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

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

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home