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Disappointed with Occupy – Again

Posted by spritzophrenia on December 1, 2011

*Names are changed*

The first time I visited our local Occupy site I was going to write about it, titled “Disappointed With Occupy”. Me, my partner and baby visited the site on a sunny day. One person, a 40-something scragglybeard in the information tent was friendly and articulate. He had to leave to attend to other matters. The other person sitting in the information tent – a 20-something scragglybeard British tourist? – only deigned to look up from his book to talk to us after I asked him a question.

I’ve been to two meetings since. One was a “general assembly” – which gave me some hope that the movement might have something worthwhile to offer. About 80 people were at that. And a “people’s parliament”, now renamed “people’s forum”. Damn good they renamed it, because the 20 or so mostly under-30 people who gathered could hardly be called a parliament. That was nice, we talked about what kinds of changes to New Zealand’s parliamentary system we could imagine. It was small, young, but hopeful. And yes, the guy who sat next to me did smell.

Tonight was my fourth visit to the Occupy Wellington site. Tonight I wanted to stay, to help “occupy”, to see what it was all about. To talk to people. To enjoy the cameraderie. Participant observation and all that. I arrived about half an hour before sunset, at the tail end of a beautiful summer’s day.

I want this to succeed. I identify as one of the 99%. I want this to grow and to reach all the boring middle class people like me.


Not a photo of the local lot. Too many tents

Wednesday 8:30 pm:

Seems like no-one is here. There are far more tents than people. I counted the tents: Thirty-five. There are a few dry patches of dirt where tents had once been. I’d heard the greenhouse tent had blown over in the recent wind. The “marae” tent that we were shown on our first day is no longer there. There is no information tent. But at least there is a nice large courtyard area with some plastic chairs. The site is tidy enough.

It’s just after dinner time, I ask if I can stay the night, and am eagerly welcomed by Barry, the scragglybeard who first welcomed us a few weeks ago. The kitchen staff washing up offer me food, but I’m really not hungry. I give them apples and oranges to share around. I don’t need a tent, I have a “bivvy bag” so I can sleep in the open. Nevertheless, they think there is a tent free and will see if I can use it. Nice.

I spread my gear out in an open space, and then wander around. I decide to read the protest signs hung along a fence. One says something like, “You will not get us to go away”. I felt it was kinda confrontational. Right now, I think this movement needs to be welcoming. Fortunately there are welcoming signs too. I wander back.

Dave comes over while I’m lying on my bivvy bag and tells me that a tent is free. “Just move the stuff in it to one side and you can use it”. I thank him. I’m quite happy sleeping out on my own, but decide to move into the tent. There is a lot of bedding, a pack and a guitar with only two strings. I am happy I will have warm padding to lie on in my sleeping bag.

Once I am settled I ask myself what I am doing here. I come up with two main reasons:

– I don’t like our democracy being controlled by the rich.
– I don’t like the gap between rich and poor, I want to help the poor.

That’s what I would say to an outsider. I’m mainly here to be involved, to support something I *think* might be important, to learn more. I reflect on the “Occupy” movement. I’ve read a lot about it, both local and international. Somehow when I first heard about it the whole concept seemed exciting and just resonated with me. I wanted to be involved.

But it’s boring.

It’s boring.

I wander out again. It’s getting dark now. No-one much talks to me. Let’s face it, there’s no-one much around. Eventually I talk to a Maori “security guard” in a fluoro vest. I only mention his ethnicity because I want to note that the group is not all whiteys. The guard belongs to the occupy group, not the council. I found him hard to understand, tho’ he was very friendly. He said something about the camp being “locked down at midnight.” He let me know there was no drink or drugs on site, but “if you want to drink, we do it over there”, pointing to seats not far away from the camp with a conspiratorial snigger. He did tell me what Occupy Wellington was all about: “It’s all about love.” Can’t argue with that.

The camp is right beside a public thoroughfare – as it should be. A sporadic stream of people walk past, many avoiding the camp altogether by walking far away. A few stop and look at the signs. Four 15 year-olds turn up and sit along the edge of the camp. A couple of occupiers chat to them. The teens seem interested, and have heard of occupy. One of them asks, “Excuse me for being… I don’t watch the news. Did National win?” The election was four days ago. When she discovers the result, she abuses John Key.

I decide these novice teens are not going to help me get any sense of the movement so walk back inside the camp where half a dozen people are gathered outside the kitchen tent in an uncomfortable circle. Some seem friendly, although no-one speaks to me. Most are silent, or doing random verbal “jazz” freestyles while listening to one or two people chat.

