Archive for the ‘Occupy Eugene’ Category

Some Thoughts on the Occupy Movement

July 8, 2012

At CounterPunch, Alexander Cockburn has an article about the Occupy movement. Although Cockburn makes some valid criticisms, I think he is too dismissive of the movement as a whole. He writes, “People have written complicated pieces trying to prove it’s not over, but if ever I saw a dead movement, it is surely Occupy.” In fact there are still Occupy groups all over the country, and many of them still hold regular meetings. It is true, however, that the movement doesn’t have as strong a presence as it did last winter. It’s possible, I think, that the movement might be in better shape if some things had been done differently.

In hindsight, I think it was a mistake not to put forward clear demands. The argument that I often heard for not doing so was that demands would lead to disagreements, which would lead to divisions. Yet disagreements and divisions happened anyway. Political clarity was sacrificed in order to attain an impossible ideal of group harmony. The greatest division, it seems to me, was, and is, between those who favor Black Bloc tactics and those who advocate Gandhian non-violent resistance. These two approaches are, in fact, mutually exclusive. This can not be covered up by platitudes about “diversity of tactics”. Some tactics are incompatible with others.

I suspect that this exaggerated fear of division is what drives the insistence upon a consensus approach to decision-making. The argument was that consensus, although time-consuming, will bring everyone into harmonious agreement. Yet some people became dissatisfied and left anyway, as would have happened under simple majority rule. So, what has been gained by having consensus? Nothing that I can see.

Then there is the pretense of “leaderlessness”. The truth is that some people become unofficial leaders, either because they are very good at making arguments, or because they possess specialized skills that are useful to the movement, or because they are simply both willing and able to devote an enormous amount of time and energy to the cause. Wouldn’t it make sense to acknowledge this and make these people directly accountable to the entire group?

Cockburn makes one point that strikes me as particularly salient. He writes:

    Where was the knowledge of, let along [sic] the respect for the past? We had the non-violent resistors [sic] of the Forties organising against the war with enormous courage. The Fifties saw leftists took [sic] McCarthyism full on the chin. With the Sixties we were making efforts at revolutionary organisation and resistance.
Yet when one [sic] raised this history with someone from Occupy, I encountered total indifference.

Typographical errors aside, what Cockburn says here is true of much of the U.S. left. How many American leftists have even heard of A.J. Muste? Or the Dodge Revolutionary Union Movement? Or C.L.R. James? (Although you can always find an anarchist who is willing to talk your arm off about Kronstadt.) On left-wing British websites you can find informed discussions about such topics as the Battle of Cable Street, the 1926 General Strike, or Trotsky’s conception of the united front. We have nothing quite like this here in this country. There is little effort among the U.S. left to learn from the successes and failures of the past. It’s as though we must continually re-invent the wheel. What’s more, this historical amnesia makes us vulnerable to all kinds of dishonesty, as when, in Capitalism: A Love Story, Michale Moore reminds us of the 1936 Flint sit-down strike – only to make the false claim that F.D.R. sent in National Guard troops to defend the strikers from the police. In fact, they were sent there to intimidate the strikers.

These are just some thoughts I have had about the Occupy movement and about the U.S. left in general. I would be interested to hear what other people have to say about these topics.

Update on Occupy Eugene

December 27, 2011

Rick Youngblood, the man who suffered a heart attack on the occupation site on December 19, died on the morning of December 23. You can read about it here. OE held a candlelight vigil for him that evening at the Wayne Morse Free Speech Plaza in downtown Eugene.

On December 24, OE issued the following press release:

Eugene’s Homeless Back on the Streets for Christmas

For 75 days, in one of the longest running occupations in the US, Occupy Eugene provided a legal place to sleep, three meals daily, professional medical assistance, job skills trainings, and most importantly, a community for hundreds of homeless folks in Eugene. Simultaneously, we have explored with the city how Eugene might better serve homeless people.

This week, the city of Eugene unilaterally shut down the site at Washington Jefferson Park, and after two nights of the Wheeler Pavilion being open to provide beds for those coming from the Occupation, folks are back on the street again, just in time for Christmas.

Occupy Eugene appreciates that the city has put forth additional funds, created a task force with seats for homeless people, and expanded the car camping program by adding sites and allowing tents. However, these efforts do not add up to the far greater support that was available at the Occupy Eugene site, and none of the city’s efforts are happening on a community basis among equals, which was more respectful than a government handout.

The alarming number of people who are homeless is a consequence of our deeply unjust economic and political systems, systems which Occupy Eugene is dedicated to changing. In the meantime, we are proud to have taken on the task of helping some of the people most affected – entirely with volunteered time, and as a community.

