G.A. Minutes 5-28-13

G.A. Minutes 5-28-13
It’s cloudy and somewhat cool at the Memorial this evening. Things start out strangely, is this an omen as to what the night will bring?

As we drive up we notice quite a few people sitting on the back ledge. By the time we have unloaded a few things from our vehicles, a squad car has pulled right onto the Memorial and all the folks on the ledge quickly leave. The place is empty as we uncomfortably enter. Everything is unusually clean and it appears as if the place has been cleared out so the white folks can have their fire. We don’t like that.

A few more Occupiers roll up, everybody greets each other, we put the coffee out and as we start up the fire some street people begin to arrive. This is better. A woman from the ledge shouts out, “Occupy Duluth!” and gives a power salute. Many of the men from the ledge come over, introduce themselves and shake hands with all the Occupiers. A few sit down at the fire.

An exceptionally intelligent man who we remember from our fires last fall sits down also. He says, “So what’s the conversation about tonight?” An Occupier begins to explain about INM, treaty rights, the evils of the Canadian Harper government and the worldwide struggle to save our Mother Earth from destruction by the corporations. The man is listening with interest when suddenly a small group of street people, unknown to the Occupiers, comes walking up the avenue. The people on the ledge certainly know them.

The two groups begin yelling at each other and all the people, including most of the men sitting with us at the fire, take off running down the street. A few of the men stay, they say,”Ain’t none of my business. I’m staying where it’s peaceful.”

Squad cars squeal up from all directions, then the fire truck and finally an ambulance. The Occupiers attempt to stay focused around the fire. Some people start drifting back, they are very excited. After a little while all the people from the ledge return. No one from their group has been arrested. Apparently, this is a victory of sorts.

Everyone begins to reenact the event again and again. There is much laughter; things get so loud we can’t hear ourselves at the fire. A DPD officer pulls up, gets out and talks to the people. It appears he has the beginning of a black eye. They laugh and tease him about it. He does not look pleased. A man at the fire says, “They should not tease the officer like that. They may find themselves alone in a dark alley with him some night”.

One Occupier appears to be very upset by the violence being laughed about and another Occupier says to him, “Most of these folks lead very boring lives. They have nothing to do but hang around, get drunk or high, go to the feeding centers for meals and try to keep out of detox or jail. A big fight is something that relives their boredom.”

Eventually the excited people wander off and things quiet down. We get many more visitors. An older gentleman who had been a regular at our fires last year arrives. We are very happy to see him again. A young man who has just moved to Duluth from a small town in Wisconsin sits down, our friend from Mississippi stops by and a street man tells us his story.

He had a problem with drugs a few years back and now is going through the court system. He expects to be sent to prison. He believes this is unfair. He appears to be in his late 20s and states this is the first time he has ever been arrested for anything. “It seems like they should give me a slap on the wrist and tell me not to do it again. If I do it again then they could rightfully punish me. I should at least be given a chance,” he tells us.

We agree with him and talk about the corruption of our justice system and the fact that rich people don’t pay the same price for crime as the rest of us do. We all know corporations are making a lot of money from running our prison system, this is why many people are sent to prison for minor offenses.

A group of three young men and one young woman arrive. We recognize one of the men from somewhere. He says, “You guys are Occupy aren’t you? I’m Idle No More.” We realize he is one of the young INM drummers. He tells us that all in his group are members of the same biological family. Another of the young men gets a chair for the young woman and says, “This here is my sister and nobody had better touch her”. The drummer laughs and says, “What’s wrong with you man? This is Occupy, they’re non-violent.”

An Occupier says, “You know, we were just talking about treaty rights and how they may be our only means of defense when it comes to saving the land, air and water from the corporate polluters”.

The drummer and an Occupier, who is also a drummer of European tradition, have a lengthy discussion about the types of material used for drum skins, the origins of the particular type of drum Native people are playing these days and many other things related to drumming. We all talk about Native fire rituals and one Occupier says she has tried some of these rituals and found they had no effect.

