G.A. Minutes 5-21-19

G.A. Minutes 5-21-19

After being rained out last week, we’re back at Peoples Plaza this evening. It’s been raining a lot over the last few weeks and the weather people predict more rain for the next few days but tonight we’re being given a break. The sky is overcast, temperatures are in the mid-40s and the wind is unbelievable. The weather people said there was gonna be an east wind with gusts up to 40 miles per hour. They were not kidding; the gusts are blowing everything off the tables and knocking over some of the chairs too. We can handle this; we put rocks to hold the table things down and we sit in the chairs. It works; we realize the strong breeze is gonna burn up a lot of wood and sage but…… whatever.

When the first Occupiers arrive on the scene, they find the big guy from the Anonymous crew waiting to help unload the main supplies. Perfect; while the Fire Magician and the big Anon unload supplies, the Occupier, who brings most of the food, scours the flower beds for decent sized rocks. Soon a few others arrive, our small group now consists of a couple of Occupiers, the big Anon, an Anon/Water Protector and her elementary school-aged daughter, the no longer dreadlocked, persistently homeless young man who has attended our fire circles for several years, the African American guy from the neighborhood who drops by from time to time and a street woman we are meeting for the first time.

The Fire Magician lights the fire and the wind joins in, it shoots the flames way high up. The Anon/W.P. and her daughter have brought all the ingredients for the making of s’mores. They will fit nicely with all our usual food offerings; the young girl is having a great time toasting marshmallows, putting the s’mores together and passing them out to all the so-called grownups. This is her first time attending our fire circle; we’re betting she’ll ask her Mom to bring her again.

The big Anon asks one of the Occupiers, “I heard the cops gave you a citation on May Day; so what’s going on with that now?” The Occupier tells him, “Well I’m gonna plead not guilty of course. I have my first court date on Wednesday, May 29th. I don’t think I’ll need anyone to come with me for moral support as I think this will be just a meeting with the prosecutor. I’ll just bring copies of all the ordinances, statutes, fire codes and that type of stuff, show them to the prosecutor and take it from there. Then the prosecutor will say something to try and intimidate me and when I don’t flinch they’ll either dismiss the case or move it on down the line to wherever it goes next. You never can tell with The Suits, some are actually conscientious, professional people who try to be compassionate while following the law and some are mean, nasty, power-hungry sickos who will go to great lengths to get a person to do as they’ve been ordered to do.

“I know I have white privilege so I probably won’t have to do any jail time”. We all laugh and she continues, “I spoke with one of the court clerks the other day and she told me that my the fine for my violation, that in reality was not a violation, is $278. Give me a break! If a financially stable person gets a citation, they generally just pay the fine as it’s more convenient for them but, this is a major way that cops destroy the lives of poor people. They issue citations over really petty things just because they can. Even if the charges are eventually dropped, a poor person still has to show up, on time, to court which is not that easy if one needs to hustle up bus fare or try to get time off from their very low waged slave job. I mean, shit, slave jobs don’t acknowledge an employee’s right to anything. If the employee needs time off for any reason, the boss will just fire them. If the cited person happens to be homeless, they may not even receive the paper in the mail that tells them when they’re supposed to be in court.

“If the person who has been given a citation is unable to make it to court at the assigned date and time, a warrant for their arrest will be issued. Sooner or later a cop will run across the cited person, find they have an outstanding warrant and then take them to jail. That really fucks poor people up; they may miss very important appointments, be unable to pay their rent or have their children taken away by Child Protection Services. All this because, in many instances, some cop wanted to throw his/her weight around”.

A W.P. comments, “I’ve heard that cops have monthly quotas that specify the number of tickets they have to issue”. The Occupier replies, “I’ve heard that too but I don’t know if it’s true. The cops say they don’t have quotas but who really knows? Cops have been known to lie, you know”. An Anon incredulously exclaims, “No!?!?” Everyone chuckles.

