Outside the Circle

Cindy Milstein

Occupation in Philly, Day 1 (October 6)

First autonomous action at occupied city hall in Philly: we brought a couch, chatting “occupy the couch” and “there’s going to furniture working group!” Some folks replied, “our home!”

And now, an hour into Philly occupation, there are probably about 1,000 to 1,5000 people already. I never thought I’d be able to say this, at a space that instantly become a do-it-ourselves community: it’s working; we’re working; this us really what direct, confederated democracy looks like, in actuality. Or as one sign declared, “This is real!”

As the occupation began, a bunch of us anarchists hung banners, painted the night before: “Commons Not Capitalism,” read one; and another (my favorite, because it’s true today) proclaimed, “We’re Occupied with Direct Democracy.” Our occupation engaged in two general assemblies on this first day of occupation—where thousands worked though proposals and made decisions together—and implemented the “CoCo”—the coordinating council for all the working groups, which daily will send delegates (rotating regularly) before each general assembly to work out issues and send proposals to the general assembly, for decision making by the GA. Confederation works! Direct democracy works! And among so many folks who have never, ever done it.

The general assembly structure involves the basic agenda of welcome, shared guidelines, process, working group reports, proposals (1-2), and housekeeping announcements. During the proposals section, basically: someone explains the proposal, we take clarifying questions, then take concerns, and then test for agreement or not. If not, we break into small groups to talk about it, return for more concerns, test again, maybe revisit a bit more, and then do a more binding straw poll. Each time, people stayed utterly focused, expressed wide-ranging and thoughtful concerns, listened to each other. and changed their minds in thoughtful ways–or tonight, decided to move one proposal to a working group and revisit tomorrow (permit or no permit).

Besides the twice-daily general assembly as the key decision-making body, each working group is its own “direct democracy,” figuring out how to self-management everything from a kids space to comfort, tech team to legal, medics to fun, and each working group sends one rotating delegate to the coordinating council (CoCo) 1 hour before each general assembly, to generate which proposals will be discussed and decided at the general assembly. We also (the facilitation and directly democratic working committee) set up a “people’s mic area” that is exclusively for people to simply talk to each other, about their hopes, issues, fears, dreams, aspirations, ideas, life, etc. Alongside that, we’ve set up a “people’s wall,” where people can start visually and verbally posting “why they are here.”

Oh, and we’re using amplification, ’cause direct democracy means people need to hear each other so they can dialogue, deliberate, and decide. General assembly 1 (us four facilitators) was a megaphone; general assembly 2 this evening was professional amplification courtesy of the Stage Hands Union!

Longtime friend Wispy and I, along with two new great people, facilitated the first general assembly—as part of the facilitation and direct democracy working group. We split up the agenda items, and I got to facilitate the part on process and direct democracy. For those who know me, this is about the closest to a dream come true as I can imagine, especially because it really worked to let hundreds of people make this place their own. One guy came up to me afterward, saying: “Thank you for making this protest feel safe and making me feel included; I never come to these things.” I responded, ‘But it’s not a protest; we’re creating our own community and making our own decisions.” His eyes light up, and two hours later, I saw him still in the occupied square, starting to pitch in to make it his own.

And to that pesky question that those, blinded by the status quo of this world, keeping asking, “What do we want?” the answer is in the occupation itself, on the ground: spaces and places make our own world, which is basically what it felt like today.

Ended my 14-hour day at our do-it-ourselves occupation by, first, seeing some 50 people circled up for what looked like a meeting at 10:30 p.m. When I went over to ask what they were discussing, someone said: “People, decided to spend time talking and getting to know each other.” And second, by helping to gather comfy chairs and more tables (supposedly with desks, armchairs, and maybe more couches on the way) to bring tomorrow, as part of the autonomous “furniture working group.”

Soon, once I bike the half-hour trip home, I’m going to happily occupy my bed.

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This entry was posted on October 18, 2011 by in Dispatches from Occupy Philly.
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