G.A. Minutes 12-29-15

G.A. Minutes 12-29-15
The first couple of Occupiers roll up to Coney Island and casually stroll in.  They are greeted by the staff and the few single male regular customers who are usually present in the early evenings.  The Occupiers have been meeting at the café for only a month or so but they’re being treated like regulars already.  They have no problem with that.
While waiting for the others to arrive, the first Occupiers order food, go to the big back booth and carry on a conversation about the racism directed towards area Native Americans that they so frequently observed during their childhood years.
These days the racism is generally more hidden and some non-Natives have respect, even admiration for Indigenous people and their culture.  However, one need merely scratch the surface and there it is, in many subtle and not so subtle ways. 
An Occupier comments, “Just look at the way the fossil fuel and mining industries pretend to be working with the various Native reservations.  The other Occupier replies, “Don’t get me started.  Here comes our friend, the City Official”.
Our friend sits down.  He’s brought flyers which list all the events that will be happening around Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Duluth.  The events include: a Mayor’s MLK Reception on Thursday 1/14, a talent show at Denfield H.S.on Friday 1/15, the Jammin’ with MLK event at Peace Church on Saturday 1/16, an evening worship service at St. Mark’s AME Church on Sunday 1/17 and a Free Community Breakfast, March&Rally and Movie Night all on Monday 1/18.
An Occupier makes a suggestion, “Last year we went as a group to the Jammin’ with MLK event.  I think we should do that again this year.  Everyone will want to go to other MLK events as possible but I think we should all plan on attending the Saturday event together”.
More Occupiers arrive.  One of them states, “I don’t think we’ll be seeing our Catholic Worker friends tonight.  I suppose you’ve heard they were among the participants in an action against the airplane and other weapons of war manufacturer, Grumman-Northrup somewhere around Omaha?  One of our C.W. friends is in jail right now.  She was arrested along with 4 others”.
Another answers, “Bummer.  I knew they were leaving town a few days ago and that’s why they weren’t at our Christmas Night party.  I’m sure the action was planned well in advance and our friend had committed to getting arrested beforehand.  C.A. is an effective organization.  They will have bail money set up, attorneys ready to go and a whole support system for those in jail. We’ll just have to call and see if there’s any way we can help”.
Another Occupier reports he was at the Boycott Bruce Hagen rally in Superior WI yesterday. The rally was organized by our friend, a very effective and intelligent organizer, who lives in Superior.  After the rally, the group was invited inside the Court House to table and get petition signatures.  Everyone was surprised at the amount of Superiorites who were in support of demanding the mayor’s resignation and also in support of anti-racist and anti-Islamophobic principles.  The Boycott Bruce Hagen folks plan to be back at the Court House tomorrow from 10a-4p.
Our City official friend tells us, “Mayor Hagen is backpedaling like crazy.  He originally took off for a month’s vacation but has agreed to return on Saturday for a dinner at the Islamic Center of the Twin Ports.  This dinner will be attended by City Council members and 200-300 members of our area’s Muslims.
“WPR also agreed to sponsor and record 10 town hall meetings . This whole mess he created has gone national”.
