G.A. Minutes 8-16-14

G.A. Minutes 8-16-14

The sun is shining and it looks like a typical warm summer day. However a pretty strong east wind is cooling things down considerably. Of course, we’re at CJM again. We set things up quickly and start the fire right away. No one is dressed for cool weather; the fire will allow folks to sit comfortably.

A few street people are actually waiting for us. They seem in need of refuge tonight. The formerly homeless Native artist who we have known and respected for years stops by. He’s on his way to do something and says he’ll be back to join us soon.

A Native woman who appears to have been waiting for us comes to sit. She appears to be upset but doesn’t say much. Although we’ve met her occasionally, we don’t really know her.

Something is going on back on the ledge. We hear a loud conversation between an infamous Native street man who uses a wheel chair, a large, mannish, well known Native street woman and a young woman whose face is familiar to us. Several African American men are also on the ledge. They do not appear to be at all connected to the loud conversation.

The young woman is chastising the man in the wheel chair. She tells him it is never o.k. for a man to hit a woman. The young woman walks over to the Native woman sitting in our circle and says, “So what happened?” The sitting woman says, “He hit her in the head with a board. I think she has brain damage”. The young woman goes back to the ledge and continues chastising the man. The large Native woman takes out her cell phone and makes a call. As she does this, the young woman heads up the hill alone and in a hurry.

Soon we see our Native artist friend arrive. He questions everyone involved, takes the young woman’s purse off the back of the wheel chair and heads up the hill. Sadly, we realize he probably won’t be coming back to sit with us tonight.

As all this has been going on, we’ve been involved in our own conversation; keeping an eye on the ledge goings on at the same time.

We’ve been postulating the theory that the 1% are planning on leaving the planet and moving to Mars or some other planet. This is why they don’t care what happens to our planet or the rest of humanity. They figure they won’t be here when the planet becomes toast.

An Occupier is attempting to figure out how many people can fit in a space capsule and how many space capsules it will take to get the whole lot of them to their new homes. Others are telling about the latest scientific things they have heard about other possibly habitable planets in the universe.

The Occupier says, “I think they have a problem. At current speeds it will take them 36,000 years to get to the nearest planet”.

Another Occupier responds, “They’re not gonna be able to take the whole 1%. Each space capsule only holds about 7 people”.

Still another states, “The 1% is so dumb. Sooner or later they’re all gonna die. They’ll certainly be leaving the planet then. I guess they haven’t thought of that”.

We’ve really just been killing time until the police arrive. Then……. THEY’RE HERE…… A squad pulls up, a cop gets out and the large Native woman waves him over. Another squad rolls up and another cop gets out.

They bring the woman over closer to us and we can hear her telling them, “She had a knife behind her back and she started to pull it out and said she was gonna stab me. She’s wearing a grey sweatshirt and blues jeans. She went up the hill. I don’t know her name”. The Native woman is obviously very drunk.

The cops don’t seem to care. They’re just smiling and writing down stuff. Maybe it’s because the woman is pretty well known around here for this type of drama. Maybe it’s because they don’t want to look bad in front of us. That white privilege thing you know. Whatever.

The officers come over to us and ask us if we know what happened. An Occupier says, “Not exactly, we were just observing from here but all that stuff about a knife is definitely not true”. One cop says, “Yeah we figured that”. They get back in their cars and drive away.

The Memorial is empty. During the lull we have our meeting. An Occupier reports our supply of wood is running low. She asks permission to take the rest of the money in our treasury and buy more wood. Everyone agrees this would be o.k. to do.

Several Occupiers report on the Equity In Hiring and the Human Rights Commission meeting they have attended. One has concerns that the EIH group may be about to be taken over by NGO hustlers. The other says she’s impressed by what she’s hearing at the HRC these days.

The people who were on the back ledge are back and they’ve brought friends. The back ledge is really crowded and it appears some of the people are smoking something. It’s probably synthetic. We hear some mild arguing between some of the Native people and some of the African American men.

A small older African American says, “Hey, give the m’f’er some, give him some!” They give some to a young Native man in a red shirt. The red shirted man makes loud, sucking noises and the small man says, “Hey, give it back. Give it back!”

Within less than a minute, the red shirted man is lying flat on his side on the ground behind the ledge and the small man is on his knees, hanging onto the fence and talking gibberish. The small man’s friends are almost falling over with laughter.

Back at our fire circle we continue to talk while keeping an eye on things. We especially are watching the red shirted man as he doesn’t appear to be moving at all and his friends aren’t paying any attention to him. A developmentally disabled man, who lives in the neighborhood, joins us. Many people are coming up to get snacks the quickly leaving. It appears no one wants to be involved with what is going on at the back ledge.

Eventually both men attempt to sit up and their friends assist them as they sit very shakily on the ledge. Both of them talk in some unintelligible language. The red shirted man staggers off and the large Native woman slides up next to the small older African American man. She begins to threaten him, shoving him, closing her fists and acting as though she will punch him.

His friend says, “If she’s gonna come at you like a man you should come back at her like she was a man”.

The small man mumbles something that sounds like, “Nah, I can’t do that”. The woman’s friends all leave. They appear disgusted with her. One young man who is generally pretty rowdy looks at us and smiles, then looks back at her and shakes his head.

The woman continues to harass the man until suddenly….Wham! He throws her to the ground and holds her by the wrists. She gives up quickly. He lets her up, she takes out her phone, starts talking and staggers off.

We notice it’s after 9pm and completely dark. We figure that’s enough for one night so we pack up. We make plans to be here again on Tuesday but we know it might rain. If it does, we’ll go to the Occupier couple’s house to make new signs for the Idle No More NdN taco sale later in the month.

As the last Occupier is getting into her car, she sees the Memorial is empty except for the small man. He is standing unsteadily on the sidewalk. She says, “Hey man, you better split. If the cops come they will surely take you in because you look really f’d up”.

He says, “Yeah, I’m going home. Thank you.”

Just as she starts up her engine, 2 squads come around the corner. They scope out CJM but it’s empty. They slowly cruise down the street, looking to see what they can see. The Occupier follows them at a distance for a block or so. She doesn’t see the small man anywhere and hopes he is safely out of sight.

