Sunday, May 6, 2012


Photographer and place unknown--unless 
noted all photos and video taken by the author
Occupy Nashville
Mid-Oct., 2011
1 a.m. in San Jacinto Plaza, downtown El Paso, TX-Three sleepless hours gone by since I crawled into the tent; in for a very long night.  Every few minutes someone on a skate board roars near my head. Few sleeping; most enjoying themselves and a guitar being passed around. Occasional insults shouted from passing cars.
2 a.m-The friend who I agreed to share my tent with just crawled in. After chatting a few minutes he says he needs to take a leak, but the porta-john didn't arrive. I pass him an empty plastic water bottle.
7 a.m.--Crawl out of the tent into the morning chill  and head for a nearby coffee shop.
6 p.m.--Return to camp for a community meal and  the evening GA (general assembly).
10 p.m.--Crash on a friend's couch for a full eight hours of sleep.

Occupy Congress, Jan. 17, 2012
 Comfort is a powerful force in life. As I've gotten older, the allure of comfort has grown even stronger.   While I had failed my first test as an occupier it had at least become   crystal clear what was required: one must rebel against comfort, against human nature, against oneself.

From October to January I was able to visit, and occasionally stay overnight in, ten Occupy encampments in the U.S. and two sites in Mexico. It has been a marvelous education, a graduate course on urban revolutionaries occupying public spaces, practicing the same model of direct democracy, and always under siege from external forces, not to mention the strain of internal conflict. Occupy has brought people out of isolation and into community. It is a community with inherent rough edges. This is not a movement of professional activists with salaries and operating budgets; absent are directors and foundation grants. Instead the movement's greatest strengths come from its horizontal structure and lack of funding. Anyone can instantly have an equal voice and there is a near total dependence on solidarity from the community at large.  I have seen plenty of conflict and failure within Occupy, not to mention my own shortcomings, but I have also been fortunate to witness many magical moments involving remarkable generosity, camaraderie, compassion, and triumphs on many levels. While most of the original encampments have disappeared, the lessons learned from their existence have  been invaluable, and the struggle continues in new ways.


Lee Roy,  Occupy El Paso 
I heard a debate take place early on at Occupy El Paso which I later heard at other encampments on whether everyone, usually meaning the homeless, could be fed from the community kitchen. The decision was always that no one could be refused, other than perhaps a belligerent drunk. From the beginning the homeless were part of the encampments, some just hanging out, but others an integral part. I crawled out of my warm sleeping bag one cold morning to find a homeless man sleeping by the door of my tent wrapped only in a thin blanket. The homeless man in the photo on the right, Lee Roy (first name), was part of a group of seven occupiers who got arrested in El Paso after staying past the permitted time in the plaza. All of the arrestees' mug shots were posted on a facebook page called "Busted in El Paso", prompting dozens of unflattering comments.

Aporia, Occupy El Paso

The young woman to the right was an active participant with Occupy El Paso and was arrested with Lee Roy. Between the litany of insults directed towards him, she posted this comment:  "Lee Roy is awesome! Our occupiers and community helped bail him out. He's been occupying with us since we were released. I gotta say, he's far smarter than any of you shit talkers could ever hope to be." Her mug shot was fabulous, brilliantly capturing the moment: the arrests were not something to be ashamed of but to be celebrated; done in solidarity with the masses--the 99%.

                              TIME MAGAZINE PERSON OF THE YEAR,
                                               DEC. 26. 2011


A Person of the Year at Occupy Nashville
At the IT Tent. This young Latino stated he was appalled by Arizona's elimination of  Mexican-American Studies in Tucson City Schools when I brought up Occupy Tucson.

