Outside the Circle

Cindy Milstein

Occupation in Philly, Day 8

Seems like some really bad, bad people called me a terrorist on Twitter today, to try to destroy Occupy Philly by creating a straw person (“the anarchist”), and of the many words of solidarity, I have say that Kotu Bajaj put it best, “Cindy’s the kinda of terrorist that kills with kittens and hugs”–although I’d substitute “convinces” for “kills.”

And just when I thought it couldn’t get better, the occupation in Philly amazes me yet again. After a day of vicious attacks on anarchists, often including me by name, as a divide-and-conquer strategy to destroy this beautiful movement/space, the outpouring of people showing solidarity was incredible; but much more incredible was the fact that people knew this was meant as an attack on all of us, on our occupation, on how well it’s actually making & taking its own collective power. The sign that we’re doing well is that we not only are targets of such tactics but that we can also withstand them; that they bring us closer. So many people hugged me tonight, from all political persuasions and of many colors, genders, ages, backgrounds–all to say, we have each other’s backs. So many people asked me how I was. I kept answering: “Great! Just great!” And I meant it. I mean it. We’re only being attacked–so far, primarily people of color and anarchists–because we seem easy targets to stir up hatred around in order to subdue and dismantle this uprising; but we’re only being attacked because we’re winning, because we have power together, not power over, and increasingly, achingly hard as it is sometimes, we’re doing the hard work of undoing ourselves and our socialization to become, faster than I ever imagined, new people who can be trusted to begin to stand with and for each other.

I hope to be able to release the final document–for now–outlining our confederated, directly democratic process, which puts power in the general assembly for major decisions, but that probably won’t be until Saturday or Sunday, since some details are going to be debated again this weekend. But I have to say that with each assembly, it’s more and more clear that everyone is starting to know the process, know the culture, and are eager to use and defend it, even after a 3-hour GA tonight.

This evening, we spent nearly 2 hours on a proposal to basically, unintentionally I think, move toward more of a representative democracy. A working group proposed that we respond to a letter of demands from the city of Philly (brought to the GA two days ago) by delegating 2-3 “reps” from each working group to meet with the city tomorrow, using demands that the one working group had devised. A bunch of us who are process geeks and also want to keep this GA focused on its key role as the decision-making body spoke up, getting to make impassioned interventions about direct democracy, for one, in a space where we’re actually doing it. (I honestly never thought I’d live to see, much less participate in something like this, and in the United States.) Our notion that the whole proposal was framed backward in terms of where power lies–with the city, with reps, or with the GA–was convincing, and a friendly amendment that basically brought power back to the GA ended up winning by large acclaim. We’re going to discuss as a GA what (probably local and/or occupation oriented) demands we want, write them up to discuss again, and then finally decide on a written list of demands in our response letter, and send that letter to the city but also post, email, tweet, etc. far and wide. After that, we likely will decide to have a group of delegated folks from all working groups sit down with the city, or we might revisit that question; but regardless, in the name of transparency, we want everything in writing; in the name of horizontal and shared power, we want all of us in the GA to hammer out demands–again, probably not wide-ranging and more universal demands but probably Philly specific, which is kinda how I think direct democracy should work right now, as we carve out these “occupations everywhere” and learn, step by step, mistake by mistake, how to self-govern.

Each night we get a little better; each night people see this as their space to have and hold and defend and love; and each night I see people’s eyes light up as they realize their own power to self-determination, their own power, with others, to self-organization–the lightbulb in their head that what they’ve been taught (fear, submission, following orders, etc.) is an illusion and this, this world we’re busy building day by day, is the actual reality, the quality stuff that gives life meaning.

One last note before I yet again get another short night of sleep. I love the anarchists here in Philly. Grounded, organized, focused, savvy, humble, warm, and all eager to see people as people and work with “where people are” in the real-life struggles that impact so many more of us, day by day. After all of us fretting a lot during the day over the Web site, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and email attacks on anarchists, a group of anarchists wrote this eloquent piece, brought a red & black flag, and asked a bunch of us to stand before people at the end of the general assembly. I’ll try to find the words they wrote, and using the “people’s mic” technique, spoke (with everything repeated back)–and also try to post the live stream feed, since all our general assemblies are taped and broadcast!–but one highlight was: “Yes, we have an agenda. It’s freedom. Mutual aid. Solidarity. Direct democracy.” This was a good night to be an anarchist, among anarchists; but it was an extra good night to be a human, among other humans, trying our damnest to treat each other as individuated humans, as people we’re starting to get to know and care about, because we’re on this rollercoaster together, flying toward a new world that none of us can quite see in the distance, but with each turn, each shout of joy, and sometimes that awful bump of fear in your stomach, we seem to be coming around each bend even more committed to Occupy Philly.

Always one last thing! If you’re occupying in NYC, Denver, or anywhere else under threat this evening, know that many folks were talking and thinking about you tonight, wishing we could help, and hoping that you weather yet another storm. Solidarity from the growing encampment that’s turning into a city from below, here in Philly!

p.s. I biked home, with my housemate and co-occupier Alex Knight, and when we went into the kitchen to grab some late-night eats, we found that someone had occupied the cupboards over our sink with signs that read, “Treat others the way you want to be treated. Do you dishes. Occupy Philly.” I love this historical moment.


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