Occupy History

Occupy History: Adventures in Rebellion in Life After the Movement

(In a third part of his Occupy History with HTR, Alex Carvalho reflects on the end of Occupy Wall Street, where the Movement and the country went after the eviction of protesters from Liberty Square, and his own work and adventures in rebellion during the 10 years that followed.)

In your view, what were the most widespread misconceptions about Occupy?

That we were dumb, that we didn’t know what we wanted. It was easy to misconstrue, because nobody wanted to control the message, at least initially.

The mainstream media would just come to Zuccotti and ask a random person their views, then they’d ask somebody else, whose views would be totally different, so it was easy to make us look fractured. That was definitely exploited.

That, for sure, was one of the big misconceptions, that and painting us as dumb. Most of us were well educated, but our generation got handed a shit deck of cards. I recently saw an article on the economic outcomes of different generations, and our generation is the worst off since they started recording, so it’s easy to feel hopeless.[i] A lot of doors were shut on us in the wake of the Great Recession.

A lot of changes in 21st Century society are kicking in: technology, the nature of work and labor relations, completely different than the 20th Century. People had fucking pensions in the 20th Century, work stability, a career path that was really delineated. We don’t have any job security, career security. It’s really a whole different ball game. We have to kind of scramble around.

What was your experience of the day of the eviction?

They came to evict us in the middle of the night. I was not in the park. I was home. I immediately caught the train. When I arrived at Grand Central on the subway, the police had blocked off a huge radius around Liberty Square. Nobody could get in. People couldn’t get out. I saw that several of our friends were stranded inside the park. Some had chained themselves to the park.

We were trying to get in, and the barricades were pretty extensive. I remember one of my friends, from the Arts and Culture Working Group, being teargassed and thrown to the ground. She was African American, one of the sweetest people I’d ever known, and she got roughed up by the cops.

There were choppers in the air, a huge police presence, patty wagons, people just being removed. It almost looked like factory work. It was a really well planned action by the police. I couldn’t be at the heart of it, because they blocked off the whole perimeter.

What was the rest of the day like for you?

Mostly doing jail support for several of our friends who were removed from the park. I don’t recall much of the day. We were just trying to help one another out, pick up the pieces.

I was there November 17th, from the beginning of the day to the end. The police already had a plan to really block off Liberty Square. Cops were inside the park. There were double barricades. And we did a pretty solid day of action. There was a shit ton of people. That was kind of the peak, but from that point on, it was very difficult to keep everything together. It was getting to late fall, colder, winter starting to really knock on the door. So, after that, it was harder and harder to keep things going.

We had a planning space during the winter, where we had our Working Group meetings, and they couldn’t shut that down, but it was just difficult to keep everything together.

Did Occupy end?

Of course, our movement ended, but that doesn’t mean that its consequences are not reverberating still. You still have ripples of that supernova. To this day, there are different ripples, which I can see, for example, in the rise of Bernie Sanders or Black Lives Matter. A lot of these things kind of all thread together after Occupy.

Occupy ended, but at the same time, it will never end. When you do something like that, something that has ripples, it ends, but the ripples are still ongoing.

Occupy is forever part of me. I met my future wife in the Movement.

In 2012, I went back to Brazil and started practicing medicine there. I was a primary care doctor for homeless patients for two years, and my wife came to Brazil to live with me. Now we have two kids, and we’ve been together for 10 years, since we met in Occupy.

In San Palo, I did some organizing with my homeless patients. When I was their doctor, the manager of the health clinic from the state didn’t want to have them come to the clinic, because they were “dirty.” I was like, “What do you expect? They’re homeless.” After it started getting bad, I started organizing with the homeless, and we had an action with, like, 50 homeless patients.

10 years after Occupy, what are your biggest concerns about the future of the country or the world?   

Definitely the environment, how we are getting to a point where we’re going to have fewer and fewer resources, more and more concentration of wealth, people really not having a place to have shelter or clean water. The climate crisis is happening. We’re seeing the wildfires.

The climate crisis will create conflict and social distress. That’s definitely one of my main concerns: how to change my struggle to focus on really surviving. So, definitely, my biggest concern is the environment, because I have two kids, man. You know?

How can everyday working people, becoming aware of or concerned about these issues for the first time, get involved in trying to take action?

