Seeing past the facade of equality: My experience at Friday’s Occupy Oakland General Assembly

21 Nov

Over the past few days, I’ve been attempting to process what happened on Friday at the Occupy Oakland General Assembly. In my head I wrote and re-wrote parts of this blog post throughout the weekend. But before I began typing on yesterday’s cold, rainy afternoon, I decided to reread the blog post I wrote just two and a half weeks ago (it’s baffling to me that so little time has elapsed yet so much has happened) about my transformation from an Occupy Oakland spectator to a participant. I ended that blog post with the following paragraphs:

At this point I’m satisfied with participating in ways that make sense to me, like helping with media, donating books to the library, and tweeting as much as I can about what’s happening.

Because that’s the beauty of the Occupy movement. Everyone can participate in their own way, and that might not even involve coming to Frank Ogawa Plaza or taking off work for the general strike.

Up until Friday, I was still satisfied with the way I was participating in Occupy Oakland and thought that my participation and the participation of others like me who supported OO but did not camp was thoroughly appreciated by the folks who were camping. I felt that Occupy Oakland was a very open space, and that anybody could participate at any level they wanted to and that was accepted. Whether you had been to ten General Assemblies or one, you had the same vote. Whether you camped with OO every night or only showed up for the GAs, you still were allowed to speak on any proposal (or even submit a proposal).

On Friday I found out that while all of that still technically is true, in practice many people camping at OO did not see me and other supporters as equals. Even worse, a very small group of occupiers had a huge amount of control over the decision-making process and, at least on Friday night, used this power to attempt to manipulate people. 

But let me rewind a bit to Thursday, as I’ve seen a lot of misinformation spread (mostly on Twitter) from both sides about what happened with the proposal to rescind the vote to occupy the lot at 19th and Telegraph so I feel it’s worth telling the full story, or at least an abbreviated version of the full story. And don’t worry, this story isn’t all negative. In fact, until Friday night, it was mostly extremely positive…

Developing a proposal

I wrote about this a bit in my last blog post, but I thought it was worth sharing some more about the development of our initial proposal to rescind Wednesday night’s vote. On Thursday morning I realized I wanted to submit this proposal so I started tweeting about it. Many people tweeted back that they would support my proposal. One person (who I had never met) connected me with a friend who understands the OO process well, and that person emailed me with tons of information about how to submit a proposal. I was warned that it might be difficult to get the proposal onto Friday’s agenda as there was a queue of proposals waiting to be heard. So I emailed the facilitation committee to ask about my chances. I never heard back.

In the evening, I drafted a proposal and sent it to several people, almost all of whom I had met through Twitter – and some of whom I had never met in person – to ask for feedback. They provided plenty of feedback and after several rounds of drafts, three of them signed off on the proposal so I could submit it via email to the facilitation committee. I was amazed at the help and support I received from people who barely knew me, except through Twitter.

To spread the word, I posted the proposal on Facebook and shared the link widely. Immediately I started receiving positive feedback, and again it came mostly from near-strangers. For many reasons, people didn’t want to see OO move to the 19th and Telegraph lot. Some people were concerned about students at Oakland School of the Arts, others were concerned about the thousands of residents who lived just across the street, and others were concerned about the fate of the lot, which is slated to become a public sculpture garden in just a few months. People who supported OO were also concerned about what this would do to OO’s image. The most recent Oakland poll showed Oaklanders are split on support of OO, but this move could turn so much support into opposition.

As I lay in bed that night, unable to fall asleep, I felt very nervous about the next day. Would the facilitation committee even agendize our proposal? And even if they did, what were the chances that we could meet the 90% vote threshold for passage? I didn’t know the answers to these questions and frankly didn’t feel that hopeful about our chance of surmounting these two huge hurdles, but I already felt like our efforts had been worth it, since the proposal gave so many of us – people who may never have met otherwise – the chance to work closely together on something we cared about.

The facilitation committee

I was still nervous when I woke up on Friday morning and was grateful that I had a ton to do at work. But I soon started to get interrupted by tweets, emails and Facebook messages from another group of people who had ties to OSA who were submitting a similar proposal. We decided that we’d see what happened at the facilitation committee meeting and would work together.

I’m pretty used to uncomfortable situations. I’ve been yelled at during public meetings. I’ve stood up for unpopular positions, even when it became clear that winning on an issue was next to impossible.

But as I walked through Frank Ogawa Plaza to find the facilitation committee (I knew they were meeting under a tree but had no idea which one), my heart pounded quickly and I started thinking about everything that could possibly go wrong.

As I reached the group of trees in the middle of the plaza I saw a few people standing around and a good friend sitting on the steps. Just seeing her made me feel totally at ease. Seeing any familiar face probably would have made me feel more comfortable, but her presence was so much more calming because she has been one of my most influential mentors. She and my former boss taught me most of what I know about activism, direct action, civil disobedience and so much more.

