Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Douze jours Occupy Dame Street

Took a break from blogging and posting photos yesterday, though not from the camp itself (of course). At least I managed to only spend about 6 hours there so that was probably for the best. Arrived to a very windy general assembly at the side of the Central Bank, the third one to discuss health. There were good points being made by a person who had had depression and other mental health issues himself. It has been  noticeable how many people who have suffered with mental health problems or with substance abuse problems have spoken very movingly and constructively at general assemblies, and also some are quite involved with the camp, and it is clearly having a transformative effect on their lives. It has been encouraging watch so many people gain confidence, and gain familiarity with ways of acting such as making decisions by consensus, the respectful conduct of meetings so that people don't speak over each other, and feeling empowered to take the initiative and act on something they want to see done.

Moments after arriving at this general assembly, someone thrust the minutes book into my hands and then vanished. I gave it to someone else but he quickly passed the book, and the buck, back. At the end I gave it to the facilitator, with no-one else around to give it to, and seeing as I was nothing to do with that assembly. Later on the current camp coordinator approached me and asked me for it, and after some brain-racking I was able to point him in the right direction. The question becomes who is responsible for such things. No-one and everyone is, and this is just one of the communication problems the camp has been struggling with, and which have been getting me down for the last two days. Communication mostly becomes a problem regarding important records of what is happening - ensuring that these records are taken, and that they are then effectively communicated later. Especially if those tasked with it for a given meeting aren't around later when those records are required, for example at the next meeting.  This is not a criticism of the many individuals involved, it is just that we don't have the systems in place (yet) to make it happen reliably, sometimes at all, and we don't have the time, physical resources like laptops and printers or the continuity in personnel to make it happen, certainly not easily. Much more importantly, we have meetings where we have agreed to keep records, or where people need to brought up to speed on previous meetings, and this has not been happening consistently, or followed up on, so that is very difficult even for people heavily involved with or living at the camp to know what's going on, and pretty impossible for anyone outside the camp.  As I said to someone today, this is generally not sinister, it's just ineptitude.

It is a struggle in an outdoor and still quite disorganised environment and interpersonal structure to ensure, for example, that records are taken of meetings and decisions. Because of the disorganisation of the central space previously, which was used for many things from meetings to music and often got trashed, followed by the loss of the central shelter altogether in the storm, we still don't have a space where information can even be displayed so that at least everyone could read it. In the last day or two we reached a stage where some minutes and records are typed up and distributed, and that not broadly.   Tonight we started to hope we'd be able to put minutes on-line as well. Yesterday I felt quite disheartened at our continuing inability and slowness around communication. Many times over the past week, issues got discussed, decisions got made but not acted upon, and then almost the same discussion would happen again with next to no awareness of the previous discussion. There was also the secondary problem where issues were identified as areas that needed discussion, and even put on the agenda at meetings, but they were not discussed because the meeting ran out of time or simply didn't address them, and then these issues, which should have passed to the next meeting at the very least, ended up never being never discussed at all. In many cases these turned into problems due to them not being aired or dealt with. The communication problems also lead to things not being purchased for the camp that are needed - for example, the livestream was down for days because there was no internet connection on-site and those responsible didn't realise they could ask for some camp funds to purchase a mobile internet dongle to get it going again. After this was eventually sorted out and the livestream functioning, it appeared that someone had donated a dongle some days ago, but no-one knew about it. It is ironic for a movement that is so saturated with online communication technologies that its actual ability to make and communicate valuable information and decisions is often so poor. There would be numerous similar examples on a daily basis - the lack of knowledge, communication, and empowerment leading to an opaque miasma of inaction instead of powerful and effective action.

Another problem has been around people's actions or lack thereof, which the poor communication worsens. One aspect is people simply not doing much, not volunteering for security and other shifts, so that the burden keeps falling on a few individuals. The second dimension is people not feeling that they can do something or can take action on an area which concerns them and the camp, even though part of direct democracy is engaging and taking action on things that concern you, rather than thinking someone else is going to take care of it for you. The third dimension is people going ahead and taking action, but not considering others, or that further thought may have already gone into it or be needed, so that they undo the good work that others have already done, or they do something about which they know very little so that it ends up ineffective, wasteful or actually dangerous. These problems are all exacerbated by poor communication - people are not properly aware of the shifts and tasks where help is needed and it difficult to check whether people have actually done them; people don't know what tools, resources or other people might be available to help get something done; and finally people do not know what has already been attempted or suggested or discussed, or whether someone else should be directing a particular task. So that was all proving frustrating over the last few days.

