Accredited journalists are always quick to claim bloggers aren’t real journalists. I’ve always found such claims to be utter malarkey as an accredited journalist is nothing more than a person who expresses news. Guess what? Bloggers can do this as well and I decided to set out to prove as such by performing journalism that most accredited journalists won’t.
There has been a movement to occupy Wall Street in New York. Most people have little or no knowledge of this as major media sources have been unwilling to cover it. Truth be told I know little about the ongoing of the Wall Street occupation but I have interest in it as I have interest in all political dissonance. Regardless of whether or not I agree with political dissenters I do take very active interest in their displays of displeasure with the ongoings of their government.
My interest in political dissonance lead me to a local offshoot of the Wall Street occupation being called OccupyMN. On October 1st, 2011 I set out to attend and write about their gathering where they planned the occupation of, at first, the Minneapolis Federal Reserve but later changed it to the Hennepin County Government Center Plaza.
One of the criticisms being flung at the Wall Street occupation is the fact that there appears to be no notable demands. That is to say most people see the movement is being incredibly disorganized and having no actual aim. Although I can not speak for the movement in New York I can say first hand that the movement in Minneapolis appears to be organized on par with most online movements. I believe the reason people find a lack of cohesiveness with the movement in New York is the same reason they found a lack of cohesiveness with most of Anonymous’s protests; they don’t understand how Internet culture works. As these movements are being organized via the Internet it’s no surprise that the organizational structure occurred as it did. Organization and cohesiveness do exist on many levels of these movements but the decentralized nature has also made neither apparent. It is my hope that this article can clear up some of the misunderstandings surrounding these online organized movements.
The OccupyMN meeting took place at Stevens Square Park in Minneapolis. Starting at 16:00 a meet and greet kicked off events and the general assembly was set to start at 17:15. My arrival time was roughly 16:30 where I was able to converse with the organizer of the meeting and a few other folks there. I was informed by the organizer that the meetup, although advertised as a general assembly, would not be held in such a manner as there are specific rules that must be followed in order to qualify as a general assembly. It seems political disobedience only involves breaking some rules. Anyhow, due to the fact that nobody present had training in organizing general assemblies the event was actually an open forum where decisions were going to be made on a purely democratic basis.
Normally I’m not a fan of pure democracies as they allow a phenomenon known as tyranny of the masses. Instead of going on a long diatribe about pure democracies I’m going to let Spider Jerusalem explain it (click to embiggen):
With that said the OccupyMN movement is entirely voluntary so I have no quarrel with their use of pure democracy. Unlike the state, members of OccupyMN can not legitimately use violence to force others to comply with their demands. If a majority present had voted in favor of everybody getting fucked with a retractable baton it wouldn’t matter as nobody would actually be obligated to take it in the ass from a baton.
Regardless that is how the meeting was to proceed. I also talked to another gentleman who described himself as being a big figured in the local Anonymous movement. He did have the typical Guy Fawkes mask handing around the back of his neck and was very interesting to talk to. The Scientology protests performed by Anonymous were brought up along with mentions of the SlutWalk which had taken place earlier that day. What I found most interesting through was his incite into the Minneapolis Downtown Improvement District (DID). If DID rings a bell it’s because I mentioned them last week in a story about one of their “ambassadors” trying to steal the bike of an anti-war protester. It seems DID likes to flaunt authority which they do not have in attempts to break up protests and demonstrations. That’s what Minneapolis really needs, little tyrants with power complexes marching around as if they are the police. My guess is that “ambassadors” of DID will be appearing more often on this blog.
At 17:03 a woman called for everybody to make a large circle around her. She directed everybody in an ice breaker which I probably looked terribly awkward during as I was taking notes for this article instead of participating. At the end of the ice breaker she asked everybody to join hands and chant, “The people united can never be defeated.” I’m not one to hold hands with complete strangers as there is something very discomforting about the practice to me, so I just claimed to be a germophobe in order to avoid participating. If one of the people standing next to me during the ice breaker is reading this article I apologize for lying to you but it was much easier than explaining my rather odd discomfort when holding hands with people I do not know. I can also state that I felt out of place being an anti-statist while many present were advocating actions that would have required the state to enact additional regulations. While some of the people present seem to believe the government works for them I do not share in that sentiment.