Soon, one of the men involved with the other proposal – to have a re-vote on Wednesday’s vote – arrived and we started chatting. A regular at the facilitation meetings began chatting with us, suggesting we work together to create one proposal. He and a couple other people told us that it was problematic that we were only trying to strike Wednesday’s vote and that we weren’t suggesting what to do instead so he suggested adding to our proposal the creation of a committee to find the next space to occupy. The conversation was productive, but we kept getting interrupted by the woman facilitating the facilitation meeting who kept reminding everyone that our conversations were not part of the meeting, as the meeting hadn’t started yet. (I thought everyone was pretty clear that the meeting hadn’t started, but I guess she felt the need to make that abundantly clear.)

I could probably write multiple blog posts about the facilitation meeting, but I’ll spare you most of the details. Apparently these meetings, which used to take place every day and I think now happen four days a week, regularly last more than two hours, a fact that both confuses and impresses me. I only made it through about an hour and fifteen minutes of the meeting before I had to get back to work.

For either of the proposals to get on Friday’s agenda, the facilitation committee needed to vote that the proposals were emergency proposals so that we could jump to the front of the proposal queue. The other proposal was read and then I read our proposal. We let the committee know that we intended to combine the proposals into one, which they said we could do, though a few people let us know we didn’t have to do that. The committee made it clear though that the proposal would have to be to rescind the vote, not to have a re-vote, since there is no mechanism within the GA process to call for a re-vote.

The facilitator called for a vote, not on the merits of our proposals, but on whether the combined proposal constituted an emergency. Everyone in the circle, except for me and the man who presented the other proposal (proposal makers aren’t allowed to vote), raised their thumbs. Unanimously, the committee voted to agendize our proposal and told us that the item would be first on the agenda.

Merging the proposals

I felt a rush of energy and couldn’t help smiling as I walked across the plaza to my office – we had made it past the first hurdle of the day. I sent a message to the author of the other proposal and asked her to call me, and she did almost immediately. We decided to use most of the language in the proposal she had written and we worked on the language over the phone. Before that morning, I had never heard of this woman, yet on our first phone call we managed to hammer out the revised language and plan our strategy for the evening.

I was amazed at how well we worked together, though looking back, I guess I shouldn’t have been. After all, we both had strong stakes in the occupation of the 19th & Telegraph lot. She is a teacher at Envision Academy at 15th and Webster, where they have had to close the school early or open late multiple times in the past weeks due to the police response to Occupy Oakland. On other days, students arrived late because of bus detours and BART closures. She did not want to see the same thing happen at OSA.

Both of us also cared a lot about OO. We had both been to many GAs and she had been tear gassed on October 25th. If I hadn’t cared about OO, I wouldn’t have bothered. But since I did, I wanted to help OO avoid a PR and neighborhood nightmare. I was sure the occupation of that lot would lead to the neighbors turning against OO, and coupled with media attention, I figured this would also turn many other Oaklanders against OO.

Friday night’s General Assembly

Around 5:30pm on Friday I started to get nervous again. I also started to feel sick again (I had been sick all week). I looked out my office window and from the 11th floor the plaza looked eerily empty. There were maybe five people in the entire plaza, fewer people than I had seen there in well over a month. I finished up what I was doing at work and headed downstairs.

A few people were milling about in the amphitheater, setting up some tents (not the kind you sleep in but the kind you stand under for shade or for protection from rain). I ran into a couple of friends and we chatted and waited as a man strummed his guitar and sang. By 6:30 a decent crowd had arrived. There were no longer concerns about having quorum (100 people), and more and more people continued to arrive. Still, with so few people there, I realized it would be next to impossible for our proposal to pass.

I sought out the rest of the proposal signers, only one of whom I had ever met, and we chatted for a bit. The proposal author who I had talked to by phone earlier in the day hadn’t arrived yet as she had pneumonia(!) and wanted to wait until the last minute to come. When she arrived, we met her on the stage and waited.

From the back of the stage, the GA looks and sounds very different than from the steps of the amphitheater, where I usually sit or stand. Everything felt more intense, but since I struggled to hear actual words, often I just heard tone. Without the human mic, the tone quickly turned negative. (As an aside, I think Friday night would have gone much differently with a human mic because with the human mic harsh tones are not conveyed as much. Also, speakers have to be succinct and think more carefully about what they say. If OO got rid of amplified sound, I think it would be incredibly helpful to the tone of the discussions at the GAs.)

Though I couldn’t hear every word, I could tell by what I heard (and what I read on Twitter) that the facilitator – the same woman who facilitated the facilitation committee earlier – was talking down to the crowd, especially to the OSA community that had turned out in force. There were also some people in the crowd shouting, which I’ve seen happen at every GA I’ve attended. But she acted as if this was new and unexpected behavior and blamed it on them not understanding how the GA works. She sounded incredibly patronizing.

After announcements and before our item came up, there were votes on whether a couple other proposals were emergency proposals (which would allow them to be heard right after ours). The discussion and voting on these seemed to take forever. Finally, maybe around 8pm, we were up.

