I've spent a lot of time in the past week attending Facilitation Committee meetings. The Facilitation Committee is the committee which organizes our General Assembly - the core of our democratic process, and the reason why we're here. And I've also spent a good degree of time simply mooching around Tent City, talking to people, hanging with the "Keepin' It Real" peeps, and listening to the gripes and complaints of the people. Those who are living and working in Tent City are under unbelievable stress at the moment. It's like they can't relax for a second, in case something happens. They're suffering from lack of sleep, they're malnourished because the Food Tent has had to close for a few days while they wait for a licence from the State (exactly the kind of bureaucratic bullshit we're protesting about, but hey...), they're exhausted from constantly staying one step ahead of the game, wondering if today is gonna be the day that the cops quit acting nice, and the City Council stops being so obliging, and whether that rumor about so-and-so being a former CIA co-operative is true, and....
You get the picture.
Watching Tent City develop over the last few weeks has been fascinating. Because we don't have the active opposition New York has faced, because we have worked well with City Council and the LAPD, because our microcosmic society has been allowed to flourish without too many problems - two concurrent strains of occupier have emerged. The hardcore worker who is passionate about participatory democracy and the opportunity for real and lasting change that the growth of the Occupy movement has given the 99%, and the - well - happy hippy who's rocked up with their tent and their guitar, doesn't really know what's going on, has never been to a General Assembly, but is happy to wave their glo-stick in the air when the dubstep blasts out on a Saturday night.
I may be wrong, but I think the conditions the New Yorkers have faced - no PortaPotties, no tents, active, violent opposition - has meant their society in Zucotti Park has become more pro-active in enabling, promoting, supporting and protecting their democratic process. Opposition has promoted unity. The challenges we face in Los Angeles are more insidious and covert. DDOS attacks on our website. Drunks and bums stumbling into camp. That old dude who insists on tape-recording every damn meeting he attends, even when people ask him not to. The odd person whose weird behavior suggests that they may not have our best interests at heart. Our challenges are to drum into the eighteen year-old kid smoking a joint that he should put it out before the DEA rocks up and closes us all down merely because he wanted a drag of a doobie.
They are to make people realize that our grumbles are pretty fucking pathetic.
We have it good, guys. We have it easy compared to pretty much every other occupation out there. So let's rise to the challenge, and make our occupying brothers and sisters across the world proud. If you have someone camping next to you who hasn't been to a General Assembly and doesn't know what it's about and would rather lie back eating Carls Jr. - if I were you, I'd get on my goddamn soapbox and let them know that this isn't a freaking party. This is history in the making, and you - me - they - WE - are part of it. And that is cause for celebration, but it's also cause for hard, unrelenting, dedicated work.
One of my biggest disappointments in the people this week occurred when several residents of Tent City voiced the opinion that they would not comply with the Resolution passed by the General Assembly that we should move our tents on Thursday in order to accommodate the Farmers Market. The fact that there are residents who will not abide by direct democracy and consensus, and actively seek to make the Farmers' lives difficult, makes me angry, sad and disappointed. The Farmers in the US have suffered as much as, if not more than, any of us. Steep rises in land tax have seen them lose their homes and properties. Cheap, genetically modified food supplied to large, corporate supermarket chains has undercut their fresh, organic, seasonal produce and taken away their market and their livelihood. In order to claw back a living they have to apply to City Council for a license to hold a Farmers' Market catering to the bourgeois liberal (you know - educated, arty, hippy, white people who earn a middle class wage, like me). Yes - again - this is bureaucratic nonsense. I for one am horrified that individuals have to apply for numerous bullshit licenses and bits of paper in order to sell their produce. They should come and occupy Tent City with us. They should have a presence with us. They are undoubtedly part of the 99%. We are fighting against corporate greed, against shiny, waxy apples which-taste-like-nothing, imported from Fiji, because the ones in Topanga aren't the size of your ego.
But I can guarantee you, they sure as hell ain't gonna be on our side if some asshole refuses to move their tent on Thursday.
Not cool, people. You know who you are. CSA California has been supplying you guys with free, fresh organic produce since Day 1. Please afford the Farmers the same love and respect they have given to you - and use the Farmers Market as an opportunity to establish a good, working relationship with people whose example we should follow.
