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Dispatch: On Last Night’s Eviction of Occupy Buffalo

This morning, AV received this letter fro Dr. Michael O’Brien, who witnessed the eviction of Occupy Buffalo from Niagara Square late last night:

Last night, I acted as facilitator for Occupy Buffalo’s General Assembly held immediately before our 11pm press conference aired live on Channel 4, YNN, and other local stations, explaining why we could not sign a contract with the City of Buffalo that would have required a decampment on March 8.

Three hours after this peaceful assembly, the Buffalo Police Department, on order of Mayor Byron Brown, stormed Niagara Square with at least 100 officers, riot gear, bulldozers, pepper spray, dump trucks, and a military-style tank emblazoned with “Buffalo Police Department” and within a few hours razed a community that had been built up over four months and had become the home of nearly 30 people. That night the police arrested 10 brave men and women sitting silently on the sidewalk.

At the GA last night, there were nearly 60 people of every race and religion and social class in Buffalo, everyone from people who struggle with poverty so deeply that they have no other homes than the tents they lived in at Niagara Square to students, artists, teachers, lawyers, and doctors—in other words, the 99%. We all sat in a circle, two hours before the agreement we had signed with the City in December, and had been told would be renewed, was set to expire. Earlier that day we had spent many hours of general assembly, facilitated by our brother Henry, deciding if we would agree to the city’s twisting of the previous agreement that stipulated that we would leave Niagara Square voluntarily by March 8, with a vague suggestion that the City might help us transition into a “new phase.” After long debate, the group could not come to consensus in regards to signing this new manipulation of the original offer we had with the City. It was understood then by everyone in the tent that, at least in the eyes of City Hall and the mayor, Occupy Buffalo was, at midnight on February 2, fair game for the type of brutal, excessive, forceful repression that we have seen acted against peaceful people’s movements from New York City to Oakland to Greece to Egypt. Henry was exhausted and emotionally drained. He asked someone else to take over facilitating GA. I had never facilitated a consensus decision-making body like this before, but I knew that now was the time to act, so I volunteered.

People often say that the Occupy movement is leaderless. In fact, Occupy and the 99% movement are leaderful. We are all leaders. We all have an equal voice. We make all decisions only by 95% consensus agreement. Every single person present at the assembly can veto any decision on ethical or moral grounds. The group decides on the agenda and who will act as the facilitator at the beginning of every general assembly. The facilitator’s job is simply to keep the discussion focused, ensure everyone who wishes to speak gets a chance to, and acknowledge a series of simple hand signals that allow people to ask questions, provide helpful facts, or quietly show agreement or disagreement with what is being said in an orderly way. 

We had only 30 minutes before we were to appear on the news live, to explain our decision. In that time the group, with each person equally adding their own thoughts and opinions, was able to come to 100% consensus agreement with no vetoes (or “blocks”) on the following statement:

“Unfortunately, we cannot sign the contract because, while we will continue to honor our previous agreement, City Hall has changed the terms mid-game. They have rejected their original agreement to extend the contract for two months. They want us to leave March 8th, three weeks before the original agreement. An end date was not in the original agreement we signed. Furthermore, they have changed their minds at the eleventh hour. You cannot put an end date on change. You cannot evict an idea whose time has come.”

And how quickly the City’s behavior changed. Within hours, after our group of peacefully assembled Americans had used a highly democratic process to express our refusal to be bullied by City Hall with deceitful tricks and politicking, the militarized Buffalo police attempted to destroy our suggestion for a new society. What they do not understand is that Occupy Buffalo and the global 99% movement, is bigger than these example tent villages. It is bigger than the occupation of space. It is a movement to fundamentally change the way ordinary people interact with their world, and save us from destroying ourselves with economic, ecological and military suicide.

I am the father of an infant son. Last night I saw firsthand two possible worlds that he may inherit. One was a world where people of a every race, religion, political ideology, creed, and socioeconomic status peacefully assemble together, provide for each other’s basic needs of food and shelter and camaraderie, and settle their differences through a peaceful process that hears everyone’s voice and gives everyone equal power. This is the world that is possible, if we embrace direct democracy and economic justice. 

I also tragically saw a world in which people with power use increasingly excessive, violent and militaristic force to keep themselves in power and refuse to give voice to anyone else. This is the corporate dominated planetary suicide that the banks on Wall St are trying to create; by buying off our politicians, polluting our ecosystem, creating the weaponry of warfare, and thrusting their austerity insanity into the face of humanity like a vampire squid.

