GA Minutes Tue Mar 05 2013

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Minutes for 5 March 2013

Details

Location: Community Church
Time: 7 - 9:25pm
Facilitators: Carolyn and Larry
Note taker: Steve

Around 14--15 people attending.

Summary

The meeting centered around a discussion of Occupy Boston accomplishments. We also passed two proposals in the consent bucket:

  • Reschedule the March 17 GA to Tuesday March 19 7pm (to avoid a time conflict with the St. Patrick's Day Parade)
  • To take the cots we have in storage, and donate them to the Harvard Homeless shelter.

Announcements

Larry. Have you heard about the new T proposals? They're even worse than the last ones. They've put out two options: a 30% fare increase, or 15% fare increase and no weekend service.

Dana (Strike Debt). All roads of evil go to the 1%. You can start by looking at banks, or start by looking at debt. We're planning a kickoff event 2-5pm on Sat. April 6th, on student loan debt. Somebody set up a Facebook event, but it's erroneously listed as 1:00-1:05pm. Our next organizing meeting is Monday, 7pm at City Place.

There's a Strike Debt event at Salem State University on Wednesday. Last night, I got together with Noah McKenna to make some T-shirts. We made about 10 of them. (Dana gives the shirts to Rich, to take to the Salem State University event.)

Maurice. I videotaped George Caffentzis's talk, and put four clips up on YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/maurice11

Carolyn. George talked about trying to organize a regional strike debt movement. That would be incredible for us. I'll do what I can to support this.

Steve (FAWG). Joe, Kendra, David Knuten and I met with UFE last night. A few months ago, we started working with UFE, to get a fiscal sponsorship agreement together, but that effort fell off the radar for a while. We're trying to get the Fiscal sponsorship rolling again.

Proposals

Tonight's meeting will focus on a discussion of post-Dewey accomplishments. Accordingly, we'll only entertain proposals that can pass in the consent bucket.

Proposal 1. (Proposal-20130305-reschedule.pdf) Steve. Our next scheduled GA is Tuesday March 17. That's the same day as the St. Patrick's Day parade. I propose we reschedule the GA, so that folks are free to march with Veterans for Peace.

When would reschedule for?

Tuesday, March 19th.

Carlos suggests rescheduling for this Sunday.

There seems to be a preference for Tuesday.

Proposal Passes. GA rescheduled for Tuesday March 19th 7pm, location TBD

Proposal 2 (Proposal-20130305-cots.pdf) Bil. I propose that cots in storage be donated to the Harvard Homeless shelter. The idea came from Bobbi.

Carlos. I don't agree with giving the cots away. We might need them later.

Carolyn. We already decided that we were giving them away, but we didn't decide who we were giving them to.

Carlos. Where is the transparency? How do we know where this is going?

Carolyn. It's on the web site, in the minutes.

Proposal Passes

Proposal 3 (Proposal-20130305-tent.pdf) Bil. I propose that we have the kitchen tent stored with John Ford.

Carolyn. I'd like to pull that out of the consent bucket.

Proposal comes out of the consent bucket.

Maurice. I propose we have a moment of silence for Hugo Chavez, who died earlier today.

We take a moment of silence.

Proposal 4. Carlos. I propose we ask for a grant, to promote work on economic inequality. And an educational campaign. Demand that the government reduce inequality, rather than expand it. We'll need $10,000, or what we can afford. I like the money that you give to the NLG. I don't know about the money you gave to the Occupier.

Rich. I'd like to take this out of the bucket.

Proposal comes out of the consent bucket.

Discussion: What We've Accomplished Since the Camp

Carolyn. I hope we can take turns facilitating, so that everyone can participate in this discussion. It's been a long time since we looked back and tried to see what we've accomplished. This could be an opportunity to discuss what we've done right, wrong, and what we could have done better.

Rich. I'd like to suggest a structure, for putting things into categories:

  • Sustaining Occupy Boston as an organization
  • Campaigns and actions
  • Getting our ideas out
  • Connecting to other movements.

This is just a suggestion, nothing more.

