G.A. Minutes 5-24-16

G.A. Minutes 5-24-16
When it comes to the weather in Duluth, things are getting curioser and curioser almost every day.
It rained heavily all Monday evening, night and into the early morning.  Today the sky was perfectly clear, the sun shined brightly and temperatures were in the high 70s.  About 5 minutes before most of us were leaving various places and cruising over to People’s Plaza, a thick fog rolled in.  Temperatures dropped at least 20 degrees and a strong east wind kicked up.
Fortunately, Occupiers are veteran recreational fire attendees so we always come prepared for changes.  We put on our spare socks, pants and jackets. We’d expected to have a small courtesy fire but we always bring plenty of wood so we’re good to go in that department too.
The Fire Magician gets a big fire roaring and we sit around and watch people who are wearing shorts and sleeveless shirts scurry along the street.
An Occupier spots a small knife and a pack of cigarettes sitting on one of the benches.  He puts them in his pocket.  It’s never a good idea to leave a knife lying around any area frequented by substance abusing folks.  The place is quite a mess tonight.  The Occupier who likes to clean things begins doing so.
A pretty young Native woman walks up.  She says, “I think I’ve been to your fires before when they were up at the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial.  I can tell that it’s safe here, can I sit down?”
We welcome her and she tells us her story, “I live in Cass Lake.  I have schizo affect disorder and have to come down here twice a year to see my psychiatrist. There is medicine that I could take to help me cope but I can’t take it because I always overdose and end up in ICU on a breathing machine.
“I was institutionalized when I was 16 and when I turned 18 I was sent to prison for 7 years.  When I was there I got my GED and I read a lot of books on psychology.  I have a pretty good understanding of the mental illness I have.  I also have a pretty good understanding of what other people are about.  I’ve only been out for a couple of years.
“I’m required to have meetings with my psychiatrist for 2 weeks so I have to stay at CHUM while I’m here.  I don’t like staying at CHUM because the staff and the other residents ask me all kinds of personal questions.  I don’t like talking to people very much.  It makes me afraid and I don’t understand what it is that they want from me but I know they always want something.
“When I leave CHUM I just walk the streets of downtown.  I’m afraid someone is following me.  I understand that probably no one is following me but I still think they are.  Sometimes I go up on 1st St. and hang around and drink with the people there. 
“I don’t like doing that either because men always put their arms around me, touch me and tell me they want to take care of me.  Most of these men are crazier than I am.  The women who were in prison with me know how I am and they leave me alone.  The other women call me a bitch and a whore and they always want to fight”.
We have just been listening.  An Occupier comments, “It could be because you’re a new woman on the scene; the men want to see if they can run their game on you.  The women are jealous of the attention you’re getting”.
The young woman replies, “Where ever I go, men want to get close to me and talk to me.  A guy at the casino told me it’s because so many of the Native women around here sell themselves.  Well, I don’t want to do that.  I don’t want to have sex with anyone.  I just want to be left alone.  I wish I was invisible.
“My family in Cass Lake don’t really care much about me.  When I’m home I like to sit and drink with the old men.  I feel safe with them but my mother yells at me and tells me I’m supposed to do something with my life.
“When I saw my psychiatrist today, I asked him to commit me to the psych ward where I could be safe.  He said no, he wouldn’t do that.  He said I know what’s going on and I need to learn how to function in society”.
About the time the young Native woman arrived, a young Native man also joined us.  He’s been to our past fires many times.  He usually just sits quietly and gazes into the flames.  The young woman greeted him with “Boozhoo”.  He smiled shyly and took a seat on the opposite side of the circle.
After she finishes telling her story, she says to the young man, “You’ve been so polite and haven’t tried to hit on me.  Would you like a drink of vodka?”  He shyly declines then quietly leaves.
The pretty woman turns to the Occupiers and explains, “The reason I told you all this personal stuff is because I can tell that you don’t want anything from me.  I know you all just sit and listen to people.  Thank you for the therapy session”. She goes off to look for a few of the more amiable street women.
We think she told quite a story.  We also think that it’s sad she should be mandated to come all the way down to Duluth but that she is given no secure place to stay.  We think that the situation is out of the control of her psychiatrist or that he doesn’t realize the serious stress involved in staying at CHUM or hanging on the street.
The young chronically homeless man arrives.  He’s dressed for the current weather and informs us that the benches at the Plaza are no longer safe to sleep on at night.  He says the police come by every night around 11pm and roust whomever they find.  He tells us of the place close by the Plaza where he sleeps these days.  The cops haven’t figured that one out yet.
The Occupier who lives in Superior checks in.  He states, “As usual, I’m a little behind.  What’s going on that I don’t know about?”  An Occupier answers, “Well, were planning to attend the Juneteenth Celebration in Superior on Saturday June 18th 2pm-7pm.  I’ll make a big salad. 
“The next Idle No More/Northwoods Wolf Alliance NDN Taco Sale will be Friday June 3rd 11am-2pm.  We’re going to be short a few of the regular helpers so will need to find some others who will help.  Also, the March Against Monsanto scheduled for this upcoming Saturday has been cancelled.  I don’t know the whole story; I was just told it was due to circumstances beyond their control.
“Anyway, it’s supposed to be raining like crazy on Saturday.  We’re thinking we won’t have a meeting at all that day.  Most of us have so many things we have to catch up on”.
The cleaning Occupier is finished now.  Our area of People’s Plaza is immaculate. 
The city official stops by.  He’s going off to a Puerto Rican dinner again.  He shows us a picture of the cleaning job that has been done behind CJMM and reports, “It’s not finished yet but at least it’s being done.  Maybe my making some noise about it helped get things moving”.
We go on to discuss the situation with the DTA buses and Michigan St. being closed.  The official comments, “MN Power waited until the new Depot bus terminal was finished and then they said they needed to close down the street. They could have closed it while the terminal was being built.  Apparently, they don’t care about the needs of regular people”.
We also talk about the fact that the City Council agreed to table the discussion about new low income housing.  Someone observes, “They sure don’t table any discussion about giving loans or tax breaks to millionaires who want to build more unnecessary high end housing”.
The woman who lives with an animal menagerie rides up on her bike.  She’s all dressed up and wears a flower in her hair.  She tells us, “I was supposed to go on a date but the guy never showed up”.
The quiet Native man returns.  He’s gone home and changed into warmer clothing.  He smudges, gets a little food and quietly disappears.
A tall, slender African American walks by.  He looks around and asks, “Did any of you see a small knife lying around here somewhere?”  An Occupier takes the knife and cigarettes out of his pocket and gives them to the man.  The tall man is very happy and exclaims, “Wonderful!  That knife was given to me by a close friend.  It means a lot to me.  I can’t believe I left it just sitting here.  And you have my cigarettes too.  You guys really rock!”
Another tall slender African American man comes up the stairs with the question “Do you folks have any food left?”  An Occupier responds, “We’re just about to leave so you’d be helping us out by taking everything that’s left”.  No problem, the dude puts most of the remaining cookies and sandwiches in his backpack, says thanks and goes on his way.
So according to the weather people, there’s at least a 70% chance of rain for next Saturday.  We’ll take the night off and catch up on mandatory paperwork. We plan to be back here next Tuesday because it can’t rain forever……Right?