Everything after that is a bit of a blur. Things started moving very quickly and intensely. It’s like those scenes in movies when the scene has to cover a long time frame in a relatively short amount of movie time so a snippet of someone talking flashes and then fades out to something else happening (and of course really intense music is playing). That’s how I remember the next hour or so. Certain words, phrases, tones, and looks on people’s faces stand out, but everything else melds together. It all moved too fast and too many things happened at once for me to be able to take everything in. (It didn’t help that I had barely slept the night before and I was feeling much more sick by this point, so I wasn’t nearly as focused as I usually am.)

The atmosphere got heated right away, as my co-proposer read the proposal and got booed at a couple of points. The tension ratcheted up as people came up to ostensibly ask clarifying questions, but half of them yelled at us more than questioned us. We then didn’t do a very good job answering those questions because right as we were about to start the facilitator told us we couldn’t answer anything that wasn’t specifically spelled out in the proposal (which seems odd, because then what’s the point of the questions?). That threw us off our plan and so people were rightfully disappointed that their questions weren’t answered. It didn’t help that the facilitator cut us off before our two minutes were up.

So by the time the pro and con statements started, the tension at the GA on both sides was extremely high as I think everyone was rightfully frustrated. The pro and con statements quickly devolved into us versus them statements on both sides. It was very upsetting for me because that was not the goal of any of us who brought forward the proposal. We wanted to avoid division by avoiding this media and neighborhood nightmare. We wanted to bring the neighborhood and OO together, but the exact opposite was happening.

The worst moment might have been when an OSA parent came to the stage with two OSA students. She spoke and then handed the mic to a twelve-year-old boy. He was clearly very nervous and stumbled over his phrases a bit, and several of the people in the crowd booed him. He tried to hand the mic to the girl standing next to him, but the facilitator wouldn’t let her talk because apparently she was treating the three of them as one person because they had gone up together. I’m not sure what she expected – did she want a little girl to go to the stage to speak by herself? I’ve seen children speak at many divisive public meetings, but never have I seen adults disrespect youth so thoroughly.

Unfortunately there was little we could do to prevent the divisiveness and shouting as we had zero control over the situation at that point.

The leaders of the leaderless

The one thing we did have control over was our proposal and whether it would be amended. Several people speaking against our proposal spewed vitriol at us and at the community, but pivoted and said they could vote for the proposal if we amended it to propose occupying somewhere else (Piedmont and Oscar Grant Plaza were the most popular suggestions).

It rapidly became clear that our proposal was not going to earn 90% of the GA vote if it was not amended (looking back I doubt if it would have received 90% if it had been amended, but who knows). To me it also became clear that it wouldn’t earn 70% of the vote, which is significant because if proposals receive 70% of the vote, the authors can accept friendly amendments.

Regardless of votes though, proposal authors can amend proposals anytime up until the vote. So after screaming at us and calling us outsiders and NIMBYs (and much worse) from the stage, one of the people who initially proposed occupying the 19th and Telegraph lot came over to us and told us we should amend or our proposal wouldn’t pass. He said we should propose moving to Oscar Grant Plaza. Soon after, one of the leaders of the leaderless did the same thing. She gave an impassioned speech about why we were so wrong and came over to try to convince us to propose moving to Oscar Grant Plaza. I talked to both of them calmly and listened carefully to what they said to me.

It became clear to me at that point that the leaders of the leaderless were freaking out a bit. They seemed to realize that occupying the lot at 19th and Telegraph was a bad idea. Maybe they realized the police wouldn’t let them stay there or maybe they too wanted to avoid negative press. It’s hard to say. But for whatever reasons, they desperately wanted us to get them out of their impending crisis.

We (the proposal makers) huddled and talked about strategy. I argued that it made no sense for us to suggest where to occupy next when our main criticism was that due diligence had not been done in selecting the 19th and Telegraph location. We were totally unwilling to make the same mistake. Also, none of us had camped with Occupy so it seemed totally inappropriate for us to decide where they should camp (or if they should camp), even if the leaders of the leaderless had already decided and were trying to use us as their pawns in this elaborate game. So we agreed that we would not amend the proposal. If the proposal earned 70% of the vote, we would entertain friendly amendments from the GA and then the leaders of the leaderless could propose a location to occupy.

After hearing twenty speakers yell about our proposal (either in support or against it), the relative quiet of the voting process was very calming. We watched as whole groups of about 20 raised their thumbs and other whole groups turned their thumbs down. Mostly, people supporting and opposing the proposal were not mixing. We formed a small group of the proposal makers, and a woman who opposed the proposal joined us. We welcomed her and introduced ourselves.

A couple of minutes before announcing the vote to the GA, the facilitator told us that our proposal had only received 57% of the vote. Then, one of the authors of the proposal to occupy 19th & Telegraph – the same guy who had talked to us earlier – came over and said he would support allowing amendments even though we hadn’t reached the 70% threshold. We said we were fine with that if the GA approved it (it seemed very unlikely though). The facilitator then approached us and said the same thing.

She announced the vote and many people cheered. (Maybe some people booed too? It’s hard to say – by that time my feet and hands were freezing and I wanted to be in bed.) She then announced that the proposers – both of Wednesday night’s proposal and the one to rescind that vote – were open to taking amendments even though the 70% vote threshold had not been met.