Another Occupier confesses, “I opened a can of worms yesterday when I made that aggressive post on Facebook telling the mayor the next time he has too much to drink he should refrain from posting anything on social media.  I only meant to make the Superior organizer laugh.  I forgot it would go out to who knows where.  A hater answered saying he had proof Obama is a Muslim.  I just left the whole thing alone.  Another of our organizer friends responded and seemed to settle the hater guy down”.
Someone responds, “I think I saw that post.  Did it begin with ‘Dear Mayor Hagen, Bite me?” The confessing Occupier rolls her eyes; everybody laughs.
An Occupier says, “Did you all see the post from a hater in the Twin Cities?  He went on the Black Lives Matter page and posted some really racists things.  His comments went out on the internet, his employer, ADM, saw his comments and fired him on the spot.  I wonder if that’s another case of a moron getting drunk and going on social media.”
One of the Occupiers has brought a sack of fresh mandarin oranges and put them in the center of the table.  He says, “Help yourselves.  They are magical health oranges.  They even ward off evil spirits”.
 He then says to our City official friend, “Speaking of warding off evil spirits, what day of Kwanza is this?”  Our friend answers, “It’s the 4th day.  This day is about celebrating black business and entrepreneurship”.
A Coney Island staff member is mopping the floor.  We are the only customers now.  We think the mopping guy is someone different from the guy who works the counter.  It turns out it’s the same guy, he’s just taken off his cap and glasses.  We laugh and banter back and forth with him about all the disguises he uses throughout his work shift.
An Occupier lives in a building owned and managed by Sherman Properties.  He tells us about the disrespect and condescension with which they treat the tenants of their low income rental properties.  Several Occupiers have had dealings with Sherman.  They are in agreement.
Another Occupier adds, “George Sherman is a billionaire.  The City has given him at least 10 million dollars in TIF funds.  TIF funds are credits that allow some business owners to be relieved of paying taxes.  In return, the TIF recipients are supposed to develop new businesses or refurbish existing ones”.
Somebody remarks, “So if old George doesn’t have to pay his taxes then that means we living hand to mouth taxpayers have to pay his share too.  Wonderful”.
The staff guy comes over and says in a panicked voice, “Did any of you notice someone come in while I was in the back room?”  We were so busy talking that we didn’t notice anyone.  The guy continues, “Somebody walked in here and stole all the money from my tip jar.  I’m gonna call my boss.  We have cameras so maybe we have a picture of the thief”.  We say words of empathy to the burglarized guy.
One Occupier whispers to another, “They should show us the camera tapes.  We probably know who the thief was from sitting with so many neighborhood folks at our Clayton Jackson McGhie fires”.
The Occupier who originally made the suggestion says, “I’m thinking we could all go to Jammin with MLK on Saturday, January 16th, 6pm at Peace Church?”  Everybody thinks that is a good idea.
An Occupier reminds us, “On Saturday we’re going to the Socialist Action Marxmas party”.
Our City friend says, “Socialists!?!  I don’t know if I can handle that!”  He rolls his eyes and continues, “Even though I’m probably one myself”.
Another Occupier states, “A lot of people are socialists and don’t even realize it”.  The first Occupier exclaims, “Even Jesus was a socialist!”  The second Occupier clasps her hands to her chest and cries out, “Even Jesus?”  She falls over.
We’re starting to get goofy now.  It must be time to go home.  As we get ready to leave, we gather up enough money to replace the few stolen bucks and a little more and put in the staff guy’s tip jar.
We’ll be at the Marxmas party on Saturday and back here at Coney Island next Tuesday.    


