… a place to start …

The better part of a year—the latter half of 2010 and beginning of 2011—I spent in therapy. First, to come to terms with the changing conditions of a dying relationship, and then to accept its overdue death. But that’s another story altogether. I bring it up to say that therapy is great, and I think at one point or another in everyone’s life, we would benefit from several months of weekly talk therapy. A good deal of my sessions was focused on trying to understand and deconstruct the way in which I would react to a situation, or attempt to preemptively correct, alter, or avoid a certain outcome. My therapist, Lily, observed that I would describe certain behaviors or reactions as “instinctual.” What if, she suggested, rather than thinking of these as instincts, I instead framed them as “habits” and “habitual” reactions. This was a transformative moment for me in how I viewed and processed my own behavior. Instincts are ingrained and inherent; habits are learned and conditioned and can therefore be unlearned.

I would be remiss if I didn’t include an additional thought on therapy, recently brought up by a close friend who I sent a first draft of this piece to under the subject, “does this suck?” He wondered if therapy is a remedy for the lack of community caused by capitalism. Which is interesting and, to an extent, I think is true, and also echoes sentiments I’ve heard recently that capitalist societies put too much emphasis on the individual. For months I deflected suggestions from my partner that perhaps I should go to therapy, that I might find it helpful, because, for the first time in a long time, I was opening up to my friends, seeking support and guidance from them, in essence, creating a community. Eventually, however, I found it was not quite enough. I wanted the focused support of a professional as well. I needed a balance between community and individualization—an important compromise I’ve tried to carry forward. 

I’d largely stepped back from organizing directly under the Occupy Wall Street umbrella over the last two to three months. The looming one-year anniversary of Occupy (#s17) struck me as too self-referential, too retrospective, and honestly, too masturbatory. There’s too much work yet to be done, too much daily suffering and struggling, too little yet accomplished to spend so much time and energy honoring ourselves with symbolic actions aimed at symbolic targets that retread failed ground. I tried to engage with it; I tried really hard to be excited and to help make the day forward-thinking, radical, and not just an anniversary. Without equal or more emphasis put on planning what the day after the anniversary looks like, the celebration is bound to disappoint in the long run. To quote that same friend, “ramping up to one day of celebration is ideal for a birthday, but pointless in a movement. Celebration is good. Onanism is not so good as a strategy.” I had to look up onanism. It wasn’t what I expected, but it’s more than an appropriate analogy. No matter how hard I tried to care, I just didn’t. And the more I tried to engage with the organizing the more frustrated I became with the organizing space itself.

Since the eviction of Liberty Square last November, the community of Occupy Wall Street has changed, but has not really evolved. In the few days prior to the eviction, the community was reaching a boiling point. Race, class, and gender conflicts were beginning to bubble over. The distinction between “occupiers” and “organizers” was very tangibly manifested in the east side/west side divide of the encampment. We were recreating many of the oppressive structures that we came together to destroy, but we didn’t even recognize them. People were just beginning to try to talk about it. Then the raid happened, and we were thrust into logistical crisis mode. “Capitalism wins again.” In the winter, as the General Assembly and Operational Spokes Council devolved into squabbling over the general fund, much of it focused on the very present and important need to provide housing, transportation, and food to the remaining houseless population that was sustained by the encampment, experienced activists and radicals from all over the country began to trickle away. Still, we never got back to truly addressing the oppressions being recreated within the community. In fact, much of the winter was about “providing” solutions. It wasn’t about empowerment. But we were impatient and slipped into philanthropy, using our still healthy general fund to provide solutions.

May Day was framed as a re-galvanizing moment for “the movement” and nearly four months of focused planning was dedicated to this one day. If the goal was Occupy 2.0—a rebirth, a new spark, or anything else signifying renewed energy—then May Day 2012 was a colossal failure. Our failure to tangibly and tactically look towards May 2nd, 2012 was our collective failure. Instead this date marks the beginning of the second exodus of our community’s anarchist base, experienced radicals, and longtime activists. And still, our privileges and oppressions continued unaddressed.

A longtime activist, I am not. I don’t even know if I’m an anarchist. I’m anarcho-curious, that’s for sure. I know that I believe in the ideals of horizontalism, anti-capitalism, anti-oppression, and equity (not equality.) I came to Occupy Wall Street in October of 2011 considering myself a far-left liberal. I campaigned for Obama in 2008 and believed that there was potential to work within our political system, that reform was possible and maybe even an end unto itself. I don’t believe that anymore. I’ve had a series of radicalizing moments that served as a personal escalation calendar over the last year.

The organizing for #S17 seemed to go against everything I had come to believe, to hold dear, to feel was at the heart of what this community was about. (I really don’t think it’s appropriate to refer to “the movement” when we are only referring to the specific element of a global struggle that has taken shape in New York City, under the name Occupy Wall Street, so I will try to refrain from doing so, unless I do actually think what I’m saying applies beyond the community with which I most actively engage.)

For transparency’s sake: I’m male-assigned and -identified, I am white, I consider myself heterosexual; I graduated from a private university. My education was funded through private loans that I will probably never have the means to pay back. So, yes, the societal cards have been well-stacked in my favor. Besides elective elements of my appearance and decisions I have made, I have many privileges handed to me, unearned and no more deserved than anyone else. When I walk into a room, sit in a meeting, or engage with a group, my voice has the potential to be given more authority, more weight, more respect, because it is the voice of a white cis-male.

This is my privilege. And I am learning to check it.

Honestly, I almost just typed, “I have learned to check it.” But that would erroneously imply that the work is done. The work will never be done. I will always carry with me conditioned privileges and internal oppression. I will always have to actively check my privilege and be conscious of how my being white, male, straight, and of able body has the ability to oppress others through the ways we’ve been conditioned to interact and to place hierarchies on our relationships.

Early in my involvement in Occupy I went to facilitation training with Lisa Fithian. I carry with me since then the notion that it is the responsibility of those who come from privilege, who have opportunities handed to them, to utilize that power for the benefit of everyone in the room, “a strategic use of privilege to raise all boats.” 

