The Occupy National Gathering
by Garret Schenck
Very briefly, I’m 56, a white male Occupier, have been part of the Occupy movement since October 2, 2011 with Occupy Hartford’s (OH) first organizing meeting, still consider OH my primary Occupy affiliation, and work with OH folks to build Occupy New England (ONE) regionally, but actually live in Sunderland, Western Massachusetts, and also work with Occupy Franklin County (MA), and (living just 19 miles from Vermont Yankee nuke) have helped build a Sunderland-based affinity group for SAGE Alliance (no nukes).
What follows is a fairly detailed accounting of seven days I spent with Occupy Caravan (June 28 through June 30) and Occupy National Gathering (June 30 through July 4). At the end I list some conclusions so if you ever get bored and want to cut to my particular view of the chase, feel free. I apologize for the length.
THURSDAY JUNE 28
I left W. Mass. on my own about noon, and got to Hartford at probably 1:30 pm. People had gathered at Colt Park in the southern end of Hartford. I showed off the new “OCCUPY HARTFORD” banner I’d just completed and we all took pics, followed by food and discussions. Tino and Janet from out west were there in the Occupy the Roads RV, they have been criss-crossing the country for months, networking with Occupys all over the nation. The RV is pratically a work of art, as its been covered with Occupy posters and stickers from everywhere. Some folks from Maine were along with the RV and in another car or two.
And of course all the great Occupy Hartford people were there to let Caravaners and NatGatters know we wuz there for them too! I went with Alice to pick up stuff she and Sara would need in Philadelphia, and then returned to Colt Park, and Sara, Alice, and I left there with the RV and one other car around 3:00 pm, so in the end a rather modest Caravan. We got to New Haven about 4:00, parking right in front of the hosting UCC church (small size of Caravan was a plus here!).
We again displayed the banner, took more pics, had some free ice cream provided by Ben & Jerry’s, went on a march to Bank of America and then to a fountain across from the Church where, to symbolize underwater mortgages, we splashed around. Then back to Church and I think that’s when we heard a great speech and discussion about two movements, Labor and Civil Rights, from Mark Naison, professor at Fordham University. Movements take time, they make mistakes, they overreach, they ebb and flow. I found his analysis very sustaining in the days ahead, and found myself using it myself in dialgue with other Occupiers. Thanks Mark for coming, and thanks Josh Smith and the others in ONH who helped put the New Haven stop together!
Then some great food and discussion for supper in the Church. I decided to sleep indoors rather than on the Green, though others did that no problem except for brief rain in the morning (but glad I didn’t get wet!). There was silence in the Church so that made sleeping pretty easy, suspect not so much silence outside on the Green! Occupy New Haven did a great job with arrangements with the Church and I’m sure it felt empowering for ONH folks to sleep out on the Green together. Lots of sun and heat this day. Thanks and much love to the Church for providing us a safe secure space.
FRIDAY JUNE 29
I woke early, somebody made coffee and we hung around and had breakfast of bagels and cream cheese and then around 8 am we were out of the Church and hanging around on the steps. Somebody had dumped some soap into the fountain we’d been splashing in the day before and when the jets started up, large masses of foam resulted. This delighted many of the Occupiers but I was Ehh, what the fuck? Youthful exuberance versus Old Fart I guess: You kids get off my lawn!
I went for a little walk around New Haven looking for a place to get some more keys cut, but eventually had to drive to a Lowe’s. Now everybody would have a car key down in Philly. Back to the Church to find we were now pressing to leave by 9:30 (for some forgotten reason) but we were still missing Alexis, our fourth car campanion. Luckily she showed by around that time and we were off: Sara, Alice, Alexis, and me, in my brand-new 2001 Corolla, in a convoy.
We did fairly well keeping the Caravan together on our way to Newark, and we got in there about 1:00 pm I guess, making a stop at America’s favorite service area, Vince Lombardi. Newark was very hospitable, they fed us some sandwiches and we did two actions, the first at a Chase (?) bank branch where people brought out furniture and occupied a “living room” in front of the bank while we picketed around it, with chants. Somewhere along the way folks from Albany joined us: the connections made with Occupy Albany alone made the time “investment” worth it, but it was just the start of what was an amazing unifying experience for our movement. (Looking forward to Occupy Albany joining with our regional meetups, including the Convergence on July 29 in Burlington, VT!)
Then we went to People Organizing Power (P.O.P.) 360th something daily rush hour vigil, 4:30 to 6:00 pm, en route to 381 total, the length in days of the Montgomery Bus Boycott, to get people to Honk for Jobs, Honk for Justice, etc. That was amazing, with easily 80-90 percent of the people going through the busy rush hour intersection honking, as the person on the mic implored people to “Honk to tell Mayor Booker to stop cutting jobs! Honk for Jobs!” If I was the Mayor or others in the Newark political establishment, this is a group I would respond to, I think! I think the persistence, not just for this campaign, but over the years (P.O.P. has been around 25 years or so?) is what pays off. Great clear high-quality signs, too.
We returned from P.O.P. at 6:00 for some great supper food. Tobias Fox, who was the lead organizer of the Newark stop, and all the wonderful people of New Jersey Occupy really did themselves proud. Then we had a performance of the Solidarity Singers, about a dozen men and women who gave us a lovely little concert! Quite a few of them (and other Occupy New Jersey folks) wound up coming to National Gathering over the next several days. They finished with a rousing Solidarity Forever (if there’s a standard for our movement it would be that, if only because we all know it, so it usually comes out when people sing). Then around 9 most of us left to go on to Highland Park, NJ for overnight, about 45 minutes south of Newark.