G.A. Minutes 12-22-15

G.A. Minutes 12-22-15
The first Occupiers have managed to arrive at Coney Island still intact this evening.  It rained a bit earlier in the day.  Now all those innocent looking patches of snow are covered in thin sheets of ice.  Just the kind of thing that causes pain in the young folks and broken bones in the not so young.
It looks like we’re going to have a crowd again tonight.  Of Occupiers that is.  As people continue arriving, the guy behind the counter advises us he will need to close by 8pm. Apparently, somebody didn’t show up for their shift so the poor guy has been working for a really long time.  He’s tired.  No problem, we’ve all been there and done that so we can certainly empathize.
An Occupier tells a story about how she received a clothing voucher from the Salvation Army but when she went to use it, every item she found was too high priced to qualify.  She ended up just returning the voucher.
Another Occupier comments on how she feels conflicted about the Salvation Army, especially at this time of year when they have bell ringers asking for donations.  She knows many people who have been helped by S.A. but she also knows S.A. is very vocal about not helping people who are other than straight heterosexuals.  This year the Occupier has decided to refrain from giving to the donation kettles.
An Occupier reports, to everyone who wasn’t at the last meeting, that an initial meeting is scheduled with Em Westerlund, the new District 3 City Councilor, for February 1st at noon.  The Occupier reports that her first impression of Ms. Westerlund was good.  She remarks, “Em says she’s finding it really strange how people in government relate to her now that she’s a Councilor.  Apparently, everyone bends over backwards to please her, acting as if she were some type of royalty.  I just hope Ms. Westerlund keeps that outlook and doesn’t let the preferential treatment go to her head”.
Another Occupier adds, “I’ve known so many people who were good organizers but who changed once they were given a position in an NGO.  After a while they started thinking everything was about them and their position.  Many a good person has fallen after being given too much power and praise”.
Someone says, “At our last meeting we were talking about how we were concerned that Deputy Chief Tuscan will be given the position of Chief of Police now that Chief Ramsey is leaving.  Our City official friend suggested we apply to be on one of the hiring panels.  I asked the Duluth Human Rights Officer how we would go about doing that.  He said we should email Duluth Human Resources at tseverance@duluthmn.gov and the mayor atELarson@DuluthMN.gov .  We should request to be appointed and provide a short resume stating why we are qualified.  I think every one of us should apply so maybe they’ll have to appoint a few of us.
“Two of our community organizer friends were on the hiring panel for the recently hired new police officers.  We could ask them what we should expect to find on a hiring panel”.
One Occupier has done some research about the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial BOD. She gives us a list of the membership and some additional information.  She confirms that the time and place of the BOD meetings is secret information and attendance is by invitation only. 
Another Occupier suggests we could ask for a meeting with the CJMM BOD and bring a couple of the homeless people who regularly attend our fires along with us.  The BOD members would then have to look into the faces and eyes of the homeless folks when they explain why they don’t want “their kind” at the Memorial.
Somebody answers, “We could try it but I don’t think the BOD would be willing and I’m not sure which homeless people would be willing to accompany us.  I think many of the BOD members really believe Occupy is violent and very dangerous.  I don’t know why they believe that but I’m betting they watch Fox News”.  Everyone laughs.
An Occupier remarks, “So we’ve received all the responses from the DPD to the 4 complaints we filed against them.  The responses were signed by Deputy Chief Tuscan and they were really stupid.  He misquoted the main Fire Code and then included a copy of that strange letter from the Deputy Fire Chief.  The responses basically said “you can’t have a fire because we don’t want you to have one’.
“I spoke with the president of the Citizens Review Board and told him we feel these responses are completely unacceptable.  Apparently, we’re not the first complainants to say this.  The president said he would open negotiations between us, the CRB and the DPD.  In sort of an aside, he said we should contact the City Council because they are the people who supervise the fire department”.
Another comments, “People worked really hard to establish a CRB, we eventually got one but it has no teeth.  The CRB just has to sit and listen to whatever the DPD says.  I hope it’s time now to up the ante and fight for a CRB that has some power”.  Everyone agrees.
Someone says, “Well, there’s still that attorney from the Twin Cities”.  The Occupier who has recently arrived from the east coast responds, “I know of that attorney; he helped us when the government was trying to close down our homeless camp”.
Another of the Occupiers asks, “Hey, have you all heard what the mayor of Superior WI said yesterday?”  We have.  The Occupier continues, “Saying Obama is a Muslim and that he’s destroyed our country by using less of our military than is needed was weird but I guess the mayor does have freedom of speech”.
Another Occupier replies, “Yeah, but too bad he uses his freedom of speech to show everyone what a complete idiot he is”.  We all laugh some more.
The recently arrived Occupier states, “Back to the homeless issue, I’m amazed at how judgmental and punishment oriented many people are when it comes to homeless or poor people.  I remember making a comment in a church setting once.  I said, ‘Well if the only thing you can do for a homeless person is to give them a dollar, then just give them that dollar and leave the rest to God’.  Most of the church people freaked out, saying I was a horrible enabler”.
Somebody else inserts, “For real, I was at a homeless advocate meeting a while back.  There were many social work students in attendance.  One of them was bitching about homeless people drinking and drugging.  She said if they were gonna do that, they didn’t deserve any help at all.  I responded, ‘Over my years associating with homeless folks I’ve found that many of them have experienced the most horrific childhoods’.  The meetings moderator cleared his throat and said, ‘Well, now on a more pleasant note blah,blah,blah’.  It was like they all wanted to say they worked with homeless peeps but they didn’t really want to know homeless peeps as human beings at all”.   Everyone nods in agreement.
Another tells us, “I had a dream last night.  I was homeless and living at CHUM.  I was just hanging around with nothing to do.  There weren’t any books or classes to take, no work to do. I was about to run away but I woke up instead.  If it was reality instead of a dream, where would I have run away to?  I imagine I would have to start drinking or doing heroin or something.  How else would I relieve the boredom?”
We hear the guy behind the counter say to his co-worker, “My god!  I’ve been here since noon!”  We look at the clock and realize that’s his way of telling us it’s time to go.
We all plan to go to the Occupier couple’s home for dinner on Christmas Night.  The Occupier who will cook most of the dinner says, “We’re supposed to have a meeting the day after Christmas but I’m gonna need to sleep in and just rest.  How about we just meet back here again next Tuesday?  We say, “Sounds like a plan”.

