Sunday, July 15, 2012

Things Get Rough

I want to briefly explain what happened at Occupy NH's general assembly today (7/15/12):

Things were incredibly messy. The initial controversy had started all the way back when ONH first began last fall. The movement in Manchester was embraced by both leftist-types (the area's progressive social democrats, marxists, anarchists, and some liberals) and right-libertarian free staters, and tensions between the groups instantly  started brewing (at least, this is what I've been told). The leftists, including my friend Mark Provost, didn't like what they perceived as the free staters in their group attempting to turn ONH into an offshoot of the Free State Project where the issues raised and actions proposed would be overwhelmingly right-libertarian centric (compare this to how liberal groups like MoveOn tried to co-opt OWS). Things became incredibly intense last week on the Facebook event for today's GA: a few free staters insisted on open-carrying their guns to the assembly. Others in ONH openly objected to this, arguing that because ONH is completely non-violent, and many people did not feel comfortable about it, guns should be kept out. It turned into a full-out internet brawl with the attendants who were pro-gun calling those who objected to bringing guns all sorts of degrading insults (never mind the fact that many leftists in ONH admit to being gun owners themselves; they were simply demanding that the feelings of activists who felt intimidated by guns be respected). It was awful, and terribly childish for the free staters in question to resort to such verbal abuse.

Yesterday when I was visiting a friend from McDaniel in Concord, I received a call from Mark. He told me everything that happened, and how he felt it was necessary for Occupy NH to entirely disassociate itself with the FSP. He and many others in ONH were sick and tired of having to deal with those particular free staters. He also made the point that the vulgar libertarians he was referring to hardly ever contributed to the movement, and simply showed up at ONH events to create drama between themselves and other activists (definitely not something worth putting up with). I told him I'd make it back up to Concord for the GA, and we laid out how we were going to handle everything.

The GA was taking place on the lawn outside the State House. When we arrived to the "mixed" crowd of occupiers (many of whom were wearing IWW T-shirts) and free staters (many of whom were open carrying their guns; some even carrying toy guns to mock the occupiers who raised the concern), we made it absolutely clear that we and many others in ONH wanted the movement to distance itself completely with the FSP. Quickly, the arguments began. Not too much longer, one of the people associated with the FSP group wanted to get the GA started. Right before she could address anything, over half of us in the crowd got up and left. We were going to hold our GA in a different spot away from the gun-toters.

Of course, we spent the first fifteen minutes or so discussing what had happened on Facebook, and later we finally brought the resolution to officially separate ONH from the FSP to consensus. We were relieved; we were just sick of the constant infighting and felt that free staters should stick to doing their own things without trying to bring ONH along. Several people in our group brought up the reasons why they felt guns should not be present at our GAs. The point was made that just because one has the right to carry a gun doesn't mean that they should carry a gun when they're around people who don't feel comfortable around guns; compare it to someone putting a six pack of beer right next to their friend who is a recovering alcoholic. The rest of our assembly went well with plans for what ONH will be doing in the next few months. Though things became uneasy a few times when a few individuals from the "other group" hovered around our space and took pictures of us sitting in the circle. There was one individual who sat on a bench between the two assemblies. For the most part, we ignored them and continued on with our discussions and plans for actions (which included actions in Vermont two weeks from now, and creating a Food Not Bombs organization or something like it in NH).

It was right after our GA ended that I was approached by a young woman from the FSP crowd. She asked if she could take a picture of me with the demonstration sign I had made. I told her I felt uncomfortable, since I didn't know her at all. She told me we were friends on Facebook, and I instantly recognized her as someone whom I had de-friended a while ago. I told her I still didn't feel comfortable, and she ended up "crying". Finally, she ended up taking a photo of myself and another occupier holding my sign in front of our faces. It turns out she had taken several photos of us, and we saw her share them with those in the FSP group. No idea how doing such a thing would be productive in any way.

Once that whole debacle was finished, I joined a mini-circle with other female occupiers from our group in a little impromptu women's caucus. I told them what happened, and one person there said incidents like that are not uncommon. Our chat was almost entirely focused on the free staters' presence in this area (I'm certain most of us have lived here for a long, long time). One person, Katie T., jokingly suggested that the libertarians move to East St. Louis, since that city apparently has a flourishing free market in the drug trade, lots of pot, plenty of open fields to homestead and live off-grid in, and very little government oversight. Perhaps an organization like CopBlock would be much more productive there as well, since police in Manchester and Keene aren't exactly the gestapo-like cops you find in major cities where major systematic oppression of the poor and non-whites is common.

We left the State House lawn shortly after. The FSP group's assembly was still going on. When we returned from eating lunch down the road, we noticed that their assembly was still going on. Mark told me that he heard them talking about the deficit as we had left the lawn. I don't know what they plan on doing in the near future, and I don't really care. They've officially blown any chance they would have to ally with us. As Mark pointed out, to them, being able to carry guns during the GA despite the feelings of others overruled solidarity. In all honesty though, that was just the last straw after months of tension between the groups. I believe in reciprocity; if you want respect you ought to be respectful towards others. I also believe in free association and have no shame in ditching others whom I feel are highly disrespectful towards myself or my comrades. People who hold such a pernicious sense of entitlement aren't worth dealing with.

1 comment:

  1. Other occupiers have stated their reasons for divorcing ONH from the FSP. It has nothing to do with personal vendettas but rather us deciding whether or not we want our movement to embrace what those in the FSP want to embrace. I would suggest reading it.