I had to read a book for class this morning, no need for the computer or anything, so I decided to read down at the Gov’t Plaza (renamed by the #occupympls folks the “People’s Plaza”) for the morning and check things out. Before I left, I checked their needs list (ahem, yours truly recommended on the Twitters that they put a google doc up of needs and keep it up to date) and bought some supplies to donate.
When I arrived at 9:30 a.m., there were probably 40-60 people in the plaza. It was an incredibly calm space all morning, but with this amazing sense of purpose underneath it all. I grabbed a banana from the free food table, donated some money for them to replenish supplies, and heard some of the people involved in organizing discussing the financial committee they had set up to manage donations and costs (things like the port-a-potties cost money). I sat down near some young people playing music and read for about an hour, and then I decided to walk around and check things out before heading home to finish up some writing for class.
Let me tell you what I came away with.
In my life, I have gone to more than my fair share of rallies, marches, etc. I have volunteered for political campaigns and organizations, canvassed, phone banked, and stuffed envelopes. I write all the time, and used to write a lot more about change and issues facing us.
In all of these experiences for the last 20+ years that I’ve been a concerned and relatively active citizen, I have never experienced something like what I saw today.
Yes it was small this morning, but the democratic organization of the people involving themselves (I think that’s key – this isn’t a top down effort, but one in which the people who opt in will define goals and values) was amazing.
There’s the free food table, a donations (of things they need) table, a medical area, a “teach-in” area, a “media center,” and a family area that I saw. What I also saw and experienced this morning was what could be framed in an ethic of caring. The people organizing are addressing basic needs to facilitate everyone’s participation, sharing resources and trusting people to give what they can and take what they need, and to move to higher order needs like discussion and education.
The criticism of lack of messaging and “a point” couldn’t be farther from the truth. One of the tragedies our country has experienced over time is an erosion of our democracy, which came to a head with the Citizens United ruling, but has been rearing its head in different ways – often tied to money. Money is a voice, a source of power, and it has seemed for some time that without money, we had no power – it felt like shouting into the wind.
The thing is that there are many people who have been shouting into the wind. They may have different perspectives and different takes on things, but there is at least one commonality: they feel that the current situation is unacceptable and that, without riches, there is truly only one power that the 99% have and that power comes from collective efforts.
The people down there are democratically organizing with general assemblies and decision-making. I talked to people at the teach-in table – smart, engaged people – about the Constitution, about the labor movement, about tuition and education access, about the ethic of caring and support, and about helping educate each other (For instance, one person said that she’d only seen one outburst happen when a truck drove by and its passengers shouted at the occupiers and one person shouted back something threatening and called him a pussy. I pointed out that addressing misogyny within the community of occupiers would be really good and building understanding of that would be useful).
This didn’t feel like a resistance. It didn’t feel like a protest. It felt like a construction – of community building and building democracy. It felt like a redefinition to a point where I don’t even care if people insult the movement. It really doesn’t matter. What does matter are the conversations in the plaza and of people opting in and voicing their knowledge and concerns and listening to each other. It’s something we’ve been missing.