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Work 4 Peace,Hold All Life Sacred,Eliminate Violence! I am on my mobile version of the door-to-door, going town-to-town holding readings/gatherings/discussions of my book "But What Can I Do?" This is my often neglected blog mostly about my travels since 9/11 as I engage in dialogue and actions. It is steaming with my opinions, insights, analyses toward that end of holding all life sacred, dismantling the empire and eliminating violence while creating the society we want ALL to thrive in

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Taken aside, cornered, asked to leave

I am working at the food tent, feeding the last of the night's people, when Margaret (one of the co-organizers) approaches, motions & requests I join her away from the tent and behind a wall.

When we get there we are joined by two others, a young white male and an older white woman. Both of the latter were in a security meeting with me earlier today, where they vehemently objected to seeing their 'privileges' and the homeless people amongst us as 'lacking privileges' - a suggestion I was making in order to deal with our insistence on seeing homeless people as thieves and the rest of us as having property that needs protecting from them.

The three of them solemnly reveal their intentions: they are the ones appointed the painful (dirty) task of asking me to leave the plaza. Margaret tells me many people have complained about me and that we have lost several talented and valuable young (male) people because of me.

I am supposed to be responsible for those who choose to leave? I ask about who are these people who want me to leave. Their identities are protected, anonymous I am told. I want to face them, have them face me. Impossible I am told. Too many of them I am told. Many have left I am told.

Margaret tells me she has worked too hard, put in long hours for the past 6 months, and spent lots & lots, too much of her money to allow this protest fail - or to allow me to destroy it. I don't know whether I am flattered that she thinks I am so powerful I am capable of single-handedly destroying all she thinks she has built or just sad that she thinks that I would put my energy into destroying anything other then the military & prison industrial complexes.

Margaret tells me, in addition, they are willing to give me money to help me leave. I think they have no idea how much it cost me to come across this country, between biodiesel, which is at least a dollar more a gallon then regular diesel, and getting wvo. hmmmmm

I ask if this decision was made as consensus, the process that we are supposedly using to make decisions.

I am told that in order to spare me the embarrassment of facing everyone, they are doing me a favor by quietly requesting I leave.

Margaret tells me Medea is in support of me leaving. Medea has already told me to leave. She is paranoid that it will be too easy to blame CodePINK or myself if this occupation fails. Medea doesn't want CodePINK, herself, or me around to be the fall guy.

I have already told Medea she (and CodePINK) will be blamed for whatever we do, whether we are here (and that's why it's failed) or not here (& that's why it failed) - so we might as well do whatever the hell we want to do.

Margaret and her allies underestimate me. Although I do not want to be the scapegoat for the consensus process, I will. No one who knows me even a little would think I would be railroaded in this manner off the island - not just for myself, but especially for those who come after me.

I demand consensus, we follow the process. First I beg them to reconsider, to think about what they will be loosing if they insist on trying to railroad me off the island.  First, do they really want to establish this kind of covert action? Are they not committed to the consensus process or is that just a convenience when they want to have others think they embrace democracy?

Second, personally I tell them I am a warrior. I provide diversity on this island. I fight for those who have no voice. I bring the walk to the talk. I am a radical, jewish, womonist/feminist lesbian from a racially-mixed family.

Response to Tina

My response is too long to post under comments so here it is: i wrote this 12/12/2011 on my way to oakland from d.c.:

sorry this has taken me so long - and i don't have time to do this 'condition' (privilege) justice - to respond re:privilege: that of the people who sleep on the street because they have no other choice and those who choose to sleep on the street.

i think everyone - especially those who point the finger at the 1% and are trying to hold them accountable - needs to be aware of and responsible for our privilege.

in this case, on the plaza, i was attempting to develop and use another language upheld by other values when talking about "stealing" and "them" and "us". i was attempting to disrobe the very thinly cloaked racism and classism i was witnessing among those who chose to occupy.

i was attempting to suggest we talk about 'sharing' and 'caring' for those with less. setting up a 'buddy' system, where we get to know each other (the those that 'have' with the those that 'have not'), know what each other needs, and help each other meet those needs.

i recommended we leave at our homes those things we are not willing to share with others, or we put our belongings that are so very precious to us either on our bodies when we leave or in the 'security' tent, which was set up for this very purpose.

instead of emulating those in power, fearing 'stealing' from the have nots, flaunting our privileges, locking up our possessions, building walls of separation, maybe even involving the police in jailing those that are 'stealing' sleeping bags while those that are really 'stealing' our lives walk free - really thinking about and creating true community.

i'm not saying it is an easy thing to do, but if we cannot develop strong, caring ways to take care of those poverty-stricken human beings in our communities, especially when we are moving into their 'homes' mostly with impunity from the police, how can we expect the 1% to feel for those who have less or to act in any different ways.