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G.A. Minutes 8-12-14

G.A. Minutes 8-12-14

It’s been hot with no wind all day. As we arrive at CJM the temperature is still around 85 degrees. We expect to be somewhat uncomfortable during the first hour or so of our meeting but we’re in luck.

The days are getting shorter and the sun lower so a large part of the Memorial space is shaded and there is a gentle breeze blowing throughout. Sweet. The place is empty except for one woman sitting in the shade on the back ledge.

As soon as the chairs are set up she comes over to join us. She says, “Boy is it ever hot! I’m completely exhausted and all I’ve been doing today is trying to cope with the heat”.

She’s carrying a big paper bag which she tells us contains food. “Can I trade some of my food for a cigarette?” she asks.
We give her a smoke and explain that she can just have it; we don’t need to take her food.

The woman makes small talk as she smokes and then she leaves. After she is gone we notice she left her paper bag sitting under the table.

The street is fairly empty. The people who do walk by are traveling solo or in pairs. Most are trying to figure out where their friends have gone.

A street man who has visited with us in the past comes over to say hello. He too asks for a cigarette.

An Occupier remarks, “We have a pack of community cigarettes tonight. A friend left them in my car and said to just go ahead and give them away”.

The man responds, “Does that mean I can have more than one?”

The Occupier replies, “Take as many as you like”.

The man scoops up five or six and says, “This is great! I’m going to go up the hill and give a cigarette to each one of the brothers”. Off he goes.

An old man who we see almost every time we meet at CJM comes to talk to us. He is the minister of the storefront church a few doors down. He tells us he has some baked goods and asks if we will take them. We tell him of course we will. He leaves and returns with a tray of assorted muffins which we put out on the table.

The minister then says, “I really appreciate you folks being here and appreciate the things you do”. We thank him.

After he leaves an Occupier confides, “What a surprise! All this time I thought he didn’t care much for us”.

One Occupier reports that our friend, the main organizer for Water Legacy, is asking if we will help them with petitioning at the annual Pride Fest on Saturday, August 30th. Most of the Occupiers want to do this.

The same Occupier also reminds us that Loaves N Fishes will be having their 25th Annual Block Party on Saturday, August 23rd from 3pm-7pm. She suggests, “We could all meet up there and ride back up the hill for our G.A.”. Everyone thinks this is a good idea.

We are also reminded that the next Idle No More meeting will be this upcoming Friday at 1pm. We’ll be meeting at the new office which two of our Native organizer friends have just opened at 320 E 2nd St.

A woman from the street who we have known for years comes to sit with us. She begins with her usual rant about the unfairness of the black people having the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial when there is not a memorial in the city for Native people.

However, tonight she is less angry, more accepting. She says, “Maybe it’s because white people are afraid of us. We’re a very strong people you know”. Then she tells us a story.

She begins, “When I was a little girl living on the rez, there was one crow that could talk the same way that people talk, the same way we are talking now. There was only this one crow that could do that.

“One day me and my sisters were playing and we started throwing rocks and sticks at that crow. When we got bored of doing that we went and swung on the swings that we had.

“While I was swinging that crow flew down and bit me on my face. I was bleeding and crying and when I got home the grownups got a gun to go shoot the crow.

“Me and my sisters were crying and saying to don’t shoot the crow because it was our fault for throwing rocks at it. But they shot the crow anyway. That was the only crow that could talk like people do”.

As she is finishing her story a man calls to her from across the street. As she leaves, she says, “When I come back I’ll tell you another story”.

Our friend the city official comes walking up the street. One of the Occupiers has edited some documents for our friend and the two of them discuss a new project. When he leaves he says, “Thank you for being here”.

We feel a few raindrops and as we look at the sky, we see a big black cloud coming over. We sit and let the light rain fall on us. When the rain stops we see a big double rainbow over the back of CJM. Lovely.

Folks are stopping by now. They’re getting lemonade and coffee and going about their business. We decide it has cooled off enough to light the fire.

A man with a prosthetic leg sits down. We offer him a beverage and some baked goods. He eats heartily and says, “This is the first thing I’ve had to eat all day”. When he gets up to leave we give him more baked goods to take with him.

As he walks off, the second wave of rain showers down on us. It’s not enough to put the fire out. When it stops, the hungry man returns and we gladly supply him with more food.

Another street friend, the grey haired woman appears. We’re glad she still remembers where to find us. We haven’t seen her in several months so have things to catch up on.

As we are chatting with her a third batch of rain clouds cross over us. These clouds carry more rain than the previous two. One Occupier says to another, “So are you timing them?”

“Yup” says the other Occupier, “They’re coming about every fifteen minutes”.

Now we’re all fairly wet. An Occupier says, “I think by now we’ve proven to the neighborhood we’re just as crazy as they are”.

As we begin packing up someone notices the big paper bag that had been left under the table. She opens it and finds a large container of fresh fried rice and egg rolls.

We offer it to our friend the grey haired woman and she is delighted. It means she won’t have to go and stand in line at the feeding center tomorrow.

We’re just about packed up when the fourth band of showers passes over. It’s fairly strong but still not enough to put out the fire. We have to do that ourselves.

We say our rather wet goodbyes and plan to be back here on Saturday.

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G.A. Minutes 8-5-14

G.A. Minutes 8-5-14

Well, we were rained out last Tuesday and we attended the FDL Pow Wow on Saturday so again we haven’t been to CJM for an entire week. Tonight is the annual National Night Out throughout the city. We stop at the Chum Center to share in their yearly feed and then we head over to the Memorial.

It’s a warm evening, even though it’s after 7pm the temps are still in the 70s. A slight east wind gives needed comfort.
A Native man on crutches approaches as we are setting things up. He politely asks what we are doing. We just say we’re going to sit around and talk for a while.

We generally don’t identify ourselves as Occupiers when meeting new people of the street. Most have never heard of Occupy so we don’t like to lay a lot of political analysis on their heads upon our first time meeting them. Life on the street is basically about day to day survival. Folks don’t discuss deep issues until they feel comfortable.

The man sees our sage bundle burning, sits down and requests to smudge. He tells us he is a Dakota warrior.

