G.A. Minutes 11-24-12

G.A. Minutes 11-24-12

It’s snowing tonight as we light the fire and put out the food. Looks like it could turn into a storm. Only a few Occupiers are crazy enough to be out on a night like this. We’re like children, excited because of the first snow.

The few people who are trudging down the sidewalk cast puzzled glances our way. We’re not completely crazy so agree to make this our last meeting at the Memorial until Spring. The fact that most of the homeless street people have no choice but to be out in winter conditions much worse than this produces a contradiction. However, if we continue to meet here during severe weather we’ll loose some of the Occupiers. Many have grueling work or school schedules and can’t afford to get sick.

An Occupier reports her computer has died so she won’t be getting the meeting minutes up on the website until she gets the problem fixed. Another Occupier reports he has received a space in a house managed by local peace and homeless advocates. The Occupier is no longer homeless. This is great news and we all respond accordingly. The Occupier working on our next movie showing reports no progress as he hasn’t received a response from the film makers.

Two middle aged men come walking up. We know them from their many visits to our previous camps and we’re pleased to see them. Neither is wearing clothes suitable for cold or snow. They are delighted to find our fire. We offer them coffee and snacks but they are satisfied with the 40 ounce they are drinking. They offer to share with us but we’re drinking apple juice and coffee tonight. One man sings us his song. He has sung this song for us many times. It’s in the Ojibwe language so we don’t understand the words but we recognize the melody. We love this song. He then speaks of respect between all people, the fact that no one can really help another person, each person can only help themselves and the problems he is having with his wife. “I shut my phone off so she doesn’t know where I am. That makes her real mad”.

We sprinkle sage and tobacco over the fire. The non-singing man explains, when offering tobacco to the fire, one should have a question that needs to be answered. “The answer will then come in your dreams”. We are all laughing because we stand up to shake the snow off, then sit back down and get absorbed in conversation. Within a few minutes we our covered with snow again. The 40 ounce is empty and the non-singing man goes off to another appointment. The singing man wonders where he will sleep tonight. He’s sure his wife won’t let him come home. Just then another homeless former camper appears and offers to take the singing man along. We give them the one blanket we have and wish them well. The wood is gone, time to pack up. We’re already wishing for Spring.

Thursday, November 22, 2012 9:15 PM
G.A. Minutes 11-20-12

Somewhat chilly tonight and foggy. We’ll make a big roaring fire. Some of the usual Occupiers are here plus one Occupier we don’t get to see very often. He generally has other commitments. We’re pleased he is with us tonight. Things are being set up and……oh man! Not again? A DPD officer is pulling up and getting out of his car. Will they ever figure out that people have civil rights? Will they ever figure out that not everyone will allow them to use the bully tactics they are so used to? This really sucks!

The officer is wishing everyone good evening and acting very friendly. He’s looking for one of our Occupiers who was a victim of a violent crime a while back. The Occupier is with us tonight and speaks with the officer. He agrees to meet with the D.A. later. The interaction is very civil, the officer says,”O.K., have a good night everybody” and he leaves. Kind of funny. When you need an Occupier, this would be the place to find one.

We resume our activities and begin talking about the latest news from Gaza. It has recently become common knowledge that a large amount of natural gas has been discovered off the shoreline of Gaza. A British gas company with connections to several wealthy families in Lebanon is said to be negotiating with Israel for the rights to this natural gas. Wait a minute…. Israel? Doesn’t the gas belong to the Palestinians? Well, you know how that goes. Apparently Netanyahu or somebody has said there is no way the Hamas is going to get any of that money. After all, they wouldn’t use it to buy food, building supplies, heating materials or stuff like that, would they? Of course not. They’d use that money to buy weapons! Then they would kill all the Israelis. Who woulda thought? So, of course, the Israelis will have to bomb Gaza into dust so as to prevent the Palestinians from bombing them. Make sense? Will Obama and friends allow this to happen?

