Apologies for falling off the map again. I have just about dug myself out of a hole and should be back on a posting schedule (fingers crossed) next week.
In the meantime, one of the things keeping me busy has been the Criminal Injustice Committee of Occupy. Our Wells Fargo boycott website is up and running. Though not all the content is up yet. Please check it out and share.
This Monday is a national day of action in support of prisoners. We will be gathering at the DC jail to talk about mass incarceration, dehumanization, and how orgs like Wells Fargo and the private prison companies they support are making bank off of it all. If you are in DC, please come out. And please share the info with your friends. You can get more info on the website or through this Facebook event.
I’m hearing various rumors that occupiers are planning to descend on the capital for national actions. I don’t want to belabor the points I made in my previous post about activism in DC, but I just have to plead with you.
Please don’t come.
For the first time since I have been living in DC, I am seeing people coordinate about local issues in a big way. Small organizations that don’t get near enough support are getting attention. Occupiers are turning away from national campaigning. Links are being built. The seeds of workable solidarity networks are being planted. But we have a long way to go.
And if you come here, all our energy will be sucked right back into supporting you rather than doing what we need to do for our community. We just aren’t ready. Bad things happen when activists don’t do the relationship building and humble work of learning how to be allies instead of colonializers. If you don’t believe me, just read this post on racialicious.
the movement should not be too eager to produce programmatic demands and should concentrate, instead, on making its presence more visible, on reaching out to other communities, and on ‘reclaiming the commons.’ This is beginning to happen with the migration of the occupations into the neighborhoods, which is essential to reconstruct a social fabric that has been dismantled through years of neoliberal restructuring and the gentrification and suburbanization of space.
Some of the coolest things that are happening in places like Seattle and the rest of the country are happening on a micro level. That’s where we should all be focusing our efforts right now. If people really feel like they need to do a national action, how about the proposed national assembly in Philadelphia? Maybe our Phili peeps have enough capacity to divert their attention.
You have surely heard about the standoff yesterday (pics below), but just in case you have been trapped under something heavy or in a 48 hour bong hit haze…
Saturday night, DC occupiers built a structure to keep them out of the elements for general assemblies and teach-ins. I can only imagine the shit that the night duty cops got on Sunday morning when someone arrived and noticed that Occupy DC built a house while they were snoozing in their patrol cars. Oh, how I wish I could have been there for that conversation.
I was planning on heading out on Sunday for the 12:00 p.m. talk by Mark Lance, but when I checked my tweets I saw the livestream of an emergency mini-GA to discuss an ultimatum they received from the police. They had one hour to start taking the structure down or the cops were going to do it for them. By the time I got there, at least some of the occupiers had decided to hold the building and a few had already climbed on top of it.
And thus began a standoff that lasted well into the night.
Park police, horses, city police, SWAT. Everybody joined the party. They cordoned off the area around the house and told everyone inside the police tape that they were going to get arrested. There were some scuffles and quite a few take-downs as the police moved the perimeter out.
I saw at least one person almost get knocked over by a park police horse. One guy was pummeled as he tried to pass under the very edge of a taped corner in order to get by. And Officer Dickhead Dyson (badge number 3148) shoved one of the occupiers down on the sidewalk and then arm checked me as I was walking in the direction they were telling us to go.
One by one, they removed people from inside the building. The ones who climbed on the roof were a little more difficult. They set up a huge air mattress on one side of the house. A couple roof sitters jumped on that. Then the coppers busted out a cherry picker to get the last ones. One or two went voluntarily. The last ones tried to hang on, most especially David who really made them work for it. Once the last occupier was removed, they came with chainsaws and ripped the structure down.
There were a lot of things about yesterday that I liked. I’ll start with them. I liked that they were confrontational by building something instead of breaking something. I liked that the structure gave people an opportunity to talk about lack of housing and lack of public spaces. And I really liked when people managed to be funny and confrontational at the same time. As they rode the horses into the structure, someone mic checked them and said,
I don’t think it is neighborly to bring your horses into somebody else’s barn.
Another mic check was something along the lines of,
I would just like to congratulate us for being such good job creators. We are currently employing several police to guard our house.
Even some of the cops laughed at that one.
But the day was not without its problems (aside from a massive overreaction by “authorities”). Many people I spoke with said that they did not have agreement from the general assembly to put the structure up. One woman vaguely remembered signing onto something that she never thought would happen. And even if it was approved by the GA, as many said, it was clear that widely agreed upon plans about what to do in case of a confrontation were not made.
The police did not just block off the area around the house. They also blocked off a huge section of tents. Locks were broken. It looks like some tents were searched. And there was a threat that they were going to remove that whole section of the encampment. One occupier, who had been out of the area and unaware of the planned barn raising, came back to find his stuff trapped behind police tape. That included the bike that he needed the next morning for his messenger job.