I quit reading Time magazine a long time ago but what a remarkable issue this was (link at end and there's even more info on-line).  (Don't get hopes up that Time has suddenly become a progressive publication--1st runner up was the Admiral who led the Osama Bin Laden raid, other runner-ups included Congressman Paul Ryan and Kate Middleton.) The issue described the whole history of the current wave of international protest for economic justice and real democracy, from the Arab Spring to Wisconsin to Spain's indignados (the outraged) to Greece, Burma, Russia, China, Tibet, Chile, United Kingdom, Mexico, New York, and more. There are many full page photos: my favorite is of Cairo dentist, Ahmed Hahara, who lost sight in both eyes (in separate incidents) after being hit by rubber bullets in Tahrir Square. Hahara's quote, "As they say in America, power of the people will change everything."

(photographer unknown) 
The "Time" article did include a photo of Javier Sicilia, the Mexican poet who started a national  caravan against drug war violence after his son was killed. Here are the indignados of Ciudad Juárez, El Paso's neighbor.  Twenty-nine of them were arrested in Nov. 2011 while putting up 9,000 crosses around the city (the approximate number of deaths in Juárez from the drug war.) International solidarity helped gain their speedy release. 

Occupy Tucson, Nov. 2011


 If it weren't for the tents so prominently displayed in public spaces the movement wouldn't have made anywhere near the splash it has. Along with the Guy Fawkes mask the tent has become of the most visible symbols of the movement. Tawakkul  Karman, 32, a female journalist and political activist from Yemen, was one of the Nobel Peace Prize recipients for 2011. Her home for much of 2011 was a blue tent in a protest camp.

Another Person Of the Year, facing life in prison, for revealing the shameful truth.
Occupy D.C. (Freedom Plaza)
(Occupy Congress)

Here's a short video providing a little taste of an Occupy encampment, Occupy DC in Freedom Plaza on a cold Jan. day. The bicycle is powering a small electric generator which is providing electricity for a boom box playing a familiar tune (the technical flaws of the video have been intentionally left in).
(click on this link to watch on youtube): OCCUPY DC, JAN. 2012 

Occupy Congress

You'll need a tent, sleeping bag or blanket, foam pad or cardboard, and other necessary items.

--It will be noisy (traffic, sirens, people talking, snoring, and yelling)
--You will eat when food is available and you can't be picky.
--You will be living in close quarters with people you might normally avoid:  hippies, radicals, anarchists, homeless, mentally ill fending for themselves on the streets, people who haven't had a bath for a long time (just like you may end up), etc. I asked a friend in Tucson who supports Occupy why he didn't hang out at the encampment and he responded, "They drive me crazy."
--Many people smoke in Occupy camps, even in meetings, so there is often a lot of second-hand smoke.
(At one encampment smoking was banned during general assemblies but discipline broke down so even the facilitators ended up smoking.)
--You may be subject to arrest if an encampment is subject to eviction proceedings
--Your bathroom will be portajohns, public restrooms, or facilities at nearby businesses. Men have the luxury of using plastic bottles for urination in the privacy of their tent (do not pour contents out on camp grounds as the stench will become unbearable). There are also products available for this specific purpose. A friend just sent me this photo on the right of a product that was being marketed to the U.S. Border Patrol at a border security fair in Phoenix.

Occupy Congress

Here are some of the pros of
living in an encampment

--You will become part of an exciting international movement that is working to make the world and local communities a better place.
Occupy El Paso: A Farm Workers Union and Aztec
Dance Group Visit the Encampment
 -- You will meet many selfless, hard-working, and inspiring people and will mix with an incredible diversity of folks you may not normally mix with including those of different races, class, sexual orientation, physical disabilities,  homeless, mentally ill. You will learn an enormous amount about living in community, including how to deal with the rough edges.
--Communal property is emphasized over private property in the encampments, including generators, large tents, and other infrastructure that serves the community at large.
--There is usually is a communal kitchen stocked with food donated by community supporters, a library, a first-aid tent, and technology tent with wi-fi access.
--You will get to take part in the GAs with the model of direct democracy, and everyone is encouraged to contribute volunteer labor and take part in one of the numerous committees.

