By Brian Douglas
As more OWS supporters started to come out of winter/holiday hibernation, I decided I wanted to start focusing on connecting at a local level. The events I participated in during the end of 2011 were all “standalone” and I was looking to find a group I could meet with regularly and help create something more cohesive and sustainable. After some Googling, I found OccupyBK.org’s Bushwick group, started chatting with a few other members, and we decided to get together.
About six of us, counting my fiance Deb and myself, ended up meeting at Kave on Wednesday 1/25. We had an open conversation about our backgrounds, core issues, and what we are looking to accomplish through OWS. The consensus was to meet again the following Wednesday and to try and keep GAs going on a regular basis. We knew that it would be inappropriate to set any formal agenda with so few people, so we left that open and just focused on spreading the word. The goal at this point would simply be to bring in more people and listen. We also agreed that it would be good to have one person give a half-hour skill-share or teach-in at each week’s meeting. I volunteered to do the first one, focused on helping people to consume and contribute to the digital conversation more efficiently and effectively.
At 7pm on 2/1, the following Wednesday, my family and I arrived at Kave, taped one of our “OCCUPY BUSHWICK” flyers to a table, and waited for people to arrive. Within ten minutes, the cafe was filled with Occupiers, most of whom I had never met before. Since that night was unusually warm, we opted to take the gathering out into the courtyard behind the coffee shop. I setup two laptops, one for live streaming and another for demonstration purposes, and I commenced my skill-share. I primarily focused on social networking, micro-blogging, and leveraging the tools on occupybk.org. I emphasized that all of these are most effective when they are supported by offline interactions such as meetings like these. I wrapped up my talk going over an info page I designed with a basic primer on HTML tags and useful links for participating in OWS digitally.
I wasn’t able to watch or participate in the about 90% of the actual General Assembly, as my eleven month old son decided he wanted to practice saying “Yayayah! YahaahYahYa!”, nonstop, for about two whole hours. Luckily, Deb was recording the whole event as we simultaneously live-streamed to about 12-20 viewers. So I spent the better part of last night watching the tape a few minutes at a time and summarizing each person’s contribution to the discussion. I’ve also linked to several local tweeters that were commenting on our discussion as it happened.
Occupy Bushwick: General Assembly Minutes 2/2/12
The next GA date & time will be at 7pm Thursday, 2/9 at Kave Espresso Bar and Event Space
Report backs due on 2/9:
- Carrie looking into future meeting location, Brooklyn Fireproof.
- Review any contacts made with local community organizations.
Format: Open Discussion
- Real estate industry renames neighborhoods (“East Williamsburg”) and simultaneously works to force evictions.
- The new tenants moving in are not to blame. Both sides have looked for community and felt ignored.
- Gentrification tends to be pitched to landlords as uplifting a depressed community and creating jobs.
- Community building events, i.e. clean-ups & gardens. 596 Acres identifies vacant lots that can be transformed into community gardens.
- Occupy has helped to connect people who wouldn’t have otherwise. This GA is a perfect example of gentrified and gentrifier coming together.
- Language is a big problem in Bushwick. We need to bring in bilingual volunteers to interpret. Challenge for technology group
- Being too web-based will unintentionally marginalize members of the GA.
- Proposal to have our mission be to empower the existing community by finding all channels to listen to them. Community Board hearings, Sr. Citizen’s Organizations, Make the Road.
- Now is the time to make sure Bushwick isn’t the next Williamsburg in terms of rent exploitation and destruction of the original community.
- The web shouldn’t be our only tool, but there is still much more we can do to bring people in with it.
- Question from passerby: Who’s in charge here?
Response: We’re all in charge!
- There are many tools and tactics for fighting illegal evictions and greedy landlords: Rent strikes, squatters rights.
- Handing flyers to strangers as they enter the subway isn’t effective outreach. Talking and making real connections is.
- OWS should consider itself as a service to communities, not just as a movement or cause to join.
- Events focused on arts and culture are good starting points to bringing people in to start talking.
- Outreach as a social revival instead of overtly political.
- Question: Should our local GA focus more on community building or “political” activism?
Response: Bringing a community together and finding consensus on their political issues is important to the success of OWS’ goals of challenging the 1%.
- Bushwick had even more diversity in the 50s than it does now, based on conversations with long-time locals.
- Question: Is it gentrification when a new demographic of people begin to occupy previously vacant spaces, as opposed to taking over a building where previous tenants were evicted.
Response:Not so much, but the cultural divisions still upset a long-time resident, who would like to see the younger people moving in to the neighborhood engage in more social interaction with their neighbors.
Side Topic: Privacy & Transparency
- Those not wanting to appear on livestreams, should make themselves known to the livestreamer immediately.
- An area can be set aside out of frame, or a bandana provided to those who wish to preserve their anonymity.
- Point of information on NYC law. If one party, even if it’s only the operator, consents, that person is permitted to film.