Part two of Occupy Week. Read Part one, The People, here.
If your knowledge of the Occupy movement is based on second-hand reports, you probably assume that the movement is a rag-tag group of individuals, all under common grievances, but essentially just a gathering of people. The reality, however, is that the Occupy movements, especially the one in St. Louis, is very organized.
Upon entering the camp on the night of October 28, I was informed of four basic rules to the camp: no alcohol, no illegal drugs, no physical violence, and no hateful speech. The rules were simple, really; the Occupy movement is meant to be a peaceful assembly, which is perfectly within the rights of the First Amendment of the Constitution. As soon as things get out of hand, the police would do whatever it took to remove the Occupiers.
Once the morning of October 29 started, I realized just how organized the movement really is. While there is no system of “government,” per se, there were certainly people in leadership positions, whether they acknowledged they were leaders or not. This, I feel, is one of the major problems of the Occupy movement: there is a desire for there to be no defined leadership, yet, to a fresh set of eyes, there seems to be the beginnings of a defined leader or leaders.
At noon, there was a General Assembly meeting. These were meetings, held every day, where people can make pertinent announcements, and introduce proposals for the betterment of the movement. To streamline the process, there were a few hand signals that were used:
The voting process also had it’s own signals: if you were in favor of a proposal, you held your thumbs up; if you were neutral, thumb sideways; and if you disliked the idea so much that you would leave the occupation, you “blocked” it by holding your arms in an X above your head.
Voting on proposals was done by consensus, defined as “100% minus one”, which, in itself, was kind of an elaborate process, seen here in this flowchart:
What I thought was admirable was that the GAs were not limited to the Occupiers. At one point, Kiener Plaza was nearly full with people from the public, some of whom had brought signs, listening in and voting on proposals.
For the most part, the General Assemblies were pretty streamlined and peaceful, with the occasional homeless person not waiting to be on deck to speak, and instead walking right up to the stage and speaking his or her peace. But for the most part, the Occupy movement is extremely organized.
Safety was a huge concern, as Occupiers were camping out in tents on the Plaza, susceptible to any and all disturbances. In my experience, the safety team at St. Louis was very well run, as my only problem in the night was setting up the tent, and finding a comfortable position to sleep in.
The verbal abuse during the day didn’t slow down at night. One lady made a huge deal of her disapproval: “Oh, you think you’re making such a HUGE statement by sleeping in a TENT! I’m just gonna go back to my HOUSE now and sleep in a BED!” Apparently, my partner, Alicia, was woken up by someone who came to our tent late at night, pounding on the side and yelling, “Wake up! Get a job!” I, however, must have slept through that one.
The extent of the organization of the Occupy movement was shown to me on Saturday night. Occupy STL sponsored a “Union Appreciation Celebration” barbecue, complete with food, live music, and speakers, including the great-great-great-grandniece of Samuel Gompers, founder of what is now the AFL-CIO. And while a couple of skirmishes emerged in the crowd, for the most part, it was a joyous and informational celebration. The event was free to the public, and while there were still protesters holding signs on the sidewalk, anyone that stopped and talked was invited to come down into the plaza to celebrate with us. The event began at 5:00 PM, and was still going when Alicia and I had to leave St. Louis around 9:30.
From a group and organizational standpoint, it’s amazing to see the inner-workings of the Occupy movement, though, in my opinion, if there isn’t a clear leader or leaders in the near future, the movement will fall apart. Sure, having clear representation will alienate some Occupiers, but it’s better to disagree with a clear message than to agree with a muddied one. The sentiments of the Occupy movement, I think, can be summed up with a line from one of the speakers, who had had experience working with Martin Luther King, Jr.:
“Hold on for just a little longer, and everything will be all right.”