It’s common for people who don’t know us to assume we are a group of Christians holding a prayer session or something. The man begins to speak about his deep faith in Jesus. He and the Occupier who likes to talk about the Bible get into a conversation.
Many more people arrive; most are familiar faces. We go to our truck and get more chairs.

Groups of 2 or 3 begin conversations. A regular street man who is generally angry and aggressive is debating the use of the N word with the drummer from Senegal. The Native man on crutches, the Occupier and another young Native man are debating the differences and similarities between Christianity and traditional Anishinaabe belief. A woman who has acquired extensive sunburn and an Occupier converse about natural healing. The many people on the back ledge are making a lot of noise about something.

An Occupier whispers, “I think we should light the fire. People need to focus”. We start up the fire, everyone in the circle turns toward it and a group conversation begins.

The Native man with crutches and the man from Senegal remark upon the sacredness of the Memorial space. An Occupier reminds everyone about the 2 commemoration ceremonies to be held this week concerning the World War ll nuclear bombing of Japan. One will be held on Wednesday at Enger Tower and the other on Saturday at the Veteran’s Memorial on the Lakewalk.

The Native man on crutches begins to cry. “I really miss my younger brother” he says. We ask about his brother and he tells us his brother was drunk driving and was killed in a car accident. Everyone offers words of comfort, except the angry aggressive man who says that men should not cry. Everybody else in the circle disagrees with this and a conversation begins concerning all the reasons it’s o.k. for a man to cry.
More street people arrive; we have run out of chairs. Some remain standing and others go back with the rowdy folks on the back ledge.

An Occupier reports she attended the mayor’s town hall meeting yesterday. The town hall was set up in place of the August and September last Tuesday of the month open office hours. She says the mayor came all prepared to defend himself regarding his perceived lack of action on homeless and equity issues, however the meeting was sparsely attended. The audience consisted of herself, 2 local environmental organizers, the City Human Rights Officer, a well-meaning middle class community organizer and about 10 or 15 of the mayor’s friends and supporters.

The Occupier continues, “They talked a lot about new bike trails and eventually he admitted the City has plans to ‘revitalize’ East 1st Street. He said the plan was to build moderate income apartment buildings for young professionals. When I asked him what he planned to do with all the people who already live here, he didn’t seem to be aware that any people did already live here. His aides coached him about the Skinner Apartments and others and then he assured me that none of the current residents will be displaced. I guess he thought I was gonna believe him”. We all laugh.

“When he said the heart of the plan consisted of purchasing the old Kozy and various other decrepit properties owned by Dr. R, (the owner of our previous homeless camp) getting various types of tax credits and turning everything into apartments for up and coming youth I thought, if you think Dr. R will comply with government regulations or sell you his buildings for the low price they’re actually worth, you are seriously nuts! There were lots of cameras there so I didn’t say it. I can’t afford to be sued for slander”. We laugh some more.

We can see the street folks are in a talkative mood tonight and it is National Night Out so we decide to just let things roll.
A conversation about legalizing marijuana gets going. Everyone supports the idea however, one Occupier has reservations concerning the potential for addiction and driving under the influence. It seems he’s had bad experiences within his family.

The sunburned woman tells a story about her ex-husband kidnapping, beating and molesting her 3 children. Her children are safe now but much traumatized. She is also traumatized. We offer our condolences.

An Occupier gives a questioning look to another Occupier and she responds by whispering, “Just wait until the big clock chimes one more time and then we’ll pack up”. We know we are cutting it close time wise but we also know that the people seldom get these types of safe circles in which to express themselves.

The big clock chimes 9:30 pm. We begin packing up. One Occupier agrees to drive the badly sunburned woman to her home. Another will bring a drunken older woman from the back ledge to her daughter’s home a few blocks away. We had initially resolved not to drive the street people places so as not to create expectations. As time goes on, we find we are breaking that resolution more and more.

On Saturday some of us will be attending the annual Bayfront Blues Festival. We plan to be back on Tuesday.

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G.A. Minutes 7-26-14

G.A. Minutes 7-26-14

It’s kinda hot and humid upon our arrival at CJM this evening. We are greeted by the sound of a woman and a man screaming insults at each other from the back ledge. People are hanging out in small groups scattered around the Memorial site and the street.
A middle aged man from a group at the site says to the man who is yelling, “Shut up! Don’t talk like that around here”. The loud man doesn’t want to shut up and he argues. The middle aged man doesn’t back down. Eventually the loud man walks off in a huff.

We think Oh great. It’s going to be another night where folks are crabby because they can’t handle the heat.

It turns out the man and woman are shirttail relatives. The man was making sexual advances and touching the woman quite inappropriately. The woman had to get loud, scream and call attention to the situation in order to defend herself. The man then denied he had done the things he was accused of. Yelling and making a big scene is about the only form of self-defense available to the weaker folks of the street.

There are only a few Occupiers present as we set up our chairs and such. It’s another night where we’ll wait to start the fire until the weather and the inhabitants cool down.

One of the Occupiers is feeling sad and angry. His neighbor, a badly traumatized, alcoholic, Vietnam vet was found dead in his apartment earlier in the day. We emphasize and allow the Occupier to vent.

“It’s not right!” he says, “The guy was drafted into the army and forced to risk his life and endure horrible things. When he came back badly damaged, nobody cared. The government wouldn’t help him and his family rejected him”.

A couple of the Occupiers are old enough to have clear memories of the Vietnam War. They reminisce about the way the soldiers who made it out alive were treated when they returned.

We’ve been having some trouble with our website and Facebook page lately and we discuss the problems. An Occupier who is computer savvy offers to attempt to fix things after our meeting is over.

People have been coming to get their drinks but not stopping. Everyone is on the constant move. Then a gentle cool breeze arrives and gray clouds cover the sky. The street folks settle down. Sounds of laughing and joking are heard. Is it going to rain? Who knows? We light the fire.

The thin older woman who had joined us at our meeting returns. We welcome her. She is capable of following and joining the conversation.

An Occupier asks us what type of society we think would be best to put in place when our current system fails. He remarks he can see the attitude of the general populace changing.

The thin woman says, “That’s right. Everyone used to think if they worked hard enough they would get rich. Now we know that’s not true. It doesn’t matter though because there are lots of things more important than wealth”.