The conversation is going strong but we notice there are a really a lot of street people coming over. There are more street people here tonight than we have ever had at one time. They aren’t particularly interested in talking about the Middle East. It’s their Memorial and neighborhood too so we begin to focus on them and what they have to say. Most are signifying and clowning around. One 40 something street man who was a sometime camper at the Civic Center camp sits down and appears to be interested in serious conversation. He starts out by asking us why white people hate black people. We assure him that we are completely opposed to hatred of any kind. We believe he asked that question to get our attention. He tells us about his past life as a drug dealer and of serving an 18 year prison term for killing in self-defense. He says he was married once, told his wife he was going to the store for a pack of cigarettes and just never came back. An Occupier says, “Well you lived to tell about it so you must be doing something right”. He laughs, “She sure told the truth now didn’t she?” More and more street people are coming around, everybody’s laughing and greeting each other. Our new friend, the older man from the neighborhood stops by. A young Indian man sits down. He softly tells us the story of the coming of the white buffalo. When he leaves, the older man says, “It’s too bad that people still rely on myths and superstitions. They have science now so shouldn’t keep believing in fairy tales.” An Occupier politely replies, “It really doesn’t matter. Both science and the coming of the white buffalo tell us that the earth is being killed and we must change our ways and save her. The older man accepts this.

These evenings seem to go by really fast. The fire is down to coals and “curfew” is coming up soon. If we’re going to get any business done we’ll probably have to call another Occupiers only meeting. We’re also going to have to start thinking about going inside for the worst of the winter. We say good night with plans to meet here again on Saturday.

G.A. Minutes 11-17-12

G.A. Minutes 11-17-12

Everything is really quiet tonight. The weather is exceptionally warm for this time of year and there’s no one in sight. The Memorial is devoid of people except for the 3 Occupiers who are setting up the usual snacks and chairs. We’ll have a small fire tonight as warmth is not an issue. The sidewalks are empty except for some skaters goofing around outside the Encounter Center. There are almost no cars on the street. We wonder what is up? A few more Occupiers arrive, followed by a reporter from a local alternative newspaper.

We don’t know this reporter, but we appreciate that he is asking very intelligent questions. We tell him about our confrontations with the DPD over the last month and explain that since the formation of Occupy Duluth over a year ago, wherever we go, the DPD follows and tries to run us off. He asks a few questions about the beginning of Occupy. We explain that Occupy was originally very popular because it pointed out very true facts about the way most people are forced to live. The majority of Americans were unhappy and knew something was very wrong. It took Occupy to explain exactly what the problem was. We tell him that Occupy then became sort of a fad for a while, when it was no longer fashionable many people became disappointed and turned away. The Occupy Movement now consists of those who are truly committed. There was also a concerted effort on the part of the 1% to discredit Occupy. The 1% control most of the media so used this main stream media to bombard regular people with mostly false stories of deliberate violence inflicted by Occupiers. The reality is that violence was and still is being inflicted on Occupiers. The media then began to say that Occupy was dead. They’re still saying Occupy is dead. Occupy is not and never was dead. Occupy is worldwide. One simply has to go outside main stream media sources to see how incredibly active Occupy is. It appears that Occupy movements outside the U.S. are in the forefront. One will not find any of these facts being reported by the major media outlets.

Our friend, the city official and community leader, stops by. He makes a donation to the snack table, chats with the reporter and we take a few minutes to partake in “mutual admiration”. Our friend informs us the DPD has installed a surveillance camera and focused it on the Memorial. This doesn’t particularly bother us but the neighborhood street folks won’t be pleased. The community leader goes on to his next stop. The reporter thanks us and leaves.

A few hours have passed. Our visitors consist of the regular woman from Mississippi and a young man we met at our last meeting. As far as we can tell, there are no other people around. Maybe everyone is down at the lake, seeing as most of the tourists have gone and the lake belongs to the people again. Some of the street “business people” are beginning to come out. They’re working away from the Memorial tonight. Maybe they already know about the camera. We exchange a few pleasantries with these workers, pack up and leave. When we come back on Tuesday, maybe folks will tell us where the party was.

G.A. Minutes 11-13-12

G.A. Minutes 11-13-12

It’s a cold one tonight. Very few people are here as we begin but we start up the fire, put out the snacks and wait to see what happens. As soon as the fire gets going we are visited by many street people. They huddle around the fire, grateful for it’s warmth. Occupiers are rolling up also, within minutes all our chairs are full.

