Last night I settled down in my bed to watch Episode Two of the final season of “House.” Twenty minutes into the show, I started to get a little bored, as they lost half their cast from the first seven seasons. So I snuck a glance at my Facebook newsfeed. I noted a tweet from Occupy LA that announced that Mayor Kasim Reed and the Atlanta police were coming down to Woodruff Park to kick out the occupiers. I quickly logged onto Occupy Atlanta’s livestream page on UStream. Within five minutes, I had turned off “House” and was glued to my iPad.
When I tuned in, the facilitator announced that they had gotten word that the mayor was going to “allow them to leave the park peaceably.” As they had no intention of leaving, they had gotten advice from Occupy Athens on the process of getting arrested. They were using the “human mic” to amplify what the facilitator and the speakers were saying. They first talked about the process of how the mayor was going to interact with the people. Would he address them? Would he be part of them? And then they discussed who would orient the mayor to their process. It was pointed out that the mayor was familiar with occupations and general assemblies.
They then talked about what their demands would be. Someone commented that the demands are still being created and the main goal was to have “People of diverse politics and backgrounds stay in the park and keep the support.”
Someone else questioned, “How do we know the mayor is coming?”
No one answered, and this discussion turned to the importance of transparency.
“Who is taking minutes?”
“I kind of am,” replied a young man. “I have a list of demands we spoke about, and I can recite them.”
They decided that someone should start keeping full minutes, and the general assembly began.
They talked about how they were going to explain the process to the mayor with everyone taking part in the explanation, so that it would be a communal experience. Someone started making a list of what they were going to say.
“Number one, say why we are here.”
“Why are we here?” asked someone to some laughter.
“Number two, we demand that the mayor make a commitment to not bringing the police on us.”
“Number three, recognize this park as ‘Troy Davis Park.'”
“Number four, invite him to spend the night.”
Someone commented that they could provide him with a tent and a blanket and whatever else he needed.
Someone else joked “to each according to his needs.”
Then there was a comment about staying away from the word demands because “that is a big question in the media; and the media will say, ‘What did Atlanta say?'”
Someone else said that demands were OK, but it was more important for the mayor to have a list of questions for the mayor to answer.
Someone said, “We do have demands, and the people in power cannot meet them. Strategically it is a way to show that the power structure cannot provide for us, and we can provide for us far better.”
I thought this was a key point that did not get enough discussion. Someone said they wanted Mayor Reed to join the occupation and publicly support the movement. At this point there was still no discussion of any of these issues, as they were still keeping a stack – a list of people who wanted to speak.
A guy with an English accent then pointed out that the square is home to a lot of homeless people, and up the street on Peachtree and Pine is a homeless shelter that is due to be shut down, because it sits on a prime piece of real estate. He said it was a symbol of the power of the corporate world over the city. He said asking the mayor not to shut it down would be “a concrete point, not an idealistic one, and something he could do with his job.” He closed by saying “Power to the people.”
Then a guy who sounded African-American started to speak, and no one did the human mic. Finally there were chants, “Mic check! Mic check!” and they started repeating what he said. The gist was that none of the city administrations did what they said they were going to do. “There are no clothes, no nothing, and Mayor Reed and the Atlanta police should not arrest us for no reason at all.” The crowd cheered in support.
Then a Hispanic man started to talk about the civil rights and freedom of assembly of the people. “The park is not being destroyed. We are taking care of it. If they have complaints, they know where they can find us.”
There were wild cheers after this, and someone said, “I’m loving this!”
I think people felt that it was a good thing to hear from people of color after so many young white men and women were dominating the discussion.
Next they talked about the Troy Davis proclamation. Some people thought it was a good idea. Someone else said it was a bad mistake PR-wise to honor Troy Davis specifically. “Any blocks on this proposal?”
Someone shouted, “Name something after the guy!”
Then from the crowd, “I think this movement is about more than renaming the park.” (Applause.) “I have no idea why we are wasting our time. We should be asking the mayor to end the death penalty, to abolish educational profiteering. We’ve wasted twenty minutes on this circular conversation.”
The facilitator decided to table this discussion since there were still blocks. Someone thanked him for doing a wonderful job but then said he thought the facilitator had a bias on this issue. “Move on to the next proposal.”
