Spin the Globe with Justin Butner

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My Experiences with Occupy Melbourne

[This was written over several days in December, 2011. I didn’t publish it at the time because I was still involved with the Occupy movement. Admittedly, I was involved partially out of curiosity, partially out of sociologic interest, and mostly out of a need of a free place to sleep. Some might say I was using the group and being false. I would say that I was undercover for research purposes. Either way, it was educational.]

The Occupy Movement. Dear God. If this is how well the protestors interact internally, there is a very solid reason for why the 1% have accumulated so much.

My first visit to the camp was around 1AM on a random weekday. I spoke with a couple people about what was going on and why. Over the next hour I got some articulate responses but mostly all the same things I had heard before. No plans, no ideas (a common criticism of the movement). Statements like “1% controls 40% of the wealth,” which while a statistic, doesn’t inherently contain a positive or negative view. And there were mentions of in-fighting, dissent, and people that had been causing trouble and had been banned.

—–

My next visit the following week was to the info desk, where I was given a very vague notion of what the movement was all about, so vague that I don’t actually remember what was said. I was told that I can do what I wanted to support it and the setup was better explained. There are committees and councils who fill in gaps and needs. While the movement doesn’t seem to be able to articulate what they want to accomplish or how, they are doing it here in action. They’ve got a Care Council to help people with counseling and burnout. They have a First Aid Working Group to monitor and be around in case of need. There is a Security Team who keep watch over the camp to make sure that no one causes issues, be that from within or random people walking by. There is a Media Team, a Logistics Team, an Education Committee, so on and so forth. I can join a group, or if I see a need that isn’t being filled, I can form a group. Basically I can contribute in any way I see fit. Reasonable later on, but until I get a sense of what is going on, not particularly helpful. Having worked at a company that had no training program and a poorly put together intro program, walking into this seemed like something that needed to be fixed. But in a group of free-form style, introduction of an organized Welcome To Occupy program might not be well received.

I was taken in to meet with some people. After a couple minutes of sitting around and not really being included, they brought the topic around to in-fighting, bullshit, and personal drama. Slander and gossip is bad and detrimental to the movement, which is why it is good that so-and-so is gone, since he was causing a lot of it. (Yes, I see the irony.) Eventually I was asked about myself and how I came by, and what I wanted to work on. Well, for starters I want to work on figuring out what there is here. Hard to say what I want to contribute when I don’t know what exists. I felt more awkward breaking into conversation here and being included than I do at a bar where I don’t know anyone. I’ve actually been doing better meeting people at the hostel and concerts. Not a good sign for the people’s movement.

Feeling safe, I opted to come back at night and sleep. I don’t have to agree with everything or like the people too much to sleep here for free vs. the $19 a night 16-bed dorm at the hostel. So I came back with my sleeping bag, wandered in and had people look at me to see if I was trouble, but no one introduce themselves to welcome me. I stood around, walking from group to group, feeling eyes upon me and feeling fairly unwelcomed. Everyone had their own circles and I wasn’t going to break in. So I rolled up a cigarette, sat down near some people, and broke in forcefully. I found out about people that had been kicked out for causing drama, gossip, the pains that come from a coed group with pairings, etc. An hour later, I crashed out for a long night of uncomfortable sleep.

—-

My next visit was for the General Assembly meeting that evening. Wow. Really, I didn’t know quite what to expect. I figured this would be an experience, and it certainly was. It was one that put me off from the movement. And while I haven’t written them off completely, I fully intend to be an Overnight Occupier only, sleeping here for free and contributing in warm body only.

My issues with the GA meeting are abbreviated as follows:

1 – The meeting started 15 minutes late.

2 – During opening explanations, two guys across the circle from each other were pointing, cursing, and threatening each other.

3 – The facilitator did a terrible job of moderating, cutting people off when they were out of order, moving on, responding to procedural questions, and generally facilitating or moderating anything.

4 – The second facilitator was making faces, goofing off, and adding totally unhelpful quips.

5 – After agreeing that the back story for a situation didn’t need to be delved into, a woman got up and shared it anyway, slanderously (pedophilia-accusations). She was the same woman who, at another point in the meeting, wouldn’t shut up after everyone told her to do so.

6 – We had a discussion of a treaty with The Homeless Cooperative living across the park. An instigator within the OM camp intentionally provoked and prodded THC so much that the meeting had to take a 15 minute recess to calm down before stabbings happened.

7 – When discussing a different proposal, to move to private property (a Catholic church which had offered us land) and to create a more mobile occupation, I asked if we were discussing just the church, or the whole motion. I was told by the moderator just the church. Then when the vote came, it was for the whole proposal. I was the only person to vote against it. When asked to speak on why I voted against, I said I didn’t have an explanation of why we needed to have the “go mobile” part of the proposal. The moderator informed me that the time for clarification had been in the past, and that I should have spoken up and asked then. Then I was asked if I would withdraw my objection so that the motion could pass unanimously.

