Observing from beyond the solar system, a cultural outsider looks in.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Occupy the Future

Word on the street is that the Occupy Baltimore protesters are going to be IMMINENTLY routed from McKeldin Square. A couple of days? A week? Maybe two? Nobody knows, but the Mayor is rumored to be getting fed up with the occupation, and I’m sure that the Occupy protesters calling attention to the man behind the curtain, M.J. Brodie at the real City Hall, down on Charles Street (BDC), did not endear them to the city’s power structure.

Other cities have already ejected their occupations. Baltimore has employed an outwardly tolerant approach, but in reality, it’s almost certainly because our local occupation has been so ineffectual and silly that the politicians are laughing at the protesters behind the scenes. If they were a threat, they would be gone by now, and their lame applause at the BDC event probably reassured Mr. Brodie that they were no such thing. Still, even acknowledging that the man behind the curtain exists is itself a threat.

Me, I gave up on the local occupation a couple of weeks ago, after they were snowed by Brodie’s bullshit and actually applauded the little monster.

Revo, who was more enthusiastic about the Occupy movement from the beginning, only gave up hope last night, after attending the G.A. and realizing that in the face of imminent disaster for the camp at McKeldin Square, they were discussing bumper stickers and their triumphant glee over their YouTube hits for a video showing them acting like noisy children during Karl Rove’s recent talk at Hopkins. At the G.A. last night, the imminent eviction from McKeldin Square was apparently never discussed.

I’ll continue going to some marches. Most of the marches are actually organized by the unions, anyway, so they’re somewhat effective. The unions know how to organize.

I’ll continue to support the national Occupy movement too, as long as it stays focused on economic demands. I would like it to get more specific about those. Some of the reforms I would like to see:

A constitutional amendment clarifying that a corporation is not a person.

A constitutional amendment clarifying that money is not speech.

I happen to believe that the founding fathers never intended for corporations to be people or for money to be speech, because they probably had a dictionary, and they probably understood what the meaning of “is” is. Some federal judges need these things spelled out, though. Next we’ll have to be telling them that war is not peace and thought is not a crime.

The above two amendments to the constitution would, if enacted and enforced, go a long way toward reforming the system. They would clarify that the rights of the people supersede the rights of corporations, and that the right of individuals to free speech supsersedes the right of corporations to drown out their speech with money that speaks louder than words.

Others in the movement have also come up with very good ideas for reform. The original Occupy Wall Street group came up with this statement of purpose, which notes some specific problems that need to be addressed. One of the working groups of the New York protest has come up with the 99% Declaration. It contains a list of suggested reforms, which the group hopes to have representatives from all over the country vote on in a national convention on July 4, 2012 in Philadelphia. I agree with the ideas expressed therein, some more than others, but I certainly agree that all of these issues deserve to be part of the national debate.

Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone magazine has been investigating the corruption on Wall Street since long before the Occupy movement began. His advice to Occupy Wall Street contains a specific list of reforms to the financial industry that would “hit bankers where it hurts” and would help return our government to serving the people. I particularly like the one where a tax on all trades would make the financial industry pay for its own bailouts, and return our tax money to us.

I think between these documents listed above, there is a useful start to getting our country back.

The Occupy movement, and the local occupation in particular, have also discussed some ideas that I consider really silly. Chief among them is this “consensus democracy” model that consists of endless discussion, open balloting via wiggly fingers (snap, twinkle, pop!), and where decisions are only made when a clique of people who all agree with each other manages to shout down or intimidate all other participants. It doesn’t work among 20 people. How is it going to work nationwide?

The worst aspects to the “consensus democracy” model being used in the Occupy movement are the lack of secret ballots, which means that individuals are easily intimidated by self-appointed leaders into going along with whatever the mob decrees, and also the fact that, since decisions effectively only seem to happen when some individual or group manages to dominate everyone else, there is real danger, if this ever became the national model, of it leading to dictatorship and authoritarian rule, complete with slaughter of dissidents.

The local occupation has already been shouting down anyone they don’t agree with. In their Google group, when Revo started speaking up, they couldn’t handle even one dissident. How would they tolerate real democracy, if they ever got into power? The answer is, they wouldn’t.

Give me the U.S. Constitution any day, folks. Its three branch system with its checks and balances and its bill of rights have been emulated the world over. That’s because, until the system gets badly corrupted, as it is now, it works about as well as you can expect a system that governs millions of people to work.

Occupy the Constitution. Occupy Wall Street. Occupy our Government. Occupy the Future.

Previous posts in my series on Occupy Baltimore:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6

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Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Unions to the Rescue, at Least Temporarily

In previous parts of my series on Occupy Baltimore, I mentioned the open Occupy Baltimore Google Group. Anyone with an email can sign up, but the majority of the posts on there are by the group I’ve been calling the Callow Clique (who are not down at McKeldin Square most of the time, except for during the nightly G.A., but are posting on the Google group). If you want to see some real dysfunction, sign up and check it out.

