Monday, December 26, 2011

Today at Occupy Tucson: Kozachik & Villasenor play the child abuse card. Bad move, guys.

Dear Councilman Kozachik and Chief Villaseñor,

Recent communications from the Ward 6 Council Office and the Tucson Police Department have pointed to incidents of crime at the Occupy Tucson encampment at Veinte de Agosto Park as justification to evict protesters.

But TPD's own statistics show that during the 46 days of the Occupation at Veinte de Agosto, the downtown crime rate was 20 percent lower as compared to the 46 days before Occupy Tucson established its encampments.

Yes, gentlemen, you're hearing this right: downtown was safer with Occupy Tucson present. Twenty percent safer. This despite the fact that the normally deserted park was full of people. And that many of those people were struggling with mental illness and addiction.

The prevailing narrative about Occupy Tucson is that we haven't accomplished anything. Yet in our 46 days at Veinte de Agosto, we fed and sheltered dozens of our most vulnerable fellow citizens, raised awareness around global and local economic injustice, disrupted home foreclosure auctions, secured three supportive votes from city councilmembers, proudly racked up the Occupy movement's second-highest civil disobedience arrest rate in the country (New York being at the top), and left the park cleaner than we found it. Astonishingly, as we were doing all this work, the crime rate in the neighborhood went down.

Wow. Must have been our beloved Peacekeepers from Veterans for Peace patrolling our perimeter, as well as dozens of eyes looking out for one another. Looks like Occupy Tucson set up a pretty good neighborhood watch.

Councilman Kozachik and Chief Villaseñor, how dare you use the threat of public endangerment against us? How dare you peddle fear to the public as justification to clear out a peaceful protest?
How dare you continue to inject the words "child abuse" and "child molestation" into your newsletters, media interviews and press releases? Steve, your newsletter of December 14 reported the false information that "there was a child molestation inside one of the tents at Occupy Tucson." The clarification you issued a week later was weak and self-serving, and failed to correct the biggest falsehood of all: the implication that our presence was somehow responsible.

The truth is that we rescued those girls. They had been drinking—one of them was too drunk to walk—and none of us had seen these men before. Before the men disappeared, they admitted to us it was they who had bought the girls alcohol. One of them was in his late forties.

What really happened that night, Councilman Kozachik and Chief Villaseñor, is that we kept those girls warm and safe and called their parents, and prevented what might have been the worst experience of their young lives. Our encampment—that village it takes to raise a child—was there when those girls needed us.

Councilman Kozachik, your clarification also says "there were two incidents, not one," and that the other incident was "an ongoing TPD investigation into 'child abuse' that involves one of the people associated with Occupy Tucson." Chief Villaseñor, you've cited this incident to the press as well.

Seriously, guys? An investigation that involves one of the people associated with Occupy Tucson? Let's assume for a moment you're talking about one of our active organizers rather than, say, one of our 8,000 Facebook supporters or the hundreds of community members who brought us food and other supplies over the course of our Occupation of the parks. There are roughly 200 active organizers, I'd say — people who have participated in working groups, volunteered in the kitchen, served as Peacekepers and regularly attended our General Assemblies. So let me ask you this: what if we took a random sample of 200 people "associated with TPD" or "associated with Ward 6." Do you suppose that among those people there might also be an ongoing investigation or two of child abuse? And how quickly would you respond with indignation that one bad apple was being used to besmirch the whole institution?

Chief, you hid behind the "ongoing investigation" excuse to decline further comment on the incident. Did the alleged incident even occur at Veinte de Agosto, or is this "ongoing investigation" something that happened before this person came to Occupy? It's an abuse of your authority to drop the "child abuse" bomb into the public discourse and let it sit there, unexplained, for public speculation.

As a survivor of child molestation, a girl for whom nobody intervened, I am so offended by your repeated suggestions that Occupy Tucson's presence led to harm against children. It is underhanded and shameful of you both to try to use child abuse against us politically. We are Occupy Tucson, and this village isn't going anywhere.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Today at Occupy Tucson: The Citizen Misses the Point

In which I respond to a  bit of tediously substandard journalism by Rai Goldin over at the Tucson Citizen about my most recent post.

Indeed, Occupy Tucson has had a really difficult time getting down to the work of overthrowing the status quo. It's been--what?--ten weeks?

Geez, give us some time here. We're trying to fundamentally change an entire system. Any decent community organizer knows that groundwork must be laid. Plans must be made. Organizations must be built. Easy enough to judge from the outside when the pace isn't quick enough. Easy enough to judge our lack of concrete progress when you don't consider the fact we're both trying to change the world and tend to its ailments at the same time. The Occupiers at Veinte de Agosto are radical humanitarians, caring for the hungry and the addicted and mentally ill who have found refuge among us. Imagine the resources we've devoted to the hard work of keeping other people alive; resources we could have been using to fight the system that put them in such dire straits to begin with. The irony of our situation at Veinte de Agosto is astonishing: we've been sidetracked by the symptoms of the very social illness we came here to cure.

