From Outside the Circle
Seems like some really bad, bad people called me a terrorist on Twitter today, to try to destroy Occupy Philly by creating a straw person (“the anarchist”), and of the many words of solidarity, I have say that Kotu Bajaj put it best, “Cindy’s the kinda of terrorist that kills with kittens and hugs”–although I’d substitute “convinces” for “kills.”
And just when I thought it couldn’t get better, the occupation in Philly amazes me yet again. After a day of vicious attacks on anarchists, often including me by name, as a divide-and-conquer strategy to destroy this beautiful movement/space, the outpouring of people showing solidarity was incredible; but much more incredible was the fact that people knew this was meant as an attack on all of us, on our occupation, on how well it’s actually making & taking its own collective power. The sign that we’re doing well is that we not only are targets of such tactics but that we can also withstand them; that they bring us closer. So many people hugged me tonight, from all political persuasions and of many colors, genders, ages, backgrounds–all to say, we have each other’s backs. So many people asked me how I was. I kept answering: “Great! Just great!” And I meant it. I mean it. We’re only being attacked–so far, primarily people of color and anarchists–because we seem easy targets to stir up hatred around in order to subdue and dismantle this uprising; but we’re only being attacked because we’re winning, because we have power together, not power over, and increasingly, achingly hard as it is sometimes, we’re doing the hard work of undoing ourselves and our socialization to become, faster than I ever imagined, new people who can be trusted to begin to stand with and for each other.
I hope to be able to release the final document–for now–outlining our confederated, directly democratic process, which puts power in the general assembly for major decisions, but that probably won’t be until Saturday or Sunday, since some details are going to be debated again this weekend. But I have to say that with each assembly, it’s more and more clear that everyone is starting to know the process, know the culture, and are eager to use and defend it, even after a 3-hour GA tonight.
This evening, we spent nearly 2 hours on a proposal to basically, unintentionally I think, move toward more of a representative democracy. A working group proposed that we respond to a letter of demands from the city of Philly (brought to the GA two days ago) by delegating 2-3 “reps” from each working group to meet with the city tomorrow, using demands that the one working group had devised. A bunch of us who are process geeks and also want to keep this GA focused on its key role as the decision-making body spoke up, getting to make impassioned interventions about direct democracy, for one, in a space where we’re actually doing it. (I honestly never thought I’d live to see, much less participate in something like this, and in the United States.) Our notion that the whole proposal was framed backward in terms of where power lies–with the city, with reps, or with the GA–was convincing, and a friendly amendment that basically brought power back to the GA ended up winning by large acclaim. We’re going to discuss as a GA what (probably local and/or occupation oriented) demands we want, write them up to discuss again, and then finally decide on a written list of demands in our response letter, and send that letter to the city but also post, email, tweet, etc. far and wide. After that, we likely will decide to have a group of delegated folks from all working groups sit down with the city, or we might revisit that question; but regardless, in the name of transparency, we want everything in writing; in the name of horizontal and shared power, we want all of us in the GA to hammer out demands–again, probably not wide-ranging and more universal demands but probably Philly specific, which is kinda how I think direct democracy should work right now, as we carve out these “occupations everywhere” and learn, step by step, mistake by mistake, how to self-govern.
Each night we get a little better; each night people see this as their space to have and hold and defend and love; and each night I see people’s eyes light up as they realize their own power to self-determination, their own power, with others, to self-organization–the lightbulb in their head that what they’ve been taught (fear, submission, following orders, etc.) is an illusion and this, this world we’re busy building day by day, is the actual reality, the quality stuff that gives life meaning.
One last note before I yet again get another short night of sleep. I love the anarchists here in Philly. Grounded, organized, focused, savvy, humble, warm, and all eager to see people as people and work with “where people are” in the real-life struggles that impact so many more of us, day by day. After all of us fretting a lot during the day over the Web site, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and email attacks on anarchists, a group of anarchists wrote this eloquent piece, brought a red & black flag, and asked a bunch of us to stand before people at the end of the general assembly. I’ll try to find the words they wrote, and using the “people’s mic” technique, spoke (with everything repeated back)–and also try to post the live stream feed, since all our general assemblies are taped and broadcast!–but one highlight was: “Yes, we have an agenda. It’s freedom. Mutual aid. Solidarity. Direct democracy.” This was a good night to be an anarchist, among anarchists; but it was an extra good night to be a human, among other humans, trying our damnest to treat each other as individuated humans, as people we’re starting to get to know and care about, because we’re on this rollercoaster together, flying toward a new world that none of us can quite see in the distance, but with each turn, each shout of joy, and sometimes that awful bump of fear in your stomach, we seem to be coming around each bend even more committed to Occupy Philly.