We quickly discuss business. The Occupier responsible for the LGBT movie at the Zinema plans on setting things up this week; we will do our move out of the Ballroom on Dec. 7th, Dr. Ringsred’s worker Jon has agreed to help us. The Occupier who received a trespassing ticket during the illegal eviction has his second court date on Nov. 30th. We agree he should continue to fight the charge, as it doesn’t make sense that a person could be charged with trespassing in a place he was legally entitled to inhabit.

The discourse then centers on the realities of being homeless. A man tells everybody of an area gas station that regularly puts the unsold food from the deli out by their dumpster. “Like clockwork”, he says, “1pm, 6pm and 1am”. Evidently, the gas station workers are humane, not paying attention to the hungry people waiting to eat.

A former camper turned Occupier says he’s been thrown out of CHUM again. The CHUM workers decided he smelled like alcohol. He says,” I didn’t have much to drink today and when I did drink, it was vodka. When confronted by the workers a homeless person has two choices. He can accept the worker’s arbitrary decision, go back onto the street and be banned from CHUM for one day. Should the person decide to challenge the substance abuse charge, the workers will give him a swab test. If the test is positive, the accused will be banned for two weeks. Many homeless people are alcoholics, they must ingest some alcohol every day to avoid becoming ill. They also spend a lot of cold nights on the street. The exile from CHUM is from California and knows nothing of Minnesota winters. He tells of his experience on the street the night before. “It’s impossible to get into any place that is warm. Everything is locked up. Somebody told me it was 5 degrees above zero. Your muscles and bones stiffen up, it’s terrible. I found a heating grate in a parking garage and slept there for about an hour but then cars started arriving and I had to leave. I feel bad about complaining though. I’ve traveled all over the country and never came across a place as good as CHUM. I’m really grateful for what they provide. It just seems like the workers target certain people and give them a hard time. You guys all know me, I’m a peaceful person.” As he speaks, a small bottle is being discretely passed around. An Occupier couple offers him a bed on their couch for the night. They’ve offered this before but he has declined as he prefers to be self-sufficient. Tonight he gladly accepts. The couple would offer him a permanent bed in their home but cannot as another homeless friend is staying with them.

A young healthy looking homeless man tells us he works by day as a delivery person for a large pharmaceutical chain. “They entrust me with over $100,000 worth of drugs but don’t pay me enough to afford a place to live.” Another very young but not so healthy looking man is also out on the street for the night. He has no coat, only a thin hoodie. An Occupier, who knows the street well, informs us that all the winter coats at the Damiono are now gone. An Occupier from out of town has a cheap hotel room and offers to share it.

Although men do most of the talking tonight, there are also women in our group. One is an older woman, a transplant from Mississippi. She has become a regular visitor; we think she has a small room somewhere in the neighborhood. We don’t ask personal questions, we wait for folks to speak as they wish. Another woman is new to us but not to the street. She is polite, friendly and very pleased to be given a free cigarette.

Some Occupiers and street people must leave in order to make curfew at CHUM. The shelter is packed to over flowing and they are among the chosen. For tonight, at least. The conversation turns to religion, everyone calmly and respectfully expresses their opinion. The older man, who lives in the neighborhood and has visited before, arrives. He doesn’t want to talk religion, he prefers politics. Specifically, the recent U.S. elections. “Aren’t you happy that Obama won? Maybe in his second term he’ll do lots of good things for the people.” We say that would be nice but we don’t really trust Obama. Most of us voted for Jill Stein. We want to explain that the real issue is the extreme failure of the world wide capitalist system. Our new older friend seems to find us puzzling but interesting. He seems to like us and we don’t want to overwhelm him. He stays awhile and then goes home to google Chris Hedges.

Although even more people are coming over to get warm, we are running out of firewood and nearing our curfew. We know that the Memorial is not a city park and the 10pm curfew might not even apply but our numbers are few, we can’t fight every battle, not yet. We know at 10:01 pm the DPD will swoop down on us and there will be drama. They haven’t bothered us all night though a few squads have passed by. We don’t think they have been busy elsewhere. We can’t see them but assume they are waiting. We say goodnight, street people go off in search of warmth. See you again Saturday?