I feel that communication and transparent information are essential to democracy, so I found these communication blocks quite problematic as they contradict some of the basic principles of Occupy Dame Street. For me, its direct democratic nature is one of the most important elements of the movement. So I very much wanted it get sorted out and was also frustrated by my own apparent inability to communicate my concerns or to effect change. And by others' apparent lack of interest in these dimensions.

Today I felt more sympathetic to the fact that Occupy Dame Street is gradually moving forward. It's not all going to be done quickly, even things that are pretty important. We are slowly getting better at communicating, keeping records, and communicating those records to ourselves. We're simultaneously getting better at taking action, and ensuring some things happen, a few key activities each day. People are realising that things have been discussed before, or attempts made to fix them before, and that without delaying forever, new action also needs to bring that knowledge to bear. We have fairly effectively had an on-site meeting every day, which has now happened almost every day since we began and is now starting to become regularized to people as something that has to happen daily, no matter what, and the meetings themselves are also going more smoothly and efficiently. Meetings are a communication tool, a way of sharing information, making decisions and building cohesion, and our meetings are starting to reflect these features more. Which aids democracy.

Meanwhile plenty of things happened. Apparently, unbeknownst to myself, two or more people from Occupy Dame Street took a banner from here to where the seven candidates for the Irish presidential election were meeting elsewhere in the city centre, and when some came out, shook hands with Martin McGuinness, a Sinn Fein candidate formerly in the IRA. Last night Mr. McGuinness posted a picture of this on his twitter account. Irrespective of the politics of the candidate involved - which I do not support -  my problem with this is that it seemed like a contradiction of our stated principle of not engaging with politicians as politicians, and also questionable in terms of bringing an Occupy Dame Street banner to a different location, which would imply that those with it were in some way 'representing' the movement, which we have repeatedly argued and agreed no-one is. So that was problematic, and put on the agenda for the in-house meeting, but never discussed. This morning, with a courtesy warning last night from one of his staff, another presidential candidate David Norris visited the site. Anyone is entitled to visit the site as an individual, and apparently this was discussed at an emergency in-house meeting last night after the request came in. Despite his assurances that he wouldn't tell the media, oh so surprisingly they were out in force waiting for Mr. Norris that morning, with a number of film and radio crews. This in itself was not much of a problem - again anyone can come, and can film - but I was disappointed by the behaviour of a number of people in the camp, who raised their voices to him, talked over one another and others who wanted to speak, and who effectively dominated the conversation. They did not demonstrate a democratic approach or respect for everyone, or manifest the idea of a leaderless movement. While they no doubt gave a bad impression of the movement, my problem was not with how the media might represent this, or how it would inevitably be used, which cannot be controlled anyhow, but with how people in the movement acted. So that was sad.

However, overall today I felt like some progress was being made, even if it continues to be slow and incomplete. And hopefully that can be enough. This movement can be something great, if it can practise honest and effective communication, overcome the obstacles that direct democracy of necessity erects, and navigate a path that stays true to its principles. To thrive it must expand to directly include more and more people, and developing systems to communicate knowledge is essential if other people are to join in and continually change and enhance the movement.  Despite the difficulties and the frustrations, I've learned a great deal, and want to see it thrive. I remain hopeful and excited by the actual existence of this movement, both its specific physical manifestation at a camp in front of the Central Bank of Ireland and the broader and greater importance of the movement and its principles in action worldwide.  I'm excited to see how it develops in the coming weeks.

In other news, the Spectacle of Defiance and Hope played yesterday:


One guy showed his mettle by getting a tattoo with the date the occupation started (and he started living here) - now that's commitment:


Today kitchen shelves got built and a lovely dinner was had (well done, we finally have a food coordinator, in fact four of them):


My tarp from Burning Man somehow got put up (by someone else) on the not-very-sturdy temporary shelter in the central space:


Then, I got a different view of the Central Bank from a rooftop nearby during an interview:

Meanwhile, we're planning for the next march, which starts at 2p.m. this Saturday 22nd October at the Garden of Remembrance in Parnell Square and will reach the camp later that afternoon - where Billy Bragg is scheduled to play.

And, last but not least, it didn't rain.



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