Outside the Circle

Cindy Milstein

Occupation in Philly, Day 36 (November 10)

“Who Knows What Will Happen between Today and Tomorrow!”

My thought for the day: “It’s been one of the most profound experiences to be part of actually existing self-governance among diverse people in a public space of our own making. That doesn’t mean it’s perfect; I’m more convinced of direct democracy than ever, but also more perplexed by how to make it work in varying contexts and under present-day conditions.”

Well, my thought a couple days ago, but it still holds true, even though last night’s general assembly was about the most disturbing one yet. Not because of the conversation per se–the last night of our 5 nights of discussion concerning the “should we stay or should we go, or do both” before trying to vote on a collectively crafted (from this discussion) proposal tomorrow night. But rather because a bunch of guys–mostly white guys with, if you ask me, a rather heavy dose of patriarchal attitude–from circles such as the Ron Paul encampment-within-the-encampment, the new “reasonable solutions” working group, and the tech tent, stood on both sides of the GA stage with crossed arms and none-too-friendly looks on their faces. Right next to the stage and the facilitators stood the guy who carries a gun on his side, legally, but again, none-too-invitingly in the context of our occupation.

They had come out in force on this last night of discussion because they were concerned they wouldn’t get their way (although I’m still not clear on exactly what they want), or that others were somehow “hijacking” this movement–“hijacking” being a favorite word among those who seem more intent on lashing out at others than realizing that many of those others, including the anarchists they seem to so like to despite, have never tried to lash out at them. Indeed, if anyone stands in principle and practice by the notion of a “diversity of tactics” (far, far from the notion of “anything goes” and in fact a counterweight to it, but that’s another blog post someday soon), it’s us anarchists and like-minded others.

For instance, when the Ron Paul & like-minded folks trekked an ingenious “warming station” building over to the municipal services plaza next to our occupied plaza on Sunday, and then ran over to ask a bunch of us anarchists–about to start an interactive forum on fixing up our own city–to come to their aid when the police arrived to oust them, we did. As did other radicals and direct action folks. Likely all of us are none-too-happy about the Ron Paul signs and some of the stances that go with Ron Paul; but all of us decided it was important to stand in solidarity when part of our encampment, even when doing autonomous acts of civil disobedience, is threatened by the police. (I must admit I hesitated for about 5 minutes; after all, it’s pretty clear the Ron Paul tent is its own small separatist world within our new world, and between the electoralism and racist/patriarchal and anti-anarchist sensibilities wafting out of that direction at times, well, 5 minutes of hesitation isn’t too bad. That said, they were super nice last Sunday night when I asked to borrow their tall ladder to re-hang our indie media banner at the front of Occupy Philly–just part of that profound and perplexing space we’re creating! And for the record, or for those who feel at all insulted by this or other of my blog posts, I’m a pretty nice person, and pretty good about listening and dialoguing, even when I get rather passionate about ideas and talk way too fast; this really should be a world in which we all fit, and offer solidarity to each other, rather than demonize and spread rumors about certain people–er, people like me.)

But I say “my thought for today” because when I wrote those words a couple days ago, they were typed in an email to a student, who kindly invited me to speak about anarchism in action (my new favorite phrase) and/at occupations at Evergreen College in Olympia this February; but that same student sent my words back to me this evening, adding: “This is a sentiment thousands of people all over the world have shared, in a way, and courageous occupiers in Olympia as well. I’m very excited for you to share with us and us with you. Obviously there is so much to do with the potential this movement has gained recently, [and] who knows what will happen between today and tomorrow!”