Occupy Eugene remains strong, renting an office in the Grower’s Market Building and making use of a donated warehouse on 7th and Polk. Plans to participate in the national Occupy the Courts protest are underway, and the unfair foreclosure of many Eugene homes presents another opportunity for Occupy Eugene to support people impacted by unjust systems.

We invite the community to join in our efforts to address systemic injustice while we continue to occupy the minds of Eugene.

This Press Release was approved by the general assembly of Occupy Eugene.

Occupy Eugene to Be Evicted

December 21, 2011

Late in the evening on Monday, December 19, a man who had apparently been in a fight was found unconscious at the OE occupation site. An OE medic performed CPR on the man, who was then taken to a hospital. The next day, the city council held an emergency meeting about this. This certainly isn’t the first time in Eugene’s history that a homeless man has been beaten up, but it appears to be the first time the City Council has considered such an event important enough to justify an emergency meeting. They voted 5-2 that the police should close down the occupation site “soon as practicable”. The decision may have been influenced by a letter that the Eugene Police Employees Association sent to Mayor Piercy, in which among other things, they claimed that “There is open drug use and distribution. There is prostitution of minors. There are used hypodermic needles on the ground inside and outside the tents.” I have been to the occupation site, and I have not seen any of these things. (That’s right, kids, the police are not our friends.)

The following morning OE sent out this press release:

    OE medics help to save another life at W/J Park despite generator noise hampering efforts; 25 OE organizers arrive within minutes to help keep site calm for Eugene Police and Medics

    On December 19th at approximately midnight a brief altercation occurred at the Occupy Eugene site. An extremely drunk individual with a heart condition came onto the OE site and started a fight with an OE occupant. Peacekeeper calls for de-escalation assistance went unheard because of the noise made by the four generators which now surround the site since high-powered security light towers were installed last Friday. Apparently Eugene Police were on site; the unconscious and injured instigator required CPR which the OE medic administered as EPD arrived on the scene. The man is in stable condition.

    This is the 5th time that OE first responders have helped to save a life.

    More than two dozen Occupy organizers and supporters arrived within minutes of notification. After establishing facts regarding the situation, they coordinated a peaceful vigil at the crime scene. Members of OE involved in the incident were given full community support. OE police liaisons provided relevant information to EPD officers. Police Chief Kerns, Lieutenant Kamkar, and City Councilor Ortiz were also on site. Lieutenant Kamkar did not expect any arrests as of 1:30am.

    This press release has been approved by the General Assembly of Occupy Eugene.

After the council’s decision, OE released this:

    Occupy Eugene Responds to Eviction by City Council

    Occupy Eugene is saddened by the City Council’s decision to evict protestors from Washington-Jefferson Park only 5 days before Christmas. The emergency meeting and decision to evict represents a clear betrayal of the collaborative relationship established between OE and the City.

    This decision will serve as further motivation to protesters here in Eugene and around the country to continue to struggle against unjust laws and regulations that propagate social and economic injustice.

    Occupy Eugene is grateful that some attempt was made to accommodate the immediate need for a safe place for homeless folks currently living at Washington Jefferson park by expanding car camping. However, this limited action will have little long-term impact on the problem of homelessness in Eugene and does nothing to replace the ability of the community to come together to solve its own problems.

    Over the course of the occupation in Washington Jefferson Park, the citizens of Eugene, homeless and not, have created a community to address immediate problems and root causes of homelessness.

    For the first time many of Eugene’s homeless population have had a consistent, safe place to sleep, three meals a day, medical care, job skills training, and a community to engage with based around mutual respect and equality. We invite the City of Eugene to take up a similar strategy in their attempts to address homelessness.

    As was reiterated in the City Council meeting by Mayor Kitty Piercy, we hope that the eviction will happen peacefully without any force or violence. The official Occupy Eugene response to the eviction by the City of Eugene will be nonviolent.

    The Occupation will continue with or without camp.

    This press release has been approved by the general assembly of Occupy Eugene.

One point that needs to be made here is that Washington-Jefferson Park has long been a high-crime area. (It is the one area of Eugene where I do not really feel safe at night.) Some members of OE initially opposed occupying this park for precisely this reason. It was only after the city had blocked OE from other sites that the decision was made to go there.

Whatever happens at this point, Occupy Eugene will continue to grow.

Why Occupy?

November 10, 2011

Saturday, November 5, Occupy Eugene moved from Millrace park to Washington-Jefferson park. This is reportedly a temporary location. Occupy Eugene will decide later this month whether to move to another location.