I spoke earlier of equity as opposed to equality. Equality assumes we solve our problems by offering everyone the same slice of pie. What this doesn’t do is acknowledge that people come to the table with different histories, different needs, different privileges. I don’t come close to truly understanding oppression; all I can do is listen and put what I learn into practice. Equity on the other hand, derives from the principle, “to each based on their needs; from each based on their abilities.” As a white, able-bodied, cis-male, my needs are fewer, and to make up for the privileged place I hold in society, my piece of the pie should be far smaller. Amalia, from (un)Occupy Albuquerque points out that scales don’t balance by simply raising one side to the higher position of the other. Rather, one side must come down, in order for the other side to go up. And thus is the reality of privilege and oppression. In order to begin to balance the scales of oppression, those of us with privilege must be willing to give up some of what we’ve be given, to step back, so that others may step forward and fill the space we leave. Those of us with privilege don’t get to hold onto our positions; everyone must assume a new one.

This is by no means easy. It’s the hard work that we’ve all been talking about. And it’s obviously a whole lot easier to talk about than to actually try to live and embody. But, by dedicating ourselves to the effort of acknowledging our unearned privileges, the ways we have internalized capitalism, and the oppression we’ve been conditioned to, and then by actively disengaging from them, is how we begin to prefigure the world we want to see, how we create radical relationships and truly radical communities.

At least it’s how we start.

 

… a very honest post …

The following is cross-posted from my media blog/online portfolio Powered By Cats

Powered By Cats was officially formed in the summer of 2010 after five years of working staff and permalance post-production jobs. Powered By Cats has pretty much always been just me, Brett, but it’s a memorable name with an eye-catching logo. Originally created to host my commercial reel and archive of narrative short films edited during and after my time at NYU film school, the intent was to help me get freelance editing jobs – to look more legit to commercial agencies and production companies – two types of employers I never thought I would seek.

I went to film school at NYU because I wanted to make narrative feature films. I loved telling stories, throwing my heart up on the screen and hoping it resonated with my audience. While at NYU I found that even more than telling my own stories, I enjoyed, through editing, helping others tell their stories. I love the excitement of watching raw footage. There’s always a moment where the story starts to shape itself in my head. Then the real fun begins.

I took the first job I was offered after graduation. Desperation and fear carried me into the realm of advertising; insecurity and fear kept me there for the next three years.

After I left that job in the fall of 2008, I worked the night shift for almost a year and a half on reality television, then short advertising gigs here and there, followed by a 6-month job editing interviews about healthcare for an interactive video installation. Almost all those companies had great people and atmospheres. It was the counterbalance to the corporate product we were creating.

In my own time, or when unemployed, I would try to work on side projects – a music video, a narrative, and a dream project – promotional videos for a collective of non-profit organizations doing humanitarian work in Mali, West Africa.

This was the project I never knew I was craving to work on. Once I did, it made working in corporate media that much more heartbreaking and soul crushing. Regardless of how nice the people were, and how high a day rate I could get the company to agree to pay me, the projects just weren’t worthwhile.

In the summer and early fall of 2011 I began planning to leave NYC, after living here for 10 years. I needed to find a way to combine my skills in media with my passion for human rights work. I looked into grad schools in London and progressive media companies in San Francisco.

And then Occupy happened.

When I first starting engaging with Occupy Wall Street, on October 18th2011, there was no shortage of media being produced by and about the occupation of Liberty Square and the growing worldwide movement. I was glad there was not a need there that I felt obligated to fill. I was working on and off over the next month and just didn’t have the energy for a media project, regardless of how incredible the content would have been. Plus it allowed me to focus on other areas within the community that had a more pressing need, namely, Facilitation.

Fast forward to May Day 2012. The day was a mixed bag of overhype, successful pickets, unfulfilled potential, underreported numbers at mass rallies and marches, and an over-reactionary paramilitary crackdown on a peaceful assembly. One of the biggest takeaways of the day was that under no circumstance could Occupy depend on the mass media to accurately represent us, let alone tell our story. My interest in media began to respark. Discussions of what a 24-hour Occupy television network might look like began, but have stalled due to the overwhelming time commitment just to figure out what steps would have to be taken to begin such an endeavor.

And now today. Two very close friends are just over one week into a six-week road trip around the perimeter of the United States. The Radical Resistance Tour will stop in nearly 20 cities to interview people – radicals, anti-capitalists, environmentalists, occupiers, homeowners, etc., who are fighting to improve their communities. While they are on the road, I am in NYC collecting their footage and editing web-episodes of each city. The first stop, in Coal River Valley, West Virginia, has resulted in a rough cut about 25 minutes long. The interviews with six folks fighting the coal industry and mountain top removal extraction procedures are incredible and inspiring. Future episodes will feature anti-Keystone XL Pipeline activists in Texas and South Dakota, police repression and violence protests in Anaheim, foreclosure defense in Minneapolis, and so much more.

This project is everything I have ever wanted to work on. It has the potential to be weeks, or months of work, and will hopefully result in nearly two-dozen episodes for the web. We are tentatively talking about a feature length documentary that could combine all the cities into one piece.

In November I worked an 11-day freelance job for Google. My last day of work was November 18th. My supervisors were sympathetic to my involvement in Occupy and didn’t mind when I emailed at 6am on November 15th to say I’d been up all night and wouldn’t be coming in, and gave me November 17th off with only a few hours notice before the end of the day on the 16th. Since November 18th, I have been employed one day. It was for an ad agency.

I’ve been able to sustain myself by deferring my student loans and giving up my apartment on December 16th 2011.

After spending a few weeks with Occupy, and made concrete on November 15th, I knew there was no going back. I knew I had to dedicate my time and my life to Occupy Wall Street, to the struggle for social and economic justice with the most incredible, diverse, complicated, and passionate community I had ever been a part of.

Over the last eight months I have benefited from, and depended on, the generosity of my friends, both new from OWS and longtime back as far back as NYU. I’ve slept on couches and floors, cat/dog/house sat for a few days or weeks at a time. I’ve gotten by on a modest savings. Not having to pay nearly $1800 a month on rent and student loans makes belt-tightening a whole lot easier.

But that savings is starting to run out and credit cards are not a sustainable option. My smartphone is an essential part of my lifestyle with activism. A Metrocard is a requirement for getting to housing, meetings, and actions. And now I’m trying to fulfill my dreams for what Powered By Cats has always wanted to be – a mobile video post-production company solely focused on supporting and furthering the work of people and organizations dedicated to social and economic justice in their communities.

With great humility and respect, I ask for your financial support. I ask that you help me do this work. Help me make Powered By Cats also powered by everyday people and not a dependency on corporate media. Every penny donated will be openly accounted for in a monthly financial report-back. No donation is too small or unappreciated.