“Andy”, another bearded chap in shorts who I met at the people’s forum the other day walks past and says Hi to me. He’s genuinely friendly and a welcome relief from being ignored. But he moves on and after ten more minutes of being ignored I wander off alone to my tent again.

Eventually I decide to read my book and manage to find enough light near the entrance to the camp. There another young guy is noisily chatting to a man with a foreign accent who has stopped to see what’s going on. Noisy guy is mostly telling him about his view of the world, rather than listening. Apparently if the USA spent all its defence budget on education the world would be “sorted out in no time”. I can’t concentrate on my book (a highly political critiqute of society by Giorgio Agamben, which I thought appropriate). The tourist leaves and a few friends arrive to say hi to noisy guy. NG quietly boasts of “dumpster diving” recently in Porrirua, Johnsonville and Churton Park. I wonder if he has access to a car to get to these suburbs which are fairly distant from the central city. He tells them Moore Wilson’s [supermarket] is supposed to be good but was cleaned out when he got there. I heard someone else mention that he got food from the Hare Krishnas tonight. I wonder what the state of food and donations to the camp is, if they are reduced to going through the rubbish or begging from dubious religious charities.

I give up and wander back through the camp. I notice a dim light on in the kitchen. I am about to check it out when I notice the only people there are a couple cuddling intimately. I decide to go back to my tent.

Grabbing my drink, I leave the camp and sit looking at the city buildings, the lights of distant Petone and the colourful seafront walkway. I tell myself that it’s pointless being there if I don’t talk to anyone. I try and work up courage to talk. But first I must pee. The council have continued to lock the public toilets at night, so I walk along the waterfront to the park and pee on a bush. I hope no-one sees me, as I don’t want to bring the movement into disrepute. This is why I’ve walked a reasonable distance from the camp.

There is no wind. Therefore, no electricity from the tiny camp wind turbine. I see it absolutely still. Dead. Where are the people who are active on the Occupy web site and facebook page? Are they even here? Lack of electricity would suggest not.

I return.

10:07 pm.

I have a short, humorous conversation with six people out on the main drag in front of the camp. I finally start to be included, although they are mostly interested in talking among themselves. Comfort zone, why should they talk to a newbie, even though I’m trying to smile and joke.

It turns out several of them aren’t actually sleeping here tonight. Just visiting. One has just come back after a week and a half away. “It was better when there were 40 people here”, says one twenty-something woman. I ask how many are here now. They don’t know. I think they said twenty.

They all talk loudly about where they will go to grab food. They leave for a cafe uptown. They don’t invite me with them. “Nice meeting you”, says another young woman as she leaves. “Was that a meeting?” I ask. She dissembles. I wasn’t even aware she had noticed me.

I go back to my borrowed tent. Alone. Bored.

If the police wanted to raid, there would be about 5 people on the site right now.

And I wouldn’t care.

EDIT: I have since returned and lived onsite for four days. I begin to share about that experience here


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16 Responses to “Disappointed with Occupy – Again”

  1. Antonia Marrero said

    Hi Jonathan! Antonia (from twitter) here. Sounds like an alienating experience, like the people you met had an insularity that was hard to crack. Sounds like there was a lack of leadership — which I know, gets a bad rap as being heirarchical/elitist. But to my mind, there’s a kind of leadership that is welcoming, affirming, and seeks to champion the strengths of others, thus harnessing power. Like a good teacher. Wish you could visit NYC. Pretty darn vibrant. I don’t camp but the folks I’ve met at OWS have been pretty friendly and certainly well-organized. Much respect, A

    • I have a mate called “Dave” who visited NYC in September when Occupy Wall Street first started and spent four days interviewing all the people. Why they were there, what they were about, where they came, etc.

      He’s here now working with Occupy New Zealand. Interesting story huh?

      And thanks, great to hear from you.

  2. Russell McMahon said

    I’ll try and stay relatively public-opinionless.
    I wonder how many Aucklanders have visited the Auckland site. And talked to the people there.
    I wonder how many know it exists?
    I wonder if it still exists?
    I assume it probably does, but I have not heard comment about it or been near it myself for some weeks.

    When I wander the world my camera is an extension of my right arm. I took my camera to visit OA on the evening of October 31st. I can’t quite claim a photo essay, but the facebook page referenced below gives a feel for the place. Friendly enough people. I didn’t try for deep conversations but did ask questions of quite a few Most common question to me was “Are you from the media”. The camera tends to do that. When I said ‘no’ they more or less ignored me and my photo taking. An interesing visit. I must go back. If it’s still there :-).

    See – Occupy Auckland


  3. Micah said

    I’m sorry to hear that you had such a negative experience at your local occupation. It sounds like a pretty dysfunctional site!