Continuing my series, where I’m still struggling to catch up to the present day at Occupy Baltimore, we go back to late October...

Participation was dwindling. The city was making noises about evicting the occupation from the square, and had given the protesters a deadline to agree to a stringent set of rules for use of the space. Just as the wolves of FAIL seemed certain to overcome OB, a group of union leaders, under the banner of the AFL-CIO, came to the rescue.

The October 26th AFL-CIO letter to the Mayor was just in time, urging the City to let the protesters remain in the square. In their letter, the union leaders wisely reframed the OB protest, casting it as being in alignment with the economic concerns of the national Occupy movement, instead of the tangential concerns it had actually focused on to that date.

“The Occupy Baltimore protests have given expression to a widely shared belief that our economy and our politics are controlled by corporate interests to the detriment of the overwhelming majority of working people...”
Well, no, up to that point in time, Occupy Baltimore had conspicuously failed to articulate any such thing, but the national movement had, and the Occupy Wall Street protesters in New York had succeeded in releasing this impressive statement of purpose. The local union leaders were wise to assume the local occupation was in solidarity with the national movement, in spite of the local failure to coalesce into anything useful.

A big thank you to the Unions for saving the local occupation’s collective butt, at least temporarily.

After the union letter, the local occupation did gain a measure of focus on local and national economic issues. (Whether or not this was due to private pressure from union leaders, I can only speculate.) In any case, the focus shifted quickly to living wage jobs, demands for economic development that benefits the local population, the city’s suit against Wells Fargo for predatory lending practices targeted at minorities, and direct action protests at the banks and the Baltimore Development Corporation.

I’m pleased to say that the committee that was working on a protest against the Baltimore Development Corporation did, after much delay, come up with an open letter to the BDC that’s more or less on point. While it’s true that they dismissed voices of experience that would have advised them to take a more demanding stance, instead opting to naively assume the BDC can be negotiated with, it wasn’t bad for a first round that would seem reasonable to the general public. If they would succeed in avoiding being placated by insincere promises of change and diplomatic liars telling them what they want to hear, they could then move on later to a more realistic assessment of the tyranny and corruption they’re actually dealing with.

But then, at the actual meeting with the BDC on November 7th, Brodie smoothly delivered a bunch of smiling diplomatic PC bullshit, and the majority of the protesters ended up giving him enthusiastic applause. Some revolutionaries!

The signs wielded by some protesters, which called the BDC “Baltimore’s Dysfunctional Cabal” and “Baltimore Demolition Corporation,” were the most confrontational part of the protest, but they were designed by Revo and me.

Brodie acted all nicey nice, promised future meetings that probably won’t materialize, and then in all likelihood got on the phone immediately after the meeting and told the Mayor to get rid of these people.

Getting rid of these people is now rumored to be in the works, according to some credible scuttlebutt we heard shortly after the BDC meeting. But instead of resorting to force, Baltimore City is apparently relying on the coming cold weather and the attrition that the protesters themselves have engendered.

The day after the BDC meeting, the Baltimore Quaker Peace and Justice Comittee, a committee of Stony Run Friends Meeting, Homewood Friends Meeting, and Old Town Friends Fellowship, also lent their support to Occupy Baltimore with an official statement of support. Much like the union leaders, the Friends nicely articulated an economic focus that OB itself had largely failed to articulate, with a pithy quote from William Penn, followed by their own short statement.

"That the sweat and tedious labor of the farmer, early and late, cold and hot, wet and dry, should be converted into the pleasure of a small number of men --- that continued severity should be laid on 19 parts of the land to feed the inordinate lusts and delicate appetites of the 20th, is so far from the will of the great Governor of the world, [it] is wretched and blasphemous."
William Penn, 1669

“The Baltimore Quaker Peace and Justice Committee supports the nonviolent protests against economic injustice that have spread from Wall Street to hundreds of locations across the country. The Occupy protestors’ commitment to nonviolence, inclusion, and consensus decision-making are our Quaker principles in action. We will support Occupy Baltimore by gathering donations and in witness to their efforts to draw attention to the injustices in our society which perpetuate excessive disparities in income and political influence.”

To date, however, the Callow Clique continues to dominate OB, continues mostly to divert its focus from economic issues, and continues to shout down anyone they disagree with, especially if that person is over 40. (Revo was told “This isn’t your revolution, grandpa. Take your walker and go home.”)

