Spritzophrenia

humour, music, life, sociology. friendly agnostic.

Posts Tagged ‘Occupy Wall Street’

Why Occupy Wellington Failed

Posted by spritzophrenia on March 15, 2012

It is hard for me to write the words “Occupy Wellington has failed”. Ever since the majority of campers left Civic Square in December I have been waiting and hoping that new life will spring up. Ever since Occupy New York came to my attention I have hoped we were seeing something powerful. However, I can only report what I see. Social movements are complex, hence I can’t identify one factor alone that has hamstrung the movement. I think it’s a combination of the themes below:

Youthful optimism versus harsh reality

Camping was hard. Strangely, the hardest part appeared to be living with other people in camp, not external pressure. By December a large number of the younger contingent left the Civic Squre site in frustration. I had hoped to see them return, but as at mid-March this does not appear to be occurring. One of the “originals” organised a General assembly for March the 3rd. This was rained out, and there has been no attempt to re-ignite a GA. If these original campers can no longer be bothered turning up, I think Occupy is dead in Wellington.

Personal disputes marred the camp as well. Many seasoned protesters refused to join Occupy because of the presence of one person who they did not respect. However, I do wonder whether these long-term protesters would have brought their own issues, eg an inability to let go their previous views of the world.

Lack of ordinary older people

Perhaps older and more experienced people could have brought some perspective and wisdom to the camp, and been able to mediate some of the disputes. However, there was a low percentage of those living in the camp who were over thirty. There was a lot of external support from such people in my experience, but very few were able to spend significant amounts of time with the campers. Because we sought to support the 99%, it would have balanced us to have involvement from ordinary people and families (accountants, nurses, teachers, lawyers, the fire service, retired people… ). The vast majority of the campers were students and under-employed people.

Freeloaders

The percentage of those who turned up for a free bed and food versus those who were there to achieve other goals was too high. Some of the freeloaders bought problems such as drugs and violence on site and the camp spent too much of its time on dealing with internal needs, rather than outreach to the general public.

However, there was another sort of freeloader: Those that spent much of their time participating on the internet but rarely any time physically on site. Even some admins of the various internet presences were hardly ever seen in Civic Square.

Violence

At one or two points pre-December there was violence and sexual harassment against women. This was poorly handled and pushed some people away. (Sadly, the queer caucus had already left.) The “safer spaces” methods were ignored. In the final week of the encampment after all of the original occupiers had left there were two arrests for violence. Ironically the (allegedly) self-proclaimed head of security was one of those arrested. A satisfactory way of dealing with violence was never achieved. Even though there was very little violence in the camp, violence has a way of affecting morale and trust far beyond its circle.

Lack of clear goals

Although the group did come up with clear goals, it appears they weren’t adopted by enough of the campers. There were too many people camping who had a vague idea, or no idea of what Occupy was really about.

This meant that it was easy for the camp to be co-opted by other elements. The camp began to support all protests (from 9/11 conspiracies, to the Food Bill, to anti-Fracking and more). Overseas, Occupy was fundamentally a protest against the influence of the very rich; these other protests diluted and confused the Wellington camp. In addition, there were some who had their own agenda, or who were still tied to old ways of thinking, for example Marxism.

Poor Marketing

When I was just a member of the public, my experience of the camp’s message was poor. Towards the end I heard numerous comments that the camp was actually intimidating for many people. However judgemental it might have been, the fact was that a phalanx of “scary looking” people at the entrance was not welcoming for many of the 99%.

Media Lies

Having been on “the inside” of a few stories I am now under no illusions about the mainstream media. Many reporters are extremely dishonest and partisan. Unfortunately, the general public is simply unaware of how biased most stories are. The biased reporting did have some influence on the success of the movement; perhaps if the camp had lasted longer or done more than elaborate navel-gazing the reporting would have changed over time.

Lack of action

The Occupy Wellington camp carried out a few noisy protests, talked interminably, and had a couple of people’s universities. But they really didn’t DO much. Yes, they fed people, but let’s not forget this was largely feeding themselves. Where was the assistance for those oppressed by the ultra-rich, for example the occupying of foreclosed homes or businesses? Occupy Wellington really did not seem to take on this aspect of the overseas occupations at all. It was only at the end with support for locked-out workers in Marton that they began to do any practical good for the oppressed.

So What Next?

I note that many of the above problems were also extant in Occupy Auckland, from my discussions and brief attendance of a GA up there.

Now that the camp is no more, a popular slogan is “You can’t kill an idea”. However, an idea ultimately has to have some outcome or it is meaningless. The idea was Occupy, the idea was camping. Without this protest, there is no movement.

Occupy is now reduced to pontification on the internet about “Occupy 2.0” and the suggestion of more new publications. Publications have rarely done any good, and only tie people and resources up in time-wasting efforts to speak to themselves. Marxist groups, for example, have handed out their newspapers for decades with very little to show for it. Propaganda without action is useless.

In Wellington, some Occupiers have drifted off into party politics, a fact that amazes me and suggests they never understood Occupy in the first place. (It’s also noteworthy how little interest in Occupy various Green, Mana and Labour party people have now that the elections are over. Coincidence? I think not.)

