I just got off of the phone with Jane after having decided to call her when my response to her email inquiring as to how we were doing seemed somehow inadequate. The conversation devolved into a sort of debriefing that left me feeling at least a little more energized, and definitely more focused. She has been talking to all of the Occupy sites and possessed an overview that was refreshing. While I have had occasion to speak with and email Occupations all over the country, it was usually confined to very specific logistical type matters. I think all of us have a tendency to get stuck inside our own purviews at times.
I am disappointed just now, even a little depressed. I don’t exactly have a clear head at this point, nor has any time passed to allow perspective, but I will make an honest effort to give you FireDogs a look into our experiences in the democracy movement to date here in Tucson. I have resisted posting much of anything so far, because I didn’t wish to divulge anything that would compromise Occupy Tucson’s efforts, nor post anything negative that could be taken out of context and utilized in a way unintended by me. This period of no physical Occupation that just began, will at least allow me to be more honest in relating this experience to the residents of the Lake, other than that, I see no upside to not having a physical presence out in the community. The direct actions that were organized were great, but the tent camp presented a loud message……and the community responded. There was a steady flow of donations, the donations that came in the mail were always accompanied by a note that asked forgiveness for not physically being there, but thanked the Occupiers for giving them a voice. Very strong, amazing stuff after you read enough of them. Then there was the couple who had the distinction of getting the very first donation to us in the mail, for $99. There was a steady flow of food donations as well, including from restaurants. For most of the Occupation it was rare for Occupy Tucson to have to spend money on food.
The single thing that most stands out in my mind that Occupy Tucson did well over the past two and a half months that had caused other Occupations problems, was how it went about accommodating the homeless. The homeless became an asset rather than a hindrance. The physical encampment of overnighters, just before Thanksgiving, was over a hundred Occupiers strong with some 20-30 homeless additional. As the homeless contingent grew in numbers, the IT working group along with the Comfort group and the Kitchen group, organized contacts within the community with churches who provided meals and clothing, with quasi-governmental health agencies to get counseling and medications, with other non-profits, and most importantly with private citizens who volunteered to provide taxi service for the homeless to access this help. Nothing but simple organization, by volunteers, who would rather have been protesting………but instead met the need, just because it was there.
As the numbers of overnight Occupiers dwindled for a number of reasons, the ratio between the number of Occupiers and the number of homeless changed……so did the dynamic of the interaction between the two groups, as well as the overall character and motivation of the Occupy site. For the worse.
The biggest mistake made, in my opinion, was Occupy Tucson’s failure to “keep it local”. After the initial eviction from Armory Park, the new Occupy that resulted at Vente de Agosto Park was vibrant and growing for at least a short while. The “bug-out” re-occupy plan had worked to perfection. Then we sent a large contingent of really good people, core members, up to Phoenix for several days to participate in the ALEC protests. For one reason or another we ultimately lost most of those people. Their departure occurred at a crucial time as well, as far as intergroup political disputes that were occurring. The dynamic and overall character of the camp changed for the worse at that time for those reasons as well.
Now, as Occupy Tucson regroups and reforms, the biggest problem that must be addressed for the future, in my opinion, is that while the direct democracy paradigm of the General Assembly sounds like a high minded utopia; the stark reality is that it can only work if all present are dealing in good faith. Add to that cumbersome process one or two weak capitulators, maybe one or two defeatists, and one or two actual saboteurs, and the ability to take decisive action is lost. The ability to make any decision of any consequence or benefit is gone period. Occupy Tucson in its first incarnation suffered this fate for that reason.
This time around, as a second approaching eviction loomed large in everyone’s minds, there wasn’t a “bug-out re-occupy” plan in place. While myself and others advocated for a preemptive, proactive bug-out to re-occupy another park, nothing was done. The failed Tea Party write in Republican mayoral candidate (the Republicans failed to actually get anyone on the ballot legally), Rick Grinnell, requested and was granted a permit for Vente de Agosto Park. Ostensibly for a food drive. One wonders how the downtown homeless will fare under the auspices of Rick Grinnell and the Tea Party’s warm embrace. During the 6 weeks at this downtown Tucson location there was constant traffic streaming by the two longest sides of the park, accompanying the noise of the traffic was a constant cacophony of car horns blown in support, celebration even. Every tenth commenting vehicle was some clown rolling down his window and screaming “Get a job”; what they lacked in originality, they made up for in uniformity.
That last sentence brought to mind this excerpt from Mike Lofgren in Liberty Underground yesterday :
In one of his wartime essays, George Orwell remarked on some of the patently ridiculous claims of totalitarian propaganda. In his view, the point wasn’t whether it was believable or not; in fact, the more ridiculous the better. The point was that government functionaries got to make the statement knowing full well it was ludicrous; news organizations dutifully printed it as if it were fact; and the public sphere was blanketed with the absurd propagandistic claim. As Orwell said about the goosestep march of totalitarian armies: yes, it looks ridiculous, but you dare not laugh.
Two things have arisen from all of this to date that are overwhelmingly positive. Occupy Tucson has a civil rights violation law suit currently on the docket and progressing through the courts. That is good. And in my conversations with Occupiers I have been stressing that we now know people’s level of committment, their abilities and capacities. Many have surprised us from among the older or infirm, and some from among the homeless and even some from among the derelict have flat out fucking astonished us with what they have to contribute……..yet have been discarded by this society like just so much garbage. But we now have seen the “true hearts” of what will become the core of the Tucson Occupy movement in the future. We have seen them in a way not possible without having gone through this experience together to this point. Not to be melodramatic, but it isn’t unlike what I experienced in the first half of my working life in the underground mines. You develop trust because you must, to function, to survive; but it is a trust born of walking through the fire together. It is special.
At a tally of 827 citations and counting for Occupiers here, I guess that’s all from Tucson for now.
Stay Strong and take care of one another. The Spring is on its way, it hasn’t forgotten us.