G.A. Minutes 5-21-16

G.A. Minutes 5-17-16

G.A. Minutes 5-14-16

G.A. Minutes 5-14-16
We’re back at People’s Plaza this evening.  It has rained for most of the week; the weather has been cold with temperatures in the 30s and 40s.  It wouldn’t be too bad if an easterly breeze wasn’t blowing.  Unfortunately, it’s been huffing and puffing for many days.
Tonight the wind is variable and gusty; when it stops, the air is rather pleasant. When it picks up again, it offers quite a chill.
We’ve decided to have a fire no matter what.  We know a lot of people on the street are in need of one and so are we.
As the first Occupiers are setting things up, our friend the city official arrives.  He says, “I’m on my way to dinner with a friend but wanted to touch base with you all”.
We talk about a few recent developments.  Our friend made a public announcement about the sorry condition of the area behind the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial.  He opined that perhaps a bit of racism was involved as other City sites were not left in such a disgusting state.   Our friend is one of the originators of CJMM so his concerns about the site carry some weight in this city.
In response to his announcement, some of the Occupiers suggested he hold a press conference.  The Superior Organizer offered to sponsor a community cleanup day. 
Several months ago the new Duluth Police Chief had promised the city official that he, the chief, would take care of the situation.  At the beginning of the discussion, an Occupier asked if the chief had gone back on his word.
Soon many others entered the discourse.  Another CJMM originator advised that much of the garbage behind the Memorial was hazardous waste from the owners of the pawn shop.  The needles and bottles were the responsibility of the Casino owners.  Another organizer reminded everyone that homeless people are using the area for a bathroom simply because, once the feeding stations are closed, many homeless folks have nowhere to relieve themselves.
As if out of nowhere, the new police chief chimed in.  He assured the city official that he was earnestly working on getting the owners of the pawn shop to clean up their mess.  Apparently, these owners are being resistant.  The Casino management doesn’t seem to be in any hurry to do their part either.
As things stand now, it looks like we will have a cleanup early next month.  If the wheels of the City move as slow as they usually do, the condition behind CJMM won’t have changed.
As sad as the situation is, we have to admit that considering we’ve only had our new mayor a little over 4 months, the wheels appear to at least be thinking about moving.  That’s more than ever happened during the last 10 or more years since the city official began asking for attention to the problem.
On a different topic, we discuss the recent article in the Zenith City News.  It was about the issue of racism at UMD.  Almost all people of color studying or working at UMD attempt to call attention to the problem.  Most white people in the city don’t want to hear about it.  It’s one of those “elephant on the couch” things.
The flames shoot up from the fire pit.  An Occupier comments, “I wonder if the cops will come and bust us because the fire is higher than 3 feet”.  Another Occupier answers, “The Fire Code says the fire apparatus can’t be higher than 3 feet and then the flames can’t be higher than 3 feet on top of that.  Our fire pit is about 2 feet high and the flames will settle down as soon as all the wood catches.  The cops will have to think of something else”.
Our first visitor is a street man who we think we haven’t met in the past.  He tells us he has just shaved off his long, full beard.  He says we would recognize him if he still had the beard.
The man states, “I just finished spending the winter living and working at Loaves N Fishes.  I stopped drinking then but now I’m drinking again.  I used to live at CHUM and take a bus over to Superior and hold a sign in the Super One parking lot that said, Homeless Vet Needs Work.  I made a lot of money that way”.  An Occupier laughs and replies, “I’m one of the people who gave you money”.
The currently homeless man continues, “Most of my life I was a working man supporting a family.  Then my wife died and I started drinking.  I signed my house over to my oldest son, he started using meth, lost the house and I ended up on the street sucking on a bottle”.
The man we call He Who Walks in a Coma comes stumbling up the stairs.  He’s in a coma again tonight.  He falls into a chair and mumbles something about appreciating the fire.  We don’t often see him when he’s sober but when we do, he seems like a very nice guy.
As the homeless vet and Coma Man leave to “go see a man about whatever”, the Occupier who lives in Superior appears.
This Occupier has been applying for jobs recently.  He speaks about his distaste for the amount of personal information potential employers require before an applicant can even get an interview.  He explains, “Today I even had to take an IQ test.  This is just to work in a liquor store.  I passed with flying colors so tomorrow I go to an interview.  What a bunch of crap!”
A group of high school friends joins us.  Among them is the girl who lives in a foster home.  We met her at our last fire.  Tonight she exclaims, “It’s only 18 more days until I graduate from high school!  In the fall I’m going to Fond du Lac College to study for becoming a cop.  The only problem is I’m going to have to stop smoking marijuana”.
She talks about having nowhere to go except to walk the downtown streets with her friends when she was allowed out from her foster home.  She tells us she feels scared much of the time as older street men frequently try to hit on her and touch her and such.  Her friends pressure her to try all kinds of unknown drugs and alcohol.  She is taking several anti- anxiety medications and the unknown drugs and alcohol mess with the effectiveness of her prescription drugs.
We encourage her to maintain her strength of character and to resist peer pressure.  An Occupier opines, “Don’t you think it’s ridiculous that marijuana, the only thing that is actually good for you, is the one that The Man tests for?  Having pot in your system can cost you a job, an education and a place to live.  All that other stuff that is really bad for you will be out of your system in a day or two so won’t show up on the test”.
The young girl laughs.  Despite her youth, we can see that she actually “gets it”. We doubt she will really grow up to be a cop.
Another of the girls tells us she wants to know the origins of her maternal grandfather.  She explains that all she knows is that he was a “full blood” of one of the area’s Anishinaabe bands.  She tells us her grandfather is dead and her grandmother refuses to give any information about the grandfather’s heritage. She asks us what she should do.
We let her know that in the “olden days” most people who were Native tried to hide or deny the fact.  Being Native was considered by many to be something to be ashamed of.
We doubt she has any money or is willing to do any serious research.   Off the top of our heads, the only thing we can think is that she could do a computer word search using her grandfather’s legal name and the date of his death.
The foster girl’s friends are ready to leave.  The girl whispers, “I’d really like to stay here by the fire but I guess I have to go with them.  I’ll try to return”.
The former Loaves N Fishes man and Coma Man return.  They bring a man from the Skinner who was a frequent visitor to our CJMM fires and a young homeless man invited by the East Coast Occupier a few fires ago.
We know the Skinner man to be troubled by serious mental health conditions. Tonight he is happy and quite articulate.  He comments, “I’m from North Minneapolis and everybody down there asks me when I’m going to come back.  I like living here in Duluth.  There are a lot of things to complain about but I’d rather live here.  The rich people do a good job of making sure we get fed but there are so many homeless people because there are not enough houses for people to live in”.
An older man we don’t know rides up on a nice bike.  He’s wearing expensive sports clothes.  At first we don’t realize he’s coming to join the fire.  After we talk with him a while we realize he hangs with all the other local alcoholics.
He says he works a good job everyday but when he’s not working he just drinks. He talks about several ex-wives and 4 children for whom he still pays child support.  He says, “I have 3 children who live in Connecticut.  The other one decided to move here so she can berate me about what a shitty father I have been”.
All the men decide to take a walk.  They say they are going to go for a “bump”. After they are gone, we notice the big bottle that Coma Man was hiding inside his jacket is sitting on the floor beside a chair.  An Occupier picks it up and reports, “Wow, it’s just about full.  I wonder what the guys will do when they realize they.ve forgotten the bottle?  I’ll just tuck it back here behind the City garbage can.  If they don’t return before we leave, maybe they’ll find it here”.
The foster child returns with one of her friends.  The big clock has already struck 9pm but the wind is cold, the girls seem a bit lonely and they have to wait another half an hour for their bus to arrive.  We stay and chat with them until the bus comes.
Once they are gone we put out the fire and quickly pack up.  Quickly is an understatement; once the fire is out it is seriously cold.
As long as the weather holds up, we plan to return here on Tuesday.

G.A. Minutes 5-10-16

G.A. Minutes 5-10-16
We’re at Coney Island tonight.  The weather forecast said rain for the next 3 days.  It did rain all day but it’s not raining now.
As the first couple of Occupiers walk through the door, one of them comments, “Actually it looks like it would be a really good night for a fire.  There are neighborhood people the on the street; with the overcast sky and temps in the low 40s I’m sure some folks would have really appreciated a hot cup of good coffee and a seat at the fire.  Too bad we didn’t know the rain would stop during the evening”.
The other Occupier looks at his phone and responds, “Well according to the latest weather map, it’s raining right now”.  They laugh.
The regular Tuesday night hipster staff guy is happy to see the Occupiers.  He says, “Wow, it’s great to see you guys again.  You haven’t been here in a while”.  An Occupier explains, “Now that spring is finally here, we hold recreational fires over at People’s Plaza on Tuesday and Saturday nights unless it’s raining.  We’ll do that until winter comes around again.  If ever you’re not working maybe you could stop by.  You’d definitely be welcome”.
As the first Occupiers are settling in, one of them calls around to see who else is planning on showing up.  He says, “It doesn’t sound like anyone else is going to make it tonight.  However, I missed the last meeting so maybe we could get something to eat and you could tell me how it went”.
The other Occupier agrees and begins, “We didn’t have a fire last Saturday either.  The National Fire Service or someone like that put out an emergency fire alert because of the forest fires burning up on the Range.  There was an air quality alert and a request that included Duluth, asking that no one have any type of outdoor fire.  I find it hard to believe that our little fire, at the entirely brick made People’s Plaza, would have been any danger but if the fire department happened to drive by, we didn’t want to appear to be a bunch of idiots.
“It turned out we couldn’t have had a fire anyway.  The Spin Collective was already there.  They were having a final dress rehearsal and needed to take up most of the space.  Their music was pumping real loud too.
“Homegrown was in full swing and the street was full of decked out concert goers.  Of course, the local street folks were all out of sight. Most don’t like to be around straight people very much. 
“We had the food table up so some of the concert goers came over to see what we were doing.  People started arriving very early to be part of the audience.  Just as it was getting dark, the Occupier with the really long hair took the sage bundle around and smudged everyone.  There were almost 100 people in the audience and he was well received.  Spin Collective rocked out.  With the exception of a few very minor mishaps, they were flawless.
“We managed to have some conversation before the performance started.  I took a few notes; let me see what I can find.  She rummages around a bit and continues, “I had to report that the East Coast Occupier has had to return to her home base.  She has a few medical issues to take care of and wants to go back to the doctor who has taken care of her for years.  Once she’s healthy again, she promised to return to Duluth”.  The listening Occupier states, “Bummer.  I sure hope she does come back.  She’s a great person; in the short time I’ve known her she taught me a lot”.
The reporting Occupier agrees and continues, “We talked about the fact that the mayor appointed Mike Tusken as the new Police Chief. We weren’t surprised but we were disappointed.  He doesn’t appear to be a person who is truthful. 
“I don’t know our mayor, Emily, very well.  She seems to have her heart in the right place but I don’t know how she thinks.  Maybe she realized it would be best to hire the other guy as he wasn’t part of the local good ole’ boy network.  Maybe she didn’t have the courage to choose the other candidate; all the people who actually run this city would have been really pissed.
“By the way, I received another letter from Tusken the other day. This one says he is very sorry that I felt the previous letter was inappropriate.  He says no citizen should have to put up with that but there’s nothing he can do about it because the person who wrote the letter doesn’t work for the DPD anymore”.
The listening Occupier shakes his head and says, “WTF?”
The reporting Occupier responds, “I know.  I wonder if he has someone else writing letters that have his signature on them.  I know he’s not the brightest bulb on the tree but there’s no way he’s gonna try to tell me he doesn’t work there anymore.  The next time I talk with him I’m gonna ask him if someone else writes his letters.
“However, another part of me says, ‘Why bother?’  I get really tired of all this fake friendliness bs.  That’s how the control freak types operate though; they smile to your face then whack you in the back of your head”.
The listener agrees, “I think it’s called Minnesota Nice”.
The reporter goes on, “We also talked about a newly released movie called Cowspiracy.  It’s about the meat industry and how the raising of animals to be sold as meat is responsible for 51% of the climate change/air and water pollution in the world.
“It talked about grass fed and free range meat too.  That type of meat is not as bad but it still requires an enormous amount of land for living.    The amount of land needed to grow all the food that gets fed to animals raised for meat is enormous too.
“At least a billion people in the world are starving to death because of all the resources used to feed meat eating humans.  That sucks.
“The movie said many of the so called environmentalist groups refuse to discuss the topic.  The groups are afraid their supporters will be offended and will refuse to donate more money to the groups.
“I actually knew all this but I had pushed it to the back of my mind.  I already pay attention to what kind of meat I eat; I am gonna try to pay more attention to the amount I eat also.  I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to stop eating meat entirely but I’m gonna try my best to eat very little”.
The listening Occupier answers, “Getting the world’s meat eaters to become vegetarians will be very difficult.  It wouldn’t hurt me to eat less meat though”.
The reporting Occupier comments, “We also got into a conversation about our marvelous ‘injustice’ system.  We talked about plea bargaining.  Like if a cop accuses an innocent regular person of something and then the district attorney tells the accused to plead guilty to a lesser charge.  The person is innocent but is still expected to accept blame.  If the accused insists on pleading not guilty, the court imposes the most serious charge it can think of.  If possible, it tries to eliminate a jury trial.  If the innocent person is found guilty anyway, the court imposes the strictest penalty allowable”.
The listener adds, “That’s where we get the cliché ‘You get the most justice you can pay for’.  People without a lot of money don’t get any justice.
“Have you heard that the annual Housing Summit is going to be at Coppertop Church on Thursday, May 26th 10am-3:30pm?”
The reporter responds, “No, I hadn’t heard that.  I went to one of those in the past.  It consisted mostly of NGO peeps talking about funding sources.  This year I think I’ll just let them do their thing.  If anything earth shattering happens I’ll hear about it later.
“So anyway, most of last Saturday evening was taken up by the fire spinning performance.  The weather was so nice that after it finished and all the people started leaving, I just sat there for a while.  I love being outdoors when the weather’s nice.  I hope climate change leaves us some nice weather for a few more years at least”.
Around 7:30pm an Occupier says, “It sure looks like no one else is going to show up.  Maybe we should call it a night.  If the weather people are correct, it’s not gonna rain on Saturday so we could have a fire at the Plaza”.
The other Occupier agrees and off they go…..  see you Saturday?

G.A. Minutes 5-3-16

G.A. Minutes 5-3-16
We’re back at People’s Power Plaza again.  The annual local musician’s festival, Homegrown, is in full swing.  Parking is next to impossible; the closest spots we can find are several blocks away.
That’s too far to carry all our stuff so we just drive the vehicles onto the Plaza, unload everything and then go park on the street. 
We think most of the street folks will still have money so we don’t expect to see many of them tonight.  However, given the amount of festival goers on the street, some will probably stop by for a visit.
The weather tonight is absolutely amazing.  Temperatures are in the low 60s; leaves are peeking out of the buds on the trees.  Unfortunately, the wind is completely nuts. It’s got the smudge bundle pumping huge clouds of smoke out over the intersection. It’s blowing from the northwest so it’s not cold but when a big gust comes through, everything goes flying, even the chairs.
Seeing as the air is so pleasantly warm, we think we’ll have a small fire this evening. The wind has other ideas; it takes our little flames and shoots them three to four feet above the fire pit.  Oh well…. Go with the flow.
The Occupier who usually cleans the site where we have fires is doing his thing.  A woman who lives in one of the condos across the street comes over to talk to him. He tells us she said that she had read our letter to the editor in the Northland Reader.  She wants him to know that she is in complete support of our fires and of what we are doing at the Plaza.
Another Occupier comments, “Yeah, I’ve had several people remark that they read the letter.  They also offered support”.
A tall, stylishly dressed young African American man was sitting on one of the benches, talking on his phone, when we arrived.  Once we get set up, he comes over to join us.  He’s friendly, well-spoken and tells us he works as a bartender at a corporate chain establishment up the street.
A straight looking young white guy is carrying a brief case and walking by on the sidewalk.  For some reason he decides to open the brief case.  A big bunch of his papers jump out and go flying down the street.  It looks like one of those confetti parades.
A couple of Occupiers run out to help him collect what he can.  Back at the fire, an Occupier opines, “He must be new at this.  Most people know enough to not open a brief case while walking through hurricane force winds”.  We all laugh.
A large group of various people of color arrive.  Most of them look vaguely familiar; one person recognizes us from the Idle No More NDN Taco Sales.  The group helps themselves to hardboiled eggs and the other stuff on the table.  They move on while the guy who recognizes us decides to sit for a while.
A semi street man, who’s been to our fires in the past, sits down.  He’s a 50 something white dude with a mild speech impediment.  He used to be a heavy metal musician but had some type of accident that ended his career.
We think he may have a brain injury.  He talks non-stop about mundane things. Tonight he’s going on about Donald Trump and Hilary Clinton.  We smile, nod and basically tune him out.  We imagine he gets this type of reaction from a lot of people.
The East Coast Occupier comes walking down the street.  She’s unusually late and is coming from an unusual direction.  She plunks down and explains, “Boy, I’ve been having quite a time.  I couldn’t find a parking place so had to park a long way from here.  I lost my bearings so didn’t know where I was.
“I ended up at the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial, by then I was tired, so decided to rest.  I was reading the writings on the wall, two men were quietly drinking and two well dressed women were sitting on the ledge. 
Two cops pulled up, harassed the men and told them to leave.  Then one cop looked at me and said, “Hey you, you need to move on too”.  I knew he really had no business telling me to leave but I’ve been hit by cops before; there were no witnesses on the street right then so I didn’t say anything I just left.  I didn’t get their badge or vehicle numbers because I didn’t want to give the cop any reason to put his hands on me”.
Another Occupier replies, “WTF?  This is not going to go over well.  I’ve been meeting with a CHUM based group called Local Solutions to Poverty.  We and the City Councilor, Em Westerlund, are about to present a proposed change to the Duluth Human Rights Ordinance before the City Council as a whole.
“The change will be to make homelessness a protected class.  That will connect nicely to the recent Federal Department of Justice statement ordering that citizens have a right to rest, a right to sleep, a right to access bathroom facilities and that type of stuff.
“If the City Council accepts the change it will be easier, over time, to get the cops to stop hassling homeless and poor people so much”.
A very small and straight looking white guy joins us.  He makes small talk and then asks, “So what is all this Occupy stuff about anyway?”  Some of us wonder if he is a cop.  His shoes are awfully shiny.
We think it doesn’t really matter; cops should get a chance to hear the real story too. So we tell about how Occupy really rang true for a lot of Americans.  It became a fad for a short while, got lots of media, then the media turned on us.  Occupy was portrayed as violent no-accounts and the cops tore down all the camps across the nation.
The people who were into the fad left but the really serious people stayed on. Occupy is now small groups scattered around the country.  Occasionally, we communicate with each other.
We’re surprised to see Ms. Community Cleanup and her sidekick coming up the stairs.  .  An Occupier exclaims, “Where have you been?  We haven’t seen you since last summer”.
Ms. Cleanup replies, “I was in treatment for 70 days.  I just got out and have an apartment at Giimajii”.  We look at each other quizzically and Ms. Cleanup continues, “I’ve heard they evict people for the smallest infractions.  My choice was Giimajii or sleeping in a doorway.  Lots of people helped me get furniture, dishes and stuff.  It’s nice having a place to stay”.
An Occupier agrees about Giimajii and adds, “Yeah, I’ve heard that even though it’s supposed to be the Native American Housing Center, they don’t do things in a Native way.  They follow the white man’s ways so if they don’t like the way you part your hair, you’re out in the street with only a few days’ notice”.
Another Occupier says to Ms. Cleanup, “And you guys are still together!  That’s really good.”  The cleanup woman and her sidekick gaze into each other’s eyes and smile”.  Ms. Cleanup responds, “It’s too bad that he can only stay with me for seven days out of each month”.  They sit with us for a good while, then go off to collect driftwood on the beach.
A woman walks up and asks if we are the people she read about in the letter to the editor.  We tell her yes and she replies, “My band and I would like to play a song for you, is that o.k.?”  We tell her that is more than o.k.
Her small acoustic band appears and they play us several songs.  They are definitely more than o.k.  The guitar player and the Occupier who is a musician are previously acquainted.  They exchange how have you beens.  As the band is leaving, the Occupier confides, “I used to play with him 10 years ago at these big jam sessions up at the now defunct Twin’s Bar”.
Then we get a visit from a neighborhood man we have not met in the past.  He has a most elegant cigar box guitar.  It is a work of art.  He tells us he has just finished making this one.  He makes all sorts of cigar box instruments.
He tells us he used to be an aircraft engineer making over $100,000 a year.  He had an accident and was in a long term coma.  His wife divorced him and he ended up collecting disability, living in Duluth and making cigar box instruments.  The man tells us he’s from The Range and would like to go back there.  However, the medical treatment he requires forces him to stay here.  He attributes his survival to the Lord Jesus Christ.
He lets us pass his latest creation around.  Some of the Occupiers try to play it.  It has good tone.  We chat a while about the technical aspects of making music.
After the cigar box man departs, the East Coast Occupier and the brain damaged man begin to sing songs.  Then the Occupiers call out names of popular songs; the brain damaged man supplies the lyrics and the author.  He really knows a lot about heavy metal and country music.
A neighborhood woman who has been to our previous fires stops in for coffee.  She inquires, “So they let you have this here now?”  We laugh and reply “Nobody lets us do anything.  We just do it and see what happens”.
On that note, we realize we are well over time to leave.  We pack up with plans to be back on Saturday.   

G.A. Minutes 4-30-16


G.A. Minutes 4-23-16

G.A. Minutes 4-23-16
The weather people have been saying all day that it’s going to rain but they won’t say exactly when, sometime between afternoon and midnight is the best they can do.
At about 5:30 pm an Occupier takes a look at the latest weather map and tells us, “There’s a storm coming soon but it looks like it’s going to split in two just before it hits the lake.  There’s more big storms coming but it looks like they won’t be here until after midnight”.
We decide to chance it and have a fire.  The temperature is in the low 40s and a gusty east wind is blowing.  We know we’ll need to get a big fire going right away.
Several Occupiers head right down to People’s Plaza.  Among them is the Occupier who brings the food, sage and things like that.  She says, “The Occupier who brings all the stuff for the fire is right behind me.  We left at the same time”.
When we get to the space where we will build our fire, we find the Occupier from the east coast sitting on a bench talking with a young homeless man.  She has a blanket wrapped around her legs.  “Come and sit over here” she says, “all these bushes block the wind”.
We take her advice and huddle together, waiting for the fire stuff to arrive.   After making small talk with the homeless young man, we find that despite his youth, he has been homeless for a long time.
The Spin Collective is just finishing their practice.  Someone states, “They’re going to be performing here on Saturday, May 7th at 8:45 pm.  We’ll need to put out our fire before then so we don’t distract from their show”.
An Occupier intimates, “Remember that letter to the editor I sent to the Northland Reader at the end of March?  Well, it hasn’t been published yet so last night I contacted our friend, the reporter, to ask what was up.  He told me that my email with the letter had never been received.  He gave me a different email address and I sent it again.  He said he had actually been looking for my letter to come in so would try his best to have it published in next week’s issue.  I was beginning to think they were afraid of controversy.  I know some of the folks over there so didn’t think that could be true.  I hope everything works out”.
The fire stuff has still not arrived.  An Occupier calls the fire Occupier’s cell phone and reports, “He said he had run into a ‘situation’, will be here in about 5 minutes and will explain when he gets here”.
When he arrives, we all jump up and unload things in a flash.  He tells us that just as he was leaving he noticed 2 young boys breaking into the youth center.  He stopped to talk with them.  At least one of them appeared to be homeless and also looked as though he had been beat up.  He says, “I wanted to help them but I also knew I needed to get down here and start the fire.  I ended up giving them directions on how to get here and telling them to come down.  Be on the lookout for 2 African American boys around 10 years old”  
It’s a good thing there’s a lot of wood because we will need it tonight.  In just a few minutes the Fire Magician has the flames up and roaring.  We all crowd around, taking the chill off.  A big fire truck comes racing down the hill with all its sirens and lights blaring.  We look at each other quizzically; no worries, several squad cars and an ambulance follow close behind.  It looks like they have bigger fish to fry.
An Occupier calls out, “Hey, look who’s here!”  It’s Spiritual Man and our former camper who we’d nicknamed something like He Who Walks In A Coma.  We haven’t seen either of them in about 6 months and are quite happy they have arrived.
However, things are a bit different this time.  Coma Man is bright eyed coherent and alert.  Spiritual Man looks a little thinner and rather haggard.  We all shake hands with the former Coma Man.  To Spiritual Man we give hugs.
The man who appears thin and haggard tells us he felt the need to just get away for a while so spent the winter up in Red Lake.  Red Lake is known for wilderness and for elders who stick closely to their Anishinaabe traditions.  The spirit man is Sioux, not Anishinaabe, but was still able to find respite in Native tradition.
He tells us he was trying to recover from a broken heart again.  Broken hearts seem to be a pattern for him.  He tends to form relationships with women who require things he is unable to offer.  They don’t seem to be interested in the good qualities that he does have.  After a while the women become angry;  Spiritual Man feels rejected and goes off to lick his wounds.  And so it goes….
We are just finishing a round of smudging when our friends, the Catholic Worker couple come to join the circle.  They have brought us Kurdish cookies.  Most of us had attended the recent Kurdish Dinner fundraiser so have sampled these cookies.  We definitely would like to eat more.
We see 2 squad cars driving slowly past the Plaza.  We’re just not in the mood for cops tonight so are glad when they pass us by.
A man who the street folks call No Neck arrives.  He’s accompanied by a younger woman we have not met.  We’re never particularly happy to see No Neck as he drives us and most other people nuts.  It’s possible he is developmentally disabled, we’re not sure.  He talks none stop about nothing, generally repeating something like, “What it gonna be like” at least 100 times over.
Tonight, No Neck is actually talking about something, sort of.  He talks about how horrible and destructive white people are.  We think No Neck is probably a white person himself but he doesn’t seem to be aware of that.  Whatever…
The young woman who has accompanied Mr. Neck does not have a coat.  Spiritual Man gives her his coat; the East Coast Occupier thinks he now looks cold so gives him her blanket.  One of the Catholic Workers hands the eastern Occupier a big scarf.
The young chronically homeless man goes into his backpack and pulls out a well-worn but still pretty and obviously well-made quilt.  He engulfs himself in it.  Someone says, “Now that is a good blanket”.  He answers, “Yeah, my grandmother made it for me”.
No Neck is not getting the attention that he requires.  He, his friend and Not In A Coma Man leave.  Spirit Man gets his coat back; all the other things go back to their original owners.
Another big fire truck drives slowly past.  We think they are looking at us but it’s dark now so we can’t tell.  Squad cars are buzzing here and there.  There’s just a lot more activity around the Plaza than there was at the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial.  It will take us a while to get used to it.
Everyone is quiet, just gazing into the fire when out of the blue Spiritual Man says, “Dying is easy; living is hard”.  We don’t know where that came from but we don’t disagree.
A friend from Veterans for Peace, who we teasingly call the Anarchist, rides up on his bike.  He has attended our fires off and on for years.
An Occupier, also riding his bike, arrives.  We haven’t seen him in a few weeks and want to hear about his adventures with Black Lives Matter and his court case from the November Stop the Enbridge Invasion.  He tells us that when he and our other organizer friend pled not guilty to the charge of not leaving the Enbridge office when ordered by the police to do so, the court changed the charge so as to ensure they were not able to have a jury trial.  They also raised the amount of the fine.
After our friends attempted to have their day in court, the judge found them guilty and gave them a fine of $380 each.
An Occupier asks, “Did you get my message about Idle No More wanting to give each of you $100 to help with the payment?”  The bike riding Occupier answers, “Yes, thanks very much.  That will help a lot.  We’re each trying to raise donations from whoever is able to help”.
A conversation about the Necessity Defense begins.  An Occupier tells about a recent case in London where the Necessity Defense was used concerning a blockade of a gun show.  All blockaders were found not guilty.  She adds, “It’s just a matter of time until the courts begin to recognize the legitimacy of the defense”.
A young boy of the neighborhood walks by.  Spiritual Man calls him over and introduces everyone.  We offer him a smudge, whatever else he would like from the table and a seat at the fire.  The boy appears to be quite impressed by the whole goings on.
We feel a few sprinkles.  An Occupier exclaims, “Don’t worry about it!  The real rain won’t come for hours”.  Well……maybe not.  The rain is coming down harder.  With little fanfare, everyone begins taking down the chairs and packing everything up.  A few vehicles are driven up on the Plaza and everything loaded on.  The fire is out too and it looks as though we’d never been here.
The rain is falling too fast for much chatter so we just say, “See you back here again on Tuesday”.

G.A. Minutes 4-19-16

G.A. Minutes 4-19-16
Yesterday the weather people said it was going to be cold but wouldn’t rain and today would be a little warmer but rainy.  So we decided we would meet tonight at Coney Island.
So of course, yesterday it rained and today had no rain but a strong, cold, east wind.  We probably could have made a fire at People’s Plaza this evening but we didn’t prepare for it and it is pretty darn cold.
It’s nice to have an accommodating place to go to when we can’t meet outdoors. The fact that it took us 3 years to find it really speaks to the fact that there is a serious lack of public space accessible to poor folks in this city.  More than likely, the problem exists across our entire country.
Anyway, Coney Island is completely empty when the first Occupiers arrive.  As usual, the regular hipster staff guy looks happy to see us.  A couple of us order sandwiches; others go for an endless cup of coffee which costs a little over a buck.
Our friend who does the Tuesday night radio show at KUMD is rocking it over the sound system.
As we’re getting seated in the back booth, someone mentions that two of our friends were interviewed today on the radio show of another one of our friends. They talked about the May Day of Remembrance and Round Dance for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women.
The Occupier tasked with communications passes around a copy of the latest emails between herself and one of our friends on the City Council.  The Councilor suggested that we notify the Duluth Fire Department about the starting of our fires at the People’s Plaza.  The Occupier tried to explain the problem we’ve been having with the Fire Marshal giving false information to other government agencies.
The Occupier complains, “I wish I could understand how the Fire Marshal’s mind works.  When I showed her in her own fire code book that the fire code exempts our type of fire from open burning regulations, she just gave me a blank look.  I wonder if she’s just used to giving orders and having them blindly followed.  I wonder if she thinks she’ll always be able to get away with giving false information.
“I’ve heard that the two candidates for the Fire Chief position are soon to be presented to the public.  I wonder how they’ll deal with the issue”.
Another Occupier comments, “I attended the NAACP meeting on Sunday.  They said the currently serving African American Deputy Fire Chief is well suited to the Fire Chief position; the problem is he doesn’t have the degree required in the job description”.
Another one of the Occupiers opines, “Well if the powers that be really wanted an African American Fire Chief, they would have found a way to send him to school or made some type of exception for him or whatever.  When the city rulers want something they just make it happen, regardless of the rules”.
An Occupier says, “Speaking of Chiefs, the two candidates for Duluth Police Chief have been chosen and will be presented for questioning by the public on Thursday, May 28th, 6:30pm at Lincoln Middle School”.
The Occupier tasked with communications responds, “Yeah, I heard that.  One candidate is a guy who has been a long term police chief in two other cities and the other candidate is Mike Tusken”.
“I’m thinking I should bring copies of the four complaints we filed against the DPD concerning our fires and copies of the responses we received from Deputy Chief Tusken.  My question will have to do with the potential opportunity that police people have to bully less powerful citizens.  If I do this I will have to be well prepared and I’ll need you guys to back me up”.
Another Occupier agrees, “I remember a couple of years ago when I was doing an email exchange with Deputy Tusken.  It was about our fire issue.  He tried to bully me also”.  
The tasked Occupier adds, “It just seems to me that somebody needs to show how his past behavior doesn’t match up with the image he’s trying to portray now”.
As we are starting a conversation about honey bees, neonicotinoids and mono cultures, the main organizer from Socialist Action arrives.  He says, “Hey guys, I just got done with a union meeting and I thought I’d stop by to see how you all were doing”.
We say, “Wonderful!”  The Socialist Action guy is very intelligent and personable. We’re all very pleased to see him.
Someone tells him, “We were just remembering how President Carter got on TV in the 70s and talked about the need to use less gasoline, be less dependent on oil, conserve the earth and stuff like that.  He even put solar panels on the White House.
“Then along came Reagan talking about a new day in ‘Merika.  He took the solar panels down”.
The Socialist man laughs and says, “Yeah, I remember that”.
We ask him, “So how’s your union stuff going?” and he answers, “Pretty good actually.  We just added two more clinics.  The main hospital has been organized for some time but now we’re trying to organize the outlying clinics.  Their wage structure is considerably less than the members of the union.
“Duluth is a pretty good place for unions.  We have a 1 to 3 ratio of union to non-union here.  That’s not enough but it’s a lot better than most of the country.  I mean, heck, I’m a janitor and I belong to a union.  How often do you come across that?
“I’ve just been given the task of writing our union newsletter.  I hope I can do a good job”.
An Occupier says, “Oh!…. Oh!…  Will you be interviewing your chickens?!?”
The Socialist man answers, “If I can figure a way to work it in, I will”.  The Socialist man is very humble.  He is a talented writer and has done some very impressive interviews and videos of his chickens.
He says to us, “Why did you all decide to have your fires at the People’s Plaza? If it’s a secret, I’ll understand”.
An Occupier replies, “Everybody thinks we make decisions according to some great mystery.  Actually most of our decisions are based on practicality.  When we started having fires at the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial we had just lost our homeless camp and CJMM was a public space just across the street.  It was only after being there a while that we began to see the symbolism involved.
“When we decided it was counterproductive to keep skirmishing with the police at CJMM we knew we definitely wanted to stay in this neighborhood.  Most of us live in this neighborhood and there are homeless and/or poor people here who really need our fires.
“People’s Plaza is one of only two public spaces here.  Our indigenous allies are planning on making the other space ethnocentric to original peoples.  Once they get that together, we’ll hip them to the laws for having fires.
“Anyway, going to People’s Plaza was pretty much a no brainer.  The citizens of Duluth have an easement to the entire plaza.  Eventually we’ll have to defend our legal right to have a fire there too.  Hopefully, three years at CJMM will have taught us something”.
An Occupier points down the walkway and says, “Oh, look”.  The hipster guy has finished mopping the entire floor.  We were so absorbed in conversation we didn’t notice.
We quickly gather up our things, bus the table and collect tip money.  As we are leaving a man in a wheel chair and the woman accompanying him knock on the door.  Even though he has already closed, the hipster guy agrees to cook for them.  They look pretty hungry.
As we shoot out the door (figuratively) and go our separate ways, an Occupier calls out, “So shall we meet at the plaza on Saturday?”  We say, “Sounds like a plan”.     

G.A. Minutes 4-16-16

G.A. Minutes 4-16-16
We are at the People’s Power Plaza (aka MN Power Plaza) tonight.  We’re planning on starting up our first recreational fire of the year.
The fire dance troupe, Spin Collective, appears to be practicing their routines in the part of the plaza where we have planned to set up our fire.
An Occupier goes over to check with them to see if they are going to be performing in the space tonight.  They say no, they are just having practice and expect to finish within the next half hour.  They assure the Occupier that setting up our fire will not be an intrusion.
One of the dancers asks, “Are you the people who have those fires at the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial?”  The Occupier answers yes; the dancer responds, “You guys rock!”
It’s been almost 6 months since the weather has been warm enough for our little fire to keep folks warm enough after the sun goes down.  We hope we’ve remembered to bring everything.  It’s whole grain peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, organic cookies and apple juice, Occupy “stay awake forever” coffee and a big jug of ice water tonight.
We wonder what will be different here at People’s Plaza.  The space is much larger and there’s a lot more vehicle traffic than there was at CJMM.  We set up as close to the sidewalk as possible.  We want people to notice we are here so they can join us if they wish.
As usual, the Occupier tasked with making the fire, works his magic and the flames shoot up right away.
It looks like we’re getting noticed already.  A squad car drives up and then another.  They glance over at us, then drive away.  Either they’re too busy right now or they’re not concerned about us.  We have no particular interest in interacting with the police but we will if we have to.  
The Occupier who is also a Catholic Worker has been gone for over a week. She’s been down in the Twin Cities participating in an action with Black Lives Matter.  We’re all very interested in hearing all about her experience.
She begins, “There were quite a few people involved in the training.  I spent a lot of my time talking and learning from 2 African American young men.  I found them to be extremely kind and considerate.
“The plan was to blockade a road outside of a big sports facility.  The particular road didn’t really go anywhere so the blockade was mainly symbolic.  Some kind of sports event was going on at the facility so lots of people were entering.
“The plan was also for only the white activists to get arrested.  The main slogan was ‘white silence equals violence’.  Part of the idea was symbolic but it also made sense.  Black people generally are treated with a lot less respect and care than white people when they get arrested.  Most white people can also better afford an arrest on their record as they are profiled less frequently by cops so have ‘cleaner’ records.
“So some of the white activists chained themselves to each other, then we blocked the road.  I was surprised by the number of white sports fans who said, ‘Get a job, cut your hair’ and other creative stuff like that.  Some white people were supportive of what we were doing.
“After a while the police arrested us, they put us on a bus where we sat for about 2 hours.  They then gave us each a citation for misdemeanor something or other and let us go”.
The storytelling Occupier says to another, “I have to go back down there on Tuesday the 26th to go to court.  Would you be willing to take over the duties I’m supposed to do on that day?”  The other Occupier responds, “Certainly”.
Our first visitor is a young traveling man.  He’s clean and well-dressed so probably not homeless.  He introduces himself and tells us he’s just returned from New Zealand.  He and another Occupier converse about Zealand and the Occupier asks if he was “woofing”.  He says yes, he was and another Occupier says “What is woofing?”
The first Occupier explains, “Woofing is when you travel from organic farm to organic farm.  You are given a place to stay and food in exchange for some work in the fields”.
The traveling dude gets a phone call and has to leave.  We tell him we plan to be at People’s Plaza most Tuesdays and Saturdays until next winter.
As the sun is going down, a heavy set young man who we recognize from our past fires arrives.  He appears to be “3 sheets to the wind” and tells us he’s been sleeping every night for a while now on a bench at the Plaza.
He reports, “Nobody can see me so I usually can sleep there all night.  Last night I was harassed by some ‘cowboys’. 
We give him food, coffee and a couple of cigarettes.  He says, “Miigwitch” chats with us a while and goes off to sleep on his bench.
The Occupier who is always making plans announces, “I’m going to pledge $3 a month to Honor the Earth in the name of Occupy Duluth if that’s o.k. with everyone.  They say if all their supporters would pledge $3 a month, they could stop spending time chasing after large grants and focus only on protecting Mother Earth”.  We say, “O.K., good idea”.
The Occupier continues, “Our friends the Native homeless shelter worker and the Native spiritual worker are sponsoring the May Day of Remembrance and Round Dance for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, May 1st in front of Amazing Grace Café.  We’ll meet and have ceremony then march to the Lake and put flowers for all the women who were dumped in the Lake.
“Also, March Against Monsanto is coming up in May and the organic farmers have a Farmers Market here in the Plaza every Tuesday from 11am-1pm.  The market takes up the whole plaza but I’m pretty sure they’ll be done and cleaned up by the time we get here at 6pm”.
A hipster looking young Native woman in a sparkly black dress arrives and asks if she may stand by the fire.  We welcome her; she says she’s been to our fires at CJMM in the past.  She says she was homeless at the time and the fact that she was welcomed at our fire and given food meant a great deal to her. 
She is accompanied by a somewhat older Native man.  It appears that the two of them have recently met.  The man asks to smudge, does so, then takes tobacco and asks for a blessing for the fire and all those present.  He says he’s on his way to South Dakota.  He’ll probably spend the night at the young woman’s home and get back on the road in the morning. 
We give him a few bucks from the Occupy “Treasury” to help him on his way. The Occupy Treasury is usually carried in the pocket of one of the Occupiers and consists of whatever donations have been left on our table at our past fires. Tonight it consists of almost $13.
The big clock up the street chimes 9 o’clock.  We begin packing up.  The new fire pit and bucket have worked well and it seems we remembered to bring everything necessary.
And so another year of recreational fires begins.  We’ll be back at People’s Power Plaza on Tuesday.  You could join us if you like.