Oh, the perils of being a middle manager! I've tried to avoid being a middle manager all my life, and now I am one. I'm now a regional coordinator for Move On, and my life is suddenly consumed.
Saturday's work began on the phone before it morphed into a two hour coordinating meeting with the region's non-profit, social, political groups on the lefty end of the political spectrum. Rather than attempt to herd all of the cats at once, a revolving scheme has been set up to rotate through groups. The coordinating meeting I was at was composed mostly of labor unions, Move On, and various Democrats. But maybe the most important fact that came out of this revolving poker game was that the usual suspects in town want Occupy Eugene gone by December 15th, and they wouldn't mind if a few heads were bashed by the cops in the process. So plans were laid to begin the campaign to get the city council to extend Occupy Eugene's stay at its present location as winter sets in.
Later in the afternoon, I dragged myself out of watching the Oregon-Stanford game to go to a General Assembly meeting of the Occupy. The Occupy Eugene encampment has about 100 pop-up tents, stalls of the kind that you'd see at a farmers market, a tepee and a yurt. And yes, because it's Eugene and because it's Occupy -- there are many hippies. But overall, things appear to be remarkably under control and in order despite the loosy goosy style of OWS management. There are definite paths laid out with mulch for people to walk on, a complete range of infrastructure to serve the needs of perhaps some 200 people more or less permanently camped out.
But beyond hippies, there are a lot of baby boomers with grey hair, along with some homeless people and anarchists, along with an electrical engineer from MIT. Eventually, the General Assembly came to order, and I was the fly on the wall. If you're old enough to have lived through the student radical movement of the 1960s you've probably developed a healthy aversion to what was once called participatory democracy. The meeting started off promisingly enough, as the group actually went through some necessary logistics pertaining to survival in Washington-Jefferson Park.
Unfortunately, after an hour, things degenerated. An earnest young woman by the name of Tree wasted massive time and brain space by a meandering discussion on whether 80% or 90% consensus was necessary for decisionmaking; what the nature of abstention and blocking was in the decisionmaking process, with various points of clarification and information. AAARRRGGGHHH!!!! I was beginning to have participatory democracy aversion therapy all over again. ;(
During the course of the more than two hours, a few very interesting things happened. One was early on when an elderly veteran got up to talk about the military presence in the camp. He said that while there were many retired vets in Occupy Eugene, there were also a few active servicemen present who wouldn't be noticeable. Really? If this is so, then that means that the President has determined that active monitoring of OWS encampments is in the national interest, and servicemen on duty have been detailed -- ordered to camp out with the hippies. Very interesting.
Several other very interesting things occurred offstage from the General Assembly meeting. More than once, there were the very loud ramblings of seriously deranged people as they moved through the camp in the cold and the dark. There's a substantial number of mental health workers on hand to tend to the schizophrenics and others who live in camp, but the truly crazy ones will carry on from time to time. And much energy is expended to ensure that they do no harm to themselves or others.
As the 1.5 crazies rambled offstage, the General Assembly started to dwell on security matters. People talked about the ad hoc but friendly ways in which the Occupy Eugene people attempted to respond to police department concerns. And there was much discussion about the partial eviction that Portland was trying to do as the Eugene General Assembly met. A woman from Portland reported that some, very closed tents in Portland were locations where crystal meth and black tar heroin were dealt and distributed, and that a child prostitution ring had also set up shop in Occupy Portland. Having been an urban pioneer in Portland myself some years ago, living in a studio aparment near the encampment area, I certainly believe this to be true.
Nationally, the issues of homelessness and criminals finding refuge in the OWS camps are the major reasons why there's been headbashing. Eugene has been lucky in avoiding such criminality for the most part, although much energy is spent fighting thievery, booze, etc.
One other interesting thing happened, and that is that two masked backpackers made an effort to disrupt the camp during the meeting. The General Assembly was temporarily called off for a Code Red. All hands on deck were dispatched to swarm an area because of these intruders. Since a similar incident happened at a different campsite, it's assumed that the Chicken Head Gang, as they're called -- is a bunch of rich, conservative frat boy assholes from the U of O.
At the end of the meeting, I got a chance to speak. And this is what I said after I gave out my name and email:
I have some good news, and I have some bad news. Occupy Eugene is the hub. You are the center of the wheel, around which are rotating 40,50,60 interest groups who are there in solidarity with you. I spent two hours this afternoon with some of these groups, talking about ways in which we can donate badly needed things on your wish list, as well as offering political support.
The bad news is -- that there are powerful and influential people who want to see this camp end on December 15th. They want to see Occupy Eugene end, and they don't care how this is done. The good news is that the community has the time to develop a strategy of support so that we can get a decision from the city council that will allow you to stay here and extend your stay.
As usual for meetings, the conversations after the meetings were probably as productive as the meetings themselves. I told the Occupy people that instead of being afraid of being co-opted by organizations like Move On, they should realize their power and actively attempt to co-opt all of the outside groups that are supportive of them. Get the electrical workers union to support the MIT electrical engineer on site to upgrade the power system. Get the churches and food groups to provide more and better food to Occupy. Take over a City Club meeting to publicly broadcast on radio and TV about what you're doing and why.
Get the Security Committee to go en masse to the police department downtown, and start biweekly meetings with the top brass so that they not only know you, but they begin to personally like you. Become your own police spies. Do the same thing with the county mental health department, and take full advantage of them. And meanwhile, my revolving poker game and its internet scheduling board will do our part.
Local community action versus the national news on OWS head bashing -- the next month will be very interesting.