Many people booed loudly and yelled angrily at her. She quickly backed down, realizing that this last-ditch effort to prevent the occupation of 19th and Telegraph had failed.

But it wasn’t the final effort!

After the vote I stood and chatted with the rest of our group. We all thanked each other and a couple of us stuck around to see what happened next. A guy came up to us with a proposal scribbled on a yellow sheet of paper proposing to occupy Oscar Grant Plaza instead. The proposal was one or maybe two sentences long. Two of the people I was talking to signed on and he submitted it as an emergency proposal.

At the time, I shrugged it off as an oddity of OO, but looking back, it pisses me off, as there’s no way we could have just showed up at the GA with a scribbled proposal and got it on the agenda. But the leaders of the leaderless really wanted to change occupation plans, so they were readily willing to bend all of their own rules.

I stuck around for a bit longer, through the next proposal, but left before the OGP occupation emergency proposal came up for a vote. I saw on Twitter later that night that the emergency proposal vote had failed. In less than 24 hours, OO would occupy the lot at 19th and Telegraph, and in less than 48 hours, OPD would force them to leave the lot.

What’s next?

I left the GA feeling pretty disheartened, thoroughly disillusioned, and a bit angry. I was not at all surprised that our proposal had failed. I think there were maybe only a few minutes mid-day on Friday when I believed that maybe it could pass. Our proposal’s failure was not the reason I was in such a bad mood.

Before Friday I had experienced the GAs from the back of the amphitheater. While I didn’t always agree with what people said or the outcomes of votes, I greatly appreciated the process (and absolutely loved the human mic). From the stage, I saw that so much of the process is for show. The leaders of the leaderless wield a huge amount of power over the process and decision-making.

But I also saw that power slipping away from them. They tried desperately to manipulate the GA into not occupying 19th and Telegraph, while simultaneously publicly railing against our proposals and us as individuals. They probably felt they had to do this because if they had just supported our proposal, they would have lost respect from many OO participants. Ultimately, their strategy failed.

I saw that many in OO saw OO as the most important thing happening in Oakland. They self-righteously seemed to feel that OO is so important that any harm they cause to Oakland residents or local businesses is well worth it. Some of them don’t seem to take the concerns of other Oakland communities into account at all. As someone who loves Oakland, our neighborhoods, and our businesses, I cannot support or even really understand that attitude.

That evening I tweeted that I was done with the current incarnation of OO. After sleeping on it (for 10 hours!), I tweeted again that I was done with participating in OO. I didn’t go to the GA last night or tonight and don’t plan to go anytime soon. I refuse to be part of a process that is manipulative or a movement that is so self-righteous that it totally neglects the concerns of the larger Oakland community.

I do not know where OO is headed. There are many distressing signs, some of which I haven’t even touched on here, but OO still holds positive possibilities. OO has brought many people together and energized Oaklanders who have participated. Some of these people are now taking autonomous actions outside of the GA. I hope this energy will continue, whether outside or inside of OO.

As for me, I’ll be watching and talking to people about their ideas for OO. But until it heads in a more positive, productive, and inclusive direction, I’ll enjoy my break from something that has thoroughly consumed me for the past month.

Previous Occupy Oakland blog posts:

28 Responses to “Seeing past the facade of equality: My experience at Friday’s Occupy Oakland General Assembly”

  1. Naomi Schiff November 21, 2011 at 11:41 pm #

    an excellent post. I experienced some similar reactions. As it is carried out here, at least, OO is run not as a democratic system, but rather a consensus system that is vulnerable to minority rule (only takes 11% to quash an initiative! worse than the Senate!), and to stacking the deck if the leadership (and there IS leadership) is disingenuous or manipulative. On Sunday, when I joined in a rather mild attempt to stave off eviction #2 at Ogawa Plaza, our loosely gathered group was accused of being crypto-quanists because some of us had interacted with Quan or worked on her campaign. But so what? If you want to get things done it makes sense to work with elected officials. Everyone who has done anything here has talked to the city councilpeople and mayors in order to put initiatives together, or at least to minimize opposition. Does that really mean that we sign on to every decision, action, bad idea, or brilliant stroke of genius that each of them has? Nope. Has OO noticed that in demonizing Quan, they may well enable the Schwarzeneggerization of Oakland, sending us into the arms of a law-and-order candidate with priorities that OO will find more onerous than what we have now?

    • liu si November 22, 2011 at 2:59 am #

      While the GA system of OO seems sorely outdated and manipulative. i am in favor of the continued formation of affinity groups and creation of a spoke council to replace the GA!!!
      regardless of whether or not you support the politics of the direct action group which calls itself Occupy Oakland, it has served to mobilize a large group of people in oakland in solidarity with the 99% and i hope you continue to support the mass actions and to also be involved in suggesting/planning some as you are obviously an effective organizer.

      • Rebecca Saltzman (aka Becks) November 22, 2011 at 8:03 am #

        Agreed. I’d love to see a spokes council or something else replace the GA, or work alongside the GA.

