My time at Occupy Union Square, aside from being the medic for Occupiers, the homeless, passers-by, and the resident street ‘family’, centered around liberating public space. Carlton (Occupy Wall Street) and I brainstormed a way we could establish ‘beachheads’ at multiple parks in order to prevent the police from surrounding all of us in one place, and also to provide multiple fallback positions for Occupiers if there is an eviction from the main occupation, or space is needed because of large-scale actions, or increased population among hard-grounders necessitates expansion, or any of many other reasons. Having multiple occupations also means the police would cover all those places in order to oppress and try to suppress us, and use even more of their finite personnel and financial resources. Further, the police would never know which fallback position we would go to in an emergency, and they probably could not cover all of them. Even better, we could civilian (disperse in groups of 2-4) to multiple places. We could even move from one place to another to always keep the police moving and guessing. Still better, multiple occupations provides other Occupiers with the luxury of moving from place to place to visit, work/protest or to live. Another benefit is the connection with the people who live in the neighborhoods. The movement is nothing without the people, the 99%
In order to accomplish all this we developed a new model working group to enable us to provide the maximum amount of service to people with the minimum number of workers while still maintaining a 24/7 occupation. Instead of seperate working groups for Info, Kitchen, Medical, Library and Comfort we combined all five working groups into a single, multi-purpose occupation group that is also an autonomous affinity group. The ability to function independently, and to be a team dedicated to each other as well as the greater movement, is essential. The ability to live together under great stress 24/7 means they have to know and trust each other intimately.
Having a single occupation group maintained by 3-6 people that can provide the basic support for occupation and outreach enables multiple small occupations. Each small occupation is essentially a beachhead that establishes all the basic connections to the wider support system in the neighborhood. For that reason, most of the action centering around this autonomous working/affinity group is concerned with outreach to the local residents and organizations. Each beachhead occupation is then ready to become a large occupation overnight should a group of Occupiers elsewhere be forcibly evicted.
This occupation group will have intimate knowledge of all the resources within that occupation area. The best places to dumpster for food and supplies, connections to community activist groups and community resources, knowledge of the best sidewalks nearby to sleep at if the park closes at night, and knowledge of the police and security procedures in that area are some of the essential information that enables this strategy to succeed.
While it is a lot of work for so few people, Carlton and I were able to maintain Occupy Union Square for an extended period with dedicated help from four other Occupiers; two who were with us full-time, two who worked with us part-time. We also recieved sporadic but essential, and very welcome, help from about a dozen others. Unfortunately for us, the two who worked with us full-time were saboteurs who kept us busy putting out fires until we were exhausted, sidetracked and feeling lost. If it wasn’t for the saboteurs, Carlton and I would have trained a group of Occupiers to take over the Occupation working group at Union Square, and begun the move to a new park, a new occupation. We were set to move when the sabotage came to a head — all our money and our computer were stolen when one saboteur disapeared while on night watch one night, and the other saboteur took control of our other equipment forcing an angry showdown that lasted over a week and left us back at square one. It is essential to know who you are trusting – and I know that is difficult in Occupy but discernment and confronting negative behaviors is necessary.
Hard ground occupying is not for everyone. Leading the way but not becoming a leader is also not for everyone. Liberating public space is a dangerous and oftimes thankless job — but somebody has to do it. The future of humanity depends upon it.