At the meeting on the steps of the BDC, Revo and I witnessed as one of the main “stars” of the Callow Clique accosted an older man (who happened to be one of a very few African Americans at the protest), accusing him of being a provocateur. After the meeting, Revo and I spoke with the man who had been accosted. He turned out to be Mitchell Ferguson, a playwright, actor, and acting coach who’s a co-founder of Nommo Theatre, who told us that this young group of activists from Red Emma’s doesn’t even realize that he himself has been invited, as a guest of Red Emma’s in the past, to give presentations there.

According to messages on the Google group, a person described as “Iranian Human Rights Activist” Saeed Salehinia recently showed up at a reading group meeting, started to articulate a point of view that was critical of anarchists, and was also shouted down by the same person that we witnessed shouting down Mitchell Ferguson. Although some in the group want to invite Salehinia to speak at a G.A., there is concern among the Callow Clique that he does not represent their point of view and will therefore be “divisive.”

That same person who did the shouting down in both of those cases, a revered figure in the Callow Clique, had, after an early confrontation with Revo over the music issue, walked up to Revo and shouted, in a voice that was meant to be menacing, "I know your legal history." (Revo's "legal history" consists of a false accusation, made for political purposes, that did not result in a conviction.)

Based on this person's initiative, the clique has also discussed researching the legal histories of anyone who wants to sleep in the communal tents, in spite of the real concerns, expressed by others in the group, that the legal system is inequitable, and statistics showing that the national rate of incarceration for African Americans is seven times the incarceration rate for whites. (Statistic: Open Society Institute)

Last night, a group from OB, led by the Callow Clique, went to a public talk by Karl Rove at Johns Hopkins University, and instead of attempting to engage in constructive critical dialogue, shouted him down and disrupted the event. While I agree that Karl Rove is a jerk, the vast majority of the audience had come to hear what he had to say, as an influential figure in American politics. The shout-down was simply counterproductive.

Occupy Baltimore does not employ a consensus democracy model at all. They employ mob rule, shouting down anyone the clique disagrees with. As I described it in an email to one member of the clique,

“One problem I see with OB's ‘consensus’ model is that the initial group that formed OB seems to have come from a revolutionary, fairly radical motivation, and therefore when individuals who might have more modest goals come in and try to influence the ‘consensus,’ since the ‘consensus’ is already coming from a more radical place, those individuals tend to be shouted down. They then leave, and the local movement does not grow, because people who are more mainstream in their orientation are being turned off - one by one, before any potential ‘consensus’ of these more mainstream views can ever grow.”

Occupy Baltimore's nightly General Assembly has turned into the OB kids table, with most adult protesters refusing to participate.

Time for Occupy Baltimore for grownups?

Previous posts in the series:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

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Sunday, November 13, 2011

Not Suitable For Children

Today I take a break from my series on Occupy Baltimore, which will continue soon.

Last night, at a Baltimore Blast game, which I attended with my family, I ran into one of the major culprits in the City's fiasco with The Senator Theatre. You know who you are. I didn't say what I wanted to say, because I would have had to say it in front of both of our families, and it's hard to say without a lot of profanity. So let me get that out of the way right now: FUCK FUCK FUCKITY FUCK, MUTHAFUKKA!

First of all, you accomplished nothing. The Senator looks like crap now, and the City has already spent way more money on it than they ever spent during Tom Kiefaber's award-winning stewardship. It's now being run by people who don't have any passion for it, don't have much real experience running classy theatres, have a crappy plan for expansion that will ruin the building, and already aren't maintaining it properly. Way to go, idiot.

Second, you ruined a good man's life and reputation. Let me say it again. YOU ruined a good man's life and reputation. It had nothing to do with money, as evidenced by the fact that the City is now spending more money than ever on The Senator. But you lied about that to the press, and you know it. It had to do with the fact that Tom had spoken out against the actions of the BDC. Political favoritism and retribution, paid for by taxpayer dollars. Way to go, idiot.

NEWS FLASH, dude, in case you actually believed any of the rumors that were spread in order to smear: there was no cash being socked away somewhere, no vacation home in the Caribbean, no drug habit. Not a dime lent by the city. Not a dime wasted. Just a beautiful historic single-screen theater slowly going the way that just about every other historic single-screen theater in the country has gone: to the dustbin of history.

And a heroic, civic-minded man who spent well over one million dollars of his own money and operated that theater in an award-winning manner that made The Senator nationally lauded, just trying to ensure the theater would remain open long enough for others to realize its value, let him know that he was not alone in appreciating it, and come to the rescue. The Senator only still exists because of Tom Kiefaber, and he kept it going for about 20 years beyond the time when it probably would have otherwise failed. He did this to the great benefit of Baltimore City, but the cavalry never came. The wolves did.

Maybe when you're nearly 60 years old, someone will take your whole life away, and you'll have to rebuild from scratch. At 60. Maybe then you'll know how it feels.