An Occupier who has been doing other things arrives. He’s been working on organic farming and other important things. He tells us he’s interested in coming to work with us again and we catch him up on the current goings on. We invite him to come with us on Tuesday to the next NWA meeting and to attend the mayor’s open office that same evening.

It’s completely dark now and the street lights are on. We should pack up but we don’t want to. The night air feels wonderful.

However, Mother Nature has other plans for us. She sends down a soft but steady rain. So much for the fire, smudge pot and paper cups. We laugh as we pack up.

With meetings next Tuesday and the FDL Pow Wow on Saturday, we won’t be back for an entire week. We trust the people of the street will keep things in order until then.

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G.A. Minutes 7-22-14

G.A. Minutes 7-22-14
Weather wise it’s another one of those near perfect evenings. The 1st Occupier rolls up to the CJM Memorial, sets her chair down and checks out the scene. She’s a lone woman sitting in a fairly dangerous area of the city however, she is unconcerned. The street folks are used to the presence of the Occupiers; some of them appear to like us.

The 1st Occupier notices there are many people on the street. Most of them are talking loudly and appear to be somewhat angry. A regular street woman, well known to the Occupiers is walking across the Memorial grounds. She appears quite intoxicated and unhappy. She doesn’t recognize the Occupier. The Occupier says to herself, “It looks like everyone is going to be crabby tonight. They’re probably out of sorts from having nowhere to go to escape the afternoon heat”.

A regular street man who is possibly developmentally disabled sits down. He says, “I have to sell the air conditioner that my daughter gave me. My landlord says we can’t have air conditioners in our apartments”.

The 1st Occupier asks, “Does your landlord pay for your utilities?” The man says yes and the Occupiers responds, “He probably doesn’t want to pay for the increase in electricity. Air conditioners take a lot of it. I guess he doesn’t care if his tenants get over heated”.

A couple more Occupiers arrive, the man leaves to go to his nightly AA meeting, everybody scurries to set up the beverage table etc. The fire pit is set up but not lit. People come up to get beverages, a few to smudge. Everyone is polite but no one is staying or even talking much. As additional Occupiers appear and get settled, a discussion begins.

The FDL Sobriety Pow Wow out at Mash Ka Wisen will take place August 1st thru August 3rd. The Northwoods Wolf Alliance has invited us to assist them with tabling on that Saturday and we all agree we would like to be there.

The next Idle No More NdN Taco Sale will be held this upcoming Friday. We have already promised to help out.

It looks like Tuesday, July 29th will be a busy day for us. We have the INM meeting at noon and then will attend the mayor’s open office hours at 5pm.

A very thin older woman we have seen in the CJM space for quite a while comes to sit with us. This is the 1st time she has joined us. An Occupier says. “So what shall we talk about when we go to visit the mayor?”

Another answers, “We’ve already agreed we will talk about homeless and housing issues. I’m wondering if we should also bring up the topic of his support for Enbridge”.

The thin woman knows what Tar Sands oil is and listens as we explain the Enbridge plan to double the amount of Tar Sands they are currently pumping thru their already old pipeline and then to ship this dangerous material across Lake Superior on barges. “

What!” the thin woman exclaims, “I’ve never heard about any of this. Don’t they know people need clean water to drink?”

As we are talking we hear a big thump. We look to see one fairly large woman lying on top of another fairly large woman. Only a minute ago they had been talking in a small group on the back ledge. We wait to see what will happen next.

The woman on the bottom screams, “Let me up!”

The woman on top says, “I’m only holding you down”.

A man walks over and says a few words. The women disengage and the top woman walks off. The bottom woman walks across the space rubbing her forehead. She asks the folks on the back ledge, “Am I bleeding?”

They assure she is not bleeding. She walks off in the opposite direction. It is obvious her pride has been injured. The thin woman gets up, walks to the sidewalk and yells down the street, “Is everybody stupid tonight?”

Ms. Slender lady returns. She says, “I don’t drink or take drugs. I just try to take care of these people and give them the help they need. Some of them are really crazy”.

An Occupier says, “Maybe now would be a good time to light the fire. It might serve as a diversion”. It does.

The Memorial empties of all the people who were sitting around and they are quickly replaced with several groups of African American men. A few come over to get cold lemonade. They are cordial but obviously preoccupied with whatever they have going on.

Our old friend, a retired political man from the neighborhood appears. We haven’t seen him in at least a year. He appears incredulous that we are still meeting here, still doing what we have been doing for the last 3 years.

An Occupier reports on what he observed at the first meeting held by our friend the City official. The meeting was the 1st in a series of meetings to be held about the lack of hiring of Duluth people of color for City sponsored projects. Many so called big shots attended the 1stmeeting. There were wealthy businessmen, union leaders, government officials and NGO professionals.

The Occupier reports that these people basically said they were doing the best they could and didn’t plan to do anymore. The Occupiers hope we will be able to attend the next meeting.

Duluth does not have any official standards concerning the hiring of P.O.C. We don’t expect the so called big shots will return so may be able to help plan some actual strategy to get more folks hired.

A few of the Occupiers need to leave early tonight so we decide to pack up early too. The thin woman asks, “When will you be back again?” We tell her we’ll be back on Saturday.

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G.A. Minutes 7-15-14

G.A. Minutes 7-15-14

We have been absent from the CJM Memorial for an entire week. We were seriously rained out last Tuesday and on Saturday we attended the FDL Veterans Pow Wow.

There’s no rain tonight as we arrive and no rain is expected. It’s one of those rare perfect evenings we long for during the rest of the year. Small scattered clouds, temps in the mid 70s and a gentle breeze create a tranquil atmosphere. For us anyway, most of the street folks have so many problems they rarely experience any type of serenity.

The first couple of Occupiers think they’ll just sit a while and enjoy the air. No such luck. The rest of the group arrives and we quickly set up the circle. We set up the fire also but we don’t light it. We’ll know when the time is right.

The street is pretty much empty of its regular inhabitants. There are quite a few people coming and going from the casino and a lot of vehicle traffic on the road.