I cannot wait to continue working on The Radical Resistance Tour and eagerly anticipate what other projects will manifest in the future. Please consider supporting independent media with a donation to Powered By Cats. I thank you in advance for your support.

In solidarity, with love and rage,

Brett

… m24 pt3 … the tombs …

image

2pm: The next day, Sunday, m25, when I got to 100 Centre Street, there were half a dozen Occupiers holding camp outside. They had a supply of food, water and cigarettes ready for anyone who might be released. There were several others inside the courtrooms as well; they were tracking docket numbers and arraignments, and liaising between the National Lawyers Guild, those of us on the outside, and off-site Jail Support coordinators.

The off-site coordinators handle a phone and text line that people can contact to insure the NLG has been notified of an arrest and to get information about a comrade after arrest. By reaching out to the jail support team via text and email, and the larger OWS community via Twitter, the team helps to make sure that people—jail support—are at the precinct or courthouse whenever someone is being detained. They also provide “Know Your Rights” and Jail Support training.  This educates people on the roles and tasks that are essential to keeping track of our comrades as they move through the system. Additionally the training outlines the information required by the NLG during the arraignment process, as well as preparing for potential future court dates.

Although we are there specifically to provide support to Occupy Wall Street protestors, we will offer support to anyone getting out of jail, if it is within our means to do so. If we have food available, and they’re hungry, we feed them. If we have water or juice or coffee, and they want some, we give it to them. When people ask to bum or buy a cigarette—the most common post-release request—we oblige, free of charge.

This is arguably one of the most important and effective outreach efforts that OWS partakes in. The opportunity to talk with working class people, mostly black and Latin@, who are especially targeted by the NYPD, allows us to reach members of targeted communities on an incredibly personal level and make a connection between their situations and a larger political struggle. We’re all at the arbitrary control of the system, dehumanized for profit, and made to to struggle so others may gain.

Hopefully they share what they saw and talked to us about with their friends, families, and communities.

3pm: Ravi, who was coordinating inside the court rooms, came outside to report that the NLG believed that ten of our comrades, including Amelia, Negesti, and Mesiah, would be arraigned and released before the courts closed at 11pm.

There was a lot going on on Sunday. Despite nightly evictions, we continued a 24-hour occupation of Union Square. There was a pop-up occupation in Fort Greene Park, in Brooklyn. This was the latest in a series of Occupy Town Square outreach events that brought the Movement to parks throughout the city for one day.

Sitting outside of the Tombs is neither fun nor exciting. We try to entertain ourselves, but many of us have firsthand knowledge of the conditions inside, so it’s difficult.

But even with all of these fun activities going on, there were never less than 12 people at jail support. By sunset we were pushing 30.

In fact, there were so many of us that we were getting on the nerves of the court police, and we were asked to move. Out of concern that our presence might effect the treatment or arraignment of our comrades, most people relocated to Foley Square just one block away. Our new location was far enough away avoid confrontation with, and the constant glare of, the police, but close enough to get back within a moment’s notice should anyone be released.

10pm: With only an hour till the court’s closing, a comrade announced that Mesiah’s arraignment was imminent. Within a few minutes she was released.

When she appeared at the top of the steps there was a tremendous burst of noise and excitement. People ran up and hugged her. Her smile was incredible. Friends from Foley soon ran over to join in the celebration.

Her arm, wrapped in a large sling, discomforted her, but as I tweeted shortly after seeing her, “She’s tough as fuckin’ hell.”

After a few minutes, her mom, who had flown in from Oakland after hearing of her daughter’s brutal arrest, whisked her away to get some sleep and lay low for a few days.

We were thrilled, but the clock ticked for our other comrades. Amelia and Negesti, already locked up for almost 33 hours, were seemingly not lined up for arraignment.

10:44pm: A friend inside the court said that they would be up in five minutes.

10:50pm: Court was adjourned. Amelia and Negesti would spend another night—at least 10 hours—in jail.

The week before, following the raid on Liberty Square, 18 comrades were released from jail at 3:30am, several hours after jail support had left. There had been no one to greet them.

I was not going to risk that happening again.

After commenting on Twitter that I intended to stay the night, two friends, Kira and Kyle, offered to come out and spend the night with me. They brought snacks and blankets, and we had a slumber party on the steps of 100 Centre Street.

From 11pm to midnight, there was a steady stream of court employees, and police, leaving the courthouse for the night. They walked right by us, but we no longer seemed to be much of a concern. Not one of them spoke to us until nearly 9am the next morning.

There were about twelve of us doing jail support until 2am, including members of the Accounting Working Group who were coordinating a bail payment for Angel, an Occupier who had been brutally arrested—grabbed by the hair while asleep and dragged across the ground—in an early morning sweep of Union Square, for lying down in the public park.

Because he’d been arraigned in the early evening, the court wouldn’t allow us to pay his bail until nearly midnight, and he wasn’t released until after 2am. The timeframes are always shifting, always arbitrary. The rules are made up on the spot, and we are forced to play along.

There were six of us on the steps when they finally brought Angel around. Jo and Jonathon came to stay the night with Kira, Kyle and I. Mark hung out until Angel was released, then he went to a friend’s place to crash for the night, disappointed that he didn’t have enough warm layers to stay.

Angel was someone I had seen around the community but had never met or spoken to. When he saw us sitting on the steps, he figured that we’d be there all night, and he was overwhelmed with joy. He hugged me and kissed my cheek. We chatted for a little while. At one point, he put his hand in his pocket, and his demeanor shifted. He asked if we wanted to see something fucked up; then he pulled a fistful of hair from his pocket.

“This is what they pulled from my head when they dragged me across the park.”

Mark put his arm around him and told him to get some rest.

For the next seven hours Kira, Kyle, Jo, Jonathon and I waited with only a small glimmer of hope of seeing Amelia and Negesti before court resumed.

6am: I woke up. A cold wind kicked in, and sleeping on a pizza box on top of marble steps, even with fleece blankets, was not working. We sat close together, huddled for warmth. We alternated between chatting and staring off into the distance.

For an early Monday morning, the area was surprisingly busy. Every 15 minutes or so someone would wonder by, early for their court appearance or just passing by and wanting a cigarette, and inquire about why we were there.

“Is this a protest thing?”

We’d explain that we were waiting for friends who had been arrested. Sometimes we’d say that we were Occupy. Other times we chose not to. Or we didn’t have to.