Always one last thing! If you’re occupying in NYC, Denver, or anywhere else under threat this evening, know that many folks were talking and thinking about you tonight, wishing we could help, and hoping that you weather yet another storm. Solidarity from the growing encampment that’s turning into a city from below, here in Philly!
p.s. I biked home, with my housemate and co-occupier Alex Knight, and when we went into the kitchen to grab some late-night eats, we found that someone had occupied the cupboards over our sink with signs that read, “Treat others the way you want to be treated. Do you dishes. Occupy Philly.” I love this historical moment.
My dream is that every occupation crafts its own site-specific way of making directly democratic decisions, and that we each record and share our ideas, and learn from and borrow from and build on all these ideas, until we grow our autonomous experiments into confederated, self-governing spaces. Until we create a diversity of processes that fit local conditions, so when we’re ready to confederate (i.e., coordinate across occupations, while keeping power dispersed and horizontal), we’ll have “a diversity of direct democracies”! So here, NYC style: “Consensus (Occupy Wall Street),” at vimeo.com. And here, “Centralized vs. Decentralized Consensus/Democracy” courtesy of the Autonomous Legion (http://www.autonomous-legion.org). And then there’s the “open consensus process” of Occupy PDX, at Google docs, https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=explorer&chrome=true&srcid=0BxBb1a-d9W3aZDBhMDVhMDEtMjVmYS00M2FjLWFhNGMtNDA1NjZmNWQwM2Iy&hl=en_US&pli=1
* * *
Patience. Things happen so fast at Occupy Philly. The tents, for instance, have mushroomed into what are almost neighborhoods, now filling almost the entirety of the gigantic city hall plaza, with rumors of people wanting to give the pathways between the encampments names like “Solidarity Street” and most of the tents serving as both home & artistic/political/architectural expression. But things happen slowly, too. And I for one need to remember that fast-slow tempo, and remember to be patient. The infusion from birth of the hegemony of hierarchy within all of us is so deep, so “natural,” so nearly “instinctual” for most people, that even if it seems to me that so much changes with each day at our occupation–and it does–I need to remember that remaking self & society doesn’t happen in a week, or even two.
Maybe it was the off-and-on again rain, or blustery fall weather, but I felt this off-and-on again patience-frustration-patience, wondering why it’s so hard for people to see that police aren’t our friends, even if some of them are friendly; that inviting city officials to our general assembly would not be a good idea, because they won’t come as “people” but instead bring the institutional weight of social control with them; that we don’t need to jump when the city sends word through “our” attorneys that we should give up some of our power because it’s making the city nervous (sadly, despicably, tonight “our” attorneys, and an ACLU one in particular, basically acted and spoke on behalf of the city, as if the city were their clients, arguing during our general assembly that we should do what the city wants, because the city is uncomfortable. Isn’t that part of what we want? What we’ve won? The power to make those in top-down power uncomfortable? Ah, but I’m being impatient again!
We’re schooling ourselves in freedom by the day here–freedom, autonomy, mutual aid, self-governance. I just want it to go a whole hell of a lot faster sometimes.