The drummer says gently, “That’s probably because they are not meant for you”.

She says, ”Yeah, I figured that’s probably what it was”.

We notice it’s getting dark, check the time and realize it’s very close to our imaginary curfew. We ask everyone to please come back and talk with us again. “Every Tuesday and Saturday night at 6pm unless it’s raining”.

G.A. Minutes 5-25-13

G.A. Minutes 5-25-13
There are a moderate amount of Occupiers at the Memorial tonight. Everyone is exhausted but some of us feel the need for a fire.

The March On Monsanto was a big success and we spend some time talking about it. At least 100 people showed up, many had great costumes and signs. Occupy was able to contribute our 2 faced CEO puppet, our Corn Monster costume and a large banner. The response from the general public was rewarding and we were impressed by the number of people who were aware of what the struggle for control of our world’s food sources is all about.

The first hour or so was spent chanting and waving to the traffic and passersby on Lake and Superior, then the Howling for Wolves people arrived and we spent an hour joining them in howling for the wolves, protesting their removal from the endangered species list and their government sanctioned killing by those who hunt for sport. The response from the general public was pretty good for the wolves too.

We listened to a short speech by Jamie Harvie of the Institute for a Sustainable Future in which he listed the many things that people are doing and/or can do to insure a safe and healthy food supply. Next it was off for a march down and through Canal Park and back to People’s Plaza. Upon return, a little more working of the crowd, then packing up and leaving, feeling energized for all the work ahead of us.

Someone asks, “So what are we going to do next?” Juneteenth is coming up in just a few weeks and we still haven’t heard what we are supposed to do to help. An Occupier volunteers to make contact and see what he can find out.

The older woman from Mississippi who has been visiting us regularly since last Fall stops by. As usual she is full of goodwill and blessings for us. However, this time she is carrying some type of case and asks us if we would like to buy some recordings of gospel music. We believe she has an apartment and is not homeless but as with all the people of the street she is very poor. She has never asked us for money in the past so we know things must be very rough for her right now.

The Occupiers have very little personal money although most have a little more than the street folks. We never carry any money with us when we come to the Memorial as we know the need is huge among our street friends and we can’t possibly take care of everyone. We refuse to pick and choose. Our job is to force the 1% to give up their ill-gotten gains and to allow all the people of the world to meet their basic needs.

Many people stop by; some have personal property they are trying to sell. It’s the end of the month and people on various types of fixed incomes routinely come up short at this time. A woman we haven’t met before gets some coffee and sits down. She complains about the treatment she has received from the Gimajii Center. We have heard complaints about Gimajii previously and tell her so. One of our Occupiers is currently meeting with some Native people who are attempting to make changes at the Center.

The woman says, “Why did they make this place for them?” She points to the portraits of the 3 African American men who were lynched in Duluth in the 1920s and to whom the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial is dedicated. “Don’t they know what was done to our people?” She then describes some of the many appalling acts perpetrated upon Native people by the colonizers. We would like to say to her that both Native and African American people have been severely wronged but instead we just listen.

After she leaves an Occupier says, “I see this so frequently. Native people complain that black people are given more than they deserve and black people complain that Native folks get all the breaks. If the 2 groups would ever make amends and join together, their power would be unstoppable.”

The sun is going down, the fire is dying and we are all very tired. There are hugs all around and we go off for the night. If it doesn’t rain, we’ll be back on Tuesday.

G.A. Minutes 5-21-13

G.A. Minutes 5-21-13
We’ve been meeting at the Occupy couple’s house this past week. It’s been raining a lot and we have needed to make a few things for the worldwide March Against Monsanto. The event will happen around the world on May 25th. In Duluth the action starts at 11am in the People’s Power Plaza. There will be music and speeches, a march will leave from the Plaza at 1pm.
Occupy will be playing a supporting role for this occasion. We have fixed up the 2-faced CEO so he can play a Monsanto executive; we’ve made a Corn Monster and a different sort of banner. The Corn Monster was a real struggle with many stops, starts and unsuccessful experiments. It looks like it’s going to work now.
As we work, there has also been some discussion. Among the topics are a long standing case of institutional racism perpetrated by a very large and well-known local organization. It looks like those who are being discriminated against are going to finally bring things out in the open. We’ll be doing whatever we can to support them. One of the Occupiers believes Facebook has been attempting to censor posts about the March Against Monsanto and we have just received word there was a recent attempt to shut down our website. Hmmm……. We know these things are to be expected.

