Petty community grievances and committee warfare at Occupy LA will ruin us, just like they ruined the government we’re trying to change.
The landscape of the Los Angeles occupation site has changed drastically over its 26 days. By the end of week one, we looked in amazement at the functioning tent city we had somehow already created. Through donations, great ideas, hard work and an unbridled sense of community, we had transformed the north lawn of the Los Angeles City Hall in to a spectacle of proud citizens dedicated to restoring democracy in the United States. By day, we stood along roads holding signs which introduced passers-by to our many thoughts and problems. By night, everyone in sight gathered around the north steps for the general assembly meeting. Committees were born, philosophies shared, and gradually, support from the citizens of Los Angeles began to grow.
As support grew, so did our occupation. After the second week, tents were appearing scattered throughout the south lawn. In mere days, so many tents occupied the south side of Tent City that it became the obvious new location for the nightly GA. Soon, the Media and Welcome committees would also call the south lawn their home. The occupation was fast-growing — with no apparent end in sight. I decided to move in. It was impossible not to. I couldn’t seem to tear myself away from such a beautiful, organic thing — by the people, for the people.
It was a world where money and status meant nothing. Everyone had a skill, a vested interest, and they worked for each other. Jobs were plentiful, and every committee needed help. The Food Tent, the Welcome Tent, the library, Media Tent, First Aid, and so many others. You did what you were good at, and hopefully, someone would feed you. Sometimes there was no food, but it was hard to notice a skipped meal amid all the work. We put in 18 hour days, and we never wondered what we’d get out of it. All we knew was what we hoped the achieve through being a part of a world-changing effort. And that was more than enough to keep us going.
So where are we now? Hundreds of people have settled into jobs on committees, and hundreds more have perhaps resigned to occupied unemployment. Like society’s unemployed, it’s not our business to ask why. All we can do is hope they’re still with us. Shouting matches are a common wake-up call, sparked by drugs or theft. The well-situated drum circle is a subject of debate among protesters of varying philosophical and spiritual backgrounds. Constant percussion ensemble can be observed any time night has fallen, continuing without a single pause until the shouting matches begin at sunrise. To some, the drumming is necessary in keeping the peace, and holds spiritual importance to many occupiers. But for others, the constant banging serves to keep them from sleep after a day of work. The jury is still out.
Other debates include whether residents should be given food first, and food regulations in general. The local health department has visited our encampment several times, reminding us to serve food only from restaurants, stores, and “certified kitchens.” This makes donations, our main source of meals, much harder to come by. As a result, many people are hungry. And many of these hungry people are occupiers — residents of Tent City. It was proposed to dissolve the food tent and simply pass donated meals amongst ourselves in a picnic style. Unfortunately, the health department caught wind of this plan and made a special visit to inform us that it doesn’t work that way. They fear, albeit reasonably, an illness epidemic caused by misprepared food. We’re still hungry.
Meanwhile, some protesters have begun to turn on each other with claims of certain committees or groups being favored over others. Plans of rebellion can be heard brewing within the tightly-knit neighborhoods inside of Tent City, often without ever having brought the grievances to the alleged tyrants themselves.
With all of these distracting issues at hand, it has become apparent that many of us have perhaps lost sight of the shared reason we’re all here. In the beginning, we consented on an “agree to disagree” approach when met with differences irrelevant to our common aims. We took pride in our ability to make everyone heard, no matter how crazy or unpopular their opinion may be. We at least promised to listen, and listen carefully. Now it seems more likely that any new idea presented will be met with the hostility of our own egos fearing an uprising of theirs. We no longer trust our brothers and sisters. We allow ourselves to feel wronged by every new decision, no matter how reasonable or democratic its origins. We’ve stopped listening, and instead started judging. Rumors run rampant, creating unfair stigmas. When this began, we were a family. What happened to us?
The solution to this rapidly-growing problem can only be found within ourselves. This movement is our own — we didn’t just end up here by circumstance. We chose to live together in these closely-spaced tents. How can any of us feel victimized when we are all leaders? We created this town, and we inadvertently created its problems, too. We should know better than to point the blame away from ourselves, like we see irresponsible government and corporate entities do constantly.
Everyone has problems. But it’s up to us, and us alone, to solve these problems we created. We are better than them. We are a person. A movement. And we are hurting ourselves by wasting our time and energy focusing on things we may never agree on. Maybe you hate drum circles. But don’t hate the drummer, because he is our brother. We all need each other. The people, united, will never be defeated. We must set aside our differences and unite as one power.