Larry. I've been thinking about this a lot. The law took away our visibility at camp. Comparing now to then, it's hard to avoid the conclusion that we're just another fringe element in the political scene. I wonder how we can revive the unique excitement that we created. To a certain degree, events made us. People were excited that people got out in the streets and said "things are screwed up". Is there any way we can think of to tap back into that? We've done some great work. Occupy MBTA got very positive reception on the trains. As time goes on, we're losing that unique capacity we had.

Dana. The genesis of the movement happened after the Wall Street bailout. That was a public example of how uncontrolled greed could break the financial system. The trillions to spent to restore the financial system went to the people who wrecked it. It spawned a movement, but we're not sure what that movement was about. To me it was an acknowledgment that our political leftright spectrum was not sufficient to deal with that problem. The tea party acknowledged that it was a bogus spectrum. Since the spectrum didn't satisfy the urgency of the movement in history, people wanted to step outside. A public display of discontent. Eventually, the camps were destroyed by that left-right spectrum. After the camp, it's not clear that we had a goal. It's clear what the strategy was, but it's not clear what the movement was about. After camps, people moved into other organizing and other groups. We've been successful by sustaining and diversifying. You could say "splintering", but I'll say "diversifying", because that's more positive.

Raj. Dana, your ideas stimulated so many thoughts. Once we had wake-up call to banks, ponzi schemes, bailouts, we realized that this transcended politics. We realized we're reaching a point of unsustainability the trust of our democracy. Post 2015, if we haven't solved any of these issues, new topics will develop beyond poverty. Like climate refugees. I'm trying to draw a parallel between international pieces and our domestic inequalities. What key issues can we anticipate being the hot buttons?

Rich. What was initially apparent that made this a movement was the blatancy of economic inequality and the role of private sector. I think we're splintering rather than spreading out. Today, the stock market hit an all time record high, and unemployment is still at 8%. There are two different worlds here. There's a story in globe about a group called Occupy the SEC. I was in Hong Kong last week. They're planning to tell their government that if the government is not responsive to certain demands, then the people will occupy their city hall. In China, there was filtered coverage of this, and people were really confused about it. That's some of the ways our occupy ideas have gotten out.

Joe. When I think about time lines and the relationship to the financial crisis, I remember George Caffentzis saying there was a real lag. Adbusters proposed a mass action. That proposal coincided with developments in new social media tools, which made it even more exciting. In this city, it looks like there's a shrinkage, but the connections are still around. We can affect Hong Kong just by rumors of what we're doing. I'd like us to be more visible in this city. I'd like us to be some little group with a small set of ideas that are taken seriously. As far as class issues in the city, it's a city where inequality is deeply entrenched. I'd like a way to bring attention attention to inequality in this city.

Carolyn. We started with a space. We started holding a space. The darling of the press was desperate for stories about us. Lots of stories focused on mutual aid, and that vanished. Despite that and the demoralizations, we've hung on to do a lot of interesting projects. I went back on the web site, and there's an unbelievable amount of stuff there. We haven't done a lot of coverage of our events, or strategic thinking of how to go further. That was such a tremendous loss, of something that wasn't sustainable. A lot of people had no long-term vision, and they left when the action died down. We can take advantage of events, but we can't create action without events. But there are many things we can do in the interim.

Larry. The thing that impressed me about the camp was the way we could have these huge marches almost on a daily basis. People were really interested in what we were doing. In November, all kinds of people were coming to us. Because we lost the camp, those things were severed. We don't have the opportunity to generate these big spontaneous marches, and we don't have connection with average person. I don't know how to re-create that.

Raj. I have a question for the group, about what Joe said about concealed inequality. Wall street was about wall street. What was the image, the set of values, the face of Occupy Boston when it began?

Larry. A lot of the original organizers were very influenced by people in New York.

Dana. Yea, it was a group of people who had been in NYC, and wanted to do the same thing here. Noam Chomsky spoke at Dewey Square, and he was very sanguine. The said "The most important thing is that you've met. If you sustain these bonds, then you can form a movement that can change things". Occupy Sandy was helped by a network of associations from Occupy Wall Street. That network is clearly still there. Sustaining connections with each other is an accomplishment.