It did not go unnoticed that the majority of the hold-outs were not from DC. I’ve talked about this before in the context of other protests. If you go to another community, then it is probably not a good idea to be the person elevating the conflict levels. I know that DC is a little different than most places, because what happens here effects everyone.
But the community here is always fucked over for national issues and interests. We are a little sensitive about it. The community needs to be centered. That particularly includes the most marginalized parts of the community, like many of the longtime homeless who are living in McPherson now and who were some of the most upset. That’s just not cool.
As it turned out, they did not take down that area of tents. Last I heard, legal was contemplating filing an injunction to stop them. I saw a tweet earlier that said they are now required to give 24 hours notice before acting on any violations in the park. So I am guessing that an injunction was filed and we got a good result. (Yay legal.)
As I am writing this, I am seeing tweets from tonight’s general assembly and it looks like some of these issues are coming up. If all goes well, and I have every reason to believe it will, they will tweak their processes a little bit to make sure that anything seen as potentially risking the space will go through a process that everyone will be happy with – or at least o.k. with.
P.S. How awesome is that lego recreation of the standoff?
P.P.S. If you see any pics that you want and can’t figure out how to download them, just email me at mel (at) broadsnark.com and I’ll shoot them over. (If you click on the slideshow, it will open it in a new window and you will be able to see the image number.)
Yesterday, the criminal justice committee of Occupy DC organized on action targeting Wells Fargo’s involvement in private prisons through their investments in the GEO Group. Pics of the march and pre-march are below.
I loved this action for a whole lot of reasons:
The injustice system is one of the most hideous manifestations of the racist, exploitative, militarized state. It needs to be central.
Focusing on Wells Fargo’s participation highlighted how the prison system is central to economic exploitation.
The action focused on the local effect of a national problem. They highlighted GEOs involvement in Rivers Correctional Institution, a place that locks up thousands of DC residents for mostly parole violations. In a city where 3 out of 4 black men will end up in prison this is an issue the local community has a real personal stake in.
Related to the above, the march was not focused on congress or the Whitehouse.
Most of the slogans were radical. There was a bit of “money for education not incarceration” and some stuff about private prisons (as though state prisons are great). But most of the chants and comments were along the lines of
Wells Fargo, Tear it Down. The Whole Damn System, Tear it Down.
This is not a protest. This is a boycott.
Get your money out of Wells Fargo. Stop Funding your own incarceration.
We don’t want to reform Wells Fargo. We want to shut it down.
They get bailed out. We get locked up.
Incarceration is the new Jim Crow.
P.S. I also attended the general assembly. Since I criticized them a bit the other day for the lack of women speaking at the GA, I have to give some props for that not being the case at all last night.
I moseyed over to Occupy K Street last night for the general assembly and the action committee meeting. Not much to say about the GA – except maybe to mention that there was a serious shortage of women. Of the two that spoke, one offered to take notes and the other was reporting back from the committee that cleans and does dishes. I’ll let you make your own comments.
The action committee meeting was much more interesting. If you have been following a certain blogger (who I most definitely would never, ever socialize with – please don’t ban me too) then you know that the action committee is exhibiting some of DCs most common ailments.
There are a whole lot of people in this town who make their living in orgs that lobby. That includes me, by the way. I work in the advocacy department of the Oxfam International Secretariat. I don’t lobby. I make sure people get paychecks and that their insurance doesn’t get cancelled. (There. Full disclosure. Happy now?)
I don’t actually think lobbying is very useful. I do think the watchdog role we play has some use. My peeps watch the World Bank and IMF. But I stay the hell away from all that shit in my spare time. I’m sure a lot of the people down at occupy are like me. They are paying their rent by working in an org that they hope doesn’t do more harm than good and are happy to have an outlet for the stuff that might matter. The revolution will not be funded and all that.
The thing is, it is extremely difficult to get out of the professional, policy, advocacy, pro-democrat mindset in this town. And not everyone is just paying the bills. There are a lot of climbers in DC. That includes lots of people in organizations that you may think are warm and fuzzy.
Happily, the first part of the action committee went pretty well. While we were still talking national politics, the general tone was that democrats and republicans are equally responsible for our mess and should all be targets. So far so good.
But then the conversation turned to actions sponsored by SEIU et al. While the committee separated itself from them to some extent, we were still basically talking about actions that will inevitably connect Occupy with organizations that spend money and energy to elect democrats to office.
One minute we were talking about how fucked up it is that the democrats are having a $1,000 a plate fundraising dinner. The next minute we were talking about supporting (however nominally) an organization that funnels millions of dollars to democrats in order to get access to the halls of congress. (How’s that been working out for you, SEIU?)
Orgs that focus on the political process drain all our energy. They are part of the problem. Any organization that is taking our money and giving it to political candidates needs to be a target. They are screwing us. The idea of marching on K street with a bunch of lobbyists (albeit more benign ones) makes my brain hurt.