we HAVE to remember the truly poor people of this country and why they are poor - and why we have what we do.

i know we hate to think of ourselves as having 'privileges', especially when we've experienced heterosexism, sexism, racism ourselves - but we have to honestly, clearly look at institutionally, culturally, structurally, systemic 'privilege' which gives white, male, christian extreme wealth at the expense of brown, lesbian, Indigenous mothers extreme poverty - and everyone else falling in between depending on how close we are to either end.

and it IS a negotiation between humans, but in order for whites and blacks to work together, for womyn and men to work together, rich and poor, those with privilege have to be willing to step back, to listen, to accept, honor and follow the leadership of those without privilege, who themselves have to step forward and lead.

the willingness to step back was severely lacking and the mere numbers made it near impossible for many to step forward - especially after they kicked me off the plaza!

as far as me being too much, too strong - i do try not to let the opportunity to confront bigotry pass. this does not make me many friends but does make me some life-long deep chosen family!

once the majority of people left, it became really clear the consciousness of individuals at freedom plaza is severely lacking. actually, the truth is, from the beginning with the organizers, consciousness was severely lacking. they set up a white male dominated action, failing to take into consideration and account for racism, sexism, classism.

the majority embraced the racist, sexist notion that talking about racism, sexism, etc., is divisive; and that it was my personal issue, not occurring structurally, systemically, and even personally on the plaza.

for example, when i pointed out that telling womyn and men of color not to talk too much, too long - as well as not telling white men the same - is racism and sexism, i was told i was being 'too sensitive' and this was my problem.

when we adopted a hand signal to interrupt the process if racism, sexism, classism was occurring, the facilitators at the next g.a.'s had so much difficulty explaining this hand signal as one to address racism, but instead morphed it into one to use if you were personally 'offended' by something someone was saying.

and the lack of consciousness around resources, food, garbage & recycling was/is appalling. the right to breathe smoke-free air was/is none existent. for a californian, i was stunned that people who supposedly wanted to change things used more plastic bottles, had to have garbage picked up three times a day, did not even bother recycling those plastic bottles let alone paper or composting...

i criticize with the hope that we can do better, be better, work harder. our planet is dying and we are the people, the country that are the number one killers. we MUST act now.

The shit hitting the fan

I decide to join the Peace Keeping & Security Team today because I feel the way in which a problem is framed determines the response and solutions.

And I REALLY don't like the general consensus of people here which is that the problem is the homeless and they are stealing our things, and we need security to protect ourselves from the homeless.

A womon at the morning G.A. suggests we might call it "involuntary sharing" instead of "stealing".

I like calling it sharing, period but support involuntary sharing too.

And another womon says in the morning G.A. that on this plaza, we 'occupiers' are the 1%, and homeless people are the 99%.

But these voices are the few.

Rumors fly thick, furious, and anti-homeless. I was told by several occupiers that someone last night took a knife to a tent and tried to break in & steal something. When I ask for more details, like how could a knife fail to actually cut into a tent, and what did he take, I'm told security stopped him, that he was drunk & didn't get anything.

We find out the truth, that apparently someone took a pair of scissors to some plastic ties that were keeping an empty tent closed - a tent that person apparently slept in on another night. No one actually witnessed this but believe that this person did it and then found another tent to sleep in.


I have suggested several times that 1) if you are not willing to share it, don't bring it to the plaza; 2) if it is so precious to you, keep it on your body or put it in the security tent (we have a fuckin 24/7 security tent - why is that not the end of the story?).

The facilitator, yet another white male, wants to get into the "real" concerns of the peace keeping & security team and even though we decide by consensus to talk about this framing of the issue, he constantly reiterates how he doesn't want to talk about this now and there are other more important pressing things we need to talk about.

He blames me for some reason for derailing his agenda, even though it was a group decision. He blames me for the "involuntary sharing" argument, even though I was only embracing it as a great idea.Go figure - I don't mind really.

I am pushing hard for a paradigm change, for the decriminalization of homeless people, for the recognition that we are the 1% here on the plaza and homeless people the 99%. Several of the young white males are self-righteously proclaiming their poverty; one older white womon is sick of being made to feel guilty because she is poor too. She claims if any of her property is stolen, she could not replace it.

I try to say we can work together to replace it but what if it never gets stolen? I've had 4 tents up now for several days, some since the beginning, full of sleeping bags & stuff and nothing has ever been taken.

We talk about the "donations" and how people are "stealing" donations. I do not see how that is possible but then it becomes clear that not only do people think they have the right to decide who gets donations, they have the right to decide if the reason the person even wants the donation in the first place is valid.

I say put all the donations out in an area with a sign: "Please take what you really need, leave whatever you can". If there are donations we do not want to share - as tents - they should be set up around the plaza for anyone to occupy. Sleeping bags can be put inside the tents to be used by any occupiers, homeless or not.

