Occupy Atlanta Day 6: Growing Pains

Previous coverage of #OccupyAtlanta can be found here. This post is a big information dump, so I apologize in advance.

I arrived at Woodruff Troy Davis Park at 4:09 PM yesterday. I attended a committee meeting and brought a load of donated fresh vegetables to the soup kitchen. There was some other stuff, but it’s boring, so let’s get to the General Assembly, which had a lot of information and shed some interesting light on the challenges facing the #OccupyAtlanta Movement.

7:11: The General Assembly begins. The girl who ran the impromptu GA assembly on Monday was moderating. She’s the best moderator I’ve seen thus far, as she’s able to cut people off without being rude about it, which is probably the most important talent a moderator can have.

The General Assembly had about 40 participants at the beginning, and the number swelled to maybe 80 people after an hour before dropping off to 30 or so by the end.

The first 30 minutes of the GA hummed along without much dissent. The moderator explained the process for the GA for people who had not attended one before (about a third of the crowd). Some announcements were made.

An important point made by the moderator: “The purpose of consensus is to conform your ideas to meet the general need.” Don’t block everything you don’t personally agree with, in other words.

A man passed around legal pads for people interested in taking notes. The primary reason for this was to stop people from asking questions in the GA that could be resolved in individual conversations afterwards. Good move!

Occupy Atlanta will be having a Press Conference at 11 PM today (which already happened, I don’t know what they said).

At 7:17 someone announced the Mayor’s intention to evict the movement on Monday.

At 7:25 someone announced that the rapper Young Jock supports the Occupy Atlanta and had made a significant donation.

At 7:26 the Logistics committee’s bottom liner, Roar, made the first proposal of the night. All committee meetings will be posted on a whiteboard at the Welcome Table in the park. Additionally, they will be posted on a document on OccupyAtlanta.org. This proposal reached consensus quickly.

The Logistics committee’s next proposal was that the central tent have a command station and not used for sleeping. Consensus was reached at 7:40, with the amendment that people could sleep there when it was raining.

At 7:45 consensus was reached that 4PM would be the daily “clean the park time.”

At 7:46 the Logistics committee then stated that there were a sizable amount of donations (around $1000) locked up in a WeShare account. The money needed to be transferred to a bank account before it could be accessed. Here is where things got dicey.

Tim Franzen, who seems to be the de facto spokesperson of Occupy Atlanta, had offered up a bank account that had been used to organize protests of Troy Davis’s execution. This would allow the money to be used as soon as today. Roar made the mistake of calling this account the “Troy Davis Account,” which rankled members of the GA, who did not want to be associated with Troy Davis, probably because of the negative press the movement has received for renaming Woodruff Park to Troy Davis Park. There were also questions about the movement being co-opted by the organization managing the account (I forgot to write down what it was called), and who would be able to access the funds.

Another option proposed was that Occupy Atlanta create its own bank account, the setting up of which would take at least two days, I guess because there are some legal questions things that need to be done to avoid taxation. The “Troy Davis Account” had already done the legal footwork, which was the primary reason Roar wanted to move the money into it.

A man named Latron (spelling?), who represents the Joe Beasley Foundation, offered the foundation’s resources to set up the account. There were major concerns about Occupy Atlanta being co-opted by the Joe Beasley Foundation, and he was quickly shot down, although he was welcomed to advise the people who would set up Occupy Atlanta’s own account. The general feeling of the GA was that Occupy Atlanta should have its own account, and the GA should come to a consensus on three people who would be authorized to access it, with all expenditures posted on a document online.

Various ideas were tossed around, but no consensus could be reached, and at 8:07 Roar was told to come back tomorrow with a proposal taking into account everyone’s concerns.

What Roar had tried, and failed, to impress on the General Assembly was that currently, the money is inaccessible and doing the movement no good. Therefore, it was imperative to have access to these funds as quickly as possible. The movement is not running out of money, but he wanted to have the $1000 available in case of an emergency. Occupy Atlanta has only been around for six days, and bringing back the a proposal tomorrow and then setting up a separate account would take, at a minimum, three days, or 50% of the movement’s lifespan thus far. People who had not contributed to the day-to-day operations of Occupy Atlanta were telling the people who actually had to deal with organizational problems what was and was not acceptable. I suppose this is how the US Congress works, except that they at least have to run elections and are operating on the scale of trillions of dollars rather than thousands. Yesterday, there were some issues procuring money to feed the occupiers, and if a consensus was needed to get money for food, the occupation would probably die of starvation. The theme of people who do nothing for the movement besides attend the General Assembly dictating its operations ran throughout the meeting, and gives insight into how extreme democracy leads to totalitarianism. Someone is going to say something along the lines of, “We need this money to keep the occupation going, fuck the General Assembly,” and that’s the beginning of the long road towards non-transparency and authoritarianism. And I can’t say that would necessarily be a wrong reaction.

Another proposal, brought up in a committee meeting today, was to buy a bunch of tents so people who didn’t have access to a tent but wanted to occupy the park could do so. Unfortunately, getting money to buy tents seemed to be such a bitch that they postponed the conversation for the future.

At 8:08, a man who had been in a demands committee meeting (there are so many committees) proposed that committee meetings not interfere with the General Assembly. There was some concerns about people who scheduled committee meetings at 9:00, when the GA is still going on. This proposal was passed with a weak consensus, and I don’t see how it will be enforced. The committees need to meet to get shit done, not everything can be decided in the GA, and I predict they will resent being told how to structure their meetings by people who (by and large) don’t attend their meetings and/or aren’t interested in doing the actual functions the committees perform. I took a break from the GA to use the restroom in 60 Walton Street, and there was a committee having a meeting during the middle of the GA.

