Tuesday, November 29, 2011

my trip to Occupy Denver


Jeff's 11-25,26-11 Occupy Denver Adventure


I went down about 1:30pm to the Denver Civic Center Park. There were no tents. Along the north-south sidewalk on the east side of the park were tarps, sometimes with people and supplies under them, sometimes looking like there must just be some supplies under them (like sleeping bag and such). There were maybe 40 people around the area but it was hard to tell who was an Occupier and who was just there. One guy had an "info" sign around his neck so I talked to him some. He
said the 3pm general assembly was normally about camp matters, while the 7pm GA was more about Occupy matters. I didn't make the 7pm GA, thnking I'd go to the Saturday one, but then it turned out they didn't have them on Saturdays, so I blew that.

The general look of the Occupy site in the park is that it is a bit haphazard, but that is probably due to the police having raided their encampment a few weeks earlier and taking their tents and cooking equipment. Along the north-south sidewalk by the road are maybe 15 to 20 tarps with what could be either people or supplies under them. This is where people sleep. There are two or three such tarp bundles across the street as well. Here and there are knots of people standing or sitting just talking together. People come and go constantly. The strong wind was blowing leaves up against the tarps, and now and then a cardboard sign into the street. A very few people would stand by the road with signs, so there is not much visible to show just what this group of people is there for. The eight or so police cars are right on the grass facing the occupiers, perhaps 50 feet away, scattered between the corners of the site. The police never seem to get out of their cars, and the cars are running. They are a total waste of taxpayer money.

I talked to a few of the Occupiers about how things are going. I'm guessing 20-30 people live there full-time, just based on the number of tarps. On Saturday I saw a couple move in with their own sleeping bags, so that was 2 more.

There were people from Occupy NYC, Santa Rosa, Los Angeles, New York,
and me from Rapid City, all visiting and checking out the Denver situation. During the 3pm GA about 25 of us were in a circle, and the LA guy said he was there for any suggestions about
their upcoming explusion from in front of City Hall. The mayor there gave them a midnight Sunday night deadline to move. There weren't many suggestions offered at the circle. One drunk guy was there and kept trying to talk, but the "stacker" who handles the order of those who want to speak handled him well by talking to him. I suppose they deal with him once in a while so know how to handle him.

The GA lasted maybe 1/2 hour with not much being done except the outsiders saying why they were there. There were questions about the planned Children's Rally for the next day, such as whether they had supplies for sign making.

Not many people held signs on Friday. I talked to one woman who did. She comes down frequently, she said. While we were talking, a guy came up and wanted to donate some food and a sleeping bag he had brought. The other guys told him where he could temporarily park without being
ticketed, so a bunch of us went over and waited for him. He brought 8 boxes of canned food, beans, and such, plus a sub-zero sleeping bag that was set aside for a pregnant woman who was going to start Occupying. We took everything back to the park where it was partially distributed. They don't have a storage unit or anything, so one guy said he would eventually take stuff to a house nearby. Another older guy came by later and asked what they needed. I didn't follow that
conversation so don't know what they asked for.

All the time I was there Friday, there were police cars surrounding the Occupy area. On the park side were usually 4 city police cars, I think with just one policeman in each. Across the street on the state capitol property were usually 2 or 3 hghway patrol cars. These had 2 people in each. So, on average there were 8 such vehicles surrounding the Occupiers.


I got to the park about 11:30am for the noon rally. There seemed to be another event going on off to the side in the park. This turned out to be the ending of the first Children's Rally. I didn't ask how that went, but there were several children at the big rally.