This brief video shows the "language" of Occupy, the "human-mic", here being utilized during Occupy Congress.

After visiting McPherson Square Park in Washington DC, Washington Post columnist Courtland Milloy wonderfully captured the spirit of an Occupy encampment:
"Occupy D.C. has a plan; to Stay in the Public's Face" (Jan. 17, 2012)

McPherson Square

"The young protesters had vowed not to go quietly from the park-just as they would not be going without fuss into the nightmarish future that was being forced upon them. Global warming deniers, people callous to the consequences of poverty. Wars waged based on lies, millions of innocents killed. Deficits as far as the eye can see, due in large part to tax schemes favoring the rich. Long after those responsible were dead and gone, chickens would be coming home to roost."

Comfort Station
...."We're trying to create a community where love is valued more than money," one of the demonstrators said. "We're not sure how, but we're trying."...Mostly through serendipity and bursts of spontaneity, a community of sorts had emerged. Over the weekend, 70 or so protesters looked after the camp, which included a Comfort Station tent that distributed winter clothes, an Occu-Tea tent that dispersed water and teas, and a Radical Space tent for teach-ins about economics, politics and training in conflict resolution....As has been pointed out often, the movement has no leaders or spokesmen. Everyone is free to do his or her own thing, although that thing turns out to be pretty much the same."

"One evening not long ago, after a teach-in on homelessness, someone got an idea to erect a two story barnlike structure in the park. They built it within hours. It was an impressive piece of work, too, sturdy enough to pass a safety inspection in some places. Although the Park Service took it down, the point had been made. 'If we can build a house that fast, why are homeless people living in tents in the woods?' the Occupier at the information tent asked."


Occupy Holiday Inn
In Jan. 2012 I spent a day and night with the fine folks of Occupy Little Rock, which you can't miss since the encampment sits right beside Interstate 30. They have a homemade geodesic dome with a wood stove, solar panel array, windmill, and meditation tent. I started driving to Texas after supper but nasty weather and high winds forced me to turn around and head back to camp. When I got there the camp had been evacuated due to a tornado alert. The friendly manager at the adjacent Holiday Inn put everyone up for free!

A couple of tornados did touch down south of Little Rock so the winds in camp were still really strong. One of the porta-johns at Occupy Little Rock tried to lift off during the storm and make it to Kansas. Fortunately Dorothy, Toto, and the Wizard weren't on board at the time.

The Nine Lives of Occupy Tucson--I go through Tucson, AZ a lot so get to
visit Occupy Tucson.  Their persistence and endurance is truly remarkable. They have been

evicted from three different encampments where the police issued occupiers over 700 citations and arrests. I enjoyed a wonderful Thanksgiving Day feast at one of their encampments. Here they are sleeping on the sidewalk after a recent eviction, but police even arrest them there. They continue protests at the big banks, against foreclosures, and several were arrested blocking a Border Patrol bus that hauls deported immigrants back to Mexico.
Occupy Tampa Finds A Home; While visiting family in Florida I was able to
hang out with the folks at Occupy Tampa. Here they are on Christmas Day, 2011
at their former home on the sidewalk in downtown Tampa. They were doing great work
from there, but after months of sleeping on the sidewalk without tents and enduring
dozens of arrests, the offer of a privately owned public park in West Tampa for their encampment was to good to resist. They are preparing for the Republican National Convention

which will be held in Tampa in August.

THE REVOLUTION WILL HAVE CHICKEN: This wonderful video taken by Occupy Tampa media team shows members of the West Tampa community paying a visit to Occupy Tampa and leads to one of those magical moments I have often witnessed at Occupy encampments.

To end here's 19 seconds of people power outside the U.S. 
Supreme Court filmed during Occupy Congress


Time Person of The Year: The Protester    (even more information than the print version)

Fault Lines: History of An Occupation   (Al Jazeera documentary on the history of the movement)


In memory of Ramon Arroyos