G.A. Minutes 11-10-12

G.A. Minutes 11-10-12
Things are getting “curioser and curioser”. We’re back at the Memorial, fire and snacks as per usual. Also, as usual, mostly Occupiers with street people bopping in and out. A reporter is with us, she’s someone we know and trust so we are comfortably chatting with her.
She leaves and we begin our meeting. First item on the agenda is progress made concerning our next movie showing. We just start to discuss but……….. Oh great. A DPD car rolls up, an Officer Friendly gets out, only this guy is not putting out a very friendly vibe. He starts out by politely saying, “You have to put out that fire, there’s a MN statute that says you can’t have a fire.” An Occupier politely explains, the statute applies to fires inside of buildings. The officer replies, “I don’t know about any of that but my supervisor says I have to make you put out that fire”. Another Occupier says, “We could put out the fire but we have to have some way of having an official record of this so we can show that you made us obey a law that doesn’t exist.” The officer is not pleased, he says,” The only way you can have a record is if I call my supervisor and he comes down here and gives you all a citation. If he comes down here, he will bring 3 big cops with him”. The Occupiers communicate with eye contact. An older Occupier asks for the policeman’s badge number and is told he will get a badge number if a citation is issued. An additional Occupier states, “All you guys can leave and I’ll stay and get cited so we can have a record.” Officer Friendly appears really pissed off. He stomps off, returning to his car. All the Occupiers appear to leave. The remaining Occupier sits down. She stokes the fire and quietly talks to the two Occupiers who have stepped off into the shadows, they’re watching her back. After about fifteen minutes, the cop just drives off. She sits at the fire for over an hour; a few squads drive by, look at her and keep on driving. The original threatening officer even drives by but he keeps on moving too. Street people stop by and ask what’s going on. She tells them and comments that the police may arrive at any moment. Most exchange a few pleasantries and quickly leave. A couple with a small child tell her they had been homeless until very recently. The woman of the couple says, “I had never been homeless before. We lived in the Hillside Community Park over the summer. There are a lot of homeless people who are very nice, smart and talented.” The Occupier has been sitting for a long time, she figures the officer is not going to come back and cite her. So the DPD did not get their way but they managed to disrupt the meeting. The others come out of the shadows. Everybody packs up, many of the snacks are still on the table. They’ll be back on Tuesday. It would be nice to have an actual meeting however, when holding meetings open to the public of the “hood” one never knows what will happen.

Essay on homeless Duluth.


Our overnight homeless houseguest Scotty left my house a few minutes ago. I feel like I know him pretty well….he was one of the Occupy Duluth campers at Paul Robeson Ballroom Kozy Courtyard last summer. Summer is gone now, and so is the camp we built. That makes three times we have been evicted. The forecast is wind and rain, soon to turn to snow.

I know where he is going. There is a liquor store a few blocks away, and he has a few dollars in his pocket. He needs a 40 oz. beer every morning. Later there will be synthetic weed to smoke. The homeless folk can be counted on to share what they have. It sure isn’t much, but they share it.

There is a homeless camp near the lake. Several people crash there every night. There is a tarp to sleep under and other bodies to help you keep warm. There is almost certainly alcohol and smoke.

Last night my homeless friend and his buddy joined the peace signs on the corner of Lake Street and Superior, a wind driven and dangerous place to stand. They had been released from Detox in the morning and were well on their way to going back in again. The shelters will not admit anyone who shows signs of intoxification.

Traffic is heavy. There is a crowd of us there every Friday night, holding signs of peace and hope. The drivers know us. They see us here every week. Many of them honk to voice support of our suggestion that peace is better than war.

Street folk are beginning to swell our numbers. One of our steadfast pillars of dedication to the cause, who carries an American flag and a sign asking passersby to honk for peace, was afraid Scotty would fall in the street and be run over. I tried to explain to him that many of these folk have been homeless and drunk for years and years. They are survivors and refugees. Stumble drunk they may be and senseless on synthetic, but they know to stay out of traffic. For the most part.

Another homeless man showed up, someone I have not met before. He says his name is Randy. He is a sight, with one blind eye that stares at invisible walls and a homeless uniform of assorted drab motley. He grabs a sign and dances out to the median, going right up to the stoplighted drivers and pressing his face to the closed windows. Of course we know that someone will call emergency to complain. He is committing a fatal error by acting in a way likely to scare tourists. That, of all things, will draw cops fastest.