Some Occupiers have moved back to various Marxist or Anarchist groups. The latter have never produced anything of note in New Zealand. Marxism hasn’t produced a new idea in the last century and is irrelevant. Occupy was a chance to leave behind these political dinosaurs and attempt to come up with something new.

For myself, I would like to take action. I don’t pretend that I have the answers or desire to be a leader. However, if there were just a few others who were willing I would be camping on public land tonight. Specifically I would like to begin a new camp whose aim would be twofold: 1.To take practical, visible action in support of the 99% and against the 1% and 2. To outreach, explain our purpose and invite others to join.

However, at present it appears I would have to find a completely new group who would be willing to work together, as the former Occupiers appear to have completely lost their interest. I hope I am wrong. But I don’t have the energy or ability to do it by myself. At present I am just another person sitting back, waiting for someone else to do something. And hence, Occupy will die. You can’t kill an idea that has already died, and the idea of Occupy – in Wellington – is dead.

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Trust and Occupy

Posted by spritzophrenia on December 23, 2011

In my years of on-again and mostly off-again activism I’ve met a lot of people. It saddens me that so many of those I meet, even in supposedly honest movements, display a basic lack of honesty and lack of trust. I suppose for some it’s understandable. They’ve had Police invade their homes, they’ve had people let them down, they’ve had people with hidden agendas hijack something which was dear to them. They don’t know me, so why should they trust me?

I remember the time many years back when I attended a planning meeting after the national Anarchist conference in New Zealand. I couldn’t figure out why one woman in particular didn’t seem to want my help or allow me to be part of much. Turns out that she assumed I was a Police spy. But she never asked me about it, or told me her concerns.

What annoys me most in these situations is that very few people ever have the honesty to talk to the person they have a problem with about their concerns. Instead they spread gossip and malcontent, much of which could have been cleared up with a simple conversation.

trust

This issue has reared its head again for me recently. I’m trying hard to work with our local Occupy people. I support the international movement and its basic call to limit the economic and political domination of a very small number of people (the “1%”). However, it’s hard to do much when people don’t trust me, and don’t talk to me about their lack of trust. I’ve got so much to offer, I’m 42 and have a helluva lot of life experience and resources. I’ve worked raising money for the CMP workers. I’ve protested. I’ve camped in Civic Square. I’ve talked to everyone I can about their vision for Occupy. I’ve also made mistakes. But I am open to correction, and will fully admit when I’m wrong.

Right now I’m kinda discouraged. I get the need to be cautious. But there’s a difference between caution and petty childishness. Talk to me, people. Find out where I’m coming from. Check me out. And then, if you’re satisfied, use my resources. And don’t forget that at the same time I’m also checking you out, and I won’t be shy about reporting what I find.

If there isn’t a little more maturity, openness and trust, I might just report back to the rest of the 99% that this is yet another idealistic movement that has come aground on its own ignorance and navel-gazing. And the many boring middle class people like me, who have time and resources, will choose to spend them elsewhere.

My previous posts on Occupy are here and here. For balance, here is a nice article by Anne about the same occupation, which sums up the positive side I find in Occupy.

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I don’t think you trust in my self-righteous suicide…

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Encouraged By #Occupy – Again

Posted by spritzophrenia on December 5, 2011

If you read my last post you will know I’ve been checking out my local “Occupy Wall Street” movement. I can now report that my initial misgivings were both well-founded, and completely wrong. Unfortunately I can’t explain more at the moment – otherwise I would have to kill you 😉

I have returned from four days and nights camping on site, doing some investigation of my own, and talking to as many different people there as I could about why they are there and what is happening with the movement. In brief, it was a challenging and highly rewarding time.

I do have more blog material written on paper while I was there. I hope to share it with you soon, I think it’s a beautiful wonderful story. But for now, take a look at how our city’s mainstream media reported on us while I was there. Then have a read of my comments below.


An unbiased article? Factual thoroughly verified investigative journalism?

Not the real occupy

OK. If you have read the above link, you have probably formed a particular opinion about who and what Occupy is all about. I can assure you that almost the only truly accurate thing in this so-called “journalism” is the title. I know. I was there.

For example, this reporter — who has been to the site repeatedly for stories, and who works for one of the biggest Corporate media organisations in this part of the world — did not report one word of a half hour interview he conducted the same day. That interview was with a friend of mine who truly represents what Occupy is trying to do.

Instead, the reporter Blair Ensor tried to find known controversial-looking and sounding figures, and report on them. Let me add one more thing. “Bad Touch Santa”, which is our nickname for the “street evangelist” is NOT part of our movement, never has been, and has now been firmly removed from at least two “Occupy” sites including ours. If Blair had asked us about him, he would have known that. Unfortunately he was in too much of a hurry to find some controversy and reach his deadline than to pause and check his facts.

Folks, I know it’s a cliche, but don’t believe everything you read. Check your facts. Be sceptical. Especially when the source is owned by people who have vested interests in misreporting the truth.

I look forward to sharing some more Citizen Journalism with you soon. Kia Kaha 99%

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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.

tents

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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