Occupy Eugene

Earlier this evening I went to an organizing meeting for Occupy Eugene. I did not know what to expect. I initially did not plan to stay long because I have a bad cold. However, I found it so interesting that I ended up staying the full three hours.

About 150 people showed up, which is a very large turnout for Eugene. They were mostly young people, although there were some older people as well. Some faces were familiar, but there were a lot of people I couldn’t recall seeing before.

The meeting began with someone reading the declaration by Occupy Wall Street. Then someone proposed that we should use a consensus approach to making decisions. I wasn’t keen on this idea, since consensus can be an unwieldy and time-consuming method. Someone from the floor pointed out that Occupy Wall Street uses a 90% consensus approach, which is also used by Occupy Portland. During the discussion, I initially thought that I should argue for a simple majority vote approach. It quickly became clear, however, that there wasn’t any sentiment for that position. So when it was my turn to step up to the microphone, I argued instead for modified consensus. I pointed out that this approach has worked well for Occupy Wall Street, and it is being used by our comrades in Portland. We should learn from the experiences of other groups. This argument seemed to get a good reception. Several other people, however, suggested that we should first try a full consensus approach, and if this didn’t work out well, then we should go to a modified consensus. This argument carried the day.

A woman got up and taught us hand signals that the Portland group has been using. These included a signal to let a speaker know that he or she is going on too long. Very useful.

There was then a fifteen minute breakout for committee meetings. Everyone was encouraged to join one or more committees. These were: Community Outreach, who are concerned with building support in the community and raising money. Communications, concerned with making flyers and posters, writing press releases, and spreading the word through the Internet. Sexy Sanitation, concerned with doing clean-up after events. Morale, concerned with developing chants and other methods of raising spirits. Legal & Research, concerned with legal matters and with researching what has worked for other occupy groups. Medical, concerned with the health and safety of occupiers. Facilitative, concerned with facilitating meetings and events. There were also some sub-committees. Engineering, for example, would be concerned with making structures for people camping out at the occupations. I joined Communications, which seemed logical, since I know graphic design. After the breakout, each committee reported on what it had decided. Morale, for example, reported that they had decided to build a Wall Street Bull piñata.

We then took a vote on whether on not to get legal permits, which other occupy groups don’t do. A woman expressed concern that people on probation might be reluctant to come if there were no permits. Another woman who was a lawyer pointed out that the police are required to warn people to leave before they can arrest them. It was voted not to get permits. There was a discussion about photographs. It was agreed that if someone asked not to be photographed, the person with the camera should respect that. There was also a discussion about whether we should issue demands before or after the first occupation. The debate went back and forth. It was decided to table the vote until the next meeting.

I was impressed by the high level of discussion and the lack of rancor. It helped a lot that there were no sectarian groups jockeying for position. (This was often a problem at activist meetings I attended when I lived in Los Angeles.) Since this was Eugene, I was afraid there would be some people there who would be, to put it politely, strange. Fortunately, it appeared that only one such person had bothered to beam down. He was an old guy who had a U.S. flag draped over his front and a Soviet flag draped over his back. (Was he nostalgic for the Cold War? Was he intellectually conflicted? Or did he forget to do his laundry?) He went up to the microphone and started talking about Nietzsche. He got a chilly reception.

I am excited about this new movement.

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