You were not alone in this. You were joined by other present and past BDC officials, a city councilman, and a head of a local foundation.

Some of these people who were involved in the City's Senator Theatre fiasco are the same people who have been major players in the City's EBDI (East Baltimore Development Inc.) fiasco, where they forced relocation of 584 families, and then the project wasn't funded properly and the neighborhoods that have been razed are just a big empty space now.

FIVE HUNDRED AND EIGHTY-FOUR FAMILIES. Most of them poor and black. Their neighborhoods destroyed, and many lives ruined. No matter what you gave them in relocation costs, you can't give them what they had back. YOU DESTROYED LIVES.

This is obviously a much much bigger heartbreaking fiasco than The Senator one, but I haven't been directly involved. I don't know any of the victims. That's why my first thought was to cuss you out for The Senator deal, but this EBDI thing is even worse, by all the reports I've heard.

I know of other cases of the City's biggest official egos ruining people's lives for goals they thought would be good ideas. Some of the victims don't want me talking about what I know, so I won't.

All I can say is, YOU SUCK. Try to develop some humanity, and some compassion. I guess you don't even know what that is. Whatever the City's goals are, if it involves ruining innocent lives in the process, it probably isn't worth it. Your career and your movement up in the local pecking order isn't worth it, either.

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Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Respect Our Authoritah!

(Part 5 of my series on Occupy Baltimore)

The Callow Clique, and others who were grasping for the reins, seemed to alternate between desiring more participants to get actively involved in the “democratic consensus” movement, along with its increasingly byzantine committee and subcommittee structure, and then shouting down and giving the wormy wiggly downfingers treatment to anyone whose opinion they didn’t like. “Get involved, but respect our authoritah!” That seemed to be the message. (The Cartman Clique?)

At first, the drummers were regularly accosted, and shouted at to cease and desist immediately, any time the leaders of our leaderless movement felt like having an impromptu meeting. Although there was ample room to meet in the square or nearby, apart from the steady pulse from the music side, individuals would bolt across the square at any time of day and shout “STOP,” often right in the middle of an innovative groove, which took 20 minutes to get up to synch speed. They clearly didn’t begin to understand that this was simply rude and uncalled for, or that upon a quiet heads up request, the musicians could wind down within 5 to 10 minutes and take an extended break.

It was clear they assumed that whatever they were doing was more valid and significant than mere music.

Eventually, a compromise was worked out in the GA, where there would be certain times the music would not be interrupted, and also designated times when no music would be played, to allow for regularly scheduled meetings, like the 8 PM GA. Other times were open to whatever seemed to be the thing to do at the time: meet, play, or coexist in the square. To the credit of both camps, the welcome compromise was largely respected on both sides.

After “pamphletgate” erupted over a botched Sexual Offense Policy implementation initiative, Revo and I attempted, via the Google group, to get the group refocused on economic issues. We were completely ineffectual in that effort, roundly attacked and shunned by the Callow Clique in particular.

Back when we had first entered the protest at McKeldin Square, the Revolting Protester and I were treated to an assurance that we were free to talk amongst ourselves, we heard statements various participants made to the General Assembly (GA) that began with such grandiose assumptions as “If our revolution is successful, and we’re going to take over and replace all of the existing government services, we need to...,” and we met one of the self-appointed leadership clique who had “ironically” assigned himself the name of a Russian communist leader whose legacy of mass murder vies with Adolf Hitler’s for infamy. (Hint: What does barely composite character Callow S. Narrowmindsky’s middle initial stand for?)

For all these reasons, the apparent leadership clique, the group that seemed to run and control the GA each night, became known to Revo and me as the K-Rouge. Revo called them that on facebook a few times, and I suppose that didn’t endear us to that faction of OB.

When we later tried to participate in a meeting regarding the Baltimore Development Corporation, Revo was immediately accused of “unforgivable red baiting,” due to some of his posts on FB and the OB google group. (How do you “red bait” self-professed communists? By repeating their own claims of what they name themselves?)

Revo, with 25 years of experience dealing with the BDC and its predecessors, was compelled to leave the meeting within 5 minutes.

The more radical faction, self-described communists and anarchists, had apparently seized an opportunity to break out of the coffeehouse cabal, and had called dibs on OB early in its formation.

They did get the motor running, and set up the basic organizational structure, but then they fell into dominating it with Viva La Revolution fervor. They now facilitated every G.A. and most of the committees, ran the web site, and dominated the open Google discussion group. Any suggestion that something should be done differently was often met with defensiveness, group think, and accusations of trolling.

I began to picture this group in their sad and lonely days, before Occupy Wall Street, meeting in small groups of five or ten people and talking about “when the revolution comes.” It was clear to me that some of them probably thought the Occupy movement was their long-awaited glorious revolution, which they would lead.

