Occupy Valley Forge: Occupy Denver and the future of the Occupy Movement

8 11 2011

On Sunday, November 6, 2011, Occupy Denver broke with the usual nature of occupations across the US and the world. At the evening general assembly, a proposal to elect a leader took place. At first I cringed, I had thought of the occupy movement as a light in an otherwise ever darkening world. One of the reasons for this was the very fact the the movement was supposed to be void of leadership.

I had at first assumed that Shelby was a human, and like any human put into a position of power, that power would be abused. Instead I was relieved that Shelby was instead a dog. The reasons, as proposed for electing a canine leader was that Shelby already held an unofficial status among the occupiers here as a mascot. It was said that because Shelby could bleed, breathe, and show emotions that she qualified as a person more so than any corporation. Another reason for electing a canine as a leader is that of police oppression. The Denver Police have cracked down and arrested protesters at occupy Denver repeatedly and numerously(brutally in many instances) and part of the theory behind Shelby’s election was that if she were arrested the police would be unable to provide her an interpreter in accordance with law. However, as the police state does recognize the person-hood of corporations, it does not recognize the person-hood of Animals, including Shelby.

While such a move is greatly symbolic and has a very creative quality to it, I do doubt that the aims of such a move will change anything for Occupy Denver or the movement in a broader sense. In fact, I worry that any number of individuals will act as impromptu leaders by issuing decrees to Occupy Denver disguised as “interpretations” from Shelby. Whether my fears are founded or not have yet to be realized.

It was also pointed out the neither the mayor nor the governor would recognize or negotiate with occupy Denver without a leader. So by appointing a leader, the excuses for non-negotiating could be seen as just that, excuses.

A point I must also make is that a leader who cannot give dictates. A leader who cannot manipulate and a leader who cannot impose authority is an essential solution to a problem I’ve seen at Occupy Denver.

That problem is two-old. I have witnessed stratification within the Occupy Denver movement. There are the over-nighters, who are mostly homeless, the committee membership, apparently made up of middle-class people or college students, and then there are people like myself who for what ever reason (mine being both health and a difficulty getting downtown) who show up on occasion to lend their support and who resist in many other ways outside Occupy.

At one point, it disturbed me that a proposal was presented to form a committee to present a proposal on the St. Paul Principles. Now, it was the St. Paul principles themselves that worried me but rather that a very US Congress-like atmosphere ensued. First it is very much like the broken system we already have to propose the creation of yet another committee whose sole purpose is to draft a proposal.

I feel that the draft proposal should’ve been made and then presented to the GA. But even that wasn’t the most disturbing aspect of the evening GA that night. While this proposal to make a proposal was being discussed, one man attempted address the group about his concerns over the issue. While some of the dissension regarding the St. Paul principles is concern over violence, he brought to attention that it wasn’t a matter of violence vs. nonviolence, but rather a concern over control.

Repeatedly, he was interrupted by various committee members while he tried to speak, and was basically even told to shut up. This act, on behalf of large portion of the committee membership, was met with several people chanting, “let him speak!”, I among them. A this point, I as much from the biting cold as from outright disgust I left the park and went home and never did give the speech I had intended to.

The stratification of Occupy Denver was not only limited to the GA but also to the donations table where supplies meant to be distributed to the occupiers were assembled. Though clothing, and bags were readily available to anyone, an occupier had to pay for blankets in cigarettes. This illustrated to me a form of quasi-capitalist structure being imposed on the occupiers by a minority of so-called committee members who act to control the means to access to warmth providing supplies. Supplies that are absolutely critical to the sustainability of the occupation.

The one aspect of Occupy Denver that has not (as far as I know) been manipulated and controlled by the committee membership is the kitchen. All evening and into the night warm meals were freely distributed.

Many poor people, homeless, and full-time occupiers constantly huddled around the makeshift eatery for warm food not only to fight hunger but the cold as well. I never saw anyone have to pay for a meal in cigarettes as I did with blankets. This comes as a minor relief to me especially with regards to how #OWS has treated the homeless at it’s kitchen and how the supply station at Occupy Denver was “managed”.

It has been said that with the onset of the harsh winter months, that now is our Valley Forge moment. Valley Forge where Washington camped his army during the American Revolution. The parallels to Valley Forge are many; the similarities of camping out in the cold as the soldiers there did. The great cause of creating sweeping change as the American Revolution aimed to. And, last but absolutely not least the disparity between the hierarchical stratification between the committee membership (who parallel Washington and his officers) and the rest (specifically the homeless attendees who suffer the most through this occupation just as the soldiers of Valley Forge did).

While a minority at the occupation control the means of distribution of critical supplies which disgustingly mirrors the very one percent we are in opposition to they have established a system in which the needs of a person can only be met if that individual possesses the means to acquire them. Not the these so-called committee members were required to pay in any form for the supplies they themselves charge for. I feel that this is a betrayal of sorts. Not only to the folks who donated their items to support a beautiful cause whose time has come, but a betrayal of the very occupiers themselves by their fellow “comrades” who are now acting like the one percent of the 99 percenters.

Both my girlfriend and I attended the occupation that night and upon arriving we saw a protest that did not resemble the activities or character of the Saturday events when Occupy Denver sees its greatest attendance.