Regardless of what we said, they were impressed. They were touched. They seemed to know that we’d been there all night, perhaps from the blankets, and the small stockpile of food. They may not have used the word, but they knew that this was what solidarity looked like.

9am: Negesti was brought from the Tombs to the pre-arraignment area. She sat there for over 90 minutes watching dozens of other people get arraigned before her.

11:30am: I stood at the foot of the steps, looking up at 100 Centre Street. A handful of Occupiers, including some that spent the night with me, and others who joined in the morning, walked joyously out of the courthouse.

I saw Negesti first. Still wrapped in a fleece blanket, I stretched my arms out, and she ran over to me. I hugged her as tight as I could.

“Its nice to see you,” I told her.

I stepped to the side and saw Amelia a few steps back. Again, I unfolded the blanket just in time for her to run over and wrap her arms around me. I kissed her cheek and she cried into my neck.

45 hours after their arrests, they were out.

Disorderly conduct for walking in a public street. Resisting arrest for lying down in a crosswalk when arrest was imminent. No bail, released on their own reconnaissance.

They stood up for their First Amendment rights to peaceably assemble, to speak their minds, to protest the government and spent 45 hours in jail for it.

After a low-key afternoon, Amelia came with me to a Community Meeting to discuss action steps for OWS’s move into the spring.

The next night we visited comrades in Union Square. At midnight, the police moved in to evict us. They set up barricades and harassed us for being in a public park.

Amelia made sure to let them know that their behavior was shameful.

It was back to business as usual.

(photography in this article via @CMarieDaniel & @poweredbycats)

… m24 pt2 … the precinct …

When we got to the 7th Precinct we immediately noticed the blue NYPD barriers erected in front of the building. They blocked the stairs and most of the sidewalk, restricting access only via the handicap ramp. Our comrade Jamie, of the People’s Library, was already on location, having rushed to the station after word of the first arrest.

We were told that 12 people were being held inside the precinct—Amelia, Negesti, Mesiah, and 9 more Occupiers.

Jamie beat the first police van to the precinct and saw all of our comrades enter the station. She reported that Mesiah looked shaken and sad. Amelia and Negesti were upset but not hurt. The van had been hot, their handcuffs too tight, the cops less than cordial.

Shortly after we got there we saw Mesiah escorted out of the precinct, her arm wrapped up in a makeshift sling, and into an ambulance. Presumably she was headed to Bellevue Hospital on 1st Avenue at 27h Street, where people who are injured and in custody go, including those injured by the police during their arrests.

We showed our support from across the street. We jumped up and down, yelled out her name, and fashioned our hands into a heart shape—a “point of affection” in OWS sign language. Mesiah was all smiles, which was surprising considering her afternoon ordeal. I was overwhelmed with joy when she smiled back at us.

Over the next hour several more friends and comrades, including Eli, a medic, and Oscar, one of the Occu-puppies, joined us. Eli was on hand to do support for her partner, Daniel, who had been arrested for the third time in about a week. According to Eli, Daniel had been in the march for about 15 minutes before he was harassed and targeted by the police for arrest.

Our emotions were high and intensifying—the police were offering us very limited information on the status of our comrades. It was reassuring to have Oscar on hand. Sitting with him in my lap helped to settle some of my anger.

While we sat on a public sidewalk, in front of a non-operational construction site across from the precinct, two officers approached us to say that they had received complaints from the tenants of a building half a block away. Apparently, we were blocking access to the sidewalk. They asked us to move.

“Do we have to?” I asked.

Was it a request, or were we breaking the law? We knew that we were allowed to sit on the sidewalk, as long as half of it remained a throughway. We lined ourselves up along the construction wall to keep most of the sidewalk clear.

A few minutes later, two different officers aggressively approached us. The one who we had nicknamed “John Goodman” asked, “Alright, who’s the funny guy?” He demanded that we move around the corner, not sit down, not block the sidewalk, and not rest anything (food, bags, etc.) on the ground.

Too tired to put up much of an argument, we relocated, waited for them to leave, and then made ourselves as comfortable as possible on this new patch of public concrete.

Not long thereafter, a third set of cops came over to harass us. When told that we were blocking the sidewalk, I pointed out that we were taking up less space than the police scooters parked on the sidewalk, as well as the barricades blocking 90% of the sidewalk in front of their building.

When one of us remained seated, one of the officers condescended, “This isn’t difficult; just say, ‘Yes, sir. We’ll stand up.’ And then stand up.”

I yelled, “We don’t have to say anything to you.”

He said, “No reason to get emotional; this is simple.”

So I replied, “Earlier today we watched five of your buddies beat up a 16-year-old girl, so you can understand why our emotions are a little high.”

We stood long enough to watch them walk away, then sat right back down.

Over the next several hours, we were joined by over a dozen of our comrades. We ate food, recounted the day, sang songs by candlelight, and comforted each other.

A few Occupiers were released with DATs, Desk Appearance Tickets. These are in lieu of an arraignment by the court system. Instead, one must appear in court at a later date to respond to the accusation of criminal activity. DATs are the preferred outcome of an arrest, resulting in only a few hours locked up, as opposed to the typical 24-48 hours that comes from a trip to the Tombs.

When someone went into the precinct to inquire about Amelia’s personal belongings, the officers said that she wasn’t there. We then spent the next hour making calls to the NLG, other precincts and Central Booking, in an effort to find our friend. The NLG finally confirmed that she was, in fact, inside of the 7th.

They lied to us simply because they can. They lied to us because the State has dehumanized us.

As Mesiah was brought back to the 7th, we got as close as possible and sang at the top of our lungs:

SOLIDARITY FOREVER!
SOLIDARITY FOREVER!
SOLIDARITY FOREVER!
REVOLUTION MAKES US STRONG!

She smiled ear to ear, as she walked back into the precinct, her arm still in a sling.

Daniel was sent to the Tombs in Central Booking, at 100 Centre Street. Eli, his partner, had been led to believe that if she retrieved his ID from home he would be released. They moved him once she had already left. We sang for him too.

A little while later Amelia and Negesti were transferred to the Tombs. As they came out, nearly a dozen of us ran over to surround the van. We held up Points of Affection. They smiled back at us. If their hands hadn’t been bound, they would have been in the same heart shapes that we were showing them.

We sang.