    • @east33rd Adam November 22, 2011 at 5:49 pm #

      Thank you, Rebecca, Naomi Schiff, and Kim Kennedy below, for cutting through the noise. As a past OO participant (now also on the fence due to recent cult-like behavior), the lack of basic community organizing intuition by those who supported the 19th/Tele debacle is shocking. It’s hard to know where to start, but a few things missing here: long-term vision, humility, common sense.

      The most well-attended GA that passes a proposal DOES NOT have license to turn a neighborhood upside-down (City Hall is an exception with big caveats). Or, you can, but Oakland will see you as the invading army that you become. All neighborhoods are not equal, but clearly a neighborhood with no obvious political importance, primarily residential (camp surrounded by apartment buildings), has a school, and — most importantly — where OO has not built strong relationships (which require time, not unsolicited block parties) … all I can say is, What the F#%$ did you expect? That locals would greet occupiers as liberators? And for “bringing them democracy” no less.

      Does that mean the GA can’t act on proposals that may negatively impact some part of Oakland? Of course not. Question is: Is there a clear net benefit? — to Oakland and to Occupy Oakland. If we are more focused on knocking down fences and making riot porn for YouTube than on building long-term relationships, doesn’t matter what your personal goals are for this movement — no one is going anywhere.

      That said, it’s encouraging to see how many people are on the right track and have been willing to take risks to get here. Looking forward to Phase 2. I think it’s time to reinstate “occupy” as a tactic among many and reconvene under the 99% banner (or something similarly inclusive) with those that are truly committed to building the mass movement that we need.

  2. Taylor November 21, 2011 at 11:57 pm #

    Your proposal didn’t pass. Such is life, such is democracy. Where you saw a conspiracy, I saw facilitators trying to bridge the gap between what the formal process allowed and what the majority of the people at the GA seemed to want. Your proposal failed because it implied that the occupyers are dangerous to children and an inconvenience that you didn’t want to deal with. I believe that you came with the best of intentions, but that’s just how it read.

    • Rebecca Saltzman (aka Becks) November 22, 2011 at 10:01 am #

      To be clear, I never wrote above or meant to imply that there was a conspiracy to kill our proposal. I believe that regardless of the behavior by the leaders of the leaderless, our proposal would have failed.

  3. JB November 22, 2011 at 12:00 am #

    Thank you for the very enlightening look at the “man behind the curtain”, as it were!

    I was opposed to the 19th & Telegraph camp – mainly because I think that camp locations (if OO even continues with them) ought to have some sort of symbolic value, and that one didn’t. I was also impressed when I read your blog post (prior to the vote on the proposal) about the impending development of the sculpture garden. So I arrived at the GA prepared to vote in favor of the proposal (or at least open-minded about doing so). However, I have to say, I had to struggle with my visceral reaction to the way the OSA supporters came across. I was expecting the proposal proponents to talk about the long struggle that activists had made to get the city to go forward with the sculpture garden: an argument that I (perhaps naively) thought would resonate well with OO people who also feel themselves to be battling an unresponsive city bureaucracy. Instead, however, I heard a lot of people making comments that sounded (not in direct words, but in tone) more like “You people are filthy and gross, and we don’t want our children to be traumatized by seeing you.” One of the teachers even read a statement written by one of her students who called the OOers “stupid”. It just felt *so* disdainful and superior, I wanted to vote against the proposal just to be contrary. In the end, I voted with my head and not my gut (and thus voted in favor of the proposal), but I had a bad taste in my mouth about it. (Bear in mind, this was just my subjective reaction, but I say this as someone who wasn’t starting out as hostile.)

    From reading this post, it now strikes me that a great deal of the poisoned atmosphere came from the GA facilitators. This seems consistent with other things I have observed over the past week or so. I’m especially disheartened by the refusal of the GA to pass even watered-down anti-violence/vandalism proposals: I’m willing to participate in actions of civil disobedience and even face police violence for doing so, but I’m *not* willing to be used as an involuntary human shield for people who want to smash windows or start dumpster fires and then run away to leave *me* facing the police response.

    I’m not ready to give up on the Occupy Movement overall, and I’ll probably still participate in selected OO events, but I may be shifting most of my support to the Occupy groups in other cities, at least until I know where things stand at OO. For now, I’m taking a wait-and-see approach.

    • Rebecca Saltzman (aka Becks) November 22, 2011 at 10:06 am #

      Thanks for your comment. There was a LOT more I wanted to write in this blog post, but at some point I cut myself off because it was so long and I felt the need to share this story in a timely fashion.

      One of the parts I left out is that I wish I had organized a couple of people to speak about the planned arts space. That was a mistake I made, in the craziness of trying to get the proposal on the agenda and spreading the word about it in such a short period of time.

      Also, the initial plan was for me to say half of our conclusion on stage and to talk about how the occupation could endanger the art space that we had worked so hard for. But once the manipulation started and it became clear our proposal wasn’t going to pass anyway, I decided not to speak. There was no point. Maybe it would have swayed a few people, but the exact vote count didn’t matter much to me.

