UB Alumni in Occupy Buffalo Say Eviction Does Not Affect Movement
After Occupy Buffalo was kicked out of Niagara Square, the movement had to find new, more creative ways to take action and make a difference.
It has done just that.
Occupy Buffalo was evicted from its Niagara Square site by Buffalo Police on Feb. 2, but UB alumni Samantha, 31, and Karen, 29 - who wish to keep their last names private - say the movement continues to meet on a daily basis, and they continue to campaign and rally. Both say the eviction changed only one thing about the movement: the symbolic presence Occupy Buffalo has in its city.
"I work from about six in the morning to about midnight every day," Samantha said of the time she's dedicated to the movement since the eviction.
Occupy Buffalo is in the process of moving into a house for a six-month period. An Occupy supporter who cooked and washed dishes during the movement's stay in Niagara Square donated the house.
Currently, members hold "General Assembly" meetings next to the monument in Niagara Square on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Saturdays. They hold finance meetings at Spot Coffee (Delaware and Chippewa) on Mondays, media meetings at Spot Coffee on Wednesdays, direct action meetings at Ashker's Juice Bar on Tuesdays, strategic planning sessions in a building on Delaware Avenue on Fridays, and justice dialogue sessions at 2nd Cup Coffee on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
Those locations take the place of the old Niagara Square tents.
Samantha quit her temporary job before joining Occupy Buffalo, and she has no intention of getting another job, despite the eviction. She's made the movement her full-time career - planning, meeting, and campaigning for economic and social change in Buffalo. Karen has a temporary job, but she has given six to eight hours per week to the movement since October.
One of Occupy Buffalo's champion causes is to raise awareness about tax breaks given out by local Industrial Development Agencies (IDAs). The group feels that IDAs "distribute corporate welfare mostly to companies that are already making a profit for projects that they would do with or without a tax abatement," according to an Occupy Buffalo Internet post.
At a Feb. 13 Erie County IDA (ECIDA) public hearing, The Millennium Hotel was asking for a $275,000 tax abatement to help finance a $5.5 million renovation. Twenty-five Occupy members attended the hearing, and "mic-checked" it - where one occupier would say something and the rest of would repeat it loudly, according to Samantha and Karen.
The occupiers were the only people from the public that showed up to the meeting, to Samantha and Karen's disappointment. Samantha said the ECIDA does not advertise its public hearings in an adequate way, adding that one has to know where to look to find out when a meeting is taking place.
"The fact that the ECIDA was granting $275,000 to renovate that particular hotel meant that they were basically picking the winners and losers in the hotel industry," Samantha said. "That goes against the principles of capitalism; you let the free market determine who the winners and losers are."
Before the end of the ECIDA meeting, the board decided to table the tax abatement. Samantha and Karen believe Occupy Buffalo's presence and mic-check affected that decision.
But according to James Fink from Buffalo Business First, it was the questions raised by Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz that "did the trick."
"No doubt, some think their disruptive hijinks played a role in the agency's directors tabling a request from the owners of the Millennium Hotel, which sought incentives to help finance a $5.5 million renovation of the property," Fink wrote in a Business First article. "Here's a fact check - they had no impact whatsoever."
Caili Danieu, a sophomore at Erie Community College and the youngest occupier in the group, sees Samantha as one of the stronger members of the movement, especially after she attended the ECIDA meeting with the rest of the group.
"It really captured the whole idea of 'occupying' things, because that's what it's about to me," Danieu said. "We all showed up in our camping gear, looking like real people, and they're all sitting in their suits at their tables and spending millions of dollars and not even discussing passing these bills through. It's funny - kind of like the parent looking over the shoulder kind of thing."
Occupy Buffalo members don't like it when decision-makers - like those at ECIDA - approve policies at public meetings without public approval, and they plan to continue attending ECIDA meetings so their voices, representing the people, can be heard.
"An industrial development agency is intended to develop actual industries - like manufacturing, good-paying jobs - and these IDAs are focusing on retail, minimum-wage jobs, and that's not the purpose of what they were intended to do," Samantha said.
Occupy Buffalo has also campaigned against the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA) and its service cuts and fare increases for Western New York bus and rail riders. Occupiers plan to continue fighting the NFTA's changes until they are finalized on Monday.
"You have to have a way to get people around the city," Karen said. "People have to be able to get to jobs and schools and doctor's appointments and family members and church...If people are stranded in their houses, what kind of city are you going to have?"
Samantha and Karen believe the local government caters to people with money, and they find it unsettling to live in such a society.
"I believe that if we continue at the right places, like at these NFTA hearings, advocating for the 99 percent, we are going to gain the support of the people," Samantha said. "I'm certain [that] come spring time, we'll be back full-force, and people will come out of their houses in Buffalo."