Each time I’m patient, I know it has far more impact in terms of my own hopes and dreams for this space, this insurrection–an insurrection being pushed forward and sustained in large measure by people who mostly don’t even seem to understand they are actually rebelling, by people who are so earnest and caring, and yet so blind to social realities like, say, institutionalized forms of racism, brutality, and power, and maybe more upsetting, just so new to politics and social movements that they honestly don’t “get” that those in power with try to stop us using “whatever means necessary,’ even so-called niceness. I know that most people here–save for the few bad eggs, such as an undercover cop who came into our occupation today to spread rumors to again try to thwart us, or the few folks who think they should be in near-total control of our Web site–have the best of intentions and care immensely about doing good in the world. It’s just so hard to see people the many, miniscule ways in which we’re socialized to behave, obey, comply, give away our power, look to those in power, etc., etc., etc. I have so much more patience for conversations around why police, as an institution, are problematic than I do for the perhaps much more fundamental dialogues around why, in so many tiny but critical ways, at every general assembly there is this subtle assertion of our direct, decentralized power-together and then eagerness to hand it back over to those in centralized power-over structures.
Today during our general assembly, a renewed version of a portion of yesterday’s proposal reappeared in the form of a supposed innocuous proposal that not only negated the good decision we made last night (to respond to a “request” letter from the city by first developing a set of our own demands through a deliberative, dialogic GA process, ending up with a written letter developed and approved by the GA, to then send to the city and post to world, before we meet with any city officials). The city, of course, made a chess move against our decision, called “our” lawyers, and the result was a proposal from part of the legal working group that we, the GA, have a “listening” meeting with the city before our demand letter, since the poor city felt uncomfortable with our process and time frame, and needed reassurance.
In the end, there was widespread affirmation that NO, we need to pull together our own demands in writing first and foremost, before any (if any) meetings, and YES, we know we have power and want to keep it. But that took a couple hours in the chilly-damp night air of trying to patiently articulate, through participating in the “concerns” part of the process, in small breakout group conversations, and mostly, for me, in various one-on-one discussions when people came up to me after I spoke once, to ask me to patiently explain why I was so opposed to inviting the city to meet with us. “They just want to listen.” “Shouldn’t we keep them on our side?” “Isn’t it good for public opinion if we keep the city happy?” “If we’re only listening, what harm can that do?” The subtleties that us anarchists know all too well of how hierarchy and domination seep in, seemingly so innocent at first, grab hold, and grow seem so clear; as my friend, and as someone who exhibited exceeding patience with me, Murray Bookchin, used to always say, “You can’t have a little bit of capitalism. It’s like cancer. It’s structured to grow.” We know that. The history of social movements, revolutions, and all sorts of utopian projects attest to that. Sadly. With much death and heartache. So now that it feels like we’re in the midst of what’s becoming a social force and perhaps something transformative, revolutionary, hinting at utopia, I’m impatient. I don’t want this to end in heartbreak, collective heartbreak, or worse.
And yet patience is exactly what’s needed. This movement is novel in so many ways–which someday soon I hope to lay out in a more coherent, less sleep deprived manner–but one of those ways is how it came before any preparation. The Facebook revolution. Or maybe Tweeter transformation. Create an events page, send out electronic invites to your “friends,” and on the day of the event, you don’t even have to go to the trouble of showing up, even if you say “I’m attending”; somehow those who do gather will know what to do, because it’s all laid out on the Facebook events page. And they did know what to do in the early days of OWS: make a bunch of status updates in the form of cardboard signs, each getting its own space and staying “up” on the sidewalk as long as each person decided to maintain that status; or shout out a tweeter feed to a group of real-live people, at well under 140 characters per shout, and hear them shout it back via the people’s mic. Suddenly it wasn’t a exercise in tweeting from the loneliness of one’s room into a computer but speaking your tweet to living, breathing, loving, caring people who saw and recognized you as a human being, like them, who simply wants to be seen and heard.