Speaking of Occupy becoming sidetracked by internal issues: go ahead and dismiss public accountability for one's misbehavior as "he said/she said." Go ahead and demean the courage it takes for an Occupy insider to finally call out the damaging actions of a colleague, despite knowing it will be characterized by the mainstream media as a catfight. If anything, my action proves that Occupiers aren't insular and driven by dogma. There's plenty of room for alternate opinions in this movement, and the beauty of the "leaderless" part is that it allows for and encourages autonomous action. Which includes public disagreement about what constitutes good strategy and responsible community organizing.

The truth is that we aren't a leaderless movement; we're a movement of leaders. Go ahead and minimize that, too, with the "too many chefs in the kitchen" argument. But we Americans have let someone else do the cooking for far too long. We need to re-learn how to be citizen leaders. Occupy gives everyone this opportunity. And if doing so looks a little messy and disorganized, so be it. The drafting of the U.S. Constitution wasn't exaclty a smooth process either.

The process of consensus decision making--one of the core values of the Occupy movement--is an easy target for those who'd rather condemn than understand. To judge our horizontal structure--the direct democracy we're trying to model--through the lens of traditional representative democracy is to miss the point. We're trying to bring about a fundamental shift, and fundamental shifts take time.

How about a little support from our allies, especially those who wield the power of the media? Use your position more responsibly, Rai. If you really want us to succeed, give us better, in-depth, more truthful coverage. By which I don't mean you should stop criticizing the movement, because all movements rely on the accountability of a free and independent media. If the media were holding irresponsible hotdogs like Jon McLane publicly accountable rather than swallowing his stories without criticism, I wouldn't have had to do it myself.

How about this: you do your job better and we'll do ours better. I'm guessing that the resulting accountability and creative tension will bring about swifter economic justice for us all.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Today at Occupy Tucson: Dramas Manufactured by Angry Boys

In which I hijack my own blog, normally dedicated to my (yes, still ongoing!) literary performance project, for a post about Occupy Tucson, my current obsession and the reason for the relative dormancy of this page. I’ve been so preOccupied!

Shaun McClusky has come after Occupy Tucson again. McClusky was this year's failed Republican candidate for mayor and Tea Party darling who has so far been disqualified from two separate local elections for failing to follow rules such as listing top contributors on his disclosure forms and for screwing up the collection of signatures on his nominating petitions.

McClusky, who has characterized Occupy Tucson as a “smelly stinky presence” and has said he hopes TPD takes our “unemployed asses to jail,” was yesterday awarded a permit by the City of Tucson for Veinte de Agosto Park and De Anza Park—the only two Occupy-related encampments in Tucson—for one-time events on December 28. McClusky’s planned party: a food drive by a group called “Take Care of Tucson” that would benefit the Community Food Bank and three local animal shelters.

Ah, the evil of McClusky’s plan! Canned food! Cats & dogs! How American! How reasonable!!

Except that McClosky’s events clearly aren’t motivated by a desire to feed the hungry. His is a ploy to kick Occupy Tucson out of Veinte de Agosto Park. McClusky is using hungry people and abandoned animals as a political shield for his real agenda: to silence this global economic revolution and squelch its impact in Tucson.

Good luck, McClusky. You think that forcing Occupy Tucson to move a few tents is going to stop this movement? This movement is too big, too important, too timely, to be slowed down by the likes of you.

It also doesn’t take much digging to discover McClusky's personal vendetta against Jon McLane, the activist behind Occupy Public Lands. OPL is a renegade offshoot of Occupy Tucson that irritates the hell out of many of us, myself unquestionably at the top of the list, for unnecessarily confrontational tactics, camera hogging, dramatic grandstanding, a tenuous grasp on the meaning of “leaderless movement,” and/or a general disregard for the well-being of the mother Occupy organization.

Be that as it may, McClusky and McLane have their own tawdry history: they ran against one another in the mayoral race, and were both disqualified over a failure to follow basic election rules. McLane ran as a Green Party candidate. Yet when McLane’s campaign came to its abrupt halt, he threw his support behind X-treme Republican McClusky, even joining his campaign as chair of the sustainability committee. From Green Party to Tea Party? Wow, there’s a leap.

Now it seems the boys once again aren’t getting along. Yesterday on McLane’s Facebook page he accused McClusky of orchestrating this weirdly amateur YouTube video attack against him.

Bottom line is that a silly combination of male ego and a small-time act of revenge from a frustrated political loser shall result in Occupy Tucson leaving its encampment once again.

It’s okay. This stuff is small potatoes. Dramas manufactured by angry boys shall come and go, but this movement is here to stay. We are riding the wave of global change, tossed in the tumult, exhilarated. The people are waking up.

We’re Occupy Tucson, and we aren’t going anywhere.