    A part of the problem, for sure, is that so many folks related to the Occupy Movement as something outside of themselves – i.e., “the occupiers are ‘those folks’ and we are ‘supportive.'” I think it’s important for all of us to realize that we cannot be consumers of this movement. If we do not give of ourselves and open ourselves to others, this will go nowhere.

    Unfortunately, it sounds like most of the people at that particular camp were treating the movement like a consumer experience, rather than as a living, growing community that they felt responsibility to nurture.

  4. Anne said

    Great journal of your experience, Jon. I agree with Micah that too often, people who want to create a “movement” don’t know how to get it moving because they don’t get that it’s about inclusivity, not exclusivity… and of those who understand that, many don’t know how to make it happen.

    I admit that I say that from the sidelines. I’ve watched from a distance here in the Portland, Oregon, area. They have had some successful marches, but don’t seem to have a plan. I was a Vietnam war protester, and that movement I believe, though sometimes misdirected at the soldiers, was far more organized. The message was easy: get out of Vietnam. Occupy is clearer about what they don’t want, than what they do want.

    I do know how impossible it can be to try to get people to organize… they may show up, but many times they aren’t willing to conform to one plan. (The conflict is that many people there are nonconformists, and often anarchist, which is why they’re gutsy enough to get out there in the first place.)

    I think so many of us share the anger and frustration about Wall Street and the mortgage debacle, etc. etc. (which set off the worldwide problem) and were glad in the beginning to see that people were going public with a message. Now I see very little message, a lot of camping out with no central theme. One good thing that may be happening is that more people are mingling with the homeless. Occupy may be more organized and engaging in NYC and a few other places than in most areas (makes sense) and maybe they should start organizing the other cities.

    Glad you took the time to go, and shared your experience!

    • Unfortunately while many of us have incredible anger and frustration about Wall Street, etc, I have way too many Republican friends (not anti-Republican) that insist this movement is just people looking for hand-outs. I am sure that at least a few of them are, but I don’t think the vast majority of the protesters are that way. Unfortunately though there has been nothing cohesive enough to get the message out there about what exactly they are protesting. I think the media is making it worse. I do not see TV news but I know they keep saying it is anti-Corporation and laughing at the protesters using technology. It is not anti-corporation, it is anti-fraud and corruption and greed!

      I am still amazed at the amount of people who actually don’t have a problem with what Wall Street did. Denial? Ignorance?

  5. Sugarpop said

    What a great journal – thank you! It is very hard to understand that a group that expressly sets out to represent the 99%, which implies inclusivity, manages to exclude people such as yourself who make the effort and take the initiative to go down there and join in. I’m so sorry your experience was not positive and inclusive. I wonder if you will go again, and if your experience is different…

    I look forward to reading more 🙂

    • Thanks. I camped again last night. Maybe it was that my headspace was better, or maybe I just managed to connect with the right people.

      Yes, I am planning to continue interacting with and being part of the local “Occupy” movement for the time being. I will write more… I feel I have enough experiences in the last 24 hours to fill 4 blog posts.

      However, right now I need to get home to have a shower and change so I can be a part of an Occupy-Led fundraiser for some meat workers who have been locked out of their jobs for 6 weeks, because they don’t want to take a 20% pay cut. They cannot get food vouchers to feed their families from WINZ (Welfare).The management of this major organisation have all received pay rises.

      And people wonder why we are occupying?

      • Sugarpop said

        Go you! Enjoy your shower and the fundraiser. I’m looking foward to reading more about your experiences and insights at your local Occupy 😀

  6. hi Jonathan
    sounds disappointing at the very least! I must admit I am ignorant as far as to your economic situation in New Zealand? Holy Crap, my long text was just eaten and I don’t have time to redo it right now. GAH! but short version, do you have the same lack of distribution there? it appears that you have a generous welfare system? and you have socialized medicine. Here, (in the USA) getting sick frequently means going bankrupt and staying poor. Do your company heads make 500 x the amount of the regular laborers? Is your tax system favoring the wealthy?

    I tried to send you a message on skype but it is still ‘circling’ from yesterday!

  7. […] Disappointed with Occupy – Again […]

  8. will said

    Hi. I’ve enjoyed reading this. I’ve been involved with Occupy Wellington and understand where you are coming from. I don’t camp there but visit when I can. I’ve met some wonderful people there (and a few crazys). Sunny weekends are the best. During the week people are home sleeping/working. Weekends – especially the first few had alot of happenings.
    I’ve added your blog to my RSS reader and really appreciate posts like this. More local content on the Occupy movement is what they need – critical eye is even better 😀 Consider writing a article for the Occupy Domion Post!

  9. […] Disappointed with Occupy – Again […]

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