At first I thought it was horrific, the incoherent hodgepodge of people so destroyed by the restructuring of already-debased social relations into hollow, ultra-alienating “social networking” that the mere act of saying almost nothing, but doing so in person, was the best people could do anymore. A blank slate of blank people. And thus I tried to think of another social movement or social struggle in the United States since, say, WWII that didn’t involve preparing the ground first, via teaching, training, organizing, capacity building, strategizing, etc., and I couldn’t. So perhaps out of perverse curiosity, I stuck around to see what would happen to this “movement” created from nothing, demanding even less than the “demand nothing” of the insurrectionist anarchist “occupy everything” impulse of a couple years ago. It was patient with itself, and it reminded me of the value of that, so slowly but surely, despite the naivete and vacuousness of much of OWS at first, I started to get drawn into patient engagement, and saw other longtime anarchists, autonomists, and radicals do the same. Slowly but surely, the patience “paid off” on all sides, and when I returned to Philly, I set about–along with a ton of other anarchists, autonomists, and other libertarian left radicals–bringing that patience to bear from the first, to try our best to bring ground in the form of our “technical” skills at collective self-organization and education (educating people to think for themselves). That patience was and is two-way, because all of us are learning, when we listen and dialogue, have empathy and compassion, and as I seem to be writing again and again, each new day brings new lessons, new surprises. And each new GA, with all its frustrations, seem to end, in the end, with a resounding affirmation of our social power from below, our do-it-ourselves democracy.
But damn, I’m impatient. The informers are moving in. Police, unformed and not, are making the rounds, sowing seeds of discord, spreading rumors. The mayor is playing “nice cop” to, say, Bloomberg’s “bad cop.” A few renegade folks within our occupation, who think it’s their occupation alone, are trying–increasingly desperately, and increasingly nastily–to divide us, to take this space and place and time from us. The weather is turning to fall, then too soon winter. And then there’s just the slow, but steady, but slow process of people undoing all the socialization that hinders each of us in so many ways. So yes, I’m completely impatient. I want this to stick. I want this to grow. Now that I’ve tasted what it feels like to practice, with disparate and damaged others, actually existing direct democracy in a way that’s gaining us more social power and a more beautiful social space by the day, I want so much more, even as I fret and worry that it’s going to disappear before it’s had a chance. So I’m losing my ability to stay in tune with the contradictions and let this surprising, inexplicable, mysterious social movement unfold of its own luxurious accord.
Fortunately, this uprising has a lot of sitting, and so on the wet concrete during our lengthy GA, after I’d spoken up with my concerns about the proposal, a young guy pulled up to sit next to me. “Can I ask you why you’re worried about us inviting the city officials to one of our GAs?” he said, quietly, calmly, with seemingly endless patience. We chatted in hushed tones amid the clamor of the people’s mic conversation (our donated amplified system was needed for the night by our donors, the Stage Hands union!), and my patience returned. He was ready and eager to hear my reasons, and I was finally, for once this evening, ready again to calmly share my thoughts, starting from his starting point (not mine), as others have done for and with me, and still do, when I’m ready and eager. I’m pretty sure I changed his mind, planting the nagging suspicion of hierarchy in his head, for him to then apply to all sorts of other situations. I’m pretty sure he ended up voting against the proposal, which would have limited our direct democracy and social power. Plus I know others around us were listening in, taking in new ways of “reading” what seem innocuous friendly gestures on the part of city and police. What I’m absolutely sure about this rainy autumn evening is: I need patience for myself, for others, for this movement that came before there was any ground beneath its feet, or it will falter before it really begins.
We Are Anarchists
The following brief statement was read by a bunch of anarchists, with big smiles on their faces and a red & black flag in hand, at the general assembly (GA) on Thursday, October 13, 2011, at the occupation in Philly, using the “call and repeat” technique of the people’s mic. Several anarchists—who like hundreds of other people of diverse political persuasions, have been participating in numerous wonderful ways in the do-it-ourselves Philly occupation—took the initiate to craft this statement. The words were motivated by an electronic firestorm of derogatory attacks against anarchists—including specific anarchists by name—that same day, largely initiated by one person who had admin privileges on the Occupy Philly Web site, Facebook page, and Twitter account, and basically booted off all the other admin people. Fortunately, both online and especially in person, the divide-and-conquer tactic not only failed but instead actually backfired. The vast majority of folks at the occupation stood solidly behind anarchists and solidly behind the direct democracy that we’ve created together; if anything, the assault seemed to bring people together a bit more, and many folks said it made them curious to learn more about anarchism! Still, many anarchists at the Philly occupation also felt the need to proudly, loudly, fabulously, and strongly offer a public statement that tevening. Here’s a text, culled from handwritten notes, so while it’s not exactly what was said, it’s a close approximation. Feel free to share. (Alas, the live stream footage of our GA and this reading was allegedly lost by accident; if anyone taped this reading, please upload and post it widely, including onto our Web site: http://radoccupyphilly.wordpress.com/).