G.A. Minutes 12-19-15

G.A. Minutes 12-19-15
We enter Coney Island in a hurry tonight.  It’s cold outside; we take our coats and things off right away so as to get the chill off.
We laugh about how quickly we acclimate.  Last month we freaked out when temperatures went into the 30s.  This evening it’s about 15 degrees with a slight wind.  Last night was in the single digits with a strong east wind; we thought we would die.  Next month we’ll be happy if temperatures are at least above zero.  People are weird.
There will be only a few Occupiers tonight; many are off at Winter Solstice celebrations.  The actual Solstice isn’t until Tuesday but working class folks have to adjust their lives to suit their jobs.  It should be the other way around.
We get food and drinks and settle into the big booth.  An Occupier reports she has met with Em Westerlund, the new City Councilor for District 3 which encompasses West End, Central Hillside and a small portion of East Hillside.
The meeting was attended by a few other homeless advocate types.  Since then, the Occupier and Ms. Westerlund have exchanged several emails and scheduled a meeting with just the two of them for February 1st.  The Councilor appears interested in finding out what the powers that be are trying to pull with our CJMM small, safe and legal campfire situation.
The Occupier also reports that the newspaper columnist has expressed willingness to write about the fire situation.  She says, “I need to get a bunch of paperwork ready for both the writer and the Councilor.  I think I’ll wait until after Christmas and then get everything rolling”.
Our friend, the City official arrives.  He has brought some paperwork we requested.  He has been a big help to us for many years, a man who truly cares and practices what he preaches.
Our friend says, “So who’s going to the big Mayoral Inauguration on January 4th?”  An Occupier replies, “Well I don’t know, is there going to be food?  I hear Don Ness always puts on quite a spread”.
The friend replies, “Yes he does but now it’s going to be the new mayor, Emily Larsen.  I have no idea what kind of eats she’ll have served”.  The Occupier responds, “Actually, I don’t care what kind of food is served, I’m not going.  I don’t like artificial schmoozing”.
We discuss what we hope will happen when the new mayor takes over.  We know she has worked for years in poverty and homelessness areas.  We’ve heard she’s been known to kowtow to business interests.
An Occupier remarks, “She says she wants to make Duluth work for all its citizens.  She tries to give the impression that she will pay attention to poor people and people of color.  Well, she won’t have to do much in order to do more than Don Ness ever did.  If she’s really serious, one of the first things she will do is to fire the Chief Administrator”.
Our friend reminds us, “We will need to hold her accountable.  If she’s for real, she will appreciate it as being held accountable will help her stand up to forces that oppress POC and the poor”.
Someone brings up the topic of Chief of Police Gordon Ramsey’s acceptance of the new job as police chief of Wichita, KS.  We think this is not good, for us at least.
An Occupier states, “Yeah, we knew about this right away because we were contacted by someone from Occupy Wichita.  They wanted to know what we thought of Chief Ramsey.  I told them that he was still a cop so to keep that in mind.  However, he did make a show of expecting his police officers to be respectful and fair to all citizens of Duluth.  It didn’t always work out that way but the Chief’s attitude did keep the street cops somewhat in line. 
“I told the Wichita Occupiers that Ramsey is intelligent and very personable and the citizens will probably like him.  I said I wasn’t so sure about the Wichita cops.  I hear those cops are in the habit of murdering young black men whenever they feel like it”.
Somebody postulates, “So you know there’s a real chance that Deputy Chief Tuscan could be our next Chief of Police?”  We all let out a loud groan.  An Occupier exclaims, “Oh no!  That just cannot be!  He’s rude, threatening and doesn’t like to be challenged in any way.  What do we have to do to prevent him from becoming the next chief?”
Our friend tells us, “Well, they have to let Duluth citizens serve on the interview boards.  You could try that”.  We think that one of the Occupiers who isn’t present tonight would make a good candidate.  We’ll ask him ASAP.  We think several of us should try to get appointed however; our city is small enough that many of those in government know who we are.  If only they’d let us choose the new chief…… yeah right.
An Occupier asks, “So now that the big Climate Conference in Paris is over, what do you think will happen?’  Another replies, “We’re going to be really busy.  The people are going to be the ones who will save the planet.  All the government bozos are under the control of the 1%.  The strength of the greed disease amazes me.  The fossil fuel barons know that their gas and oil will destroy the human race but they just don’t care.  They don’t even care for their own future generations!  Their lust for material wealth blinds them to everything else.
“You all know that I’m one of the people who manage the treasury for Idle No More/Northwoods Wolf Alliance.  I’ve been having conversations with MN 350 organizers.  I think we will be working with them a lot more in the future.
“We need to help INM/NWA as much as we can with their NDN Taco Sales.  The profits from those sales are what will send folks to actions all over the area”.
The woman of the Occupier couple makes a request, “I’m gonna start cooking tomorrow for our dinner on Christmas and will have to cook for several days.  Do you think we could leave a little early tonight so I could get a little extra sleep?”
We are all looking forward to the warmth and camaraderie of a holiday dinner.  We will allow her to get some sleep and allow the staff to close up on time.
We plan to be back at the Coney Island café on Tuesday.    

