G.A. Minutes 1-30-16

G.A. Minutes 1-30-16
The weather tonight feels more like March than like the end of January.  We had a big snow/sleet/ice/rain storm last night.  That was pretty much like March too.  We think this is pretty nice in the short term but realize it does not bode well for years and decades to come.
As a few of the Occupiers are entering Coney Island, an unknown young man asks them for $1.  He says he’s a recent arrival from Nevada and has come to visit his children.  He’s been to CHUM already but has no desire to stay there.  An Occupier gives him $1 and everyone wishes him well.
There are 2 hipster guys on staff tonight.  They are non-stressed and appear to have everything under control.  As usual, some of the regular evening customers are present.  There are some not as regular folks too.
The Occupier who is a member of the Duluth 7 tells us what’s been going on in his life since he last attended our meeting.  The Duluth 7 are a group of serious activists who had allowed themselves to be arrested during our Stop the Enbridge Invasion occupation of an Enbridge office last November.  It’s officially called the Duluth 4 now as 3 of the arrestees accepted a plea bargain.  The remaining arrestees have pleaded not guilty to charges of trespassing and are scheduled for trial sometime in April.
These Duluth 4 are hoping to argue their case on the grounds of Necessary Defense. Necessary Defense basically means one had to commit a minor legal violation in order to protect themselves and/or others from a greater danger.  We all agree Enbridge tar sands pipelines are definitely a greater danger.
He recommends that we research Tim DeChristopher and the Environment Civil Disobedience Center for a deeper understanding of the concept.
The Occupier tells us in order to have a trial instead of accepting a plea bargain, the Duluth 4 will have to except harsher punishment should they lose.  They will also have to forgo a trial by jury.
We have a brief discussion about the fact that the majority of court cases don’t go to trial anymore.  Most non-wealthy defendants are forced to accept some type of guilty plea rather than risk being found guilty of crimes larger than the one originally charged.  This includes defendants who are completely innocent of any and all charges.
The Occupier who is single parenting 3 children expresses concern about an increase in residential utility taxes which is about to be passed by the tax regulators.  The utility tax on ordinary households will be increased in order to reduce the tax paid by big corporations.
The Occupier parent is an employee of a major “big box” store.  He exclaims, “Being a single parent is almost impossible.  Working 40 hours a week, coming home, making dinner and helping the kids with their homework doesn’t leave you enough time for a full nights’ sleep.  On your 2 days off you do the laundry, do the shopping and clean.  Where is the time for your own life?  Along with this is the constant worry “Am I going to be able to make the rent payment this month?  Is the car going to break down? Etc.etc”  Some of the Occupiers have been single parents.  We all emphasize with his situation.
Another Occupier states, “I have a sort of weird story to tell.  I was at the Citizens Review Board meeting on Wednesday.  I’m sitting at a table making small talk with the commission members when I see the senior Deputy Police Chief walk in.  I notice he looks carefully over the sign in sheet appearing to put a face to each name.  He looks at me for a while.  I’m sure he recognizes my name because it’s on all the numerous complaints about the DPD that we’ve filed.   Judging by his response to the last one we filed, directed specifically at him, I know he knows who I am.
“So anyway, he puts the sheet down, walks over and plunks himself down right next to me.  He puts out his hand and says, ‘Hi, I’m blah, blah, blah’.  I’m thinking you must think I’m really dumb but I tell him my name and shake his hand.  He sits next to me for the entire meeting whispering comments in my ear. 
“He makes the announcement that he’s been appointed Interim Police Chief by the new mayor.  He says he’s throwing his hat in the ring for the position of permanent Chief.  At one point the CRB president asks for suggestions from community members about what type of qualities are important in a Police Chief.
“Seeing as I was the only grassroots community member present, I gave a little speech about transparency, accountability, fairness, inclusiveness and so on.  Basically everything the Interim Chief has not shown to us. 
“The I.C. doesn’t get the irony at all.  When I’m finished he says loudly, ‘Well said!  Well said!’ The rest of the cops in the room soundly agree.  Give me a break!”  We all laugh.
An Occupier reports, “I’ve applied to be on the hiring panel for the new police chief candidates. The main homeless outreach worker has done so too”.  She looks at another Occupier and comments, “I think you should apply also”.  She explains the process to him.
Another Occupier announces, “I have some bad news.  Our fire pit and wood are gone.  I called the Superior Public Works Department and was told that the Superior police ordered our stuff thrown into the landfill.  We’re gonna have to buy a new fire set up”.
Someone replies, “Wait a minute; our fellow Occupier is charged at the last Stop Enbridge rally with Failure to Show ID to a Police Officer.  So, not showing an ID is only a violation if one is committing a crime or about to commit a crime.  The police are erroneously saying that starting a fire in a public space is a crime.  Our fire pit and wood is their supposed evidence and they’ve thrown it away?”  We shake our heads in disbelief.
An Occupier reminds us, “Idle No More/Northwoods Wolf Alliance has another NDN Taco Sale coming up on Friday.  I assume we’re all down with helping out?”  We are.
The staff guys are wiping off the tables and sweeping the floors.  An Occupier’s phone rings. Friends are asking when he will be leaving and coming to meet them.  It’s that time again.
As we are collecting tip money and getting ready to leave, an Occupier says, “I’ve got a proposition for you all.  I’m meeting with the new City Councilor on Monday, going to the Forum on Racism and Cultural Understanding on Tuesday, making NDN taco meat on Wednesday, going to the INM/NWA pre-taco meeting on Thursday and working the taco sale on Friday.  If we don’t have a meeting here on Tuesday evening, I might get a chance to get started on that letter to the editor that I’m supposed to write”.
We accept her proposition.  It looks like we won’t be back to Coney Island until next Saturday. It will be February by then…… wow.

