So, I’ve been sitting on this one for quite a while — for fear of offending many new friends I made while participating in my local Occupy. But as I’ve slowly managed to coalesce my feelings on things, I felt the need to tell the story of my experience. I don’t know what good or harm it might do. I just feel the need to share it. To all my friends who stuck it out until the eviction — and who still meet in GAs, I think nothing but the world of you. All of you. But I’m ambivalent about the protest — or movement, or resistance, or whatever your favorite term for it is — that we built. And by the time I left, I felt very strongly that it wasn’t the best use of my limited energies.
This is the story of my experience in Occupy Bloomington, viewed through a lens several months old and parsed as best I can.
I spent about a month and a half up to my neck in Occupy Bloomington. I hosted and helped to build the webpage, regularly attended GA and working group meetings, was point person on one (and very briefly two) working groups, and took part in several big actions — including our blown attempt to Mic Check Senator Lugar. I never camped, but I did dishes, helped clean up the camp and spent most nights from the end of work until around midnight down there. I held down a full time job while doing all of this.
I got in to it at the beginning. I watched on Twitter, Facebook and in the news as the NYCGA as the camp went up in Zuccotti Park. Excuse me, Liberty Park. I was cheering the whole time. I could barely contain my excitement, let alone focus on work. I almost bought a ticket down to NYC, except that I wasn’t sure how to explain that one to my boss and wasn’t quite ready to quit. When I heard about the Occupation in Bloomington, I jumped at the chance to be involved. I wasn’t sure what we could accomplish, but I sure as hell wanted to be a part of it. The first two GAs I attended were inspiring. They were attended by between 40 and 60 people each. The consensus method worked extraordinarily well as we tried to hash out where the occupation should start and what the goal was. Did we have an ideology? A statement? Demands? We decided to shelve that one for later. Eventually, we achieved consensus to start in People’s Park.
The first night was an experience I will never forget. Two hundred people came out and marched down to Chase bank where they gave speeches, held signs and did what you do at a protest march. Then they marched back to the park and a held what can only be described as a party. Eventually people started setting up tents. Everyone waited with baited breath for 11pm to see what would happen. The park technically closed then. Would the cops kick us out? Would enough people stay to hold the space? Should we try to hold the space if they did try to kick us out? 11pm came and went. Then midnight. Nothing happened. People were elated and excited. The space was ours.
I had to leave for a conference the next day and spent the week in SF. While there I paid a visit to Occupy SF, and got a taste of things to come. Occupy SF was in the downtown area of San Francisco outside the Federal Reserve. It was pretty small, relegated to a tiny portion of the side walk and forced up against the street. It was barred from having tents. The few people there looked pretty rough and beat up. They weren’t particularly friendly either. I mentioned to someone that I’d come from Occupy Bloomington to say, “Hi”. He made a Mic Check announcement of the fact and then promptly stopped talking to me. I hung around for a while eventually striking up a conversation with a couple other onlookers who were dropping by. There was a distinct division between the occupiers and those who were walking on the side walk looking in at them. As if they were somehow an attraction on display rather than members of the 99% standing up for all of us. In retrospect, it was a telling image.
Part two to come.