Thursday, October 27, 2011

Pre-Occupied


The first thing I did was grab hold of Jason's tent. The wind was about to carry it away.

We were in the park next to Branigan Library, on the corner of Main and Picacho in Las Cruces. The first two tents had already been set up, and Jason was joining. Unfortunately, he was pitching his tent in the midst of a spurt of rain, brought in by a heavy wind. An Army vet and I had just arrived to attend a General Assembly meeting, just in time to grab hold of his tent while he tried to secure it. Without stakes, as he did not want to damage the earth. Another camper helped him shore up the structure of his tent with cinderblocks. We let go and, to our relief, the tent stayed in place.

We gathered for a General Assembly meeting beneath a tree in the park, situated near a couple of benches for those who did wish to sit on the ground. There were college students, retirees, and people all ages between.

It began with a polite struggle over who would facilitate the meeting. "I suggest Blythe facilitate tonight." "Well I haven't even been here for the last two meetings." "The more assertive people tend to facilitate a lot, I'd like to rotate it." "Do you want to facilitate it?" "No."

Once that receded, an older man who has been active with the group walked over with the sign and criticized us for having a meeting in the first place. "We're going to be over there occupying, while you all sit here talking about an occupation."

There is a fair amount of "I, my, me" in this "leaderless" movement. It is only to be expected. This is why actual democracy is rarely tried, and usually feared. A process like this requires us to hold our own ideas a little more gently and open ourselves to listening to each other. The way we conduct ourselves is part of the message. That means a little extra time to reach decisions by consensus, and a little less charging ahead.

This is harder for some personalities than others. One man frequently chafes at the "General Assembly" process, like it is some kind of government trying to control him, rather than an assembly of people getting organized to facilitate "together action." It is a simple personality conflict: some human beings are inclined to charge ahead and let the rest of the world catch up with them, and at the opposite extreme some people can get bogged down in deliberations and, to quote Hamlet, "lose the name of action."

Immediately after last week's General Assembly meeting, a man decided to pick a location and set up his tent even though the group had decided to begin the "occupation" Friday night and was still considering different locations. This unilateral move caused a momentary kerfluffle. On the one hand, who was to say that a man could not begin a protest on his own? On the other hand, what about working together, reaching consensus, and all that? Was this democracy, anarchism, or what? Oh, the emails.

To everyone's credit, patience and humor prevailed. The man had chosen a pretty good spot. The group convened there, discussed the location, took a quick vote, and chose the park. Unity preserved.

As we wrapped up our business, the wind picked up again and suddenly Mick, the woman facilitating, screamed, "The tent!! The tent!!"

Sure enough, it was Jason's tent. The cinderblocks did not hold it, and his tent was now flying across the park and into traffic. Four men frantically ran after it in the rain pursued by a small dog who was ecstatic over the game.


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This has been one in an occasional series of disorganized observations and reflections of a local "Occupy" movement.

Occupy Las Cruces has quickly gotten itself organized and has been setting up camp this week at a location near City Hall. Your correspondent has continued to attend meetings and participate in one of the working groups (or "clusters") to support a demonstration in solidarity with the "Occupy Wall Street" and has written a few reflections on the process and the movement nationwide. Those posts are stacked here.


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