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...

Friday, May 25, 2012

Sustainable Occupy

This is a project that the think tank will be undertaking and that I will be a big part of.

Sustainable Occupy Research Project Concept Draft

The Occupy Wall St. Think Tank will be undertaking an in-depth research and solution oriented study aimed at compiling, assessing, and creating sustainable models for the Occupy movement to work with moving forward. In its initial stages Occupy was an amazing systemic critique and protest of the current socio-economic climate via both dialog and message and through a prefigurative social apparatus diagramming another way of organizing social interaction. However, upon losing Liberty park the movement was forced into transition and to undergo change on many levels. Throughout the initial stages of the occupation, numerous individuals came to the park and were afforded the ability to sustain their lives through the community there while working towards the movement’s and their own activist goals. Since the eviction of the park, many people have been forced to scramble independently for their own livelihoods, leaving their capacity to engage within the Occupy movement more tenuous. There are a tremendous number of people that have “fallen off the edges” as they had to get jobs, moved back out of the city, or simply have not been able to handle the lack of cohesion and/or transitional nature of the movement’s current situation. We need to not only find a way to bring these people back, but to generate a sustainable pathway forward for the people willing to become full time activists. This would allow the movement itself to stably maintain and promote itself and also be more coherent and welcoming to new individuals and groups.

Obviously, the need for a public space and a nostalgia for the consistent visible protest has been evident through the numerous, yet often ill conceived, attempts at reoccupation since the original eviction. I think most people within the movement are interested in consistency, a stable work space, as well as a location from which to expand the movement as it moves forward. How this is to be done though is the key question. Yes, there has been talk of this from the very beginning of the occupation. There are countless groups and individuals that have spent a great deal of time trying to find spaces/buildings, create revenue, get donations, feed and house individuals, etc. But they are not still working directly on this to my knowledge. The movement turned to more single day actions, organizing individuals, and focusing on singular issues since the turn of the year. We are planning good direct actions, yet to me, there is not enough work on outreach/base building and on creating a sustainable future. I am certain that this is not due to lack of will, but lack of time and stability for those deeply involved in the movement.

What we are proposing right now is to bring together a group of people to create a researc project that will lead to an exhaustible investigation and understanding of the context, factors, and history of the options available to move forward with The outcome would then be possible comprehensive suggestions at ways forward for both the movement and everyone invovled. What the think tank hopes to achieve in methodology and practice is a synthesis of Occupy styled horizontality and open mindedness, and social science research methodology. But this will be solution driven as opposed to simply research. We will be creating sustainable ways forward for the movement and its individuals. What these will be we do not yet know, nor is this about testing hypothesis or existing models through research. It is about finding several possible solutions amidst the sea of ideas, opinions, and solutions that people have previously come to the table with and/or exist in the world (from Brazil’s landless movement, to coops in park slope). We plan to bring together one large network of individuals and ideas and focus them on answer the very specific question: How does Occupy create a sustainable way forward that allows it to meet its activist’s basic needs, allows for the expansion and dissemination of its ideas and messages, and establishes exemplary and prefigurative models of social engagement while stably existing throughout the transitional process of change as society transforms to a more idealic social composition (or while simultaneously providing a relatively stable transitional process for itself as society transforms to a more idealic social composition, or…). This question would be the first thing to be addressed by the research unit. What does it mean to move forward and what is the question we need to answer.

For illustration purposes only, I will sketch a possible scenario, but I would advise anyone reading this to look beyond the illustration and to the questions that they are trying to address: We live in a capitalist world were certain parameters are necessary for stable involvement WITHIN the system. Housing, food, interaction and communication, all require things to obtain them – relationships, money, jobs, etc. We need to find an alternative way to structure our lives, while at the same time engaging with the old way enough to transition to something new. Inhabiting the gray areas. The research needs to be open, allowing every possible option on the table, and to methodically dismiss and add things through our principled research.