About 250 people marched maybe a mile through downtown streets, the federal mint building being the midpoint. The Anarchists had a big black banner, and the official march banner was perhaps 4 feet by 30 feet, with Occupy Denver and other stuff on it. There were a few quick speeches, directions on who should walk in front (the banner and the children) and off we went. The police blocked traffic when we crossed a street corner, which was nice. Bicycle cops rode along on both side of the marchers. There was chanting most of the way, like "Who's Street? Our Street!" and "We are the 99 percent." There were plenty of signs, most crudely made though. My favorite was "The only hope for the future lies within the proles." I saw four official Guy Fawkes masks, only one of which was actually being worn. Later I asked one of the guys if he had protested with Anonymous against Scientology, since I had protested with them in Denver three times. He said "it's Anonymous, man." Oh well.

We stopped twice for speeches. Each time it was mostly kids who gave what might be called encouraging statements. They were cute but not too profound. They used a combination of bull horn and "mic check" so everyone would hear them.

The march concluded on the steps of the Capitol building, where adults gave speeches. One was about the congressional bill that would supposedly make it clear that corporations are not people. But the speaker stated that this was a flawed bill and needed to be amended. Another speaker talked about why Monsanto was supporting a bill in Colorado to legalize pot growing (so they could monopolize the market, of course). The speakers were long-winded and the audience was simply the protesters, so I went down to the street with my sign to picket. Another guy joined me, so we were the only ones on the street holding signs. We had a good conversation. He had been to most of the previous marches, including the one where the cops used violence. One guy asked for a ride, which my new friend offered to give, but then those people never came back. Another guy used my phone, but the number he had me dial was disconnected.

I left about 4pm again after finding out that there were no General Assemblies on Saturdays.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

a more in-depth history of OWS


"No matter what happens next, the movement’s center is likely to shift from the N.Y.C.G.A., just as it shifted from Adbusters, and form somewhere else, around some other circle of people, ideas, and plans. 'This could be the greatest thing that I work on in my life,' Justine Tunney, of OccupyWallSt.org, said. 'But the movement will have other Web sites. Over the coming weeks and months, as other occupations become more prominent, ours will slowly become irrelevant.' She sounded as though the irrelevance of her project were both inevitable and desirable. 'We can’t hold on to any of that authority,' she continued. 'We don’t want to.'”

This is a more in-depth history of the beginnings of Occupy Wall Street. Adbusters came up with the idea and the date.  They attempted to steer it from there, but New York started their own General Assembly and pretty much did what consensus came up with from there, regardless of what Adbusters was thinking.  And as the operator of occupywallst.org says, her site may well be replaced by some other that becomes more useful to the movement.  That's just how the ball rolls.

So Occupy Wall Street shows once again that horizontal organizing can work.  There are problems, as the article shows (the loudest people get the biggest say, for example).  But it also shows that these things can be worked out on the fly, right during the process of what you are up to.

The article also makes a great point of how some people naturally rise to be in positions where they SEEM to be in a leadership role. I consider that these people are the personality types or those with the background that give them experience or training in facilitating, organizing, etc.  The word in the article I like is "defer."  Others defer to these people because they have shown that they are capable to do certain functions. But unlike top-down movements, these people are in their position because others defer to them.  It is not that they hold a hierarchical position. It is not that they hold that position for a certain time. It is that so long as others defer to them, they hold their position.  When others decide that someone else should hold that position, consensus rules and others start to perform that function.

And it's fun to note that had the city been passive toward OWS, they might well have packed it up in a couple of weeks and moved on to their next activity.  Instead, the movement now has to first establish its right to protest before it can now move on.  The heavy-handed approach by local police to OWS will backfire everywhere.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

How OWS almost wasn't


"The decision to relocate to Zuccotti Park was made 'on the fly' according to Justin Wedes, a member of the New York General Assembly, because of fears that they were about to be 'kettled' by police.
Zuccotti Park was simply the nearest of the five back-up locations the Assembly's "tactics team" had picked out, although there was concern that it would not be big enough.
Once the protesters had 'flooded' into the park, says Mr Wedes, he grabbed a megaphone and asked everyone to sit down in what he describes now as the 'first act of occupation' but there were still fears among the crowd that they would be evicted before they had a chance to pitch their tents."

