Scott Marks 3:29 p.m., May 24
What in the World Is Occupy San Diego and Why Does it Matter?
The following events took place on Monday, October 3, 2011
Night has just fallen over downtown San Diego’s Children’s Park and maybe 150 people sit in a circle amid the trees and electric gaslamps, flashing cryptic hand signals and talking loudly over the roar of a passing freight train.
Occupy San Diego, a demonstration of solidarity with the thousands of protesters on Wall Street who have been camping in Zuccotti Park for nearly a month now, is just days away. Hundreds of people are expected to march on the Civic Center and occupy the space for an indefinite period until a set of demands, still in draft, are met.
The movement has been backed by countless workers’ unions, Nobel Prize–winning economist Joseph Stiglitz, celebrities such as Yoko Ono, Alec Baldwin, and Susan Sarandon, and even received a letter of support and advice purportedly from a member of the Tea Party on how to avoid having the movement hi-jacked.
With that madcap Alaskan (yes, Sarah I-can’t-name-a-newspaper-I-read-regularly Palin) as its formal if not entirely inarticulate mouthpiece, the Tea Party was long ago co-opted and exiled as lepers, the diseased ass of every good political zinger.
Becoming associated with any political group would ruin the occupiers' movement, which is one reason they’ve remained fiercely non-partisan, leaderless, and all inclusive – a catch-all expression of the ubiquitous discontent of the American people.
But I digress.
San Diego’s march and occupation is four days away, yet the Children’s Park circle, which has been meeting in various incarnations every night since last Tuesday, is still struggling with one of the central challenges presented to any assembly of people ranging from a five-member book club to an entire nation — how to allow everyone’s voice to be heard equally without devolving into muddled, incoherent screams.
They aren’t the types you’d picture organizing a protest. Instead of heart-heavy, disgruntled anarchists plastered in crust punk patches chain-smoking Lucky Strikes, everyone from bright-eyed journalism freshmen to silver-headed retirees comprise the evening’s General Assembly circle.
Tonight, they’re replacing the previous single moderator system with a consensus-based facilitation process which has been adopted by many of the circles in Zuccotti Park. The volunteer facilitators’ roles include a moderator, a secretary, a timekeeper, a stack-keeper, and a peacekeeper, who half-jestingly likens his role to a rodeo clown’s.
The idea is that, by following a process involving hand signals and large name cards to get in the stack (or line) to speak, anyone interested will have a chance to voice their opinion on a given topic so that all motions set before the group will be passed with 100% consensus.
You know, democracy.
That ole thing.
“Why are we here?” asks the moderator, a slightly bearded man of maybe 25, as way of commencing the assembly.
“To achieve economic and social justice!” replies the circle, those who know the mantra.
“And end the war!” shouts one older gentleman, to the cheery chuckles and grunts of agreements from others.
The moderator outlines the agenda, a list of discussion topics and announcements from sub-circles such as Food, Media, Comfort, Outreach, Medical, Legal, and Logistics.
“Food will talk about the importance of food and water,” he says, some guffawing at the playful redundancy of the announcement.
Discussion doesn’t get far before some, frustrated with the new process, speak out of turn, only to be silenced by the facilitators. Suddenly, the meeting is no longer about the protest, it’s about the process.
“This is a cheeseless rat hole!” one man proclaims before storming off to collect himself. “A waste of time!”
Two hours later, more than half of the circle has left, some having lost interest, some with prior plans, others with bruised egos, feeling dejected and misunderstood. One woman bursts into “Give Peace a Chance” in an attempt to quell the accusations flying across the circle. The rodeo clown grabs a man from the sidelines and begins ballroom dancing in the middle of the circle, which gets a few laughs and brings many back to their senses.
Soon, however, arguments turn personal and the process breaks down completely. The circle dissolves, deciding to revert to the non-process process.
Back to square one.
But by reinventing the process of democracy in order to ultimately reinstate American democracy, the Children’s Park circle reveals an acute point of contention in our country’s present situation: You get the democracy you vote for.
Don’t like it? Go through the process to fix it. You voted for that, too.
What happens when the process is broken?
You shout and you stomp and you gnash your teeth trying to make sense of it all.
And that’s exactly how the evening ends.
And that’s exactly where America is.
And that’s why hundreds of San Diegans will occupy the Civic Center tomorrow in solidarity with the thousands of people in Zuccotti Park and the (as of today, October 6) 759 other groups of occupiers around the world.
Our democratic process is broken, and all we really want is our America back.
Or, as one blue-hoodied man in the Children’s Park circle puts it, “Sometimes shit breaks down, and we have to fix it. That’s democracy.”
Occupy San Diego begins tomorrow, 4:00 p.m. with a march from the Children's Park around downtown and back to the park for the night. The group will move to the Civic Center on Saturday afternoon.
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