Unfortunately for them, the majority of Americans who support the Occupy movement don’t want to replace our entire system via revolution, but simply want significant political and economic reforms, with the outcomes of a better economy, more jobs, and a government that once more represents us, and not just the wealthy 1% and the corporations. Nationally, this is not, at its heart, a particularly radical movement. The fact that it may look a bit like one is merely a measure of how bad things have gotten. When Revo and I tried to point out that communists and anarchists did not represent the 99%, we were once again labeled as red baiters and trolls.

Any dissidents in the group were labeled “divisive,” which is a favorite tactic of anyone pushing an extremist agenda; on the national level, George W. Bush was a master at this.

It was apparent that, although the self-appointed leaders claimed that everything was being decided via democratic consensus, the participants in the General Assembly were a self-selecting group of individuals who had not yet been turned off by these heavy-handed tactics. Others hung around on the sidelines, quietly griping, refusing to participate, or left the square, abandoning the movement entirely.

It was all somewhat comical. I was reading the Occupy Baltimore Google group and listening in on some meetings, but I also was spending quite a bit of my time in the square, interacting with the people on the margins of the protest, most of whom were interesting, nice people with serious concerns that were largely not being heard in the General Assembly. Many of the people on the margins were homeless, unemployed, or otherwise seriously hurting.

A more paranoid mind than mine would have assumed that at least some of the Red Emma’s crowd had been planted by “Da Man” to ensure the failure of the movement in Baltimore, but I don’t think that was it. They couldn’t have derailed the movement more effectively if that had been their intention, but the failure was evidently due to youthful inexperience, arrogance, and rigid, dogmatic thinking, not malice.

Nationally and internationally, the Occupy movement seemed to be growing exponentially. Here in Baltimore, the local occupation was stagnating and struggling against attrition.

As the wolves of FAIL circled Occupy Baltimore, the defensive leaders looked for explanations. Perhaps they had chosen the wrong location? Perhaps the word was not out? Perhaps the homeless and the real victims of economic oppression who had shown up on the margins of the protest were scaring away other, more committed parties? Many explanations were considered, but the most obvious explanation was supplied in various forms by Revo, myself, and other visitors to the google group, and was repeatedly labeled as “trolling”: the self-appointed leadership clique’s radical agenda did not represent the 99%, and their dogmatic, humorless, and didactic approach did not invite participation.

The most disturbing part of all of this was that the clique, which had seized control of the movement in Baltimore, was genuinely afraid of the economically downtrodden, often homeless, huddled masses yearning to be free who had gathered on the margins of the protest. Discussions in the Google group often focused on how to limit the use of the volunteer-cooked food to people who were “actually doing the work” (i.e. engaging in pointless circular discussion in the GA and other meetings), or how to eject the homeless from the square, or at least prevent them from sleeping in communal tents.

Even at Occupy Baltimore, there was a ruling elite class that looked down on those who needed help the most. The unspoken message was “We’d like to help the 99%, as long as we don’t have to interact with them. After all, they’re kind of icky.”

Previous posts in this series:

Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4

Next Part

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Monday, November 07, 2011

Drumming Up Support for Occupy Baltimore

ANNOUNCEMENT: One of the things at OB that "sometimes, almost accidentally, went right" is that a group has decided to target the Baltimore Development Corporation (BDC) as being one of the sources of Baltimore's many problems. This group has planned a public meeting with the BDC today. The meeting is at 5 PM, outside the BDC's offices at 36 S. Charles Street. There is a letter you can sign at anotherbdcispossible.org.

It should be interesting to see how the meeting goes. Some of the people planning it seemed more or less ignorant of the fact that the BDC is running the governmental pageant in Baltimore, and telling the Mayor and City Council what to do. They were definitely underestimating the extent of the problem going in, so we'll see if they realize it as this process unfolds, or get snowed by diplomatic platitudes.


My series on OB continues:

After that very first General Assembly we attended in McKeldin Square, buddy Revo and I saw the proverbial wolves of FAIL chasing down the OB sled. The crowd we joined was meager, mostly young, mostly (but not exclusively) white, and mostly visibly bored by the didactic approach of the Callow Crew.

“This movement needs more diversity, or it will fail,” declared Capt. Revo, the wannabe revolting protester. He noted that he and others of his generation had come to the 1960s anti-war protests for the music, the drugs, and “hippie chicks,” but had their social consciousness raised once they got there. His back in the day experience in drum circles taught him a healthy respect for the uniting power of music. “We need to get a buncha drums and shakers down here FAST,” he opined with wide-eyed resolve.