G.A. Minutes 1-26-16

G.A. Minutes 1-26-16
We are a small and somewhat sorry group of Occupiers tonight in the back booth of Coney Island.  Small because we consist of only those who live within walking distance of the café’. Sorry because we’re all really tired and we’re propping up our heads with our hands.
The new guy is working the counter again.  He tells us he’s the only one on staff tonight.  He’s got some lame commercial country rock radio station playing on the radio.  We’d like him to switch it over to KUMD but decide against it.  He doesn’t know us yet and might be offended. At least he’s not playing it very loud.
We all participated in the Save Our Sacred Waters, Stop the Enbridge Invasion rally and march yesterday in Superior WI.  The occasion was marked by a mild but continuous snow storm.
We expended a lot of energy chanting, marching and dancing.  However, we each experienced the event from a different vantage point so attempt to compare notes.   
One Occupier carried our rather unwieldy two faced CEO puppet throughout the event, another gave interviews to the media and interacted a lot with other protestors and the third was unjustly arrested just as the event began.
The Occupier who was arrested tells his story, “So when I got there, I asked the main organizers where they wanted me to set up our Occupy fire pit.  They asked me to go to an open public space a few blocks away that was near the second Enbridge office building everyone would be marching towards.
“I drove over there and started to unload and set up.  I had barely started when 2 Superior cops walked up.  They started asking me all sorts of questions like who from the rally told me to start a fire right where I was located and they told me if I start up the fire I’ll be arrested.
“I decided I would be polite but that I wasn’t going to give them any information.  They were playing the usual good cop/bad cop routine with the bad cop doing most of the talking.  The bad cop asked to see my ID; I explained nicely that I didn’t need to show them my ID if I wasn’t guilty of any crime.  That made the bad cop really pissed off; he said it was illegal to make a fire on private property.  Then he said the empty lot belonged to the City.  I guess he thought being City property makes the space private?
“Anyway, I asked him exactly what law I was breaking; he said, ‘I don’t remember but I can assure you there is a law’.  I still refused to show my ID so he cuffed me real tight, searched me, found my ID and asked me if the guy on my ID was me.  I didn’t answer so he put me in the back of the squad car and took me to jail.  He also confiscated our fire pit and a load of good firewood       
“It’s been a very long time since I was in the back of a squad car.  They’ve gotten really uncomfortable.
“When we got to the jail the rest of the officers and people there acted like they were embarrassed that I had been brought in.  The bad cop was trying to tell me if I didn’t verbally state who I was I would have to spend the night in jail.
“After he did all the paperwork and talked to some other cops he came back and told me he was going to release me.  All the other cops cheered. 
I am charged with failure to provide identification to a police officer.  If I choose to appear in court, my court date is February 10th at 1:30pm.  I’m surely going to court because I’m not going to accept guilt over bullshit.
“By the time I got out to the street the whole event was done.  I called a few folks to let them know what happened.  I told them I was part of the cops’ official ‘Catch and Release’ program. It kinda bummed me out that I missed the rally”.
Another Occupier adds, “It really pisses me off that they stole our fire pit and wood.  We need that stuff.  Now were gonna have to go through who knows what to get it back.   I checked this morning and found that the ordinance they charged him under states one must only show ID when found to be committing a crime or about to commit a crime.
“I couldn’t find any City of Superior ordinances that said anything about fires.  If the Superior fire department follows the WI Fire Codes, which they probably do, then a recreational fire on public property is not illegal.  I’ll do some more research before the court date”.
An Occupier reminds us, “Speaking of our marvelous judicial system, the Duluth 7 will be going to court this upcoming Thursday.  There will be a support rally for them at noon in front of the St Louis County Court House”.
A well-known and well respected local musician who has occasionally visited our fires arrives. He says he only stopping in for a minute and asks, “Did any of you go to see Bernie Sanders? I had a gig so couldn’t go”.  We tell him no, none of us attended.  We chat a bit and then our musician friend leaves.
One of the Occupiers comments, “I suppose there are a lot worse politicians than Bernie but I just don’t trust anyone from the Democrat or Republican parties”.
Another replies, “He has a few really good ideas but seems to be lacking in some areas.  I’m unclear where he stands on the whole Israeli Occupation but I hear he supports BDS.  I also think he’s too cozy with the ‘Merican war machine”.
An Occupier exclaims, “There were many local media pieces about yesterday’s rally.  Did you notice they all included the Enbridge official statement that we progressives are the ‘vocal minority’ and most of what we say is false?  They go on to say, ‘The people of the Twin Ports realize Enbridge is good for the community’.
“I don’t watch commercial TV but I’m told Enbridge just plasters the air waves with commercials about how wonderful they are.  Of course never mentioning what it is they really do”.
Another Occupier agrees, “Oh yeah, they have tons of commercials.  So does Polymet. Polymet even sponsors the big hockey tournament up on The Range”.
The first Occupier sighs, “And the majority of the community who don’t really know us are continuously told how violent we are.  Of course there’s no evidence of that because we are SO not violent.  I guess they do that because they can’t kill us all without looking bad.  At least not yet anyway”.  We all laugh.
Someone says, “Before I forget, I spoke with the main homeless outreach worker today.  She told me CHUM doesn’t close at 4pm anymore, it’s open until 6pm.  She also said that if a person who hasn’t been banned arrived late and really needed to be able to sleep there, they could call the outreach number (461-8505).  The outreach workers will try to get the person a bed.
“Also, we need to remind everyone that the Superior organizer is holding the first Forum on Racial and Cultural Understanding at the Superior Public Library on February 2nd noon – 2pm. Childcare will be provided”.
An Occupier remarks, “I think it’s so cool how we progressive types are from different cultures but we all get along”.
Another agrees, “Yeah, I know, like how in traditional Anishinaabe culture it’s considered impolite to say no.  When I’m working with a traditional person who I don’t know well and I ask them a question, sometimes they just don’t answer me.  I don’t know if they are saying no or if they didn’t hear me.
“I don’t want to be an idiot so I just go and ask one of my close Native friends what’s going on. They go talk to the traditional person and usually come back to tell me the answer is no but give me the reason why.  Then we all easily go on about our business.
“Of course, my Native friends who walk in both worlds have no problem telling me no whenever they need to”.  We laugh.   
The Occupier then says, “You know what?  I need to go home and get some sleep”.  She gets no argument from the others.
We check our pockets for spare change to put in the tip jar.  The jar is already very full.  It must have been a busy afternoon.  We stuff our few bucks in and head out into the unseasonably dull night air.
We hope to be a larger and more alert group by next Saturday.  If you join us, we could buy you a cup of coffee or some herbal tea or something.  You could bring homemade cookies….. Well, o.k. maybe not.  You never know though, an interesting conversation could happen.    

