Thursday I spent the day making signs to protest the new Hennepin County ban on signs at OccupyMN, which starts Friday. I arrived at 1 pm and thankfully found two women in their 80’s who were great at sign making. One is a WAMM member who uses a walker which carries a sign, “Dissent is Patriotic” and an American flag. They made signs: “Rupert Murdoch Doesn’t Own This Sign,” “My Permit is the First Amendment,” “This Sign is My Voice” and “You Can’t Kill a Sign”. I wasn’t sure where to put the signs, when one protester suggested the small, 3’ in diameter planters that surround the big fountain. I hugged him. The plants had recently been removed. Before the evening was done, all 20 small planters had sprouted at least one 13”X18” sign on a 4’ stick.
The ban seems to be on taped signs, especially on the light poles, as if the tape would hurt the poles. Protesters have been careful to use blue painters tape, never duct tape. Last night after hearing about the ban they had added a delightfully exaggerated amount of signs on the poles.
At 7:30am Fri. the county is turning off water in the large planters for winter, misting a few feet around the planters. To protect my precious signs from water, I removed “We’re Working to Reclaim Democracy” and “Students are People, Not Customers” and replaced them with “Hennepin Co. Commissioners are Paid by the 99%, Not by Wall St?”
To avoid the mist, Occupiers had to move all their stuff away from the planters. They relocated on the north side near the light rail. The amazing Kitchen was at the center, and Welcome Table, Family Table and Vets for Peace/WAMM table stretch to the east. West of the Kitchen was Media/Press, Teach-Ins, and a lovely reincarnation of the People’s Library, complete with carpet. The lights are much better by the light rail, and the Library was very easy to access after dark. People were kneeling on the carpet to search for books. There are great books on politics, culture, spirituality, and philosophy plus a bin labeled “trashy novels.”
Channel 9 reported that ACLU lawyers are considering challenging the new restrictions. The FOX channel did a substantial report, but had to open it with “OccupyMN may soon cause the city more money.” The Wall St. crash cost $16 Trillion.
In addition to the rallies and marches planned by the Event Committee, there are surprises every day at the Plaza. Today there was a huge pot of delicious squash dish made from home grown squash. On Halloween the Morale Committee arranged a sit down dinner for 90 people. The day after Halloween, a Mexican altar for Day of the Dead appeared. I’ve been yearning for more Latino presence. A week ago, someone began projecting documentaries from a laptop after the General Assembly. There’s a pilot who keeps returning. He’s upset that Wall St. speculation is raising the cost of gas, an excuse the airlines use to stop raises. As someone wrote, the rich humanity you experience in half a day at an Occupy would take days to try to describe.
Today the surprise was two young women from San Francisco. One was taking a picture of the daily events written on a white board by the Welcome Table. She squealed, “This place is really well-organized!” Two minutes before I had talked to a very involved young man who had left the Plaza a week ago because he couldn’t stand the disorganization. When I told occupiers that the West Coast women said this was the most organized encampment they’d seen, even the most polite and positive occupiers snarled “you’re lying.” I called the Live stream videographer over to record the women’s praise. People feel very frustrated by the “disorganization”, and I have too. For example, it’s hard to find a phone number to call for information. Singer David Rovics who performed Halloween night confirmed that all the Occupies are disorganized. At the same time I’m amazed by an underlying organic organization, that must stem from an explosion of the yearning for a better society. A non-hierarchical, democratic space allows people’s initiative and creativity to blossom in surprising ways. It’s an odd feeling that there is something very profound happening under the disorganization, like parallel realities. Disorganization is easy to label, but the expansiveness we feel from experiencing democracy seems much too new to understand.
At the same time there are predictable problems. Many young people are trying to maintain jobs and school or surviving unemployment and homelessness as well as the usual emotional/health problems. Women met today on gender issues. Egoism and individualism are endemic to white culture, especially for males. There is a working group on Privilege getting underway that may begin to deal with racism. I suppose “Trust the Process”, in the broadest sense, is a good motto. I wonder how the occupiers learned to hug so readily and to say “I love you” so easily. It’s a part of the culture that makes me feel welcome.
I ended my day by picking up two down sleeping bags-donations from a WAMM member in her late 80’s whose husband died last year. His bag was well used, hers is nearly new. She passionately hopes the pressures from the County Commissioners won’t cause the occupiers to splinter into separate groups.
My generation identifies strongly with the protesters. WAMM women have started bringing food, and Wednesday two heterosexual couples staffed the Kitchen. Both husbands wanted to do it more. One voiced a common feeling, “It makes me feel young again.”
Home by 10 pm, I watched the OccupyMN live stream and got to see a couple dozen occupiers on a noisy, romp over the Hennepin Ave. Bridge, waving many of the signs I’d made that morning. At the same time on TV Rachel Maddow was interviewing Michael Moore about the Occupies. It doesn’t get better than that.