A responsible Occupation?…the fun and hard work of Pittsburgh’s WG’s

"We demand evidence of the corporation's certificate of live birth" photo by T. Jefferson

On Jan 21, 2012, Occupy sites around the US and the world demonstrated in solidarity with members of the 99%.  They spoke out against the 2010 U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, Citizens United, which gave corporations the rights of “Free Speech”… code for unlimited corporate contributions for political elections and favor mongering.  A blogger named Kevin, from the left-progressive/left-liberal news group Firedoglake, was there in Pittsburgh to witness and report on this Occupy rally.  Kevin’s traveling from occupy to occupy across America capturing the unique developments emerging from the General Assemblies and Working Groups of each community (Kevin’s blog link, The Dissenter ).

On that day, i also ventured down to Occupy Pittsburgh (OP) after work to witness the last bit of the rally and march, planned by the Education and Outreach Working Groups, replete with street theater.  The OP People’s Judge in black robes and a big white powdered wig read out the “People’s Subpoena for a Certificate of Live Birth”* along with the “Peoples Indictment of Bank of New York Mellon and EQT Corp. (natural gas hydrofrackers) for criminal behavior”* and then marched to the Federal Courthouse to compel support for this effort.  They were met by security guards and police at all stops along the march, but the mood was festive with singing and clowning accompanying the ample leafletting of counter-Citizens United educational materials to the rush-hour crowds (*OP education resources link).

As the rally broke up and occupy campers and Working Group bottom-liners returned to camp for debriefing, many were surprised to see a lone police officer quickly stride up to the bewigged Judge and tap him on the shoulder… all present gathered around, not sure what was happening, ready to step in if things got weird.  The officer introduced himself saying he was the Sergeant on duty to oversee the rally, and he wanted to thank OP for a well-conducted public event.  Everyone around the wig relaxed and smiled… Wow, did we just see/ hear that??  The Sergeant smiled and strode off.

Apparently, this sort of thing happens regularly at Occupy Pittsburgh.  Police cars often honk in solidarity as they pass the camp.  Community organizers say it isn’t that Occupy Pittsburgh doesn’t challenge authority — many people have been arrested at OP actions — but perhaps it’s that they do so in ways that are seen as creative, thought provoking, and most of all, decidedly non-violent.  The direction and actions of the working groups have set the tone, operating in ways informed by group wisdom, time after time. For example, the People’s Watch Working Group has kept the order in the OP Camp, via ground rules set by consensus. They forbid the use of alcohol or drugs or violence in the camp, noting that without the clarity and guideline that provides, it’s hard to depend on each other. Chris from the Outreach Working Group says that Occupy Pittsburgh’s Camp is known for being one of the most responsible occupys in the country.

Pittsburgh skyline from Freedom Corner

Helen, an Iraq War Veteran, camp bottom-liner, and Education and People’s Watch Working Group member, says that perhaps one reason OP has such good relations with the police is that they’ve had the support of the community and of City Council from the beginning.  Over 5,000 marched on Oct 15, the day camp was created. And  a month later Council made a formal proclamation supporting the Occupation of the “open to the public, private park”, which was posted recently next to the eviction papers served to OP by the park “owners”, BNY Mellon.  The City government is saying there will be no eviction unless there is a legal proof to move to do so (the City doesn’t want a repeat of the G-20 shambles).  Since OP’s Legal Working Group served BNYM counter-eviction papers for their alleged crimes against investors and home owners, the court decision is very much up for debate at the moment, says Scott, a lawyer helping OP. Those wily occupiers of the Legal Working Group are collaborating with their court affiliated allies, and a guy on the team named Mike says if there is an eviction, BNY Mellon will have to pay for it… not tax-payers.

In the mean time, the Locations Working Group is exploring options for using recently budget-cut-closed schools for a future home of OP, or at the least, the location for a community Free-School being planned by the Education Working Group along with Outreach and community groups such as Land Slide Urban Farm.  The Working Groups, via the OP General Assembly, have committed to bringing discussion of issues for the 99% into the communities, issues such as…

-transportation (Pittsburgh has suffered severe cuts in bus service impacting those least able to adjust to this ongoing economic challenge),

-healthcare (local hospitals are closing as corporate consolidations rage thru the area, leaving communities with crippling job losses and without vital services),

-lack of investment in local green jobs (Pennsylvania is the only state without a major tax on Marcellus shale gas drilling. The industry is booming and yet selfishly externalizes major costs of social and environmental damages to local communities. Long term, this boom will create few local jobs, provide no investment for climate safe energy and leave a painful legacy of ruined water systems)

To generate significant discussion on these issues, and hopefully sew the seeds for visioning new models and institutions that truly support the community, the Outreach & Education Working Groups hosted a Human Rights Rally in November, an Occupy Your Mind  gallery exhibit and community brainstorming w/ visiting facilitators from OWS in January, and they plan a teach-in w/ Occupy the Hood and the People of Color Working Group, Feb 4.

Outreach WG meets w/ new university occupy group, T. Jefferson

OP activists have spoken often of the challenges that Occupy has taken on.  Helen says, “the hard stuff is, how do we live restorative justice? … This occupy camp is our home, so how can we share effectively and at the same time, not allow others who may be unbalanced via addictive disorders or violent tendencies to undo the work of the greater whole?  And how can we help support the folks grappling with these negative tendencies?”

Helen speaks of a fellow vet suffering from trauma he built up while training and working as an interrogator at Abu Ghraib, and how he is now, sadly but necessarily, being asked to leave the camp for repeated violations.  The central question for many of occupy’s working groups  is how on earth can we really set examples for approaching things differently, humanely?  How can we be responsive to each other, taking greater responsibility for ourselves, each other and our communities?

Helen struggles with these questions herself, when she chooses safety over liberty in certain situations in the daily activities of the People’s Watch… She asks herself and her group partners, how do we strive for that balance?  She knows  OP is a microcosm of the issues we are dealing with in this larger, sick society, a society that has forgotten how to put people first.  Chris knows people are hungry for this sort of debate, and sees people reinvigorated by the new activism.  ”Occupy is a place to try out some things, to experiment together.  The [occupy] tents are the Shire under the skyscrapers of…[Mordor]?”  She laughs.   That may be the theme of the next occupy street demonstration…

Post note:  This past week, a Pittsburgh Judge ruled in favor of BNY Mellon’s eviction of the Occupy Pittsburgh camp from Peoples park.

Monday, February 6 at 12 noon is the official deadline for eviction of the

Occupy Pittsburgh camp at the People’s Park. Occupy Pittsburgh supporters

are meeting at the camp at noon to show that an injunction or an eviction

will not stop this movement.

As we learned from the injunction issued against us, the freedom of speech

is guaranteed only to those who can afford to purchase it. But we have

scored a moral victory. History has shown that when people’s movements

respond creatively to repression by the 1%, we can mobilize sympathy for the

cause of the 99%. The court even used this as an excuse to rule against us,

as if they were doing us a favor: “BNY Mellon’s eviction of the encampment

will certainly draw publicity and may even assist in communicating the

Occupiers’ message.” On this point, at least, let’s prove the judge right!

For the full story of the eviction and Occupy Pittsburgh’s next steps, visit OP here.

Tags: Citizens United, creative demonstrations, , Outreach, , street theater,

Categories: Academics, General Assemblies, Inner Work, Social Innovation, Thinking Together


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