I had already reached the conclusion intellectually, but it didn’t get to my gut until late last night. I was sitting on the wide steps in Civic Center Plaza amidst a heated discussion among about a dozen occupiers. Even with the electricity of our discussion coupled with all that had been put up during the occupation, something new and wonderfully addicting was being born. We were creating the beginnings of a new society right here in the shadow of City Hall, right here in the windy, cold corridors of San Diego power.
As you walk among the nearly 90 tents set up in the Plaza, and observe what the occupiers are actually doing, you can sense that a small town, a small village, has been created right in the bowels of our large city, right in the heart of its civic government. A village born in the middle of a city.
I looked around. People were in a food line, a constant figment of the occupation. The Food Tent was one of the first to be installed, and multiple tables were covered with boxes of food stuffs – lots of bread and rolls . Washing tubs stood nearby, along with bins for recyclables and trash. Stacked behind the tables were cases of water bottles and boxes of donated foods. Campers had been asked to bring their own plates, containers and utensils and most had.
Twenty yards away was the medical tent, and it even had a cot inside. A sign hung outside that announced: “The People’s Clinic”. The Medical Committee appears to be very well organized and that there was always some volunteer hanging out in its tent waiting to be of service.
From there, if you took a 90 degree turn to the west, you might run into the Voter Registration booth and tent, prominently set up so anyone walking by would see it.
People were in their tents, talking, reading, eating – you know, the things that people do when they’re home. Small groups sat in circles, sharing food, stories and laughter. A few children were visible. Here and there, someone fingered their guitars. And you cannot escape seeing the overall amazing diversity of the encampment. All colors and varieties of human folk.
Mingling with the humans were a number of very friendly dogs – all on leashes. I didn’t see any cats, however. I did pass the “Comfort” tent, where bins of donated clothing and blankets were being collected and displayed for the taking. Out of nowhere, two old friends appeared and strung up a Bulletin Board for the village. A hammock had been thrown up, hooked on sign poles, and someone had added a cardboard sign on the City pole with all the different destinations around the world that simply said “Occupy San Diego”.
I walked some distance and around the corner was the Library, with a large display of books and reading material. Everyone had been asked initially to bring a book to share, and the occupiers and their supporters had certainly responded. There were also stacks of DVD’s to view, magazines, and other literature for perusal. No library cards needed here – the check out policy is very liberal.
Up against one of the walls of the Quad was a string of tables under a tarp labeled “Media”. A live-stream camera was constantly on and a half dozen people sat behind their laptops.
Legal observers and Safety Committee people mingle about. Tonight it was quiet. But apparently that’s not always the case. The first night, a rock band played until 4 a.m. keeping some awake – and some of them had brought that issue to the General Assembly the next day.
There also had been an incident where some guys hung an anti-corporate sign on the Plaza’s fountain. There had been a brief stand-off between one police officer and a small angry crowd. But cooler heads prevailed and the man on the fountain was given a warning.
In general, the San Diego Police Department and its officers have been very accommodating to the protesters. Several break-off spontaneous marches of dozens of demonstrators have occurred since Saturday night and the police blocked traffic to allow people to take to the streets. Groups of 2 or 3 officers would stand by during the General Assembly or patrol the encampment during the night. Also about a dozen campers had placed their tents in an area that the police did not want them placed.
Today – Monday – there had been some rumors that police wanted to confiscate phones and other recording devices. Just rumors however according to Lt. Sean Murphy – who I just spoke to at 12:30 pm today. (I’m on the Police Liaison Committee.) Some occupiers are still worried that tomorrow, Tuesday, when City Hall is bustling again, there may be problems.
Late Monday morning, the occupation site was visited by the Fire Marshall, who told the occupiers that a 5 gallon propane tank near the kitchen had to go immediately. He also didn’t like all the cords and the generator either. But like everything else in this San Diego occupy movement, it will all be worked out.
And to top off the village atmosphere, we have our town hall meetings – the General Assembly – every night at 7pm. Before the GA meets, all the different committees are supposed to meet at 6 and report back to the large gathering. New people are encouraged to join one of the committees – where – we’re constantly reminded, the real work is. Tonight, for instance, there will be a Legal Observer training.
As Occupy San Diego enters its fourth day, the occupiers have been able to catch their breathe. When the Plaza was first taken over, the organizers were exhausted – many churning on just a few hours of sleep a night – and everything was all so new. And there were so many new people, new people who wanted to do something, who needed to go through orientation sessions, who needed to be integrated into the new structures created since the occupy San Diego movement had begun now almost two weeks ago. It had taken a few days on the ground for people to feel centered.
As the late night discussion echoed into the night, with some occupiers much more articulate at that hour than others – including myself – the dozen were joined by twenty more. So, from midnight to 1 am, there was perhaps three dozen occupiers debating the value and worth of the General Assemblies themselves, the consensus decision-making process, and what some had seen as a level of divisiveness that had sprung up recently.
Not until I had sat through much of the discussion did I understand the passion and intensity that some of the original organizers had for the consensus process, and how that process stands at the core of the occupation movement. We are so trained to not have our views heard, to have someone else make our decisions for us, that something like the consensus voting process is difficult to get your head around. New people who come to the nightly General Assemblies view it as clumsy, inefficient, and certainly frustrating. Yet, as a veteran organizer had said, it might take hours or even days to make a decision but once it’s made, it’s awesome because it represents everybody.
Several pointed out that everything up to now was the result of the consensus process – the 80 or so tents, the hundreds of people that were living in the new village, the marches, the huge, massive turn-out of support last Friday ….
At one point, a tall, young man blurted out: “I love you guys – all of you!” I smiled and shifted my weight on the hard steps. I looked around and the intensity was breaking up and people started moving off into the night.
The Occupy Village at the Civic Center is now moving through its fourth day – and tonight will be the fourth night. There is truly a remarkable scene developing here at Civic Center Plaza. A new village is being born right here in the shadow of the big city, and new ways of relating and talking with other each other are trying to take root in the sandy soil of San Diego.
You won’t read about it in the U-T, or see it on Channel 10News. But it’s happening, and you have to come down and get a taste of it yourself to really comprehend what is going on. Can you even imagine? San Diego? That sleepy, laid-back town? Something is happening – it’s happening in San Diego and it’s happening all over this country – right now there are a hundred and ten Occupy events taking place. At the moment, there’s 1383 communities either holding or planning their Occupy events. And it’s world-wide.
As I had spoken into the megaphone the other night during the GA, “this is the most democratic process that you have ever experienced in your life! We’re making history here by the hour!”