I’d previously asked my sister Lolly Schenck, who just happens to live in Highland Park, if it would be convenient for the four of us to bunk in. she said yes, and she was a great host. We had plans for Caravan (including folks from Worcester, New Haven, Hartford, other CT? probably about five cars and the RV) to meet the next morning at a location in Highland Park half a mile away at 8:00 am, and as my sister had to go to work about then, it all worked out.
I had trouble getting to sleep. I lay in bed in the heat of the night, and so affected by the amazing day and imagining how awesome it would be to now extend the networking already started between New England and Albany and New Jersey to the national scale. (And, in fact, my febrile dreams were pretty much realized!) Naturally, just as I dozed off, around midnight I was woken by a call from Jenn Drury of Occupy New Haven (she had started out with the Caravan in Maine) telling me the RV wouldn’t be getting to HP by 8:00 am, more like 10:00 am so they could fix an AC unit. Hm. Told her we’d make 8:00 am HP rendezvous with others and all decide what to do. A long and very hot and sunny day.
SATURDAY JUNE 30
We were up and going by 7:30 and away from my sister’s by 8:00. We went to the other location in HP and hung out in their back yard, once again people were wonderfully hospitable as there was coffee and bagels for us! We took more pics with banner — there’s a good one with Occupys Worcester, Hartford, and Albany! As Rebecca said, a long-held dream (of mine) finally in the process of being realized! Calls back and forth between HP and Newark, where the RV and another car or two had overnighted. Go now? Wait for RV? How long? Etc. I can’t really remember how it all got sorted out but some folks left HP on their own to go straight to Philly while we waited a little longer and then met up with the RV at Molly Pitcher Service Area on NJ Turnpike. Then on to a location in S. Philadelphia to meet up with folks coming up from the south. I think only a few cars from southern route met us there, suspect others may have gone straight on to Independence Mall?
We were getting reports of no tents or sleeping bags allowed on the Mall, so what should we do? Come to 5th and Market and figure it out seemed to be the word, so we headed on in, at first in convoy, but Philly drivers proved adept at cutting in from side streets so the RV was soon well out of sight and we’re all on our own anyway. But suddenly Oh my god here we are, 5th and Market! And there are Occupy New Haven folks (a lot of them came by bus, apparently)! Woot! And woah, there’s the RV! We’re all here! We pull around onto Market and sort of hang there while Alice goes and checks on what the story is. Turns out we can park (and eventually can camp) at Friends Meeting House at 4th and Arch St., it’s just a couple of blocks away, so we go off to find that and get a nice parking spot by the south wall of their lot, and by probably 2 or 3 (?) we’re good to go.
We head over to Independence Mall where Veterans for Peace and Vietnam Veterans Against the War have set up a permitted pop up tent and tables and are maintaining a round-the-clock presence there for at least next 48 hours. The place is literally crawling with cops, there are these little side courtyards off the Mall with a few benches and there are cops stuck in there (Philly and National Park police), and elsewhere. There is very little shade in the park so cops and protesters are intermingled in the few available spots. Everybody is mad hydrating. The sun is, as it was every day, intense. The difference between being in and out of the shade is dramatic and with exception of maybe a few hours one day, there is scant cloud coverage.
More and more of us gather and it starts to feel better and safer as we strengthen. The DOW and Wells Fargo logos gaze down at us, as if from the Dark Tower in Mordor, but also like literal corporate logos on American Democracy. Independence! [Hall/Mall] brought to you by Dow! People are talking about sleeping out in front of banks tonight and every night, sign me up! If you don’t block more than half the sidewalk, you have the right, in Philly. They pass out a fairly snazzy booklet, well done Philly, thanks for who helped produce that. I note they are still going forward with Vision thing for July 4, have worries about the whole thing, but ehh, we’ll see!
I can’t overstate how great everybody’s mood is!
At some point a number of us crossed to the north side of Market and got some Action Training from some folks from OWS, which was pretty good, major new hand signal learned, hand around wrist of fist upraised, meaning chill and listen for mic-check, used in very loud, tumultuous situations. We used that several times in days to come.
Then we have a march with all Occupiers present to a number of locations, on the theme of “I’ll believe Corporations are Persons when Texas executes one” and with a variety of symbols (guillotine, gallows, injection, electric chair) “execute” some corporations, including I think BoA, Wells Fargo, and others. The march wound up in some park, south of Independence Hall.
Things get a bit hazy for me at this point but while we were mic-checking stuff some folks erected a tent and then sat around it with arms linked. (Interestingly, I believe erecting tents is considered protected 1st Amendment “speech,” though sleeping inside them, is not.) Then the National Park police? came and arrested somebody, and then I think sort of got “chased out” by us. Whose park, OUR PARK! And then I guess they decided to come back in and there was a pushing match at the opening in the wall, in which I participated. (There are videos of all this, haven’t tried to put them altogether, but it’s more or less like this?)
Most know I am a strong proponent of non-violent action and I would say this is as far as I’ve gone over the line (I cut fence at Seabrook, decades ago), and I have to say it felt quite satisfying to help in holding back the bacon 🙂 I enjoyed seeing the frustration on their faces as they pushed (along with their second row) on our front row, shield on body, trying to move us. They simply were unable to budge us. Only when they started sticking with weapons did they start move us. Okay, lesson learned, they upgrade to weapons pretty quickly! I was in about the third row, and behind somebody who had previously told me they could face either a felony or a reimposed sentence or other bad legal shit if arrested. In part I felt my role in the “phalanx” was to protect those up in front from being squished, and balanced what I was receiving from behind with what I felt was needed up front, a sort of springy force, also to protect my comrade in front.