Sample concept:
Imagine if ten years from now Occupy controlled an old hotel structure in Brooklyn that it had fixed up, and was housing several hundred individuals, office and meeting spaces, and allowed itself the ability to sustain and feed both the facility and its people. That the location was a local hub in a national and global network of prefigurative Occupy principled entities that supported both the facility and the larger network through multiple ways such as revenue generation and also showed the general public a different way of producing goods and interacting with the economy. This network would be made up of many different hubs and entities bringing in revenue streams ranging from fundraising to guild-like entities to hybrid styled non-profit companies to perhaps something new. The housing situation would be cooperative and communal in some way shape or form and allocated and maintained by horizontal principles. The entire facility would function as a launching point for the movement’s ideas, work, messaging, etc.

Sample revenue generating entity:
Perhaps “Choccupy” is a full part of this network and sells chocolates and deserts (sale or donation) to the general public in a non-profit cooperative structure. It works from either the hotel structure’s industrial kitchen or from another production facility within the network. It produces chocolates and then sells them vendor and retail style throughout the city. It also maintains locations and relationships throughout the country for recipe sharing and localized production and distribution. All materials and ingredients are ethically sourced, as local as possible, and using principled methods akin to Occupy’s values such as GMO free, non-expropriative labor practices, economically and socially just, etc. Revenue would come in either through sales or donations, and would be used to maintain itself, its facilities, and occupiers. It would be run, managed, and controlled by a cooperative styled entity made up of a number of individuals working horizontally, with all proceeds going directly back into the entity/facility and the movement and its goals. It also could be an affiliate endeavor, meaning it gives a certain amount or percentage of its proceeds to Occupy (or however it is that this arrangement is set up).

The goal would be to construct a prospective structure of autonomous affiliate entities (and locales) that met certain requirements to be a part of the network. They would work together, be horizontal, local, and work for the movement. These revenue generating entities would allow for individuals to work and to collectively show prefigurative ways of life. These entities could come in many shapes or forms based on the research and local initiative: services, retail, cofftea shops, production, agriculture, whatever. Anyway that individuals, businesses, or new entities felt they could structure society and socio-economic interaction amongst themselves, for sale for barter, for donation… Whatever could fit in the mind – a localized conglomerate cooperative fair/trade model with a horizontal leadership structure. How knows!

Sample housing entity:
Could be set up cooperatively as seen to best fit by the research and Occupy principles. There would obviously be a million questions about access, and decision making – tough questions that would get into gray areas about the movement’s inclusivity – but that would be the purpose of the research study, to thoroughly research and find multiple options that could work. The principle goal could be to find a way that say 200 people could live together in a multiple occupancy structure and wake up in the morning and get to work together. Communally spending time on maintaining the housing situation, on revenue generation, and on broadening and working for the movement. All equally shouldered by individual’s both living and not living there. How this would be done and structured would all be part of the research outcome. Just as how the space would be obtained. Squating perhaps is the first thing to come to mind, but is that viable? Wouldn’t the NYPD shut it down straight away? So a lengthy research into legal issues and structures would be order for ways to allow stability on a legal level.

While those are just a few sample concepts to stir the imagination, whatever structures and entities emerge, the purpose of them would be to provide stable spaces from which Occupy would organize and structure its messages and actions. This would allow more consistent and concerted targeting of specific issues and actions with a more transparent, inclusive, and cohesive structural point of origin. In my opinion it is only from a stable foundation that we can have the security to go to work each day and be as productive as possible in working towards changing the world – both as a prefigurative message of protest and as an information generating and disseminating awareness machine.

On the whole: there are countless issues to address and research here, many of which wouldn’t be known until the research showed them. The economics of anything of this sort would be incredibly complex. Where do you get a building from? Donation, lease, friendly lease and if so, how do you cover the costs of getting it, maintaining it? How do you start up those business like entities? They require start up funds, management expertise, planning, etc. Horizontal housing structures? We’ve tried that… how can it work? How has it worked? How is it that we could consense on the parameters of our principles? How big is that gray area that our collective principles will allow us to work within?

What we are talking about is planning to institute an entirely new socio-economic structure within the current one, under the watchful eye of capital and governmental forces bent on stopping us, within a horizontal consensus structure and movement, with little money, little time, and in our spare time. It is a HUGE undertaking that will take years and decades to see through. But this to me, is exactly what Occupy is about. This type of project would create structural alternatives for transition allowing Occupy to straddle mainstream socio-economic society and an alternative new pathway while maintaining the same activist and awareness raising work we are currently doing To find a legal way to maintain a space while creating a structure of interaction that was work-like and sustainable in a way that the general public could both respect and even desire. We could be laying the ground work for an alternative way forward while providing a stable place to do outreach, create media, do research, live, eat, etc.