The currently cited Occupier sighs, “I’m sorry to have to inform you all that things are getting even more precarious for our friendly little fire circle. I went to the monthly Planning Commission meeting last week because I’d been told that MN Power was going to inform the Commission about a new plan they had related to Peoples Plaza. An MP+L dude was there; he made a presentation, part of which, contained a plan to discontinue the public easement (vehicle entryway to Peoples Plaza) that goes in front of the MN Power building and then turns onto the Plaza. The dude made a point to say they’d be happy to open the entryway for the Christmas tree people and for the Farmers Market. After he was done, I went up to the mic and asked, ‘Well, if the easement is gone, how will all the other people who need to get their vehicles onto the Plaza be able to do that?’ One of the City people put a picture of the three big planters currently covering the entryway up on the big TV screen so I could easily show everyone in the room what’s been going on for over a year now.

“The Commissioners asked the MP+L guy for an answer; I could see that this really pissed him off. He runs up to the podium and growls, “They can ask us and we’ll let them in!” We all say, “Yeah, right”. The cited one continues, “So… now we have more shit that we’ve gotta do! All I can think of is that we need to ask ourselves and our supporters to email ALL of their City Councilors requesting that they NOT ALLOW MN Power to vacate the easement. I think that the official legal name of Peoples Plaza is Lake Superior Park West. MN Power is scheduled to present their marvelous new plan to the City Council on Monday, June 10th, 7pm at City Hall in the Council Chambers. I think we should start the emailing around June 1st. Also, we need to get a few people who are willing to speak to the Councilors in support of keeping the entryway open. I hate public speaking but in this case, I will do it. So, that’s all I can think of; if you guys have better ideas please step up, I can’t do this by myself”. We will all step up but first we need a little time to digest this new information.

Just as we begin our digestion, a group of Duluth police officers accompanied by two Duluth firefighters with big water tanks strapped to their backs come walking up the stairs. An Occupier mumbles to himself, “Oh crap! Not this again!” All the cops and firefighters appear to be just fresh outta high school. The cop who appears to be the lead one tells us (with a straight face), “Before you say anything I need to inform you that the laws have changed; you can no longer have a fire here”. An Occupier needs to turn her face away for a moment so that she doesn’t laugh; she responds, “Oh really? Who told you that the laws have changed?” The tells her, “Chief Tuscan and the City Council”. Seeing the skeptical look on the Occupier’s face, the cop continues, “Hey look, I’m just a grunt; I have to do what they tell me”. Someone opines, “I’m guessing the MN Power security guards called to illegally report us again”. The officer nods in agreement.

The Occupier pretends to empathize, “Oh I definitely get that. I’ve spent a large portion of my life having to bite my tongue while working with oppressive supervisors and such. I’m very happy to be retired”. One of the firefighters begins to absolutely drown our fire. Another Occupier laughs, “You must be trying to make up for May Day when your boss yelled at you for not putting it all the way out”. The fire dude smiles and nods his head to say yes.

The first Occupier gets the name and number of the lead cop, the rest of the cops just stand around like they’re watching some kind of training session. She attempts to get the same information from the one fire guy who doesn’t have a water tank on his back but he won’t answer her. None of the fire guys will admit to being the person in charge. Once the heroic deed is done and all government people prepare to leave, the lead police officer says to the first Occupier, “Thank you for being cooperative”. The Occupier nods her head to acknowledge that she heard him.

After they leave, the guy from the neighborhood interjects, “They sure is some dumb muthafuckas”. An Anon/W.P. groans, “So I guess we just sit here now until it gets too cold or until it’s dark”. An Occupier opines, “We need to find a way to stop this shit. If we just do nothing but jump through their hoops we’ll still be fighting this years from now”. The city official arrives; he looks around and asks, “So, they put the fire out again?!” We say. “Yup”. He exclaims, “This is not right!” An Occupier agrees, “I know, this needs to stop”. The city official and the Occupier step out of the circle; they are formulating a plan. To be continued……

The city official needs to leave as he’s not dressed for the kind of weather we’ve been left sitting in. A couple of young men from Natives Against Heroin stop in; a street woman who has attended our fires,off and on for many years follows close behind. They commiserate about our fire; we offer them bowls of soup. Our soup tastes mighty good in the cold weather; the cops and fire people didn’t even notice our little charcoal grill quietly burning away. The young girl and her mom warm their hands over the hot coals.