Life goes on. If we’re not all completely exhausted after the Monsanto rally, we should be meeting at CJM Saturday at 6pm.

G.A. Minutes 5-14-13

G.A. Minutes 5-14-13
We sure started things off with a bang this evening. We had just arrived, got the chairs and the burner out when a big fire truck pulls up, all its lights flashing and parks in the middle of the street in front of the Memorial. One guy gets out, he’s probably the head dude, and walks over to us. He says, “What’s going on? I got a call saying there was a bonfire in progress.” We laugh because we hadn’t even put the wood in the burner yet.

The fireman picks up our burner and turns it around a few times like he’s inspecting it and says, “Well seeing as this is a city park and…” An Occupier interrupts him saying, “Actually it’s not a city park and…” He gives her a look that says just hears me out then says, “In a city park a person can make a small safe fire in a personal receptacle designed for fires until 10pm. Your receptacle is just fine and I don’t see any problems here. Go ahead with what you were doing and have a good evening.”

While he was talking, 2 cops pulled up. They jump out of their car looking like they’re ready to spring into action. The fire guy says, “Nothing wrong here. Everything is in order.” He and his crew drive off. The cops look kinda disappointed but they drive off too.

We start up the fire and hope that’s the biggest drama we will encounter tonight. You never know. One of our City official friends arrives. Everyone is delighted to see him. We joke back and forth and then carry on a discussion about the state of the Duluth public school system. Our friend is an expert on matters concerning education. He tells us that the current graduation rate for white senior high school students is 75%, for black seniors it’s 39.5% and for native students 27%. We are shocked! We knew it wasn’t what it should be but we had no idea it was this bad.

He says, “Have you ever seen those statistics publicized anywhere?” We have not. Our friend has some good ideas about how to improve our schools. He thinks all teachers should be given more yearly training sessions, more collaborations between schools and businesses need to be developed, student to teacher ratios must be reduced, more elective course options are needed, all students should be required to enroll in and pass at least one honors level course and curriculum needs to be reviewed and improved to meet changing employment opportunities. We also talk about the harm created by out of school suspension and incorporation of the criminal justice system into the school system. It’s called The Pipeline to Prison.

We tell our friend we think he should run the Duluth school system and we will back him if he will give it a try. He laughs and says, “I don’t think publicly listing Occupy as one of my major supporters will help me much.” Then he is off to his next stop.

An Occupier who has been living out of town is trying to rent a place in the Twin Ports and he tells us about the trouble he’s been having. He has a guaranteed monthly income but his credit score is not very high so no one wants to rent to him. He says, “I don’t see why having a low credit score should mean you can’t have a place to live. Housing is a human right.”

In the middle of this discussion a person who can best be described as a wild woman bounces over. She’s talking very loud and fast, asks for a glass of water, drinks it down, asks for another, is making homophobic remarks and asking for meth and bath salts, starts throwing her water all over, sits down and begins to let loose with some very vulgar descriptions of something.

An Occupier says, “You’re being very vulgar and we don’t like that sort of thing. Could you please just sit and enjoy the fire with us?” She says, “Sorry” and bounces off down the almost empty street.

Someone asks if there has been any more news about the May 25th rally against Monsanto. The Occupiers who are working on this say major event announcements will be out very shortly. A discussion begins concerning GMOs and corporations that are trying to patent things that have been given to us by Mother Nature. We have a good few Occupiers who are of a scientific nature and they begin talking deep science. After we get past the topic of sustainable energy the rest of the Occupiers don’t really know what they’re talking about but it sounds real good.

