Occupy Raleigh (Photo: twbuckner, flickr)

Occupy Raleigh (Photo: twbuckner, flickr)

It seems the Raleigh Occupation has settled in. There was worry today when it seemed as though the police presence grew unusually large, perhaps signaling an impending force-able eviction, but that appears to have been a false alarm. Considering everything that went down in the last 24 hours with other occupation sites like Oakland, Atlanta, and Baltimore, its not surprising folks would be especially sensitive to any changes. In general however we have established ourselves on the sidewalk, have enough provisions for those who occupy 24/7, have the ability to sit and sleep on the sidewalk, and have an ebb and flow of people who can only be there part time. We have daily General Assemblies at 6:30pm which draw anywhere from 40-70 people, which can now be held on the Capitol grounds as long as there are no signs. We are still working out exactly how to deal with the money people donate to us, but it finally feels like things are close to being worked out.

Turns out a couple of the folks I thought appeared to be assets to the occupation are in fact significant problems. We probably should have had a de-escalation working group sooner, but our issues with those folks and the occasional drunk basically forced us to create one a couple nights ago. That is a working group I decidedly will not join. I know myself and I have a strong tendency to escalate situations rather than the contrary. I do fine speaking with the police. That is a very particular game and one I play fairly well. But my tendency to get emotional in inter-personal arguments and my lack of patience is just a bad mix for de-escalation. I am none the less very glad we have that working group now. We really needed it.

An example of a problem the de-escalation working group would have helped us avoid involved a specific individual that made many other individuals feel uncomfortable. This issue was then discussed using the email list serve, with a rather unflattering title, that was then emailed to several hundred people. Apparently even the local media caught wind of it. Discussions like that do not need to be held publicly and are exactly the sort of thing the de-escalation working group can help resolve. Occupations start behind the eight ball in regards to their public relations campaign in comparison to the establishment media, so the last thing we should be doing is handing them ammunition to use against us. Even if the media is wrong or drastically blowing something out of proportion, occupations lack the amplification the media has to effectively challenge their narrative. This did bring about one other positive discussion apart from the creation of the de-escalation work group. Its become clear that some people who previously would spend time occupying are not returning because they do not feel comfortable, either from safety concerns or issues of personal boundaries. So I am glad that we now have a working group aware of and sensitive to those issues, and are actively working to resolve them. Beyond being concerned for the well being of occupiers, we need to grow, and when there are people driving others away they must be dealt with. If at all possible without involving the police.

I met my first policemen who was openly antagonistic to the occupation yesterday. During our GA a squad car drove up and stopped next to the sidewalk with their window rolled down. In the past that has been a sign that they wanted to speak with us. Since no one was approaching, I figured I would see what they wanted. It was two policemen, one seemingly the senior of the two, and the other who basically seemed like a “yes man” during our conversation. The senior officer did pretty much all the talking and it became clear pretty quickly he was antagonistic to us and the occupation movement in general. Honestly I am not sure why he stopped to talk. Maybe he wanted to vent or challenge us verbally. Perhaps he hoped to rile someone up to the point where he could arrest them. The only reason I even started talking to him after it was clear he had not stopped to deliver a message or order was that I had decided earlier I wanted to begin mentioning what happened in Albany, NY, where the police force refused to follow the orders from the Mayor and Governor to arrest the occupy protesters there. Its not that I expect single officers of the RPD to refuse orders, as that is not what even happened in Albany. But I figure it is worth spreading the seed of that idea, that it is possible for an entire police force to deny what they consider to be a incorrect order, and not carry it out. To quote the police spokesperson from Albany:

We were there to make arrests if needed, but these people complied with our orders. We don’t have those resources, and these people were not causing trouble. The bottom line is the police know policing, not the governor and not the mayor.

As I mentioned the officer was clearly antagonistic. He in return brought up reports of people defecating on public sidewalks or destroying expensive grass (whatever that is) during their occupations. He did have one interesting point that they treated the homeless differently in the sense that if they tried to sleep on the sidewalk they would be arrested, while we were not. I replied first by saying that the bigger issue with that is that they were homeless to begin with, and secondly, that people were only sleeping here as part of an expression of our rights to free speech and assembly. He also trotted out the typical argument that really this was all about people who made bad personal decisions and now wanted hand outs from the government. I agreed there was a tiny minority that may have made bad decisions, but what seemed to fuel the Occupy Wallstreet group were many young people who felt they had done what they were supposed to in getting loans to get a college education, only to graduate and find they could not get a job to even begin the process of paying off their loans. I also could not help but add that the banks seem to look for hand outs in the form of bail outs all the time, and that companies like Exxon that pay no taxes demand and get hand outs which we call subsidies. I doubt I made an impression on the senior officer, but perhaps I did with the poor, young policemen next to him forced to be his “yes man”.

