CommunityFDL Main Blog

Whatever Happened to Occupy Madison?

Back in November 2011, Kevin Gosztola visited Madison, Wisconsin as part of his tour distributing funds collected by FDL for various Occupy encampments.  We took Kevin to Menards to buy tarps and large plastic bins with lids that the group said they needed.  It was cold and rainy and the ragtag group was trying to figure out how to stay dry and survive the winter outside.  Most of the General Assembly discussion that night focused on getting straw bales for insulation around their tents, whether there was a difference between straw and hay bales, and whether such insulation would attract rats. (There is a difference and you can count on hay attracting rats.)

Occupy Madison

It was a humble effort that received little attention as most activists in the aftermath of the historic protests in February and March of that year were focused on the attack on middle class workers and recalling various politicians. About a month or so after our November visit, I was observing the Solidarity Singers for the ACLU at the Capitol, and ran into a couple of the Occupy activists I’d met that night.  I asked them how it was going and they expressed deep discouragement.  The small group had largely become a camp for the homeless.  Rather than planning a revolution, their time was mainly taken up with the issues of the homeless.   Alcohol consumption and drunkenness was a particular problem for several people that affected the whole group.

Occupy Madison wasn’t the only group that attracted the homeless.  Around the country, those ground down in the creaky gears of late stage capitalism and alienated from the rest of society – and often from each other – found homes in encampments dedicated to mutual aid and self-governance through direct democracy. More practically, it was a place to go during the day where you wouldn’t be turned away, you would be fed, and you could leave your belongings without fear of them being stolen.  A major complaint about shelters in Madison was that while they offered a warm place to sleep at night, you and your belongings were kicked out during the day.  Thus, the homeless spent their days toting what little they owned and getting pushed from place to place.  Such a system also provides little opportunity for building community.

Often the influx of homeless individuals was viewed by Occupy activists in various locales as a problem and a distraction from the work at hand.  But if a goal of the Occupy movement was to bring the 1% together to address social and economic inequality and develop a different way of living in the world and relating to one another, shouldn’t the plight of those at the very bottom of the social and economic hierarchy be a primary focus?  Perhaps, even, the place to begin?

This week’s Isthmus, a local paper here in Madison, offers a terrific feature story by Joe Tarr about the evolution of Occupy Madison.  They’ve been pushed around from place to place over the last couple of years, but have created a community and even dream of building tiny homes, planting a garden, and keeping chickens and bees.  According to Tarr:

The idea is not new. Cities in the northwest have established or are attempting to set up similar projects. Residents in Portland, Ore., created Dignity Village in 2001. And projects are under way in Eugene, Ore., and Olympia, Wash.

“I like the idea of this tiny home village that economically allows people to have a small amount of space that meets the public expectation of what shelter is,” Wallbaum says. “There’s no appetite for people being in a tent, but maybe if there were small houses slightly bigger than a tent, it might be economically feasible.”

The village would not be limited to homeless people. To be successful, the group wants to pull people with more resources to create stability and support. The hope is that it will attract people who want a more sustainable, minimalist and cooperative lifestyle.

The Occupy movement has been branded a “failure” in many quarters, but, judging by this story in the Isthmus, it’s hard for me to see Occupy Madison as anything other than a success.  No social movement changes society in a few months.  But planting seeds that grow and endure, as Occupy Madison has despite all they’ve been through, is a true achievement.   At a time when we have fallen so low a Democratic president is set to cut Social Security and Medicare, Occupy Madison gives me hope.

CommunityMy FDL

Whatever Happened to Occupy Madison?

Back in November 2011, Kevin Gosztola visited Madison, Wisconsin as part of his tour distributing funds collected by FDL for various Occupy encampments. We took Kevin to Menards to buy tarps and large plastic bins with lids that the group said they needed. It was cold and rainy and the ragtag group was trying to figure out how to stay dry and survive the winter outside. Most of the General Assembly discussion that night focused on getting straw bales for insulation around their tents, whether there was a difference between straw and hay bales, and whether such insulation would attract rats. (There is a difference and you can count on hay attracting rats.)

Occupy Madison

It was a humble effort that received little attention as most activists in the aftermath of the historic protests in February and March of that year were focused on the attack on middle class workers and recalling various politicians. About a month or so after our November visit, I was observing the Solidarity Singers for the ACLU at the Capitol, and ran into a couple of the Occupy activists I’d met that night. I asked them how it was going and they expressed deep discouragement. The small group had largely become a camp for the homeless. Rather than planning a revolution, their time was mainly taken up with the issues of the homeless. Alcohol consumption and drunkenness was a particular problem for several people that affected the whole group.

Occupy Madison wasn’t the only group that attracted the homeless. Around the country, those ground down in the creaky gears of late stage capitalism and alienated from the rest of society – and often from each other – found homes in encampments dedicated to mutual aid and self-governance through direct democracy. More practically, it was a place to go during the day where you wouldn’t be turned away, you would be fed, and you could leave your belongings without fear of them being stolen. A major complaint about shelters in Madison was that while they offered a warm place to sleep at night, you and your belongings were kicked out during the day. Thus, the homeless spent their days toting what little they owned and getting pushed from place to place. Such a system also provides little opportunity for building community.

Often the influx of homeless individuals was viewed by Occupy activists in various locales as a problem and a distraction from the work at hand. But if a goal of the Occupy movement was to bring the 99% together to address social and economic inequality and develop a different way of living in the world and relating to one another, shouldn’t the plight of those at the very bottom of the social and economic hierarchy be a primary focus? Perhaps, even, the place to begin?

This week’s Isthmus, a local paper here in Madison, offers a terrific feature story by Joe Tarr about the evolution of Occupy Madison. They’ve been pushed around from place to place over the last couple of years, but have created a community and even dream of building tiny homes, planting a garden, and keeping chickens and bees. According to Tarr:

The idea is not new. Cities in the northwest have established or are attempting to set up similar projects. Residents in Portland, Ore., created Dignity Village in 2001. And projects are under way in Eugene, Ore., and Olympia, Wash.

“I like the idea of this tiny home village that economically allows people to have a small amount of space that meets the public expectation of what shelter is,” Wallbaum says. “There’s no appetite for people being in a tent, but maybe if there were small houses slightly bigger than a tent, it might be economically feasible.”

The village would not be limited to homeless people. To be successful, the group wants to pull people with more resources to create stability and support. The hope is that it will attract people who want a more sustainable, minimalist and cooperative lifestyle.

The Occupy movement has been branded a “failure” in many quarters, but, judging by this story in the Isthmus, it’s hard for me to see Occupy Madison as anything other than a success. No social movement changes society in a few months.  But planting seeds that grow and endure, as Occupy Madison has despite all they’ve been through, is a true achievement. At a time when we have fallen so low a Democratic president is set to cut Social Security and Medicare, Occupy Madison gives me hope.

Previous post

Nice system

Next post

Fatster's Roundup

Oxdown Diaries

Oxdown Diaries