And while yes, it seems daunting, sooooo much work has already been done. So many experiments and so much research has already been done both outside and inside Occupy. We just have to bring it together and find one or several practical usages and ways forward that we can contextually implement. This will again, not be easy. Most people would probably be quite reticent to give up their current lives and the “necessities” of it: individualism, ipods, cars, whatever. The process will have multiple levels and ways to allow individuals to partake in the transition (the project).

I would say this transition will take generations and require an entire new social construct. But it will be one that will have to happen through hard work on creating evolution on a revolutionary level as opposed to a singular revolt that could be seen to put something upon people as opposed to allowing them to come to it themselves. Mindsets takes generations to change collectively. We are on the right track.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012


So I've got a job!  Yes, I am going to be molding youth!  I met Saturday evening with a mother and daughter and will be working starting next Monday as a Nanny (now pushed up to tomorrow!).  It is a short term gig, 6 weeks total, but full time and for good pay.  It will really be a great way to get myself back on my feet and buy some time while I work to see what else can pan out.

It is funny too with everything.  It all comes crashing in together.  I was waiting on the Nanny idea before I got too far into the other stuff, but when I didn't hear back right away I had to make an "all eggs in one basket call" and apply for the painting position.  Wouldn't you know that I got offered the Nanny job and then within two days I got a call back from the painting company for an interview not but a few minutes after I got a call from an Occupy friend about some possible work doing organizing and/or historical research involving unions.  It comes in waterfalls!!  This last one is obviously really exciting at first glimpse, but I'll find out more on Thursday.

As for the painting, the interview ended up being canceled due to some kind of an "emergency".  But they said they'd get back in touch with me.  Maybe they googled me and found out I was a dirty hippie that lives in parks!!  Haha!!  I haven't heard back for two days now...  As it is though, they want me to be using my car (which I'm about to go under on), while not paying me nearly enough to live on (nevermind pay for gas and get the car fixed up for regularly use).  But this job - like most - just doesn't pay enough to sustain life.  Yes, they talked to me about advancement there and such, but we all know that painting isn't really going to be the thing that I get excited about for the future.  Full time painting houses for 10 or 12 bucks and hour?!  To live in NYC and have a car to head upstate in emergencies?  Huh!?

I think we all face this issue at times.  You have to have a job to eat, to live.  But then what?  What if the job itself isn't enough to live and eat?  If I need a car to do the job, but I need a better salary to keep the car to keep the job, what do I do?  Live out of the car?  Yeah, I've done that, it's not sustainable.  And while many people may think that you do what you have to do to move forward in life.  At what point does a society step back and look at itself and say, hey, we've got way too many people living in cars!  When there are so many jobs that do no pay living wages it is time to reassess things.  That is of course where I think we are of course, but just that we haven't realized on such a large scale that our lives are simply not sustainable.

So that is why I Occupy.  I hope that we can change that living situation for so many people.  That is also why I will become a nanny.  It pays well, will be enjoyable, and in this case is short term which will allow me to keep moving forward looking for other career work (and keep occupying).  I will only have till September to stay where I am.  So I have to put the pressure on here.  It would be great if the labor research opportunity would come through as something real and sustainable.  But as with all of these things, there will always be some conflict, some compromise that I will have to make to move forward.  Will it be the subject matter?  The pay?  The type of convictions within the organizations?  Who knows... but it will be interesting all the same!!  Forward we must.      

hiking (for a nominal advance on wages already earned...)

So I ended up finally getting an email out to my boss at the hiking store.  I tried to delicately explain my stance and why I should be paid.  His response was, frankly, appalling and literally sent me calling the national lawyers guild.  He didn't seem to see anything wrong with not paying me.  He had told me that I couldn't count on this job to be my main source of income, thus felt like he was covered and fine in not paying me on time.  He also questioned how he could possible pay me ahead of people that had been with him longer, and been waiting to get paid longer.  Yes, fair enough... they deserve to be paid as well!!  But what arrangement you've made with your other employees is between you and them and none of my business!  If you want to come ask me if I will do the same, fine, lets have that conversation.  The fact is though, that when you said that work would be sporadic at the store and I shouldn't count on it as my main source of income, you said I wouldn't be getting steady HOURS!!  You didn't say that when I did get hours I wouldn't be getting paid for them!  I mean, the audacity to even think, nevermind assume, that your workers would just be fine with working and not getting paid.