When I walked away from that extended conversation people immediately came up to see if something was wrong. I explained that they had not wanted anything and that I had just taken the moment to have a dialogue with the officers very similar to the ones we have on the sidewalk. Everyone relaxed, but one person approached me and gave me some excellent advice. Eddy has actual experience with protests and cops being underhanded. They have been much more suspicious of the RPD than I have been and with good reason. I had no experience with protests and the police interaction surrounding them before joining the occupation. I also tend to be a little too trusting for my own good. Eddy mentioned that any time someone spoke to an officer they should make sure to have at least one other occupier with them. Part of this is just to have a witness in case the officer were to suddenly arrest you.

But the part I would never considered had Eddy not mentioned it, was to protect the person speaking from misconceptions from other occupiers. For example, if after speaking with them the cops had swooped in 30 minutes later to evict us, people could wonder afterwards what the hell I had been talking to them about. I can easily see how quickly fingers could be pointed in my direction with claims of, “Well he talked to them for like 10 minutes and then a little later, bam, the cops moved in.” So I am especially glad nothing like that happened and I will me more cautious in the future. Later during the GA a person from Occupy Wallstreet who is travelling around the country visiting other occupations also suggested people not make physical contact with the police in any way lest they use it as an excuse to arrest you. I had offered, and then shaken the cops hand when our conversation ended. At the very least I will not initiate that in the future, but I still do not think I want to leave a cop hanging if they seem friendly to the occupation and offer their hand.

On a positive note, in a different instance earlier the police did call over some one to chat and that officer seemed friendly to the occupation. He asked if there was some way they could drop off assistance to us that would not be at such a visible location. Sure that could be a sneaky way to find out if we are using some other site as a base of operations or something, but the person who spoke to them did not get that feel at all. The cop went on to ask how long we planned to be here to which they responded, “until things change.” And finally the cop asked how he was managing sleeping on the sidewalk as he has seen him there quite a bit to which the occupier explained that it had not really bothered him. Most of the police I have interacted with seem to support us but I need to keep in mind there are definitely those that do not like us and are like that senior officer who said, “I wish I was part of the 1%.” There are plenty of Americans that still see that as the dream and basically revere the 1%. In a sense, they see occupations as spitting on their idols out of envy and laziness.

We had a random flash mob like action late the other night. From what I was told, they drove up in a van on a street perpendicular to our sidewalk occupation, a few jumped out in all black and Guy Fawks masks, they quickly attached some signs to the fences, and peeled out. One was a Green Party sign which eventually an occupier took down since they did not want people to think the occupation supported a specific party. I have ongoing concerns about the co-opting of the Raleigh Occupation by Democratic Party forces. We had two Democrats speak at our rally the first day. I had opposed this from the start but the GA ended up allowing it out of a sense that it was not right to silence a voice just because they were a politician. The GA consented to it with the understanding they would be treated like anyone else at the rally. I would have been a stand aside if we had been using that step yet. Turns out the consensus was violated by someone who was part of the start of Occupy Raleigh when we were running behind schedule during the rally and they moved them up in order to allow them to speak at the time they had been originally told. Not only was it bad to violate consensus but especially in that way, where we treat one of the “elite” as if their voice has more value than those on the schedule they leapfrogged.

Then a petition was put out recently to put pressure on elected officials to allow our occupation back on the Capitol grounds. The petition was done through Change.org, a for profit corporation. Not only that, in filling out the petition you automatically joined them, and even worse, it then went to a second step which was basically a get out the vote effort for the Democratic party. This never went through the GA and I have to admit I am still furious about it. There are definitely one or more people who have serious misunderstandings about core aspects of the occupy movement and the kind of authority they think they wield. To add salt to the wound, they are almost never at GAs or the occupation in general. I would have been OK with doing a petition but would have blocked everything else involving how it was done. But you cannot block something that never goes through the GA. If anything like that happens again, I am going to have to try to force the person to come to a GA and account for all of this.

I will not be part of an occupation that becomes a force for the Democratic party. I have been disgusted with groups like Moveon or Change for years. They are part of the apparatus that keeps us silenced. They serve to guide our anger into largely useless and ineffective forms of protests. The healthcare debate could not have made it more obvious that MoveOn is part of the Establishment apparatus of control. While I don’t think those soulless organizations have a chance in hell to co-opt Occupy Wallstreet itself, I do think they could have negative effects on smaller occupations. If individuals want to associate themselves with these groups I have no issue. The movement is all about people making their own personal decisions. But when the Raleigh Occupation as a whole is represented as being in association with them or the Democratic party, I have serious ethical concerns with that.

Today’s two party system is the illusion of choice. I will avoid as well as I can ever again being part of something that furthers that illusion.