The Occupier who likes to report stuff reports, “By the way, the Indigenous Commission DOES want us to bring our fire to the Naming Ceremony at Gitchie Ode Akiing Park on Friday, May 31st at 1pm. Then, Socialist Pizza will happen on that same day at 6:30pm in the Women’s Building”. An Occupy elder remarks, “Imma help do the fire then go home and take a nap so I’ll be able to say something intellectual, if needed, at Socialist Pizza” We all crack up.

It’s getting dark now so we begin to pack up. We expect to be back at Peoples Plaza, with our fire pit, next Tuesday.

G.A. Minutes 5-7-19

G.A. Minutes 5-7-19

We are about to hold our first recreational fire of the year at Peoples Plaza this evening. As usual, the Fire Magician and the Occupier who brings most of the food are the first people to arrive. They notice that the big tree planters are blocking the vehicle entryway again; this forces them to park their vehicles up on the sidewalk in order to unload all the fire stuff. The food bringing Occupier exclaims, “Oh for christ sakes! The entryway was left open all winter and there were many vehicles driving on and off the Plaza the whole time we were gone. I suppose the MP+L security goons realized we were due to return soon so they ordered some maintenance workers to put the big planters across the entire entryway. The goons must think they’re still in jr. high”.

The Fire Magician replies, “I know, it’s such a drag that we and most of the rest of the people in the world have to fight tooth and nail to have even a few hours of actual freedom in our lives. I wonder why the Human Rights Commission hasn’t addressed our human rights complaint yet; we been waiting over half a year haven’t we?” The Food Bringing Occupier answers, “I think so, they’re meeting tomorrow evening at City Hall; I plan to attend and I’ll insist that they put our complaint next in line to be dealt with”.

So now, the old and battered Occupiers are faced with the job of hauling a shit ton of stuff up the stairs and across the Plaza. If they have to do it alone, it will take them at least an hour just to get everything over to the fire circle area. Never fear, another Occupier, several Anonymous peeps, the city official and many Water Protectors roll up. With everyone working together things get hauled and set up in about 15 minutes.

The weather is cold, cloudy, misty and kinda miserable. Strong gusts from an annoying east wind aren’t helping either. The Fire Magician gets a roaring fire going; that helps a lot. He also sets up a small charcoal grill which will keep a big pot of homemade tomato-rice and vegetable soup warm. A Water Protector/Anon provides a couple of different and very tasty hotdishes to go with all the usual stuff on the tables. There are deluxe PB+J sandwiches, pickles, chips, cookies and our semi-famous “stay awake forever” coffee. It’s early enough in the month that many homeless and/or street people are still relaxing in inexpensive motels or in some cases, drug houses. The few folks, who may not receive small government checks and are still out on the street, join us for a good meal, the warmth of the fire and the friendly and interesting discussion going on in the fire circle… Sweet.

An Anon reports, “In case you don’t already know, there’s going to be a No Line 3 rally right here tomorrow morning starting at 9 am. There will be an Enbridge shareholders meeting going on tomorrow in Calgary so there will be No Line 3 rallies across northern MN and Canada in all the places that are threatened by the planet-destroying Black Snake. The rally here is sponsored by the Sierra Club, MN 350 or Honor the Earth or maybe all three of them, I’m not sure, but I think it means that a lot of people will show up”. All of the fire-worshipers who are able will be there too.

An Occupier in a chair in the circle that faces the street sighs, “Don’t look now but I think we’re gonna have a replay of May Day”. Some W.P.s and Anons say, “What!?!”. An Occupier mutters under her breath, “Oh, fuck!” A couple of very young guys from the Duluth Fire Department come walking up the stairs; they have water spraying tanks strapped to their backs. The Occupier, who reports and records things, gets up and goes to greet them; in the most friendly manner she can muster she says, “Hey guys, what’s up?” The slightly older firefighter responds with the standard but false statement generally utilized by Duluth government types who have no idea what they’re talking about, “You can’t have a fire in a public park; the Plaza is a public park so you have to put your fire out. If you refuse to put it out then we have to put it out ourselves”.