An Occupier asks, “Does anyone know what went on with Israel and Palestine today?” Another answers, “Yeah, they had a seize fire for a couple of hours, then Hamas shot off a couple of rockets and Israel responded by starting up the bombardment again”. An additional Occupier says, “The Israeli government just doesn’t get it. Palestinians are never going to accept living the way they are being forced to live. They aren’t going to accept more of their land being stolen. The Israelis treat Palestinians just like the Nazis treated them.” We sadly shake our heads in agreement.

An Occupier reports the Respect Your Mother Earth Festival will be held this upcoming weekend on the outskirts of Duluth. She asks if we would like to get our vehicles together and go there on Saturday. She suggests maybe we could contact the Northwoods Wolf Alliance and see if they would like us to table for them. Another says, “I think that would be a good venue for NWA”. Everyone agrees; going to Respect Your Mother Earth is a good idea.

One of the Occupiers tells a story about his developmentally disabled sister. She has a job working in a thrift store where she is paid only 50 cents an hour. “Isn’t that against the law?” he asks.

“Actually it’s not”, says another. “I don’t know what the law exactly says but I know they have an entire industry here in Duluth. They force most disabled people to work in order to receive a pittance of financial aid. I had a client once who had cerebral palsy, was D.D. and in a wheelchair. He was forced to work 40 hours a week stuffing envelopes. I think he was paid $1.00 an hour. One day he said to me, ‘I don’t like having to work this much. It seems like I hardly have a life and I’m always tired’. I didn’t tell him about the capitalist system but I told him that everybody feels that way”.

Someone else says, “Oh yeah, the 1% has to make sure everyone is working all the time. If you have time to enjoy yourself then you’re slacking. If there are no jobs and you have to apply for government assistance they’ll put you to work first in order to get your benefits. If you ineligible for benefits they put you in jail”.

An additional Occupier arrives. He has just come from a Nail Pulling Party at CHUM. He says, “Everyone had hammers and they were pulling and pounding nails out of long used boards. It got pretty loud. They’re going to use all the boards to make raised beds in the yard of the Steve McNiell homeless apartment building that is under construction right now. We all think that is way cool.

Someone says, “I was at the Food Not Bombs dinner outside the City Council yesterday. A person said a city councilor was presenting a proposal to take a part of the DECC and turn it into a casino run by the City”. We all crack up. She continues, “Our friend the government official is really giving them hell. He thinks it’s a dumb idea”. We laugh some more.

An occasional street person rides up on a bike. We’ve known him a long time but haven’t seen him in over a year. He smudges and sits down. He has had a home for some time now and is making it into an art studio. He tells of us his plans and also about a Native pipe ceremony he has just attended. He speaks of peace, love, the Creator and how everyone is connected. Of course, we agree. He asks if we know where to find sage growing around the neighborhood. An Occupier tells him and they converse about the different varieties and their properties. The former street person says, “I just started riding over this way and I didn’t know why. Now I see. You guys are still here”.

A woman who manages a local art supply store also rides up on a bike. We all know her well. She tells the man she has saved all his art work and supplies that he left behind and they make arrangements to meet up tomorrow.

A much respected local metal and wood worker arrives. He tells us he has lived in his studio for 13 years. He has always paid half his rent at the beginning of the month and the other half in the middle of the month. His landlord is getting up in age so has recently hired a management company to take care of his properties. The management company insists he pay all the rent on the 1st of the month. No excuses, no exceptions. He says, “Now I can’t buy food until I get my 2nd check”. An Occupier says, “Oh I’m sure the property management company will starve to death if they don’t get all of your rent on the 1st of the month”.

It looks like the regular street people are back from wherever they were. Many call out to us. A group of regulars come up to smudge and get their refreshments. They all appear to be drunk. They tell a story of being locked up in Detox last Saturday.

They managed to distract a staff member and they all ran out the front door. It’s common knowledge that anyone locked up in Detox who can manage to escape is home(less) free until the next time they are captured. One of the women thinks she may have broken her foot.

She says, “I wonder if I should go back to Detox where they’ll take care of me?” She sits down and talks about how she misses her children.

An Occupier reports that we have been asked to give an endorsement of our good friends’ candidacy for the MN 8th CD. Of course we want to endorse him but we wonder if it is appropriate for an Occupy group to endorse a political candidate. Maybe we could each personally provide an endorsement. We’ll have to talk with him to see what we can work out.

A woman approaches our table and smudges. She is sobbing. A man who knows her arrives, helps her to smudge and puts his arm around her. They walk off.

We hear someone talking very loudly from somewhere nearby. We listen and look around. We realize it is a man reciting some type of hip hop poetry at the open mic in our friends club up the street.

The street lights come on and we realize it’s time to leave. It’s a shame to go in on such a perfect night but we need to rest and carry on another day. Looks like we won’t be back until next Tuesday.

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G.A. Minutes 7-5-14

G.A. Minutes 7-5-14

It’s almost 90 degrees and very humid as we roll up to CJM tonight. The sky is grey, looking possibly like rain. We decide to set up without starting a fire. In this heat it would be crazy to start a fire. However, the weather in this city can change in a minute. We’ll wait to see. The worst that will happen is that we’ll get wet.

The street is pretty quiet again, almost, but not quite empty. The 1st Occupiers to arrive are slowly bringing things into the space.

An Occupier who has been out of town for a while arrives and says, “Where is everybody?” “

Oh they’ll show up,” is the answer. Soon a young Occupier appears, bringing the Occudog with him. We haven’t seen this dog in over a year and she doesn’t remember us or the fact she had been christened the Occudog. She barks at everyone who shows up. She’ll need to get reacquainted.

As we’re settling in a woman from the street asks for something cold to drink. Most folks know the routine by now. We set the snack table slightly away from the circle so people can help themselves and not have to interact if they don’t want to. If they feel like sitting with us they are welcomed, if not, that’s o.k. too. In spite of this, everybody always asks before they take anything. Most are very careful not to take what they consider to be too much.

An Occupier reminds us that Idle No More/Northwoods Wolf Alliance will meet this upcoming Friday, 1pm at Randy’s. She also reminds us that we are planning to attend the Pow Wow out at Big Lake on the Fond du Lac reservation this upcoming Saturday. If possible, we will assist with tabling for the NWA.

