Steve Iskovitz, a friend and former Green-Rainbow Party candidate for Cambridge City Council, has started emailing his thoughts from the front lines of the Occupy movement. Since this blog has lain dormant for so long, I decided to lend it to him. I will post the backlog of messages about once a day and then start posting them as they come in. I am posting them uneditted. His words are his own. You can find all of his posts under the Occupy tag.
It’s been a while since my last report. I’ve had internet access troubles. I’ll pick up where I left off about a week ago:
I visited Occupy Pittsburgh again on Monday afternoon (October 17), and it had grown considerably since Saturday. I went back that night to wait for my 5 a.m. bus, and it had grown again noticeably since the afternoon, and during the few hours I was there two more tents went up!
While there were some similarities with the New York site, I took note of the differences. It was much more relaxed. There seemed to be no tension at all with the police. Protesters would walk over and talk with the cops, it was all very friendly. The site stil had a lot of space, they could use megaphones, and they had tents, so life there was much easier than at Occupy Wall Street in New York. Some people talked about the idea of making straw huts there, and I thought about how, as the anthropologists and sociologists say, different conditions result in different cultures. The Pittsburgh site can grow in a different way because conditions allow it. Likewise, all kinds of things could come from other sites around the country based on different climates, space, relationships, etc.
I got off the bus in Harrisburg and spent the morning at that city’s occupation site. Considerably smaller, there were only two people when I arrived, about ten by the time I left at noon. I was told they have 100 or so by there evening General Assembly (GA), and about ten people sit or stand around for the overnight, since they’re not allowed to camp. I was told two or three smaller towns in Pennsylvania also had occupation sites!
That evening I got off the bus and visited the Philadelphia occupation. It was huge, spreading across the City Hall plaza, two or three times the Wall Street site. I was told there were about 350 tents, about 600 people. It was incredibly relaxed and positive. All the facilities– kitchen, distribution, info, etc., operated out of huge tents.
Although all three Pennsylvania sites I visited were more relaxed, I didn’t feel quite right at any of them. Maybe because I was new and didn’t have a purpose at any of them, but also the slow, relaxed atmosphere somehow didn’t feel right to me.
The instant I arrived back in Zucotti Park in New York I felt I’d returned home. I prefer the excitement and vitality of it, and the feeling that I’m in the center of it, since all the occupations around not just the country but around the world are all currently centered around it.
But I learned from the Pennsylvania sites that it was not necessary to be constantly frantic. Somehow in my first six days in New York I’d come to associate occupation, excitement, chaos and constant crisis as inherently connected, but I realized during my five-day break that that had just been coincidence.
I returned to working in the storage facility. Throughout the week we managed to get things more under control. The storage space, like everything else, was brand new just a few weeks ago, but now we have our routine down fairly well, and we’re all much more relaxed about it. Other people come in in late morning to help out with our crunch time, when we pick up shipments from the UPS store, and help open and sort them. By late afternoon it’s down to just the core group for other tasks.
Somehow, the media has discovered us. Tired of just the freak-show-in-the-park angle, they’ve taken a fascination with the inner workings of the operation, and take innumerable pictures of us opening boxes, of shelves of food, etc.
Overall, though, the occupation site in general seems to be settling in a little. After a few weeks I’m finally learning to distinguish who’s who. I’m beginning to recognize and get to know the long-termers, the different working groups. It makes it a lot easier. For example, a lot of the different departments manage their own stuff. That means they come over and organize it themselves, and they come and get what they need. This saves us a lot of time and confusion. The transition to this system at first resulted in multiple cases of theft, but we’re getting a handle on that now.
On the larger scale, Mayor Bloomberg has changed his tone considerably. A week or two ago he was talking about how we have a right to be there, he has no problem with us, etc. Over the past few days he’s been saying we’ll have to go soon. Local media has ,ade inferences of some impending police crackdown. Last night a mentally ill man came into the park and started some sort of ruckus. Two cops crossed the street and entered the park, as though in response to this. It all looked, to the rest of us, like a thinly disguised attempt at provocation. Our folks managed to get it under control quickly enough, thwarting whatever plan it might have been. I saw the guy walking around today too. Last night we passed a cop on Broadway, coming back from storage, and he stared at us. Up to now, they’ve pretty much ignored us, so I think it’s all part of an attempt to scare us and get us to give up. It won’t work, though, there are too many experienced activists here who know all these tricks, and our community support is deeper than ever.
In fact, the “no-tent” rule is being violated more and more. Every night a few more people put them up, and there’s been no police response to this. There’s been a lot of talk, in fact, about the no-tent rule being a human rights violation. The Red Cross, I hear, has come out with a statement to this effect, and some local clergy also, taking the human rights approach to this. The weather has been getting colder. I haven’t had a problem with this, though rain is still a bit of a problem.
Oh, and on the tent issue– while I was away the medical folks put up a tent. The police came in to take it down, and there was some kind of a standoff between police and occupiers. Jesse Jackson happened to be in the park at the time, and someone ran across and alerted him. He came over and stood in front of the tent with the occupiers, and the police backed down, and the medical tent has been here since. This story reminds me of the Republican National Convention in Minneapolis in ’08, when the police attacked the medical tent and shot tear gas canisters inside the tent. Medical facilities are important, delicate areas, and apparently the police feel they can dismantle a movement by attacking them there, despite the fact that doing so even in wartime is a violation of the Geneva Convention.
Elsehwhere, they arrested 130 in Chicago yesterday. I heard a rumor that there are 10,000 people at Occupy Portland (Oregon), though I haven’t researched this. Occuy L.A. is supposedly larger than ours. I met someone from Buffalo who said they’re going strong there and that they have a fire pit, and when the police drive by they wail their sirens and wave in support! Someone who was in Occupy Cleveland(I think it was) said the police hardly ever come there but when they do they bring coffee for the occupiers!…Public opinion around the country is running in our favor…Someone from Hawaii just sent us organic macademia nuts and dried bananas grown on their farm.
So, all kinds of different things happening all around. I hope the folks in Chicago are out of jail and doing okay. Lots of details, I shouldn’t have to wait a whole week before my next report. All for now,
(Any or all of this report can be forwarded, attributed or not.)