Another of our regular sign wavers runs across the traffic lanes to talk some sense to him. He eventually waivers and surrenders to the prodding and they rejoin our little group on the corner. I can see that a few of our stalwarts wish homeless and intoxicated volunteers would just go away. I don’t blame them for that. I have worked with homeless refugees in camp all summer and I have seen what can happen, what will happen. There is plenty of damned frustrated anger to go around, and when it bursts out it is most often directed at other refugees, or sometimes at the property of people who do have homes to go to.

The weather is getting worse and my partner suggests we should take our summer camp friend home with us. I agree. We already have one semi-permanent homeless guest, staying with us until she can get back on her feet. She is an old friend from pre-homeless days and has a part-time job near our apartment. She is trying to get hired on as a regular employee, and she is working to get her own place soon. We love her and she has pretty much taken over the cleaning and most of the cooking, but our apartment is small and a little crowded with four people.

This morning Scotty wakes up and I give him a cup of coffee. He says he slept really well on our couch, is grateful to be dry and warm and safe. We talked for a while about trying to get the city to allow a full scale refugee camp, and about what it would take to organize the homeless folk to demand shelter as their right. Never mind the codes and regulations. If the city cannot shelter them, then they should have the right to be left alone to make whatever poor accommodation they can build themselves. There is no reason to deny them warming fires and tents. It is all they have. This is an emergency. People are dying on the street.

“Well, they have made their choices,” I heard a cop say. He meant that if they have to sleep in the bushes, it is because they will not stop using street drugs and alcohol. They could stay in the homeless shelters, crowded and restricted as they are, if only they wouldn’t take drink and smoke to ease the pain. If you want other people to help, you must fit their definition of good being. Never mind what it takes to survive on the street. Be good. Santa only brings gifts to good children. Be good or be damned.

I don’t want cops to think it is their job to divide the good from the vile. I myself don’t know enough about other lives to make choices for them. Even the desert fathers, masters of self-sacrifice, warned us that our judgment would come back at us. You will be judged, they said, as you have judged others.

I am not religious, but my spirit recognizes wisdom. If you judge them evil and deserving of punishment, you too will be judged the same, that is, evil and deserving to be punished. Pointing out the errors others have made, you reveal the evil resident in your own heart. I do believe we, as a human culture, must love and care for the least of our brothers and sisters as we care for ourselves, or we risk losing our own humanity.

So how do we shelter the adamantine homeless? The problem resolves itself, even if some of the homeless will have no shelter but the bush. If we cannot build and regulate a shelter for these stubborn indigent, we can and must at least let them build such shelters for themselves as they are able. Give them a place, we have plenty of places. Give them plastic sheeting and set up sanitation and feeding stations for them. Do not banish your own heart. Sometime before the end, you are certainly going to need it.

G.A. Minutes 11-3-12

G.A. Minutes 11-3-12

We received a response from Officer Tuscan re: the fact that the city ordinance he sent us does not apply to our situation at the Memorial. In an email to us he states, “I have provided you our interpretation of the ordinances and we will enforce them accordingly. A judge may need to be the final arbiter in defining intent”. What? Is he saying the DPD is above the law? We’re not sure but we know we’ll have to take our chances. We also know of all the civil rights activists who have gone before us. Our little struggle with the DPD is minor compared to their sacrifices. With that in mind, we begin our meeting.