We are anarchists. We don’t speak for anyone else, just ourselves.
You’re right. We have an agenda:
* Mutual aid
* Direct democracy
We’re people just like you. We’re parents, teachers, we walk your dog, we serve your coffee (etc.).
We are not violent. In fact, we’re critical of the most violent people here: the police.
The kind of divisive tactics of fearmongering that took place today through rumors will shut down what all of us are doing! Groups will be targeted as bad people versus good occupiers on the basis of ideology, race, and so on.
Anarchism is inherently against all forms of domination, so no, we’re not hijacking the Occupy Philly movement.
We’re here talking about and trying to practice what it means to be anti-racist, anti-sexist, pro-labor, queer friendly, anti-classist, anti-ableist, anti-ageist, and so on.
We’re here with everyone else, practicing power-with not power-over.
And lastly, we really respect the directly democratic process. We use consensus-based decision making in many, if not all, of our own spaces and projects.
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There are now some 225 tents, pumpkin displays, portable toilets courtesy of a local union, skateboarders, a worship area, outdoor movies, Mischief Brew playing live tomorrow night, a “possibility station,” an engineering crew that wants to consult on weatherizing structures, a tent for gathering good ideas for our occupation, a second couch and several armchairs, a working group that wants to connect with other occupations, increasingly easy and animated political discussions, multiplying classes and an ever-expanding library collection, and growing camaraderie. Growing camaraderie! Plus a lot more laughter. At least on this Saturday night, in what’s becoming a place that people are already talking about not wanting to leave—ever.
To my mind, it’s more a relation between means and end. We’re practicing the “ends” (freedom, solidarity, mutual aid, direct democracy) using the same means, but only approximations, as we trip and stubble through our learning process of de-socialization, and that is the politics too. And slowly but surely, all are becoming more radicalized–in the sense, that we are increasingly talking about, debating, and honing in on the roots of problems and practicing potential alternatives. I keep hearing people say “When are we going to find something or make demands to unify us?” even as we’re increasingly becoming united in our commitment to this place we’re creating together—and the creation is increasingly exemplying that something, our demands: realizing the impossible, which we are possibly doing already.
Like all occupations, that means grappling with who and what we here before us, from centuries ago to, tangibly, many people without homes at present, in ways that aren’t about displacement or usurping or control over. That’s been one of the harder balances, but I sort of think people are slowly understanding that too: this wasn’t a blank slate (there were people “occupying” here before us), even though, in certain ways, it also is a blank slate (we’re forging an actual neighborhood that more and more offers real community and doesn’t want to be displaced itself, particularly since it increasingly gestures toward notions of “replacement” for various hierarchical structures).
Tonight during our general assembly, sitting on the ground, various folks kept chatting about things like “Maybe we should occupy a nearby building as warmth during the winter?” or “Let’s start gathering info on all the amazing radical organizing spaces and projects around Philly, and figure out ways (print, in person, etc.) to connect people to them and each other, and build on what we’re already doing” or “Why don’t we think about working toward neighborhood assemblies?” or “Why aren’t we strategizing about federating/coordinating with other occupations regional or continental or even internationally to really take on social transformation?” Or as one woman said during our GA, “This is about changing the whole system. We don’t need to cooperate with the city. Most of us are already cooperating just fine, with each other. Most of us are already being respectful to each other.”
We’re starting to do it, what state and capitalism don’t want us to do, making our means and ends relate in ways that alter our social relations and social organization in people- and earth-centered ways, around our shared yet also individual needs and desires. As one of my housemates who, perhaps even more than me, is overly involved in this occupation, said tonight as he was cooking up stirfry for yet another midnight-plus dinner, “It just gets more radical by the day,” meaning that people are starting to see the systemic roots of social problems and starting to “own” their own horizontal power. The big question for me—especially with increasing though still subtle policing methods to break us apart—is whether we’ll have enough days. Our enemy is the police, for sure, but it’s also just sheer time. The relation between means and ends, radicalization and politicization, is all about time. Or as one of my dad’s jokes goes: Someone stops a cab in NYC and asks, “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” The driver responds, “With practice; practice, practice, and more practice.”
