Tonight at 7PM, Occupy Harrisburg had its nascent beginning and it started in true Occupy Wall Street fashion! Held at the Metropolitan Community Church of the Spirit in Harrisburg’s Uptown area, the meeting drew 125 impassioned and determined 99ers. And just like Occupy Pittsburgh, it was standing room only. Several of the local TV stations, the Patriot News newspaper and other media were present, as was Councilman Brad Koplinski from the Harrisburg City Council, Michael Fedor, director of the Central Pennsylvania Chapter of the AFL-CIO, Lorenzo Canizares, organizer for the Pennsylvania State Education Association, a 70-year old, who participated in the 1960′s anti-war movement, an attorney from the ACLU, and dozens of ordinary citizens, concerned about the greed and corruption of the 1% of this society.
The meeting was lively, but respectful, with a great amount of energy and different ideas about the point of this movement. Initially, we settled on process, using the same types of actions that the Occupy Wall Street [OWS] General Assembly [GA] uses: hands up if you agree with something, making an “X” with your arms if you strongly disagree, and, in our own innovation, a tap at the wrist to signal “time’s up, off the soapbox”! Several individuals of the Assembly put forth various local and state concerns, such as Harrisburg Mayor Linda Thompson’s less-than-stellar term in office or Governor Tom Corbett’s stubborn refusal, until now, to tax the Marcellus Shale Natural Gas drillers and even the advocacy of medical marijuana. After about a half-hour to forty minutes of discussion, the Assembly voted to hold true to Occupy Wall Street’s core beliefs and then to use local examples to highlight how the 1% influences life in and around Pennsylvania’s Capital City. There was a hearty round of applause following this initial vote, reinforcing the feeling of relief that we had settled on a uniting purpose and not succumbing to the urge to highlight specific grievances or issues and risk division. It was also a beautiful display of direct democracy, very much in the tradition of the ancient Greeks. My mind marveled and delighted to this modern day expression of Grecian Democracy. We were off to a GREAT start!
After a short break, we moved into the sanctuary which was previously occupied by another organization, and began the immediate process of determining what type of occupation we wanted. Several proposals put forth ranged from a weekly march, to a full-out 24/7 occupation. Additionally, the location of our event was up for debate. Included in this discussion was the desire of some to get a permit to conduct our activities, rather than just moving into a space without consent. One of the facilitators suggested that he put ‘the end of this year’ on the permit as the end-date of the event. That brought laughter in the Assembly as well as many showing of hands in agreement. The point was also made during the discussions that many activities could be done without a permit, such as walking down “Restaurant Row” on Second Street in downtown Harrisburg, handing out pamphlets and fliers to educate the restaurant-going public.
Without settling those issues, the Assembly moved to the setting up of committees. Two of which were tentatively agreed to as the Education Committee and the Support Committee. The Education Committee would be tasked with ways to educate the large number of locals who still do not understand the effect of the 1% on their lives. The Support Committee would be tasked with raising support for the OWS effort by sending sleeping bags, food and other items, as well as supporting our own effort, as the weather turns colder.
It was quickly realized that we would need another General Assembly meeting and, after debate, and again in true democratic fashion, it was decided that we would meet again this Sunday afternoon at 4 PM at the Midtown Scholar Bookstore [tentatively]. We also requested a tentative agenda be drawn up so that we could be sure to make good progress towards our first event/occupation/march. The two main goals of the next GA meeting were to determine what type of event to support, such an occupation, march, rally, etc. and where to do this. It was suggested by one GA participant that private property, where permission may be obtained, could actually work better than obtaining a permit to occupy or march on a public space in the City. There was also a brief discussion about the police and what was going to happen if it “turned ugly”. Central Pennsylvania is full of cautious, conservative people and even the progressives tend to avoid confrontations with the police. But Mike Fedor said that he was willing to be arrested and when he was released he’d be right back out on the streets. That sentiment was certainly supported by many in the GA, despite the area’s cautious approach to this event.
The GA was also informed that Occupy Harrisburg has a website [http://occupyharrisburg.org/] which is very new and is in development, and that the email is email@example.com and finally that this Assembly has a Twitter account at #OccupyHarrisburg. Further, the Facebook page will be used to alert the public to the ongoing activities of the Assembly and that a listserve will be used to assist those not on Facebook.
For myself, I emerged from this meeting more hopeful than I have been in quite some time and it was so refreshing to see real participatory democracy in action. As has been said before, it is a beautiful thing! I also learned that one of my friends that came to tonight meeting was also inspired by Occupy Wall Street. She is a former anarchist and is now a married mother of two! All of us emerged as energized and more determined than ever to highlight the role of the 1% in this society.
We are the 99%!!