Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Occupy Dame Street nearly blows away


Today the camp came close to blowing away. After some recuperation yesterday, but not enough, , I decided not to go in for the on-site meeting but to actually attempt to attend a workshop that I really wanted to go to at 12 noon on Active Non-Violence. I was a bit late but when I arrived it didn't seem to be on, and nothing much was happening. The on-site meeting, again, had not taken place, so communication was faltering. The large patchwork tarpaulin roof was blowing like crazy in the increasing winds, and also seemed to have a lot of holes. People had worked for two days on the roof and it had evidently been put up some time last night when I wasn't there. I don't know anything at all about things like knots, tarpaulins, or making things fast against wind and rain, and therefore I've kept quiet and held on to ropes or tarps when instructed to do so. A few minutes later the wind started to pick up even more. The tarpaulin was looking increasingly dangerous and acting like a gigantic sail pulling at the ropes and poles. Then the wind really turned fierce. People who apparently do know about such things said we had to take down the roof because it was dangerous. Then it starting ripping away at one side and tore off a pole which possibly hit against someone.  About 15 or more people all held on to the tarp above our heads to try and avoid it flying away. We quickly decided on a construction (or deconstruction) team of four people who vaguely knew about it, instructed by the only person who had actual festival rigging experience, but unfortunately he had to leave after about 20 minutes. While the rest of us held on to it, the four people cut the cable ties so as to avoid cutting the ropes, which took a while. It was sad considering how much work had gone into it, even if it had been perhaps a bad idea from the get go, but at least most of the tarps emerged intact.


Almost immediately the tarp was down, the tents themselves started blowing away. One almost lifted into the air, apparently unnoticed by anyone, and was grabbed, we then realised that a lot more tents in the camp expansion were also blowing away, two rolling over another two. After securing stuff in the main area I joined others holding onto tents and tying them onto pallets in the expanded camp, it was all crazy. The noise of the flapping tarps and howling winds was intense and it then started raining. What was really annoying was that people had obviously set up their tents without a thought, in some cases without securing them at all, in one case without putting on a roof. And then weren't around to fix them when crisis struck. We managed to secure all the tents by all pulling together as a group, in some cases literally. There was quite a good feeling of togetherness and random passersby also stopped to help grab tents that were literally flying into the air.  In the midst of all this an Al Jazeera television crew arrived, and started interviewing people and filming the mayhem.

We had an in-house meeting where to just calm everyone down I suggested a go-round with everyone saying their name and what they liked about Occupy Dame Street. It was inspiring and encouraging hearing everyone talking about how they wanted a change, how much they liked everyone, that they wanted to learn and find out solutions, that they wanted to tackle our financial system. Then we set an agenda, and dealt with the first item, construction ie shelter. People also planned to talk about other items such as food, security, volunteering, rotas, health and safety and creating a registry of who was in the tents. Unfortunately immediately we'd managed to make some decisions about shelter half the people stood up and the meeting broke up in disarray. A few things got sorted and then it began to rain. I ran around covering stuff with tarps. Then it began to lash rain torrentially. Sort of unbelievable cataclysm. I grabbed an umbrella and three of us gathered under it, then another umbrella, then one blew inside out, then we watched the storm overtake the camp, then we took shelter in one of the larger tents. It was unzipped from the inside to reveal two people quietly playing chess on a giant board. Made me laugh. Eventually the rain let up a bit. We cancelled the 1p.m. assembly due to the necessity of trying to hold on to the camp.  Damp I took shelter in the pub across the road, the second home for many at the camp. It felt decadent to order tea. The next workshop took place in the pub. Watched the videos of half a million people gathered in Madrid again and reconnected with this being part of a global movement. It was good.

Back at the camp not much had changed. But it had stopped raining. It was damn cold. Some people didn't want to have the 6p.m. assembly due to the weather but others did and eventually we went ahead with it, just as an Australian TV crew arrived with someone who seemed to be a financial whistleblower. It was all a bit confusing, he refused to talk publicly at the assembly (despite having his own TV crew with him) and then vanished before I could get his name. There was a good discussion of ideas and solutions and things people would like to see done. It was damn damn cold.

Someone lit a kelly kettle, burning wood below a conical cylindrical metal kettle that heats water. Genius. At exactly the right moment someone came by and donated two large bags full of brand new scarves, gloves, hats and socks. There was much rejoicing.

Then we finally had an on-site meeting where people could really talk about what was happening.  Tempers had flared during the day, people were tired, wet and cold and communication was not going well. But the good thing about having such an emergency to deal with and then the communication problems was that everyone was realising that we really needed systems and needed to actually implement those systems. We'd agreed many of them before - such as a rota system, coordination, food times - but they weren't happening. A good few people all huddled in a large tent and managed to have a good discussion, though it didn't touch on many items. And unfortunately those that were most annoyed didn't go. It was good though and everyone seemed happier with the plans. Here's hoping they happen. The main architect of the giant tarp roof returned and it was discovered that the entire thing could have been taken down very rapidly by just releasing two or three ropes. But again communication breakdown meant that no-one on site when the winds built up actually knew that.

I was determined to do what I'd wanted to do since that morning, which was actually have time to go through the coordination incident book and check for contacts and important info. This was finally possibly at nearly 11p.m. I laughed when I read a note from the previous day - very high winds expected for 12.45p.m. tomorrow, with heavy rain between 2 and 5p.m.  We have the knowledge. We're just still learning to use it well. Quite analogous to this entire protest, and its purpose.



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