… needs …
I joined the Occutrip, a 34-day, 11-city tour of Occupations in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New York, & Pennsylvania, on Week Three, meeting up in Albany. It was precedent that each day, most likely in the morning, would have a check-in to review logistical information about the upcoming day and disseminate information from the bottom-liners to the rest of the group.
Early on in Week Three, most likely in Rochester once remnants of Week 1 & 2 who would not be continuing on the trip departed, we evolved the daily check-in into a more focused “Needs Circle.”
I’m not sure exactly how this evolution came about, but it was one of the most crucial elements of the successful development of group dynamics, community building, and sense of solidarity felt by many of us on Weeks 3 & 4 of the Occutrip.
The Needs Circle provided an opportunity for us to check in with each other on a personal and emotional level – to find out where we were at, what we were feeling in the moment, or what had been building up, what was being experienced and what could be done to help or relieve our current situations, either on a personal or communal level.
… spectrums …
The trip, while overall an amazing experience, was not without extreme, emotionally trying moments.
After an attempt to hold an accountability process, we had to ask an individual to leave the trip.
We participated in an action that was gravely misrepresented and went against many of the values and agreements to which we hold ourselves at OWS.
We faced issues of sexism, racism, Islamophobia, and general ignorance and discrimination. Not necessarily or specifically addressed at us, but we were effected.
We were triggered.
The Needs Circles were safe spaces that allowed for us to put our hurts on the table.
… a shared struggle …
There is something about knowing that everyone has an opportunity to speak and express their self that evens the playing field and prevents any one person from feeling on the spot or disruptive by expressing a need that may be seemingly contrary to the general mood or direction a meeting is going. It wasn’t uncommon for one person to have an expressly divergent experience, but once it was brought to the group, the group owned it and shared the experience.
If one was hurt, we were all hurt. If one was happy, we were all happy.
We were community; we were family.
We were in solidarity.
… mutual aid …
We stayed in a variety of places on the Occutrip - private homes, churches, the bus itself – and in the case of Rochester, the radical community center, The Flying Squirrel.
In exchange for pretty free-reign use of the industrial kitchen, office space, bathrooms/shower, and the common room for sleeping, meeting, and socializing, for two days we agreed to spend 2 hours at some point during our stay deep cleaning the space. With 17 Occupiers using the space in a concentrated way for 48 hours, it seemed like a very fair trade-off.
This is what mutual aid is all about. It was win-win.
… chores …
We divided up the chores into target areas – the kitchen, the common room, bathrooms, the basement – and roles were self assigned based on needs and interests. There were no arguments or holes left.
We got to work.
I chose to do dishes and spent well over an hour washing coffee mugs, plates, utensils, and then the interior components of a deconstructed refrigerator.
… community …
We had a great time.
I don’t think any of us expected that spending two-hours cleaning this space would be one of the most effective means of community building experienced on the trip. It was like being back in Liberty Square. The Squirrel, like the park, was a space to take ownership of, that we were mutually invested in.
General consensus found that the bus, another space like the park, and the act of traveling together, sometimes up to 8 hours at a time, provided a unique opportunity to get to know each other intimately – as people – not just co-organizers or colleagues, and was one of the most cherished elements of the Occutrip.
Those of us on Week Three look at our time cleaning The Squirrel with the same fondness.
… lessons learned …
Its rare to find the time in our daily, New York OWS lives to enjoy one another’s company as people – to not just focus on work that needs to get done, or the next meeting to run to.
It’s been a slow burn, but we are creating a community based on mutual respect and affinity.
We know of each other based on the roles we’ve filled. But when we take the time to really get to know each other – our experiences, our stories, our histories – only then will we truly appreciate, and love one another.
And that is when the real work gets done.
That’s when the revolution takes hold.
(photos courtesy of Suzahn, @Tim_Eastman, & @PoweredByCats)