Thursday, 17 November 2011

Open Thread

Running a test to make sure it's possible to leave comments.  If anything's on your mind, here's a place to mention it.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

Occupy the Macarena? (part one of four)

Continuing from this post, Occupy Vancouver needs to make it explicit who exactly is authorized to speak in the name of Occupy Vancouver.  Why?

Early one morning, a flashmob of people appears outside city hall.  They proclaim that the Macarena is the official dance of Occupy Vancouver.  For those too young to have lived through the Macarena craze or lucky enough to have forgotten it, the flashmobbers offer a demonstration.  eh-oh-eh-oh...ahAH.  They dance and dance until onlookers turn away in disgust.  People in the media blame Occupy Vancouver for this atrocity.  Well, is OV to blame?  What could OV say in its own defense?  What should OV be able to say in its own defense?

First and foremost, OV needs to be able to show reporters quickly and incontrovertibly that it never passed a proposal proclaiming an official dance.  It's not enough to point reporters to the minutes of the General Assembly, because the minutes are incomplete and because no one reads the minutes anyhow.  All of the proposals ever passed by the GA could be listed on just a few sheets of paper.  It would be very nice if someone who isn't me would comb through the minutes and make that list.

The more difficult question is whether the flashmob has any right to speak for Occupy Vancouver.  Certainly the Press Committee has the authority to issue statements on behalf of OV -- why not the flashmob?  The details of specific cases matter, so I'd like to look at several different variants of this scenario.

Scenario Variant #1: False Flag

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Identity must come before solidarity

This is the first in a series of posts about what went wrong with Occupy Vancouver and what went right.

One thing that went wrong: it was often unclear which actions were being taken in the name of Occupy Vancouver.  The Occupy the Vatican false-flag incident made it apparent just how serious the problem was.  It remains a problem -- what exactly is the Direct Action Committee authorized to do?

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Chauri Chaura

I've had to back away from Occupy Vancouver altogether.  Two reasons:

- OV has not succeeded in defining who they are such that they can define who speaks in the name of the General Assembly.  For example, there is a direct action committee which plans events without consulting the GA.  "Direct Action" could mean almost anything, including Black Bloc tactics.  I toyed with drafting proposals defining their authority, but I know they would never pass.

- OV can no longer be described as nonviolent.  Below the fold, scenes from a Nov. 7 confrontation with the police.  I have a long post coming about that.  Short version: if mass organised screaming is considered proper procedure, the group needs to take responsibility for members who lash out violently.

In 1922, Chauri Chaura was the site of a massacre of British policemen by Indian citizens during the struggle for independence.  "Gandhi felt that he had acted too hastily in encouraging people to revolt against the British Raj without sufficiently emphasizing the importance of ahimsa (non-violence) and without adequately training the people to exercise restraint in the face of attack," and therefore suspended the Non-cooperation Movement.

I'm with Gandhi -- I can't participate in a group which is purportedly engaging in non-violent resistance but which lacks the discipline and training required to remain non-violent.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Uses and abuses of MIC CHECK!

It continues to amaze me that it's possible to run a meeting of over 100 people by consensus, without an agenda or formal leadership.  One of the tricks that makes this possible is the bellowed phrase MIC CHECK!  It was designed as a cure for cross-talk.  If two people in a general assembly are talking over one another, or if several conversations are happening at once, someone who wants to see order restored will shout MIC CHECK.  All assembled who want to see order restored echo, shouting MIC CHECK in unison.  It's not aggressively pointing fingers at anyone for derailing, it's just loudly proclaiming that there is consensus that the assembly would like to get things back on track.  The shouting creates in its aftermath a silence into which one quiet voice can be heard.

It disturbs me to see this technique being used to silence others.  Globe and Mail columnist Rod Mickleburgh reported that Occupy Vancouver protesters used it to disrupt a mayoral debate on Monday.  Merely by shouting the magic words “Mic check,” protesters felt they could interrupt debate at will. I now know “what democracy looks like,” as some in the crowd chanted. It looks like someone yelling in my ear. 

Silencing everyone except the person whose turn it is to speak is necessary for direct-democracy.  Selectively silencing people with whom we disagree is thuggish, especially when it's done as an invasion of a meeting organized by others.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Two police officers bitten at nonviolent protest

An organization committed to nonviolence should never need to deal with headlines like this: Occupy Vancouver protesters bite cops

Below the fold:
- what happened (with start-to-finish video of the confrontation)
- what nonviolence means
- what nonviolence requires
- what nonviolence requires of me

Tent Cities: they're common, they can work and they are justified

Occupy camps were intended to protest inequality, but they very quickly turned into tent cities for the homeless.  In that respect there was nothing unique about the Occupy camps, because tent cities are already common in North America.  Here's a link to a series of news stories documenting the situation.* 

I don't think it's correct to say that tent dwellers are homeless. I've seen what happens to street people who move into tents. They feel pride, and a sense of community. Having a place that's yours (even if it's just a tent) means having a home, and that's a huge step up from sleeping in shelters or out in the rain.

Occupy Vancouver is an unusually well organized tent city.  It has a tent library, tent places of worship, a tea  tent, a medical tent staffed 24/7 by volunteers and a tent community kitchen. It has a municipal government (the general assembly) which the community recognizes as having authority to pass bylaws, and it has a volunteer security force charged with keeping the peace. The OV tent city is a tent city, and I hope that more North American tent cities come to have similar institutions.  

Question: do tent cities have a right to exist?

I think tent city dwellers have some rights to the land they're encamped on, and some right to govern themselves rather than fall under the jurisdiction of a hostile neighboring municipality.  I'll need to think more about that, but for the moment I'll just drop this strong reading of Locke's 2nd Treatise, section 36:

Supposing a man, or family in the state they were at first peopling of the world...let him plant in some in-land, vacant places of America, we shall find that the possessions he could make himself...would not be very large, nor, even to this day, prejudice the rest of mankind, or give them reason to complain, or think themselves injured by this man's encroachment. 

But of course we are not in the state of nature, because the invention of money, and the tacit agreement of men to put value on it, introduced (by consent) larger possessions, and the right to them. Because we all agree that our financial system is just, municipalities and absentee landlords have the right to use force to ensure that their vacant, neglected property remains vacant and neglected.

* I comment on metafilter as justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow, in case you were wondering why my post here looks a lot like some comments there

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Should I stay away?

I burned out.  Too much writing, too much standing out in the cold.  The occupation was ruining my health.  Taking a few days off was a choice that was good for the soul.

Unfortunately I may not be going back.

A woman died at the Art Gallery site from a drug overdose.  I don't believe I'd met the woman.  Her name may have been Ashley, though it has not yet been released by to the media.  I hope she died knowing that she was surrounded by people who respected her.  I've heard that heroin overdose is a quick and painless way to go, and I hope it was gentle for her.

It bears mentioning that 125 people died of overdoses in the Downtown East Side last year.

Mayor Robinson is using this death as a pretext to close the camp. "I have directed the city manager to expedite the appropriate steps to end the encampment as soon as possible with a safe resolution being absolutely critical to that."  His rival Suzanne Anton is living in a similar fantasy land.  There is no peaceful way to end the encampment.  Even if the protesters are nonviolent as they have sworn they will be, there is no nonviolent way to remove a person who will not budge.  At the very least, police will need to grab and drag them.

Being something of a coward, I'm a bit afraid to go back to the site.  Robertson is scaring away moderates from the site, leaving behind the more radical hardcores who will make trouble for him.  He's made this election issue louder, not made it go away. Well done, sir.