The next morning my phone rang way too early, and I regretted answering it in a second. Damn, it’s Revo! He’s had his coffee and is ready to roll. He then loads up my car so jammed full of drums and other percussion instruments that it’s like I have blinders on, as we drive down to the square, clanking and ringing from a plethora of sound-producing devices. “None of which need a power cord!” I was reminded three times.

Revo staked out some turf, laying the massive Yellow Submarine banner over a substantial portion of the square. He set up his percussion playground, and began playing a pet djembe, festooned with Tibetan prayer flags. Shortly after the call to battle rhythms began, a few musicians and dancers emerged like mushrooms, seemingly from the very earth, and joined in spontaneous improvisation. The impromptu band of musicians, dancers, and spectators were a more diverse crew all right, with a wide variance in age, ethnicity, and background. Soul shakes and fistbumps, as Revo beamed with delight.

We were getting into the Occupy swing of things. I met Revo’s new bro, Jaythebusker, and Laconiclion, among others. A good time was had by all, and a certain spirit began to emerge, which was noticeably absent from the square the night before.

The diverse influx that day wasn’t entirely due to the drums and melodies, yet it served as a spark to what was emerging at the OB site.

It also helped that the smell of food was beginning to waft through the air – food being cooked up and served to all by OB volunteers.

McKeldin Square now looked a whole lot more representative of Baltimore City, and more representative of the 99%, who have been so adversely impacted by the predatory criminals on Wall Street.

A few days on, the influx of new OB participants was beginning to join in the nightly general assemblies, making those meetings more diverse as well.

This was all very exciting, but there continued to be some palpable friction between the self-appointed leadership clique and the new arrivals. Most of the wannabe leaders appeared to be young, college or graduate school age students, and many of them were visibly put off by the considerably more diverse group that had now swelled the ranks.

The leadership clique seemed to take keenly intellectual interest in the dynamics and procedures of the “consensus” model at the nightly general assembly, yet they were decidedly not focused on the overarching economic issues that seemed to bind the others in protest. The earnest young “Callow Clique” were more oriented toward radical leftist and tangential agendas. I soon concluded that many of them may not yet have had any significant direct experience of actual day to day economic hardship, unlike the more diverse crew that was now arriving, some of whom were homeless.

The newer arrivals appeared, in many cases, to have suffered considerably from the harsh economic and employment realities of the worsening recession that the government-fed media often won’t admit exists. Many new arrivals did not leap to engage in the GA meetings, marches, or setting the OB agenda. They lingered on the periphery, slept in the square, drummed and danced, and ate the food that was offered. Some helped in preparing and serving food, and others took on and dogged the basic tasks associated with a growing new community’s survival as a physical occupation.

The leadership clique was also expanding, and they continued planning teach-ins, education about gender and LGBTQ issues, discussions about consensus democracy and even, in some of the more radical cases, talk about socialist, communist, or anarchist revolution. Unlike the expanding cast of regulars like Jaythebusker, Godblessu, Laconiclion, Redbeard, Drunkchic, Pfloyd, Jazzcap, Bbark, Sweetdreams, Revo and others, the GA participants generally showed up at 7:15 PM or so, then milled about, conferring and fidgeting, until the 8 PM GA. Anywhere from 2 to 4 hours later, they broke it off, and mostly went home to their beds every night (as did I, thankfully).

During the GA meetings, a few of them sometimes threw hissy fits regarding the folks on the margins of the square, who were living on site, eating, cleaning, hanging out, playing drums, dancing, helping make signage, and marching on occasion, but were not People’s Mike users or GA participants, and mostly did not join in meetings to be “educated and involved.”


Part 1
Part 2
Part 3


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Friday, November 04, 2011

What is the Sound of No Back Touching?

What is the sound of no back touching? Who are the leaders of a leaderless group? These are but two of the profound Zen koans that Occupy Baltimore offers to the young Grasshopper.

To come clean here, I didn’t take notes in any of the meetings. Much like my barely composite representation of OB’s leadership, Callow N., some of my recollections of specific moments may be mashups of one or more separate actual moments.

As such, I no longer recall whether the assertion of our right to discuss things amongst ourselves was ejaculated forth during discussion of the Sexual Offense policy, or the equally ridiculous discussion about whether or not to apply to the City for a permit to occupy the square, as both subjects were masticated for at least 5 days. The discussion of the permit issue was tabled in exasperation each night, as the fledgling consensus democracy could not come to a consensus.

The Sexual Assault Policy went on to be discussed over at least three weeks or more, during which it later became the Sexual Harassment Policy, and then simply the Sexual Offense Policy. It went through several drafts; an early one caused a negative media firestorm. It is periodically still being discussed.