2 older women from the street who we have known for years arrive. They are twin sisters and have been living the life for many years. They smudge; get their snacks and stay to chat. We ask them, “Where is everybody tonight?”

They answer, “Down at the carnival”.

We remember that this time every year a traveling amusement show comes to the Bayfront. Homeless people might go unnoticed in those surroundings.

As the women depart an Occupier mentions that Food Not Bombs will be having their feeding event in front of City Hall on Monday. They will attempt to hold a free food event every Monday before City Council meetings.

This leads into a discussion of city government and one Occupier says, “Remember that we had planned to go visit the mayor on the last Tuesday of July?”

The Occupier who has been out of town asks, “Oh, what’s up with that?”

She answers, “The mayor has open office hours the last Tuesday of each month from 5pm-7pm. I suppose we can talk to him about homeless issues, that’s what we know most about. Also I’m going to ask him why he didn’t appoint me to the Human Rights Commission”.

“Oh really?” says the other Occupier. “Why do you think he didn’t appoint you?”

Another says, “It might have something to do with not wanting an Occupier on his commission”.

She laughs and says, “Yeah, probably but I think it was really because of the comment I wrote on his Facebook page the day after he held that press conference in Superior announcing his support of Enbridge and all the environmental pollution they want to bring to our beautiful land and water. A lot of people were reaming him out and I was feeling particularly poetic that day so made a pretty good comment. I remember just before I pressed enter, I thought that it might cost me a seat on the commission. Oh well, I’ve known the mayor as just a regular person for years. I didn’t think he would be that petty. I guess he is. I think being in the current political system corrupts people. It’s probably for the best. I’ll do better just attending the meetings and working from the outside”.

Just then a cool eastern breeze blows across the Memorial. Everybody stops talking and says, “Whoa!” We just sit in silence for a few minutes to make sure what we’re feeling is actually happening. Then we start up the fire.

An African man from Senegal sits down. We had met him briefly last fall and we remember him. He starts talking and we listen. He expresses frustration over the fact that many white people don’t like his black skin.

He says, “If they don’t like it they need to keep that to themselves and at least be civil when working with or interacting with me. I mean, it’s just skin. What’s the big deal?” He speaks of his frustration dealing with African Americans from the neighborhood,

“They don’t like me much either. They want to intimidate me by saying they are gangsters from Chicago. So what? I’m from a country where there is civil war. A country where they slit your throat just because of your last name. I’m supposed to be afraid of a gangster? When they see that the so called gangsters leave”.

A female Occupier responds, “Well right here we’re pretty much about getting along. Pretty much about peace”.

The African visibly relaxes smiles and says, “Yeah, peace is so easy. Why does everyone want to fight?” He then begins talking about playing his drums.

One of the Occupiers is also a drummer so they carry on a conversation about the spirituality of drumming. The man also tells us a little about his travels throughout Europe.

An older African American man comes walking over. He looks drunk and angry. We gone through this routine so many times; we know what he is going to say and do before he even starts.

He yells and points to the sculptures of the 3 black men who were lynched here in Duluth in 1920. That lynching is the reason our Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial was created. The angry man says, “Those men were killed by white people! White people! You don’t belong here! You don’t have any blacks here!”

The African man jumps up, assumes a fighting stance and says, “Get out of here!”

We say, “Come sit down and talk with us about it”. Both of the black men stare each other down and the African American man stomps off.

The African man says, “That’s disgraceful. They bitch about you being here yet they come here and drink and smoke crack and stuff. This place is sacred. What do they think they are doing?”

He sits and talks a little more but begins to yawn. He states, “Tomorrow is Sunday. It sure is nice to wake up in the morning and know that you don’t have to go to work”. As he leaves, he promises to return another day and bring a couple of drums.

The street lights come on and the 2nd shift is arriving. As we are packing up an Occupier says, “Well that dude shot my stereotype all to hell. Because he’s from Africa I expected him to be very sexist but it appears that he’s not”. We all laugh and plan to meet here again on Tuesday.

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G.A. Minutes 7-1-14

G.A. Minutes 7-1-14

It’s one of those “it might rain and it might not” evenings. It’s been like that all day with various shades of white or grey clouds passing over. It didn’t actually rain all day so we’re gonna bet it won’t rain tonight either.

The Memorial is empty, the street is empty too as we set up our things. Seeing as it’s the 1st of the month we’d half way expected the place to be packed full with street dealers and customers. Seeing as the place is empty we think the people who get small government checks probably got paid yesterday and are off trying to enjoy a few days of relative comfort before returning to the street. An Occupier says, “Some people rent a motel room for a few days and take showers, sleep in an actual bed and just lay around for a few days. After that their money’s gone until the next month.

By now we’ve learned you never know what’s going to happen around here. We’ll just have to wait and see how the evening unfolds.

Someone says, “Hey, did you notice the no drinking, smoking etc. sign is gone from the fence?”

Another responds, “Maybe the members of the CJM BOD actually listened to what I said to them when I went to their meeting last week. However, the sign wasn’t put up there very securely so maybe somebody from the neighborhood just pulled it down”. The Occupier goes on to tell the story of his visit to a CJM BOD meeting. He told them the sign they had posted on the fence was offensive to street people. He also told them a sad story about the time he tried to find housing for a very pregnant homeless woman. Everything was full and he watched her walk off into the night; probably to sleep in a doorway or a bush. When he finished his story a BOD member asked primly, “Have you ever heard of the CHUM?”

We all groan. We know the woman who the story was about so we know she worked as a maid in one of the big hotels and didn’t get off work until 6:30 pm. The CHUM requires everyone who sleeps there to be in the facility by 6pm on the 1st night they stay there. They make no exceptions, even for extremely pregnant women. A sizeable portion of our city’s homeless population is not allowed to stay at CHUM for a variety of reasons. Many Duluth citizens believe all any homeless person has to do is show up at CHUM and they will be welcomed with open arms. Everyone who has any clue at all what the life of the homeless is like knows this is far from the truth.

The street is still empty. The only passersby are musicians who are going up the street to an open mic at our friend’s recently opened club. We know most of these musicians and wave and exchange pleasantries. We lounge about, enjoying the warm weather and watching the clouds. Every once in a while we feel a raindrop or 2.