G.A. Minutes 12-15-15

G.A. Minutes 12-15-15
Winter is here, sort of.  It’s been alternating between snow, rain and sleet all day and into the evening.  Temperatures are in the low 30s but there’s a strong east wind so it feels much colder.  We’re reminded why we decided to move indoors until spring.
We’re at Coney Island again after being absent for about a week and a half.  During the time we were absent we were quite busy.  We did a lot of cooking and took care of all the food for the Honor the Earth Miigwetch Tour, worked hard at a very successful Idle No More/Northwoods Wolf Alliance NDN Taco sale and worked and participated in the Holiday Show at the Washington Studios Artist Co-op.
There are no customers at the Coney Island café when we arrive.  That’s probably a good thing because we have many Occupiers and friends present tonight.  We fill up the big back booth, spewing out into the isle.
The first thing we do is to update our Catholic Worker friends and others concerning the latest developments in the ongoing saga of our campfires at the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial. 
We tell them about the letter we received from the Deputy Chief of the Duluth Fire Department and about the responses from Deputy Chief Tuscan re: the 4 complaints we filed against the Duluth Police Department.
The Occupiers are amazed government officials are willing to put in writing that they are going to ignore the law and obey the commands of unidentified City employees and (presumably) wealthy community members.  The Catholic Workers are not surprised; they’ve been around the block more than a few times.
An Occupier comments, “So the question is, where we go from here?  I think one thing we need to do is show these letters to as many influential progressive type people as we can.  I’ve already contacted 3 City Councilors and have a meeting tomorrow with an incoming Councilor. Maybe some of these folks would be willing to get on board and help us”.
A visiting member to our meeting responds, “Well, if you could get them to arrest you then you could take it to court”.  The Occupier agrees, “I know, but they do not want to arrest us.  Maybe that’s because they have orders not to?  At least some of them must realize we’re not doing anything illegal”.
Another Occupier jokes, “Yeah because if 1 of us punched a cop or lit up a big joint we could get arrested but then we’d be getting arrested for that particular behavior and not for the fire. That wouldn’t help”.  Everyone laughs.
An Occupier says, “I also think we should contact a good writer, preferably someone who works for a high circulation alternative newspaper or something.  They may be willing to get the story about our fires out to lots of local people”.  One of the Catholic Workers knows a very competent writer and gives the contact information to the Occupier.
Someone else has a suggestion.  We all think it’s a pretty good one.  If things develop in a certain way we intend to use it. 
Our friend, the City official, arrives.  An Occupier gives him a copy of the Deputy Chief’s letter. Our friend tucks it into his pocket, intending to study it later.
The friend explains some of the history of CJMM to the visitors.  He also tells about an important African Heritage project that he has become involved in recently.
Somehow the conversation turns to the ill-fated Unfair Campaign of a few years ago.  One of the Catholic Workers was involved in the initial stages of that campaign.  She explains how the project was intended to show white folks the origins of racism against people of color.  Local people of color tried to explain to the campaigners that their project would backfire.  The POC stated that they (POC) would be the ones who would take the brunt of the backfire.
That’s exactly what happened.  Several anonymous and threatening racist incidents occurred shortly after the Unfair Campaign put up its first billboards.  The Campaign took down the billboards and was unable to come up with any alternatives.
An Occupier reports, “I received an email from someone who works for Adbusters the other day.  They contacted me though the Facebook page we don’t use anymore.  It seems they are trying to find out what all the Occupiers around the country are doing now.
“Seeing as I wasn’t sure the email was actually from Adbusters, I just asked them to join our current page, Occupy Duluth, and we could take it from there”.
Our City official friend has to leave.  An Occupier says to him, “We’re doing our Christmas Night dinner again this year.  You’re welcome to stop by”.
An Occupier who hasn’t been around in a while asks, “So what is Catholic Worker anyway?” One of the Workers answers, “Well, it doesn’t have anything to do with the Catholic Church.  It was started in the 30s by Dorothy Day.  Dorothy was very interested in politics but found working with socialists, communists and what have you to be lacking a spiritual component.
“Dorothy Day then joined the Catholic Church.  She soon realized she would be unable to pursue her political ideals while working in the church, so she founded Catholic Worker”.
The Worker goes on to tell us some of the many successful actions accomplished by Dorothy and her cohorts.  She explains Catholic Worker is anti-capitalist with a preference for living communally.  
An Occupier states, “You know I felt like Dorothy Day.  In my youth I worked in the movement in the San Francisco Bay Area.  I found discussing Marx and Lenin all day to be interesting at first but after a short while I was really missing a spiritual dimension and genuine companionship.  I dropped out and did other things but when the first WTO protests started happening I was thrilled and excited.
“If I hadn’t been raising a child, I would have left for Seattle immediately.  I had to wait for over 10 more years for Occupy to arrive but I’m where I want to be now”.
A man we don’t know who appears to be homeless, walks in, uses the bathroom and walks out again.  He gets no flak from the Coney Island staff…….Cool.
The clock on the wall says it’s closing time.  We have a lot more to talk about but will continue here, same time, same station on Saturday.

What if? What if?

Yesterday I was on the street approaching a cafe where some of us meet regularly to discuss social issues.  A disheveled young man was sitting on the curb next to the sidewalk just outside the door.  He was very clearly in an anxious and agitated state.  He moved in a jerky fashion, as if starting off on something definite, but losing sight of the purpose before completing the act.  Mostly he sat on the curb rocking forward and back.  I noticed him from half a block away and the group I moved with was walking at a leisurely pace, so I had some time to consider the situation.  We were going to walk past him to get to the cafe door, and I could see that he was trying to make human contact with every passer-by, and our group would surely not be immune.

So I considered what my course of action should be.  My options ranged from ignoring him entirely, obviously the least risky course, to perhaps a noncommittal glance and maybe a nod of the head, on to eye contact and engagement and the follow-on entanglement of contact with an irrational and needy mind.  I was looking forward to some meaningful discussions of pressing social issues with my friends, so I really didn’t want to devote the rest of my evening to the tight circles of limited reasoning and narrow topics available to most abandoned street folk.  I figured he must be intoxicated, either drunk or huffing on a shared pipe full of synthetic.