At some point I saw a woman get pulled through shields by police from our front line (you can see her on the video) and I thought Uh-oh they are starting to arrest so I figured best to get my comrade out and got ahold of her and pulled her out, her cell phone fell or had fallen right at that point (she’d been videoing) — not because of me I don’t think (?), there was big pushing/shoving scuffling as the cops got more serious (about when you hear people chanting You are hurting people) — and I mentally crossed my fingers and reached in deep as I could between our second row folks and got her phone out too! it was really touch and go and probably seconds from getting stepped on and crushed. We got out right before the cops broke through, though in the end they didn’t arrest anybody at that point. So anyway, an interesting experience for me.
I think it’s after this that the “Strike Force” bike cops arrived (?). It seems especially nasty for the police to use bikes as shields and weapons this way on the very people and sustainability culture that Occupy definitely represents that USES these bikes for what they should be used for: cheap, healthy, carbon neutral transportation. Instead, by swinging their hefty metal bikes around they can inflict serious hurt on people, hey, why not spikes too, guys!
There were some scuffles which I avoided though I wound up at some point in hassle line with the bike cops and picked one and kept asking about kids and grandkids and also urging if you’re ordered to hit, how hard you hit is up to you 🙂 I was also using humor and assumed intelligence in the cop, over the years, I’ve gotten pretty good in these situations, I think. There was some discussion on Fuck the Police! versus That’s Not Helpful! which carried over into a discussion group I attended the next day. Eventually we all headed back over to Independence Mall and we had supper OR we all had supper before the march and confrontation, like I said, I’m a little hazy!
Eventually we are back at the Friends Meeting House parking lot and somebody mic-checks the details about bank sleepover. We’ll go to a Bank of America somewhere west of here. We gather sleeping bags and other stuff and set off in a group of about 15 to a BoA (with awnings!) on about 12th and Market maybe? and we settle in for the night, I’m hanging out with one of the Solidarity Singers from NJ. Others trickle in over the night; probably 30 or more of us wind up sleeping at the bank. Predictably there is huge noise though mainly from ourselves and repeated requests for quiet go mostly ignored (“You kids get…”), not least from the City around us, which rumbles and honks and sirens well into the morning though when I do finally awake on July 1st, it’s pretty quiet. Relatively comfortable on the flat concrete, eventually it’s cool enough to slip inside my sleeping bag, which unfortunately halves my padding. I probably nab three hours of sleep this night, a balled up sweater used as my pillow.
I think it was this first night, there was some pretty rancid stand up comedy at the Friends before we left to the bank sleepover, with a lot of what I thought was women-objectifying humor from three guys, no women. This was met with mild boo-ing from the audience and the next day somebody from Occupy Philly stood up in Franklin Square and took responsibility and apologized, which was cool. (I think part of the reason for the subdued response was largely because we felt as guests, we’d give OP the benefit of the doubt, we all know what a colossal job it was to put on the NatGat. So a fuck up, ehh, we’ve all been there, where we’ve done Occu-crap we later wished maybe we hadn’t.)
We had a Fem GA the next night too, though not necessarily in response to the humor. I do feel that the good feelings the Gathering engendered, FOR THE MOST PART, allowed us to maintain unity despite “awkward” moments like this. That said, we didn’t ever engage in any serious debate on what our core issues are or any attempt to chart any course forward, if we had it’s hard to know what might have resulted. We all feel pretty passionate about this Occupy stuff!
SUNDAY JULY 1
I was up pretty early, probably well before 6:00 am, and preceded to roll up my sleeping bag and hump it back to the Friends. By now it’s “home” and I’m well oriented to the neighborhood and already the bustling excitement and confusion that greeted us the day before is fading and with the City barely awake, I see it stripped of the human population and see at least its physical attributes more clearly. No toilets in view though, even McDonalds et al. seem to be still closed at this hour.
Back at the Friends after stashing gear in my car and hanging at the gate I have a good discussion with a Philly native Brian, a cook in local diner, who is on his morning rounds before work. He hadn’t heard very much about the Occupy movement, in Philly or anywhere, but thought about it and decided he liked it. He heads off north and conversations continue with others, and half an hour later Brian is back en route to his 8 hours and we talk more and he is starting to think about getting involved with our Food Committee. I tell him to check by after his shift when we should get supper in front of Wells Fargo.
Sun is up and blazing hot, the difference between shade and not shade striking. We go to sidewalk in front of Wells Fargo across from Independence Mall for breakfast, the same location as the previous night’s supper, it’s fruit and bagel, no coffee, we’re on our own with that. I can’t remember if I drank coffee this day, but probably did.
We all head over to Franklin Square Park at 6th and Race St. after breakfast, probably 11 am (?) and we settle in for three rounds of work groups, trainings, and discussions on a wide variety of topics, about 8-10 sessions for each time slot. I attend one that sort of covers the “Fuck the Police” controversy from the night before, nothing much resolved on that issue but at least we’re getting to know each other and it’s clear that no matter what this isn’t something that will divide us. There’s a lot to do and at some point a “We’re All in the Red” casseroles march heads out, which I join.
This is in alignment with the Quebec student revolt still underway, which like the US Occupy movement has revealed the fascistic anti-free-speech tendencies at the heart of the modern corporatist state, though I have yet to meet anybody from Quebec and suspect not a lot of them made it to our Gathering (nobody came on Caravan and Montreal was “supposed to” funnel through Albany), which is a pity. I also didn’t see any breakout devoted to the Quebec movement, but I might have missed it?