The Sexual Offense policy was not only discussed ad nauseam, but this issue, the permit issue, or issues related to gender and LGBTQ equality led the G.A., apparently every night, for weeks. As far as I could tell, economic issues were not big a priority for the Callow Crew.

The proponents of the so-called Sexual Offense policy seemed to be largely concerned with preventing such horrific offenses as strangers touching them in the middle of the back without asking permission first, and also preventing anyone from calling them “sweetie,” “babe,” or even the dreaded “Hon (TM).” The looming threat of such actions made some people feel unsafe in the square, perhaps even made them feel like something much worse, such as actual rape, might potentially occur. (To the best of my knowledge, nothing beyond rogue back touching or the occasional rebuffed proposition had occurred, or had even been alleged, at the time of the start of this lengthy discussion.)

During the public discussion of the Sexual Offense policy in one of many General Assembly meetings, some voices of reason prevailed, and it was apparently agreed by consensus (among the self-selecting group that is willing to sit through hours of circular discussion) that if a victim was offended by some cretin doing something unforgivable, such as calling the victim “Hon (TM)” or touching her or him on the back without permission, they should not report the “assault” to the police, but the group should deal with such petty offenses between individuals itself.

I want to be clear here: I don’t think the Occupy Baltimore group ever discouraged the reporting of actual crime to the police. Nevertheless, the original “Sexual Assault” policy caused a media firestorm when someone in the group prematurely discharged an early draft, and began promiscuously disseminating it as a pamphlet.

The media (rightly so) assumed that “Sexual Assault” referred to serious crimes such as rape and sexual molestation; they saw that the policy was discouraging reporting of (minor) offenses to the police, and publicly made the unwarranted leap to the conclusion that the group was discouraging reporting of rape.

The resulting brouhaha was an example of a media tactic that Revolting back-toucher Revo and I know well (having been past media targets): if you want to discredit someone, say they are the exact opposite of who they actually are. The main proponents of Occupy Baltimore’s “Sexual Assault” Policy were in fact overly concerned with preventing anything that might have any remote chance of being construed as sexual offense of any kind, by even the most sensitive and easily offended soul. Through the distorted lenses of the media’s voyeur binoculars, however, OB became known for being totally unconcerned about preventing or punishing rape.

The discussion about the Sexual Assault/Harrassment/Offense Policy went on for the next 3 weeks, resulting in a current final draft that prominently includes the following words (emphasis mine):

“Sexual harassment is defined as any unwanted commentary or physical contact. It is the victim's prerogative to classify any action as sexual harassment, and to decide whether or not the harasser be ejected from #occupybaltimore. If the victim chooses to enforce the ejection policy, the harasser will be ordered not to return until the Safer Spaces Committee in conjunction with the Mediator’s Committee has reviewed the incident on the following day.”

Got that? ANY action. This policy amounts to nothing more nor less than a license to convene a vigilante mob against anyone an alleged “victim” does not cotton to.

Now, if someone tells you that a touch or a particular use of words makes them feel uncomfortable, then cool it and do not touch the person. Perhaps walk away. Sincere attempts to be respectful of others is key.

However, unless it’s actual physical or actionable verbal abuse of some sort, minor infractions aren’t “harassment” if the offender ceases the offensive behavior when asked. Individuals have differing comfort levels.

One should always endeavor to respect another’s comfort, but honest differences of opinion about what is appropriate can and do occur.

Something that is not a crime, or at least a repeated offense, should not result in vigilante actions and mob rule.

By acting like one who cried wolf, the policy’s main proponents inadvertently trivialized the risk of bona fide sexual assault, particularly when people are sharing a public space 24/7.

Weeks later, a rape was alleged to have occurred at Occupy Baltimore. The allegation was given sensationalist coverage on Fox 45 TV news, although police have since reported that they believe no sexual assault occurred, and the alleged victim made no such formal charge. One might question the veracity of a charge that is made publicly on the local right wing TV station, but never filed with the police, particularly when the TV coverage showed alleged drug paraphenalia left conveniently outside the door of a tent, for Fox News cameras to find.

Part 4

Previous installments in this series:
Click here for part 1.
Click here for part 2.

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Thursday, November 03, 2011

Astrogirl and Capt. Revo Join the Occupation

I have a complaint. I was harangued into joining the local occupation against my will, by a serial back-toucher and a Revolting Protester, Capt. Revo.

Before the Occupy Wall Street protest ever began in New York, Revo already had it pegged as a trigger movement that would quickly go viral to become an international phenomenon of discontent. He saw it as coming at an ideal time, at the perfect level of fertile public outrage, taking full advantage of Tahrir inspired lateral communication and cell phone technology, the “flash group” technology that had made the Arab Spring possible, now denigrated as “flash mobs” on this side of the pond.

