Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Takin' It To the Streets

Note: Regarding the Anarchy symbol on the illustration above. A lot of people are made very uncomfortable by that symbol and where I am, there have been several requests for it to be removed, because it discomforts so many people. From my perspective, however, we have to realize that Anarchists created OccupyWallStreet and they created the space for this movement to flourish. They are deeply -- and very generously -- involved in many Occupations to this day. They did something truly peaceful and truly revolutionary, and rather than fearing them, we should be grateful to them. WE don't need to fear Anarchists. They have given us a priceless gift for which I thank them.

I decided to check the Livestream out of Austin last night after I got back from the Council session and had gotten through the cyber-backups of info that are proliferating in the inboxes on my computers.

The long post yesterday touched on many of the operational issues I witnessed being worked on in during the Livestream of their Tuesday GA and one of the Working Group meetings that night. It had been a very tense and hostile atmosphere that led ultimately to one of the volunteer moderators to quit. Which was probably the best thing he could have done given the levels of hostility that his moderation had been raising in the group.

When I checked in last night, the GA was over, and some of the Occupation members were on the streets of Austin, really quite giddy about how well things had gone and what they were going to be doing for the next couple of hours or so. The Livestream camera man was going with them to livecast and document what happened.

They had decided to go out into the streets and attempt to interview Austonians (or whatever they call themselves) about what they knew -- or didn't know -- about the Occupation phenomenon, including OccupyAustin, and ask them about the issues which have become so important in the Occupation Movement.

I thought it was brilliant. I hope they can get a recording of what happened online so that others may enjoy the festivities.

They walked from the City Hall to the entertainment/club district a few blocks away, giving someone like me who has never been to Austin quite a up close and personal view of portions of the downtown. It seemed kind of bleak to me until the entertainment district where there were many, many clubs and music venues and lots of mostly young people on the streets. Reminded me of Nashville -- another Music City, another capital city, and one I have been a few times.

The young men who were on this quest to interview the People in order to find out what they knew and what was important in their lives were much like the other young white men who seem to predominate -- rather overwhelmingly from what I've seen -- in the Austin Occupation; they are very sincere, very determined, very dedicated, and they seem to be full of good humor as they pursue their mission of proselytizing for the Occupation Movement... and for Ron Paul.

Well, I'll get to that.

The streets near the City Hall were deserted, and from my perspective looking through this Livestream window at Downtown Austin, things looked pretty empty, dismal and bleak. But then there was a music club on the corner, and turning down that street, there was more and more going on, until the scene became very active. Most of the people encountered on the street by the Occupation team were young and white, and many of them were obviously drunk or high. Well, what do you expect? It's the Live Music Capital of the World!

The Occupation team tried to engage some of them in conversation, but they were either too preoccupied with club hopping or they were too blitzed to be interviewed. But there were plenty of characters, some dressed and made up as zombies. It was eventually determined that they were actually doing promotion for a haunted house, but initially their appearance was taken as a comment on Wall Street (by me at any rate.)

The few people who were willing to be engaged in conversation on the street really seemed to be oblivious to the Occupation and the issues that are important to the Occupiers. To me, that was a realistic perspective. Most people, no matter who they are or where they are simply have no idea what's going on in the world outside their very narrow personal view. That's the way we all are, even when we like to pretend we're well-informed. To be well-informed may have little or nothing to do with the wider world.

Finally, however, the OccupyAustin team was able to gain a referral from a tattooed lady (no disrespect at all) who was sitting with her boyfriend outside a tattoo parlor and who said she had a friend who was working down the street who knew about the Occupation and would probably be quite willing to talk about it with the team. So they walked down the block with her and went into what looked like an alternative lifestyle variety shop, and engaged the fellow behind the counter in a fairly extended interview and conversation.

It was very interesting to say the least. Part of the introduction the Occupy team gave to the fellow behind the counter, whose name escapes me now, involved Ron Paul and his monetary theories, which just sort of caused the counterman's eyes to glaze over. On the way to the entertainment district, the Occupy team talked quite a bit about fractional reserve currency and the Fed and all that, and how they wanted to find out what other Austonians knew about it, and to help educate them as well.

They tried it on the fellow in the shop, and he clearly wasn't interested. Instead, he wanted to focus on local issues and the mess the economy was making of people's lives. But he started out by saying he had some real issues with the scope and the power of the Federal government because of what had happened to his own family. He said they had bought and were operating a farm in Tennessee, 14 acres with a nice house, and the TVA came around and took it in order to flood the valley for electricity production. It was not clear exactly when this happened, but I got the impression it was when this man's father was a boy, which I would guess was in the 1950's. He said the TVA paid his family only about a third of what they had paid for the farm and told them, "Bye bye." Which was how he wound up in Austin. He was bitter about it. He was bitter about the fact that he was working in such a low paying job and had to work long hours just to cover the basic expenses of living, and he could not get ahead. There was no way. Unemployment was so high, and there wasn't close to enough work available to employ all those out of work let alone provide opportunities for those who wanted careers.

He had problems with a lot of local issues too, one of them being the cost of parking in that area of Austin. It cost him so much to park downtown, he was spending more to feed the meters than on gas to get to work, and all of it was too expensive for someone who wasn't making a lot of money. He also had problems with the number of crack-heads on the streets and the number of clearly mentally ill homeless who were wandering around. It just wasn't right. He explained that he knew there was a state mental hospital in Austin, and what would happen is that so many people would be referred there for treatment or brought there for observation or treatment by the sheriffs, only to find out there were no beds available, so these people would just be dumped on the street. That was wrong. He was quite angry about a lot of things that were going on.

To my way of looking at it, his point of view was pretty right wing. He was not at all confident that the government at any level would recognize let alone take care of any of the problems or issues he was concerned with, and after seeing the way the local government worked or the state government or the federal government for that matter, it just seemed like a waste of time to even bother with them. He seemed to have a pretty rigid, authoritarian mindset, and he wasn't particularly interested in the issues or problems of other people, nor did he seem to recognize the connections between his personal issues and those of others, but I wouldn't say he was lacking in empathy at all. His concern for others was not absent, it was focused on how others' problems affected him directly. He just wanted to have his say which he clearly thought he never really had the chance to do. He was not interested in politics as such, but he was interested in trying to find or have a better life. There was no way forward under the current system.

He was invited to attend the Occupation at City Hall, and he said he wanted to but he couldn't because he had to work so much lately, but he saw that maybe next week he could. And pretty much that was the end of the conversation/interview.

It was really illuminating. And I would recommend that Livestreamers with Occupations try to do this sort of spontaneous and unfiltered interview as much as they can. There are some really outstanding videos being produced by Occupations (see the one below from OccupySacramento) that feature these kinds of interviews, but the spontaneous, raw interview has an immediacy and power that the slickly produced ones don't. One of the major issues that all the Occupations are trying to address is the People's Voice has been stifled. The Occupations are providing a way for the People to speak and be heard.

I would also strongly recommend that Occupations make clear that the promotion of particular political candidates or platforms is not appropriate in the context of the Occupation. The issues are still being identified. Candidates and platforms actually can interfere with that process. Support your preferred political party or candidate all you want, but the Occupation has other objectives.


A recording of the Austin GA from Tuesday is now online if anyone wants to watch. Ooots, that's not the one. Still waiting.

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