What started as an awareness raising and ethnographic styled walk through Sierra Leone, this site now details the encounters of a not so academic academic who spends more time occupying Wall Street and squats than a university...

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Sustaining an Occupation

So as you may have noticed for an Occupier this blog is decidedly not so much about Occupy events and outings as one would expect thus far.  This is because of the ever increasing realities of an occupier's life.  It is not about sitting in a park and simply shouting at cops or marching through the streets while the kitchen group gives you free food.  It is about sitting through meeting after meeting, reading over a hundred emails a day from any multiple number of people and working groups, and most importantly in trying to find a way to sustain the occupation within you.

This wasn't such a stress at the outset.  When I first got down to the park, I had been setting aside money for the trip/work in Africa written about earlier in this blog.  I had projects set up and ready to go and had been slowly saving money for them.  When the occupation started I went all in and used that money.  It bothered me a bit, but ultimately the occupation and any true socio-economic and political change that would happen as a result would have a tremendously positive effect on the areas of the world being expropriated by our system of exploitation abroad.  Hence, Sierra Leone without having structural adjustment programs and private corporate interests raping their land and resources for a quick profit (to very little local benefit) seemed like a good cause.  So I used that money to live off of while I was in Manhattan.  I was lucky to have this.

When I first went down to Zuccotti park (liberty plaza) it wasn't as difficult either.  There was nothing I needed to spend money on.  There was this amazing community of people all working together.  There was a safe enough place to sleep (Yeah, it was outside, but I had my sleeping bag and camping gear from my Africa trip and life).  We had sanitation, we had the kitchen, comfort (for a jacket or toothbrush), there was medical, meditation, whatever.  There was nothing that I/we needed or wanted really (other than a complete and total reassessment of the way we as a society lived our lives!).  The library, teach-ins, the think tank, we had it all..

Now truth be told, I wasn't eating enough and was running all over the place, but sustainable can be different at different times in one's life!  In general, the food situation was great at first, but then there became less and less, and the situation more and more tenuous.  There had been a time when the entirety of Manhattan's soup kitchen community was sending their people down to liberty plaza when they didn't have enough food or at times they weren't open.  We were feeding over a thousand people a day, and sometimes at each meal!

Food however, slowly went from being available all day in some capacity (usually however it was donated/when) to being cut down to designated servings usually in two hour blocks.  This certainly made it tough if you were facilitating the think tank from 12-6 every day and couldn't wait in line, or there was no food being served when you could wait.  The kitchen group was great though, they worked around it all and helped working groups in this situation out, delivering a few plates when they could or even a whole box of pizza at a time.  All told though, I lost a lot of weight during the original months of the occupation as a lot of people did.  It topped out for me at about 20 pounds (9 kilos) at  its height (I've since gained a little back though).  But so be it, I was carrying more weight than I needed anyway!  

Anyway, point is, that while it was getting tougher, things were still manageable.  I was spending a lot of nights outside of the park at this point as well, and also still working some upstate/eating up there, sleeping in my car, whatever.  But then the park was raided.  The NYMD (New York Military Department) destroyed virtually everything: 4500 of the library's 5500 books, computers, the entire kitchen, all of the think tank's stuff and much of the data we'd been collecting on what people wanted out of the movement.  After this, there was no place to go; no home, and food was much tougher to come by as there was no longer three meals a day, only whatever you could get your hands on when you were down at the park and/or the kitchen delivered food.  It was a lot of cold beans!  All of a sudden, sustainability was a huge question for everyone. 

I was really lucky in all of this though.  I had gotten to know some really great people and was connected with a family that invited me to stay in a room in their their basement.  There were some catches as other people used the room for work things during the day and I didn't want to be too far in their way in terms of the kitchen.  So things got much more expensive as I had to eat out a lot more.  And they live in Greenwich Village, where eating out is a practice in financial humility.  I found one place to get Pho (Vietnamese soup) for under 10 bucks and ate there a lot.  But hey, who cares!!  I didn't have to pay rent and with a little money in the bank I was living A LOT better than A LOT of people.  But still, time adds up with time while money does not.  The room and the savings went a very long way, but it has been over six months now and the money ran out long ago.

So this is the reality of the occupation.  Individual's are not funded as best as I can see (though Ben and Jerry of ice cream fame have tried to interject there financial will upon us in quite negative manner I might add, and much like a structural adjustment program!).  People as a result of the lack of means are falling off to the side or minimizing their time at Occupy due to the strict human needs of food and shelter (and who's effects are magnified by capitalist exploitation).  We all need to eat, and most are not used to being homeless and sleeping "rough" - especially on a cold night in NY.

So here we are an occupation that no longer gets donations (which it had difficulty allocating through its processes anyway) and no longer has a designated place to live and eat for its members.  We must find ways of supporting ourselves, as it is within these confines that the occupation is struggling.  While we are all horizontally living in our hearts, we are all living individually in our day-to-day realities.  My food is my responsibility, your roof is yours, her income her's.  This is weighing very heavily on many people including myself, and it feels very heavy in a down economy where jobs in general are very tough to come by, nevermind jobs one is actually qualified for and stimulated by. 

So that is my point of departure with my job.  I have to have it to support my occupation, even while it so profoundly detracts from my occupation.  I work evenings.  I miss all the meetings it seems worth being at.  I am constantly stressed about whether I'll have my job by the end of the week, and wasting time thinking about minute details of telephone calls.  For 5 plus hours a day I am treading water, not really moving forward much in terms of personal or occupational growth.  But that is the way things are right now for the occupation.  There is a tremendous amount going on.  The working groups are doing countless things and making countless things happen at each and every corner, but we have lost a lot of people - not in heart - but in time and commitment.

I've been talking to a lot of people about this and we've been thinking about ways to make the movement more sustainable, but it is tough.  It will take a great deal of planning and fine tuning to get a proposal together that could be acceptable and within the principles of the Occupy movement.  But it is the essence of where we need to be right now though.  While the "movement" being sustainable is a given at this point, we need to be able to sustain the daily lives of individuals within it - while maximizing their and our power and/or capacity to work for the movement.

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