    • kateschatz (@kateschatz) November 23, 2011 at 10:53 am #

      Just to clarify: My student called the decision to relocate to 19th + Telegraph ‘stupid’, not the people themselves. That student is particular is from W Oakland and was especially concerned about heightened police presence b/c of Occupy. Whether that’s true/not true is beside the point—those were her thoughts and she asked me to read them. Like many, I see how I could’ve done things differently in retrospect—but I told my students I’d read their statements as written, and by the time I got up there to speak I’d spent 15 min in line listening to ppl around me saying incredibly hostile/mean/inappropriate things about the proposal, the people who wrote it, the students and parents, etc, and I was, quite honestly, too rattled to talk about tactics + strategy, as I’d planned. Whatever. It’s a moot point now, but I did want to clarify my student’s language. Even if people thought that was a lame thing for me to do, I think it matters, because I think their voices and thoughts matter.

      • JB November 24, 2011 at 1:40 am #

        Thanks for the clarification. I had remembered the wording differently (as something more along the lines of “the people who decided this must be stupid”), but I’m happy to be corrected.

  4. phil tagami November 22, 2011 at 12:02 am #

    You participated. You respected the OO process as established and had significant support at 57% though not the 90% you sought. Some you know are angry for your participation with OO in any way for its impact on our city, some are proud, others will reserve opinion and continue to dwell in the shadows .

    Ultimately, you made a choice to participate and the choice to leave based on your own moral compass, values, and principles…free will. We do live in a country, state, and city that has established rule of law and process…some are protesting in a manner that respects the rights of others and some who choose to discard any civility and brake with any rule of law as it does not suit there current view, frustration, or agenda.

    The laws we live under are built on trust, and many feel that trust has been broken on both sides of the argument. As challanging as this may be, laws keep order and minimize chaos. We have been trying to navigate these questions for thousands of years. I am quite certain you will find perspective, tolerance, and better understanding from your experiance. Thanks for taking the time to share it.

  5. 2loveitis2liveit November 22, 2011 at 12:12 am #

    Thanks for sharing your experience.

  6. David Charles November 22, 2011 at 1:04 am #

    The proposal to occupy at 19th & Telegraph passed overwhelmingly with over 90% – I’m not sure how that is not “positive, productive, and inclusive.” Remember, just because consensus goes against your point of view does not mean the process is not working. The consensus process has, in an incredibly short time, with little to no resources and the constant threat of police violence and repression, as well as misrepresentations in the media and attacks from those who should be allies, the first general strike in the US since 1946, a mass unity rally with unions and teachers, the safe and nonviolent (re)occupation of public space, worldwide attention and support, inspired movements like OccupyCal and UC Davis, and continues to grow – tonight occupying a foreclosed property. GIven that local businesses near OGP have reported increased business, I’m not sure what you mean when you makes claims about “harm they cause to Oakland residents or local businesses”. Our focus should be on the cops and the 1%, not the fact that others within the movement, who have been busting their asses since before the first tent went up at OGP to organize and invent a new movement from the ground up, didn’t all fully support your attempt to rescind something passed by 90% of the collective movement.

    • Kim Kennedy (@kim_kennedy) November 22, 2011 at 9:05 am #

      The proposal to occupy was passed by 90% of how many? The GA that night was a few hundred, I believe.

      The proposal not to occupy was not passed, but was supported by over 50% of those present at that GA. It was another very small group.

      The numbers are confusing, and regardless of the few hundred who pass or don’t pass the proposals, Occupy needs to remember that those few hundred are less than 1% of the Oakland community, and the community voice as well as the voice of the 99% should be heard. Whether or not they are “busting their butts” for your movement and whether or not they always agree with the tactics of Occupy. In discouraging “dissenters” like the OSA students, parents, and teachers from speaking up, or ignoring (or heckling) when they do, Occupy loses touch with the community.

      It is shamefully misleading to claim that the move to occupy at 19th and Telegraph was passed by 90% “of the collective movement” – unless you mean to say that the movement is only a few hundred strong. It was passed by 90% of the GA attendees that night, a group who sadly seem to be less and less representative of the movement and the community.

  7. Robin (@robinhardwick) November 22, 2011 at 7:20 am #

    Thanks for sharing your story. I have mostly been following OO through twitter. Whereas twitter has been a useful tool for immediate news, it does not allow for further explanation or emotional reactions or much discussion. I think this post will help provide a deeper understanding.

  8. Molly November 22, 2011 at 7:30 am #

    I really appreciate your perspective here, and thank you for sharing it in such a vivid way. It brings to mind the question of whether or not this kind of deterioration you describe would have happened had the police and other authorities not intervened in such an aggressive and chronic way to disassemble something that was working so well. And, what elements in OO are different from OWS, where they seem to still be continuing to generate innovative and inclusive actions?

    • Rebecca Saltzman (aka Becks) November 22, 2011 at 10:11 am #

      I think these are very good questions to ask. I was not as involved in OO before the first police raid, but from what I’ve heard, things rapidly became more tense after it (understandably).