We put the snacks out, start up the fire and take our places around it. We’ve finally received word from the owner of the land where we had previously had our camp. He is being very friendly, offering us full access to the Ballroom and even offering to store our stuff if we can’t find somewhere else to put it. A discussion begins, people from the street are walking up, sitting down, getting coffee and snacks and striking up conversation. We interact with these folks, an African American man who we haven’t met before joins the circle. He wants to know why we are there and begins to say the same type of things we have heard from several other black men over the past few weeks. This man is articulate and we are finally able to understand the concerns of some of the middle aged black men who have lived in the neighborhood and frequented the Memorial area for many years. He asks us if we are having some type of party or celebration. He explains the Memorial was built for a very serious reason and a lot of black folks find it very offensive when a group of white folks show up out of nowhere and have a celebration of who knows what. We try to explain to him our reasons for being there. We tell him that as of right now, we have nowhere to go, Occupy is homeless. We explain a little bit about Occupy and speak of our desire to remain connected with the people of the neighborhood. We have learned much from these people and wish to continue to do so. He listens to us and says, “O.K., that’s a legitimate reason for being here.” He speaks of his spiritual pain, and of the same pain of many of the black folks, associated with the history of lynchings. He speaks of the pain inflicted by racism that black people experience every day. His words are those of anguish but his tone is kind and gentle. His explanations lack hostility; he just wants us to understand. He says,” If me and 5 or 6 other black men came here and started up a fire and sat around talking like you folks are doing, what do you suppose the police would do? They’d jump on us and accuse us of drinking and doing drugs and they would hall us all to jail.” We know this is true. In fact, one of the things we are trying to do is make it permissible for other people of the neighborhood to have a warming fire to peacefully congregate around during cold weather. He says we should have black people sitting with us. We say, “I guess we are cursed because every time one of you guys who have these concerns comes to talk with us there just happens to be no black folks sitting with us. When you guys aren’t here there are other black people who are.” Just then, one of his black male friends comes over. He is a guy who had visited our camp. Some of the Occupiers know him, laughing and teasing breaks out. Then a black woman who had been sitting with us earlier comes back to sit again. Another Occupier arrives, it turns out that this Occupier and the well-spoken man have been friends for many years. The Occupiers are getting some “street cred”. The articulate man says we should have asked somebody if it was o.k. to meet here. We tell him we really didn’t know who we should ask so we asked our good friend, the city official who happens to be a black man, if he thought it would be o.k. Our friend said that legally there should be no problem. The man has a history of local community organizing and knows and respects our friend. He tells us some stories of his past and also makes a few jokes. He also tells us that many of the neighborhood black people have mixed feelings about the Memorial. He says, “Was this thing made so white people can feel better about themselves? A lot of money was spent for this but none of that money benefited regular neighborhood black people. Do you see any benches, flowers, trees, grass or anything that makes it inviting for people of the neighborhood?” We hear him. An Occupier states she asked those very same questions years ago when the Memorial was being built. Several hours have gone by, time was barely noticed because the conversation was so interesting. The man’s friends call to him, they are ready to go. We need to get back to our meeting. We all say good bye. The Occupiers ask the man to please come back again.

We take up where we left off. An older man from the neighborhood arrives, he had participated in our last meeting. We think we need to just remove all our stuff from the Ballroom and quietly cut our ties to the property owner. We really can’t tell if he is our friend or not. The Occupier who has taken the responsibility to coordinate all dealings related to our former camp says she will convey our wishes to the owner.

The wood is getting low and we are all pleasantly tired. The DPD has not arrived. During the evening we had noticed a few squad cars pass by, they looked at us but didn’t even slow down. Is it possible that the “powers that be” have some common sense? We truly hope so, as fighting these silly but important little battles with the government distract us from other tasks. We’ll just have to wait and see. We say our good byes, agreeing to meet next Tuesday in one of our homes for an Occupiers only meeting. We’ll need to do that from time to time as uninterrupted discussion is sometimes required. We’ll be back at the Memorial next Saturday.

A climate change?

Maybe it was the hurricane. Anyway tonight the police did not stop to make us douse our fire.

But the real victory tonight was that we got into serious conversation with some neighborhood folk, who came to challenge us for disrespecting the monument, but left saying we were all right. I think they came to accept that we are looking for ways to effect real change, not just for us but for everyone. We might have some fun while we are here, but we are not here to have fun. We are reaching out to the community, we are serious, persistant, dedicated. We need you. We are still here. We are not going away.

Elias Clayton, Elmer Jackson, and Isaac McGhie were circus workers, strangers in town. I believe they must have known the good company of a warming fire and a cup of coffee at some time in their short lives. I hope so. Everyone deserves to have the right to whatever warmth is available on a cold night. I hope their spirits know we mean no harm. I hope they look on us with sympathy and kindness, even though they themselves found none of that in our Duluth. Thank you, Mabel, Tracy, Barry, Tom, Carl, and the other folks who have stopped to talk to us. We want to learn from you. Tonight, I believe we may have made a start on that.