At a time when many in Philly lack health care, adequate heat or housing (or a lack of both), a sense of safety, and a host of other material/emotional supports, “the Center City District has retained Gilbane to serve as the owner’s representative for the $50 million transformation of Dilworth Plaza.” Fortunately, many hundreds of us are now transforming Dilworth–FOR FREE–into a self-governed space that’s attempting to truly care for each and everyone of us. No need for fancy contractors or wasted dollars; everything for everyone, via people power. Join us!
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Tonight I’m a crushed out on the people inhabiting the occupation here in Philly–well, most of them. I’ll write something another day about the one, two, or three folks who have delusions of controlling this uncontrollable movement, and have used a variety of tactics to try to assert this control, from lying and spreading lies, even dangerous ones; to commandeering or monopolizing the various media from Web sites to Twitter to the Facebook page for the occupation; to turning certain people and projects in our newfound community into the police; to trying to demonize anarchists and me specifically. But let me save my anger for another day, another post; there will always be a person or two (or a small group) who try “by any means necessary” to contain, squash, and doom outpourings of self-organization and popular power.
And hence my heartthrob this evening, for all the many, many, many other people at this occupation–pretty much the 99.99% here at Occupy Philly, much as I hate the 99% slogan (yet another rant for yet another day)–who are doing precisely the opposte. As we near the two-week mark, I can only stand back and gaze lovingly at this thing we’ve all created: a social fabric of people power, each with their own quirks, viewpoints, contributions, strengths, and failings. Our imperfections, as both a direct democracy and as humans, is night by night, making us closer, forging the ever-strong sense that this is not only our space, our imperfectly beautiful new world, but also one that we don’t want to lose, that we want to sustain, build on, expand, and if it comes to it (which in my wildest fantasies, I dream that it won’t), resist when the powers-that-be try to take it away from us.
This evening I’m in love with our general assembly (GA). We’ve gotten good at this! Listening to each other, intently. Changing minds and hearts, in a compassionate way. Being OK when someone speaks for the first time–indeed, encouraging them to do so–and being kind when they stumble with their words, often applauding them afterward. And mostly, taking our task seriously: that we are making decisions, important ones, together. That our decisions matter.
So concerning the relatively minor decision tonight about whether our assemblies should be 1.5 hours each night, 2 hours, or go on ad naseum, people tinkered at the original proposal until we generally agreed that 2 hours seemed good, with a check-in by the facilitators at 8:45 if it seemed like our discussion wasn’t nearing an end, to potentially vote to extend the GA a bit. Such “logistical” questions could have quite easily simply been decided by the facilitation working group, or our Coordinating Council (the CoCo, consisting of 1-2 delegates from each working group per night, meeting before our GA to set the proposals for that night’s assembly). But here in our social fabric, most everyone has become a staunch defender of transparency, openness, inclusiveness, and directly democratic decisions–almost to a fault. (A couple nights ago, we also debated and decided that proposals should indeed go through the CoCo–something that had been “standard” practice from the start, but something that the whole GA had never discussed.) As one young woman who’s been one of my barometers of this occupation movement said to me tonight, when we were talking about a subcommittee tasked last night with drafting a letter that the entire GA has been setting the content for, together as a group, for the past three nights: “I know you think it’s OK to set up this subcommittee simply to draft a letter to bring back to the GA for debate, revisions, and decision making; but I think everyone should always be able to join anything here, so wherever wants to write that letter, should, even if that means a 100 people or more.”
When we faced what could be seen as a more substantive issue this evening–a proposal from the “message working group” to write a letter from Occupy Philly to Occupy DC asking that they call for a national day of general assemblies on “black Friday” after Thanksgiving, that would bring GAs from the whole country to DC–we engaged in this pretty remarkable group process of what were allegedly “friendly amendments” that, in the end, completely reframed the proposal into something that elicited great joy and pretty much full agreement all around. Person after person offered “amendments” that built on each other’s, and then folks ran over to each other to craft combinations of amendments, while numerous wonderful side conversations created even further ideas. The facilitators masterfully further combined ideas for a series of votes that, one by one, transformed the proposal into: Occupy Philly will write a letter to send to GAs all over the world, calling for regional gatherings of GAs on a worldwide day of “general assemblies of general assemblies,” with the time, date, and location to be determined by the regions, as a way to grow our movement, and create face-to-face relations between occupations of solidarity and sharing, as directly democratic bodies. (Ah, echoes of the commune of communes notion!) And of course, this letter has to come back to us, the GA, tomorrow night before we send it out.