The others in my group were following the street dictate of avoiding eye contact with the needy, but I was caught in the noncommittal glance mode.  He latched onto that and jumped up as I was just about to pass… I know it is a stupid weakness but I just don’t use the cold shoulder tactic required in such situations.  He asked me for a dollar.  I said no, thinking of the two lonely soft worn dollar bills that I had been trying to keep in my wallet for the past week.

“Can I have three dollars?”  His eyes were clear and did not waver.  Drunks and stoners do not usually  have the clarity to maintain steady eye contact.  I looked away first.

“No,” I said, “I do not have three dollars.”  My friends were entering the café and the door was closing behind them.  I grabbed the handle reflexively.

“I’m hungry,” he said.

“I can buy you a cup of coffee,” I said weakly, thinking for a moment that drunks and stoners want money for drugs and alcohol, not coffee and food.  Drunk and stoned, he would turn away from the offer of a cup of coffee.

But he did not.  “Ok,” he said.  “Buy me a sandwich?”

I stopped.  “No,” I said.  “I only have enough for coffee.”  I was still holding the door.

“Ok,” he said and walked through the door and into the café.  He followed my friends to a booth and slid in beside them.  I groaned inwardly.  I had just entirely spoiled what would have been an interesting conversation, adding a person to the mix who would inevitably drag us down to street level.  I tried to think how to salvage the evening.

“You shouldn’t be in here,” I said to him weakly.  “They will call the police.”

But he ignored me.  “Can I have a dollar?” he said to the table.  My friends all said no.

“Look,” I said, “do you want a dollar?  I’ll give you a dollar.  But you have to go outside.”  I took my wallet out and pulled one of the sad worn bills out, showing it to him.  He grabbed for it, but I held it back.  “You have to go outside.  We don’t want the police to come.  Will you go outside?”

“Yeah,” he said and reached for the bill again, but I turned and walked toward the exit.

“Come on,” I said, “I’ll give it to you outside.  Ok?”  I turned and walked away.  Half way to the door I glanced back to see if he was going to follow me.  He got up from the booth reluctantly, but then hurried to catch up to me.

“Buy me a sandwich?” he asked as we passed the counter.

“No, I can’t, but here is a dollar.”  I showed it to him and stepped outside, and he followed.  “What’s your name?” I asked him.

He looked a bit surprised and said “Mike”, as if I should already know that.

“Mike,” I repeated.  And then, conversationally, I asked him where his family lived.  I stood quite close to him and there was no odor of alcohol on him.

“Colorado,” he said.  “Anishinabek.”  His motions still seemed jerky and random, quick starts of glances, fingers, hands and arms moving toward nothing, falling back again to his sides without purpose.  I gave him the dollar.  “Thanks!” he said.  “Can you give me two dollars?”

I had been observing him close up, and his clothes were clean if not neat, and much closer to being new than worn out, but rumpled and ill-fitting.  His face and hair were clean, so I knew he was not homeless.  On the back of his left hand someone had drawn an “X” in black marker, and there were symbols, maybe numbers, in each angle of the “X”.  It looked like the signs first responders spray paint on the fronts of flooded houses to let each other know the place has already been searched.  The numbers tell what’s inside based on their position in the “X”, how many based on the value of the symbol.  So many dead, so many injured, so many needing to be evacuated.  On his other wrist was what looked like a hospital admissions ID bracelet, but it was looking like he’d been wearing it for quite a while, maybe even taped back on.  I couldn’t make out the writing.

“Have you been in hospital?” I asked him.  He shrugged my question away.  “Have you been smoking synthetic today?”  His eyes were amused by the question, and for a tiny second seemed to be askance, as if he were telling me I should know better.  But he smiled.

“No,” he said, simple and direct.

I started to move back toward the café door….

“Wait,” he said, and his eyes locked on mine.  I noticed again that they were clear and steady.  “Do you like me?”

It didn’t seem like an offer, and his eyes were open and round as those of a child, waiting, uncertain, hopeful.  “Sure, Mike, you are an ok guy.  I can see that in you.  Just a little messed up on the outside.”

He seemed satisfied by that.  I went back in the café and he did not follow me.  I re-joined my friends at the booth.  Some explanation seemed to be required.  “He isn’t drunk,” I said.  “He doesn’t smell of alcohol.  He told me he hasn’t been smoking synthetic, and I believe him.”  My friends made some non-committal noises.

“What if,” I said, “What if….he isn’t using.  He just is that way, every day, all the time?  What if he has brain damage or a disability?  What then?”  No one even made a mumble.

After a few uncomfortable moments, the group member who is most organized and who usually tries to keep us on the conversational track cleared her throat and said “We were talking about what’s coming up in the next few weeks.  It’s holidays and everyone is busy.  Tuesday is the Honor the Earth dinner at UMD, and Thursday is the Commission meeting, Friday we have the Taco sale, Saturday is the holiday show.  You guys can come hang with us at the show if you want, I am making soup and Richard is on setup and cleanup, so we will be busy, but there will be live music, and the art show in the gallery, and good food.  It should be a good time.”

One of the other members of the group asked about the holiday show and our organized member was answering him, when Mike came back in through the door from the street.  My heart sank, sure he would be right on us, but instead he stopped at the counter and spoke with the attendant.  There was a bit of exchange and Mike turned around and entered another booth.  But in a moment he was at the counter again picking up condiments and re-arranging the menus and take-home fliers.  The conversation at our table went on about schedule details, then turned to pipelines and big holes in the ground and piles of waste rock alongside them, and what happens to our water when the holding ponds overflow.

I saw the counter man give Mike a small wrapped package, and Mike opened it and dumped the contents of a condiment bottle on whatever was in it.  The counter man said something to him which I could not hear, and then to my relief Mike left the store with his prize.  He was back a moment later.  He said something to the counter guy who was wiping the shelves behind the counter with a rag.  The counter guy ignored him.  Then Mike went to the booth where he had been sitting, but did not find what he wanted, and in a moment he was at my elbow, shoving into the booth to sit down.  He had a wad of napkins in his hand and was rubbing his mouth and tongue and making troubled faces.  The napkins were stained orange-brown with some kind of sauce, and the stains were also on Mikes face around his mouth, and on his hands.  “Hurt,” he said with intensity and strain in his voice.  “Hurt.”

None of us knew what to say.  He dabbed at his face some more and then dropped the wad of napkins on the table.  “Can I have some water?”  He pointed at my water glass and I pushed it toward him.  He grabbed it with both hands and dumped the water into his mouth while gulping.  When he set the glass back down on the table it was nearly empty, and he pushed it back next to my coffee cup again.  Then he grabbed a packet of sugar from the bowl on the table and ripped it in half, dumping the contents, partly into his mouth but mostly onto the table and the booth and himself.

I watched him calmly while he did this, and then he noticed that one of our members had a half-eaten sandwich on a plate.  “Can I have some?” he said to her.

“No” she said.

“Can I have some?  Can I have some?  Please?”

“No,” she repeated.

Mike pointed to some scraps that had fallen out of the sandwich and onto her plate.  “Can I have that?”

She did not reply but took another bite.  Mike began to bark like a dog.  “Woof” he said.  “Woof woof woof.

In exasperation she gave him the scrap.  He accepted it happily and gobbled it down.  “Can I have more?  More?”

“No,” she said, forcefully this time.

“Can I have a sandwich?”  She ignored him.  “Can I have a sandwich?”  But his resolve was weakening.

“She won’t give you any,” I said.  “She is very stubborn.”

“Stubborn,” he said without malice.  Then he got up and walked away along the counter and out the door to the street.

We talked some more about coming events and a little about tactics, and Mike did not return.  The counter man continued cleaning up and it was evident that he wanted to close.  Eventually I finished my coffee and everyone else was done, so we concluded our conversations and then got up and left the building.  Outside, we stood on the sidewalk and talked for a while longer.  Mike was nowhere in sight.  On the curb where he had been sitting when I first saw him was a Styrofoam take-out box, open, containing what looked like a half-eaten Ruben sandwich.  Maybe someone he had talked to earlier had left it for him.  What if, I thought as we said our good byes.  What if.



