Occupy Atlanta – Chaotic and Open
“You have two choices” Kate said to me with a rare level of agitation “You can either stop complaining about the corruption in Ohio or you can come campaign with me in Cincinnati.” It was not much of a choice, in the fall of 2004 the rampant election abuse in Ohio was enough to get an anarchist into party politics. I knew I could not shut up about it, so we went to Cincinnati and worked for almost a week for several different campaign efforts: Acorn, the Unions (SEIU and friends), for the Kerry Campaign directly and for Election Protection.
At the Kerry HQ and I got elevated in a few hours to the lead person working on this corrupted mostly paper database of prospective voter contacts. At one point the highest level functionary from the office came in, clearly harried and unhappy about the unresolved state of the database. I spoke with him and the person who had been working on the database for months. When the director asked me what I would do, I suggested a pretty radical plan which dumped the largest part of the contaminated data, recognizing that there was no longer time to do anything with the whole list. There was an intense quiet moment and the director told the database manager “Do what he is proposing”
What struck me about this was the difference between this situation and the other groups SEIU, Acorn and Voter Protection that we worked for on election day. In those groups you could only do the lowest level direct contact work and paper scuffling. The Kerry organization was some combination of open enough and chaotic enough to make it be possible for me to influence it. The others were not.
I felt the same way today at Occupy Oakland. I had not been there an hour before Jonah said, “It is great that you are here, I want you to talk with this guy who does a lot but has a very aggressive style. He has also been shown to be stealing things from other members of the Occupy Atlanta group”. And it is conceivable that someone could present like me and be terrible for this pressing task. And perhaps Jonah, frustrated with the situation is just throwing at it what ever resources seem to be handy. And I look handy.
Keith was walking in front of me on Peachtree St, and looked back when he heard me asking people about Occupy. He was proud to say he had been there since the first day. We talked about the unlikely trajectory of Occupy Atlanta in Woodruff Park, which ended with 5 arrests and displacement by the police.
Occupy Atlanta is now strangely indoors on the 4th floor of a Peachtree Street building, right above a homeless shelter. But when I asked Ed if Occupy Atlanta was mostly homeless people he explained that it is not. And the desire of the students, new and old activists who had created occupy was not principally around housing or extreme poverty issues. The current site is just 8 blocks from the original Occupy site, but being indoors makes it basically invisible. Ed went on to explain that homeless are actually usually finding accommodations better than a tent in the park. He personally had several places to stay that were nicer than the park, but it also seemed clear he did not have a regular residence.
Ed and Candy describe the early days in Woodruff Park and it is easy to imagine that this type of festival environment that the mayor might well worry about. It is easy to imagine why they were forced to leave.
Candy explains to me that she is not at Occupy for the politics. And though these are not her words, it is clear she is attracted in part because it is the better party. If the movement is going to grow in these strange indoor hot houses and other relocations, it will be in part because people who do not identify as political feel like it is the right place to be.