My crush this evening was for how we’ve gotten so relatively good, in such a relatively short time, at something we shouldn’t be good at–self-governance. Meaning, we’re good enough to almost improvise together, with the structure of direct democracy we’ve created and committed ourselves to, voluntarily, as people who are starting to recognize each other as individuated human beings, so we know we can increasingly trust each other, that we have the interests of our “community” at heart, and yet we’re all able to maintain ourselves as diverse people. From there, we can and do make expansively beautiful decisions. Who knows if our general assembly of general assemblies notion will get picked up by other GAs, or will even happen. But we dreamed together tonight. We want to see our occupations encircle each other–like the ripples in the water when you toss a few stones in–and help each other and offer aid when one occupation is attacked by police, or another has too few people, or another needs ideas on how to organize conflict resolution, or maybe, just maybe, we gain enough confidence in ourselves as general assemblies to know we can do this all the time.
My crush, too, is for the people themselves who I’ve met and am getting to know and am struggling with through hard stuff and humorous stuff and joyful stuff and all the stuff that makes life worth living. It’s for the young guy who I barely know, but who I’ve said hello to and a few words every single day of this occupation, who ran up to me to exclaim, “Hey, it makes me feel good to see you here each night!” followed by a big hug. It’s for another person who I’ve only spoken to once, a week ago, and then didn’t have a great conversation, but tonight, standing side by side at the GA, after both of us expressed our concerns about a proposal, he turned to me and we got in a super conversation, he as a marxist and me as an anarchist, about the concept of “alienation”–all the while trying to also keep track of the proposal being debated. It’s about watching a longtime friend do an incredible job of facilitating along with people, other good facilitators, I didn’t even know two weeks ago, now bonded together as a working group, doing the good work of helping our GA make decisions smoothly, agilely, savvily, and in 2 hours. It’s about the acquaintances who are now becoming friends who are also amazing organizers and principled, dedicated people who, this evening, ended up going to bat for each other, and for me, over one of those folks I mentioned at the outset–one of those control types. It wasn’t about disliking or being mean to that individual; in fact, if anything, people have probably been too nice, too patient–again, a “fault” ‘that also underscores the joy of this occupation, in that people are trying to think the best of each other, are trying to stay open. Nonetheless, an exhausted group of people took turns trying to reason with this one person, much more adamantly than ever before, but all in the name of preserving this space for everyone, in a way that keeps it open for us all to have an equal share of the power to create.
Through it all this past long, short almost-two weeks, we’ve unfolded as people to each other. Not just what’s nice and good about ourselves, but also who we truly are, through fights and conflicts, misunderstandings and poorly stated comments during GAs, lack of skills and disorganization, sleeplessness and impatience. I looked around this evening, at the many faces of people I didn’t like at first, who I share little in common with, who I’d never in a million years be friends with. I looked around and realized, I like them. I am friends and/or friendly with them. Quirks and all. Because I’m starting to know their quirks, and goodness knows, they certainly know mine. We’re turning into what people label “one big, happy family,” where you know that means, “Yeah, your uncle kinda rambles on too long, but we love him anyway” or “Your cousin is a bit wild, but they are a good kid.” And certainly that’s true, with the fondness as well that underlies that sentiment of familiarity, of family you never asked for, but when push comes to shove, you’re glad you have around. More than that, though, we’ve turned into the stuff, on a micro level, of what might begin to feel like “one big, happy community,” where our imperfections are what fondly bind us, allow us to make and keep promises, give us the desire to be there for and with each other, through thick and thin, without compulsion.
“This is how direct democracy works”: an imperfectly perfect social fabric that we ourselves are weaving, lovingly, tighter by the night.