The following is some aspects of my Occupy and InterOccupy journey, which I offer as anniversary gift, but hopefully, also as an inspiration for the others like me, who aren’t very able to chip in on the ground:
They Built It At Interoccupy.
Pardon the cliché, but since, oh, maybe a month into Occupy I had had consistent transmissions from James Earl Jones’ voice saying “if you build it, they will come.” This was the head shaking elder in me saying there’s got to be some organization in this leaderful but leaderless horizontal community. I’d never been an activist before Occupy grabbed my heart, but having been the oldest of seven, a secretary, a traveler, a military wife, a mother raising four children under ten while going to school full-time, and now a grandmother, I knew a bit about keeping a schedule. About organizing. But maybe I didn’t in this high tech, smart phone driven movement. Where were people organizing online?
I live in rural WNY, a couple of hours from Occupy Buffalo so only got there twice a month. It took a long time in the encampment days to find some way to contribute besides showing up for bi-monthly General Assemblies, and occasional extra visits for events and marches. There wasn’t much effective online communication among occupiers in our area: fear of infiltrators, the trolls, etc., preferring to talk mostly on the ground. So, like many cyber supporters, I mostly read OWS and Occupy pages and alternative articles, and watched videos, to keep abreast. And livestream! All praise to livestream for really, really making what was going on in faraway places viewed through a machine real. I had seen the InterOccupy site, but had never lingered much – one never knew which sites were “real” early on. The conference calls caught my eye and I thought that sometime, that’d be a cool thing to do, but it was the kind of sometime that happens when elephants fly – I’d been ducking telephones for at least a decade.
On February 5, the OWS, outreach/temp check after the scourge of evictions, Bus rolled into Buffalo. We were all still in states of grieving about our own recent eviction. It seemed all of Occupy was searching for its next steps and so was I. How do we stay connected, and how do I? Being so far away, how do I know what two days a month to tithe the busfare, and come to Buffalo if there’s no GA? On Sunday, the 6th, folks from OWS, Occupy Buffalo and local community activists had a five hour strategy session at the Vault, with two breakouts in the last hour – local and national. I went into the national, hoping I could do more actual work in support of the larger movement from my perch of being far away and isolated, but being connected online. Chris Hedges’ article, the Cancer In Occupy, and the ensuing counter statements had just come out and interested me. I had to ask the pros from NYC about it, and we had an informative discussion about black bloc that left me more able to build a bridge somewhere in between lofty theory and pragmatic consequences.
One of the OWSers suggested InterOccupy as a good site for Occupy activity. John Washington, one of OB’s leaderful, on the ground activists, said IO was great but it was a 24 hour job to keep track of. Ding. Ding. My little Occupy niche was born. I finally had a job! A place to contribute daily. I mostly just copied and pasted InterOccupy event and call announcements on the Occupy Buffalo website forums and facebook page, and brought Occupy Buffalo announcements to InterOccupy, like our nine month long Justice Dialogue Series, which looked at justice in deep philosophical and practical get ‘er done ways.
Soon another fateful thing happened when a Buffalo occupier, who set up an F29 facebook page for Occupy Buffalo organizing, asked if someone could get on the InterOccupy F-29 call that night. Chicken as hell, scared of technology, hard of hearing and hating telephones, I got on the call, and was absolutely amazed at listening to people from all over the US and Canada talking about their actions, their plans, sharing tips and strategies. I was able to bring those ideas back to OB which helped to inform us of the rising interest of this national call to action by Occupy Portland, an action not organized from the top down, but facilitated by the knowledge that we were becoming united in action by a transparent, horizontal, direct democratic process. We were organizing on the ground simultaneously in over 80 cities nationwide and talking about it on conference calls and online venues. We had a small but effective F-29 action in Buffalo directed at Bank of America and, as far as I have been able to confirm, we were the only F-29 action that had no local police presence, but instead three DHS vans and their canine force on hand!
I continued to get on a bunch of calls for M1GS, Occupy Los Angeles’ Mayday call to action, and using this same inward and outward facing process, and with the lion’s share of hard work done by occupiers on the ground, led to an even bigger and more robust Mayday in Buffalo. I got to learn more about outreach and web use when I had the pleasure of being involved in an Occupy Supply Mayday webinar. After a few of the M1GS calls, I was hooked on the long distance voice communication process, and decided to volunteer with InterOccupy, and was involved with Outreach and some admin duties, but like all Occupiers, we all wear many hats pitching in with skills or ideas as needs arise. I learned to use tools: google docs, doodles, spreadsheets and the like. Before Occupy, it was strictly email and news articles for me. Facebook was a scary thing, full of stupidity, that soon became crucial to use. With my new found skills, I was able to help Upstate NY planners put together the Occupy Upstate Regional Conference in June, conceived on facebook, planned statewide on InterOccupy calls, and pulled together, as always, by occupiers on the ground who could attend the crucial strategy and hospitality meetings.