“We’re All in the Red” was a good sized march, though quite a bit less than we’re able to mobilize the following day, but still plenty to keep us safe and we fairly quickly take the street. Bike cops flank us on either side, lots of red in our crowd but not overwhelming, for instance I’m clueless enough (and, okay, not paying enough attention!) to not wear one of my several red T-shirts on hand! No matter, student debt is the next bubble, and this one is going to really ENSLAVE people because it doesn’t go away.
We move along easily, chanting, the cops don’t interfere. No helicopters overhead. We go to Market and 5th, once again by Independence Mall and head down Market as far as Penn’s Landing.
Spirits are very high and we chant and smile and laugh and we keep building our unity and togetherness and trust. This is why we came together, to talk with one another, to make the oft-quoted line “not a leaderless movement, but a movement of leaders” a reality. It IS a reality. We are the core. We are Occupiers. Every one of us has been doing this shit for months, for nine months, most probably.
Right now it’s for the youth and they are in the lead. We head up the bridge that sweeps over to Penn’s Landing, I’m probably closer to the rear at this point, and for some reason we stop and turn around (using the signals we learned the night before!) and retrace our steps. Then after a bit we stop and mic check, Do we want to go back to our original plan, over the bridge to Penn’s Landing? Apparently there are police over there. I don’t care much one way or the other. Back we go.
On our second approach I’m closer to the front and naturally on the bottom of the bridge on the other side, there are “Strike Force” cops on bikes completely blocking the way, wall to wall. Well we’re not going that way I think to myself, chuckling a little. (It’s always important to retain humor in all situations, and know that the best laid plan rarely survives contact with the enemy.)
So we get to the bottom, we’re all across the road, a couple of hundred maybe? Or maybe less, but several ranks deep right in front of probably two dozen bike and other cops right across the road. At some point there are only two people holding our main banner so I step up to hold the middle which puts me right in the front line. We engage in the usual hassle line dialogue, you know they’re screwing your brothers and sisters in unions all across the country, etc. Which is okay for a while but as people slowly drift away, as it’s (surprise!) BLAZING hot sun with no shade and everybody guzzling water or (as in my case) out by now, I start noticing certain gaps in behind me. Like a lot less folks at my back! Like almost nobody. And we are, you know, blocking traffic, not on the sidewalk. Well I was with the banner on the sidewalk, but others were in the street, and generally such niceties don’t matter when the cops decide it’s time to kettle and arrest. (We’re always very paranoid about being “kettled” in Occupy, I guess with good reason.) Anyway, we eventually decide to end the march, turn around and mostly staying together, hike back to Franklin Square Park. Everybody seems to feel pretty good about the action, I’m just jealous I didn’t have a good casserole to bang on!
I have no idea when we got back to Franklin Square. It was probably about 4 pm? Later? At some point we had supper, this night they served it across the street from Franklin Square Park, just up the street from the Philadelphia Federal Reserve Bank, LOL. (I don’t know if we ever did a demo or even a mic check at this FRB of Philly, but we should have. The first night at BoA we slept right across the street from what I would assume was the older FRB of Philly building?)
I believe we heard Chris Hedges speak on our return from the Casseroles march. But my sense of time is definitely jumbled, and it’s possible we heard him before the march? I was impressed that he more or less owned his remarks (“Black Bloc is a Cancer on Occupy”) and continues to urge a stricter adherence to nonviolent discipline. Can’t say I disagree with him!
We had the Fem GA this night. This was women run and to some extent used some of the combining process (or similar process) to that used in the visioning thing on July 4th. I wish I had kept better notes. If I had a better phone I would have wanted to make short video or at least a pic of everybody and get contact info to go with. We tried to answer some questions about Feminism, but our group had trouble following the process, other groups did too. At one point Chris Hedges was invited to co-facilitate the Fem GA, as were some other men, which struck me as, well, slightly odd, though men were particpating in the Fem GA. I don’t think this was a huge success, but we did try.
At the end of the day, 9:00 pm, we had to leave Franklin Square Park. Some people mic-checked a Solidarity March. You know me, always up for a march! so I headed over to the corner that had been “point-checked.” There were half a dozen people there, and so while we’re waiting for more to gather I figure, well, let’s get going, more info is almost always better, right? So what’s the plan?
Guy is like, Uh I’d rather wait for everybody to get here. Hm. Well there’s a few more things like this that also set off warning bells and before you know it I’ve talked myself out of joining this march. They set off fairly soon after that, as the bulk of the people head back to our base at the Friends.
A little later, about 10 pm, I’m hanging out down by the gate chatting with people when the word comes out, the marchers have been kettled and are going to be arrested! They’ve gone the other direction, are at like 20th and Race or something. So we all (okay, about two or three dozen of us, LOL) hoof at quickstep in that direction, and I get there just as the last of about 27 arrestees are driven away in vans. The cops had kettled the whole group with their bikes and even dragged in some livestreamers from outside the kettle for arrest (and may have held them longer, there’s a sense that the livestreamers were being deliberately targeted).
We jawboned with neighborhood residents, then head back to the police station diagonally across the street from Franklin Square on Race St. where we’re told they’ll be processed in 2 to 3 hours. We all chew the fat and breathe second hand smoke (cough cough, one of the worst aspects of Occupy for me personally is all the cig smoking geckkk) and hydrate. I go back to the Friends and get my sleeping bag and Laurie loans me her sleeping pad and I am all comfy for a second night on the Philly streets, doing jail solidarity on the sidewalk outside the police station with my comrades inside (including, we come to find out, five Occupy New Haven folks [?]). I probably get another three hours this night, I’d guess 50+ Occupiers came by during the night or slept there, etc.