8 – We spent 30 minutes discussing whether or not affiliating with the church was good. It was largely a Catholics Suck session. Way to be inclusive, 99%.

The list goes on. Additional goading, threats, off topics, people speaking out of order, a proposal being shot down for being dumb (and it was) after 30 minutes of debate with the proposer then going whiny and pissy about it. I left after 2 hours because I had stuff to do and wasn’t feeling a part of the movement since #7 above.

When I came back that night to sleep, I spent another hour with new characters. Apparently the meetings (yes, 2.5 meetings were held), went on for 4.5 hours total. The end result was the instigating jerk was banned from camp. Nothing else really was passed except the moving to the church thing. The people I was sitting with weren’t happy about this, despite the fact that the motion had passed unanimously and I had seen both of them vote for it. They had no intention of following through and weren’t going to move to the church. “Ms. Anarchy” objected based on the fact that the Catholic Church is an evil organization which holds a large consolidation of wealth and has never apologized for the atrocities of the past such as the Crusades and the Spanish Inquisition. “Unsustainable” objected because all religion is a scam perpetuated by evil people through lies to deceive the masses, and because that model of organization wasn’t sustainable.

This movement is giving me a very rigorous course of training in the sitting down, shutting up, and listening. It is a skill I hope to have refined by the time I return home. I’m interacting with people from different backgrounds and their views may be just as valid as my own even if they run completely counter to mine. (That is why I asked inquisitively and not judgmentally for the Zambian I met in Sydney to clarify his view that Zimbabwean President Mugabe was doing good things.)

Despite that, I did need to call Unsustainable out on the Catholic Church not being sustainable. They have been around for nearly 2000 years. Ms. Anarchy jumped in about the church’s difficulty in recruiting new members and the aging clergy. I was asked why, not if, I disagreed with the move to the church. In truth, I don’t. A safe space to camp on private land where the police can’t interfere that is within the city is 100% what I am looking for. Dodging the question, I told them I would be entertained to call my Catholic ex-fiancee and inform her that I was being helped out and staying at a Catholic church.

As I listened, more truths came out. For starters, the Occupy Movement is about one thing: truth. Truth cannot be defined in absolute terms, and everyone must define truth for themselves. The war in Iraq was initiated partly because of oil, resulting in the deaths of 750,000 Iraqi civilians. Our rights to drive cars (which are also not sustainable) doesn’t outweigh other people’s rights to live. If I was stabbed, Unsustainable would not drive me to the hospital because he doesn’t believe in cars. We needed to get out there and do more direct confrontation, not intentionally getting arrested, but if that happens so be it. The Catholic Church is evil. Having a base of operations where only a couple people had access to the facilities is akin to the movement becoming more like the stratified society we are rebelling against. We are rebelling against the system as it is set up, with strata and the stigma of being poor. Ms. Anarchy is for redistribution of wealth, though I don’t know what that means or entails.

An hour of listening to so much truth was as much schooling as I was up for. With my new sleeping pad I went to crash out and slept gloriously. My introduction to the morning was a clear sky, a light breeze, and a nice stretch. I met another Occupier briefly, one who had lost his job and his house and was here now. While we didn’t speak much, I took a liking to him. I think because he seemed to be closer to me on the spectrum. There is this underlying objection in the camp to us using the word “professional” relating to ourselves. This originated out of Mayor Doyle’s quote that we are “professional protestors.” But many people have an aversion to us being professional about anything we do. This is one of the main reasons I have no desire to get involved. Decorum, politeness, directness, efficiency, efficacy. These are what professional means to me. And how we can try to accomplish things but refuse to do it in a manner that has any structure or desire to be good/quick/effective is completely lost on me.

With the amount of infighting, gossip, lack of coherent message, lack of coherent plan, lack of a common motivator for people being here, people serving their own desires and motivation rather than going with the will of the group, openness to talk about all the drama with people who have just walked up, aggression between parties within the group, mini-rebellions rising up against the people who have stepped in to facilitate and lead without actually just asking them to step aside, and the sheer volume of drama, I have no confidence that the movement will still be around when I get back from Tasmania.* If it is, I may still go join The Homeless Cooperative instead. They have been operating for three years, have a structure set up, and the one or two I’ve met, while certainly interesting individuals, seem reasonable.

* Much to my astonishment, the movement was still around when I got back from Tasmania at the end of January. After camping with them for one or two more nights, I effectively dissolved my association with them. They had moved to uncomfortable ground, didn’t allow me to sleep past 6am, and had fizzled to the point of being only a dozen strong. They no longer offered anything I wanted.

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This entry was posted on June 1, 2012 by in Australia, Victoria (Melbourne).

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