Spritzophrenia

humour, music, life, sociology. friendly agnostic.

Posts Tagged ‘participant observation’

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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