As this is going on a young woman arrives, she is very drunk and apologizes for being so. We offer her a cup of strong coffee and a chair. She says,”Miigwetch. Miigwetch. I’m sorry for being so fu**ed up.” The conversation continues, it’s getting dark, the fire is dying. Some of the Occupiers say good night and the rest begin to pack up when we notice that the young woman is passed out cold.

We can’t wake her, we don’t know who she is, we can’t just leave her there and we’re not going to call 911. An Occupier offers to go down to the Casino and look for someone from the neighborhood who might know her. Then just in the nick of time, Wild Woman reappears. She’s a little calmer now and says she knows the passed out woman. She is able to shake her awake and the two of them walk off arm and arm.

From all directions, people are starting to appear. It looks like the street is coming alive. The weather is forecasting rain for Saturday. If it rains we’ll meet at the Occupy couple’s home. If not, we’ll be back to interact with our people of the hood.

G.A. Minutes 5-11-13

G.A. Minutes 5-11-13
It’s somewhat chilly and very windy this evening. It takes a couple of tries before we get the fire going. There are many people here, all the chairs are in use and some folks are standing. We have many of the regulars, an occasional Occupier, an Occupier who hasn’t been around for at least a year and several who are here for the first time.
A group of 5 or 6 street people are at the Memorial when we arrive. They are talking and laughing loudly and appear to be very drunk. They notice us, toss a friendly glance our way and continue with their conversation. One young man comes over and sits by the fire. He doesn’t say anything, he’s possibly too drunk to speak but he’s clearly attracted to the fire. His friends finish their beverage and are ready to leave. It looks as though he wants to stay near the flame but his friends won’t allow him to remain so he staggers off.
A regular Occupier tells us an international day of protest against Monsanto is planned for May 25th. A group of Duluthians would like to organize a demonstration for that day and ask if the Occupiers will participate. We will. We are still a little exhausted from the May Day event so offer to play a supporting role. There is a brief discussion of possible venues, the Occupier says he will be meeting later in the evening with people who are initiating this event and get back to us with details.
An occasional Occupier tells us about the environmental group Water Legacy. We all know the issue of the proposed Polymet nonferrous mine is of major importance in northern Minnesota. We also know only 3% of the water on the earth is suitable for drinking. This water is rapidly being polluted by various corporations in their quest to extract profits from the Earth’s natural resources. The task of stopping the corporations from destroying the earth and all those who live on it is a daunting task however; it is a task we must take on. All around the world people are fighting corporate attempts to destroy the natural resources of the planet. The corporations rob these resources in an attempt to satisfy an insatiable need for more and more profits. In impoverished countries this theft if accomplished by the barrel of a gun. In wealthier countries it is accomplished by bribes to those in power and lies and false promises to those living on the coveted land. In northern Minnesota, the Polymet Company is proposing to build a copper mine near Hoyt Lakes. There has never been a nonferrous (not iron) mine anywhere in the world that has not severely polluted the water in and around the area of the mine. Northern Minnesota is home to many rivers and streams of clean water. These waterways empty into Lake Superior, the world’s largest source of fresh water. Well, guess what…….. according to Polymet, their mine is not going to pollute. They are engaged in a serious smoke and mirrors campaign in an attempt to convince people of northern Minnesota their mine will bring no pollution, only good jobs. Their claims are false but many are being tricked by their promises. The Water Legacy and many other environmental groups are engaged in a most important battle to save our water for ourselves and for generations to come. We are all fully aware of the life and death issues involved here. The occasional Occupier invites us join the fight and we accept his invitation.
An occasional Occupier has been to an international conference of longtime organizers. He tells us about the people he met and the ideas they presented. We are engrossed by his story. Included in the advice given by the conference presenters were recommendations for young organizers to seek the council of older organizers so they may learn what tactics have worked in the past and a suggestion for all organizers to take the time to establish a solid base of support and to make long range plans.
Some of the Occupiers must leave in order to meet with those planning the anti-Monsanto event. The rest of us throw more wood on the fire and begin talking with a homeless man who lives in a small homeless camp about a half a mile from CJM. He and one of the homeless Occupiers start a conversation about some of the secret homeless camps around town. The man says he and his friends don’t dare make a small safe fire to cook food on. If they do, the police show up, spray their food with a fire extinguisher and then knock everything to the ground. They say, “This is for your own safety you know”. Just then a squad car pulls up to the Memorial, 2 officers get out and walk over to us. These are officers we have not seen before. One of them says, “What do you think you are doing here? You can’t have a fire here. This is a city park and you can’t a fire have in a city park”. An Occupier says pleasantly, “Actually this isn’t a city park. If you look on the official Duluth list of city parks you will find the Memorial is not listed there. However, if it were it would still be legal for us to be having a fire like this. The legislative code for fires in city parks says one may make a fire in any of the fire receptacles provided by the park or in any personal receptacle that is designed for fires. The policemen look at the Occupier like she is out of her mind. The Occupier asks, “Were you guys working in this neighborhood last fall?” The officers look up and down the street with distain and say no. She tells them, “We went through all this stuff with Officer Tuscan last fall. It was determined we were within our legal rights by having a small safe fire at the CJM Memorial.” One cop says, “You mean Deputy Chief Tuscan! I think we will call him right now.” At that moment another squad pulls up. It is driven by one of the regular neighborhood policemen. The 2 officers walk over to his car and we hear the officer in the car say, “When they had a fire here last fall…………blah,blah,blah”. The 2 officers walk back to their car and drive away. They don’t look at us or say goodbye. After they leave, many of the street folks come over to sit and talk. Some we remember from our previous fires. One woman we have met several times remembers us. She is visibly drunk as she has been all the other times she has sat with us. She introduces us to a much younger woman who is her daughter and they talk about her other daughter who also lives on the street and has been badly beaten by a group of women earlier that day. Some of the street people begin to pull out bottles and blatantly pass and wave them around. Perhaps they have become emboldened by watching us “defeat” the police. We wish to share our fire with the people of the neighborhood but we’re not interested in encouraging rowdy drunken behavior. That would be boring, counterproductive and would give the DPD a legitimate reason to close us down. We quietly put out the fire, pack up and say a pleasant good night to everyone. On Tuesday we will begin to establish a code of behavior for those sitting at the fire.