Meticulous plans don't guarantee success.  Flexible planning might help, but it's no guarantee either, as OWS shows.  The trick is to get out there and try.  Do your best, stay flexible, get ideas from all sides, and keep plugging away.  If you want to accomplish something you have to actually go do it, whether you're sure it will work or not.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

thoughts from a pre-Internet activist


I'll paraphrase his 10 points as best I can, with my thoughts in parentheses:

1. Organize (or at least I think that's his point)
2. Any leadership positions are temporary and recallable (Anonymous can ignore this one)
3. Struggle against the media's propensity to define you by one small piece of you
4. the movement should be completely transparent from top to bottom
5. as your movement grows, eventually you'll need to switch from consensus to representative organization (my advice is, struggle hard to not get that complex that you need this switch)
6. work with like-minded already existing groups
7. Include the unemployed and poor, but understand they will need help as they help you
8. Seek to spread the movement geographically
9. Invite the unions, but understand their natural political prejudices
10. Speak the language of your audience. Don't talk over anybody or use insider language when you are reaching out to the public.

Whew.  After I read this article I liked the points, but trying to bare-bones what the author is saying is harder than I thought it would be.  All in all these are common sense ideas. 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Silent Treatment after you got the Pepper Spray Treatment


"In the video above, UC Davis students, silent, with linked arms, confront Chancellor Linda Katehi just one day after the incident. It's hard to tell exactly how many of them are present, but there they are, a huge crowd. They're seated in the same cross-legged-on-the-ground position their fellow students were yesterday just before Lt. John Pike pulled out a can of pepper spray and pulled the trigger.
Note that Katehi remains silent during what looks like her perp walk. She does not acknowledge the presence of the students. And yet, within an hour she was live on CNN explaining away the pepper-spray incident to host Don Lemon, who had to cut her off a few times because her responses were so long-winded."

I'm sort of dumbstruck by this video in many ways.  The self-control, the brilliance, the  poignancy of the moment by using silence, and sitting in the way those who had been pepper sprayed were sitting; this just amazes me.  It was like the students saying to the dean, here, you can pepper spray us now.  Go ahead.  You had the cops do it to us yesterday.

When I hung out with Anonymous as they protested Scientology, it gave me hope for our future.  When I see much of what is coming out of OWS, I am again moved to great optimism.

Yes, a lot of this is due to new technology and how people are using it. But from this video you can see that it is still the spirit of the people that is the most important ingredient.  And these students have that in spades.

Best professor letter EVAH!


"Your words express concern for the safety of our students. Your actions express no concern whatsoever for the safety of our students. I deduce from this discrepancy that you are not, in fact, concerned about the safety of our students. Your actions directly threaten the safety of our students. And I want you to know that this is clear. It is clear to anyone who reads your campus emails concerning our 'Principles of Community' and who also takes the time to inform themselves about your actions. You should bear in mind that when you send emails to the UC Davis community, you address a body of faculty and students who are well trained to see through rhetoric that evinces care for students while implicitly threatening them. I see through your rhetoric very clearly. You also write to a campus community that knows how to speak truth to power. That is what I am doing."

   Woah.  Just woah.  This is how EVERYTHING should be done. Straight talk.  No political mushiness.  Just say what you mean.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Do new information and communication technologies (ICTs) empower repressive regimes at the expense of civil society, or vice versa?


"The main contributions and highlights of my dissertation include:
* New dataset on protests, ICTs, political and economic variables over 18 years.
* New econometric analysis and contribution to quantitative political science.
* New conceptual framework to assess impact of ICTs on social, political change.
* New operational application of conceptual framework to assess impact of ICTs.
* New datasets on independent citizen election observation in repressive states.
* New insights into role of ICTs in civil resistance against authoritarian regimes.
* New comprehensive literature on impact of ICTs on protests, activism, politics.
* New targeted policy recommendations based on data driven empirical analysis.
* New lessons learned and best practices in using the Ushahidi platform."