Find each other, that’s the only way to start, and keep reading. Educate yourself and find each other.

Elaborate on some of your other work and activism after Occupy.

After I went to Brazil and worked with homeless patients, I worked on an oilrig for a year. I wanted to see what capitalism did from that environmental standpoint.

I was the only physician for 600 workers on an oilfield in the Atlantic Ocean, which was pretty interesting.

What was that like?

Basically, we would go 15 days on shore and 15 days offshore. For two weeks, I was working every single day for, like, 15 hours, 16 hours, then I would have two weeks off in which I’d be able to chill a little bit.

I was doing primary care for all these young workers. They were young but, I would say, not in the best health – you know – diabetes, hypertension, pretty much uncontrolled, lots of addiction problems, people with mental health problems, overtly suicidal, workplace accidents, so I would have to make decisions about who would be medivacked. At least once a shift, I would medevac somebody.

The workers really respected me and liked me as their doctor. I listened to them, took care of them, controlled their blood pressure, their blood sugar, helped out their kids and wives.

That was really nice for about a year, then I started noticing that the painters were coming to work with this obstinate cough, a dry cough, no fever, and it would only go away with a steroid shot.

The imaging I was able to get showed occupational exposure. When all of the painters would have the same problem after using the same tool, you can tell that it’s work related, and I raised the concern with the oil company, and they wanted to just, like, shut me off. They were like, “No, this is asthma, doc.”

(laughs)

I was like, “Oh, trust me. This is not asthma. This is from flimsy masks or something. You really need to look into this,” and it was the engineer who was making that call, not me, not another doctor. I was the one with a stethoscope listening to their lungs that sounded like shit.

Just so you have an understanding: When you listen to an asthmatic lung, they have a musical wheeze at the end of expiration, and the sound I was listening to was a pretty coarse sound in the beginning of inspiration, a really irritated upper airway lung, and the painters would cough this, like, reddish-brown sputum, and they would always have that cough after they would clean up the rust pillars from the ocean.

So, the oilrig was old as fuck, from the 80s, so they would come with this tool, and before painting a new coat, they would have to get the rust out, and they would come coughing into my clinic.

So, I raised the concern. They tried to fire me in the middle of my shift. Again, I was the only doctor on the oilfield for 600 people. By law, you need to have a physician on board, so I refused to leave.

They brought a chopper. I refused to get in.

I staged a hunger strike on the oilrig, spread some pamphlets, tried to get the other workers to mutiny.

Because the workers liked me, they started to notice, and worry, and try to talk to me, so the oil company had to be quick, and they called out a second chopper, which removed me by force, twisted my arm, and I had to leave the country with my wife, because the oilrig industry in Brazil is a fucking mafia.

The New York Times did a piece about this. It was kind of like what you’re doing, a “10 years later” piece about Occupy. They were doing, like, a “five years later, what are you guys doing?” kind of piece.[ii]

It was fucked up though, on the oilrig. It sounds fascinating, but, like, I could have died. My wife was pissed. She was like, “Dude, they could have thrown you overboard and said you committed suicide or some shit like that.” So, she was pissed with me. We left the country.

This was 2016. My wife went to work in Albany for women’s rights, while I studied for my medical boards here in the U.S., then I matched in a residency, and now I’m an Infectious Disease Doctor at a big hospital in Chicago.

Which oil company was that?

Petrobras, the big oil company from Brazil, and I was working for a third party company that was operating a flotel, which is this bigass boat that hangs out, floats around, by the oilfield.

There’s a bridge between the ship and the oilfield. The ship was called The Gretha. The helicopter landing pad was on the ship. My clinic was on the ship.

What is the significance of Occupy’s 10th anniversary for you?

I’m still figuring that out, still figuring it out, man.

I don’t have a good answer for that right now. I’m sorry. But, as it gets closer, I might have a better answer.

I have friends from the Movement who passed away, and friends from the Movement who will be friends forever. I owe Occupy so much. It changed my life.


[i] Andrew van Dam, “Millennials are the Unluckiest Generation in U.S. History,” The Washington Post, 6/5/2020

[ii] Accra Shepp, “Occupy Wall Street: Where Are They Now?” The New York Times, 9/17/2016