G.A. Minutes 5-7-13

G.A. Minutes 5-7-13

We’re back at the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial tonight and we’re glad to be here. Although we’ve only been gone for 5 months it seems much longer than that. Winter lasted forever; Spring arrived quietly less than a week ago.

We begin by cleaning up the place, it’s not too bad considering how long it’s been unattended. It appears the neighborhood is just coming out of hibernation. A group of two men and one woman walk past, sit down on the back wall and watch us with idle curiosity. One of them is the older black man who harassed us last year. “Your granddaddy done hung those boys!”, he would say. Eventually we figured out he was angry as he thought we were interfering with his street business. One of the Occupiers calmly confronted him with this theory, after that he didn’t harass us anymore. Tonight he doesn’t appear angry; he acts as if we’d never met. The female comes over to get a few of our paper cups and they sit and share a beverage.

We get things set up, we’re ready to light the fire and an Occupier starts to dial 911. We’d started off doing that last year so as to counteract any hysterical phone calls claiming the Memorial was on fire. After a while they told us we needn’t bother as they knew when our meetings were. Another Occupier says he doesn’t think we should call as it’s too much like sucking up to” the man”. Some Occupiers agree and others don’t. Some say it’s counterproductive to challenge “the man” for no serious reason. A tranquil discussion ensues, each Occupier expresses his opinion and it is decided to start up the fire and call.

There are several occasional Occupiers with us tonight. They haven’t been to a meeting at CJM so ask about our history at this space. We explain the lengthy mental battle with the DPD. They showed up almost every meeting, making threats and telling lies. We knew our legal rights and politely stood our ground. After many months they backed down and our last meetings before we went in for winter were allowed to proceed without harassment.

