Occupying Raleigh's Sidewalks (Photo: kakissel, flickr)

Occupying Raleigh's Sidewalks (Photo: kakissel, flickr)

Occupation is a complicated endeavor. Its a week in and we are just starting to confront a variety of concerns.

We got a report back from legal today. The permit request to allow us onto just a section of the Capitol grounds for one week was denied. They claimed our request went against their policies. Of course we know other groups have been allowed to do exactly what we requested so it has nothing to do with their policies. Its just an attempt to not allow the occupation to grow. The last thing the government wants is a force that opposes them to grow bigger. Can’t say I am surprised. That they would violate their oaths to serve the public and instead serve their own self interest is disappointing but par for the course. If the government was responsive to the needs and rights of the 99%, we would not be out there.

The lawyer from the National Lawyers Guild, Peter, mentioned something about the sidewalk we are currently occupying that helps illustrate the sort of bureaucracy we are dealing with.  The state says they do not control the sidewalk. The city says the state does control the sidewalk. Maps suggest the city controls the sidewalk but even that may depend on which map you look at. Lastly Peter added that the reality at this point is that the occupation controls the sidewalk.

At the moment it doesn’t appear we are going to challenge the denial of the permit in court. We could continue to apply for permits but there does comes a point where an occupation just has to assert its rights as citizens as afforded to them under the Constitution. There is nowhere in the Constitution where it says you need a permit to exercise ones rights to Free Speech and Assembly on public land. It reminds me of the Orwellian concept of “Free Speech Zones” that the governments sets up during the political party’s national conventions. Our government will continue to erode our freedoms and rights if we let them. Its one of the many reasons push back from the 99% is so desperately needed. “All evil needs to triumph is for good people to do nothing.” If the government takes away one of your rights and one does nothing, soon they will look to take another.

Even though the permit was denied it is not going to stop us from having a rally again on Saturday. We are starting at 11am and have a series of activities planned throughout the day. Much of our success in how far we can exert our rights without being arrested will depend on our numbers. If 300 people or more go onto the Capitol grounds, the police order them to leave and they don’t, its possible the powers that be will not order the police to arrest everyone. Logistically that is a lot of people to arrest but also it would be a powerful statement and image. In NYC the mass arrests on the Brooklyn Bridge brought many more supporters the following day. I assume that would at least give them pause. That many willing to be arrested may suggest that following through on the arrests could be like throwing gas on a fire. If enough parents where there with their kids it could be like throwing napalm on a fire.

The lack of numbers is consistently our biggest weakness. We have people that have shown extreme dedication in the face of sleepless nights and harsh elements. We have had plenty of provisions be it food, water, blankets, medical supplies, chairs, and even a growing cash reserve. But without the numbers we lack the ability to force the issue in establishing the occupation on the Capitol grounds. As some of us have looked back on how things went the first day of the occupation which started with the large rally we can see some missed opportunities and even suspect one or two of being plants to subvert the start of the occupation. If they were not plants they sure did a good job of screwing things up in ways that diminished our numbers. One suggestion I would give to future attempts by others to set up their occupations is that until you have established the occupation be quick to silence those who appear to be trying to scare people who may be considering defying an order to leave the occupation site. While allowing everyone a voice is crucial, everyone doesn’t have to speak the very first day. Saboteurs are not acting in good faith anyway. The occupation owes them nothing.

Don’t err too far on the side of just passively standing by. It is important to live up to the ideals of the movement but the forces arrayed against us don’t play fair or honorably, so do not hamstring yourself in a way that gives those forces free reign to hurt you. When Geraldo Rivera with his FOX news crew came into Liberty Park they did not just let him peacefully use their space to generate a story of propaganda due to a miscalculation about respecting his right to Free Speech. They rightfully used their voices to drive him out. When our likely saboteur asked for a show of hands for a second time for who was staying in defiance of the eventual police order to leave I almost went and grabbed the mic from his hands. I should have and then followed with some fire and brimstone reinforcing an implicit assumption we were all staying. What can I say. I am new to this.

I am not sure what kind of numbers we will have tomorrow but I doubt it will be anywhere close to the first rally which we had more time to advertise. If tomorrow does not get us on the Capitol grounds one strategy may be to take a couple weeks to advertise and prepare another large rally and then try to avoid the sort of pitfalls that happened the first time around. One thing that helped Occupy Wallstreet is they were able to draw people from outside the city who could come and actually live in the camp. That is just not possible for us to do while we are stuck on the sidewalk. We have many of our logistical concerns well handled but we just lack the bodies. People need to stop settling for the easy path of supporting from a distance. We need more truly willing to fight. I have spoken with too many people who visit us on the sidewalk who show seemingly clear understandings of how unjust and broken things are, but refuse to take the the next step. I do not know how to rally them.

Another ongoing development has to do with the homeless community. More are coming to our sidewalk occupation. At first it was just giving them food and water and then they would move on. This caused no problems and everyone was happy to help. Then we started having mild altercations with homeless who were drunk or mentally unstable. At one point a drunk homeless man named Larry kept disrupting a GA. It wasn’t that disruptive though and most seemed fine basically ignoring him. Eventually though one or two people had enough and called the attention of an officer nearby to deal with Larry. The fact that people got the police involved really bothered a couple of the other occupiers. Larry is one of the 99% and needs help. They just felt that we should be able to find a better way to resolve the situation than getting the police involved. I agree.

A couple separate times someone gave other homeless people a blanket to take with them. Later it was decided that we would be willing to let them use a blanket if they did not take it. But we have had at least a couple attempts, once successful and the 2nd stopped, of homeless people attempting to steal provisions. When I left tonight there were around 3 to 4 homeless people sleeping under blankets in lawn chairs.

They are part of the 99%, and a part that has been the most neglected and most hurt by an increasingly fascist system that is content as long as they are out of sight. There are shelters around and yet some chose to come be with us. We do not have fantastic food or anything and even under blankets they are choosing to sleep in chairs out in the cold instead of in a shelter. I am embarrassed to say that right now I am wishing I had just asked a couple of them why the chose to join us.

Someone posted on our Facebook page tonight, “We need support tonight. We are be over taken by the homeless population and the police are doing nothing about it!” A long discussion followed and it seems inevitable it will come up at a GA pretty soon. I wish I knew more about the experiences of other occupations. I think banning anyone, homeless or not, obviously under the influence of alcohol or other drugs will be a must. Not only is it a safety concern but also its a PR issue while we try to wage a PR battle to get onto the Capitol grounds. I seem to remember hearing they did that at Liberty Park though I am not certain.

An occupation needs to be a place where everyone can feel comfortable. If someone smells rank is that enough to encourage them to move on after offering them food and water? (I think not) If they never participate in the community, and only come for food and to sleep there, should they be welcomed to continue to do so? ( I think yes) If their behavior appears mentally unstable should the occupation even attempt to make them feel comfortable enough to continue coming to get food and water even if they are then encouraged to move on? (I am conflicted)

Perhaps I sound heartless. I honestly just find myself conflicted and confused. My understanding of occupations, the process of building consensus democracy based communities, is that there is a mixture of participation and compassion, and both are critically vital. But participation is an ambiguous term. However its not just about forming communities. It is also a fight for economic and social justice against very powerful forces. We are trying to force the powers that be to stop ignoring us and to pay attention to our needs. When I think about the homeless the bold text in the previous sentence echos.

Occupation is a complicated endeavor.