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

OWS figures how to deal with provocateurs


"When confronted with a rabble-rouser, protesters use a technique they call de-escalation, talking provocateurs down or putting their bodies between people throwing punches. In tenser situations, they have encircled troublemakers and ushered them to the edge of the park, one time while yelling “get out, get out,” another time while chanting “om.” But several times, people who have been kicked out or arrested have returned."

I like this. It's a passive way to deal with people who want to disrupt the movement or turn to violent means.  It's good to see OWS working through these problems and coming up with nonviolent solutions.  It's also interesting to see that OWS can accomplish quite a bit without any hierarchical structure.  That does not mean there isn't a need for structure, just not a vertical chain of power.

Monday, November 7, 2011

An old hippie provides sage advice to OWS


1. Let’s be clear: It is absolutely OK to insist on behavior norms.
2. It is OK to draw boundaries between those who are clearly working toward our goals, and those who are clearly not.  
3. The consensus model has a fatal flaw, which is this: It’s very easy for power to devolve to the people who are willing to throw the biggest tantrums. 
4. Once you’ve accepted the right of the group to set boundaries around people’s behavior, and exclude those who put their personal rights ahead of the group’s mission and goals, the next question becomes: How do we deal with chronic a**holes?
5. It is not wrong for you to set boundaries this way.

* * * 
Great advice from an experienced voice.   

Friday, November 4, 2011

violent subgroup within OWS causing problems


"It wasn't the only time during a huge Occupy demonstration in Oakland this week that protesters found themselves on opposite sides. When dozens of black clad marchers began attacking a supermarket, others urged them to stop -- finally linking arms to protect the store from further destruction. "


"A majority of Occupy Oakland protesters sought Thursday to distance themselves from masked vandals who they said had undercut the movement by hijacking the tail end of a mostly peaceful protest, damaging downtown buildings and clashing with police."


"If you see someone trying to incite violence, start with the assumption that that person is undercover, Homeland Security, cop, or whatever, because this is the history of America where those in charge have tried to ignite people, incite them into acts of violence..."

This seems to be a common problem in protests in the U.S. I saw it in the 1990's in anti-war protests.  Gandhi would call off protests if violence started.  So it has to be something that protesters plan how to counteract.

My opinion is that the legitimate protesters must do everything they can to show that those committing violence are not part of the protest. Immediately separate yourself from them.  Point them out to the police, cooperating with prosecution of anyone who vandalizes or physically attacks someone.  Shame the vandals by yelling at them, pointing at them, chanting "we don't want this."  Try to talk to their group ahead of any action to let them know their tactics are counterproductive and not wanted.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

some quotes from a good book

some quotes from A Movement of Movements, edited by Tom Mertes, 2004

"We have not come to lead you, we have not come to tell you what to do, but to ask for your help." [Subcomandante Marcos, p. 7]

"Our analysis of the farmers' movements of Latin America and Brazil taught us that whenever a mass movement was subordinated to a party, it was weakened by the effects of inner-party splits and factional battles.  It was not that we didn't value parties, or thought it wrong to join them.  But the movement had to be free from external political direction." [Joao Pedro Stedile, p. 21]

"Our success or failure should be defined by the vision of the world we develop, and the kind of solutions for it we offer, rather than by whether we can tactically out-manoeuvre the most powerful combined police forces in the world..." [John Sellers, p. 184]

