never materialized. The people who did come out all said they had to get back to their lives and would help in other ways. That was great, but that left an illusion to those who only follow mainstream media, that the resistance in WI had dissipated.
We spent months trying to disprove this, unfortunately, what little attention we got from the mainstream media, was only when doing something many people did not agree with which was a very small portion of our overall contributions. Then came #OCCUPYWALLST, thousands of people, all standing together against corporate greed, angry for many different reasons. The mainstream media turned a blind eye and were soon bypassed in favor of underground media, forcing them to cover this story. Pretty soon protesters started getting slammed into cars and maced for nothing more than expressing their First Amendment rights and trying to take a stand. This created a new backlash of people of all political beliefs joining together to protest police brutality. Now comes a new movement, #OCCUPYTOGETHER which has occupations sprouting up throughout the country. This isn’t owned or run by anyone, there is no central leader and no clearly defined message except to stand in Solidarity and give a voice to the voiceless, the majority of the country, known to the protestors as the 99%.
I had to be a part of it. You see, the lack of message and lack of singular leadership, in most anything else would be a weakness. But in this movement it is a strength. It shows that we can all come together for different reasons and still work for a common goal. It means something different to different people. Everyone is respected for how they feel, something society overall could benefit from. I had to dig deeper. I was already on my way to the Rebuild The American Dream Conference in Washington, DC, when I found out about #OCCUPYDC. So I went closer to examine. #OCCUPYDC is an occupation of McPherson Square right on K Street. The location is paramount as K Street is the largest epicenter of lobbying firms and special interests in the entire country. It is where the money from Wall Street goes to influence the politicians of DC. When talking about money influencing government, basically, Wall Street is where the money is made and K Street is where it is spent.
Upon arrival at McPherson Square, I saw six people holding signs on the sidewalk. I paid the cab driver and continued on to join them. At noon was the General Assembly, about fifty people strong two days and very little promotion into the event. We were evacuated from the square by Secret Service due to a mysterious box across the street. But then I was told that this was just the weekend, that during the weekday the protest was expected to draw hundreds to thousands. Also planned, is an occupation of Freedom Plaza on the 6th of October, this should draw in tens of thousands of people. Driving by this morning I already saw many more people than yesterday and there is a consistent and overnight presence now. Keep in mind #OCCUPYWALLST did not start off with thousands of people. I would imagine #OCCUPYDC looked yesterday similar to what #OCCUPYWALLST did in it’s infancy. Having taken part in many protests I realize that the viability of an occupation is not at all in how many are there the first day or two, but in the spirit and energy of those that are not. And believe me, #OCCUPYDC has just as much passion as I have seen anywhere.
While the media is focused primarily, and rightly so, on Wall Street, K Street is preparing for its own occupation, as are other places throughout the country. Being Executive Director of a PAC and in a city like DC, some would say I am foolish to spend my time on something that does not bring money into the PAC. But I say otherwise. I would be no different than the people I am protesting had I decided to do what everyone in politics does when here and simply try to gain power, influence, or money. I will be spreading my time throughout the Rebuild the American Dream Conference and #OCCUPYDC, covering both on the ground. I am here for those that cannot be. I am here in the hopes that one day citizens will again have a voice. I am here for many reasons.
I grew up very poor. When I was very young (around ten), I learned what it was like to be homeless. My mom had lost her job and we lost our housing. We were, at the time, living in Minnesota. Our van had no heat. Not even old enough to get a job (but old enough to beg on the streets) I learned what it meant to stand in a gas station until they kicked you out just to heat up. I knew what it meant to freeze with no near hope of warmth. My mom made great sacrifices to make us think it was some sort of adventure, but looking back I knew this was no fun. Eventually, my mom got an apartment and we had heat. But the struggles never really stopped. You see my mom decided to follow what she loved, human services, and has, her entire life, worked with the developmentally disabled. A Special Education assistant in a school makes less than a custodian. The field never did provide money, I never did have everything most my peers did like new shoes every year or the latest name brand clothes.