MONDAY JULY 2
2 to 3 hours turns into about 10 but eventually most of our friends are released around 8 in the morning, on their own recognizance, with dates to appear. I am there when the first group of about 8 are released but eventually am back at the Friends stashing my gear and don’t see all the folks who were arrested. The kettle and arrests can be seen on various archived livestreams.
I had gotten phone numbers of Food Committee folks to give to Brian, and also thought I might get some food at his restaurant, I hadn’t eaten anything other than Occupier food since leaving my sister’s two days previously. So as I was heading down Market St. trying to find his diner, Palma from Maine hailed me. We had coffee together at a small shop there, free refills. Somebody else, from maybe an Occupy on the West Coast? was with us chatting about nuke power, which of course was enjoyable for me (he was kinda pro-nuke, which was interesting!). Anyway, it was a soothing break from the hustle-bustle out-in-the-open life I’d subjected myself to for several days, and relaxing.
Eventually we’ve all had enough time off and Palma heads back to camp while I continue to search for Brian, and eventually find his restaurant and give him the number of the food committee. I figured I did what I could. Then back to Franklin Square and a day of several breakouts and speeches. Also my friends from Occupy Franklin County were due in today and gave me a call when they were an hour out, would be heading to their hotel room first.
At Franklin Square there are police helicopters overhead almost from the start. This adds an air of tension to the whole day’s proceedings (as well as for the following day, too, when it was especially eerie to see them off and hovering when you know your comrades are out marching somewhere), but I assume also helps to bring the media sniffing around. Given that outdoor meetings already test speaking/listening abilities, the noise of the choppers is just another added difficulty, and we roll with it with good humor.
I go to a discussion on Digital Strategy. It helps me firm up some thoughts I have about all that, may share them at some point but not here.
Today the “biggest” name speaking is Matt Taibbi. He gives a speech, about LIBOR and Barklay’s massive fine for rigging it. He asks us if any of us have mugged little old ladies. Why not? Because there are laws against mugging old ladies? No, because it’s just not the right thing to do. But banks, they do go and mug old ladies, on purpose, when they went after pension funds and union funds with toxic CDOs and the rest of their gunk. And now LIBOR. So yeah, the banksters mugged little old ladies and still haven’t been prosecuted for that. You don’t mug little old ladies.
I went to Matt’s breakout discussion group and got to shake his hand and ask questions, etc. So that was cool. I wish I had thought to ask him why we worry about $700 Billion in TARP when it sounds like Federal Reserve has funneled far more than that to just Bank of America through the plethora of special Fed programs, some seemingly designed just for BoA? I don’t know the answer to this, by the way, so if anybody does, let me know.
I went to a Wellness breakout called by my friend Sara from Occupy Hartford. I hadn’t seen her or Alice for a while so it was good to check in with them. I also lost touch with Alexis for long periods but everybody was doing fine. Everybody had keys to my car so we all had a place to store any stuff, if needed.
Occupy Franklin County (MA) (OFC) folks, in the form of Maure, Helene, Diane, and Doug, showed up around 1:00 pm (?). We gabbed for a bit and then I think maybe that’s when I went to speeches and then Matt’s breakout.
At some point, probably around 3 pm, people mic-checked a big crowd to go on the largest mobilization of the week. It was kind of funny, during the rousing mic check the organizers said they wanted us to stay on the sidewalk but as soon as we got out of the park we were totally in the street. In part this is because of the cops, as they insist on having their dumbass bikes inside us, crowding us on the sidewalk toward the street (so they have bikes both sides of us). So fuck it, we’ll go in the street, and actually everybody’s happier.
Yet another blazing hot day, walking up the E-W streets is almost torture in the latish afternoon sun. But we are SO spirited! Fists in the air!
Ahh – ahn-ti – ahn-ti-cap-i-tal-is-ta! Ahhh!
Our chants roll and change and morph, we are all smiling and in great spirits, we are unstoppable! Another world is possible! We get some good reactions from the crowds waiting for their buses, nobody seems to get too pissed. We circle City Hall, stopping along the way to join up with Verizon workers, and it is great to march with them. We also stop by a bank and mic check them, I think Bank of America this time? Nothing better than being in this march with people who’ve been the parade marshals and chant leaders in dozens of cities large and small all over our country. Truly a movement of leaders today!
Our final mic check station was several blocks west of City Hall, when we heard from several mothers from local poor people’s economic campaign (not sure of exact name) who are fighting banks to keep their homes. They were there with their kids and that certainly provided an emotional aspect to their speeches.
At this point the organizers did something a little questionable, which was to suggest that, due to heat, we declare the march over and break up and go back to Franklin Square, a good dozen blocks east of our current location. There was a strong down twinkle (grin) on that idea and we decide to just head back to Franklin Square TOGETHER, in the street. Which is what we did, and nobody was arrested all day. Had we “broken up” I am sure that many of us would have opted for small groups strolling on the sidewalk (cue the pic of Dave and Judy at the OFC Crosswalk Evacuation action for “strolling”!) but just as many would have wanted to stay in the streets. So we are now smaller and weaker and more likely to shed even more as things get scarier and eventually we are down to 30 or 50, like we had last night, and they are kettled and arrested.