      From what I’ve heard around the country, it sounds like all of the occupations are somewhat different. They all face challenges and some have been more successful than others.

  9. Matt Gough November 22, 2011 at 9:09 am #

    I would love someone to explain to us who have to follow and contribute from afar just how this leadership (facilitators or sny decision making position) has been chosen. By popular vote? Beware of those who gravitate towards positions of power and especially of those who feel they rightfully deserve it and grasp it. These are the people who believe in power more than principles.

    • Rebecca Saltzman (aka Becks) November 22, 2011 at 10:12 am #

      I use the phrase “leaders of the leaderless” because Occupy Oakland (and I believe all the rest of the occupations around the world) purport to have no leaders. They claim that everyone at a GA is equal.

      So the leaders are self-appointed and have to struggle to maintain their positions of leadership, since those positions aren’t formally recognized.

  10. John Gatewood November 22, 2011 at 11:26 am #

    This saga reminds me of a quote from George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” – “Some pigs are more equal than others.”

  11. Lindsey November 22, 2011 at 11:41 am #

    I am new to the facilitation committee and looking for ideas regarding a proposal to amend the process. It is clear to me that the folks in the committee are working at capacity and people are loosing trust in the committee. From what I’ve seen, folks in the committee are operating under alot of pressure, and I believe that they are doing their damnedest and have good intentions. I believe deeply in consensus process and I think it’s one of the most important parts of the OWS movement. I’ve been paying attention to the many critiques, and am trying to synthesize them into something workable.

    What are one or two concrete things you would like to see changed about the GA process? Here are some ideas I’m working with:

    – Change the GA schedule so that meetings happen Monday nights, Wedsneday nights, and Saturday afternoons.
    – Institute a progressive stack, where voices of people from marginalized groups are represented
    – Rotate facilitation more often (not sure of the mechanism for this)
    – Make the Facilitation Committee meetings shorter and more accessible to people, while still somehow getting all the work done (again, need a mechanism here)
    – Have Facilitation Committee give up it’s ability to amend the process, and pass that responsibility to the GA
    – Lower the threshold for proposals to enter the amendment process (currently 70%)

    I personally am not in favor of a spokes council, though I’d be interested in a discussion about it. I
    What do yall think?

    • Rebecca Saltzman (aka Becks) November 22, 2011 at 11:45 am #

      Great ideas Lindsey! I agree that the folks on the committee seem to mean well (from my limited experience).

      I hope you bring some of these ideas forward in a proposal.

  12. Michael November 22, 2011 at 2:44 pm #

    When the first Occupy protests burst onto the scene a few weeks ago, I think there was a lot of excitement and enthusiasm among progressives that we might finally have a movement to not only address the years of raping and pillaging by the rich in the country, but also to counteract the destructive and successful Tea Party movement. There was a sense, I think, that we might be on to something BIG, a realization of some of the hopes that embodied the Obama support, but which never came to pass.

    Alas, it seems, we are no further along than we were a few weeks ago. Yes, there has been tremendous consciousness-raising, and there is an energy around the issues. But I am seeing my progressive and liberal friends and colleagues turn their attention away from OWS as it becomes little more than a sometimes entertaining sideshow, and at worst, an embarrassment. It’s depressing, frankly.

    This perspective may be skewed because I live in Oakland (25 years now), and I’ve been watching much of the Occupy movement through an #oo lens. What I see as an observer is a local movement that has been co-opted by hard core local activists whose only goal seems to be to perpetuate a childish cat-and-mouse game with authorities. Worse still, the attitude of some of the occupiers is self-righteous, rude and non-inclusive. I could cite countless examples from my Twitter stream, but regular observers know exactly what I’m talking about.

    I read this in a recent Rolling Stone article: “Occupy Wall Street was always about something much bigger than a movement against big banks and modern finance. It’s about providing a forum for people to show how tired they are not just of Wall Street, but everything. This is a visceral, impassioned, deep-seated rejection of the entire direction of our society, a refusal to take even one more step forward into the shallow commercial abyss of phoniness, short-term calculation, withered idealism and intellectual bankruptcy that American mass society has become. If there is such a thing as going on strike from one’s own culture, this is it. And by being so broad in scope and so elemental in its motivation, it’s flown over the heads of many on both the right and the left.”

    Well, no, sorry. That’s not good enough. In case no one noticed, many of us long ago realized that screaming and yelling and lamenting the state of the system is not enough. We want real substantive change now. If the Right can have it, why can’t we? And setting up tent cities ain’t gonna do it. Why is the vision so narrow and small? The problems that confront us are national and global in scale, and yet the occupier response is so ultimately timid and insignificant.

    Imagine if all the energy spent on setting up tent cities was channeled into a national organization that coalesced around a few strong messages, set up a network of virtual phone banks that marshaled the support of progressives and liberals to demand change in Washington and elsewhere. Imagine the reaction if millions upon millions of phone calls flooded into our power centers and demanded change. Imagine if the movement let real leaders emerge and infiltrated our sometimes corrupt political system and brought real change. Hell, I’d settle for a kick-ass march on Washington at this point. It could actually happen. We saw it happen with the other side. And yet when our chance came to respond in kind, we didn’t seize it.