SOLIDARITY FOREVER!
SOLIDARITY FOREVER!
SOLIDARITY FOREVER!
REVOLUTION MAKES US STRONG!

We sang to let them know they weren’t alone. We sang to show them our love. We sang to show our solidarity.

We sang because we were exhausted and we missed our friends and we knew that tomorrow we would continue the struggle.

We sang.

SOLIDARITY FOREVER!
SOLIDARITY FOREVER!
SOLIDARITY FOREVER!
REVOLUTION MAKES US STRONG!

Three people were brought into the 7th at some time after midnight. They’d been arrested in the nightly raid on the Occupation of Union Square. One was working the Anarchist literature table. And one tried to lay down in the public park.

I went home around 1:30am. It had been raining for a few hours by that point. I didn’t have enough layers on, and only a cheap drug-store poncho protected me from the rain. I didn’t want to get sick. I felt guilty leaving, knowing I could take a shower, change my clothes, eat a meal, while several of my comrades did not have that privilege. But I left knowing that my staying would not make their situation better.

There were six of us doing jail support for the four still inside, including Mesiah, who was transferred to the 20th Precinct, not the Tombs, to await arraignment at 2:30am. I was sorry not to be there to sing to her again.

By 6am everyone had been transferred out of the 7th.

(photography in this article via @what_a_fiasco & @poweredbycats)

… m24 pt1 … the action …

March 17 was the 6-month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street moving into Zuccotti Park, renamed it Liberty Square and the beginning of the Occupy Movement worldwide.

We celebrated all day, in style—chanting, dancing, marching, holding a General Assembly that needed three waves of the People’s Microphone—until the police brutally crashed our party—beating and violently arresting over 73 Occupiers in the park and on the march that ensued. It was probably the most violent day in our short history, and we have not been able to determine that any of the incidents were warranted or incited by an Occupier.

Our response was two-fold. On Tuesday, March 20, we held a press conference at 1 Police Plaza with allied communities—Muslim, Latin@, LGBT, the undomiciled—to call for an end to police repression, brutality, surveillance, and explicitly for the resignation of NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly.

The second part, which was much more in line with our style, was to take our energy back to the streets. We, again joined by our allies, held an anti-police-brutality march.

On Saturday, m24, I got to Liberty Square around 11:30am to meet with about 10 other Occupiers, who had also volunteered to act as pacers for the march—folks who would help direct the march, respond to police kettling or obstruction, close gaps and maintain continuity in the middle, and help protect stragglers in the back from getting picked off by police.

We discussed the plan for the day. It would begin in Liberty Square with a series of speakers talking about their personal and communities’ experiences with the NYPD, which mostly consisted of violence and repression. Afterward we would march north on Broadway to Union Square, where a new, 24-hour occupation had been in place since the violent eviction at Liberty Square on m17.

The march route would pass in front of five locations at the heart of New York’s police and prison system—City Hall, 100 Centre Street, aka “the Tombs,” 1 Police Plaza, the Federal Building, and the ICE Detention Center. The exact route would be at the discretion of the pacers at the front of the march, and largely based on how much space the police gave us. Our primary mode of communication with each other was via a private text-message loop, which would help us coordinate throughout the march.

An interesting addition to this march was a group of about 30 folks from Veterans For Peace. They appeared to be somewhere in between their late 50s and late 60s. They were mostly white men and women who had served in the armed forces. Their gray sweatshirts bore their logo, and every one of them had plastic goggles hanging from their necks. They were prepared to be peppered sprayed.

Having seen photos, videos, and reports of the violence the week before, Veterans For Peace reached out to OWS. Not only did they want to march in solidarity with us, they wanted to put themselves on the front lines, or positioned anywhere in the march that we felt was vulnerable. They wanted to stand between us and the police, in order to protect our constitutional rights—to put their bodies on the line and spare us the brutality for one day.

I nearly cried when I saw them gathered on Saturday, and I’m crying now as I think about it. I’m crying because their sacrifice honors and humbles me. And because it didn’t work.

The first speaker of the day was Eric, an organizer and street medic with Occupy Wall Street, who was one of those arrested during the m17 eviction of Liberty Square. Eric chose not to speak of his own experiences, as violent as they were, but instead to connect our current struggle and experiences with those of people who have come before us. With Sean Bell, Troy Davis, Amadou Diallo and so many more black and Latin@ men and women murdered by the NYPD and the police state.

A speaker from the National Lawyers Guild, which provides all of the legal support for Occupy Wall Street, highlighted how some people are treated as criminals based on their actions, but in New York City, the NYPD has criminalized the entire Muslim community simply because of who they are.

City Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez (Democrat, District 10, Manhattan) and Jumaane Williams (Democrat, District 45, Brooklyn), longtime OWS supporters spoke on the history of NYPD violence.

“It is not an accident that all the people killed by the NYPD are black and Latino,” Rodriguez said.

On OWS, Rodriguez asserted, “This movement is the voice of the working and middle classes.”

Councilmember Williams flipped up his hoodie, which he said that he wore in solidarity with Trayvon Martin, the 17-year-old black youth murdered by a man in Florida who targeted him because of his clothing and his race. Williams asked those of us with hoodies to put on our hoods as well. We wore them with pride.

It was nearing 1pm, the crowd in Liberty Square had filled out dramatically, energy was building, the sun was shining, and we were ready to march.

The pacers spread out, the drums started to beat, and we marched.

It was a large procession, stretching for at least a few blocks. For the first half hour or more we stayed on the sidewalk.

One of the first chants that I remember was “RACIST! SEXIST! ANTI-GAY! N-Y-P-D GO AWAY!” This is a favorite chant for many of us. It is confrontational without being physical, while making a bold statement to the police, as well as bystanders, on how Occupy regards the NYPD.

We slowly made our way up Broadway until we passed the home of the FBI and Homeland Security at 26 Federal Plaza. Both of these federal agencies have played a role in the suppression of the Occupy Movement. In the weeks leading up to the violent evictions of Occupy encampments nationwide in November and December, Homeland Security provided assistance to local cities in the form of intelligence monitoring and information gathering.

As we passed the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge, the sight of six cops on horseback could not be ignored. Following the October 1st action that took over the Brooklyn Bridge, resulting in close to 700 arrests, the NYPD has been very protective of this monument.

The march veered east past Foley Square on its way to “The Tombs” of Central Booking at 100 Centre Street, where at least 7 our comrades were being held for arrests from the day before.

