I know everyone is waiting for the report about the Taiwan trip, which is coming, but this is more time sensitive (and still behind the times – this news is 24 hours old already). So here it goes.
Finally made it down to Wall Street this evening (Saturday) to check out the action at Occupied Wall Street.
First impression: for being unorganized, they kinda have their stuff together. In fact, I hesitate to even use the word “unorganized,” as it tends to denote aimlessness or purposelessness, both of which are conspicuously lacking from this endeavor. It is true that there is no one “in charge,” no single backing organization or person, no single person calling the shots. It is not top-down organized like most protests. It would be more accurate to describe the space as self-organized.
Make no mistake – the occupation is organized.
The first clue to the level of organization was the presence of an information booth. Actually, there are three information booths, manned by volunteers who’ve been around the camp for a while. At the information booth, you can find a daily schedule, flyers, and copies of The Occupied Wall Street Journal (funded by a Kickstarter account), as well as a petition to pressure the city to allow the occupation to continue. There are volunteers milling about who can help you find a bathroom, the “kitchens,” the medical area, and the comfort station, among other things.
There is also a sign listing all the various committees people have cobbled together over the past two weeks. There is the Food Committee, the Medical Committee, the Legal Committee, the Sanitation Committee, the Comfort Committee, the Community Outreach Committee, an Internet Committee, a Media Committee, and more. I didn’t get to stay very long, but I heard reports from long-term campers that food is served every hour or so, real doctors volunteer in the medical area, the legal teams were away speaking for the 400 (700?) arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge earlier in the day, and a blanket was offered to me by the comfort committee when it became clear that my hoodie wasn’t cutting it. All of these volunteer services, from what I gathered, grew organically out of the General Assembly process.
The General Assembly itself was something to behold. Talk about living democracy. All decisions are arrived at by consensus, a lengthy and messy process. I didn’t actually get to see the consensus process myself due to the timing of my visit, but I did get to hear the more mundane bits of business – a couple of invitations for marches around the city, reports from several of the committees, and the creation of a new committee whose name I can’t recall.
Working through so many committees does take some time, and it takes even longer when you are not allowed a megaphone. The protesters have solved this problem by creating a Human Megaphone – the person speaking says 2-3 words of their message and waits for the people nearest to shout it out to the next concentric circle, which then shouts it out to the next, and the next. It takes a long time, but it has the inherent benefit of involving the group in the communication process, which fosters a sense of team-building, and also forcing people to listen more closely than they might otherwise because they are responsible for passing the message on. The Assembly uses hand signals to communicate agreement/approval, disagreement, and neutrality in order to keep people quiet enough to expedite the passing of information.
And things do get done. While I was there, we heard from the Numbers Committee, which reported that they had food enough for several days and plenty of warm clothing for most people, but that they were in dire need of sleeping bags, ponchos, and XL clothing. We heard from one of the Media committees which was calling for video footage, the Legal Committee reported on the status of arrested protesters, and one of the committees reported that another union had offered their official support and a week’s worth of food. There was also a call for concrete contact information from each of the committees that could be placed in a central location so that people who wanted to volunteer could be properly directed. The fact that there was no central contact sheet to begin with speaks to the decentralized and organic nature of the occupation. But the call for a central organization sheet speaks to the coherence gradually growing out of the process.
And that’s the really great part – there is coherence. Not uniform clarity by any stretch of the imagination, but there is a strong sense of purpose, order, and determination.
The Occupation has been criticized for having no specific, concrete demands. The lack of a clearly defined position is threatening to people who are accustomed to brokering power. If you know what someone’s demands are, then you can grant or reject them; both actions are cases of wielding power. In a way, the lack of a central demand is upending that dynamic and has become a paradoxical strength of the Occupation. The Occupiers aren’t giving Wall Street an easy target for dismissal. Instead, to quote their own Journal, “they opted to make their demand the occupation itself – and the direct democracy taking place there”.
We, the People, demand to be here, exercising our rights to free speech and peaceful assembly as citizens of the United States. We, the citizenry, demand to be here, making our dissatisfaction known. We, your peers, demand to be here, participating in our own political future. We, your countrymen, demand to be here, working out for ourselves what needs to be done, instead of passing the buck on to our bought-out elected representatives. We, your equals, demand to be here, talking to one another, disagreeing, finding common ground, building consensus, learning how to do democracy.
Democracy does not belong exclusively to the few and powerful – money should not be able to buy you a bigger vote.
We are the 99%.
We will be here.