Nonprofits shouldn’t get a pass either. We spend too much money on the political process as well. We can’t support candidates, but we spend a lot of time on policy. I should note here that, while the Oxfam International Secretariat is not unionized, Oxfam America is represented by…wait for it… SEIU. (It may be very awkward in the office tomorrow.)
I’m not saying that nobody should ever lobby for anything. People have immediate and pressing needs. Sometimes a minor reform can actually help somebody without increasing the state’s power. Changing the crack to powder cocaine sentencing discrepancy does not challenge the racist prison industrial complex. Though I’m sure those people getting out of prison a bit early are glad someone did it.
But that is not radical change. And people need to recognize that being reformist and radical at the same time is damn near impossible.
The capital occupies this city. It is just too tempting for activists to focus on big, sexy targets like congress, especially in a town where so many people move here specifically to focus on national and international politics. Then we have the continuous stream of outside protesters that come in needing coordination, support, and places to stay.
It weakens us.
All the time that we spend on protesting the national government or supporting the constant stream of demonstrators to the capital is time we do not spend on local DC issues. We live in a city that has hideous statistics. Three out of four African American men in DC will spend time in prison. Our illiteracy rates are through the roof. Our AIDS rates are astronomical. Unemployment may be as high as 50% in some areas.
And by allowing ourselves to be sucked into the national political scene again and again we lose so many potential allies that would work with us if we were focusing on their daily struggles.
Another thing I noticed last night, and that I have noticed in lots of activisty spaces in DC, is the rather narrow age range present. I was probably one of the oldest farts there. We live in a city that is packed with people who have experience with everything from CORE to ActUp. Where are they at?
It seems to me that a lot of activists get burned out on the national protest scene. It is emotionally draining and shows very little results. A person can only do that for so long. Some of those people go off and work in small orgs focusing on local issues. Those people need our support and we need their experience.
I don’t know how we avoid getting caught in the national, international, labor, NGO, lobby black hole. I’m not sure if the reform v. radical or agitating v. organizing conflicts are resolvable – or even manageable. And I have no idea if we can actually get more people in on this conversation. But I don’t see where things are going if we don’t try.
The building was being used as a homeless shelter until 2008, when the city closed it down just before winter. The plan was to sell it to a developer who would turn it into a boutique hotel. Homeless advocates, including Eric Sheptock, fought like hell to stop the closure. You can read his story here.
It took about three hours for the police to pull the occupiers out of the building and haul them off. Until then, supporters did what they could to rally the crowd, document what was going down, and block the exits to make it a little more difficult for the police to get them out – at least not without witnesses.
A passerby, who asked us to explain what was going on, agreed. He was “one of the lucky ones” who was able to get a home voucher before they cut the local rent supplement program. He commented that, in other cities, people said occupiers were violent, inferring that was not the case tonight. I said, “They always make it look like that.” Let’s see if that will be the case tonight.
When I first heard about Occupy Wall Street, I thought it had real potential. Wall Street is a target that a lot of people could get behind. I could see people rallying around a campaign against that Giant Vampire Squid, Goldman Sachs.
Of course “one demand” didn’t really materialize. Instead the occupation of Wall Street has spawned dozens of demands. And many of those demands have a distinctly, conventionally liberal bent to them. I was disappointed. Without a short-term, winnable goal that crossed the usual political divides, I couldn’t see the occupation going anywhere. Once you bring in a standard list of lefty demands, you alienate a whole lot of that 99%.
Regardless of my disappointment that one clear goal did not materialize, I’ve been happy to see the Occupy movement grow. But I have still been unable to get myself really exited by the whole thing. I just couldn’t see where it was going.
But after reading Holly’s post on Pervocracy and Manissa McCleave Maharawal’s post on Racialicious, I am beginning to see the potential again. If I see it as a conversation, rather than a campaign, then it begins to look a lot more promising.
So today I went down to McPherson to check out Occupy DC. I was expecting a sparse crowd of mostly scruffy, white kids and I wasn’t suprised. I don’t want to make any harsh judgement about that. I’m sure some people were down at Liberty Plaza supporting the October 2011 folks. But I kept wondering what the homeless dudes who occupy McPherson park every day of their lives think about the kids who started camping out there.
After McPherson I went down to Liberty Plaza and, as I feared, found the usual suspects. I don’t want that to sound disdainful. I know and like a lot of those usual suspects. But the crowd did not represent my community, not even a little. And I am not the only one feeling like that.
I have written many times before that the first step is to start having conversations across all our divides. If the occupy movement is turning into a public conversation, that is great. That is exactly what we need. But we don’t just need to be “inclusive,” we need to center the most marginalized people or we will get nowhere. We need to have those conversations with the people who won’t be likely to show up at an Occupy event.