So, yeah, much better to stick together! Not a big deal and of course our much vaunted horizontal organizing was able to correct things quickly.
We were back in Franklin Square about 7 pm I guess. More food for supper, supposedly 400 were fed tonight, which sounds about right. There was a long line but it moved quickly and the food was good. Oh I think this was when Reverand Billy did his thing? I thought about Charles Hennessey from Occupy Hartford who wanted him to come up last fall, now I see why. Brilliant! And yet, oddly, spiritual too. There is a heart of gold inside this movement of ours, we are the sisters and daughters of so many peace and social and economic justice movements before us.
I had pre-supposed that Monday would be “weak,” with lots of transitions, but maybe it was because the weekend crowd overlapped with the July 4th crowd, in fact it seemed to have been our strongest day.
We left Franklin Square at 9:00 pm and went back to the Friends. The idea tonight was to sleep in front of Wells Fargo, right across from Independence Mall. Of my three street overnights, this was the best/closest/safest feeling location, just a block and a half from the Friends. I went down to the corner with Palma from Maine at some point, she was able to get to sleep fairly quickly but I was restless and eventually returned to camp to use the portapotty and ran into the man identified as Sage in the process of perhaps a final melt-down.
I watched the Sage trainwreck show for about the next hour. I’d say Arun Gupta, despite my having problems with much of the rest of his reportage on the National Gathering, does nail the more general “wimpy” aspect of Occupy when it comes to “codes of conduct.” That said, he fails to note that THIS time Sage was identified. He was banned from the encampment at the Friends and I did not see him again after this late night encounter. I expect we will soon see pics of Sage circulated throughout Occupy. There’s a lot of common sense in the smaller city Occupys that gathered and that made up the bulk of the NatGat. We weren’t going to put up with his nonsense, and we didn’t.
Anyway, between this and long conversations, at the Friends’ gate and elsewhere, I probably got an hour or two of sleep this night.
TUESDAY JULY 3
I woke very soon after finally falling asleep. The guys with their food carts set up around 6:00. I was starting to jones for non-Occupy food (hadn’t got any the morning before, remember) so I ordered up a large coffee ($1.25) and an egg and cheese ($2.00, essentially a two egg, two slices American cheese omelet in the same roll they use for their Philly Cheesesteak). So not a bad choice for a Value Breakfast 🙂 Anyway it was just what I needed and I thoroughly enjoyed it, sitting on the wall in front of Wells Fargo across from Independence Mall. There was a story in the free Philly paper using an “Occupied” sign from backpack of woman I was in Fem GA group on Sunday night, hope she saw it and got a copy but I never saw her after the march on Monday.
There was a lot going on in Philly and one of the parallel tracks was the Veterans for Peace. One of the reasons we were at Wells Fargo the night before was to be close to the Vets, whose permit to be on Independence Mall had expired. They had worked out a sort of deal where they would stay there for Monday night but Tuesday morning would move across Market Street (and actually up close to Arch St., but be on National Park Service Land. So kind of a negotiated Peoples Permit?
This was the last day of breakouts and discussion groups. I am afraid by now I was pretty well fried, having been baked by sun for days and then getting almost no sleep the night before. I think this day I was able to hear the speech and attend breakout with a Spanish guy, wish I knew his name, who was with the M15 Indignados movement in Spain. He gave a great history lesson on Spain and how the Civil War ties in with the current movement, and how we (Occupy & M15) are sister movements, they use consensus and hand signals, but not mic checks. Oh, I got to sit in on most of a workshop given by Kevin Zeese and Margaret Flowers, that was interesting, pretty sure it was this day.
I bought a cheeseburger at the Park’s burger joint. The smell of the sizzling meat had been tantalizing me for days. Ben and Jerry’s came by with an ice cream truck and I got a cup of strawberry ice cream, except that this was probably the day before, July 2 (grin). I napped, or tried to. There was a mobilization this day but I was too exhausted to go, it was about mountaintop removal in W. Virginia (and other topics) and was targeting UBS, among other villains. It was probably the weakest mobilization of all our days, so probably I wasn’t the only one recharging batteries.
I finally succumbed to temptation and took my OFC friend Helene up on her offer of using her shower at hotel room on Columbus Ave, down by the river, and walked over and nabbed one. It sure felt good!
I walked back to Franklin Square and we had a great regional meet up, marred only slightly by amplified poetry that continued after (I believe?) their alloted time, which made talking/hearing a bit hard, as we had a good sized circle. Lots of talk about different possible regional gatherings. It looks like a lot of people will be going to Burlington at the end of the month, which I won’t be able to make. That’s Convergence on the Conference I think. Lots of interest in S17 in NYC, and somebody from Boston plugged a Spokescouncil meeting for July 14th in Boston for direct action AGs interested in S17 to attend. We take attendance and hand in email addresses to InterOccupy and hope we get copied on it soon. We probably should have kept it, because we already have a New England Occupy organization and could have processed it ourselves and copied InterOccupy. But whatever.
We slightly push the time we’re supposed to leave by but we’re gone from Franklin Square by 9:15 pm. The Boston Pops are playing in front of Independence Hall till 10 pm and there’s a vague push/suggestion we go down there. People vote with their feet and a group of maybe 50-100 people head over, with the bulk of us tagging along in much smaller and more tentative groups, some detouring entirely around to our left to avoid the clear potential for major confrontation, as…
Philly pulls out ALL the stops, and mobilizes easily twice as many bike cops as we’ve seen all week, a really awe-inspiring sight, probably 60+ (?) “Strike Force” cops, which, along with a lot of other uniformed and non-uniformed visible probably adds up to at least 100 cops right there across one block of Market St., and who knows how many out of sight, probably at least another 50 or more. Anyway, more cops than any possible Occupy crowd willing to, I guess? mic-check the concert?! Play guitars? Hard to know what they think we’re capable of.