I was one of about 5 pacers holding up the back of the march and trying to ensure a tight formation as we moved through intersections—a typically vulnerable point, where police can kettle, redirect, or break up a march if there are gaps.

Instead of reciting our usual chants, the back of the march had a bard of sorts leading us in song, which we repeated for many blocks:

Mama, mama, can’t you see
What police have done to me;
They keep trying to beat us down,
But we’re rising all around;

Mama, mama can’t you see
What police have come to be;
They keep trying to beat us down,
But we’re rising all around.

As we lined up in front of the Tombs, we held a die-in. Everyone melted to the ground, and we lay there until our bard sang, “… but we’re rising all around.” As if on cue, we got up, cheered, and continued marching.

Because of the slow pace of the march and in an effort to maintain energy levels high, the pacers decided to skip some of the more out-of-the-way destinations and head for Union Square, while we still had a large number of protestors. It’s not uncommon for marches to peter out after the initial momentum and energy wears out, even when a final destination is set and events are planned. If marches are slow, or winding, or met with significant police blocks or resistance, people tend to peal off gradually, and the march shrinks.

Shortly after this, the tone of the march changed dramatically. The front of the march saw an opportunity and decided to take to the streets, veering off the sidewalk and breaking through the line of cops along the edge of the street monitoring the march.

As has become common practice, the NYPD targeted two female protestors—Amelia and Negesti—who could be isolated and arrested. A white-shirt pointed to them and said, “Those two.”

They were quickly surrounded and told that they were being arrested. Since there was nowhere to go, they decided to lie down in the crosswalk.

Word of their arrests made its way through the march very quickly.

Sensing that the police were getting tired of escorting us, we decided to make the march a bit more militant and active, diverting off of major streets into the more intimate, consumerist, and tourist-destination Nolita neighborhood.

The narrower one-way streets allowed us to more easily move in and out of the street, filling it with Occupiers who continuously chanted about police brutality and about the better world we know is possible.

Walking north on Elizabeth Street, as we approached Prince Street, suddenly, I heard the all-too-familiar shout for cameras—an unmistakable signal that the police were doing something that required monitoring.

I looked up the street and saw Mesiah, a 16-year-old girl, being held up by two cops. She looked shocked. Someone called for a medic. She started to cry.

I took a step off of the sidewalk and into the street, which was being blocked by a line of cops on scooters along side the march. Then I turned around to address the crowd of people that had amassed on the sidewalk behind me.

“MIC CHECK! MIC CHECK!” I yelled. After it was repeated back to me, I continued, “SHE IS 16-YEARS OLD!” The crowd repeated it over and over, but they only encountered the NYPD’s blank stares and deaf ears.

Turning back toward the street, I saw five cops carrying Mesiah down the street, her shirt pulled up, much of her torso exposed. I screamed at the cops that they should be fucking ashamed of themselves. I called them fucking animals. I asked if they were proud to have beaten up a 16-year-old girl. I asked why it took so many of them to carry her off.

As the march continued up the street, I had a heated exchange with the white-shirt officer who oversaw Mesiah’s arrest.

“DO YOU FEEL GOOD ABOUT YOURSELF? MANHANDLING A 16-YEAR-OLD GIRL? YOU FEEL REAL FUCKING TOUGH IN YOUR WHITE SHIRT? 16-YEAR-OLD GIRL! IT TOOK FIVE OF YOU TO CARRY HER UP A PUBLIC STREET.”

“OK, well you have a nice day.”

“OK, YOU HAVE A NICE DAY, YOU PIECE OF SHIT.”

On the northwest corner of Prince and Spring Sts. a group of tourists watched us pass by. I stopped in the middle of them and recapped, as loud as I could, what had just happened a mere few feet from where they stood. My voice cracked, and my stomach cramped. I can only hope that they shared with others what they heard.

My friend Anthony came up to me, put his arm around my shoulder and told me to take a breath, to center myself and focus, we still had a long way to go until we reached Union Square, and we had a role to fill.

I tried. But I was so angry.

As we walked along Houston I think I yelled at the line of cops acting as our escorts. I know that I had three separate interactions with the police, but with the exhaustion of the moment, I don’t remember the second one clearly. I remember holding my stomach. My muscles ached from yelling, I was hungry, and my throat burned. I was fuming.

When the march had mostly crossed Houston on Broadway, we encountered another large pack of tourists. My anger overwhelmed me. I stopped in front of them and yelled with all of my remaining energy.

“THE NYPD CALLS ITSELF NEW YORK’S FINEST. THAT IS FUCKING BULLSHIT. JUST A FEW BLOCKS BACK THEY BEAT UP A 16-YEAR-OLD GIRL FOR WALKING IN THE STREET. THEY RIPPED HER SHIRT OFF. IT TOOK FIVE OF THEM TO CARRY HER OFF WHILE SHE CRIED. REMEMBER, NEW YORK’S FINEST IS BULLSHIT.”

I turned the corner, not feeling any less angry. This time, Anthony ran up to me, put his hand on my back and said, “A Community Affairs cop just pointed at you and said, ‘He’s next.’ Get out of here.” And he pushed me forward.

I ran up the march; took off my bandanas, my hoodie, and my glasses; and stashed them in my bag.

Turning onto Great Jones I shot west towards Lafayette, and then ran up to Astor Place. While I was disappointed to leave the march, I was overwhelmed with pride. I could hear our chants reverberating off of the buildings blocks away.

“ONE! We are the people!
TWO! We are united!
THREE! THIS OCCUPATION IS NOT LEAVING!”

I watched the march make its way up Lafayette and then snake along Astor back to Broadway. I ran up a few blocks to stay ahead of it, and, hopefully, well away from the cops who were targeting me on its south end. I found out later that, just after I left the march, a group of white-shirts were examining a photo on a phone, and one said, pointing, “This one; I think he just ran off.”

On Broadway, as a line of police marched by, I ran into a friend making his way south from Union Square. Usually one of the happiest, funniest, and most loving Occupiers, his rage was palpable that afternoon. He’d heard about “a 16-year old being brutalized” and was trying to find the march.

When he found out that it was Mesiah, he almost lost it. He looked at me and said that he was afraid he was going to do something stupid. I put my hand on his shoulder and told him to consider that he was more good to us out here than inside.

“We need you.”

He looked at me, and the tears ran off of his face. I pulled him close. He held on to me, as if letting go would only add to the day’s tragedies. And all I could say was, “I know.”