An occasional Occupier comes walking up. We haven’t seen her in months. She sits down and says, “So what’s the topic of discussion tonight?”

Someone comments, “The building kitty corner from here is for sale”.

She answers, “No kidding? Tell me more”. She’s blind so we describe the large, 3 story brick building to her. She’s also a founding member of CJM and has many connections with organizers and politicians in the city. She writes down the phone number from the For Sale sign and tells us, “I wonder if it would make a good multicultural center? I’m going to call and see what they have to say. Seeing as it’s in this neighborhood, I doubt they are asking a lot of money for it”.

Another Occupier remarks, “Yeah, especially seeing as how beat up the old Kozy is now. It looks really bad and it doesn’t seem Ringsred is going to do anything about it. If we could get African Americans and Natives to work together, we could tell the City that the casino was going to buy it, they would quickly sell it to the African Americans to prevent the casino from getting it. Then both groups could split the building and have a multicultural center”. Everyone laughs and then discusses the difficulties black and Native street folk sometimes have getting along with each other.

Someone says, “It’s so sad. If the 2 groups would work together, they would be so powerful”.

Another friend, former camper and neighborhood cab driver stops by. He grabs some lemonade and tells us about the actions he and others are planning re: Neonicotinoid poisoning of the world’s bee population. Then he has to go back to work.

A couple of women come over to get watermelon and a smudge. Another woman sits for a bit and tells us she is waiting for her mother to come out of the casino. She can’t go in to look for her because she had herself banned from the place. A serious gambling addiction forced her to apply for self-banishment. Now she has money to pay bills and buy the things she needs. However, Mom still likes to play the slot machines.

The topic of possible indoor meetings at our friends’ newly opened club is broached. An Occupier says, “Yeah, I’m gonna go talk with him but I want to wait until the World Cup is finished. It will be hard to talk with him when everyone’s eyes are glued to the TV set”. People talk a little about sports in general but mostly about the horrible mess the capitalist system has made of what were basically games that were fun to play and interesting to watch.

A middle aged man appears; he asks for watermelon and sits down with us. He says, “This is really good. He eats piece after piece, then starts in on the humus and crackers. Because there have been so few people out tonight, our snacks have barely been touched. We are happy to see someone making use of the food. As he eats he tells us, “You know you can’t fight City Hall. Nothing is gonna change”. We beg to differ and tell him about our battle to have our fire at CJM. He says, “You mean the mayor let you have this?” We say, “No, he didn’t let us have this. He found he really didn’t have much choice or maybe he didn’t want the headache of trying to enforce a law that didn’t exist”. As he leaves he tells us his name. An Occupier says, “He’s a member of a big African American church family in this town”.

As it’s getting dark and we are packing up, a young woman who it appears has been “working the street” for the last few hours and not having much luck, comes over saying, “I am so hungry. Do you have anything left?” We give her everything she can carry. She’s very grateful.

No rainfall tonight. We’ll be back to try our luck again on Saturday.

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G.A. Minutes 6-28-14

G.A. Minutes 6-28-14

We think we may be rained out tonight. At 6pm the temp is in the 70s and the sky is partly cloudy. The forecast is for strong and heavy rain expected to be arriving soon and lasting until sometime tomorrow. After a brief discussion it’s decided we’d better meet indoors. Seeing as this is a spur of the moment decision, we opt for the plan of last resort. Off to the Occupy couple’s house. They only live a few blocks away from the Memorial.

In a short time we are sitting around the kitchen table talking about the Idle No More Indian Taco Sale that some of us helped out at yesterday. The sale was held at the Red Lake Urban Office. The Red Lake Ojibwe Reservation is about 4 hours north of Duluth but there are many Red Lakers living in our city. The RLUO serves as a cultural center, a place to use a computer, cook and socialize.

Several Native folks from INM arrived very early to make frybread and start chopping all the vegetables. The Occupiers arrived a few hours later bringing more of the main taco ingredients and a vehicle to make deliveries. Quickly the orders started rolling in. We made and delivered tacos for about 3 hours and then ran out of food. People were still coming in and calling in but we had nothing more to give them. This was the first taco sale sponsored by INM. It was a success. They even made a small profit.

An Occupier reminds us that we have committed to helping the Northwoods Wolf Alliance table on July 12th at the Pow Wow at Big Lake on the Fond du Lac Reservation. We’ll have 2 vehicles that day so should be able take every one of our small group. Some of the Occupiers have attended this yearly Pow Wow in the past. They are looking forward to attending again.

Another Occupier says she believes that the mayor of Duluth holds an “open office” on the evening of the last Tuesday of each month. She asks if we would like to visit the mayor on the last Tuesday of July. Unanimous happy octopi.

We’ll have to decide beforehand what we want to talk to him about. We’ll need to remain focused. As we begin this discussion, we hear the rain come pouring down. Looks like we made the right decision.

We initiate a lengthy conversation covering many topics. Among the subjects covered are: the absurdity of various religions that profess doctrines of peace and love and then kill each other, the absurdity of allowing an individual to own a multitude of houses while others are homeless, the probable full legalization of marijuana in the foreseeable future, the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement and other dangerous agreements being negotiated behind closed doors by so called world leaders, the fact that Monsanto is suing the state of Vermont over its new law to require labeling of all GMOs in food, the scary fact that corporations actually believe human beings to not have the right to know what is in their food and the absurdity of the U.S. education system which spends 13 years forcing citizens to get up and be some place on time in preparation for a life of slavery.

As we are talking, an Occupier has quietly been cooking and chopping in the background. He presents us a delicious pot of “real” wild rice and vegetables. We stop talking to notice the hour is quite late and we are all very hungry. There is plenty of food and we have 2nd and 3rdhelpings.

Then it’s time to call it a night. The rain continues. One of the Occupiers packs those on foot into his vehicle and drives everyone to their homes.

The weather promises to be warm and dry for at least the next week. We’ll attempt to have our next meeting at CJM on Tuesday.