I’m blown away by this image of a police state, so there’s no way I’m leaving before the cops. We’re there till about 10:45 when, after a very civil exchange with a light blue shirt (beat?) Philly cop, and maybe a couple of dozen of us left, I head back to the Friends. Philly sure has a lot of “Strike Force” cops to play around with! I think back to that first night when I was trying to work on just one of them, who knew they had a whole company of this “bike cavalry”? No wonder I never saw “my guy” again.
This night the sleepover will be I think at BoA again? But this time at something like 17th St. so 12 blocks from “home” (and by now, the several block area around the Friends and Independence Mall and Franklin Square definitely feels like “home”). Today was rough for me and I decide to bag the sidewalk sleepover and spend the night in my car, which is probably the least comfortable I was all week. If the sleepout had been at Wells Fargo again, 2 blocks away, I’d have done it, I just didn’t feel like a 12 block trudge each way. Probably should have done it, anyway, oh well.
WEDNESDAY JULY 4
So today was supposed to be the big Visioning thing. I’d seen an overview of the “bubble-up” process online and in handbook (same both places) and had reservations from the start. Seemed like an untested facilitation idea somebody was thirsting to use the potential hundreds in attendance to practice or test on, and have us dance to their crazed tune. But we’ve been marching and yakking the way I like to do all week so let’s give something else our best shot. It’s the Occupy way!
I am up, as usual, pretty early and I go to the Wells Fargo corner for another Breakfast of Champions, the $3.25 Egg and Cheese and Large Coffee special. All is good with the world, as I’m at least better rested this morning than I was yesterday. I hang out at the corner and talk with folks about stuff, then we head to Franklin Square around 10 am.
We probably get started on Visioning around 11 am. We’re separated into groups of 45, in the shade of appropriately large trees. Then we each find 2 other folks we don’t know around us and we’re instructed to create a list of all the things we’d like to see in our Occupy future. Achievable? Realistic? Anything but Fantasy? Who knows, we all do our best, and each “triad” generates several pages of good shit that might somehow come true. We’re all sticking with this, with good humor. Then we’re to combine our group of three with two other triads, for a group of nine. We do this, now we are to combine our 3 lists into 1 list, and to then score them as to I guess whether we see these in our future, as well as, sort of, if we want them, too. Subtle difference between those those concepts and not sure we really explore them very well during this process (or generally between achievable, time frame, realistic, etc.).
(Thinking back there’s notably nothing about Free Sex and Everybody All Sexed Up, etc. Maybe it’s just my group of nine LOL)
Anyhoo, we’re told to do this fairly quickly, and if there is any, ANY, discussion as to whether things are combinable or not, they’re not combinable. So we have on our final list from our group of nine (with maybe 100 different items?): “No more imperialist wars,” “No more wars for resources,” and “No wars.” Because in the twenty seconds we might have alloted to “combining” on this issue we hadn’t been able to resolve and winnow.
When we quit around 3 pm, we handed up nothing more than a fairly sloppy brainstorm, nothing more than lists with hatchmarks or counts for each of the probably 100 different “visions (again, this from every group of 9 attending, and suspect we were like most other groups, there were lots of three and four page lists to be seen). This is where the 70 hand written pages handcount you may have seen in media comes from. This is not to be seen as anything even closely approaching 70 pages of usable text or manifesto or anything remotely close to it. It’s really just the same brainstorm over and over with some fairly meaningless numbers associated with them.
Two of our group of nine leave as we are mid-way through adding our third triad’s very lengthy list (by definition all their ideas are probably new ones, as they struck off items that they could combine with ours on the way through the first two triad’s lists). The group accepts their proposal to add +2 “votes” to EVERY “vision” of our group of nine. My later proposal that we at least add a note that we’ve done this as a footnote to our “tallies” is rejected by our group of nine.
In the end I really feel a lot like monkeys asked to reproduce the Encyclopedia Britannica through random typing. How these lists were going to be used for any kind of usable document was beyond me. (An endless droning document, Deputy Dawg style: “We find the following votes for the 27 lists that mention “war” in one or more categories: 22 for “No more wars,” 14 for “No imperialist wars,” 8 for “No more wars motherfuckers!” 7 for “Peace will reign no more wars”” and on and on. The only way would be for a small group to spend a lot of time working on usable language and then either publicizing it for us, in our name, which would be fraud, or figuring it has to come back through us, which is not in the plan as far as I know.
All told there were probably at least 200 of us working on this, probably 4 hours minimum. Along with those who stuck around to try to shape this wreck into something worthy after 3 pm, a good 1000 hours of people time, practically half a person work-year, was spent on this.
It was a waste of time, and I’m sorry to be a spoil-sport about this. However, the rest of the NatGat was so great that this one waste of time does almost nothing to change my overall opinion. I just think we could have used all the time we spent to do a lot more high-quality work than we were entrusted with. If the point was to create a document, which I would definitely have been in favor of, then we need some wordsmithing, probably in advance. To expect anything to come out of the process we used was hopelessly naive.
I was ready to connect up with my family, both my sisters live in New Jersey, and with the prospect of some authentic July 4th burgers and hot dogs, I left the National Gathering around 4:00 pm and spent the next couple of days with my sisters. Later that night in Philly there was another march, that looked to have good numbers and good energy, and I’m sorry I missed that!