The march caught up to us and we continued, rather uneventfully, for 4 more blocks to Union Square.

The mood in the square was energetic, but something felt off. We intended to do our spring clowning training as a way to burn off any remaining energy. But we had just been brutalized on an anti-police brutality march. The irony was not amusing.

Two of my closest friends, Nathan and Jason, entered the park with the march. They could tell how angry I was. And they knew that I had been targeted, both from a tweet that I sent out after leaving the march and from witnessing the cops examining the photo on their phone. We decided not to stay in the park. Several of our comrades, including two close friends and a scared, potentially injured underage Occupier, were in jail.

We left the park quickly. We needed to find 19 Pitt St, somewhere beneath the Williamsburg Bridge. Our friends were there, at the NYPD’s 7th Precinct, and they needed jail support.

(photography and videos in this article via @poweredbycatskatertott129juliacreinhartSign0fH0pejskagonshammiches, & owsNaSh)

… on needs and solidarity …

… 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.” 

image

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.

image

… 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.

image

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.

image

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.

image

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)

… debrief in Buffalo …

… what we heard …

"Honest, intentional, direct communication."

"Trust, courage, openness."

"We want to acknowledge bringing up hurts and conflict as an act of community building."

"Ask questions rather than make accusations; come to understandings and grow/move forward."

"Forgive ourselves."

"Taking responsibility for actions and approaching conversations as building and growing opportunities."

… what was written down …

- Trauma

- Questions and accusations

- Responsibility

- Accountability and compassion to oneself

- Accepting our limitations (Growing edge)

- Communication as an act of community

- Silence

- Forgiveness

… defining home …

… one step back …

This is the first of what I think will be a series of (probably non-consecutive) posts in which I get pretty personal, putting myself out there in hopes others will consider doing the same. To try to build community, empathy, and understanding – to personalize this movement.

It is only when we stop seeing each other solely as our roles or affiliated Working Groups – Facilitator, Kitchen, POC, Direct Action, whatever – and start to see each other as people with backgrounds, with histories, with stories – that empathy will prevail over judgment and we’ll begin in solidarity to get some real work done.

And, through our own storytelling and understanding of our histories and what brought us to this moment, this movement, we understand our place within it and possibly where our efforts should lie.

“If this isn’t deeply personal for you, it won’t stay political for long.” – Hilary

This is the beginning of my effort to define for why this is personal for me. For me to identify at the root, the heart of things, why I occupy.
This may be one of the posts that I tell my mom she might not want to read. But I know she will anyway.

… two questions …
 
One of the courses I took during the Institute for Social Ecology Intensive was called “Liberating Land for Community Control.” It focused on community-based organizations that have reclaimed abandoned and vacant properties for use by communities in the form of housing, gardens, and community centers.

On the first day of the class we were asked two questions:
    1. What does ‘home’ mean to you?
    2. Is housing a human right?

This is my [expanded] answer to the first question.

… home …

Home is not a place, or a building, or even shelter. Home is not defined by where I live or where I keep my things. Home is a feeling, something I understand intuitively through the people I am surrounded by.

Growing up, home was my family – my parents and my older brother.
 
We moved houses three times between the time I was 12 and 16. I had lived in the first for 12 years, and about for three in the second two. None felt more like home than the others.

I liked the houses we lived in, but moving always kind of felt like an adventure, and I relished in the ability to shed old skins and redefine myself in new spaces.

Moving at age 12 allowed me to replace the bunk bed I had been using since I was very little, the top bunk populated with toys and stuffed animals. In our new house my room was gradually covered, wall to wall, every inch, with magazine cutouts, posters, and music lyrics written on masking tape.

The space became defined by my teenage angst. This room was defined by me, not me by it. It was my room, but it wasn’t my home.

Home was still determined by the people in the space with me.

… leaving …

When I left for college in August of 2001 that feeling of home stayed with me. And for the first couple years, that feeling drew me back to Chicago and my family. There was a part of me that thought I might move back there.
When my brother moved to LA the summer before my senior year, the feeling evolved and I started planning a post-graduation move to the West Coast.
 
But spring break of senior year, in LA with my parents visiting my brother, changed nearly everything for me.

Every concept I had of what it meant to be family – everything I thought I understood of my family – came crashing down around me.

I learned a lot about how priorities, transparency, honesty, money, and love affected my family, and our relationships.

I found out my future was being mortgaged to sustain an unsustainable present.

Only now do I understand that my family was most likely working class, not middle class, as I had always assumed.

I learned that a dramatic explosive event is never where a story begins – there is always something, an action, an event, building up to this reaction. This is a symptom of some other root cause.

And I’ve learned that treating symptoms only delays an eventual relapse.  Root causes must always be the focus of restorative, or better yet, transformative action.

A lesson learned on this trip, and in the months that followed, would be reaffirmed nearly six years later – love alone isn’t enough.

Without mutual effort, trust, compassion – what I now might call solidarity – a relationship cannot be sustained on love alone.
 
… partners …
 
I had a partner for six years. We lived together for most of that time. This partnership taught me more about myself, my capacity, my abilities, than anything else I have ever been a part. I learned and experienced true empathy, understanding, compassion, compromise, struggle, and forgiveness.
I can’t say at what point the feeling developed, but once it was there, it was impossible to ignore or misread: She and I were family and wherever she was, that was my home.

While we attempted to build a home together, a place where we lived that was decidedly ours, the real sense of “home,” that feeling, permeated everything, regardless of where we were physically.

When we traveled to Montreal or San Diego, Cuzco or Edinburgh, if we stayed in a hotel or with friends, that feeling was always there.

If I was with her, I was home.

Because we were together, I was home.

When we broke up, I lived in the shadow of what my life was for the better part of a year.

All of my post-college years were spent within this partnership, and many of my decisions, whether it be about career, where to live in the city or move out it, etc., were made as one half of this partnership.

I have few regrets about that, but it took a long time to recover from. I realized that nearly everything in my life could be reevaluated and realigned. The options were so vast that it was far easier to do nothing – to plod along well-tread paths rather than to try to tread new ones.

… two steps forward …
 
In the years following the trip with my parents, and the months following my breakup, home was defined by my circle of friends who not only helped me weather the storm, but also made it all worthwhile.

And then Occupy Wall Street came along.

