The ongoing greatest challenge for the Raleigh Occupation is our numbers. I read the Barbara Ehrenreich article that was linked in the comments of my last Diary post and wanted to comment on this section:
But the occupiers are not from all walks of life, just from those walks that slope downwards — from debt, joblessness, and foreclosure — leading eventually to pauperism and the streets. Some of the present occupiers were homeless to start with, attracted to the occupation encampments by the prospect of free food and at least temporary shelter from police harassment. Many others are drawn from the borderline-homeless “nouveau poor,” and normally encamp on friends’ couches or parents’ folding beds.
For Occupy Raleigh that is only half right at the moment. More than half of folks who occupy do it only part time. They have jobs, homes, and cars. Many of us have health insurance. Some have turned their lives upside down in an attempt to get the occupation off the ground. There is a hope that if we can grow our numbers large enough, that even if folks cannot occupy 24/7, that there will be enough people that we can do things in shifts to maintain a substantial presence. People have gone home and taken naps only to return at 3 or 4 am to help occupy during the times when we have the lowest numbers. They still end up leaving and going to work once daylight arrives. I remember one individual commenting that they had tried to spend as much time as the could over the last few days because work was taking them out of town to workshops for several days and they felt as though they were abandoning the occupation.
Many of us joined the Occupation Movement because we are bothered by the injustice we all suffer, even if it hasn’t destroyed or seriously disrupted our own lives yet. We recognize that the descent into corporate serfdom is and will end up effecting us all in serious ways, so while there is some element of self interest involved, there is also age old elements of community, justice, and compassion that drive us.
Of course we also have folks in the sort of situations that Ehrenreich describes and it is their endurance and perseverance that have allowed the occupation to continue to maintain a 24/7 presence. Those of us who leave for long periods of time to attend to our jobs, homes, friends, and families could not have maintained the occupation without them. I am 100% sure of that. We owe them, more than any others, credit for our continued presence. I have some concern that unintended hierarchical patterns will emerge from this dichotomy. I already have heard one short instance of someone wondering why some of the most vocal and active in the General Assemblies are not the ones spending entire nights at the camp. This individual is having a difficult time with personal life issues outside of the actual occupation so I am fairly certain part of the frustration was an expression of those other personal issues, but it has put me on alert to make sure unhealthy factions do not begin form. By and large everyone seems very understanding that everyone must, and is entitled to, make decisions for themselves about what time, energy, and resources they give to the occupation.
Even with this extraordinarily dedicated bunch, we need more people. We need more people to understand that coming even just for a a couple hours to stand makes a difference. It is my belief that the larger the group seems the more it will draw new recruits. If it consistently looks larger it will consistently have a better chance to draw more people. I always have to remind myself however that we only just finished our first week. If we can continue to hold out with any numbers, we give ourselves the chance for more folks to show up. And it feels like reinforcements are starting to come.
Last night we had people come from a town nearby. They were in the area because they had a class they had to take near Raleigh on Sunday. They had thought they would just sleep in their car but then it dawned on them they should visit the occupation. We greeted them warmly and by the end of a short conversation they decided to grab what they needed from their car and spend the night at the occupation. They also mentioned they had friends from their home town that were interested in the occupation and we encouraged them to send their friends our way.
Even though this Saturday’s rally did not draw the hundreds as the first did which had been heavily advertised, it still did bring new people. One consistent trend is that once people come to check us out, they return. I doubt many were the sorts to help us fill out the numbers late at night but more people at any time is great. We had soap box time and it was nice to hear some new voices, even if the stories were often tragic. Someone discussed the struggles of a single mother in regards to losing access to Medicaid when she earned less than a living wage and the kind of choices that forces between unemployment or access to health care. One person talked about being out of work since 2006. An elderly gentlemen described how he and his wife had to live on $247 to cover 6 month periods, and every 6 months they would go $16,000 further into debt.
I met one gentlemen who couldn’t stay until the GA so left some information for me to announce. He owns a woodworking shop and is going to make us signs with wooden handles that will have blank poster board stapled to them so we can make some new signs. When businesses do that sort of thing for us, we also try to make it a point to bring business their way when we hear of someone who needs their services or have needs ourselves. There are a couple of restaurants/bars/cafes that have openly said they support the occupation and allow us to use their restrooms anytime they are open. In return some of us financially capable sometimes have meetings there and buy the occasional hot sandwich or beverage.
We are getting more people coming to film short interviews of the occupiers. We have one gentlemen that comes every day and films three willing people. All he asks is that you say your name (even just first name if you want) and that you say why you are at the Occupation. He just lets you speak uninterrupted and then posts the clips unedited online at his website NC Renegade. I met a student yesterday from Elon college, about 45 minutes away, that came to video some of what’s going on. This will help spread awareness and the actual voices of the occupiers which will give those who see it a clearer picture of us.
We are also getting reinforcements that will help create better communication with the homeless community. There is a gentleman named James that is a member of The Church of the Woods, which is a group that ministers and helps the homeless and has a camp out in the woods. He knows many of the homeless that visit the occupation and has already been very helpful in speaking with a couple who have been drunk (which by the way, is the far, far minority of those who visit us). Saturday he brought a couple more of the folks from The Church of the Woods who minister to the homeless so they could see what we are about. Jame and I both hope that we can have active communication between our groups to better serve the homeless and allow for greater cooperation. Our community service working group has already been considering occupying a soup kitchen one night, and I think we will also end up going to the Church of the Woods to hand out hot meals one afternoon. Also we already had one homeless man have a seizure while at the occupation and called attention to the officer watching us to call them an ambulance. If we had already had Jame’s contact information at the time we could have notified him so we could visit the person at the hospital and among other things, taken the man his backpack, which had all the possession he owns (he had not been wearing it at the time of the seizure and its often unclear whose bag is whose).
And sometimes we get reinforcements of the most unusual kind. During last night’s GA I was back up facilitator which basically meant I just stood on a small stair holding up the white board that had our agenda written on it. I heard a rustling on the Capitol grounds behind me, and then growing “ooOOooOOOOooOOo”. I turned around to see OH MY GOD A ZOMBIE ATTACK! Whirling around in shock I stumbled backwards off the stairs which saved me from their grasping arms, but OH NO THEY’VE GRABBED STACK! THEY’RE DRAGGING HIM OVER THE FENCE!