But I learned from this, something that many people do not. I learned that if I was going to get out of this cycle, I had to do it myself. I began working at the age of fourteen at a family restaurant that did not pay much attention to labor laws. I was working, often upwards of forty hours while going to school and not even being old enough to drive. I excelled and at fifteen was promoted to manager, the only minor on the entire staff was now running the restaurant. While friends would go to the mall, I would stand in the elevator of a nice hotel and just network and get to know people. I worked hard for every dollar I made and commonly would come up with solutions to problems, it was then that I realized I had the ability to think outside the box and solve problems at a much higher level than my peers. I used this to my advantage.
At eighteen, I was once again homeless living in the parking lot of a grocery store. I had $50 to my name which I invested in a lot of broken cell phones and a T6 screwdriver. I then taught myself how to fix cellular phones and sold them individually. I made $600 off of my first $50 lot. I did the same thing for some time until eventually I was selling over 1000 cell phones a month on Ebay. I then set up a distribution contract with a cellular carrier in Abu Dhabi, UAE, and would frequently fly back and forth. Within a year and a half I had gone from living in my car to private jets and five star hotels. It wasn’t long before the company expanded to India and it was then that I started running the cellular networks there remotely. People around me wondered how I had made so much money coming from being so poor and I simply replied “living the American dream”.
It was also at eighteen that I had my first cardiac arrest, struggling through three more before finally getting a diagnosis. I was very close to death and the doctors had no clue what was going on. Still to this day they have only a general understanding, some failing to even have that compromising my medical care and pointing out and exposing the flaws in the medical system on a first hand level. In March of 2010, I was diagnosed with cancer, leaving me dishing out tens of thousands a month in medical bills. I was rich, very much so, and I saw it all disappear before my eyes. I could make fifty thousand dollars in a month easily, but be left with nothing by the time I got done with medical bills. Even to this day I still get residuals, but to stay alive costs more in a month than most teachers make in a year. Despite the over $86 million the insurance has paid and the countless amount of money I spent out of pocket (probably around $1M), I still owe $2.8M, and climbing. This is something I will never really care about, at what point does a profit (which they have already made) become more important than a life? I think never.
In February of 2011 I was recovering from a surgery and I turned on the TV. I saw many people in the Capitol, this was Valentine’s Day. I had to check it out. I was supposed to be on bedrest for another two weeks, but hopped on the Segway and went to the Capitol. When I got there I was amazed at all the people, all standing together, happy and angry at the same time. Everyone was accepted, it didn’t matter what you looked like or how much money you had. Having been emersed in corporate society for the last four years, I was not used to this. Also, having many leadership strengths previously deemed to be worth a lot of money, I made a decision. It was three days later I sold the business and filed the GAB-1 Form, thereby officially creating Defending Wisconsin PAC. I assumed the role of Executive Director. Our treasurer, Thomas Erato, and web developer, David Bautista, both volunteered. All three of us are still volunteers, allowing us to maximize the funds we do receive.
Why do I tell you a brief history of my story? Because I have lived the American Dream, if you work hard you will be rewarded. The American Dream used to exist. But slowly it has faded to where we are now. Corporate interests determine individual potential and working hard does not translate into fulfillment or success. We are at a point, due to the failed policies of Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, where some of the hardest workers and also some of the most educated workers are accepting minimum wage jobs and considering themselves lucky. This is dangerous, and this is why I fight. And this is why I occupy, in the hopes that one day the American Dream will once again make sense when we are awake and not just when we are sleeping. We are not even close yet, but with all of these occupations, I think it is a reality. The people must rise up. If you cannot make it, donate. I have set up a site to raise funds for all of the protesters in DC. No one will individually profit, instead it will be spent directly on food and supplies and delivered to the protesters. Every bit helps, that fund is located here. I will continue to keep everyone updated. And I will continue to fight and hope you will join me. ONE DAY LONGER! ONE DAY STRONGER!