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G.A. Minutes 6-24-14

G.A. Minutes 6-24-14

It appears that summer is over. We had a couple of really nice days a few weeks ago and yesterday it was really hot for a couple of hours. That’s been about it. Mostly it’s been raining with temps in the 50s. There’s a fine mist in the air and a strong east wind when we arrive at the CJM Memorial. It feels very cold and the place is empty.
We know how to remedy that. We have the fire roaring in record time, coffee and homemade lemonade put out; we all snuggle up close to the warmth.

An Occupier questions whether we should hold all our outdoor weather meetings at CJM. She says, “Here there are so many disruptions, it might be a good idea to hold some meetings in a different, calmer space”. Another Occupier says, “Actually, according to some of my readings, this issue is a major debate among Occupy groups all across the nation. Some say the most important thing to do right now is to discuss political issues, theory and strategy. Others believe it’s more important to meet and work amongst ‘the people’. Personally I think we should do both. Our friend up the street has just opened a new neighborhood music club. He has a back room that could be used to meet in. We should go and talk with him”. The 1st Occupier agrees and just as they begin to discuss the particulars, the 1st “distraction” appears.

A middle aged, rather attractive, well dressed blonde woman comes walking down the street and heads toward us. She is not wearing a coat; only a short sleeved shirt. She is yelling loudly as she tells us all how much she loves us and gives hugs all around. Her behavior is manic; she bounces from chair to chair as she yells and goes from one story, midstream, into another. We ask her to try and calm down. She stops, says, “I don’t even know why I do this!” and bursts into tears. She then starts up again, yelling and running around.

A small man wearing a leather jacket with Native designs arrives and asks for a cup of coffee. He sits down and joins us in our attempt to calm the woman. An Occupier asks, in an aside to him, “What is she on anyway?” He says, “Oh that’s psychic pain you’re seeing. She’s probably been drinking but mostly she has a bad spirit. There’s not much you can do for her right now”.

The woman suddenly jumps up and runs into the middle of the street. She continues with the yelling and hopping around. There are many cars in the street. Some have to swerve to avoid hitting her. Many are beeping their horns.

An Occupier remarks, “We have to call for help. We can’t just leave her like this.” A quick consensus of all present, says yes to calling for help. The Occupier takes a cell phone off to the empty back ledge and calls the Chief of the Bike Patrol. She gets an answering machine. She calls the main homeless outreach worker and gets an answering machine again. She leaves a message and calls the number she has for generic homeless outreach and a man answers. He says, “Oh, I know who she is. The only thing you can do with her when she gets like this is to call 911”. The man agrees to call 911 for her. The Occupier returns to the group and says, “They’re on their way”.
The infamous street woman, who we know well, arrives with 2 other women. The crazy acting woman comes to the sidewalk and she and one of the other women begin a round of “bitch this and bitch that”. We call to the infamous woman and ask her to please give us a break as the crazy woman is “toast”. Her friend immediately ceases the insults. The wild acting woman runs to a cab that is sitting on the corner, jumps in and the cab drives off.
Just as she leaves, the main homeless outreach worker pulls up. The Occupier explains what has been going on and gives the outreach worker the number of the cab. The outreach worker calls the cab company and explains the situation. It’s now up to the cab company and the 911 people to deal with the problem.

“Oh I know the crazy woman well,” says the worker. “When she gets like this all you can do is call 911. They’ll take her to Detox and when she wakes up in the morning she’ll be talking normal again”. She then tells her usual story about the refusal of social workers and the police to notify her when there are problems with her clients. She says, “So many issues could be taken care of at the very beginning if they would just contact outreach”. The Occupiers says, “Sounds like it may be a problem of them not wanting anyone else to get credit or operate in their territory”. The worker says, “You know, you may be right”.

While they have been talking, the infamous woman and several others have been waiting, appearing to want to talk to the main worker. The Occupier walks back to the fire and the others go up to the workers’ car.
When they are finished, the outreach worker drives off to the next crisis and the infamous woman walks over, makes a point of looking the Occupiers in the eye and says, “Thank you.” This is surprising, as that same woman had verbally attacked us many times last year. Someone says, “She told me she was trying to quit drinking and is looking for treatment”.

A large Native man comes to the fire, smudges himself and sits down. He tells us he is a Lakota sun dancer and that our fire and burning sage remind him of home. He graces us with a song. While the large man is singing, the small leather jacketed man begins flirting with one of the female Occupiers. The singing man addresses the small man saying, “I’m going to stop now. You were using vulgar language and disrespecting the song”. The small man says, “Don’t accuse me of being disrespectful”. They begin arguing. The Lakota man says,”You were disrespecting our grandmothers and our traditions”. The man with the leather jacket responds, “You’re right, I shouldn’t have done that. I apologize”. The Lakota man continues to lecture the other man and an Occupier says, “He apologized to you. A lot of men are not able to do that”. The Lakota states, “I agree. I’m sorry to be arrogant and to have a bad attitude”. Both men shake hands several times and depart, each going his separate way.

The Occupiers are alone at the fire; everything is quiet. One of the group returns and says, “Did you see the new sign on the fence? It says there is to be no drinking, smoking or fighting here. I’m sure it’s the work of the CJM Memorial BOD member who doesn’t like us. I guess she thinks all it takes is a sign to change people’s behavior”. We all laugh.

A late Occupier arrives and we say, “You missed a lot of drama”. He begins a discourse about the minimum wage issue and tells us Wisconsin has just passed a minimum wage of $10.10/hr. He says, “That’s just enough for a person to lose their food stamps, subsidized health care and any other benefits but not enough to support a family. One needs a minimum wage of at least $15 to survive”.

A neighborhood woman who is a personal friend of several Occupiers drives up. This is the 1st Occupy meeting she has attended. She brings a load of wood, a freezbie and her dog. The dog does tricks with the freezbie.

Suddenly many street people arrive at the fire. There are too many to count. All our chairs are full and many are standing. The coffee has all been drunk and the lemonade is on its way out too. People are socializing in small groups. The vibe is friendly. The Lakota man returns. Unasked, an Occupier gives him her seat. He sits close to the flames and sings a few songs. His voice is strong and deep. All are quiet. We share the time in unity and meditation.

When he finishes, an Occupier says, “Crap. Look at the time”. We quickly pack up. The street people help us. Someone asks when we will return and we tell them it we’ll be back on Saturday.

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