The actual open forum started at 17:14 and the first issue to come up was whether or not video recordings of the event should be allowed. A vote was taken and the vast majority agreed that recording of the event should not be allowed and those already recording were asked to turn off their video cameras. This is where a good old fashion pen and notebook come in handy, nobody usually has a problem with some guy taking notes. Combine the low-tech method of recording this event with my usual charm and charisma and you have… scratch that, I really don’t have a whole heck of a lot of charm or charism. At least I’m a friendly guy though.
A theme that kept cropping up was concern over Minneapolis ordinances. It seems you need a permit in order to use a megaphone within the city of Minneapolis which I find fucking retarded. What is interesting though is that people planning to practice civil disobedience were so concerned with following the city’s laws. Most acts of organized civil disobedience are performed specifically to spit in the fact of undesirable laws. Usually participants are there to give two big fucking middle fingers to the authorities. Such concerns ultimately matter not though as the police will find some obscure law to arrest participants of any movement. I’m sure Minneapolis has at least one 150 year-old law on the books that will be viable mechanism of arresting and prosecuting peaceful protesters.
Since a permit is required to use a megaphone in Minneapolis the organizers educated the group on a system they referred to as the people’s mic. The people’s mic is a very low-tech but effective solution to amplifying the voice of one person. How does it work you ask? It’s so simple a retarded monkey could figure it out, you just have everybody in the group repeat what the speaker is saying. It’s much easier to hear something said by 20 people than something said by one. The downside to this system is that messages take twice as long to say as every piece must first be said by the speaker and then repeated by those acting as the people’s mic. Although a megaphone was used during the meeting most of it was doing by utilized the people’s mic.
The first order of official business was to establish a series of committees. These committees would take care of planning the various logistics of the occupation. While there were many committees rattled off the most interesting one was the public health committee. Why? Because protests like this often require on-site medics but it’s very difficult, if not impossible, to get official medical personel on site. To alleviate this need protests such as this utilize what are known as street medics. The tradition of the street medic appears to have originated during the 1960’s civil rights movement and expanded from there. A street medic is simply a volunteer who has received medical training from another street medic. Unlike licensed medical personel, street medics usually have little formal training and are basically qualified by their mentor street medic saying whether or not the trainee is ready to go it alone. I find this to be a very interesting and cost-effective method of getting first-aid to protesters.
While the various committee names were being rattled off an individual brought up the fact that it would be wise to first define what the occupation is about. Many present applauded the man as one of the biggest criticisms of the Wall Street occupation is the fact that nobody really knows what the protesters are, well, protesting. Discussion took place regarding this issue. One thing about using pure democracy to organized large event such as this is that even the simplest things take for-fucking-ever. I have no idea how so many people can have so much to say about the simple question of whether or not the demands of the protesters should be decided now or later. While one person announced complete support for defining the rules immediately another said that isn’t fair as many people who wish to participate weren’t present. All of this rigamarole ended in the reading of the Principles of Solidarity. Basically the concern was never directly addressed and discussion went on long enough that everybody more or less forgot what the discussion was originally about.
In my opinion this occupation seems to be a choose your own decision protest. What I mean to say is people basically bring their own grievance to the occupation as opposed to everybody standing united under one agreed upon grievance. I believe this is where the media’s confusion stems from. While the organizing of the occupation is fairly structured and well coordinated the reason for the occupation is neither. This shouldn’t be a surprise to those who are active in the online culture as the culture reflects the Internet is springs from. The Internet is a decentralized system with no singular points of control. Because of this members of the online culture are extremely varied and have a vast array of differing opinions. While one member wants to protest the collusion of corporations and government another will go to protest the banks and yet another may simply want to show up and scream for the fun of it. Most of the time when many people online have differing grievances against the same source they united against that source. The enemy of my enemy is my friend so to speak. It’s similar to how the United States government supported the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia because they were against the Vietnamese government. Well it’s similar minus that whole 2 million people genocided by the Khmer Roughe regine thing.