G.A. Minutes 12-5-15

G.A. Minutes 12-5-15
It’s back to Coney Island again tonight.  Temperatures have been in the high 40s all day and it’s still pleasant, for this time a year, by evening.
Every parking space is taken for blocks around; the street is just packed with people.  There are the usual street people hurrying from one place to the next but the majority of the pedestrians appear to be frequenting the many downtown clubs and/or the casino.  Coney Island even has five or six customers.
Get it while you can folks, winter will be here soon. 
A young man of the street calls out to a few Occupiers who are preparing to enter the café meeting place.  They recognize the young guy as being one of the people who occasionally sat on the outer edge of our Clayton Jackson McGhie recreational fires.  He was always too under the influence to participate in conversation.
He’s quite under the influence of something tonight. He’s walking crooked which makes us wonder if the Coney Island staff will throw him out.  The staff people don’t seem to notice or if they do, they don’t care.  We think, that’s a good sign.
The guy slides into the oversized booth with the rest of us.  He wants food and money.  We give him some of the food we have purchased at the front counter and one dollar. 
We begin a serious conversation.  The street dude quickly loses interest and staggers out the door.  Many of the area street folks are intelligent and pleasant.  We hope some of them will join us during our winter hibernation.
An Occupier asks, “Seeing as I’ve been ill and absent for the last month or so, will you explain what we’ve done and will be doing?”
Another Occupier answers, “We’re going to be busy this week I think.  Idle No More/Northwoods Wolf Alliance is sponsoring the last leg of Honor the Earth’s Miigwitch Tour: Building Our Resistance to Enbridge Pipelines.  The event will happen in Rm 200 in the Chemistry Building at UMD, Tuesday December 8th from 5p-8p.
INM/NWA will be providing the feast and they need us to be up there by about 3:45p to help set up and carry in the food”.  Almost everyone says they will be able to help.
The Occupier continues, “Also, the protesters, the Duluth 7, who were arrested at the sit-in at the Enbridge office during the Stop the Enbridge Invasion rally last month are being arraigned at the St. Louis County Court House at noon on the same day, Tuesday the 8th.  They need supporters.
“I won’t be able to be there because I volunteered myself to provide the coffee for the evening’s feast.  I’ll be grinding up the beans of our good “occupy coffee” around the time of the arraignment”.
Everybody grins.  Most will be at the arraignment.
Someone else comments, “Don’t forget about the INM/NWA NdN Taco Sale this Friday, December 11th at All Nations.  We’ll be helping there too. 
Another replies, “No problem.  We always work hard but it’s fun and when we’re done we all get to eat a free taco”.  We all agree no problem.
We get the previously absent Occupier up to speed on what we’ve been doing with Black Lives Matter/Justice City Coalition.  An Occupier reports, “Justice City has some interesting plans in the works.  There’s talk about involving City officials and Duluth citizens in some round tables or town hall meetings.  Of course, the purpose would be to educate them about the real lives of black folks.  I don’t have anything definite to tell you all right now though”.
We tell the absent Occupier about the silly official responses we’ve received from the DPD and FPD regarding our small, safe and legal campfires at CJMM.  We discuss what our next moves will be.
One Occupier states, “I suppose the DPD, FPD and CJMM BOD believe we’ve accepted their responses and have decided to discontinue our fire meetings.  After all these years, they still don’t realize we have common sense.  One can’t keep warm enough at our small fires to sit long during the winter”.
Somebody adds, “Every once in a while somebody tells me they feel displeased with Occupy because Occupy is no longer holding protests outside the banks.  I disagree with that opinion because across the country Occupy groups have evolved since then.
“We may not have taken over the banking system yet but the idea of the 99% vs 1% is imbedded in the U.S. culture and in many other cultures too.  Before Occupy, I knew something was wrong and I had a feeling it had something to do with rich people having too much money. When Occupy revealed the actual facts and figures about the way the worldwide system robs and oppresses humankind, it opened a door and a window for a lot of us.  Now the real work is beginning”.
An Occupier agrees, “I’m really glad that many indigenous people throughout the world were aware of all this stuff way before we were.  We have to remember to let them lead the way”.
Another asks, “So how is the Homeless Bill of Rights Ordinance coming along?”  The Occupier who goes to the Human Rights Commission responds, “It’s taking forever.  The Commissioners keep getting distracted with other human rights issues.  Sometimes I want to say, ‘Look, get a pen and paper and start writing 1…..2….3…  Write down 10 or 12 things you think should be in the Bill then discuss and work from there’. 
“A couple of years ago I was asked to apply to be on the HRC.  I did but apparently our current mayor doesn’t like me.  He didn’t appoint me.  Now I’m glad he didn’t because I can get a lot more done from the outside.  It’s too bad because there are some really well-meaning people on the Commission”.
The most elder Occupier says, “Commission is just another word for co-option.  The Man takes all that good energy and neutralizes it”.
The conversation bounces over to the subject of the currently descending price of gasoline.  An Occupier comments, “It worries me.  The general public will forget about climate change and sustainable energy if they can get plenty of gas for a really cheap price”.
Another hypothesizes, “I wonder if they’re lowering the price in order to starve so called ISIL and other so called terrorist groups.  Those groups reportedly have taken over a lot of oil fields and oil infrastructure.  If the price of oil is really low, those groups will have a harder time supporting their armies etc.”
Someone else replies, “Who knows?  Whatever it is, I know the 1%, as usual, is up to no good”.
All the customers are gone.  All the Occupiers are very tired.  We think we should leave a little early and get some sleep.  There is a lot of good work to be done.
As we are leaving we put a few bucks into the workers tip jar.  We appreciate them letting us sit for hours.
The female of the Occupiers couple mentions, “I almost forgot.  Next Saturday we have to work the Holiday Show at our co-op.  We’ll be exhausted by the time it’s done.  Would you guys be willing to just come to our apartment and hang out?  We have a lot of musicians living in our co-op and they will be kicking it in the performance space all day long.  There will be art and craft vendors, good food and a new show in the Gallery.  It will be fun”.  We answer, “No problem”.
So it looks like we won’t be meeting at Coney Island until Tuesday, December 15th.  Maybe you will join us?