I got arrested today.

I got arrested today.  I didn’t hurt anyone or rob anyone or call anyone bad names or damage anything or threaten to damage anything.  I was calm and polite and did my best to cooperate in so far as I am able.  The officers stopped me from building a perfectly legal small safe campfire in a safe way in a safe place and with no one objecting to my proceeding except for the officers themselves.

To be fair they were very nice respectful officers who seemed to me to be more than a little embarrassed by having to arrest an old man who had only hoped to warm himself by a perfectly legal small safe campfire.  I understand they are public employees doing a difficult job under stressful circumstances and my own safety depends on them.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been thankful on the streets of Duluth for an officer’s presence.  I do some social activism for the poor and homeless on the streets and my safety depends upon the calming of lots of hurt, damaged, and troubled human souls who have been shoved to life and death margins on the streets of our cities.  Some have even been driven to what I can only describe as purposeless violence which surely must deserve some psychiatric diagnosis.  But I am not qualified for that.

I am qualified to build small, safe campfires for warming and cooking purposes, and I have read every law and code and ordinance there-to pertaining, aside from having built probably thousands of such fires in my life off the grid.  That life is over for me now but I remember the utility and practice of small safe fires.  The fact is the law specifically forbids the imposition of regulation on this type of fire.  No one has to ask for a permit to warm themselves or to cook their food.

The fire department and the city parks department is right to be concerned about the building of any fire that is a danger to public safety.  Fires which are too large or are built near combustible materials or threaten to cause damage to property should indeed be suppressed in any safe community.  In fact, this is so strong an idea that the necessary conditions for a small safe fire are set down in the law and are not a matter of anyone’s opinion.  That law descends to us through the state and national fire codes and safety standards, which are word for word the same as that found in international codes as well.  Each of those sources states clearly that small safe fires are not to be subject to any regulatory permitting procedure.  Any person who needs a small safe campfire for warmth or food and who is capable of building such a fire in a good way with good fuel is actually protected by public law, and law enforcement officials have no jurisdiction to enforce imaginary laws against them.  So I assert, and it may be we shall see.

The question of the fire is actually the lessor one in my opinion.    More important to me is the question of officers trying to enforce not law, but their own opinions.  I believe my arrest was a case in point.  The nice officers may have decided my fire threatened somehow a danger to someone and so required their attention.

They told me I looked like I was about to ignite an illegal fire.  I explained to them that my intent was to light a small safe campfire which is perfectly legal.  They asked for my identification.  I asked if I was breaking a law.  They assured me that my fire was illegal by city ordinance.  I asked for the number of the ordinance so I could look it up.  They didn’t know of any.  So I asserted my right to a small safe blah blah blah campfire.  So they arrested me.  So.

They searched me of course.  My ID was in the wallet I generally keep in a zipped pocket.  They opened my wallet and searched through it for my ID.  They found my drivers license and began asking me questions about my name and address and all of that.  I decided I needed a lawyer and explained to the officers that I did not intend to answer any questions without a lawyer.

Since the officers could think of no law under which I should be arrested, they decided that refusing to give an officer identification is an offence in Superior.  So the ticket I eventually received from the nice counter lady at the jail was under the title “OBLIGATION TO PROVIDE IDENTIFICATION TO A POLICE OFFICER” sic.  The paper said it was a violation of Ordinance 86-7.