Another continual gripe I've heard voiced in Tent City recently is with our General Assembly. "It's not democratic! I didn't get to say all I wanted to say!". You know what? I hear you. When the Finance Committee proposed that we file for a 501c4, I was right up there, grabbing the mic, with a bunch of questions. A 501c4 is primarily used for lobbyist groups and "progressive" social welfare movements like Moveon.org. I can't stand lobbyists, and I don't trust Moveon. Donations are not tax deductible, and donors can remain anonymous. It declares us a corporation, of sorts. Seeing as one of our biggest concerns in the last year has been the formation of Corporate Personhood with the Citizens United decision - a landmark Supreme Court case which afforded First Amendment rights to Corporations as if they were singular human beings - I fail to see how then declaring ourselves a corporation leaves us in good stead if the Supreme Court overturns Citizens United, or if the First Amendment is reworded. I for one, am completely, wholeheartedly opposed to corporate personhood. So why are we declaring ourselves a corporation - that advocates free speech and democracy and the right to dissent? Isn't that fundamentally contradictory to what most of us think in regards to corporate personhood?
I also voiced a concern when the Finance Committee declared that Occupy Wall Street had gained 501c3 status. This was not a fact. Occupy Wall Street have been working with the Alliance for Global Justice, a 501c3 which has been channelling their funds, as tax deductible donations, right back to them as needed. OWS filed this week for a 501c3, but have not yet received it as it takes several weeks to be approved and processed.
I was pissed when I didn't get to redress either of my questions, despite the fact the Finance Committee did not respond adequately. In a sense, this is a flaw inherent in our democratic process. But the fact that numerous challenging questions from the Assembly, combined with over ten hard blocks, led to the proposal being tabled and people flooding into the Finance Committee's meeting over the last few days - is evidence our democratic process is working. The Finance Committee - many of them professional tax accountants and beautiful, liberal people - are annoyed because we don't want to declare ourselves a 501c4, despite the fact that they are convinced it's the best way forward. So we are in discussions to reach consensus.
Democracy is WORKING!! This is what consensus decision making looks like! This is how it should be! Open committtee meetings anyone can attend. Decisions made by the people.
Personally, I hope, if we have to file for any kind of status - which I am unconvinced we have to do at this time - we go with a 501c3. I'm opposed to any action which defines us as a movement when we are so new, when we're still figuring out this process, still learning every day, when it's being redefined and changed and tweaked and honed. It's too early to do this. But I'm so proud of how one of the most important issues in our agenda is resulting in an influx of people crowding onto our open committee meetings in order to take part in the decison-making process.
I've also been hanging out with "The Lost Tribe" AKA Media, for the last few days. Media holds a great degree of power right now, and having been in that tent and worked for them, I'm happy to report there are some awesome people working their butts off for the movement. However, at the end of the day, we're still a movement about democracy, and the fact that Media is now being referred to by the majority of Tent City as "The Lost Tribe" is a bit of an indication that some transparency and interaction with the rest of the community might not be amiss. A suggestion? An open committee meeting at least three times a week at the same time, at the same place. Despite what the lovely committee point-person declared to General Assembly last night - that sometimes y'all are far too busy to have a meeting - I don't fucking buy it. I'm from the country where we just had the biggest media catastrophe of the century with the phone-hacking scandal. This happened because of a lack of transparency, because editors decided to play God, because reporters thought that they were above the law. Money and chasing a story and getting an exclusive became more important than integrity and ethics and morals. I'm a journalist and I'm one of you, and I'm proud to write for you. But I'd like it a hell of a lot more if Media weren't becoming "The Lost Tribe".
I'm being pretty blunt about a lot of good people I'm working alongside in this blog, and the reason I can do so, is that our democratic process gives me the right to dissent. I have the right to dissent even with people I like, I agree with, I work alongside.
One more suggestion? People's mic. It would make people prepare proposals and speeches in advance, keep them clear and concise, and thus hold our attention. Save the mic for questions and responses, and ditch the goddamn dubstep on the opposite side of the building.