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

OWS works on structure


"When Graeber and his friends showed up on Aug. 2, however, they found out that the event wasn’t, in fact, a general assembly, but a traditional rally, to be followed by a short meeting and a march to Wall Street to deliver a set of predetermined demands ('A massive public-private jobs program' was one, 'An end to oppression and war!' was another). In anarchist argot, the event was being run by 'verticals'—top-down organizations—rather than 'horizontals' such as Graeber and his friends. Sagri and Graeber felt they’d been had, and they were angry.
What happened next sounds like an anarchist parable. Along with Kohso, the two recruited several other people disgruntled with the proceedings, then walked to the south end of the park and began to hold their own GA, getting down to the business of planning the Sept. 17 occupation. The original dozen or so people gradually swelled, despite the efforts of the event’s planners to bring them back to the rally. The tug of war lasted until late in the evening, but eventually all of the 50 or so people remaining at Bowling Green had joined the insurgent general assembly.
'The groups that were organizing the rally, they also came along,' recalls Kohso. 'Then everyone stayed very, very late to organize what committees we needed.'
While there were weeks of planning yet to go, the important battle had been won. The show would be run by horizontals, and the choices that would follow—the decision not to have leaders or even designated police liaisons, the daily GAs and myriad working-group meetings that still form the heart of the protests in Zuccotti Park—all flowed from that."

* * * *

In my previous post I mentioned that it appeared to me that the OWS was using an organizational structure that would only work for smaller, less complex groups.  OWS seems to be figuring this out as well and has proposed adding to the General Assembly a Spokes Council:


The Occupy Wall Street Spokes Council
A Spokes Council is structured similar to the spokes of a wheel:  It is designed to combine large group participation (like in the GA) with small group deliberation and consensus process.
  • Each group selects a “spoke” to sit with the other “spokes” in a circle in the middle of the meeting space, with the rest of their group sitting right behind them
  • Spokes have no authority and are not decision-makers. They actively discuss all agenda items with all other members of their group who have joined them for the Spokes Council.
  • Spokes are responsible for communicating any diversity of sentiments that may exist within their group to the rest of the spokes council
  • Spokes rotate at every meeting, and can be recalled by their group at any time
  • During Spokes Councils, individuals in multiple groups are free to sit with any group that they are a part of and to move around at will
  • Movement Groups may partner with Operations Groups and/or Caucuses

Decisions & Decision-Making
  • The four types of decisions that the Spokes Council attend to are:
1)     Decisions related to the logistical operation of Occupy Wall Street
2)     Approval of Occupy Wall Street budgets and expenditures
3)     The addition or subtraction of Operations Groups and Caucuses to the Spokes Council
  • All Working Groups and Caucuses will be admitted to the Spokes Council that adhere to the above definitions of an Operations Group or Caucus and that agree to abide by the Principles of Solidarity adopted (as a working draft) by the GA [available at http://www.nycga.net/about/]
  • The only reason a group may be asked to leave the Spokes Council is for either repeatedly disrupting the Spokes Council’s process or for behaving in a way that seriously violates the GA’s Principles of Solidarity
4)     Amendments to the functioning of the Spokes Council that do not alter the power of the GA

* * * *

   I'm not sure I grasp exactly how this works but I'm glad to see they are working on some method that will streamline the General Assembly.

Occupy Denver shows a weakness in ICA; interlopers


"'We see two elements within the crowd,' he said. 'There are clearly people committed to the cause, but others who are obviously out to start trouble.'
A man arrested Saturday for allegedly knocking a police officer off his motorcycle appeared to have little connection to the protesters who keep the effort alive. John Sexton, 33, remained in jail Monday in lieu of $20,000 bail, facing a charge of second-degree felony assault on an officer."

I've always wondered why Scientology didn't infiltrate our protests with firebrands who would demand that we resort to violence or property destruction. Fortunately it never happened.  Meanwhile, the Occupy Denver group has such people who have an individual agenda that they want to use the group to hide behind.  The best way I know to deal with this is for the group to make it abundantly clear that anyone who promotes violence or destruction is not part of the group. Point them out to police. Try to isolate them in marches or rallies by simply keeping a distance from them. When they do something wrong, point them out and yell "shame!"

Quitting is a very last resort. If the good people quit, then what's left?  The idiots.  Please stay in and fight for the good, both for the cause and for the local movement.

 Meanwhile, here's a great OWS blog to keep up with things;