When we arrived in the early afternoon, most of the people there where obviously homeless as opposed to when we first attended on a Saturday in early October. At first I felt that the homeless there were a sign that the movement was loosing momentum despite the recent general strike in Oakland. My girlfriend felt that the homeless were there only for the free food. She was right to a limited extent and later retracted her opinion.

Many homeless people have camped out at Occupy Denver since the beginning. Not only because they feel it is safer there (which with the recent acts of police brutality speaks volumes about how Denver and the rest of the US treat the homeless and poor)and that the Occupy kitchen feeds them, but because they are the most obvious victims of the one percent.

Many homeless people suffer from mental illnesses and other disabilities and with the commoditization of healthcare coupled with Reagan having shutdown virtually all the State mental health facilities, they have been left with no choice but to go without most of the securities, services and abilities to acquire basic necessities that most of us take for granted everyday.

Without proper healthcare and the stabilizing medications that it could provide, the homeless resort to self-medicating to get by. This often further harms their mental state even for those who were previously of sound mind. Add to this that in order to survive they are forced to engage in sketchy behavior which often leads to incarceration.

Homelessness is a symptom of this broken system, and not a simply the result of laziness. Many homeless Americans grew up with traumatic households, came home from war with incredible mental scars, made bad choices earlier in their lives or simply have had strings of really bad luck.

Every time I hear someone cruelly say that they are lazy and shut get off their asses and find a job. Or that they are “freeloaders” I want to puke. Having almost been in there position myself I feel I must shed some light on why it is virtually impossible for many if not most homeless men and women to get back into the system and not only find jobs but to secure a home.

First, without having easy access to showers and laundry facilities or to “presentable” clothing, it would be virtually impossible for any of them to pass an interview. That is, if they could even be notified of an interview after applying for a job. This is because without the proper means (a telephone number, or an address), employers cannot contact them.

Given, that many of the homeless also have police records or mental illnesses, employment prospects are even further daunting. But, even without these circumstances, in the modern climate of rampant unemployment, it is incredibly difficult for even a college graduate to find menial work, let alone someone who has been abandoned by society.

With winter setting in, the homeless will be the ones to carry on the struggle. Instead of exploiting them, alienating them, or outright abusing them, we the 99 percent MUST embrace them if this movement is to survive the cold, dark days ahead.

However, I am worried that some “occupiers”, specifically those who wish to manipulate or control the movement, will simply use them until warmer weather arrives in spring, and then treat them the way the rest of society has by ostracizing them into exile from the occupations in favor of more presentable protesters.

The question remains, will those who “coordinate” efforts for the occupy movement be the ones to cripple this uprising? Will they become the one percent of the 99 percent and act to further perpetuate the cycle of domination, greed and exploitation? Will the movement survive the winter at all?

I hope so! I believe in my heart that even if occupy wall street or the occupy movement ends it will still continue across the globe. Perhaps with different names or strategies. This is after all, the most important struggle of our times and failure is not an option. I have not written this piece specifically to bash Occupy Denver or any part of the Occupy movement. The movement is in its infancy and the tactics and organization of it reflect this. We as a people here in the US have been asleep for a very long time and it will most likely take time to mature, learn and act in a truly effective way. I have so much hope for not only this movement, but for what it stands for and for what will come out of it, and I admit I have been amazed, in spite of some shortcomings, at the progress, scope and impact these occupations have created thus far.




One response

10 11 2011

This was a very vivid and informative first-hand account which I very much appreciated. I don’t know if it will be taken as a compliment by you or not, but I daresay there’s some Orwell in your writing (I’m assuming it’s your writing and not a reposting of someone else’s, otherwise this will all perhaps have been horribly misdirected).

But to the issues. Some of the dynamics you point out, the hierarchical structures and the recapitulation of exploitative exchange, are saddening and to be resisted. They must be resisted. And I hope there are enough people at all of these demonstrations who will carry forward with a bottom-up decentralized mission, as this is the only way that the needs and demands of this movement can be met. The movement began spontaneously, decentralized, from the ground-up. It seems its means and ends are there in concert for anyone who wonders what they are.

I’m nowhere near Denver. And perhaps not too much unlike your situation, I have a health problem which prevents me from getting out much right now, and, in particular, in joining in these demonstrations, which three years ago I would have been at in a hop skip and a jump. But as more days go by I more dearly wish to go explore for myself any of the demonstrations in my area: these would be the ones in San Francisco, San Jose or Oakland, for instance. And in a few months I hope that should be more possible.

For someone who’s been at demonstrations all over the Bay Area in the past 10 years, including at the Oakland docks at the start of the Iraq War, I should say how amazed I am by what’s going on in Oakland now. It’s truly inspiring. Of all the places in the Bay Area right now with major Occupy demonstrations, Oakland is by far the poorest amongst them and it also seems the most resolute in its methods and objectives. It’s first-hand understanding of the brutal means of policing and its boldness in proposing a general strike are just some illustrations of these.

Anyways, I suppose all of this is just my way of saying how useful I found your piece to be in providing information about what’s been going on at one of these occupations. Please keep it up.

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