I waited till the next day to address it in person.  It was a struggle right from when I walked in the door though.  I saw my other coworker and the boss together.  The cold shoulder was evident from both of them.  The kind of fake smile and handshake where you are really thinking under your breath: "I hate you, you dirty bastard".  It seemed to me that my boss had obviously spoken to my colleague, sullying my name there for simply demanding to be paid for time I'd worked.  I can only picture how that story went: "tim is demanding to be paid before you!" "You've been here a year!" "The audacity!"

This is the way ownership gets us.  A political game that turns us against each other.  We are not supposed to talk about things like this, salaries, conditions, etc.  You know how this works.  We're NEVER supposed to ask other people what they make.  But why not?  Because we might all realize we are getting treated very differently?  Screwed even?  This is the heart of the idea behind collective bargaining and unionizing.  It is not so we can get extra days off a year and retire at 40.  It is so that there is communication amongst workers.  So that we will know if we are all being treated fairly.  As individuals we can be hired, fired, and taken advantage of, but as a collective group we can ask to actually get our pay, we can ask for humane working conditions, for dignity and respect in our daily tasks, and maybe even  a wage we can live on.

Yeah, frankly I don't trust this guy anymore.  I mean, I like him personally I guess.  But it is what we do that defines us, our actions, words, and how we treat people.  When I spoke to him, it was just as if he was trying to find a way to keep me on for the least outlay, with the least amount of integrity.  He agreed entirely to what I was saying bout it all, probably thinking: "yes! he's not actually going to ask for his full salary!"  I mean, he basically negotiated me out of demanding full pay for work done.  In this whole process he gets to pay me late.  Yet somehow I've accepted this.  Implicitly or not, I have agreed to getting shafted.  He also slipped in there at one point that this week he'd be paying February's wages.  This is of course what he said to me about last week as well.  But it still hasn't gone out.  But the worst thing about it all is that he doesn't realize that this is what he teaches us to say to customers about out of stock supplies and bills.  Like we don't recognize ourselves in these narratives.  Then, after all this, he then has the audacity to send an email out about a mandatory training a couple Monday's from now (yeah it'll be "paid").  Sorry bro, I'm nannying that day.  Working somewhere where I will get paid.  Your store is now at the bottom of the totem pole.  I will work for you when I can.      

There is one other thing that I want to bring up regarding this, which is pure speculation and may be completely colored by a singular and horrible experience in my past.  I mentioned that not getting paid like this happened to me once before.  That incidence was much worse.  The company owed my $29,000 in back pay, was stalling my work visa for that country, and was giving me just enough cash keep above water, but not enough to leave the country.  I was trapped and in a situation that was malicious in so many ways.  I was promised bonuses and a percentage to offset the situation, yet nothing was materializing while the owner lived it up, stealing money from the company.  I eventually got my pay back, but that's a looong story for a book!  No matter though, here I am again, with this hiking company getting screwed.

There is one thing that the two men that owned these outfits had in common: they were both long term military men (one British, one America).  The way they spoke, the calculations they seemed to take, the rationale they ultimately used, it was all so incredibly similar.  It's as if loyalty is a one way street that goes straight down the chain of command.  General to private, owner to worker.  As if hierarchy knows no bounds; resting upon its highest of peeks maintaining no moral ground from which to look down upon us from.  Neither of them seemed to stop paying their rents, their salaries, and their bills. 

But anyway, who knows if that is the case here.  All I know is that I don't have enough cash to pay a bill that's due this week and be able to eat over the next two weeks.  Yeah, I'll get some cash, but I won't get what I'm supposed to, thus my budgeting matters not.  But, I've learned something.  I've learned not to trust ownership (again) and I've learned to be wary of military ownership, especially those falling on hard times.  It also should go without saying that I've also gotten my daily fix of reiteration that our system is fundamentally flawed.  But let's just keep moving forward with that one.  One step...