A white womon I haven't seen before reiterates the paradigm change siting the Indigenous People here not even having a concept of possession, not of land or things.

A young white man I haven't seen before pipes up and says something about those "natives" in such a derogatory manner I do a major time-out and suggest he speak of "Indigenous or Native American at least", but he insists on calling 'them' natives...

I ask people to consider a huge paradigm change. I know they are reeling, as I am pulling hard. I feel if I close my eyes and just listen to them, I think I could be hearing the rich 3 piece suiter talking about his woes with the poor and defending his rights and deservings of the things he possesses.

It is stunning. It is not unlike quoting Obama speaking to West Point and quoting Bush - and people thinking Bush said both things.

The prejudice against - mostly Black - homeless people is overwhelming, at least to me. I don't know how to hold the mirror up quickly and effectively enough.

I try repeating the 1%/99% picture. I try sharing that in ancient Jewish times, if someone stole something from you, YOU were the one that was punished. You were not supposed to hoard things, especially something someone else needed. You were supposed to care for each other.

Paradigm change. Isn't that what we're here for?

Several of the youth stomp off, angry, believing I'm advocating for their things to be gone. Tim grabs his expensive name-brand jacket and tells me he would not be able to survive without this coat & how he would never involuntarily share it.

Tim is a white man who I thought was ally and his coat was very nice and warm - and i'm sure he had several others in his closet.

I look this white man in the eye and ask him to tell me really, if someone who was so poor, shivering, barefoot in this frigid D.C. weather that he was forced to begged Tim for his coat, would he really begrudge that person?

I asked him if someone who had to live on the streets in this frigid weather, if someone was freezing and coatless, if someone took this coat, liberated this coat, would he be okay with sharing?

I can't see he would be that cruel.

He was outraged, outfuckinrageous, outfuckinraged that I could suggest that he might be okay if somebody who really needed it, if someone who was close to dying without it, took it. 

He asked me did I have any idea how much he spent on this coat. He said no homeless person could ever afford a coat this 'good'. And so they don't deserve it and you do, I glared at him.

I asked him are you able to replace this coat? Are you able to buy another coat just like this?? Well yes but….

Yes butt...
But I know I can go to a local thrift shop and find that very jacket Tim probably paid top dollar for new, for a few bucks.

The cook & I

He is white, speaks with a french accent, Jo-el. He is also a little dictator in the kitchen. I personally have never seen him cook anything.

I have seen Michael sweating over the huge pots for many meals. I get to see who's cooking because my truck is parked across from the kitchen and is used as the buffer between the cooking stoves and the street.

I have not been on the kitchen team until a couple days ago when the young white guy put 'in charge' made a total mess of everything - such a mess I felt I couldn't go to an action but stayed and cleaned the kitchen and organized the mess he left behind.

Jo-el, who is white, accuses Michael, who is one of the few African-American men on the plaza and working really hard, of stealing, of course, and being an alcoholic. And then says he's fired.

I try to intervene, to explain the consensus process to Jo-el. He cannot arbitrarily dismiss someone. Not just that, he is making serious accusations.

I am pissed we don't have our agreements in place. How many times do I have to bring up agreements in the g.a. only to be undermined and shot down?

I grab Oriana, the lawyer, and ask her to intervene. In the meantime, Jo-el is not allowing the hot food to be distributed. He claims Bruce, the minister, has told him not to serve any food until the G.A. is over or the action is done.

Again, I try to explain consensus to Jo-el but he is not having it, from me at least. When I see Bruce, he claims Jo-el misunderstood, that he never gave the orders to not serve any food.

I am not sure how it is resolved. Oriana takes Jo-el aside. Michael retreats to his tent. I help out in the kitchen & start serving food. And I inform a couple of the male organizers that Jo-el does not get the consensus process and we need a conduit from the G.A. to the kitchen so that we're all on the same page. They promise me they will take care of it.

The next day, we don't have breakfast - other then pastries, bread & peanut butter - because Jo-el claims the city is going to shut us down if we cook. I mention that that is a decision that should be made at the G.A., but Jo-el makes it adamantly.

Lunch time comes and we get vegan burgers and hamburgers delivered! I head to the kitchen thrilled to have vegan food, and Jo-el hands me a plate of burgers to give to the media tent. I ask him to add a vegan burger for me.

He tells me no one is eating until he says so. I ask him why am I bringing food to the media tent? He tells me they are working really hard and need food.

I'm aghast. I tell him I am working really hard and need food. Everyone needs food, especially when it's hot and ready.

He turns beet red, grabs the bowl out of my hands, and throws a vegan burger my way.

Later, he appears gracefully into the Peace Keeping meeting, asks people nicely if they had enough to eat, and then informs everyone he is no longer cooking because of me!

hmmmm. But I got my vegan burger and it was GREAT!