Joe. Sustaining Occupy Boston in the city. We've made a transition; we've resized ourselves. We have fewer arguments about money. We've found a new structure where we live with fewer spectacular events. Sustaining what we have won't make it in to the paper. Some arguments have been really really difficult. If different groups keep in touch and work with each other, then we can still do things. We don't want to have a moment of embarrassment. Put things in perspective and continue. The movement is worldwide.

Carlos. How about the next movement, the lawyer's having a fundraiser ball on March 15. Can I get a free ticket to go? Can some of us get access? Since we gave them 5600 dollars, to I get to go?

Bil. For me, occupy was all about the idea that the system is broken, and let's fix it. There are lots of examples of how things are broken. That's the fundamental concept that brought me here. I was a computational scientist two years ago, and now I go around the street yelling my head off. I've gone to to NH, to Portland, to the RNC and DNC. All of these things have made me a far more effective activist. It's a huge wonderful thing that occupy happened.

Currently, taxes are my example of how the system is unfair. I'm working on something where people can "build their own tax system". One of my big things is talking to people who aren't us. I'm in the toastmasters, so I get to visit clubs, and talk about anything I want to. And I'll do that. I've gone to greater Boston tea party rallies. Everyone agrees with the fundamental values: racism, war is bad, the tax system is all messed up. We have different solutions but we all see the same problems. Any time we get our faces in the paper, this is a good thing. 20-30 of us in a room won't change things. But by talking to people, we build masses and we can change things. I'd like everyone to see that the system is totally screwed and unfair. Most people don't want welfare. They want to work.

Derek. I raised my hand when Larry was speaking, re: there wasn't a space to go. That's seemed like an issue when our camp dissolved. A bookstore (in North Carolina) opened their doors to us, and let us meet there. People though that when camp was gone, then so was occupy. The best thing was also the worst thing. It's excellent to get everyone in the same room, but we haven't learned to work together. The answers weren't already there; we needed to work at them. People would push each other away. A core group became so fundamental that it was alienating to others.

How many people were at North Carolina encampment?

There were 50-100 tents. Within the first two weeks, the homeless population came in. Some occupiers were receptive to them, and it was really great. Others said "we can't be a welfare group". That basically led us to disband the camp - we thought we could be more effective organizers without having a camp. It almost didn't dawn on people to look for a second space.

Steve. I got involved because of the financial crisis. I saw all these people speaking out against the banks, and I thought it was great. It was terribly exciting. In October 2011, I took part in my first protest march; I never knew how empowering that could feel. Occupy has been a learning experience for me, and that's really what's kept me involved. Whether it's new skills, pieces of history, new ideas, or just different viewpoints. I'll stay involved as long as I feel like I'm learning new things. Sure, we've had our moments of contention, but those have also been some of the most interesting moments.

Bobbi. I was just thrilled that occupy happened. I felt in alone; what's wrong with people, why aren't they questioning authority? I felt validated. I'd like to throw in a word about the homeless. The government set us up by infiltration, and putting the elements there. There was constant noise from buildings, cars. We couldn't think. I do feel that the homeless population was challenging, but it taught us a lot. It taught us about the layers and the underbelly of society. A lot of these college kids, myself, my family, never knew this existed. Who knew how this happened? It taught a lot of people. We got smack dab in our face, injustice all over the place. There were so many existing organizations, who were miffed when Occupy showed up and stole the show. We managed to get involved. I'm proud of us. We got a lot of shit done.

Kendra. A lot of what we learned was how to be better organized, and prioritized. We tried to take on too many issues, and that felt chaotic. We've gotten better at conflict resolution. It's resulted in smaller groups, but you can be more effective when working with smaller group of people. You're less effective when you're fighting. The police sent homeless people into camps, and 80% of our time was spent dealing with fights. But their presence showed what could happen if the tides turned. I left camp three weeks before the eviction, but continued working with different groups. At a point, we put together resources for the homeless, and there's lots of resources in the community. Once there was more conflict than collaboration, it was time to decentralize. It's obvious that camp couldn't have stayed forever. We did connect with people that were like-minded. Conflict creeps back in from time to time, but we keep our blinders on and set out.

