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 turns out I was wrong when I said the solidarity march with Oakland went off without incident. I found out after I wrote that there were some arrests, 14, I think, including a guy I work with in the storage room and another guy I know sort of. Both were out the next day.
I finally got to watch the Oakland videos I sent you all a few days back. Awful. Shooting “non-lethal” gas canisters at people’s heads. Even a teddy bear can be lethal if you shoot it fast enough at someone’s head. Protesters came back again and again and eventually re-took the plaza. Others came out in support of the original occupiers. Presumably it was this popular response that caused Oakland’s new mayor to make the bizarre statement that she supported the goals of Occupy Oakland and would minimize police presence. She’s on their side! With friends like that, who needs enemies? Then the next day or so she came out and said they have to obey the curfew and be out of the park at night. You have to wonder what’s going on behind the scenes in that mayor’s office.
And there has already been talk of Marines supporting the Occupy movement, but when the Oakland police shot the Marine Scott Olsen in the head with a canister, sending him to the hospital, I think more Marines are coming out in support. Some Marines joined a march in New York the other day regarding this…Police have moved in military-style on Occupy Denver…and Nashville, Tennessee has joined Albany, New York in key public officials refusing orders to arrest protesters..
These two phenomenon interest me greatly: a) cracks in the system; If police, prosecuters, etc., begin refusing orders against us and it really spreads, it would be incredible. b) massive popular reaction against police crackdowns; This seems to happen every single time. This puts the authorities in a real bind. If they do nothing, the movement sustains itself or grows gradually. If they react against it, the movement swells dramatically.
Aside by James: In nonviolent strategy, these instances of police refusing orders or former or current soldiers joining protesters are examples of undermining the support of those in power. Such instances are vital for nonviolence to work. Using violence has the opposite effect as it tends to increase the support for those in power or at least the acquiescence by different groups to those in power.
Okay, enough speculation, now back to the situation I’m involved in: It got pretty cold Thursday night, putting a strain on us. The folks in medical are working extra hard with hypothermia issues. Friday night I spent my first night in a tent. My friend and co-worker was going to let me in on their tent, but ended up losing his spot. I had a spot but no tent, so they moved their tent to our spot. I had to clear out a massive amount of stuff to make space. Most of it, as it turns out, was garbage, some personal stuff I set aside, and managed to squeeze the 4-person tent inbetween the nearest camper and the borderline with the sidewalk. The feeling that night was so strange. The police have been leaning down on us more over the past few days. Bloomberg making these statements implying that arrests were inevitable, and Friday morning the fire department came in and took our gasoline-powered generators. (Used for media computers and I think for the kitchen.) So there was a weird kind of excitement in the air Friday night. It was partly a Friday night in Manhattan vibe, partly the electricity of a coming storm, and there were loud sirens now and then. Could have been coincidence– fire trucks answering a call that happened to take them past us– but I doubt it.
Younger protesters said that day that because of such signs they felt arrests were inevitable. When I hear this I remind them this has been happening on and off since the day I arrived, and that it’s almost always theatrics. It’s true that they might crack down on us, but if Bloomberg decides to make this move, let him. I hope he doesn’t, and none of us want to be beaten or arrested, but if they try to crack down on us in any big, dramatic way, it will be a big mistake. I don’t know how many thousands showed up that Friday morning a few weeks back during the threatened cleaning crackdown because I wasn’t there, but I’ve heard estimates between 2,000 and 8,000, and that was at 6 in the morning! I don’t know of any contingency plans with unions, but I’m almost certain that such a move would be met with a show of force among unions and working people, “99%ers,” that– planned or organized or not— would not soon be forgotten.
I’ve gone to a lot of demonstrations in my day. People who don’t go to them have sometimes called me brave, and I always quickly corrected them and told them that, no, I’m not brave, that when things get tense, I always looked for a way out, that I was never on the front lines when the police visors went down. But even I don’t feel afraid this time, and so Friday night in my tent, even with the rain fly down so I couldn’t see out at all, I could hear and feel the spirit around the park. We all heard the sirens, we all knew of the police huff-and puff, and we also knew each other, if not by name than by face. And we’d proven, collectively, night after night, that we were staying put. One of my tentmates was asleep, the other out late, but I laughed out loud with this feeling, this sort of liberating bravery, this feeling that I was doing something that mattered more than me. At one point an “ohm” swept through the park, everyone humming or chanting a single note. I joined in.
Saturday morning it was snowing and sleeting. I had to walk back and forth to storage and the camp a few times, and one time the sleet seemed to be driving horizontally at me. It was rough. I’d thought I’d slept off a coming sickness, but after just a few hours I could barely stand up, and realized instantly it was time for another break. The cold is also aggravating the fact that I need to attend to another dental detail. So Saturday evening I arrived at family’s here in New Jersey, only to find that they are among the 600,000 (?) Jersey residents without power. As it was explained to me, it’s never snowed this much this early in the season, and since the trees still have leaves on them, they took on an inordinate amount of snow, so trees and power lines are down all over. It might be another four or five days before I return to the city.
Oh, I was planning on writing more about this issue, but I guess it will come off as a footnote: They got more tents in the other day, and distributed them randomly, not wanting to discriminate in favor of the working groups and against the homeless. The result is that after distributing 20 or so tents, not one new tent was seen in the park that night, or so I was told. This suggests they simply leave the park as soon as they’re distributed. I’ve been trying to make this point to people there: People with nothing better to do can hang around and when they find out something good has come in, can get their friends to all go over and get one, while the people who work 10 hours a day in the kitchen or 11 hours a day in the storage facility or all night on security shifts and sleep in the day aren’t around to load up on free things. They need to proactively target the working group[s, seek them out, ask them what they need and make sure they get them. Good, cold-weather sleeping bags are coming in, and I hope they don’t get squandered. I made this point to some people involved and I think I made some headway, but soon after I had to bail out.
…Not so satisfied with this report, but I’ll send it out as is. I have more thoughts on the theft issue and about danger from within, which hopefully I’ll be able to express soon. A couple details I forgot to include: The woman who put out the famous video that started the whole Tahrir Square occupation in Cairo was here, gave a workshop, and did an interview with Amy Goodman on Democracy Now, which you can watch. I didn’t even know she’d been there until the next day. Also, the other day there was scheduled a march from Tahrir Square to the US embassy, in support of Occupy Oakland!
One last point: Bloomberg made a statement at one point that we’ll run off at the first sign of winter. I highly doubt it. Some people might flee, but we’re getting zero-degree sleeping bags in, and there are some tough, committed people there. In fact, the snow the other day left the camp more inspired, just knowing we survived it. The more we survive difficult conditions, the more focused and inspired we become. Okay, that’s all for now, and feel free to forward any or all of this information, use my name or not, it doesn’t matter.