Either way after a long and pointless sidetrack about whether or not actual demands should be agreed upon before further organization of the occupation continued the organizers listed off some other committees that were needed. After each of the committee names were rattled off the discussion about the occupation’s message cropped back up. It seems at this point people remembered that that particular issue was never actually resolved. After some arduous debate the agreed upon meesage was, “People before profits.” I’m guessing nobody there has a lot of knowledge in economics as such a statement is really self-defeating. Let me take that back, I know nobody there had working knowledge in economics as they were talking about the labor value theory that was brought forth by Marx and proven wrong by reality.
From the start OccupyMN has been advertised as an occupation of the Federal Reserve property in Minneapolis. This target was chosen by an online poll but some debate occurred as to whether or not the location should be changed. From the start I thought the idea of occupying the Federal Reserve property was doomed to failure as that property is privately owned. Rules are quite different from public to private property. Such rules are very murky when dealing with the Federal Reserve though as their property is purchased, ultimately, with tax dollars. As any property purchased with tax dollars can be argued to be owned by the community it seems logical to also argue that the American people have a right to occupy the Federal Reserve property. Some very good arguments were made against occupying the Federal Reserve property including the claim that the building has sharpshooters on site twenty-four hours a day. The last thing a political protester really wants to contest with is a bullet through the head because some cocky government agent thought he could win a bet with his friend on whether or not he was good enough to put a bullet through your right eye while your back was turned to him. Another person claimed that the Federal Reserve used wireless signal jammers which would prevent the use of cellular phones, though I find this claim to be dubious (but wouldn’t be surprised if it is true).
After much debate and many suggestions the protest was moved to the Hennepin Country Government Center Plaza. The Plaza had some rather obvious benefits including bathrooms, access to electricity, and the whole fact that it’s publicly owned land so a court order is needed to remove protesters.
Yet another pointless debate took place on whether or not the date of the protest should be changed. Several speakers explained why another arbitrary date would be better than the currently selected date of October 7th. I felt several of the speakers were attempting to hijack the occupation and make it appear affiliated with other political protests going on during the dates they were advocating. Thankfully common sense prevailed and the occupation date wasn’t changed.
The meeting itself concluded at 18:00 and people split off to join whatever committee they were interested in. This even proved a theory presented by social anarchists wrong. Social anarchists do not believe in money and claim that undesirable jobs will be done by volunteers who realize the necessity of the job. Well nobody volunteer for the sanitation committee at this event even though such a job was certainly necessary. I found that fact fucking hilarious indeed. I did stay for the committee meetings and focused my interest on the communications committee as I was the journalist there. Nothing much of interest happened during the committee meetings and everything was concluded at 19:30.
There you have it, a journalistic piece written by your’s truly. Nobody can every claim again that all I do are opinion pieces (although those are my favorite pieces to write). While news sources claim these types of organizations are incredibly disorganized I can say with authority that they feel very organized when you’re actually at the events. Then again what I did was actual investigative journalist, something most accredited journalist of today have any fucking clue about. Getting a soundbite for the evening news doesn’t tell the real story, which requires somebody on site writing down their observations and interviewing participants. Even though most of the participants seem to have very socialist views in mind, events like this are very individualistic in nature. Each participant really brings their own grievance to the occupation and nobody is bound to any set of rules outside of those already ascribed by society. If you want to go and protest against douche bag Mayor Rybak you certainly can, nobody is going to stop you. These occupations can be summed up as a large group of people being pissed off at various things but wanting a group to join so that their general dissatisfaction doesn’t appear to be isolated to single individuals. Although much less in scale these protests would be similar to the civil rights, gun rights, labor activist, and free market movements all coming together in a single spot whlie each individual continued to fight for their original cause.