Occupy Movement Coming to Orange

By Michael Kaufman

The “Occupy” movement is about to set up tent in Orange County Feb. 2, thanks to a number of local activists inspired by the ongoing Occupy Wall Street (OWS) campaign. “It is truly amazing how a small, leaderless movement centered in a half-acre park in lower Manhattan captured the imagination of the world and rapidly spread to over 80 countries and 1,000 cities,” says Newburgh resident Bennett Weiss. 

Weiss, a jewelry and arts and crafts maker, says the last year will be remembered as “the year ordinary people took to the streets. From Tahrir Square in Cairo to Madison, Wisconsin, something special was happening: Voices long silenced by fear or deadened by hopelessness rang out in protest. No movement better encapsulates the raw and awesome power of people coming together in new and vital ways than the Occupy movement. And now it’s coming to Orange County.”

Weiss, of course, is one of the organizers. A longtime activist for peace and social justice he was a frequent visitor to Zuccotti Park before protesters were forcibly removed by police. He was also the organizer of a September “Rally for Economic Justice” in New Canaan, Connecticut, home to more than a few well-to-do corporate executives, including General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt. “What better place to demonstrate against the concentration of wealth than one of the places where it is concentrated,” he said at the time.

During his visits to Zuccotti Park he created and distributed more than 3,000 buttons bearing messages, such as “Economic Justice,” “Wake Up From the American Dream, Create A Livable American Reality” and “We’re the 99 Percent.” These activities were described in an article in the Times Herald-Record, eliciting a sarcastic comment from a reader who suggested that by accepting donations for the buttons Weiss was “exercising his rights under our capitalistic system to make money and take a shot at being among the one percent.” This, the reader suggested, seemed “somehow counter intuitive for the OWS crowd.”

Weiss calmly replied, “I don’t ask a penny for my buttons, but rather state clearly and emphatically when asked how much my buttons are, ‘Please make a small donation if it’s easy to do so and please do NOT make any donation if it’s not easy… all I ask is that you wear your button all the time.’ Doing this, I have raised money for a cause I strongly believe in, paid for my button costs, given away thousands of free buttons, and had the good fortune to meet and talk to some of the most dedicated and interesting people. 
“But perhaps more to the point,” he continued, “I DO understand your cynicism. We live in a culture where the bottom line is all that makes sense and greed is the only plausible explanation for hard work. We have arrived at a place where venality is considered the norm and claims of non-monetary motivation are suspect. How sad.”

Weiss says the launching of Occupy Orange will be anything but sad. “This meeting will be a  celebration of the momentous successes of the past year, a pep rally to keep our  spirits high for the  challenges that lie ahead, and an opportunity to learn  firsthand from experienced Occupiers what it’s like on the ground  (sometimes  literally on the ground) of an Occupy site.  There will be great food, music, and speakers from unions and community groups.” 

Sponsoring groups thus far include Orange County Peace and Justice, CSEA of Orange County,   Democratic Alliance, Community Voices Heard of Newburgh, and District 1199, Service Employees International Union. 1199 members were among the earliest trade unionists to show support for OWS.

“The Occupy movement, by raising awareness of the massive dissatisfaction with economic injustice has started a vigorous dialogue that we will keep open,” says Weiss. “Whether your primary concerns are local, as in the case of the Valley View Nursing home closure, regional, as in the case of our escalating home foreclosure rate, or global, as in climate change and never-ending wars, you will find  that promoting economic justice  plays a big part of the solution.”

Diane Newlander of New Windsor, agrees. I’ve been to Occupy groups on Wall Street, in New Paltz and Poughkeepsie, and wondered why there was no ‘Occupy  Orange.’ Now that it is 2012, the time has come to get organized. We are the 99%.  Join us!”

Weiss says there will be “great food” served at the Feb. 2 event but attendees are also encouraged to bring canned goods for a food drive to benefit the needy of our community. The first Occupy Orange meeting will begin at 6:30 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 2, at Mulberry House, 62-70 West Main, Middletown. “It’s going to be a lively, dynamic extravaganza,” he quips. “I guarantee it or your money back. There’ll be lots of politics, philosophy and pizza for all.”

And if Newlander’s name seems familiar, it is. She has served as chair of New Windsor Concerned Citizens, and was a member of the New York State Advisory Panel on Transportation Policy for 2025. She also was president of the League of Women Voters of Orange County. Her involvement is but one example of Main Street joining with Occupy Wall Street in the fight for economic justice. And if you haven’t figured it out yet, it’s the economy, stupid.
 Michael can be reached at michael@zestoforange.com.

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2 Responses to “Occupy Movement Coming to Orange”

  1. Michael Kaufman Says:

    UPDATE–The Working Families Party has joined the list of Occupy Orange sponsors. And topical singer/songwriter Mike Glick (described by Pete Seeger as “one of the best songwriters going”) will perform Feb. 2, joined by his son Aleksi. Also, according to Bennett Weiss, a young man from Port Jervis who spent several weeks in Zuccotti Park will describe his experience, along with several fellow Zuccotti Park occupiers.

    REMINDER–The first of three “Sunday Social Suppers” to benefit local farmworkers will take place Sunday, Jan. 29, from 4:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m., at the Seligman Estate, 23 White Oak Drive, Chester (Sugar Loaf). The menu features vegetarian and non-vegetarian offerings, including stone soups, Thai chicken, and harvest pork stew; locally grown fresh salad; home-baked artisan breads, and home-baked cookies for dessert. Suggested minimum donation is $20 per person ($35 per couple). For reservations call Citizens Foundation at 845-469-9459. Walk-ins are welcome. (Mark your calendar: The next one is scheduled for Feb. 26.)

  2. Russ Layne Says:


    Thanx so much for this. I’ll pass it along.


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