Outside the Circle

Cindy Milstein

Occupation in Philly, Day 5

A simple little cardboard sign, hand-lettered with “G8 GA” with a slash crossing out the “G8,” kind of said it all for me today, in what felt pretty close to utopia on the newly transformed city center plaza this evening under a misty full moon while films of uprisings from all around the world were broadcast on the side of city hall. So much shifted today, only a handful of days into this quirky, near-spontaneous experiment in building a society in microcosm from different, disparate, often-atomized people throw together by their fears, immiseration, and maybe some hopes too. Yesterday, racial tensions flared, snitches were lurking around, people seemed to be angry and on edge, and everything felt like it was falling apart. On day five, amid hundreds of tents, actually working working groups starting to bond, the first unpermitted march to decry Columbus Day and share stories of how peoples have struggled to make spaces and places their own, something shifted. Direct democracy worked.

Our evening general assembly (GA) seemed to suddenly recognize its own self-constituted power, and seemed to suddenly be adamant about using and preserving it. We grappled with a really tough, divisive proposal from the day before, related to whether we wanted a police liaison. It a question of transparency, accountability, and us determining, as a GA, when and if we wanted to talk to or engage with the police. As at most of these occupations, many people think of the police as friendly, and issues of, say, racism or brutality are neatly ignored. But tonight, through a focused, well-facilitated dialogue, where people not only spoke but really listened, not only the process of confederated direct democracy but the substantive content of it shone as bright as the moon. In the end, hundreds of people who started off at this GA trusting the police and a police liaison near-unanimously voted (only 5 against) to disband that police “working group.” And suddenly, out of this school of way-too-fast learning by doing that on day five is really truly working, on the heels of our vote, cries of “this is what (direct) democracy looks like” suddenly rose up. I plopped down on the cool concrete under a perfect night sky, with anarchist friends and new friends of all types & political perspectives circled all around in groups, chatting away happily, and I marveled that the hard, frustrating, exhausting, dispiriting work of crafting self-governance and self-organization in a mere five days had, almost unbelievably, forged something beyond & maybe bigger than any of our dreams.

We may have lost the vote on whether to accept a permit for the space we’d already occupied (downside of day two, I think, of our occupation), but anarchists decided to take the high road, accept the directly democratic decision-making process, learn from our mistake (i.e., next time we need to participate in the conversation, which we did tonight re: police liaison committee or not), and put out a thoughtful piece on why the mayor isn’t our friend, even if he offers a permit; “The Mayor and Police Are Not Your Friends.” Here’s a link to the piece and a PDF version:


The link, by the way, is on the Web site called RadOccupyPhilly that a bunch of us anarchists pulled together–one in particular, so kudos to her! http://radoccupyphilly.wordpress.com/


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