At 8:32 a proposal was made that the GA begin with breakout groups where the various committees convene to discuss their proposals with people who are unable to attend the committee meetings, which usually happen during the day and, therefore, people who work 9-5 can’t attend them. This is an admirable sentiment, so that people who aren’t able to devote 8 hours+ a day to the Occupy movement can still make their voices heard, but I have the same reservations as I do with the bank account; the committees are going to end up having people who have no idea about the practical challenges they’re facing trying to tell them what to do. The proposal was passed, once again with a weak consensus, and I’ll see tonight how this works in action. There are only 24 hours in a day, and not ALL of them can be spent in meetings.

I would call this the sclerosis of consensus, where keeping everyone informed on everything will prevent anything from getting done.

Going back in time, at 8:08 a middle-aged man proposed an entrepreneurial committee be established to show the media the movement wasn’t anti-capitalist. The committee would sell buttons, shirts, stuff like that, and the revenue would go to the movement’s bank account. I’m not sure if he planned on taking a cut, or who would provide the start-up funds, but the point was made moot by a self-described “ardent anti-capitalist,” who stated he would block the proposal unless the facilities where the buttons and t-shirts were made was managed by the workers. The man who made the proposal was flummoxed, and withdrew his proposal.

At 8:47, the bottom liner of the Arts and Literature committee raised a concern about Monday night/Tuesday Morning’s impromptu assembly, where the GA tried (and failed, despite the reporting of the AJC) to come up with a list of demands to present Mayor Reed if he came to address the occupiers (which he didn’t). Her point was that any unscheduled GA would leave out the voice of those not present, and when discussing something as major as a list of demands for the Mayor, that wasn’t fair. I agree with her completely on this point, as this is, IMO, the real purpose of the GA, but there was some confusion over what she meant and how to deal with the problem. The proposal was tabled.

There is now a Student Outreach Taskforce, and it can be reached at 678-849-2882. It’s purpose is to get students from colleges around Atlanta involved in Occupy Atlanta.

A GSU Walkout is scheduled for today at 4:30.

At 9:09 I took a bathroom break. There were a lot of people at the headquarters and around the park, and the movement is much larger than what the GA would suggest. There are some issues, I think, with showing this to the media, and the movement should work on presenting an amassed force at times of critical media coverage. The occupiers are the pointy end of the stick, but the support services need to at least be visible in solidarity, at least occasionally.

I returned at 9:22, when the GA was wrapping up. The medic committee, which had scheduled its meeting at 9:00, had convened on the opposite side of the park, drawing people from the GA.

Some wrap-up announcements followed.

On Friday, there will be a march from the park to Peachtree and Pine, the homeless shelter facing imminent eviction. People should begin gathering at 5:00, and the march will begin around 5:30.

The march is being organized by the Metro Atlanta Taskforce for the Homeless. Their website is HomelessTaskForce.com

On Monday, several Unions (I’m unsure which Unions exactly edit: it’s the Atlanta North Georgia Labor Council, I believe) will support the occupation of the park against Mayor Reed’s eviction notice. This announcement caused the crowd to cheer, so Monday should be interesting.

On Saturday there will be a “Free free Market” in the park. People should bring things they like, but don’t use, and give them away. No selling or bartering is allowed.

Also on Saturday, there will be a global action by the global occupy movement. The Atlanta details weren’t discussed, expect more details in the future.

The Joe Beasley Foundation is also having an event on Saturday, to commemorate the opening of the MLK, Jr. Memorial in Washington, D.C. The event will be held at the King Memorial in Atlanta and, among other things, there will be a roundtable where students discuss the modern day civil rights movement. The Joe Beasley Foundation representative offered to put information about Occupy Atlanta on the event program, provided Occupy Atlanta could give him several bullet points by Friday. We’ll see if those can be agreed upon, ha.

At 9:31, the General Assembly ended.

Four brief thoughts about today.

First consensus is on its way to interfering with effective management of Occupy Atlanta. We’ll see how the movement resolves this issue.

Second, there are people, like the Joe Beasley representative and the start-up guy, who want to help the movement, but don’t quite know how to go about doing it. Several members of the GA were outright hostile to such offers of support, and it seems any support must be unconditional. This is going to hinder the Occupy Atlanta movement, as I believe it needs to form a broad based coalition of support if it seeks to actually change anything.

Third, there are several… we’ll call them ideological purists, who raise a lot of complaints and concerns in the general assembly. What’s interesting to me is that some people who I found annoying in the first few general assemblies have become much more agreeable as they’ve taken on responsibilities, and I think the reason is that they’ve been forced to confront the reality of the situation and the need for practical solutions. Those currently raising the most concerns have little involvement in the daily operations of the Occupy Atlanta movement. It’s possible I’m wrong, and that I just haven’t seen their slice of work, but I doubt it.

Fourth and finally, there was a woman who raised another valid concern in the GA, which somehow didn’t make it into my notes so I’ll add it here. It was her first GA, and she said she was here to discuss action and demands, not go through a laundry list of operational issues. Additionally, the GA was discussing a lot of issues without providing the context for people who hadn’t been part of the movement since the beginning. So she found the GA both confusing and boring. The occupy movement is going to have trouble expanding its base of support from individuals unless they can find a way to clue them in.

Wow this is the longest post by far. I can see how anyone not plugged into the movement would be bewildered by the torrent of information discussed in the GA.

Edit: I think I was wrong about “Joe.” Salon did a very good interview with him here.

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