Dana. I'm finding this conversation fascinating. But I think we're getting off the topic of accomplishments.

Maurice. We had our fifteen minutes of fame, and we accomplished a lot. We made homeland security pay attention; that's an accomplishment. They didn't get rid of us, they just slowed our momentum. We should get together, for a second wind.

Rich. Accomplishments are a combination of organizing and chance. In Montreal, there were 100,000 people in street over tuition, but our student debt has no publicity. It helps when the government creates the stir. We're still trying to figure out what might spark things off. That's not in our control. Noam Chomsky said "It's a good thing they didn't ask me to set up a camp. I would have said `worst idea ever"'. There's been a campaign to destroy our organization, and the government destroy things well.

Larry. I agree with Rich; we're not the creators of our own destiny. Events make our movement popular. We have to wait for them, but we can anticipate and be ready to come together when the next one happens. It's imperative for organizations to keep doing things like Strike Debt. Foreclosures are becoming moot because banks are under pressure to ease up, at least for now. The next time events allow for something big, people will recognize us. We need to try to anticipate, to see what's coming, and be out there for people to see almost before it happens.

Carolyn. To keep going, it's important that we see what we have. I see us as waiting to catch a wave. Since the camp, we've had campaigns. While we had the camp, we did not have sustained organized campaigns. We were much more focused on keeping the camp going, as a model community. Bank Action, Occupy Monsanto are forward-looking accomplishments. We have ideas about how to develop something bigger than march fatigue. We can do things that aren't just one-shot events. Some of the one-shot events were good, but we can try to take on larger things where we work together and build to something more powerful. One big think we got a lot of publicity from was PAX Centurion. I think that was something that other occupiers picked up on.

Bil. A very short version of the PAX Centurion story; other people noticed that letters, articles had gone into the newsletter for the Boston Police Patrolman's Association. Some really racist stuff. We had a meeting, and I wrote a letter to the cops. The editor published my note and a scathing reply. That's all I did. Independently, other people went to the newsletter's sponsors, and a bunch of sponsors pulled out. It got quite a bit of press. The Boston Minority Police Patrolman's Association got into it. It was totally disparate people doing things.

Kendra. I'm from Detroit, and my parents were union organizers. For the most part, there was a mandate that we didn't march. We organized and educated. They were involved in shutting down the Dodge plant because unions were segregated. Occupy Wall Street wasn't a starting point, nor was Tahrir square. There are a lot of examples of people deciding to stand up and take care of themselves. That's the accomplishment - to see that carry forward. A bunch of people in Egypt got arrested for doing the Harlem shake. Now, everyone is coming out into the streets and doing it.

Rich. in terms of accomplishments and waves, on thing that struck me was Yo Soy 132. There were a small number of us, and almost an equal number of cops. A small number of people with a sign that said "occupy" brought in a lot of police officers. That's an accomplishment. Occupy MBTA wasn't as successful as we wanted it to be. 600 people in the state capital isn't bad, but that ain't Wisconsin. Many organizations chipped in, and we got less draconian cuts. As Larry said, they're going to do the same thing again this year. It might be a 4 foot wave rather than a 20 foot wave, but we'd be amiss to ignore it.

Joe. After the pressure came off, the MBTA came back with proposals to increase fares and cut service. The fact that there are so many cops and so few occupiers can work to our advantage. The fact that we're a little odd makes us unique. Almost every labor group starts by putting "international" in front of their name, with aspiration of being an international phenomenon. But we're really doing something international. We should take advantage of our opportunity. If the MBTA is going to come back with draconian cuts, then Occupy MBTA should come back. Today, the DOW reached it's highest point since 2007. That's also a wave that could be ridden. Some people have recovered, but many have not.

Joan. Yes, the DOW went up, but so did the number of homeless. People understood that this is about inequality. inequality has not changed.