The recording Occupier attempts to explain, “Actually, what you are saying is just not true. One CAN have a fire in a public park under certain circumstances and our fire complies with all those circumstances. Let me show you a copy of the City ordinance regarding fires”. The fire dude is not interested and tells her, “Let’s just wait until the police get here”. As if on cue, 2 cops arrive. The bigger and older officer is one half of a pair of brothers who are both on the Duluth police force; these brothers are the only African Americans in the DPD so they’re kinda famous. The other cop is a much younger white guy that we sort of recognize. Everyone who for various reasons, does not want to interact with the police, leaves the circle and quickly disappears. The older cop is friendly but still says, “People can’t have fires in public parks”. The explaining Occupier states, “I know that is a DFD policy but it is overridden by the City Ordinance, the MN Statute and the International Fire Codes”. She shows the officer copies of all these things; as they are chatting, the Occupier is surprised to see that the cop appears to actually be listening to her.

The older officer opines, “You know, this is really stupid; you guys aren’t doing anything wrong or causing any trouble. Let me call my lieutenant to see if we can fix this”. He gets on his phone; the recording Occupier turns to go back to the circle and sees that the firefighters have quickly snuck in, put out the fire and left. An Anon remarks, “They probably wanted to get back to the fire station so they could eat their dinner”. The big cop returns, looks around and says, “Wow, it’s really cold now; as soon as we leave just start your fire up again. We won’t be bothering you all anymore tonight”. He tells the younger cop, “Go into the MN Power building and tell the security people that this fire is on City property not MN Power property so they have no jurisdiction. Tell them we don’t like it when people call in frivolous reports”.

The cops leave, the Fire Magician cleans up the mess that the fire dudes made and starts up a fire again. Yes!!! Everyone crowds around it; we were all freezing. As the folks who needed to leave begin to come back again, an Occupier jokes to a couple of returning W.P.s, “The Revolution is over, we won and… YOU MISSED IT!” We all think that’s pretty funny.

A 40 something homeless guy, who has attended our fires regularly over the past few years, inquires, “So what happened on May Day?” Someone replies, “Pretty much the same thing that just happened here except there were a lot more people from all sorts of local progressive groups joining in the celebration. The weather was just as crappy as it is now but we had a good sound system, good music, and a big canopy tent over many tables full of food. Of course, we had our fire and a pot of soup heating on the little grill. Some folks went marching around the neighborhood and upon their return, about 20 Duluth cops and some from the Sheriff’s Department showed up. The lead cop was a real asshole. The recording Occupier agrees, “Yeah, he was definitely an asshole. I had forgotten to bring copies of all the relevant ordinances, statutes and codes but I gave him the appropriate numbers and info so he could look it up on his phone. He refused to do so; I asked him to call a supervisor but he refused to do that either. After asking him about 10 times he finally looked up the City Ordinance but then refused to read or interpret it properly. I hate having to deal with blockheads.

“Anyway, he said, “I really don’t want to issue a citation to anyone so if you guys put out your fire yourselves then I won’t have to give a citation to anyone”. We told him we would not put out the fire so he says, “Well, whose fire is this?” We know that game already; if we say it belongs to everyone (which it does) then the cops say that means it doesn’t belong to anyone and they confiscate it. I was the only Occupier who had never been issued a citation for anything up until then so I said the fire belonged to me. The asshole cop asked for my ID; I said I had to go get it from my car so he follows me all the way there. My ID was in my pack in the trunk and I noticed he was looking in my trunk and inside my vehicle. He didn’t ask to search my vehicle though, which was a good thing because I would have said no and we’d probably still be there arguing right now.

“Officer Asshole kinda changed his tune after he looked at my ID; he was definitely middle-aged but I imagine he noticed that I was 10 or 15 years older than him. He began speaking politely and acting friendly towards me but I couldn’t have cared less, he was still an ignorant jerk in my book. So he goes back to his vehicle to write the citation and I went back to the fire circle. The fire dudes had already put out the fire and left but they didn’t put it out completely and it was starting to flame up. Everyone was standing around in a circle with their backs to the fire; they were trying to shield it so the cops wouldn’t notice that it was still burning. No such luck, one of the cops noticed and they called the firefighters and told them to come back. When they returned a supervisor stood over a young recruit, instructing him exactly how to put out the fire. Hello? I doubt that anyone would need instructions on how to put out our little fire.

