G.A. Minutes 10-29-13

G.A. Minutes 10-29-13

We notice a few small snowflakes falling as we arrive at the Memorial this evening. Hmmm……. We’re not ready for winter yet. All the important political actions we’ve been doing since Spring have kept us so busy that we haven’t given much thought to where we are going to meet once it becomes too cold to meet here. Hmmm……

Our former camper, the grey haired woman, is waiting for us. We’re always glad to see her. She is invariably pleasant and cheerful; tonight she seems more clear headed than usual. Her memory is sharper too. She’s telling the same stories she’s told in the past; we haven’t seen her in a while so enjoy hearing them again.

For the first time the Occupier charged with starting up the fire is unable to get it going. Oh well….. He tears it down, adds more kindling and tries again. This time the fire roars. We move our chairs up close to it, rub our hands and grin conspiratorially.
Many street folks are attracted to the flames. Most nights folks come around for cigarettes and refreshments. Tonight it’s the warmth of the big fire.

Three young, well dressed women arrive. We generally don’t get visitors who look this spiffy. When they begin to talk we realize one of the women is probably a young man. We have met her several times and each time she has been so immaculately groomed we only become aware of her transgendered status when she speaks. Whatever.

The grey haired woman says she thinks it’s really terrible the way people are being treated at CHUM. The CHUM workers are arbitrarily throwing people out. Many times their reason for doing so is unclear. This unfair treatment of CHUM residents is especially cruel seeing as the workers know the people have nowhere else to go and the weather is turning cold.

Ms. Transgendered tells us many people are moving into the Lincoln Park/West End area of town. A few of the Occupiers mention that this is what they are afraid of. They know several big developers and city officials have their sights set on gentrifying our Hillside neighborhood. They wish to move all the poor people of the Hillside to the West End in order to accomplish their development goals.

They don’t seem to think poor people should enjoy a view of the lake. We don’t want this gentrification to happen. There are many unique aspects to the Central Hillside. We want to keep them. The poor and working class residents of the Hillside are an integral part of what makes our neighborhood unequaled. Many people visit and move to our city because we still have unique qualities. If the rich turn Duluth into another corporate tourist trap, it would be a major tragedy.

An Occupier asks if anyone has seen the 350.org posting for an anti-Enbridge pipeline organizer to be stationed in Duluth. She is very encouraged by this as she believes it means 350.org is interested in fighting the proposed local pipelines. The Occupiers have also been interested in this battle but as they are few have only been able to do minor education about the issue.

350.org is a national organization with a staff and a network of contacts. Another Occupier expresses an interest in applying for the organizer position. The first Occupier promises to send him the information a.s.a.p.

The talk returns to the question of the possible gentrification of our neighborhood. The grey haired woman wonders if the property owner of our homeless camp is planning on saving our neighborhood. He does own many strategically placed properties in the hood. The Occupiers know him fairly well and state they believe he is just waiting for the right price to be offered. They believe his only real interest is in money. One Occupier mentions his ownership of several businesses catering to the sex trade. She suggests a more sinister motivation.

Occupiers bring up the subject of where they will meet during Winter. One Occupier offers his home. A few begin a discussion about building a portable teepee like structure. They talk about what materials could be used. At this point it is only a fantasy. If they had begun working on the idea last Winter it would have been possible. It’s a little too late now.

There are several more items of business to be discussed but the many street people around the fire are engaged in conversation and appear to be genuinely enjoying themselves. Business can wait. We sit back, giving the neighbors the reins.
Eventually the wood runs out.

It’s later than we usually stay and we need go home, crash and live to fight another day. One man doesn’t want us to leave. He lives alone and doesn’t get a chance for meaningful conversation often. We know he will be able to sleep all day tomorrow. We don’t have that luxury. We invite him to join us when we return one week from today. Next Tuesday.

G.A. Minutes 10-26-13

G.A. Minutes 10-26-13
The Memorial is empty as we arrive but something is going on by the Skinner apartments at the end of the block. Squad cars with flashing lights are everywhere. One squad is racing down the wrong side of the street and squealing around and around the block.

This is not unusual as the Skinner is the source of much of the drama on this street. It’s an SRO building where people fortunate enough to have been granted some type of government housing assistance can live. Apparently the management is rather loose and/or nonexistent, so illegal activity is the norm. Kind of like the revolving door between multinational corporations and the U.S. congress, except that the residents of the Skinner are poor so have to pay for their sins.

It gets dark earlier and the air is cooler these last days of autumn. We get the fire going immediately, put out refreshments, sit down and relax. An Occupier says, “Man this heat feels good!”

As the squads are leaving, a woman on the street yells, “Hey, come back! The white people are playing with fire!”

An older man we don’t know walks up and says, “So what are you guys up to? I saw you here a few days ago.” We explain we are Occupy Duluth and we’ve been holding our meetings at the Memorial twice a week for over a year. The man has never heard of Occupy or the Occupy Wall Street movement. He has recently moved into the neighborhood and into the Skinner. As he begins to tell his story, it is determined that he and one of the Occupiers attended high school together. Although he looks much different than he did in high school, the Occupier remembers him and they reminisce for a bit. The man has spent much of his life as an alcoholic; in and out of prison. He’s sober now, has many health problems and is involved in volunteer work at several animal rescue agencies. He tells us of a veterinary clinic that will spay or neuter your cat for free if you can present an EBT (food stamp) card. “Wow!” says an Occupier, “That is some really useful information. Thanks for telling me.”

Another Occupier states, “It’s really gonna be boring around here now that the cops won’t hassle us anymore.”

A third Occupier remarks, “Nah, being hassled by the cops was becoming really boring.”

A meeting between a representative of Occupy Duluth and a police lieutenant in charge of public safety was held recently. Occupy presented their complaint which had been previously delivered to the Citizens Review Board. The Lieutenant said all DPD officers had been given instructions to stop bothering the Occupiers at their Memorial fires. The Occupier’s representative stated she would need to have something in writing concerning this issue and the Lieutenant said in about a week he would mail her a letter verifying his statement. After a year of standing our ground and demanding that the DPD follow their own laws, it appears we may have won this battle. That would be a pleasant surprise.

Several of the Occupiers have a secret to impart. An action in relation to the upcoming MN wolf hunt is being planned. For now, the details must remain a mystery. Things are discretely explained to all Occupiers present. Everybody is down with the plan. Many people are coming in and out of the circle, smudging and getting their snacks. They’re all in their own worlds, not paying attention to the confidences being exchanged.

One in our group is planning to attend the yearly demonstrations against the School Of The Americas; located in the state of Georgia. He asks if Occupy will make a donation to his travel funds. We have $100 currently in our treasury so offer to give him $50. Looks like we’ll have to come up with a way to raise some more funds.
An Occupier reminds us that there will be an Anti-Trafficking meeting on Monday evening and an Idle No More Meeting on Friday morning. Next Saturday we will meet at an art studio to work on our secret wolf project. It looks like we’ll be able to be back here next Tuesday.

G.A. Minutes 10-22-13

G.A. Minutes 10-22-13

It’s going to be really cold this evening. The temperature is in the low 30s so we’ll need to keep the fire burning big and hot. The majority of the regular Occupiers are present at the Memorial tonight. Other duties have kept us from meeting here for the past 2 weeks. We’ve missed this crazy place.

Speaking of crazy, a homeless man we haven’t met before approaches as we’re setting up. After asking what we’re up to he introduces himself and as we give him our names, he writes them down. He informs us he is a special agent working for the IRS. He also works closely with the FBI. He says he’s been kicked out of the CHUM center and is finding life very difficult since the weather has turned colder. He’s spent a few nights in a tent at the reconstituted Graffiti Graveyard but doesn’t like it there. Many of the residents are violent, drunk and insane. He hasn’t been in town long so asks us what his options are and we tell him what we know. We certainly are not veterans in the homeless community but experiences at our former homeless camp and now that we are meeting at Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial have taught us a few things. The man maintains a running dialog and we attempt to discuss Occupy stuff while he talks. He participates articulately in the conversation for a while and then leaves.

An Occupier mentions there will be a Project Homeless Connect at the Gimaajii Center from 2-4pm Thursday, October 24th. These Connects sponsored by Loaves N Fishes and are held once or twice a year. They consist of tables from the majority of the social service NGOs in Duluth. Homeless people are offered free food, personal hygiene products, haircuts, warm clothing and blankets (if available) and other small things. The people are also allowed to sign up on waiting lists for public housing. If they are able to wait about a year until they are contacted (if they can still be found without too much trouble), they can go to many appointments and fill out many forms and possibly be given a very low rent apartment in a dangerous and not very clean public housing complex. If they follow all the many rules they are required to follow they can have a roof over their head. If a person is a felon, he can forget about housing. Felons are banned from public housing.

Another Occupier reports a forum on poverty will take place at 6:30pm at Trepanier Hall Wednesday October 23rd. This forum will be inviting all the candidates running for City Council office to participate. Someone states that there will be a symbolic Superior Homeless Camp in the parking lot of the public library in Superior WI this weekend. Maybe some people who have homes will go there and sleep overnight in a tent or something.

We put a lot of work into helping Northwoods Wolf Alliance sponsor the Wolf Walk on October 12th. We feel the event was quite successful with people and speakers from across northern MN participating. The occasion began with an Ojibwe prayer, spiritual drumming, tables and good speakers. About 70 people with signs, puppets and drummers marched from the Civic Center to the People’s Plaza and then to Canal Park where a round dance celebration took place on the beach. Several television stations and media reporters were there, so we were able to generate press coverage for the wolves. A feast at the Hillside Community Center closed out the day.

Somebody asks for an update on Water Legacy. We think they are still attending as many events as possible, attempting to get more signatures for the EPA petition. The time for public comment about the proposed PolyMet sulfide mine will probably be pushed ahead to January 2014. An Occupier says, “The last time I petitioned for them, almost everyone said they had already signed”.

A Occupier wants to know about our complaint to the Citizen’s Review Board concerning the DPD. We tell her 2 Occupiers have an appointment with a police lieutenant on Thursday. We are supposed to present documentation of our complaint at that time. The DPD will then be allowed to come up with a solution. If we don’t like the solution we can return to the CRB. We attended a CRB meeting about a month ago and we noticed many of the members of the Board didn’t seem to understand what they were supposed to be doing. It appeared things were being subtly directed by the cops.

Some of us attended the City Indigenous Commission last night. A few of our allies are on this commission. Native Alliance gave a report about their recent activities. A man from the Fon du Lac adolescence agency reported the state health department is changing its rules and eliminating the intake substance abuse report, substituting a mental health report in its place. The man is concerned that youth will be given false or inaccurate mental health diagnosis which will follow them for the rest of their life. He says, “It’s like they are already setting the kids up for failure”.

A member of the commission offers a resolution which states that the Gimaajii Center will be required to report monthly to the Indigenous Commission. Another commission member objects to this proposal and a discussion ensues. Members of the public at the meeting are invited to express opinions on the subject. The discussion is then tabled until next month’s meeting when members who are missing tonight will be present.

The homeless IRS agent returns. He looks worried and tells us he has just been trespassed from the casino. He had gone in to use the bathroom and warm his hands when he was informed by security that management had put him on the unwelcome characters list. This is a big deal as many street people (Occupiers too) rely on the casino for its bathrooms, warmth and as a convenient place to buy a pack of smokes. He’s unsure why he has been kicked out and we explain people in power generally act on their personal whims, especially when dealing with people who have much less power.

Now the pleasant speaking agent really doesn’t know what to do. He can sleep at the Graveyard but will have to put up with a lot of unpredictable behavior from the other residents. He could get a bottle of alcohol and drink enough to get admitted into Detox. He’ll get a warm bed, food and a shower but they may put a 72 hour hold on him. He needs to report to his probation officer tomorrow and doesn’t want to screw that up. He could just hang on the street until morning and then apply to various churches for enough money for a ticket to the Twin Cities. In the T.C. he could try his luck with homeless shelters and such. One of the homeless outreach workers arrives and stands at the fire. The outreach worker can’t help Mr. Agent Man as the worker represents an NGO that can only help people under the age of 18.

Everyone breaks into small groups and conversations about various topics develop. We hear some noise from the back ledge and look to find some bodies rolling around. Other people in the Memorial go over and join them. An Occupier moves to go over and another Occupier cautions him to wait. The fighting group separates and we are able to determine that 2 women are fighting and a bunch of men have grabbed them and are holding them apart. One woman screams, “Why are you messing with my man, bitch!” Both women are dragged off to different corners as an Occupier comments, “Well if someone’s messing with her man it seems like it’s her man she should be talking to”.

Everyone gathers around the fire again and a street man we have seen before approaches Mr. Agent and says, “I just need 75 cents and I can take the bus back to my house and get some warm coats and stuff for the people out here”.

The agent says, “You have a house? Can I sleep on your couch and take a shower?”

The other man says yes and the agent gives him 75 cents and the man leaves. The Occupiers look at each other, roll their eyes and think, like the dude is ever gonna come back. The conversation continues. The fire is dying and we immediately feel the cold.

Everyone feels sorry to leave the agent out in the frigid air but we have to crash in order to continue on tomorrow. As we begin to leave we see the man of the 75 cents has returned to take the agent to his home. Cool.

We currently know of no other obligations to prevent us from returning next Saturday.

G.A. Minutes 10-8-13

G.A. Minutes 10-8-13

It was raining steadily all day last Saturday so we went to an Occupiers home and worked on our wolf puppet. This Tuesday evening the sky is clear and the air is unseasonably warm. It’s supposed to be in the high 60s and low 70s all this week. The sun goes down much earlier these days. It will be down in about an hour. We won’t need much warmth from our fire but the light will help a lot.

A few of the regular street people are around. They greet us warmly; some help us carry our things. An older man who we don’t know greets us. When an Occupier asks, “What’s up”? The man answers, “Same as always, everybody’s just trying to get a buzz”.

One of our Occupiers has been absent for a week or more. We need to fill him in on what’s been going on. There’s been so much that we can’t remember it all. We tell him about 2 meetings that are happening tomorrow.

The first is a meeting of the Duluth Human Rights Commission in City Hall. The issue of the placement of the Indigenous Cultural Staff has still not been decided. Apparently, a well-known politician has a solution he is going to propose to the commission. The problem is, none of the Native people connected to the staff issue were notified of his plan. They found out about the meeting by word of mouth so they’re understandably suspicious. We shake our heads in disbelief. What is wrong with these white people? They seem to think only the rich and those of their inner circle are worthy of respect. They seem to think everyone else will just obey their orders. We will attend this meeting and support our Native allies.

The second meeting will be with the campaign committee of one of our friend running for City office. While on the subject of this friend, an Occupier reports something she was told at the Idle No More meeting she attended yesterday. When our friend gave a press conference a couple of weeks ago he spoke out against the Polymet mine. He took a public stand about a very important issue; something very few politicians are willing to do. All the television stations were there and they took a lot of footage. Many supporters of our friends were also present. When the actual news reports were shown, our friend was not mentioned. Neither his face nor his words were in any part of the television presentations. Our other friend running for City office was at the INM meeting and stated, “There are many powerful people in this city who are determined that no person of color will ever hold a government office”.

The sun has set. We notice all the street lights that usually shine on the Memorial and on the corner intersection are out. We have also noticed there have been 4, maybe 5, slow drive byes from squad cars since we’ve been here. An Occupier jokes, “Maybe we’ll set a record tonight”. Is this an ominous sign of something about to happen or merely a coincidence? The fire gives us enough light to see each other. We’ll just have to wait and see.

We inform the previously absent Occupier Native Alliance will hold an introduction to the community potluck feast on Friday at the Central Hillside Community Center. We will attend just as soon as we are done with our regular Friday rush hour protest with the Northland Anti-War Coalition. On Saturday we will participate in the Wolf Walk being sponsored by the Northwoods Wolf Alliance. We’ve been doing a lot of work with NWA for this event. It too will end with a big feast and potluck at CHCC.

An Occupier notices a man walking down the street and coming up on the Memorial. It’s too dark to see his face but she thinks she recognizes his walk. She calls his name and he answers. Everybody cracks up. This is a man who had lived in our camp for several months. We haven’t seen him in quite a while and had heard he was incarcerated. He tells us he’s been in treatment for the last 7 months. When he sits down to chat we notice he hasn’t changed much. Still extremely anxiety ridden and talking about violent things. Several regular street folks come to sit. It seems they all know him so it’s a bit like old home week, sitting around the fire at our old camp. The middle aged Native woman walks her circle around us and sits down.

The former camper tells us of his plans to go to college up north and become a forest ranger or a DNR agent. He gives his usual speech about the problem with the people on the street is that they’re lazy and they should just get off their asses, get a job and take care of their lives. We notice that in spite of his attitude, he is still on the street and doesn’t have a job. Of course, we don’t say that but try to explain that things are more complicated than the solution he proposes. He will have none of it.

The older man who we spoke with when we arrived is back. He’s definitely got a buzz. He can barely walk and his friends on the back ledge are affectionately laughing at him.

The fire is dying. Should we throw on another log? If we do we know we’ll be stuck listening to Mr. Anxiety’s lectures. We decide to leave. We won’t be back on Saturday, as that is the day of the Wolf Walk, so we won’t see this place again until next Tuesday. As we are packing up an Occupier says, “We did break a record. 8 slow drivebys from the DPD”.
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G.A. Minutes 10-1-13

G.A. Minutes 10-1-13

We find the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial looking pretty good when we arrive tonight. The YMCA cleaning crew is back and they are doing a very good job sweeping and picking up garbage. They are just finishing; so quickly say hello and go off to their next project. There are a few young men we don’t know on the back ledge. They appear to be “businessmen”. It’s the first of the month which means street people who receive small government checks may have been paid today. Other street people are more than willing to assist them in spending their money. We expect the neighborhood to be a bit weird this evening.

As we are setting up, many more people arrive and the area becomes quite full. The crowd consists of some we know but most we have not previously met. It’s obvious some type of commerce is taking place. Oh well, we generally don’t pay any attention to such things unless it looks like loss of life or limb is imminent. The folks who frequent the Memorial were here way before we arrived on the scene. We are the guests.

Someone comments that 2 very recent events will affect this community soon. Today the Tea Party Republicans voted to shut down the U.S. government rather than accept that a minor increase in benefits be given to the general public. We know this will cause the poor to be short changed……again.

Yesterday the DPD descended on the Graffiti Graveyard, ordering approximately 200 homeless people to get out. They stated the Graffiti Graveyard homeless camp would be barricaded to ensure no one could reenter. Of course, another place for the homeless to go was not provided. Television crews, reporters, city officials, activists and many others were present at this event. Promises of housing sometime in the future were made.

Nobody seemed to know where masses of homeless people were going to spend the upcoming winter. We know the DPD spent all summer breaking up small homeless camps all over the city. We know they told the evicted residents to go and camp out at Graffiti Graveyard. Now they’re evicting Graffiti? Something is up; we just don’t know what (yet).

An Occupier reports a load of wood has been purchased. It should be enough to last until Spring. The website is also paid for another year. The Occupy treasury still has a little money in it. This is good.

An old friend who had lived at our homeless camp for a pretty long time rides up on his bike. He is accompanied by his marvelously street wise and well behaved dog. We stop our conversation in order to chat with him. He is a veteran of homelessness and had been living at Graffiti. He’s already set up camp somewhere else.

He tells us, “Word on the street is that someone is going to be murdered tonight. I came by to tell you because I want to make sure it won’t be one of you guys”. We thank him for the information but realize he’s always tended to be a bit overly dramatic. In the year we’ve been meeting here we’ve never felt really afraid or in actual danger.

A man we don’t know plunks himself down in a chair and begins to drink a can of beer. An Occupier says, “You’d better be discrete about that. If you start flashing it around people are going to be all over you wanting some”. The man complies. He is very drunk and we can’t understand much of what he is saying. We manage to hear that he was living in his van and the police, knowing he was living in it, had it towed away. They want a lot of money before they will give it back to him so now he has nowhere to live.

An Occupier says, “There are some really malicious people on the police force”. The crowd swirls around our circle and the man disappears into it.

Someone asks what’s going on with the upcoming March Against Monsanto. No one knows or has seen any publicity about it. An Occupier reports that the march was originally scheduled for Oct. 12th at 1pm. She says the Wolf Walk scheduled their Oct 12th event for 3pm so as not to interfere with the march.

She is just beginning to give the details about the Wolf Walk when our friend, the older man from the neighborhood shows up. He tells us about a speaker he had gone to hear recently. He laughs and says,” Well this topic was a lot more upbeat than the one about exponential growth I talked about last time. It was about all the land all over the world that can still be used for planting food. I’m always over excited about whatever is the last thing I’ve heard”. The older man has also heard about the destruction of Graffiti and expresses his concern. He’s a little uncomfortable with all the noise and activity surrounding us so takes his leave.

Immediately, a woman asks to sit in one of our chairs. We invite her and as the fire light shines on her face, we realize she is someone who sat in our circle many months ago. She was vulgar and we did not enjoy her company. She starts right in and it looks like we’re in for a replay. She’s very drunk and begins yelling vulgarities at the various men walking up and down the street.

The men are not familiar to us but they seem to know her. They are tolerant of her behavior. Suddenly another woman walks up to her and says, “Where is the money you stole from me?” The vulgar woman says, “I don’t know what you’re talking about”. The usual bickering starts up. Many people crowd around them and it appears they are trying to prevent any violence from happening. For reasons unknown to us, the street people are always respectful of our space and attempt to shield us from “bad actors”.

When we hear the accusing woman say she’s going to pick up our fire and throw it at the vulgar woman, we decide to pack up. As we gather things, a regular woman from the street picks up the still burning sage bundle and smudges herself. She tries to hand it back to an Occupier but the Occupier says, “Why don’t you keep it. Maybe you can make some good come from it”. The street woman smiles and says, “I’ll do my best”.

The Occupiers are not angry or afraid. They understand street drama is the most excitement that folks get around here. The Occupiers just find street drama rather boring. However, we’ll be back on Saturday.