Someone proposed that the mayor guarantee the continuation of Peachtree and Pine as a homeless shelter. Someone else suggested, “Maybe we can name that after Troy Davis.” An older woman noted that the neighbors in the area were getting antagonistic, because people are making it louder with the human mic. No one acknowledged this.
They went on with the discussion about what they were going to ask for from the mayor. Someone said they should ask permission to occupy the park. Another responded that they didn’t need permission. Still another suggested they ask for better restrooms.
Another called for turning off the sprinklers and an end to the playing of smooth jazz. At this point there was general laughter, and the facilitator said, “It is 1:30 a.m. and we are ending our general assembly. The mayor never came, and the police never came. We declare that a victory.”
Then they declared their solidarity with Boston where it was being reported that the police were breaking down the occupation and beating up members of Veterans for Peace. The feed went dark.
I quickly turned to Occupy Boston where they had a still shot of the view of the park from overhead. I could clearly see a lot of police vans but no details. I then found the Global Revolution Channel on Livestream where they alternated videos of police dragging people and tents away with shots of the hosts faces and shots of a gmail showing the phone numbers of the Boston mayor, the Boston Police Department and other important city numbers for people to call. I watched this for a half an hour. Then there was word on the adjoining chat feed that the police were descending on Occupy Seattle.
By now I had watched two hours of the revolution unfolding before my very eyes, and I had to go to sleep. I had to wake up at 7 a.m. to get my kid off to school. But as I was lying in bed, I had these thoughts. First, although it may seem like the Atlanta protesters really got nothing done last night, and the mayor and the police never even came, this was not the case.
What I saw was democracy in action. Not democracy as Americans have always known it, which proclaims to be majority rule but, as the occupations remind us, is really the plutocratic rule of the top 1%. This was real democracy which takes a long time, because consensus has to be reached. I’m sure if they had C-Span or the internet back during the time of the Continental Congress, viewers would have found those deliberations boring.
Yes, demands are important. But it is the process of coming up with those demands that takes time. First, people need to feel empowered. These are mostly young people who may have voted for Obama three years ago, but then they went home and waited for the change that never came. Now they realize that they are the change they want to see.
Yes, Americans have always had the right to demonstrate peaceably. But in my lifetime, I have never seen so many people all over the country exercising these rights. Last night the folks at Occupy Atlanta discussed their options, aired their grievances and their proposals, made everyone feel heard; and no one got pissed off. This morning a spokesman for the mayor announced that the protesters would not be asked to leave the park.
Also, this morning I watched ten minutes of the process by which Congressman John Lewis, the civil rights hero, was not allowed to speak by the very same Occupy Atlanta people. Unlike the way the media portrayed it with their one sentence headline, a close viewing of the entire process shows that the very first person to speak acknowledged the contribution Lewis made to history but said that “no single individual should be more valuable than the rest.” The next person said letting him speak doesn’t make him better than the rest, it just shows “they respect him and the position he holds.” Another person added that “he has just as much right to be part of the change as part of the problem.”
A proposal was made that he speak at the end of the general assembly when guests usually speak. So they took a vote. It appeared that half of the people wanted him to speak right away and the other half at the end. So the facilitator said that it looked like there was going to be no consensus and as such, they needed to continue with the agenda. Then a group of people started chanting “Let Lewis Speak” as he walked away. Because this played out the way it did, when asked, John Lewis said he did not feel “dissed.”
My final thought before sleep overtook me was about how in these three cities, the police were planning their actions in the dead of night when the TV crews had gone home and the government offices were shut down. Prior to the internet age, they would have been able to get away with this. But last night, the whole world (or at least 7600 people on Ustream) was watching.
This is why we must support Net Neutrality. Since the mainstream media, even MSNBC, is owned by large corporations representing the top 1%, we cannot count on them to serve as the check on government that our Founders intended the press to be.
Right now there is a proposal in the Senate to weaken Net Neutrality, a “resolution of disapproval” that would give phone and cable companies unrestricted power over the Internet. The resolution would destroy existing Net Neutrality protections and strip the FCC of its authority to protect Internet users from carriers that seek to block our right to speak freely, connect with one another and share information on the Internet.
Call your senators and ask them to vote no on this resolution. Without a free internet, this whole Occupy movement and all the hopes for real systemic change that it has engendered will surely die. Power to the people!
To watch live feeds of sixty occupied cities, go to the Uptake at http://www.theuptake.org/