You can google it yourself.  My reading of it is that an officer can ask for ID if there is a crime or violation of ordinance, or if it appears such a violation is about to occur.  The supposed violation justifying the ID check was the fire.  But there is no law or ordinance against my fire.  So they asked for my ID, on the basis that a violation was about to be committed.  But how can there be a violation of the ID ordinance if there is in fact no ordinance against my fire?

The nice officers acted in a strictly professional manner and I can honestly say that nothing they did caused me any more discomfort than is offered any other citizen in the hard plastic back seat cell of a squad car.  The fact is there just is no way a person could sit comfortably there, even without the handcuffs.  Not only is the seat hard plastic but so also is the part of the cage in front of you, and I, at least, could find no way to ease myself in there without over-stressing joints, tendons, knees and elbows, nor either was there a way to keep my backbone perpendicular to the seat, but had to ride one hip or the other in turns, with the old disks grinding.  Luckily for me it was a short if uncomfortable ride.

What happens next?  I go to court in Douglas County Wisconsin on February Tenth.  I will submit a condensed form of this story to the judge and ask that the charge be dismissed.  I expect that is what will  happen.  Of course, I am open to any suggestions……

BTW I have no way of knowing who reads this or what they may think of it, unless you leave a little happy heart or a raspberry or something.  Please do.  It does get lonely sometimes in this big dark place.  Thanks.


G.A. Minutes 1-23-16

G.A. Minutes 1-23-16
We’re happy to see that the lights are on at Coney Island as we begin arriving this evening.  Last Tuesday we found everything dark and a sign on the door apologizing for needing to close early.  We figured the afternoon guy just didn’t show up for his shift again.  The day guy gets really pissed when that happens.  Can’t blame him for that.
Everyone is wearing winter coats tonight but minus the hats and gloves.  There’s been a reprieve from the dead of winter; it looks like temperatures will be in the 20s and 30s for the next week or so.  We expect to go back into the deep freeze again in February but with climate change becoming more noticeable every year, we can’t be sure.
As we wait for more Occupiers to arrive, the Occupier recently arrived from the east coast tells us stories about her many years spent in homeless outreach.  She’s led a very interesting life.
As the conversation morphs into the topic of homelessness in Duluth, we tell her about the CHUM main homeless shelter.  She is shocked at hearing the many rules homeless people must follow in order to be allowed a space at CHUM. 
“So if it was winter and for some reason or other I was unable to make it to the shelter until after 4pm then I would not be allowed in?  I’d have to fend for myself in the cold?” she asks.
“Well yeah, you would if you hadn’t stayed at CHUM the night before.  If you had stayed the night before then you would have until 9pm to get back in,” we answer.
“CHUM is pretty big on the ‘homeless ones taking their own personal responsibility’ idea.  It’s pretty much a one size fits all situation.  Of course, that works out better for some folks than for others”.
The east coast Occupier is shocked.  The rules at homeless shelters back east are not as strict.  Another Occupier explains, “Yeah, that ‘MN Nice’ that you hear about is real. It can really bite you in the ass”.
The Occupier who has written the letter to the Duluth News Tribune arrives.  We pass around copies of the letter.  Everyone thinks it’s very good.  We’re not surprised as he’s an excellent writer.  He agrees to make one minor technical change and then send it in right away.  He figures it will take the DNT a month or so to actually print it.
Another Occupier has agreed to write a letter to the Reader.  She passes around a copy of a rough draft.  She tells us, “right now I’m just working with word count and a general tone.  The actual letter might not turn out like this.  Considering all the things we have going on, it’s going to take me a while longer but I’ll get on it as fast as I can”.
An Occupier tells a funny but sad story.  He’s been aware of a homeless person sleeping in the basement of his apartment building as of late.  The Occupier is busy working and raising three children so hasn’t had time to interact with the basement sleeper.  He had planned on just letting the guy go on about his business.
However, the basement contains storage units belonging to each of the apartment building residents.  This morning the Occupier noticed all the storage units had been ransacked.  The homeless guy was the culprit. 
The Occupier comments, “I felt really bad but my storage has a lot of my life memories in it.  I kind of know this guy though so I know he’s not gonna leave my stuff alone just because I ask him to.  I had to call the police to get him to stop”.
It turns out basement sleepers’ name is Bernie Sanders.  The Occupier has to call the police and tell them Bernie Sanders has been sleeping in his basement and the Occupier wants him to leave.
When the cops arrive they think they’re “being had”.  Everything turns out o.k. in the end though.  Bernie Sanders has a particular classification that will get him immediate help for his homeless situation.  The Occupier agrees to assist the cops in making sure the guy gets housed ASAP.
We make a few lame jokes about why Bernie Sanders may have come to town a little early.  These jokes do not deserve to be repeated.
The next 2 days will be taken up with Stop the Enbridge Invasion events.  We will all be going to the traditional Anishinaabe drum ceremony and feast tomorrow, 5pm at Peace Church.  After the feast we will participate in direct action training in preparation for the rally and march on Monday, January 25th starting at noon in front of the Douglas County Court House in Superior WI.
An Occupier states, “I was at a small meeting in Superior last week.  One of our friends was saying Enbridge recently held a meeting for the general public of Superior. About 150 people showed up and almost every one of them was opposed to the Enbridge pipelines.  Of course, there was no mention of this fact in the media”.
Another Occupier asks, “Did you hear that our friend, the Native spiritual advisor, is going to run for County Commissioner of District 3?”  Someone replies, “Oh good. Most of the County Commissioners are serious rednecks and they have a lot of power.  It would be such a relief to have another person of good character in one of those seats”.
“I have some bad news”, an Occupier tells us, “I have it on good authority that a particular Deputy Police Chief will soon be offered the temporary position of interim police chief as soon as Chief Ramsey leaves”.
Everyone groans.  Somebody responds, “Oh no!  That will be terrible!  He will be completely opposite from Chief Ramsey.  He does a good job of speaking on camera and in public but behind closed doors he tries to intimidate regular folks.  He’s a bully”.
Another adds, “You can forget about cops being required to treat poor and/or homeless with any kind of respect.  I know they don’t actually do it much now but they’ll be much worse under that particular Deputy Chief.  We need to find out what we can do to bring this fact to light.  I’m sure we’re not the only ones who feel this way”.
An Occupier states, “Sorry to change the subject but remember the Duluth 7 go back to court on Thursday, January 28th.  There will be a support rally at noon in front of the St. Louis County Court House.  Those folks were brave to offer themselves up for arrest at our last Stop the Enbridge Invasion.  We need to be there to back them up as they decide to plead guilty or not guilty”.
Several hours have passed and our attention is beginning to wander.  As we speak, a major winter storm is descending upon the east coast.  The Occupier from the east comments that the past 3 or more winters in New England have produced more snow than ever before.  She asks if Duluth is having normal winter weather this year.
We tell her that we don’t actually know what is normal anymore.  The conversation moves on to indigenous prophecies around the world, sustainable agriculture, eating food native to ones’ locale and climate change refugees.
An Occupier exclaims, “Well, you know the good old slogan of ‘Merika……  ‘We don’t HAVE refugees, we MAKE them’”.
There’s a different guy at the counter tonight.  It’s 8pm but he doesn’t lock the door or anything.  Maybe he doesn’t know he’s supposed to close?
We talk a while longer then decide to call it a night.  We’ll be hooking up for the next 2 days and then, providing that the staff shows up, back here again on Tuesday.