As to the profound and perplexing self-governance we’re forging, I was asked today to write 500 words or so on that topic for a radical newspaper project geared toward Occupy Philly, using the 5 night of our “stay or go, or both” conversation and decision, so I’ll save my thoughts on that for another day, another medium–the old-fashioned kind, which you can hold in your hands and where black ink rubs off onto your fingers. Suffice it to say, tomorrow night’s GA might be the oddest or loveliest yet. Hard to imagine it will be dull. And guess I’ll add this one thought now: the Ron Paul, “reasoned solution,” and other bro-dudes continent last night kind of a bookended this whole “stay our ground or take new land” debate, with the polarizing pole on the other side being the radical caucus and its proposal “should we resist?” The two bookends share, to my mind, a sense of wanting to get their way, regardless of who feels stepped on, and without much regard for the idea that deliberation and dialogue among non-like-minded folks actually is a wonderful and actually integral part of direct democracy on tough issues. (Everyone in my small breakout group last night during the GA, for instance, was equally stymied about whether we should all stay put on Dilworth Plaza or also expand outward to Thomas Paine Plaza–myself included–and the conversation really helped to show what a difficult question that was, with none of us being able to say we thoroughly stood for one side or the other, but saw pros and cons of each scenario, which I think reflects the reality of our situation right now at Occupy Philly.)

* * *

A few other, random and perhaps unrelated thoughts for this rainy fall evening, on a day, like so many days of late, when my “best-laid plans” to focus got waylaid time and time, always gladly, but always to the detriment of things like wage work and overdue volunteer projects.

* * *

First, related to the preponderance of white-hetero-guys-with-an-attitude at Occupy Philly’s GA last night: I sometimes get the sense that the occupy movement is, in many ways, the last great stand of the American dream. That’s a good thing in most ways, save for one: people are suffering.

But two of the key “constituencies” of this occupy sensibility, at least initially and maybe in terms of who feels entitled to now try to take control from the rest of us “hijackers,” are for one, middle- to upper-middle-class college students for whom there is no future, in the way that they understand “future” via the trajectory of undergrad, grad, secure job, good pay, marriage, kids, home (the original occupiers, now more politicized, savvy, and “anarchistic”); and second, the working-class to middle-class white hetero patriarchal (maybe racist, homophobic, etc.) guys with subservient wife/girlfriend and kids, no or bad/precarious job, no health care, lost or soon-to-be lost home. That is, the guys who were the American dream, or thought they were, and now have no future in the present.

The student types, whether students or not, seem to have the emotional capacity, resiliency, and openness that is now allowing them to work through their fears in health ways: listening, learning, fully dedicating themselves to these DIY spaces and others within them, innovating, changing, etc. It’s been amazing to watch this “constituency” face their fears and discover that they do have a future: it’s us, together, doing these occupations, as models toward a new future.

The second group appears to lack the emotional capacity or resiliency or openness to deal with their fears, and instead turns their fear outward, seeing conspiracies, enemies, the “other” who is against them, including many or most of the other occupiers. They are grasping onto the last straws of an American that is, thankfully in many ways, disappearing–toward a nonmajority-white demographic, away from male-headed nuclear families and sterile suburbia, etc., etc. Rather than see the occupation as their way of linking arms, metaphorically, in a grand act of civil disobedience that’s about civilly and voluntarily organizing a horizontal, egalitarian society, however, they seem intent on bringing everyone down with them–metaphorically abusing and battering this occupation movement that they claim they are so committed to, and doing so but trying to control things: people, types of people, votes, resources, and other things that are, in the end, uncontrollable by any of us within “occupy everything.” Because that is the profundity of this movement: it’s all of us, or none of us, if we want a future.

* * *

And speaking of future/no future, as if some cruel joke, on what should have been an amazing night of celebration at Occupy Oakland, on that commune’s one-month anniversary of such much achievement, yet another young black male in Oakland was shot and killed, not by occupiers or having anything to do with the occupation, but right on its doorstep nonetheless. This would hardly be “news” in Oakland, although it should be; young black men die so regularly it’s almost as “commonplace” and “accepted” as the thousands of homeless on San Francisco’s streets–both unremarked, remarkably, and seen as a given. Oscar Grant changed all that, in certain ways, and one of those ways is what made Oscar Grant Plaza and the general strike possible. I don’t think Occupy Oakland would have achieved so much were it not, sadly, for Oscar Grant’s YouTubed murder by police and all the organizing, rage, agitating, and cross-race, cross-cultural, cross-class, cross-politics (even when hard and anger) relationships that were forged.