After that was done we were all freezing our asses off; the Anons still had their sound system on and a really rocking hip hop tune came on. The singer said ‘fuck’ every once in a while so Officer Asshole turned it off, saying, ‘you can’t play that vulgar language in public’. That caused one of the Anons to blow a gasket, and he said, ‘What about freedom of speech? What about the Constitution?’ The cops just ignored him and started to leave, then Asshole comes back again and I blew a gasket; I scolded him and said, ‘Now what? Whatdaya want now?!?’ He mumbled something and left.

“The rest of us just sat around for a few more hours, freezing ourselves to death because there was no way we were gonna let the cops think they could drop in and spoil our event whenever they felt like it. Some of us came down with colds from sitting in the cold, rainy weather for so long but that’s a small price to pay in order to defend our right to freedom of assembly and all that. I’m gonna take the fucking citation to court, plead not guilty, present all the laws that protect our fire and see what happens. I’ve already turned in a request to view Asshole’s body cam footage and I’ll file a complaint with the Citizen’s Review Board too. The so-called ‘powers that be’ are not gonna get off easy this time. So anyway, that’s what happened on May Day”.

Another Occupier adds, “Yeah, May Day was quite a fiasco this year. I had to go pick up my kids so couldn’t stay around for the freeze your ass off part but damn! There sure were a lot of cops that day; most of them were just standing around sorta not knowing exactly why they were there. It was only Officer Asshole running around trying to make a big deal outa nothing.

“I wasn’t able to make the 1 Year Anniversary of the Husky Oil Refinery Explosion and Fire event; how did it go?” A W.P. states, “It went really well, a good bunch of people showed up at the former Enbridge building that’s across the street from the jail and County Court House in Superior. Winona LaDuke was there too with the big Honor the Earth decorated bus and many HTE folks. The local media was there and some of us gave speeches and interviews about how Husky needs to get rid of that hydrogen fluoride tank and replace it with something safe”. An Anon interjects, “Better yet, they should close down the refinery and get the hell offa our land!” The W.P. agrees, “For real. So once the rally was over everyone took various modes of transportation out to a boat landing in East End; I think it was on the Nemadji river. It was nice and quiet; the Occupiers had a fire going and some food and coffee. Peeps from the Honor House showed up with a big pot of soup and a chocolate cake; one of our good traditional friends from the Fond du Lac Rez brought a bunch of tipi poles and showed everyone how to put them up and take them down.

“After a while one cop showed up but he was acting all laid back and chill”. An Occupier concurs, “He was, wasn’t he? I went over to chat with him; he was a sergeant or something. He said that he got a frantic call from his supervisors demanding that he get out to the boat landing right away to see what we were up to. He told me, ‘I don’t see what the big deal is; you guys have a rally or something, speak your mind to get your message across and hopefully get on TV then you leave and go on about your business and we go on about our business too’. He went on to tell me about members of his family who had worked for Husky or Enbridge and then came down with serious illnesses. Apparently, anyone who gets a job working hands-on for Enbridge has to sign a waiver promising not to sue Enbridge after they retire. Most of the retirees come down with some rare and deadly type of cancer within a few years of retiring. He also confided, ‘I’ve noticed that all the Enbridge people are just TERRIFIED of you guys’. As he left he said, ‘A lot of people are gonna be really pissed about you guys being here. After all, this is where the teenagers come to have sex’.

Everyone laughs. The Occupier who reports things reports, “They’ve finally officially decided when the Naming Ceremony for Gitchii O’de Akiing Park is gonna be. Friday, May 31st at 1 pm; I still don’t know if they want us to bring our fire or not. I’ll find out in plenty of time to be ready, I hope”.

It’s getting late and we think we should pack up; tomorrow morning at 9 am will arrive very soon. Some of us live a little ways outside of Duluth and will sleep over at the houses of those of us who live nearby so as to make it to the event at the Plaza on time.

We start packing up; once the fire is put out, we realize just how really flipping cold it is outside. So even though most of us are already tired, the cold air gets us moving quickly. We expect to be back at Peoples Park next Tuesday.