G.A. Minutes 1-12-16

G.A. Minutes 1-12-16
We are now beginning the dead of winter.  As far as we know this happens every year.  Even though we all have warm homes this year, we still complain.  Our homeless ones don’t have time to complain; they’re busy doing whatever it takes to survive.
Every year some of our homeless ones don’t make it; they’re found frozen to death somewhere.  The homeless outreach people bust their butts trying to find all the homeless ones.  They never completely succeed. 
Some of our citizens, who have the means to provide buildings with homes for everyone, hear about the frozen ones.  They click their tongues, “Tsk, tsk.  So sad, so sad”.  Most don’t do anything else though.   They just wait until next year then make their noises again.  Christmas is over you know.
The first Occupiers arriving at Coney Island are bundled up from head to toe.  They disrobe, order food and slide into the big back booth to wait and see if anyone else will arrive. 
The Occupier who is recently arrived from the east coast has been a Catholic Worker for much of her life.  While waiting for others to arrive, she tells those present a little about what C.W. is about.
She says, “Basically C.W. is about following the teachings of Jesus Christ.  It’s not about following all the rules and customs of the Catholic Church but about following Jesus.  You know, like not going after material things but ‘doing unto others as you would have them do unto you’, ‘love your neighbor like you love yourself’, stuff like that.  Lately there’s also been a lot of emphasis on supporting sex trafficked people”.
When she has finished talking, another Occupier comments, “I think this is really good music the staff is playing over the sound system.  They’re playing KUMD.  The DJ who does the Tuesday night show on KUMD lives in our artist co-op”.  Everyone agrees the music rocks.
Several more Occupiers and our friend, the City official arrive.  They’re bundled up too.
After everyone is settled, an Occupier reports, “I’ve received an email response from the writer who writes articles for the Reader.  If you remember, he was recommended to us as someone who might be willing to do a story about our fire at Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial.  He said that he was pretty sure the editor of the Reader would not accept an article about this topic.  He suggested we try submitting a letter to the editor in the Inbox column.  Apparently the Inbox is more accommodating concerning subject matter”.
She turns to the Occupier who is tasked with writing and says, “If you write the letter to the Duluth News Tribune, I’ll take a shot at writing to the Reader”.  The Occupy writer agrees.
An Occupier exclaims, “It really chaps my hide that our government and our so called leaders don’t follow the laws they expect us to follow.  They just do whatever they want and then act horrified when a citizen steps up and points out what they’re doing”.
Another Occupier adds, “Yeah, the cops and the fire department do that too.  It’s like they’re just another gang.  I can’t tell who the leaders are and who the criminals are”.
An Occupier finds it necessary to apply for a few government benefits to get through a time of severe poverty.  This Occupier talks about the serious difficulty getting a social service worker to even answer the phone.  Everyone has a similar story to tell.  We take turns.  Someone states, “It’s like the main thing they’re concerned about is that someone may get a few extra bucks they’re not technically or legally entitled to”.
Another Occupier agrees, “Yeah, and in the meantime really needy people become homeless or die because they can’t get access to their life saving medications”. 
Someone mentions the fact that our good MN state senator is not going to seek reelection for the next term.  Two well-known local politicians have applied to run for the senator’s position.
An Occupier sighs, “I’m not sure which one of these candidates I should vote for”.  The City official suggests, “Just take a close look at which one has done the most for the poor and other marginalized people in our city.  If you look closely you will find the answer is quite obvious”.
The newly arrived Occupier observes, “Before I arrived here I had always thought Duluth was a very progressive city.  Now when I look at the statistics and watch people’s daily lives, I see it’s not very progressive at all”.
The City official concurs, “Yes, you are correct.  Did you know that the unemployment number for Duluth’s white population is 3 to 4% while the number of our black citizens who are unemployed is 22%?
On another topic, he continues, “By the way, I want you folks to know that a coalition is being formed with the objective of holding the new mayor and city council accountable to their campaign promises.  Meaning the promises they made about truly paying attention to the needs of our city’s most marginalized citizens”.
The hipster guy, who appears to be staffing the place by himself, begins clearing off the salt and pepper shakers from all the booths.  Then he starts mopping the floor.
An Occupier looks at the clock, “Oh crap!” She says, “I hadn’t noticed how much time had gone by.  Just let me hip you to a few things before we go.  The Superior Organizer is holding a pre-meeting concerning the next Stop the Enbridge Invasion action.  It will be on this upcoming Saturday in Superior from 3p-5p.  I’m gonna go, anybody who wants to ride with me just say so.
“When that meeting is done, I will pick up everyone who needs a ride and we can shoot over to Peace Church for the Jamin With MLK event.  I want to get there as close to 6pm as possible because I’m going to be good and hungry.
“Also, the Superior Organizer will be holding the first Community Forum on Racism and Cultural Understanding on February 2nd 12p-2p at the Superior Public Library”.
Our friend, the City official inserts, “WPR will be recording some Town Halls on the same subject.  I don’t know the times or dates yet though”.
Now it’s really time to let the accommodating staff person go home.  We’ll be at Peace Church on Saturday then back here at Coney Island next Tuesday.

And another thing…

Sometimes I wish the bureaucracy would let us alone to do our actions and have our public meetings and talk freely in a public place with as simple a human amenity as a small clean wood fire suitable for cooking or heating at any public park, if such an installation is available in steel or stone, and regardless if a citizen wants to build said small entirely legal fire in a device suitable to holding and containing any coals or ashes such that no permanent trace is left of where the fire has been.

Yes, it would be pleasent to avail oneself of warmth, hot beverages and food in public spaces large enough for an open discussion of current civic, political, and social issues.  But I don’t have access to such a space in my personal life, and access to relevant public spaces nearby is denied to our group by large armed police officers and suitably equipped fire crews, who come at the order of “some people in our town” who don’t want a fire at a publicly owned memorial.  More properly, I would venture our group believes “some people in our town”  don’t want at all any mixed groups of people gathering at a memorial for social and potentially political conversation with the neighbors, a chance to meet and get to know the people we ordinarily encounter only in passing on our streets.  If we give in to “some people” on our right to have a safe legal fire, they next will say we cannot share food, and if we give them that, they will say we can not smoke a cigarette or burn fragrant herbs for smudge.  They will go so far as to ban loitering if we make no protest. There  have even been suggestions to fence the memorial in, which is to fence ordinary neighborhood people out.


It doesn’t matter that the law is carefully written to express that simple clean fires for heating and cooking purposes do not require a permit in public parks and other public spaces.  The legality of such fires is not decided by the law, but by the opinions of “some people in our town,”  backed up at public expense by emergency personnel, even though there is no demonstrated emergency at all.


G.A. Minutes 1-9-16

G.A. Minutes 1-9-16
There are only 3 Occupiers present for tonight’s meeting and they are all absolutely insane. The reason we know this is because the temperature at 6pm is 4 degrees with a strong, biting east wind.
No one in their right mind would be out on a night like this.  Unless, of course, one is homeless and banned from the CHUM and other shelters.  We’ve been told CHUM will not start admitting everyone, regardless of their standing among the homeless ranks, until temperatures reach 20 below.
We hurry to the back booth, removing our coats quickly so as to get the chill off of us.  There’s a different hipster guy working the counter tonight.  He’s pleasant and brings us hot coffee right away.
An Occupier comments, “We rocked the Idle No More/Northwoods NDN Taco Sale yesterday, didn’t we?  There’s discussion going around about possibly having 2 sales a month.  One would be for INM/NWA and the other for All Nations.  People really like NDN tacos so they work well for fundraising”.
A man who we don’t know is sitting at a table in an electric wheel chair.  He rolls over to us and strikes up a conversation.  He says he’s lived in Duluth since 1990.  He says the biggest difference he finds in Duluth, as opposed to other places he’s lived, is the strength of the women.  “Man, if you do something to piss a woman off in this town, she’ll just haul off and punch you so hard you’ll be knocked out”.
The female Occupier present tonight decides to just let that one slide.  She thinks it’s not worth the effort it would take to make an objection.
One of the Occupiers explains to the guy that we’re having an Occupy meeting.  The guy tells us if we’re about making the world a better place we could get better bus service from Superior to Duluth.  We know that the bus between the 2 cities is very poor.
The guy continues, “I’ve gone to talk with the head of the bus company in Superior several times.  The head guy showed me all sorts of charts, pictures and plans he’d drawn up and presented to various government departments heads and to the Superior City Council.  These things were really good ideas for improving bus service but apparently the City of Superior refuses to put any money into improving public transit”.
We chat a bit more with the guy in the wheelchair.  Then it’s 6:45pm and he has to go and catch the last bus to Superior.
So now it’s down to business, more or less.  An Occupier asks, “So did anybody come up with a draft of a letter to the editor?” No one has.  One Occupy offers to take on the task.  We’re delighted as this Occupier is a skilled writer.
An Occupier states, “A letter in the Duluth Tribune and/or the Reader will be a good first step in exposing the abuse and lack of fairness commonly practiced by many of our so called City officials”.
Another Occupier replies, “It looks like this kind of behavior from government officials is the new normal across the country.  When regular citizens point out illegal and abusive goings on, the officials just ignore them and keep on doing what they’re doing”.
The minister from the storefront church down the street from the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial walks in.  His entrance proves that he’s crazy too.  We wave and he waves back.
An Occupier says, “I suppose you’ve heard Roger Reinhart isn’t going to run for reelection as state senator for our district 7 and that Sharla Gardner and Erik Simonson have both filed to run for the seat? 
“Well, this could be interesting.  We know Sharla has always been supportive of our fires.  I wonder if there will be an opportunity for any of us to attend a question and answer session with both candidates.  I’d like to hear Erik explain why after being shown all the laws which support the legality of our fire, he still told us we weren’t allowed to have it.  I wonder what Sharla would say in response?”
Another Occupier postulates, “I’d like to know why Erik did what he did too.  Looking back, when we met with him in mid-November, I suppose he already knew he was going run for the senate seat and didn’t want to ruffle the feathers of any wealthy campaign donors”.
Somebody asks, “So what’s going on with the mayor of Superior these days”.  Someone else answers, “Did any of you listen to that radio interview with Mayor Hagen and the guy who’s the head of our area Islamic Center?”  No one has.  She continues, “Well it was boring and I had to suffer through a whole hour in order to hear everything.  Mayor Hagen seems to have all the basic Republican lame ass ideas about never sincerely admitting to a wrong.  He says he will never resign as that would mean showing weakness.  He says that although he knows he suffers from depression, he’ll never go into any kind treatment as that is for movie stars and others willing to admit defeat.  He had no clue as to the deeper issues surrounding his Facebook faux pas.
“The Islamic guy was smarter but he just kept saying that Islam is a religion of peace.  If he would have elaborated a little, it could have been interesting.  Anyway, our friend the effective Superior organizer is trying to set up some town hall forums in order for Superiorites to discuss racial issues.  I’m going to try to go to the forums; I think all of us who are able should attend. However, we will need to stay far away from any limelight as if people see we’re from out of town that could open up our friend to charges of outside agitation”.
An Occupier inquires, “I’m going to apply to be on the board to interview candidates for our new chief of police position.  Do you guys want to do that too?”  The others groan and shake their heads no.
Another asks, “Has anything new happened today with those right wing dudes who have taken over a nature center in Oregon?  Someone explains, “Well they’ve been crying a lot, they’ve run out of ‘snacks’ and one of their guys stole all their money and went on a drinking binge.
Someone else comments, “What a bunch of whack jobs!  That white privilege stuff is coming out of their ears. They think all of nature and the animals and such can just go to hell. Apparently the earth was created for ranchers and hunters”.
An Occupier jokes, “Yeah, I guess that stuff is written in the Bible or the Constitution or something”.
On that note, we put on our coats and stuff and dash out into the freezing cold.  We’ll be back here on Tuesday.   