The next day, July 5th, the Guitarmy left Philly on what I think was a 6-day walk to Wall Street, including my new friend Alexis and others from her group, Occupy New Haven. Sara and Alice took the train back to Hartford.
And that’s my NatGat Story.
CONCLUSIONS, INCLUDING WHAT WE COULD HAVE DONE BETTER
I think we are a revolutionary, transformative, and working class/disadvantaged movement. We are young. Occupy nationally is closer to New Haven than Hartford in spirit. Their youth can be that old blessing and curse: another world is possible! But how will we get there? At one point one of the presenters asked for show of hand for different age cohorts, trying to make the case that we’re the old and young, not so much the middle. Which is a little strange because Occupy Hartford a little bucks that trend, they are younger than the folks I work with up in Occupy Franklin County, who are my age and up pretty much, but older and more settled than the folks from New Haven. In a way I’m one of the oldsters with OH, maybe one of the younger ones, barely, with OFC (though there are bona fide young folks with OFC, too).
LGBT persons, and especially LGBT youth are very important in Occupy, as they have been in almost any major movement I have been a part of since the 1970s.
My personal story of “I live here, work with Occupy there” was replicated by many in Philly. Almost everybody I spoke with has a story like mine. They went to Zucotti. They went to Boston. They went here and there and everywhere.
New York will continue to be a potent symbol. New England needs to get used to caravaning into the metropole. Next up, S17, September 17th when we will Shut Down the Exchange.
I didn’t work on actual networking. I didn’t come away with a lot of emails or phone numbers. I talked to a lot of people and tried to get a sense of where their Occupy was, still having GAs?, some still had occupations! (Delaware, somewhere else,) I shared Mark Naison’s analysis of the ebb and flow of movements. People I talked with and/or shared more or less one-one-one discussions with over the course of June 28 to July 4 were from Occupys including Albany, Newark, Trenton, other NJ, New Haven, Maine, New Hampshire, Worcester, Hartford, Franklin County (MA), Burlington, OWS, Jacksonville, Tuscon, Atlanta, Fresno, somewhere else on West Coast, Kalamazoo, Delaware, California, Staten Island, and certainly others.
Some highlights for me: the M15 presentation, Matt Taibbi, the July 2 march (and marching with Maure and Rebecca at the same time, stalwart allies from the geographic ends of my Occupy life!), being on Caravan and down at NatGat with an amazing number of great folks from Occupy the Roads/Caravan/New England/Maine/NJ, Newark and P.O.P., OFC turning out for NatGat and getting hooked up with Occupy New England, the regional meetup on July 3, all the conversations with folks from everywhere, the unity and solidarity shown in our marches and actions, and our determination to do our best, even with a lousy excuse for process on the final day.
I think we kicked ass down in Philly and I think it will pay dividends going forward. The circle of trust has been widened significantly.
I don’t think we EVER did a full “polling” of Occupys. If I had been organizing the joint, I would have figured, Let’s give that a couple of hours. Just everybody try to get together by Occupy and we’ll go around and everybody take a minute or two to give your Occupy name and brief history: Occupation or not, how long it lasted, arrests, GA history/status?, etc. We’d all celebrate the achievement of every Occupy in the country! There were a few times when we started to do that, and duh, of course it takes time so it got cut short. But we really should have given ourselves that time, it could have been amazingly powerful! Next time, I’d add that.
On my return to “civilization,” I watched videos made of a giant cow “attacking” the Vernon, Vermont, nuclear reactor, on July 1st while we were marching with casseroles in Philly. Many bicyclists, weaving patterns on the road, were part of the demonstration. At the same time they were patrolling us and penning us in with bicycle cops in Philly.
Interestingly, I don’t think “bicycles” was in the visions our group of nine came up with. Maybe with “Strike Force” so much in evidence, thinking of bikes in positive ways wasn’t allowed to bubble up in our consciousness. But they should be, and will be, in our future in much larger ways than now. They are an enduring technology.
In a lot of ways, some of the visions that we did bring forward in Philadelphia, have been realized or are on better track to being realized, in Vermont, and in surrounding environs. We have community, and you can see that in the Trojan Cow video. This is Vermont at its best, communicating with itself in a language that folks from the City, Bread & Puppet, pioneered and brought to Vermont. Now it is deep in our frame of reference up here. This might look even silly to non-Vermonters, but I think its symbols are dead on.
Bread & Puppet were in the City on May Day, We’re all in the Same Boat. I am hoping that ultimately we can count on the anti-nuke movement up here in the tri-state (VT/NH/MA) region, to finally intervene IN FORCE in the Occupy struggle in the cities. We have Vermont so strongly on our side our CDers are released almost as soon as the State can arrange it. Maybe now is the time for anti-nuke movement to return to Wall Street?! Occupy is still fighting, and the Philadelphia National Gathering leaves us more determined than ever, but we can always use reinforment! September 17th, anyone?
* * *
Thank you Occupy Philly and the National Gathering Workgroup. Steve Cottrell was especially great, pitching Caravan/NatGat at Occupy New England’s Regional Gathering at Worcester in May and then providing great follow up online and on site. Thank you Food Committee: an army runs on its stomach and you kept us moving all week! I criticize the July 4th Visioning, but from my heart, thank you and facilitation team for trying. The 4th and Arch Friends Meeting were awesome and thank you for giving us a safe space for cars and people.
Finally, it was a week well spent, for me. and a step forward for our movement. I invite comments and/or other appraisals.
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