Occupy Bloomington: A Spontaneous Community for Seeking Out Solutions
The third stop on my tour of occupations was Occupy Bloomington in Indiana. The occupation is located right by the campus of Indiana University on Kirkwood Avenue. It is in People’s Park, an appropriate space to reclaim for the people.
The encampment has at least twenty tents along with two canopy structures. One canopy structure allows for General Assemblies to occur out of the rain. The other structure houses the kitchen.
Nicole, a young mother who has brought her children down to the occupation and become a regular participant since the earliest days of the occupation, reports thirty to fifty people are in the park. The occupation has been in the park since October 9.
Inspired by Occupy Wall Street, a group began to chat about the possibility of starting something in Bloomington. They managed to get about 200 people to march on the first day of the occupation. That night about ten tents were setup.
The first week the vast majority of occupiers stayed in the park because they were worried about “the fragile nature of the occupation.” However, the city has not done anything to impinge on the occupiers’ assembly. The city basically allows the occupiers to march or demonstrate anywhere in the city so long as they are not blocking traffic. There are even staff from the Parks Department who are willing to come by and pick up trash that would not be piled up outside the park if the occupation was not there.
The occupation uses propane to cook. I ask Nicole if there have been any problems with the city over the use of propane. She replies, the 3rd Street Fire Dept Marshal came down with his truck and stopped to “show solidarity.” Unlike other occupations, the city has not arbitrarily declared propane a fire hazard.
If the occupation has struggled with anything, it has been the homeless population and drunken students. As Nicole explains, Occupy Bloomington has an “integrated homeless population that occupies the park with us. They have tents setup. They eat with us and some of them participate in the General Assemblies with us.”
Some of the homeless, however, have issues with how the occupation is handling the park space. They are bothered by people in the park and do not want people to record video or take pictures of them. They possibly want things to be the way they used to be. People’s Park was a place they could go without people who were engaged in political uprising. They have lost that privacy and men, who sit in the park and shout and curse at occupiers belligerently, display bitterness from this loss.
The camp has people who work a great deal to mediate issues with them. They do not want them to feel like they are unwanted. And, they are willing to feed them even if they are not making constructive contributions to the occupation.
On the issue of hammered students, Nicole shares:
Right across the street from Kilroy’s Bar and that is the hangout for students. On Tuesday nights, it’s $2 nights and they are open til 3. About 2:30 pm things start to get a bit harry in the park. We’ve had water balloons thrown at us. My favorite heckle is ‘Get a job!’ because we all have jobs or most of us do. It’s like, ‘How about a second one, maybe?’ It’s usually very drunken so I don’t know how serious you can take it.
The camp has “night owls,” who stay up at night and watch the camp. They monitor activity between drunks and work to ensure fights don’t break out between the homeless and students, who are probably both drunk.
Occupiers have engaged in some big actions beyond the mere occupation. Another occupier named Aaron holds up a flier with details on events to coincide with Dia de Los Muertos. On November 1, they plan to bury the American Dream in a funeral procession and then come back and have a discussion about the possibilities for a new kind of dream.
He was at Occupy Wall Street just after the mass arrests on the Brooklyn Bridge and stayed with the occupation throughout the following week. He was able to participate in the massive community/labor march that took place on the following Wednesday. And, he says of the Occupy movement:
I’m not even sure what to think of the movement entirely yet. I appreciate it so much because it feels like it is changing the pattern of the way we do things and I think that is why it is subversive to our structure…We’re coming together and forming these spontaneous communities with the focal point of them being addressing the injustices of the world and seeking out solutions.
The spontaneity of the community is truly a major aspect of Occupy Bloomington. There is a great amount of energy and spirit to it that one can feel just by sitting in the camp. Like Nicole says it’s a “really fluid space” and “whatever comes into the space finds a home.”
I inform occupiers that Firedoglake will be purchasing supplies for the occupation with money raised from the Occupy Supply Fund. John Sherman, an FDL member who hosted me while I was in Bloomington, asks an occupier what they need most. An occupier named Josh looks over the list and then John and I head out to get supplies.
When we return, the General Assembly is in session. We find someone we can trust to give the supplies to because homeless people have been running up and taking food and supplies that were supposed to be shared with everyone in the camp. We put the heavy duty sleeping bags we purchased into a tent, which will make it possible for people to stay warm at night in 10-30 degree weather.
We are spotted putting supplies in the tent. Josh approaches us to thank us for making this donation. He then gives me the honor of handing out a few sleeping bags to some of the occupiers who need them the most.
I’ll always remember the look on the faces of people who took the sleeping bags. I gave one to somebody, who I suspect is homeless. He was grateful but reserved when displaying his thanks, as if he was guilty to be staying in the camp and had no place else to go. Another younger woman, on the other hand, was excited to get a sleeping bag and had no problem showing it.
Occupy Bloomington is one of the more vibrant occupations I have visited. That likely stems from the space being occupied. As Nicole tells me, People’s Park was given to the city underneath the same guidelines as People’s Park in Berkeley.” It was to be open 24/7 but technically closes at night. Now the occupation is “trying to reinstate a free speech zone” in the park so “it never closes again and you can’t get kicked out for protesting.”
It warms your heart to meet such inspiring people. And, it is good to know that people who cannot make it to Occupy Wall Street can go to Occupy Bloomington. The same kind of energy that makes Liberty Park magnetic can also be found in People’s Park.
Interview with Occupy Bloomington participant Nicole: