G.A. Minutes 12-29-12

G.A. Minutes 12-29-12

What a bunch of sad sacks we are tonight. Everyone is tired. We haven’t fully recovered from our holiday activities and we all agree to keep this meeting short.

We start out by expressing our displeasure with having to meet in the skywalk. Everybody agrees we would like a better place for our biweekly gathering but no one has an immediate idea of where that could be. The winter weather narrows our choices. We think it is important that we meet in a public place as this enables the general public to join in if they wish. There are some good coffee houses and such that are available but not all people can afford to buy a cup of coffee or whatever. Since we have been meeting in the skywalk we haven’t had any new people join us. A few folks we know from our former camp or the CJM Memorial have passed by and said hello but have declined to stay. The DPD has been leaving us alone for many weeks now but the skywalk is just not a comfortable place to hang out. It was probably designed to be that way. You know, keep those shoppers buying and moving on. One of our Occupiers is opening a part of his home to create a meeting space for political discussion and education. We contemplate asking him if he would allow us to publically announce his home as the Occupy meeting space. The home is a bit removed from the Central Hillside/Downtown area but still conveniently located on the bus line. This Occupier isn’t with us tonight so we will have to discuss things with him later.

We still don’t have permission from the Zinema to show American Autumn on January 24th. The Occupier who has been charged with getting this together has been sidetracked by other responsibilities so another Occupier offers to take on this task.

We’ve contacted our music promoter friend and told him we would be happy to have a table at his February 2nd music event. We discuss what we will need to do in order to make this happen.

We are just beginning a discussion about the Idle No More Movement when an Occupier reminds us that we’re all very tired and need to get some rest. Oh yeah, we did agree to that, didn’t we? We make plans to meet here again next Saturday, pack up, pile into our vehicles, drop the walking folks off and go home.

G.A. Minutes 12-22-12

We’re still here. At the skywalk, but also on the planet. According to some, yesterday was supposed to be the end of the world. We weren’t too terribly worried as we had checked out what actual Mayan wise people had to say.

As we gather tonight, two Occupiers tell us they have just returned from an Idle No More flash mob. Idle No More was originally formed by Indian people from Canada. It was formed in response to a new law recently passed by the Canadian government. This law removes Native sovereignty from a very large area of land. The passage of this law will allow the Canadian government to open these lands for tar sands drilling, fracking and other life killing practices. As keepers of the land, Canadian Indians have chosen to fight against this.

Mr. Harper, the recently elected prime minister, appears to have a few things up his sleeve. The law was rammed through parliament Tea Party style. At no time were Native people consulted. Of course there is a media blackout about all this but the Native people of the U.S. and all over the world are joining the fight. Some non-native people are just now finding out.

This past week has seen Round Dance ceremonies taking place in public spaces all over Canada. A ceremony had been planned in Duluth for over a week. Today business owners posted on the planning website stating that Duluth Native people and their ceremony would not be welcomed at any time. Flash mob tactics were then employed at two separate locations. They were successful.

The two Occupiers attended the final ceremony as individuals. As they told the group about their experience, one homeless Occupier stated, “But what does this have to do with Occupy and homeless people?” Another Occupier said, “The condition of the earth is of huge importance to every human being on the planet. Our survival as a species is dependent upon it.” There are very few people at the meeting tonight so a temperature check on Occupy’s position as a group is not taken. Individuals will support Idle No More as they see fit. We think we should take the role of observers and if more help than that is needed, Native people will let us know.

The discussion has gone on for awhile, everyone is tired. An Occupier reports the Zinema has given the o.k. for our showing of American Autumn. We had originally planned the showing for January 3rd but realize this date is only eleven days away. We think January 24th could work but will now have contact them again to find out if that date is o.k. It seems this is taking longer than it should but we don’t expect to be able to talk with anyone until after Christmas.

The Occupier couple is having a bonfire party on Christmas Day. Most Occupiers are planning to attend. When Christmas is over, they’ll get back to business. After a lull in activity it looks like there will be plenty to do in the near future.

G.A. Minutes 12-18-12

G.A. Minutes 12-18-12

The usual suspects are here in the skywalk tonight. We exchange observations re: the City Council meeting held last night. Councilor Gardner and MN ASAP presented a resolution calling for the government to reduce military spending and use the money to fund the needs of regular people. The resolution passed 5-3-1. Minneapolis and St. Paul passed this resolution unanimously. We agree we are pleased that it passed but we wonder where it will lead. Other states are presenting similar resolutions; a lot of people are putting a lot of work into this. We wonder if any significant reduction in our military will result. An Occupier says, “It’s all so stupid. People work their butts off trying to get some candidate in office and then they spend the rest of the time begging that person to make decisions that actually benefit the people. If all the people signing petitions and such would take to the streets the government would listen. Of course, they’d beat our heads in first”.

We note the next two Tuesdays will be Christmas Day and New Year’s Day. Everybody will be busy with holiday events and the skywalk may be closed so we won’t be meeting on those days.

The subject of our upcoming meeting with the local homeless advocacy group is introduced. We expect this meeting will include social work students so talk about the social work profession. A career in social work is generally a low paying one. Social workers usually need a master’s degree in order to make a living wage. In our marvelous capitalist system all helping professions receive low pay and we wonder if the students know what they are getting into. In a previous meeting with social work students, many of them expressed distain for behaviors which are common in homeless and other very poor people. The Occupiers hope to be able to help the students see the poor in a more realistic light.

An Occupier tells a story of being unable to find a bathroom in the downtown area. He is staying outside of our city so must rely on public facilities when he is in Duluth. He went through the skywalk system but found all the bathrooms locked. He felt his bladder was about to burst so got in his car and drove to a bathroom. We have heard many stories from homeless people about the lack of public facilities. One of our homeless friends actually wet himself because he couldn’t find a bathroom. Homeless people are usually kicked out of restaurants, stores, hotels and other places where one would find a bathroom. However, it’s illegal to relieve oneself in a bush, hidden corner or whatever else can be found. The cops who walk the beat lie in wait for homeless people who are forced to relieve themselves illegally. The cops ticket and/or arrest them. Businesses complain about the smell of urine deposited in doorways when the businesses are closed. Something’s wrong here, a person is not allowed the use of a bathroom unless he has the ability to pay, if he relieves himself outdoors he will be arrested, people despise him because he needs to go to the bathroom. It’s enough to give a homeless person a bad attitude.

On that note, we adjourn our meeting. See you on Saturday.

G.A. Minutes 12-15-12

G.A. Minutes 12-15-12

It’s just a few Occupiers tonight. In fact, since we’ve moved to the skywalk we haven’t had any non-Occupiers join us. The people walking past seem to be either afraid of us or completely absorbed with whatever they’re completely absorbed with. We need a dragon (a person who walks around outside the meeting circle and invites passersby to join in. Up to now, no one has been interested in playing that role.

It’s been raining all day and the weather people say it’s going to turn to sleet, everything will be iced over and travel will be dangerous. It’s still raining now. In Duluth you never know what’s going to happen next, that includes the weather.

We still haven’t received a response from the Zinema regarding our request to have a movie showing on January 3rd. We’ve looked at several movies and settled on one called American Autumn. It’s an Occupy movie that we should be able to show without having to pay a fee to anyone. Things are taking so long because we couldn’t show the other screenplays we looked at. These films were good but we couldn’t afford the payments required by the film makers. We realize January 3rd is coming up real soon so think we should try to push the showing back by a few weeks. We will need time to do publicity.

We talk a bit about the upcoming MN ASAP resolution to be put before the City Council on Monday, December 17th. We all plan to be there.

One of our Occupiers is having a house party tonight. He lives on the other side of town and we would all like to attend. Because the weather is so “iffy”, we decide to close the meeting early and head out to the party. Fomenting revolution requires a break from work and the chance to socialize from time to time.

G.A. Minutes 12-11-12

G.A. Minutes 12-11-12
People arrive on time to the skywalk this evening. We set our chairs in a circle and take a few minutes to chat and warm up. It’s quite cold outside, the skywalk is not the ideal meeting place but at least it’s indoors. It’ll have to do for now.

An Occupier confesses she has lost the minutes from the last meeting. She had them all typed up and was about to transfer them to the website when she hit the wrong key and they vanished. Her partner spent over 2 hours trying to get them back but was unable to find them. A conversation develops, everyone giving their opinion as to what could be tried. As of now, the whereabouts of the minutes are a mystery in cyberspace.

The next topic is a homelessness training session that will be sponsored by some of our allies. It will be held a few days after Christmas. We all plan to be there. We go on to speak about the effective actions that may result from our collaboration with these good folks.

Our occasional Occupier is with us again tonight. He tells us the MN ASAP resolution will be presented to the City Council next Monday. This resolution has already been adopted by the City of Minneapolis. Basically, the resolution states, state taxpayers money should not be spent on the bloated U.S. military but used to pay for things that are actually needed, such as, education, healthcare and infrastructure. MN ASAP is requesting all activists to attend this City Council meeting. Most of us are intending to be there.

We give the occasional Occupier an update concerning the letter we recently received from a well-known government official. The letter concerned our interactions with the DPD at the CJM Memorial. The official agrees our fires were legal. She also states she believes that the “powers on high” have dictated to all police and city governments they are to discourage the Occupy Movement as much as possible.

From here we segue into a discussion of the so called city law concerning amplified sound in public places. We have discovered there is no such law. The City Attorney has stated there are no parameters for the noise level of amplified sound in public spaces. The decision regarding permissibility of sound is at the discretion of the police officer present at the scene. …….What??? We had assumed they at least had some kind of sound measuring machine. On May 1st, 2012 Occupy Duluth held an event in the People’s Plaza. We had a stage, a good sound system and a lineup of bands to last into the evening. The people of Duluth were loving it. Everyone was cheering, all the cars were beeping. After the 2nd band about 20 police officers descended on us. They disconnected the sound, ticketed the sound person, tore down the stage, attempted to confiscate our belongings and physically attacked a small, female Occupier. They told us amplified sound was not allowed in any city public space. We were busy setting up our camp at the time so didn’t investigate. Now we add this to our list of things to do.

As we are conversing, we see a DPD officer walk by and wave to us. A few of us wave back. An Occupier reports she has finally been able to make contact with Occupy Minneapolis. She is waiting for a response. This is good. We need more contact with other Occupy groups.

The meeting is pretty much over and the conversation turns to all sorts of things. An Occupier is unsure he wants to work with one of our allies because of a minor disagreement between them almost a year ago. Another Occupier states this has been the downfall of the “left” in the past. He says, “Because another activist doesn’t agree with you on every point is not sufficient reason to refuse to work with them. No two people are exactly the same, people will never agree on everything. We need to touch each other’s hearts and minds. We have a very important mission here”.

The homeless Occupier says he has been on the streets for many years and had become rather jaded. His initial attraction to Occupy came from seeing that everyone was accepted. No credentials were required. The older Occupiers agree they saw ego trips, especially among the men, during the 60s and 70s and they believe this was the cause of many of the Movement’s failures. Somebody starts talking about the sufferings of illegal immigrants and this turns into several Occupiers telling stories about times lived in Mexico. Amazing. We find out things about each other we didn’t know. Fun.

Someone notices it’s getting late. No cops. We sort of forgot about them and they never came back. Cool. They can be a real problem, they’re always a nuisance. Let’s hope our luck hold out for awhile. Time to go home.

G.A. Minutes 12-4-12

G.A. Minutes 12-4-12

It’s deja vue all over again at the skywalk tonight. Only two Occupiers arrive on time for the meeting. They’re older so have brought lawn chairs to sit in. They’re very careful not to block the walkways. They just sit and say hello to passersby, a local community organizer stops by to chat, a security person walks by, looks at them and shakes her head in disgust. A third Occupier arrives, sits down on the floor and the three begin to chat. A DPD officer walks by, smiles and says hello. The Occupiers return the hello but when he leaves, they comment on how strange they find it to see a member of the DPD in the skywalk. They wonder what is up.

A fourth Occupier arrives; time to start the meeting. It has hardly begun when four DPD officers come trotting across the walkway. They are each carrying a little book and they surround the Occupiers. One says, “It’s o.k. for you to be here but you can’t sit”. What? Another says, “You can sit on the floor but you can’t bring in chairs to sit on”. Huh? A third officer says, “It’s a city ordinance”. The Occupiers ask for the name of the ordinance, the officers all consult their little books and reply,”44A-4”. Several of the Occupiers begin to question the officers but one Occupier advises, “Let’s wait and find out the details so we know exactly what we’re talking about”. They start packing up their chairs, the police smile, happily wish them a good evening and walk off. The Occupiers stand around talking (out of orneriness), then split to an Occupiers house to look at city ordinances.

After passing out refreshments, it doesn’t take long to find that all the city ordinances in the 44s pertain to the skywalk. 44A-4 says one may not sit on the floor or balcony railing of the skywalk. They check all the 44 ordinances to see if there’s anything else but nothing is relevant. They believe police officers must have a college degree now days. That means they are probably able to read. Does that mean the officers deliberately gave false information? Why did the Occupiers meet in the same place all last winter, many sitting on the floor, and police never intervened? It’s possibly fruitless and certainly not worth the time to try to figure out the motivation.

So on Saturday they will have to bring a copy of the ordinance and chairs for those who need to sit. Things are getting “curioser and curioser” once more.



So a homeless man was famously given an expensive pair of boots, then could not wear them because the world he lives in is so harsh that someone would very likely kill him to steal those boots. His brother says the bootless man is homeless by choice. “By choice” is code for ”he won’t quit drinking and/or using drugs”. If only he would stay clean, he wouldn’t be homeless.

It is widely accepted that addiction is a disease, that it can be successfully treated, and that it is not the result of moral deficiencies in the addict. An addict can no more choose to quit than a legless person can just get up and walk. It is not enough to cure an individual’s addiction if they are then dumped right back on the street which addicted them in the first place. Do we save someone from drowning, then throw them back in the water?

I have seen the choice argument used to stop many a conversation about homelessness. Usually the words are accompanied by a pose that says “I care,” while allowing the poser to drop the subject and lose no sleep over it. After all, we cannot help people who refuse to “accept help,” another code for pathological inability to follow social behavior expectations. Sure, you can come live at my house, if you quit drinking and fighting, quit smoking, quit using drugs and stealing, take a bath and brush your teeth every day, go to bed and get up at reasonable hours, get a job, and follow whatever rules I give you, no matter how restrictive or illogical they may be.

Fact is, the shelters are often crowded, dirty, dangerous and humiliating places where you may expect to be raped, robbed, pressured to do immoral acts, and, if you do get any sleep, you will be dumped back out on the dark sidewalk before dawn. Of course not every shelter is always like this, and many good people strive endlessly to keep the shelters safe, clean, and decent. It is not through their lack of attention or diligence that the shelters are too dangerous for some people. The workers there have no magic power to solve or even much affect the social ills that drive people into the street, and which keep them there.

These are the facts which stare me in the face as I watch vulnerable adults “choose” to walk off into the night, cold and wet and hungry as they may be, to look for a bush in which to sleep. I have watched a twenty-seven year old near-term pregnant woman walk away like that. I could not help her. I have watched people who are seriously ill or injured walk away like that. I have had to watch frail and elderly men and women walk away into the darkness. I have watched people who are clearly mentally ill go away like that.

These are matters fit to the slogan written on the wall at the Clayton, Jackson McGhie Memorial…matters about which it is difficult to speak, and impossible to remain silent. We can do better as a society. It is not the behaviors of the men, women, and children who are trapped and drowning in our sewers that are unacceptable. It is our insane desire as a culture to punish and abandon those who are most in need. Few of them or none ‘choose’ to live in the gutter. That is all we have left to them.

G.A. Minutes 12-1-12

G.A. Minutes 12-1-12

We’re back in the skywalk again. Everything’s pretty much the same except the people passing by are mostly teenagers. We are grown-ups so are invisible to them. It seems this is the spot for local high school students to meet up with their friends on weekends.

An Occupier has had his day in court. The D.A. recommended a six month deferred sentence. This means the Occupier must refrain from receiving another ticket for trespassing for six months. If he accomplishes this, the ticket will be dismissed. He had the option of refusing this offer and demanding a trial. Seeing as we have yet to find a suitable attorney and we have many other responsibilities, the Occupier decided going to trial was not the best use of his time.

We discuss what we should do about the property owner’s illegal eviction of our previous camp. We know we have a good case however, we are getting bored with legalities and there are many more interesting things going on. We have learned the property owner is just your basic slumlord with a history of abusing poor people. It’s decided we will file all the evidence we have and will wait for news of the next bullying incident. Perhaps we can help then.

Another Occupier tells us he has had contact with people from the IWW (Wobblies). They are interested in forming a chapter in Duluth. They are also interested in creating a Work People’s College. These things interest us and the Occupier promises to make connections for us. He reminds us that Occupy is a tactic, not an official organization. He hopes we are open to working with other likeminded people. We say, “Most certainly”.

Last night we all attended the meeting of a local, well known and respected social justice group. Everyone was excited to find when it comes to homeless issues; we are definitely on the same page. An Occupier agrees to call and arrange our next meeting.

We have another court case coming up on January 3rd. An additional Occupier received a trespassing ticket the day after our illegal eviction. The group pledges to support him.

Time has gone by rapidly. It’s later than we realized. Those of us with vehicles take the others to their homes. One Occupier gets dropped off at the CJM Memorial. He’ll check on our brothers and sisters of the street. They are never far from our thoughts.

Occupy Duluth returns to skywalk

December 2012

We meet on the skywalk because it is too cold to meet outside. Bring a chair if you need one, because the skywalk has no seating. Please note that the skywalk was built with public tax money and belongs to the citizens of Duluth, just as the public sidewalks do. This and a very few other spaces in the city are the only remaining vestige of the ancient idea of the commons, which still remains the physical basis of all our public liberties. We have a constitutional right to assemble there, and we do so to discuss and debate current issues of vital concern to us all.

Meeting on the skywalk has all sorts of interesting by-play. We have been asked to leave and informed by security guards, maintenance personel, low level managers, and the guy who sweeps the floors that we are tresspassing on private property. Even members of the public have frowned at us, informing us with the false information that no loitering is permitted in the skywalk. This opinion has no basis in law and the Duluth Police Department has refused requests to remove us. Still, the idea that citizens engaged in legal business cannot use public spaces is unfortunately common.

Even worse, the same guards, employees, and passers-by who have told us to leave are also certain that they have the right and responsibility to deny access to other minority citizens, especially poor people, and most especially, poor people of color. Many poor people have been intimidated and threatened with police action, to the extent that they no longer feel they have a right to use the public facilities. This denial of human and civil rights is a crime, illegal under federal, state, and local laws.

As the city attorney suggested in court last week, just imagine the headlines if the city allowed the disabled and the poor to use public spaces as freely as real citizens. Yeah, just imagine. So now our city attorney is letting imagined newspaper headlines dictate to the law? And people who are supposed to be protected by the Americans With Disabilities Act are thrown out into the street? We all know that the weather in Duluth is often uncomfortable and can be lethal. Imagine the headlines if one cold winter morning a disabled homeless person, denied access to common warmth, is discovered frozen to death on the locked doors of the skywalk in front of Wells Fargo.

We are nearly all one paycheck from life on the street. That frozen corpse could be your own.

G.A. Minutes 11-27-12

G.A. Minutes 11-27-12

This is our first meeting at the skywalk location. It feels weird. We haven’t met here in at least a year. The lights are very bright and the people who walk by aren’t at all interested in what we are doing. Shoppers and workers, all on a mission. At least the temperature is warm. We have no food or coffee. The space is too small to have a table without blocking the walkway. We must be sure to not block the walkway. Partly, because it would be discourteous to other people but also because it’s a city ordinance that actually exists.

A security guard comes by, gives us a skeptical look and says, “What are you doing here?” We tell her we are sitting and having a meeting. She laughs and walks away.

Without the neighborhood distractions that have become a usual part of our meeting, we get down to business. We have only five Occupiers tonight, so things go quickly. We still have no progress on our movie showing. The guy we need to hook up with at the Zinema is out of town for a week. A second email has been sent to the film producers but no response yet.

An Occupier has a court date for 9:00am Thursday, November 30th. This is related to the trespassing ticket he received during our illegal eviction from our camp. He intends to challenge the charge. Other Occupiers promise to be there to lend moral support.

Another Occupier has a paper to write for his college midterm. He’s been asked to compare and contrast the civil rights movement of the 60s and 70s and the feminist movement of the same time period. The young man hadn’t even been born when these things were happening so he must get all his information from books. He thinks that black civil rights activists were probably not very empathetic when it came to women’s rights. A female Occupier was involved with these movements in the 60s and 70s and gives him her take on what was going on. She says the religious, educated, middle class black leaders were not particularly supportive of women’s equality. Among working class African Americans, women were more likely to have leadership roles. There were also secular civil rights organizations. Black feminist women were able to express their ideas with more freedom in these groups. She states she believes black American feminist women were not always well treated by their white sisters. The white feminists didn’t always understand the special needs of women affected by both sexism and racism.

This topic evolves into a general discussion about racism and classism. The young man believes all oppression is based upon class these days. Others say racism still plays a part. The young man says, “I’m ready to go home and write my paper now. I’ll see you all at the court on Thursday.” The meeting breaks up. We’ll meet here as long as we have to but will be on the lookout for a better place. Hopefully it will be some place that enables interaction with people from the hood.