I can make a direct connection to how all this is relevant and applicable to OWS and my activism work. But I think for now it’s enough to have put all this out there.

I know that it comes from a place of privilege to talk about home in an emotional sense, without the fear or concern regarding actual shelter that so many people in this nation, and across the world, have on a daily basis, not to mention the actual struggles for basic needs that I will probably never know.
 
I will be moving forward from this point – acknowledging this is my reality, putting it on the table, with a desire to learn and grow and evolve – knowing this is all just a tiny fragment of why I occupy.

… on Spokes Council …

… bi-coastal collaboration …

I was asked by my friend and comrade, the incredible Hilary Moore, who collaborates with Occupy Oakland, the Ruckus Society, Movement Generation, and wrote a pamphlet everyone should read titled, Organizing Cools The Planet, to write up some thoughts and observations regarding the implementation of a “spokes council” meeting format within Occupy Wall Street. Hilary said that Occupy Oakland is considering one and looking to harness feedback from those who currently use the model before diving into their own.

(brief side note, Hilary’s course at the ISE Intensive, Aligning with Frontline Communities has totally impacted and shifted the way I am seeing myself within the Occupy Movement and I look forward to writing about that soon.)

A spokes council, unlike a general assembly which allows for and encourages individual voices, utilizes a series of filters to limit the amount of voices in any conversation. At the meeting, each working group (or caucus) is given one spoke (person who speaks on its behalf). Each group confers, discusses, reaches consensus if necessary, and then empowers the spoke to deliver the message of the group. 

More info about the original proposal that created the OWS Operational Spokes Council as well as some background on the model itself can be read here.

Over Christmas I was able to share many of these thoughts with Occupy Minneapolis who are also considering adopting a spokes council for operational decisions. What follows is what I shared with Hilary. I look forward to hearing how the discussion with Occupy Oakland went and hope that they find spokes fruitful. I believe in the model as a meeting format, but I have concerns as well.

… thoughts on Spokes Council …

In my opinion the most effective OWS Operational Spokes Council was held Wednesday November 16, 2011. About 42 hours after Liberty Square was raided we no longer had an encampment for the Spokes Council to facilitate the operations of, yet we met anyway. We were in still in shock – in crisis mode – confused about the movement and our occupation, and how to move forward. The facilitators asked each Working Group to answer three questions and to present those answers to the Council.

     1. What are your immediate needs?

     2. What do you have to offer?

     3. Where do you see the movement going from here?

Each answer was written on huge sheets of paper on the wall so everyone could see. Now with lists of needs and offers out in the open, we could clearly see where there was overlap, and where holes existed. Communication, technology, and basic needs were areas of overlap in both categories.

The lasting legacy of the Operational Spokes Council thus far is the creation of Clusters ­– a cooperation of Working Groups. Two examples that came out of this meeting are Safety Cluster (Medical, Mediation, Non-Violent Communication, Safer Spaces, De-Escalation) and Communications Cluster (TechOps, Info, Media, PR, Press). 

Spokes Council has allowed us to get working groups in one place to begin to coordinate, to align resources and skills through face-to-face interactions. Something we have tried to do, and haven’t always had the time to do, is make space for Working Group Report Backs and Announcements, which can be a time for groups to express concerns or needs and then at the end of a meeting leave at least 15 minutes, if not more, of un-facilitated time for groups or individuals to connect and talk about issues or questions that were raised and connect with those who can be resources or partners. 

… back in time …

If I could go back in time and have the process by which Spokes was created altered drastically, rather than immediately granting authority to pass proposals and allocate funding, I would have Spokes be a coordination only body. Use it as a way to cull ideas, provide education, development and discussion, to establish support and buy-in for proposals that are shaped and work-shopped in this space but that eventually go before the General Assembly for consensus. This way, a lot of the work has already been done. Many of the questions, concerns and amendments are already addressed by the large amount of people developing it in Spokes, as well as by the clusters or individual working groups outside of the actual Spokes Council meeting. That way, by the time it comes to the General Assembly, it has the endorsement of all the groups that created it, and the Operational Spokes Council. 

Then perhaps after a period of time, once Spokes Council has earned the respect of the community, and trust in the work that its producing, if the GA feels its review of proposals created in Spokes is redundant, the GA can grant the power to allocate funds or pass proposals directly to Spokes.

Ideally this eliminates the misconception that Spokes and GA are competing for resources or power – that they aren’t in fact two sides of the same coin. They complement each other. They make each other stronger. Spokes crafts a proposal, does the leg work, establishes buy-in, and saves time in the GA by bringing well-honed operational proposals for approval; allowing for the General Assembly to focus on big picture discussions, movement wide decisions, etc and not getting bogged down in logistical or budgetary operations.

… foresight …

The worst thing about the OWS Operational Spokes Council was the admission process. Basically every Working Group or Caucus had to present themselves to the Council and explain why they felt they met the criteria for an operational group (as opposed to a movement group) or a caucus. We then went through a consensus process to admit them. Some groups got through very quickly without any pushback. Several, however, were incredibly contentious. This process was taking weeks, and had it not been for the raid that occurred as we were in the middle of it, was very much on track to destroy the community. Keeping the discussions objective proved an impossible task.

My advice would be to provide a seat at the table for every group that wants to be a part of the council while outlining in advance clear guidelines for participation and removal. We have been trying to reach consensus upon a set of Community Agreements that participants of Spokes Council must abide by and in a sense its almost too late.

… definitions …

A general note as well would be to clearly define the exact parameters under which the Spokes Council is to function. What is its intent, and what types of decisions does it make? This cannot be defined in vague terms. It must be explicit. Because of its design, inherently a filtering of voices for efficiency and culling of consensus up a ladder so to speak, a Spokes Council is not ideal for opinion based conversations, or topics where its ideal to have individual speakers be able to voice their concerns directly.

Discussions about ideals, values, visions are not suited for a spokes council. At least not the OWS Operational Spokes Council. The General Assembly or an open-space format are more appropriate places.

… onward …

Thats what I wrote to Hilary. I hope its helpful and that Occupy Oakland can learn from some of our missteps. I love that Occupations across the country, and the world, are learning from each other.

This Movement is growing so rapidly in part because of the wealth of information we are able to quickly share.

We all learn and grow and evolve based on each other’s successes as much as our failures.

And if we continue to do that – to not be deterred by missteps, not be discouraged by failures, to share our knowledge, to not reinvent the wheel – well then another world really is possible.