Through the jaded eyes of a frequent activist for over 30 years, I saw it as a protest organized by the usual suspects, which would undoubtedly produce the usual result: a small to medium sized group of people who would raise a fuss for a day or so and nothing beyond that would happen. Revo can justly claim the visionary edge here.

Capt. Revo was thrilled and energized by the potential American Spring he saw coming over the horizon. He immediately wanted to get involved. His badgering “encouragement” for me to get involved was met with my yawns. This Occupy thing will be a hassle and will come to nothing. That was my firm belief at the time.

By the time satellite protests spun off from the Wall Street site and started proliferating across the country, however, Occupy Wall Street had proven staying power. By the time Occupy Baltimore got underway, I was beginning to feel a groundswell. When Occupy Baltimore landed next to Harborplace, I agreed to give Capt. Revo a ride to McKeldin Square.

As an aside, my buddy Revo had his theatre, his livelihood, and most of his worldly possessions taken from him by the BDC in a nefarious process, and he now has no vehicle of his own. As the Beatles sang, “I got no car and it’s breaking my heart, but I’ve found a driver and that’s a start.” A downtrodden 99%er self-described “revolting protester” with a huge Yellow Submarine banner the BDC didn’t get, and a door to door chauffeur. Poor Revo.

When we first arrived at McKeldin Square, the nightly General Assembly meeting was just starting, with facilitators using the effective, but annoying “People’s Mike” to speak to the crowd of roughly thirty or so, mostly young and white participants (the apparent composition of the group at that time). I already had just about enough of “the People’s Mike” from the media coverage of Occupy Wall Street, where a civic ban on sound systems was the mother of that invention, by necessity.

Baltimore has no such ban on voice amplification, yet the Occupy Baltimore protesters seemed to relish using the People’s Mike, regardless. It appeared to impart a sense of participatory, joystick empowerment for the speaker to hear the crowd echo everything they said, vebatim in mini-tweet form – listener tedium be damned!

Using the People’s Mike, when we first arrived, was a representative of the self-appointed leadership of the “leaderless” Occupy Baltimore (think Zen koan), whom I will describe as the barely composite character, Callow S. Narrowmindsky. At that moment, Mr. Narrowmindsky was in the process of introducing the People’s Committee for the Prevention of Sexual Assault. He told the assembly that a representative of the Committee would read the group’s proposed policy on sexual assault, which would then be subjected to a non-binding temperature check, to see how people were feeling about not feeling anyone up.

Narrowmindsky and his cohorts then thoughtfully assured the assembly that “Afterwards, you are free to discuss the proposed policy among yourselves. We don’t have any rules to prevent that.” Capt. Revo and I exchanged grinning glances, stifling shocked hilarity at that reassuring revelation. Revo expressed his appreciation, and wondered aloud if it was not the secret wish of Narrowmindsky’s clique to ultimately invoke such a ban of free speech, outside the General Assembly. The angry glares directed at the Capt., from a core group among the assembled, was my first indication that hanging with Revo around this crowd may earn me an involuntary joy ride in a dark trunk to the killing fields.

The perceived need for a public pronouncement that we still retained our first amendment rights became an object of recurring mirth over the next few days...as did the content of the Sexual Assault and Harassment policy itself. (More on that next time...)

Click here for part 1.
Click here for part 3.

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Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Occupy Baltimore: The Good, The Bad, and The Callow

Over the past month, I’ve been spending a lot of time down at the Occupy Baltimore protest down in McKeldin Square, across the street from the Inner Harbor. Several days out of each week in October, I was at the protest: participating, observing, and often inadvertently irritating the thin-skinned leaders of the local leaderless occupation. Like the Revolting Protester shown here, I risked, if not life and limb and unwanted back touching, then at least being called a dirty hippie by someone. I endured outrageous demands to “Get a fucking job,” although I have no experience in the sex industry.

The Revolting Protester (image credit: dorothyadele)

I support the general spirit of what’s happening nationwide, the movement that began with Occupy Wall Street in New York. It’s long overdue to see Americans getting out in the street to protest the sale of our democracy to corporate interests, and the hijacking of our government by the wealthy elite that the Occupy movement is calling the 1%.

Banks receiving government bailouts, while ordinary Americans are losing their homes in record numbers, is simply wrong. From that standpoint, I applaud everyone who has taken to the streets as part of this movement. I sincerely do.

The local Occupy Baltimore protest, however, has often been a cogent real life example of how NOT to seek consensus, how NOT to get people involved, how NOT to relate to the media, and how NOT to present a coherent message about anything. At times there have even been moments of clarity and sanity, in spite of the local movement’s callow self-appointed leadership.

In the coming days, I’ll examine a bit of what went wrong, and what sometimes, almost accidentally, went right.

Click here for part 2.
Click here for part 3.

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