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OWS, Without a Space to Occupy, Faces Organizational Challenges

The division between activists and occupiers, who operate in such separate spheres, is a problem that will have to be reconciled.

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There is nobility in responding to one's own homelessness by working hard that everyone else might have a home. But elsewhere the current lack of clarity—about what to do right now—is causing tensions to bubble over. Absent a park to keep clean, for instance, what is the function of the Sanitation Working Group? Or Medical or Comfort, for that matter? The fracturing of Occupy Wall Street from its camp has created two distinct populations: the activists—planning for the future—and the occupiers—confronting the current reality.

The people who don’t drink tea in a comfy office space but stand out in the rain, says Chris, 50, of Long Island, are being excluded from the movement. “I know what an occupier looks like. I slept here. See him? He slept here. That guy slept here, that guy slept here, that guy slept here. And then this GA starts and this facilitation team shows up with an agenda already planned out. Who are these people? Where did they come from?”

Chris, who is at least 6'6" and of very imposing build, does not express his displeasure with the prescribed downward-waggling fingers or even by attempting to generate consensus for a proposal. “WHO ARE THESE PEOPLE?” he shouts. “FUCK THIS! FUCK THIS! FUCK THIS! I DON’T FUCKING KNOW YOU!”

The diminished attendance at the GA these days is insufficient to compete sonically with such outbursts. Especially since Chris is not alone. Another now-homeless occupier, who walks with a mutt and has tattoos on every inch of his face, does not recognize the authority of the facilitation committee to hold General Assemblies at all. He’ll go a little deeper into democratic theory than Chris, but eventually, it comes back to not having a place to stay. “I can’t go into a church,” he tells me. “I got my dog.”

An occupier named Nan was at Zuccotti Park at the start of Occupy Wall Street. She worked in the kitchen and has gone to meetings since the beginning. But since the eviction, her contrarianism has turned to outright, wholesale obstructionism, repeatedly blocked the formation of the Spokes Council by the General Assembly. A “block” is an expression of concern over a given proposal that is so serious, the blocker in question would prefer to leave the movement than rather than consent to it. Blockers are invited to introduce friendly amendments. But Nan blocked creation of the Spokes Council every time, for reasons that were not clear, and eventually voted against it. If the GA cannot achieve full consensus, the proposal goes to a vote and is passed if at least 90 percent vote in favor.

Theoretically, at this point, blockers leave the movement. But Nan instead has registered her objection by coming to every Spokes Council meeting to keep the body from progressing. “I am trying to get the GA to dissolve the Spokes Council as soon as possible,” she tells me. “They should not be controlling our lives.” It’s clear that she thinks the Spokes Council is an attempt to grab power away from the masses, but it isn’t easy to find out why or how.

Then there is Sage, who opines, sometimes lucidly, sometime careeningly, about anything and everything, interrupting, shouting down and employing ad hominem attacks. While he thwarts meetings, he also respectfully facilitates sometimes, and I have seen him be enormously kind to friends. I ask for an interview and he says I caught him at a bad time. “I was born in a mental hospital and I don’t have anything to eat.” He flips a quarter and on the basis of the result, says he cannot do the interview.

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