G.A. Minutes 1-5-15

G.A. Minutes 1-5-15
It looks like we’ll be having a full house tonight.  Most of the Occupiers fill the back booth at Coney Island; others sit in chairs that spill into the walkway.  We think this won’t be a problem as this neighborhood café generally has few customers in the evenings.
An Occupier who has recently relocated from the east coast comments, “The winters in Duluth are similar to the winters back east.  Inconvenient but not particularly dangerous”.
We agree, we’ve been having unusually calm weather so far this winter but we expect our local climate will enter the danger zone before long.  The weather people are forecasting temperatures below zero by the weekend.
Every year some of our homeless ones freeze to death due to inadequate shelter.
An Occupier asks if anyone attended the mayor and city councilors’ inauguration event on Monday night.  If so, what did they think about it?
Another Occupier answers, “I did.  It was at the DECC and the place was really packed.  Our new mayor, Emily Larson, gave a speech where she emphasized her desire to serve our most marginalized citizens. 
The first Occupier replies, “I really hope she is for real.  Duluth residents who don’t have high incomes have been ignored for far too long”.
One of the Occupiers who lives nearby, in the Graysolon Plaza, reports, “Enbridge is moving into our building.  They’ve rented some offices and Sherman Properties, our management company is bending over backwards to accommodate them.  They’ve even removed some of our building security measures so Enbridge employees won’t be inconvenienced when entering the building”.
Another Occupier adds, “I’ve had to deal with Sherman Properties in the past.  They really suck.  I’m betting they are scheming to rid Graysolon Plaza of all the low income residents who were living in Graysolon when they bought the building.  Sherman is all about gentrification”.
The Occupier who lives in Graysolon continues, “Our resident union is really pissed.  We’re worried too.  The building contract with Section 8 low income guidelines will be in effect for 16 more years.  When that time is up, we’re certain Sherman will refuse to renew anything having to do with low incomes.  They’ll remodel a little and then rent to ‘more deserving tenants’.
Someone comments, “I’m betting Sherman will try to get rid of the low income tenants before the Section 8 contract is finished.  They pull a lot of really dirty tricks”.
An Occupier changes the subject, “Speaking of Enbridge, I was in touch with MN 350 yesterday.  They want to have a Stop the Enbridge Invasion march and rally in Superior, WI on Monday, January 25th at noon. There will be a planning session and feast at Peace Church on Sunday, January 24th, at 3pm.
 Idle No More/Northwoods Wolf Alliance will be doing a lot for this event so of course, they’ll need our help”.  Another Occupier interjects, “If it’s not snowing or raining, we could bring our puppet, Two Face”.
The first Occupier asks, “So do you want to join in and help with this event?  We all answer, “Hell yes!”
The Occupier who likes to read poetry reads us a poem.  The name of the poem is Kindness. It’s very good.
An Occupier tells us, “When I was in the 6th grade we had a social studies book that told us, as Americans, we could expect to go anywhere in the world and be treated with respect and deference.  This was because we were Americans”.
Another Occupier states, “Yeah, when I was in grade school we had a history book that referred to Native Americans as ‘savages’”.
Changing the subject again, someone reports to the Occupiers who weren’t at the last meeting, “Last Tuesday we were talking about all the events that will be happening during the MLK celebration, January 14th – January 18th.  We thought it would be a good idea to attend Jammin for MLK in a group like we did last year and then we could each attend the other events as we are able.  Does that sound o.k.?”
Everyone agrees it is o.k.  An Occupier adds, “I can’t wait for the march on January 18th.  I’m all over that!”
Somebody reminds us that we are needed to help out with the INM/NWA NDN Taco Sale on Friday.
The east coast Occupier says, “I’d really like to know what the plans are for the restarting of the recreational fires at the Clayton Jackson McGhie Memorial.  Spring is not long off you know”.
Another Occupier agrees, “Well, I think we need to get as much publicity about the fire issue as we can out to the general citizenry. 
“I’ve contacted 2 City Councilors who haven’t done much but the newly elected City Councilor for this district is currently studying the bazillion pages of documentation that I gave her.  I have a meeting with her scheduled for February 1st.
“I think we need an article in the Reader.  I’ve emailed one writer who was recommended by our Catholic Worker friend.  That writer hasn’t responded yet”.
An Occupier opines, “At this point we don’t know for sure when we’ll be able to start up the fire again.  Climate change is messing with the seasons, so who knows?  In the past we’ve started sometime in April”.
The Occupier who brought up the subject says, “We need to make plans for what we’re gonna do once the fire is started. Are we going to just restart the fire after the Fire Department leaves?  Should we be sure to have someone filming the fire and police officers if they try to close us down?”
Another Occupier replies, “The police and fire departments may not shut us down during the first fire.  They may be too busy on that night or they may be taken by surprise and have to wait for orders from their masters.  However, you are right.  We should start making plans now.
“We have a lot of supporters.  The homeless ones will probably be too afraid to stick around when cops appear but we have a lot of support from people who have homes.  We should start talking with them about needing their attendance at the fires when we start again.  Maybe we can get reporters to attend also”.
The clock on the wall says 8pm.  The guy who works the counter is mopping the floor.  He says, “I’m going to lock the door and turn off the signs but you guys are welcome to stay as long as you need to”.
We are sort of on a roll so we continue talking.  An Occupier asks, “What if the CJMM BOD gets the City Council to pass a resolution which says fires at CJMM are illegal?”
The Occupier who is tasked with studying all the legal stuff replies, “In order to get the City Council to pass a resolution, one first has to be sponsored by a City Councilor.  Then one goes before the agenda setting meeting and presents their proposal.  The City Manager takes the proposal and turns it into legalese.  The legalese is then taken back to the City Council to look at then….blah,blah,blah”.
The Occupiers have pained expressions on their faces; they cover their ears.  Another Occupier states, “O.K., so we know a resolution won’t be passed before April”.
Somebody suggests, “Maybe we could write a letter to the editor”.  Another answers, “I wrote a letter to the editor a while back.  It took a month or more from the time they received my letter until the time they published it”.
The first Occupier responds, “Well then we’d better get writing soon.  If we send it in a week or so it will be mid-February before it’s published”.
Another Occupier remarks, “A letter in February is a good idea.  It could get the issue into people’s awareness so when shit hits the fan some will know about the issue already.  Also, the letter could get a response from someone.  Wouldn’t it be great is someone answered with an ‘I hate homeless people’ answer?  That would really get the ball rolling.”    
The first Occupier asks, “So can everybody have at least an outline of what they would say in a letter and bring it to our next meeting?”  We won’t all be able to do that but some of us are willing to give it a try.  
Two young boys are sleeping in one of the smaller booths.  We didn’t notice them coming in.  They have a family resemblance to the guy who works the counter.  We think maybe they are waiting for him to finish so he can take them home.
Time to leave.  We’ll be back at Coney Island on Saturday.  Hopefully we’ll have some drafts of the letter.