Dana. When camps were still happening, there was an open letter from Tahrir square. One of great accomplishments of occupy was it's international nature. People here identified with people that were being exploited in other countries. That's the whole idea of "workers of the world unite". I have a paragraph of the letter from Tahrir: "Our only advice is to keep going and continue; don't stop ... take pleasure in what your doing. It should be easy, even fun. We are in solidarity with you, and we love you for what you're doing". That level of connection is an enormously powerful thing. When people can't see their reflection in the world, they feel like they're not alive. The capitalist media want's to say this is over. But this solidarity - that toothpaste has not gone back into the tube.

Joan. Stephane Hessel, a French resistance fighter who wrote little book called "We are Outraged" died a few days ago. He was acknowledged by people who planned the occupation of Washington DC, long before Adbusters came up with the idea. There's a universal feeling about this. Occupy Washington DC was planned in DC because of the austerity budgets. I've been involved in a lot of these different groups. Anti-war, pro-union, all in one place. Union guys said, "we've never heard of this mic check thing, but we like it". "We never thought of storming the CEO's office, but we like it". In DC, people speak of "the movement" as a civil resistance movement. They've been doing protests in DC for years. People I know have been going to DC and getting arrested for years. 20 people arrested at wells fargo. 100 people arrested for protesting drones. All this week.

Carolyn. I'm not tired of all marches. I'm just tired of the ones that wandered around Downtown Crossing without any real purpose.

Joan. Some people like marches, some people like meetings. Everyone has different abilities. My specialty is chanting!

Bobbi. I'm just glowing again. I feel as though occupy created a discourse in the country. People couldn't quite put their finger on what was wrong. But shit was wrong. I feel as though occupy got people talking, discussing shit. I find myself frustrated: people saying "what did occupy do". Was it just a camp with a bunch of homeless people? My blood pressure goes up. We created discourse, with each other and with people walking by. What do you say, in a condensed amount of time, to people that think you're wasting your time?

Raj. I was inspired by Kendra, Dana, Joan's remarks. There's a fear factor for young girls in Pakistan, willing to die from torture, rape. They've overcome their fear factors. Why now? Why not 10 years from now? If we can rediscover this, than we can get beyond our fear factor.

Larry. Night before camp was taking down, I was struggling with myself about being arrested. If I were arrested, I would have lost my jobs. A lot of people are paralyzed by that kind of fear. How do we get beyond that?

Rich. I teach political science, and I've seen a change in attitudes in my students. In the past, 80% thought of the US as egalitarian and 20% thought of it as elitist. Now 80% see the US as an elitist country. People recognize the word occupy, and want to know what it was about. In the prior 15 years, that curiosity was not there. We still have to figure out what to do about it. Some people may not be active, but this had reverberated. We reached a lot of people who normally don't do this sort of stuff at all.

Bil. One of the most beautiful things I've felt was some of our chanting and singing. We take a few minutes to break for a group chant.

One. We are the people
Two. We are united
Three. This occupation is not leaving.

Carolyn. A bunch of us marched in the Honk parade, with the wonderful superman costumes that Dana and Julia made. People were thrilled to see us; they were excited to see that occupy was still around. We need to find a way to pick up on that.

Joan. The word "occupy" on a banner has become something of a universal language.

Joe. I've seen that too. Kids would watch our meetings and see what we were doing, and get interested. Maybe we could take old idea - have a parade every week or two, and bring in as many groups as possible. How to put roots in Boston? Freedom trail? We could do something along the lines of an inequality tour of Boston. Parade, but tap into the idea that we're tourists. Tap in to people's curiosity.

Derek. I tried to make it to the police brutality march. I followed the march in my car, with my NC plate that said MIC CHECK, and a bass drum in my back seat.

Steve. Some of my fondest memories involve marching around singing "I really like the cops".

Rich. I'd like to do one non-analytical thing. Base on what Larry said about MBTA, it might be nice to see if we can we can get in touch with Occupy MBTA members; see if we can start resparking that movement.

Derek. One of things I came here for was regarding the cots. Can someone give Bobbi that info?

Bobbi. Can they be delivered?

Joe and Bil: yes.

Bobbi. Bags in the storage space should go to a homeless shelter too. The women there always need bags to carry their stuff around.

GA ends at 9:25.