    I know my comments will be dismissed by local occupiers because their views are so radical that they would never consider changing the system itself; to them the system is corrupt and needs to be dismantled. Part of me even wonders if, deep down, they prefer the system as-is so that can always have something to petulantly fight against. I hope not. The rest of us, though, are hungry for real, meaningful, achievable change.

    • Livegreen November 23, 2011 at 2:13 pm #

      Well stated Michael. Besides this is zapping City resources in ways many don’t grasp.

      But to your point about meaningful action: OWS & OO need to focus or they’re simply going to lose it all (to our disappointment). The focus I would recommend is “Divestiture from Wall Street”.

      For cash flow this means using the 2 Community Banks Oakland already has & the City knows. For investment accounts, this means Socially Responsible Investment Bankers.

      For City Contracts & RFP’s this means not just local, but local double & triple bottom line companies.

      Practical, real steps that can be started & have impact. NOW.

  13. November 22, 2011 at 7:35 pm #

    I agree with Lindsey’s comments above. And I agree that the process of the GA needs work. But I hope that you, and others who state here and elsewhere they have opted out of #OO will reconsider and join me (and others) who are trying to help. Although I also considered opting out due to my disappointment over the vandalism during the Nov 2 strike, a friend challenged me to stay involved. She reminded me that the movement needs voices and energy to go in a positive direction. This movement has captured our attention and inspired hope. Now it is up to us (those who for whatever reason would never be part of the camping phase) to help grow it and guide it by bringing our vision and creativity to the table, so our hopes can be realized.

    As many correctly point out, the number of people attending most GA’s on any given night is a small minority of people who support the goals of #OWS and #OO. There are also concerns that the core group attending the #OO GA’s may be out of touch, overly focused on tents or tactics, and that the facilitation team is not up to the job.

    I also recently joined the facilitation team. I am now working on a subcommittee about process. I can say that in my experience the facilitation team is well intentioned, and is also well aware of problems with the process. The team really wants to be responsive, but is currently overwhelmed just trying to respond to criticism (constructive or not.) The team doesn’t have the capacity to create the changes that we all know are needed as quickly as they we would like. Volunteers are currently stretched to the limit, and need help. I invite others to join in the conversion. The facilitation team meets every day of a GA (M, W, F, Sun) at noon, under the Oak Trees.

    I invite each person to look into his or her own heart and consider how you will feel if the opportunity offered by this movement passes and the movement dies? Some brave young people have taken the first step by camping out and by doing so, have changed the national conversation. That is huge. Now they need others to carry the movement forward. Who will help? To paraphrase JFK, I would invite each person to consider not what OWS/OO can do for us, but what we can do to help OO/OWS, and the worldwide Occupy movement realize it’s potential to bring about fundamental social and economic change in the US and the world?

  14. draketalkoakland November 23, 2011 at 7:38 am #

    It appears many of us have similar concerns and critiques of OO. Also of interest to me was that Rebecca and I, and many others from different generational perspectives, have been caught up in OO obsession as a movement that represents so much hope and energy. Many of us are also active Oaklanders and so must pull back from OO in order to continue our day-to-day work in various organizations that are working more slowly for change.
    So I think that the strength of the movement is not in the GA’s, which I think are unsustainable and offer too many chances for what one of my friends calls “stealth leadership”, but in the energy given to all the other actions & policy demands that on-going groups will draw individuals and energy from.
    The question of the effects on business is a difficult one. I was inclined not to believe some of the early generalizations and asked around myself. The answers were a mixed bag, but it has become more apparent that small businesses especially are worried about the long term effects of a destabilized downtown and that has to be taken seriously.

  15. Stax November 27, 2011 at 8:06 pm #

    The 90% approval rule = tyranny of the minority. The 99% is governed by the 10.1%. How ironic.

  16. James December 5, 2011 at 7:55 am #

    From the beginning, the OWS movement reminded me of the anti- war protest during the Vietnam Era. My wife and I were living in England while I was in the Air Force and watched a number of protests which turned violent in the UK and in Italy.

    We also watched a small group of people manipulate the foot soldiers, many of whom had only a vague concept of the issues. For example, some attended protests to meet members of the opposite sex.The BBC interviewed about ten leaders of the 1968 Chicago protest during the Democratic National Convention. They said they wanted to goad the police into turning violent, because it would turn the protesters into martyrs and win public approval. Unfortunately, they neglected to share the plan with most of the protesters. I see the same problem with stealth leaders in this movement.

    We attended several Tea Party protests in the beginning. They had a clear, simple message, they gathered, and left after cleaning their trash. This resonated better with people, especially those who had businesses or had to travel near the protest sites. A group of nearly leaderless people establishing semi-permanent camps was bad strategy. They caused problems for locals, and news footage of apparent squatters being dragged from parks did not help the majority of Americans identify with the movement.

    Its a pity the Tea Party and OWS couldn’t use their common concerns to meet in the middle and join forces.

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