from Outside the Circle
To begin, I’m going to quote a report back from the POC Curfew Committee from the occupation in Philly: “VICTORY! We went to City Council today 80 people strong. It was beautiful, we filled up half of the chambers. Che Gossett, Savannah Shange, Adán X Equis, Diop Olugbala, Professor TJ Ghose, and I [Khadijah White] delivered powerful testimonies against the bill [to extend the evening curfew law directed at youths 18 and under to the whole of Philly]. In addition, we delivered 140 signatures on the petition against the curfew to the office of the Council president. And then… there was no vote. Afterwards, Councilman Jones told some of us that only minutes before today’s session convened, the City Council agreed table the bill for more consideration. He said it was because of us, because of our points and criticism. They expect the next version of the law to exclude incarceration as a potential penalty. So, it’s a small victory, but a victory all the same. And it was honestly powerful!! Solidarity!!”
It was beautiful indeed, on several levels.
When I showed up at 9:30 a.m., to gather with others to walk into City Hall together–past the Homeland Security van surrounded by lots of cops on the other side of City Hall from our occupation–I noticed a group of teens wandering around our occupation. I encouraged them to join us, inside City Hall, to talk about their experiences with and hopefully against the youth curfew. The kids of color in the group seemed especially interested. But a couple of them said, “We can’t. Our teachers won’t let us.” “Where are your teachers?” I asked them. They pointed to an adult or two in the distance, and then realized they could simply ask them if they could stay longer. So they did. And soon they too trooped into City Hall (alas, their teachers only let them stay for about 20 minutes–long enough for the media cameras and councilors to see them, and long enough, more important, for them to start to experience their own power to shape their day and maybe return to the occupation later).
When a bunch of us occupiers went into City Hall, I was again reminded of this unlikely mix of people, who increasingly are becoming unlikely allies and friends. I was joined by a guy who I met the first day, as part of our facilitation and direct democracy working group. He’s really nice, a really nice liberal, who seemed so naive about politics at first; now, just two weeks later, he turned to me as we walked past Homeland Security and went through the metal detector to say, “I know you are against policing in general, Cindy, but I still think some police are OK. At the same time, I’m start to get what you’re saying. My friends tell me, ‘Why are you and your friends costing us so much money in police time with your occupation,’ and I’m telling them, ‘Most of the police just get paid to sit around talking among themselves. We don’t want them there. We’re not wasting people’s money; the police are.’” He and I were joined by a woman I’ve seen around the occupation–a young woman of color who spoke at a recent general assembly, nervously and haltingly, unable to seemingly get out what she wanted to say. But here, as we sat side by side in the council chambers, she told us about her younger sister, who is autistic and has to either work a shitty job in the evenings or be institutionalized. Last week, on her way home after curfew hours, she was stopped by police, thrown against a wall, not read her rights, and taken to the police station. Her older sister, today, said that her younger sister has been traumatized ever since, repeating to her family, “But what did I do?” “Nothing, honey,” her sister replies. I urged her to testify, but she said, “Oh, I get too scared speaking in front of people.” And I sat back, extra glad that our occupation, her occupation, had emboldened her to try speaking in public, in front of lots of people, are our general assembly.
Much as I hate these things–sitting in the “seats of power” that seem at once so obviously a parody and yet so ridiculously powerful–I was reminded of our building social power on the outside, at the occupation. Of our self-made people power. First, how our direct democracy (at our general assemblies) is so effective, efficient, empowering, and engaging, especially in contrast to tedious, deadening nonrep rep demo. Second, that due to our occupation, we are increasingly able to not only force the hand of those in power a little bit on issues that horribly impact people’s lives in the here & now, such as the racist curfew law (as noted by the POC Curfew Committee above, it seems the council is now going to hopefully take out the prison term linked to curfew violations; with luck, perhaps our social power will compel them to jettison the curfew law altogether) but also to draw new folks into our politics and occupation because it has teeth (teeth we’ve given it, via camping, do-it-ourselves organizing, working groups, and our general assembly). And even though it’s sort of meaningless, it was humorous and even satisfying to watch how our culture of resistance and reconstruction, of direct democracy, is reshaping how even politicians think of politics. During our public testimony today–rather, awe-inspiring and thoughtful speeches that made me proud to be an occupier!–a couple of the council members turned to listen attentively (most weren’t!). They started smiling, and then, when they heard things they liked, they “twinkled” in agreement, a hand gesture that we use at our general assemblies. Who knows, maybe they’ll abandon their city council seats and become occupiers!? One can dream at least. And certainly, stranger things are happening daily here at the Philly occupation.
Perhaps best of all, we occupiers who came and sat in City Hall got to enjoy two hours of further bonding, whispering and laughing among ourselves during the tedious council session this morning; applauding and waving homemade signs during the rousing, insightful, and compelling–and I might add, persuasive–testimony by our newfound comrades at this occupation; and afterward, after most councilors had basically ignored us and they hadn’t even explained why they suddenly didn’t debate the bill, introducing ourselves to each other, if we hadn’t yet met, and hugging, both those we knew among us and we just met today.