Friday, November 04, 2011

Week 4 at Occupy Dame Street

A week has gone in a moment and yet last Thursday seems an aeon ago. There is much too much to say and I am much too tired to say very much of it. I was away from ODS for the weekend, hard as it is for me and it seems many others to leave, even for a day or two, it just sucks you in. I did manage to fit in a trip to Dublin Contemporary, but with pieces like this one it seemed in tune with Occupy:


I also spent some time at the Presidential election and general bye-election counts, which was definitely interesting and quite inspiring, if limited. Hundreds of people working, thousands of bits of paper, this is what (one form of) democracy looks like:


Then something totally different, a trip to Leitrim and Roscommon and the Hunter's Moon independent and experimental arts and music festival in Carrick on Shannon, interesting, stimulating and slightly crazy (cue Circulus).


One image cannot come close to capturing it but the rest of the images and movies when I eventually post them may give more of an idea.

Then it was back to ODS, re-energised and somewhat rested. The camp is still there now so that seems like a successful week. It's hard to express what has been happening. Last Friday I wasn't present, but there was an apparently very contentious general assembly, partially focussed on a proposal to join with the Enough Campaign for the march the next day, a proposal which did not get consensus and was not passed, and there was no agreement for ODS and the Enough Campaign to hold a joint event, which a number of people were strongly against. The Enough Campaign involves various groups but is largely an initiative of the Socialist Workers Party in Ireland. The march on Saturday was small, about 300-400 people by some accounts, but mainly good humoured. There had been discussion at various General Assemblies during the week about whether to hold this march, considering the lack of time to organise or advertise it, an issue which was raised again this week. Again I wasn't there, but there seems at the end to have been some problems with people producing banners from the Enough Campaign and setting up an information stall close to the camp. These tensions in relation to political parties and involvement, particularly in relation to the SWP, continue to be an issue, and to be debated and discussed at the camp and at General Assembly. My own feeling, not being a member of any political party myself, and valuing the democratic, open and participatory nature of ODS, which is explicitly not affiliated to any political party, is that I'd like it to stay that way, at least for now. I also feel that it is by having a robust, democratic system operating, which is very transparent and respectful of all, and which requires energy, patience, sharing of information and honesty, that we can best hope to maintain these features, ensuring all voices are heard but that no-one's (and no one group's) voices dominate or drown out others. We have to demonstrate democracy in the Occupy movement, at all levels, as best we can - that is how people experience a different way of doing things, a different way for people to work and act together, and that's how together we can realise new possibilities for how we run our economic, social and political systems in this country and globally.


More prosaically, things seemed quiet enough the next day or two despite the antics of a bank holiday Halloween weekend in Dublin city centre, with the costumes, craziness and chaos that entails. When I was back there on Tuesday things were ticking over fairly well although there were few people around. General Assembly had been happening fine - worth remembering that is it often raining and always cold as these are held outside in all weathers. Worryingly that day there was no sign of a camp coordinator on shift and more distressingly the incident log book and coordination folder were missing - a major repository of institutional knowledge for ODS, not to mention contact details for dozens of participants and supporters.


On Wednesday there were pressing practical problems - a lot of tents, sleeping bags, clothes and other items still wet from the tempest of the previous week and getting wetter in the fairly heavy rain of that day. There were too few people around on site and everyone was stretched. I'd gotten a rare phone call asking me to come down and spread the word that more people were needed to cope with the rain. We don't have a way of reaching people that directly - everyone has a few phone numbers, and calls are put up on the website and Facebook, but we don't have a phone list. And what there was was mainly in the coordination folder. I'm still hopeful it will turn up though I looked for it during the last 3 days to no avail. Such is the difficulty of the physical environment and lack of capacity. Despite the difficult conditions and with few people there, a lot had been done to tidy the camp and sort wet things into bags, which we and many others took away to wash and dry.


People had been on security shifts for a long time, and in general there were just not enough people to maintain the camp. There was desperate talk of it all breaking down and not lasting two days, though these low points have been reached before and the camp has outlasted them - tomorrow it'll be in existence 28 days. Not only are more people needed to maintain particularly security and food, but most of all systems have to be created, re-started or maintained that explain clearly what is happening in the camp and with the movement, and give immediate, practical and maintainable ways for people to get involved. This has to include, at least, set meeting times when people can come and get involved, names of people who can be contacted, coordinators in each area to whom new volunteers can go, and rotas, on paper that people can sign up to. These systems have to operate or the majority of the 99% who are not already involved have no way to really participate in the camp itself, and they want to, and those struggling to maintain the camp need them too. Hopefully this can happen more, to everyone's benefit.


We managed to get the facilitator's group meeting regularly again and more facilitation in place for the General Assemblies. Happily more new people came along to the meetings (which are immediately after the 6pm assembly) and started to co-facilitate, and there will be a facilitation training session held next Monday after the 6pm assembly. Those facilitating and taking minutes also committed to getting the minutes of each GA up on the web as quickly as possible, usually the same day, which may sound simple but is a relatively big and time-consuming undertaking in itself. The lack of capacity, people and resources such as computers and reliable internet connections make all of this, like every are, more difficult. I co-facilitated a GA during the week where one man, who has previously physically attacked people, again threatened to become violent, and tried to attack us with a plastic sword before throwing a walkie-talkie which glanced off me. Strangely this didn't bother me that much, though it could have turned ugly, and it actually seemed to increase the number of people willing to volunteer as facilitators after that GA!

We also managed to get the themes for the next two days of GA up on the web in advance so that people can engage more. Today there was approval from GA for what the focus of Saturday's GA will be - the topic of consensus itself, and consensus decision-making, which often attracts attention and is not extremely well understood. And there were many good proposals passed and discussions had during the week at various GAs.


It is continually hard to get more people willing to facilitate, even though sometimes people like to criticise how a particular assembly was managed - this happens with each area, people criticise security approaches but are unwilling to be on security shifts, they don't like the state of the kitchen but aren't willing to work on the food group to clean it up, or they want marches to happen without being willing to work on organising or running them. So it's just a feature of something that is self-run. I'm trying to encourage people to move from saying 'you should do this' (there is no magical 'you', there is only all of us together) to saying 'I'd like this to be done and I'm willing to work on it, does anyone want to join me in doing this?' So the same issues with capacity have continued, or worsened, and during this week reached such a level that they have threatened to bring down the camp itself. It seemed like a low point was passed today though and that things will improve now, in time to celebrate a month of Occupy Dame Street on Saturday. With Occupy Waterford, Cork, Galway, Belfast and Letterkenny now all in situ, a suggestion came from Occupy Waterford to have a moving internet livestream 'programme' for a few hours that would go from camp to camp, highlighting the activities of each camp and with a band playing at each location. Let me suggest the name Rockupy.

There's also talk of a carnival for 11/11/11 the global day of action, as well as lots more artwork, and I hope these positive and celebratory elements will come to the fore once again in the coming week. Difficult as logistica, interpersonal tensions and differences of political or strategic vision can be, this movement is something very positive that is already changing people's lives, and I hope it can continue to improve and really make an impact. There is far more to say, especially about the topics of General Assembly, facilitation and consensus, how things are going with the worldwide Occupy movement, and much more besides, but my own capacity limits must be acknowledged and it's time for bed. Be back after the weekend.

Even more photos of Occupy Dame Street are here



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