As I sat down this evening to try, once again, to focus on wage work, I made the “mistake” of toggling from my copyediting work on my computer to Facebook, and got the news flash, only minutes after it happened, that this young black man, in a long line of young black men, had been murdered at 14th and Broadway in Oakland right near the encampment. I clicked from my one Bay Area real-life friend’s FB page to another, trying to find news and insight, and could only find frantic fragments on strangers’ pages and a link to KTVU’s live stream news feed. As it turns out, KTVU’s news crew was sitting right there at the murder scene, about to cover the one-month anniversary of Occupy Oakland, and was able to film the story within seconds of the shooting and then report on it, raw with the freshness of what had unexpectedly happened.

So I watched and listened. What a crazy new world created by our occupations, outside our occupations (except for the crazy old world of young black men dying): in KTVU’s reporting of this unrelated shooting and murder, it mentioned the complexities in relation to the occupation, mayor, and Oakland in general as well as good work by occupation medics, who seemed to be first on scene to help the shooting victim; KTVU then moved on to a story about UC Berkeley, with a reporter walking over to a general assembly in progress, explaining that they were using a collective process to discuss, sans leaders, the impending student strike, as all this were “normal,” and ending with a plug for unedited footage of police beating UC students last night.

I turned to SF Gate, the SF Chronicle‘s online page, which quickly reported that “a number of people from the [occupation] camp came over and tried to break it up [the assailants kicking the shooting victim], but [the witness] said one of the assailants then pulled out a gun. . . . After the shooting, a number of people from the camp stood in a line and locked their arms, trying to keep onlookers away so emergency personnel could tend to the victim.”

And back to KTVU’s live stream, the coverage mentioned that an Occupy Oakland medic gave mouth-to-mouth resuscitation to the person who was shot before the ambulance and paramedics arrived. Then the live feed suddenly went extra live, as the teleisio reporters, thinking they were off-air and chatting about the murder among themselves, said, to paraphrase, “Let’s check the Occupy Oakland Web site; they’ll be trying to spin the shooting so it doesn’t reflect badly on the occupation.” (Of course, over the the Occupy Oakland and Occupy Oakland Bridge Caucus Facebook pages, both were expressing shock, sadness, and compassion.)

* * *

Maybe we will see another future, another tomorrow. I had a glimpse of that today in a charming piece called “Demystifying Anarchism at Occupy Oakland” (follow this link, please: http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2011/11/10/18698644.php), which noted, in part: “We are not free until we determine our own lives. Instead of accepting the way things are now, anarchism stands for a horizontal society where every human enjoys the most freedom and relative equality possible―a society where people stand together and share resources from each according to ability, to each according to need.” More touchingly, this short piece tried to explain how anarchism relates to what’s happening, in good ways, at the occupation: “several Occupy Oakland GA resolutions are based on anarchist ideas and actions, including: the rejection of government endorsements and political parties; the agreement to treat every GA speaker equally with no special privileges; he agreement to not allow police within the encampment; [and] solidarity with all striking workers and students.” And most of all, it included just about the sweetest illustration of anarchism in action in these occupations that I’ve seen yet–and am now eager to share everywhere, so here goes:

Note: For those of you who live nearby, my friend Wispy and I plan to do a “Demystifying Anarchism at Occupy Philly” workshop this coming weekend, inspired by our Oakland anarchist comrades above and hopefully with a copy of their written piece in hand to share. Stay tuned to the people-powered indie site I and others are doing here–occupyphillymedia.org–or my Facebook page–if you’re a cyber or honest-to-goodness friend–for date/time details.

* * *

Before I transition, via sleep, between today and tomorrow, dreaming of future perfects, one last thought:

Some days feel so utterly full, so over full with emotion and ideas–from another black youth murdered in Oakland, to a stimulating conversation with a good friend here in Philly about the perplexing politics of occupation, to kind invites over email to write and speak, to a warm shower on a gray rainy afternoon, to yet again connecting with another wonderful new person because of this wonderful new moment, to biking down streets lined with semi-dilapidated brick row houses in this way-too-poor city amid the translucent orange-red-pink leaves clinging bravely, brightly–kind of like us occupiers–to the trees in a battle against the autumn wind that’s trying so hard to fell them.

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This entry was posted on November 11, 2011 by in Dispatches from Occupy Philly.
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