When I hear the mayor of Los Angeles, just this afternoon, commending and congratulating his navy blue soldiers, I realize their tactic; and again implore those able to step forward to help us solve these problems before it is too late.
Some of the very first things I had brought to Occupy Boston, besides books, was the need to come up with some kind of fire prevention, health, and public safety plan; something which could be easily absorbed and understood by all. It is my opinion that the single most important thing any occupation could focus on is public health and safety, as well as fire prevention and preparedness.
This task is and has been proving to be above my individual capacity, and I will speak frankly about my attempts to do so following, but not before noting that I speak for myself and my experience within Occupy Boston, and will not attempt to speculate on other occupations efforts, only on concerns made public.
On my first night in Dewey I realized the real flaw of the Occupy Boston site, when my door was flung open in the pouring rain by a man in a neon green vest, smelling of alcohol as he ushered in a few rain drenched, also alcohol breathed strangers.
“What is going on?” I asked, immediately as I woke.
“Safety” the man barked with a rough voice, continuing, “these people need to sleep in here.”
“This isn’t a sleeping tent. It is going to be the library in the morning.”
“Well, they are staying in here tonight.” he said, with finality. The problem was that those compassionate intelligent individuals who waxed philosophic joined working groups that served their interests, and not ones which best served the interests of the camp, itself.
Tactical Logistics, who worked on spatial arrangement and distribution of goods broke up into two new Working Groups, safety, and logistics, which could have basically been renamed supplies and security.
The first safety team, comprised mostly of homeless boston natives, acted out autocratically,imposing their own will on the residents, sometimes using violence, while maintaining a heavy buzz. It was a joke to most, and a serious portent to others that the only real requisites one needed to be on safety were an authoritarian complex and an alcohol or substance abuse problem.
Like brought like, soon the space filled with wayward souls and the job of spatial arrangement, for a while, fell on those in safety brusque enough to stake a tent brutally close to it’s new neighbor.
I would question them during my first week on site, watching the space grow painfully closer,
“Don’t you think there will need to have emergency exits?”
“Bro. Do you think anyone cares about that shit here? one safety member replied, “Besides, bro, there ain’t no more room,and they are part of the 99%, too, bro.”
Shortly into my stay with Occupy Boston I was handed a 2way radio by a member of the safety team, saying,
“You should have this.” it stayed on from then, almost constantly.
As more and more activists were turned down at logistics for lack of space, more and more of the cities marginalized began to show up, unafraid to squat or relocate an abandoned tent; some being those who had been turned down from all the shelters, or too proud or wily to ever even try.
As the rain came, me and several others would try and explain proper tarping, and drainage techniques; usually met with derision, until we would walk away, only to come back later to “autonomously cut their tarp” to better fit the foot print of the tent, which would allow water to drain to the ground, as opposed to channel itself under the tent.
The safety team almost entirely disbanded, save one previous member of the original team, almost two weeks after I arrived, so I joined.
In doing the first few over nights, I realized how out of control the problem had gotten; incident after incident, drug deals, to severe beatings, sexual harassment claims, to public urination/deification allegations and sightings.
I began to get on stack, to ask for fire extinguishers, two way radios, new communal tents, sanity, policy, volunteers, removal of entire areas of the camp; all which would pass, or else, and more common, we would lose quorem to decide upon,…still nothing has hit the ground; with the exception of the food tent,…two weeks late, and the good neighbor agreement, widely ignored.
Along with the medics the new safety team, which has since been more formally banded,with daily meetings, something which never happened with the old crew, began to take down tents which were serious health violations, mold,drug paraphernalia, caved in, etc,..
With this came a wave of backlash which was almost as bad as the conditions the tents themselves were having on the community; accusations of racism, fascism, elitism, to the point of parody.
It took weeks for the food tent, the canary in the coal mine, so we could gauge city reaction, while the remaining 4000 out of 5 allotted to the working group tent budget remained unspent; all the while everything from “winter tents” to pallets, shelving, and literally anything besides food or clothing, were being denied by the police at the gate, without escalation of protest from outside of Dewey, in. This simply must be an effort to freeze us out.
Every day the Fire department walks through, I great them when I can, and they point out new piles of materials, tarps, fabrics, anything,…they point out how closely aligned the tents are, cigarette burns on individual tents, and kinds of manner of etc,… and I tell them I will talk to the people in the tents; which i do.
Some help, they listen and they learn, others will assert their inalienable right to do whatever they want, whenever they want.
There is a man onsite who built himself a patio out of the gravel on the road, I told him,
“every shovel full of gravel in front of your tent is a puddle in the road every one uses.”
“Oh, don’t give me that bullshit. You little faggot peckerhead nazi’s ain’t going to tell me shit.”
Later that day one of the park directors approached him with the police superintendent as well as a sergeant; echoing my concerns on their own; all three were met with similar insults as I.
The rights of the individual on site at Occupy Boston still far supersede those of the group. On two consecutive nights the right to eject an individual for violence, threats of violence, and extreme substance abuse issues was turned down at the GA; one being the same man aforementioned.
When a person is asked not to smoke in their tent, the concerned will often be met with a,
It is a more than unfortunate symptom of our current condition, people who have built up such a callous to advice, or the opinion of any other being, let alone a group; easily the embodiment, in a certain sense, of everything the movement is fighting against; this mean and vile condition, perhaps self willed, perhaps cast down from high, trickled all the way down; selfishness.
A solution? Motivation building; purpose finding; first within the self, and then within the movement; awakening individuals to the light of truth, that each of us, however hard we try and stifle it, has a voice,….
It is my proposal that most cities should have two outdoor occupations, one which is arranged intentionally, perhaps with larger living spaces so that motivated people can meet, and live together, effectively, so that they can thrive and stay on message; then, another which the city can police, while empathetic individuals with an inclination to work on some of society’s largest problems, that being substance abuse and homelessness, can step in and work directly with the problems which are currently pushed under the rug, or swept outdoors; for, if we simply allow the city to sweep up our mess, or worse, we turn those at risk of themselves back to the wilds of society, I fear, we, as a movement and philosophy, will be mortally dissatisfied.
I have yet to hear in any published language a disassociation of the 99% with the lowest rungs on the economic ladder; and I am grateful for that; while we attempt to bring down those at the top, let us not forget to bring up those at the bottom; even if it means getting dirty.