On Wednesday, November 9, a teach-in titled “Why Occupy?” was held at Harris Hall in downtown Eugene. It was sponsored by We the People Eugene, an organization that is dedicated to bring about a constitutional amendment prohibiting “corporate personhood”. The hall was filled to capacity. Fergus Maclean (I hope I’m spelling his name right), a member of We the People, made a brief opening speech. He noted that the early capitalist economists saw global capitalism as a “transitory phase”. Smith believed it would last about 200 years. Maclean said the Occupy movement is a “reaction against an exhausted, collapsing paradigm”.

Daniel Pope, a history professor at the University of Oregon, moderated the panel. He pointed out that the 99% movement belongs to a long tradition of radical struggle in the United States. He called it a “reawakening of populism”.

Joseph Lowndes, professor of political science at the UO, pointed out that social movements arise at times of crisis. He called the 99% movement the broadest popular movement since the 1930’s. (Broader than the civil rights movement? I’m not sure I agree with that.) He praised the 99% meme, saying that it is inclusive, yet it draws a clear enemy. He said that the movement indicates a desire for public good over private good. The Tea Party is for the politics of privatization; it is the opposite of the 99% movement. On the downside, he pointed out that the tactic of occupation is costly in terms of resources. He also expressed the fear that it could lead to the movement becoming “culturally insular”. Overall, however, his comments were positive.

Stan Taylor, who chairs the Lane Community College Peace Center, said that the 99% movement is “revolutionary” in its goals. He argued that the younger generation needs to lead the movement.

William Wise talked about the devastating effects that government budget cuts have had on people in Lane county. He reminded people of the suffering caused by Bill Clinton’s “Welfare Reform” bill. He expressed hope that the 99% movement would lead to a society that is more “fair”.

Lauren Regan, an organizer with Occupy Eugene, took issue with the idea of a leaderless movement. She said everyone in the Occupy movement is a leader. She said the strength of the Occupy movement is its broadness. “We should push for the most radical demands we can make,” she said. She talked about how the movement has reached out to homeless people. “It’s amazing what can happen with homeless people when you give them a place to sleep and food to eat.” She talked about how hard people in the occupation have worked and how the community has supported them. She predicted the movement will continue to grow. Referring to the growing environmental crisis, she said, “Absolute necessity mandates greater growth [of the movement].”

Jamil Jonna, another organizer, said that homeless people began to join the occupation as soon as it began. In response to Lowndes’s concerns, he said that the occupations are central to the whole movement. They create a space where people can meet and discuss issues face to face. The occupations make possible “empowerment and inclusiveness”.

An organizer whose name was only given as Karen talked about why she joined the occupation. “This movement is connecting the whole world through radical change,” she said. “It’s about people taking responsibility.”

The overall tone of the meeting was upbeat and optimistic.

Occupy Eugene Moves to the University of Oregon

October 29, 2011

On Tuesday, October 25, it was decided at a General Assembly meeting that Occupy Eugene should move to a new location. There was dissatisfaction with Alton Baker Park, the main complaint being the lack of visibility to the community. The following evening it was decided at a G.A. that they should move to the quadrangle at the University of Oregon. On Thursday at noon there was a march from Alton Baker Park to the university, where there was a rally. The university and the Eugene Police Department then announced that people would not be arrested if they camped out at the Millrace, a park directly across the street from the university. It is highly visible to street traffic. After a lengthy discussion, the protestors decided in the evening that they would move to the Millrace. People are now camped out there, a kitchen and other infrastructure have been set up.

Support the 99%!

Occupy Eugene Continues

October 22, 2011

Occupy Eugene has successfully moved from downtown Eugene to Alton Baker Park. This was necessary to avoid a conflict with the Saturday farmer’s market, which is a popular fixture in Eugene. The move went smoothly. There have been no problems with the police (so far). This space isn’t as visible as the downtown park, but it is much bigger. It is a place where the movement and its supporters can gather until a better location is possibly found.

I will write more about this later when I am less tired.

Eugene Occupation Begins

October 17, 2011

On Saturday, October 15, about 2,000 people marched through Eugene as part of the 99% movement. It began with a rally at Wayne Morse Plaza. (John Bellamy Foster was one of the speakers.) There were all sorts of people there. It wasn’t just “hippies”. People then marched to the Ferry Street Bridge and back. Marchers stayed on the sidewalk and were careful not to block traffic. The line stretched out for a mile at one point. I’m told that this was the largest demonstration in the history of Eugene. On the bridge, passing drivers were honking their horns in solidarity. There were no problems with the police. At one point, police were directing traffic to facilitate the march. When the march reached a downtown park, it was announced that this was where the occupation would take place. I was impressed by how well organized it was. It was clear that people had carefully planned things out. The occupiers announced that they will be holding general assemblies every day at 7 AM and at 7 PM.

You can find photos of the march here.

You can find a website for the occupation here.

You can find a live stream of the occupation here.

Occupy Eugene

October 9, 2011

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.