An Occupier reports one of the union guys stopped by her house earlier to pick up the half of the donations from May Day. They were pleasantly surprised that we decided to split our contributions. The Occupiers are just trying to be fair.
Somebody asks what we should do next. Someone else mentions the Lake Superior Days event which happens every year in Duluth. Another states she thinks it’s an event mainly involving Chamber of Commerce types. No one knows much about it so we agree to check it out and report back.

The street has been rather quiet, a squad has driven by several times, looked at us and then drove off. We’ve had only a few visitors. As always happens, a man stops by and angrily complains about being not allowed to use the bathroom at the Casino. He then complains homeless people have no place where they can go to the bathroom. We know this is a very real and serious issue. The CHUM center closes at 4pm so if one is not going to sleep there for the night there are no public bathrooms available anywhere on the Hillside. If one is caught relieving themselves outside, they will be ticketed. Too many tickets will send you to jail for a while. It shouldn’t be a crime to need to go to the bathroom. When meeting at the Memorial, the Occupiers routinely go to the Casino to use the bathrooms. The security people don’t appear to even notice us. We generally don’t appear to be homeless but a few of us are homeless. We are all human beings.

Another visitor says he is a working man with an alcohol problem. He says when he gets paid he covers his bills and then tries to spend the rest of his money as fast as he can so he can avoid going on a drinking binge. This visitor is amazed we are giving him a cup of coffee free of charge. “And it’s good coffee at that!” He knows what Occupy is and believes he may have stumbled onto something very interesting. We tell him we’ll be here every Tuesday and Saturday at 6pm if it’s not raining. Maybe he will come back again.

The sun is setting, as usual, the fire is hypnotic. Somebody sighs; we look at each other and smile. It’s so good to be back in the hood.

G.A. Minutes 5-4-13

G.A. Minutes 5-4-13
Man oh man; the past couple of weeks have been busy. Almost nonstop work. It was worth it though. The May Day event was a big success. We’re all very tired but feeling good.
There’s only a few of us tonight. It’s HomeGrown weekend and some Occupiers are taking the opportunity to party and relax. There are several items of business to attend to and then we’re going to work on cleaning the Occupy couple’s apartment. Their apartment was a puppet workshop for about a month and a half, home base during May Day and when the event was done we just dumped everything in their place, went home and crashed.
Someone reports the Enbridge Blockade Camp at Red Lake caught on fire last week and most of the tents and supplies were lost. The Red Lakers are saying they don’t think it was sabotage, just an accident. They are asking for donations so they can get everything functioning again. We think we have two or more tents in storage. Some other Occupiers report INM is trying to organize a caravan up to Red Lake and they propose we give them the tents to take when they go. Everybody thinks this is a good idea.
An Occupier has received an email from the makers of the film Occupy Love. They say their movie is now available for showing and request him to fill out a form giving the date we would like to show it. Another Occupier says she’s been told that things have changed a little at the Zinema. The guy we are used to dealing with has moved to another position and the new person is doing things differently. She offers to go down and talk with the people and see what’s going on.
We received $84 worth of donations at our food table on May Day. Somebody suggests we offer to split this money with the AFL-CIO as they contributed a lot of their funds to buy materials for the event. We know $42 is just a drop in the bucket for them but it’s the fair thing to do. Everyone agrees.
An Occupier asks if we think it’s time to start holding our G.A.s at the CJM Memorial again. Unanimous happy octopi! We’re excited to be going back to our old stomping grounds and interested to see how all the street folks are doing.
One of the long time leaders of the Hillside African American community attended the May Day event. He was impressed, especially with the puppet parade and is asking that we officially participate in the Juneteenth celebration to be held in about one and one half months. We think we would be willing to do this but feel we should get more details as to what exactly he would like us to do.
With all the business finished it’s time to do a little cleaning. After that, we’ll go out for a little HomeGrown fun. Some former Occupiers are in town for the weekend and one of them has a HomeGrown gig tonight. We’ll be there to cheer him on. After that, we’ll take a day of rest and begin Occupation of the Memorial on Tuesday.