Those of you reading this letter, you have a choice to make about what type of world you want to live in and your children to inherit. You can choose to live in fear of repression, pollution, corruption, debt, inconvenience, and now unfortunately the militarization of our local police forces. Or you can choose to be leaderful, powered by the fullness of your own heart, by that which you know is just and right, and take a stand. Now is the time to stand for justice. Now is the time to occupy your heart with courage and righteous indignation at the injustices around us. Another world is possible. Mayor Brown and his tanks and bulldozers cannot evict an idea whose time has come. 

 Michael O’Brien

I am the 99%, and so are you.

 


  • mike

    Sad story, but at least the one percent with jobs got some sweet sweet overtime pay last night.

  • Ken

    Funny, when the “Occupiers” swept into the square without warning, creating a tent city in the middle of the city I love, it was called a peaceful protest. When the Buffalo Police used their own tactics against them, it suddenly became “militaristic”. You are free to do what you want in the world. Knowing the risks and accepting them is part of the game. Deciding not to sign the agreement with the city was (or should have been) a calculated move, the group knew they would be evicted. They also knew without a permit, they would be loitering, and subject to arrest, the same as if someone came and set a tent up on their lawn without permission. Why are we continuing to play dumb? This was a poorly organized protest, with no clear goals or endgame. They offered no solutions to the problems they were protesting, they simply lived like a virus, taking food and water, and giving nothing back. My tax dollars went toward cleaning up that little project. So did yours. All because someone decided they wanted their own Vietnam.

  • Very well told, Michael. I think the world will always turn between love and strife, the two worlds you mentioned. But with clear content of the heart like this, your recap, and the restless actions of the Occupiers I believe your son will inherit at least a world of hope.

  • Cluade

    Those folks left in the square just looked bad! Not the face of a successful movement, more like TB carriers.
    Should have run a hose too, the square looks like shit.
    I am sure someone will comment on the “look” of the people and the place, but the reality is too much of Buffalo looks like shit, and these folks unfortunately didn’t create an obvious counter impression to the opulence of downtown Buffalo. (For those of you who are a little slow the “opulence” remark is an exaggeration. See Buffalo is crappy and not Wall Street or K Street, etc., it is shitty looking and this protest is a funny thing as it fails to stick out in the general feculence of the area. Making one wonder what they are all pissed about in Buffalo. Get it?)

  • Dan

    Ken:

    I hardly think the occupiers use bulldozers and pepper spray to build their encampment on Niagara Square.

    While I too have grown tired of the seeming lack of direction in the movement – the tactics used by city hall were completely uncalled for. It especially bothers me that they did it at 2 a.m. – when buses are no longer running. Where were these people supposed to go and how were they to get there?

    I have no problem with the City removing them from the Square – their permit was up. The tactics were barbaric and irresponsible, however – meant to be intentionally over-dramatic. To kick people out of someplace at 2:00am with no transportation available is a dangerous public health and safety issue. Shame on Mayor Brown and the BPD for allowing it to happen that way.

  • Ken

    Dan:

    There was no mention of the use of pepper spray, only that it was present. The police had guns, too. Is that a bad thing?

    Those were not bulldozers, they were frontloaders, and they’re used to clean up the city all the time. See “Buffalo Snowstorm” for examples.

    The Occupiers were evicted at 2am, their permit expired at Midnight. That means they should have been gone of their own volition AT MIDNIGHT. Since they were not, they were doing something illegal. They were therefore criminals, by definition. And we’re supposed to accomodate that behavior by making sure we evict them during business hours? I think not, my friend.

  • Ken

    Oh… and Dan? What about the Occupy protest was meant to be less than over-dramatic?

  • James H. Burnette

    Ken: You’d look good in a brown shirt with an arm band. Corporatocracies need men like you.

  • Jack

    I think the Occupiers lost sight of the fact that Niagara Square is a public park, not their personal playground. What gives them the right to dictate who belongs and what the code of conduct should be? They had no problem respecting the City’s authority when the Mayor basically ignored the law for their benefit. Now the Police are militaristic for arresting them as trespassers? This sense of arrogance and entitlement is why the average citizen is cheering today. I’m a fairly liberal person, but the leaderless and scattered approach to activism undercut the effectiveness and relevance of their message(if it ever had a singular message).

  • Chris

    @Cluade did you drive around the square prior to this movement? Byron Brown better start cleaning up the streets around HIS city hall. If you want to ruin your car, drive “the square.” But then again, doesn’t Byron get a ride to work and avoids all the potholes and street debris?

  • Why remove the Occupiers from in front of Buffalo’s city hall? Why wouldn’t event organizers allow the occupation movement to remain in place during the Winter Festival? Again, we are disappointed that City leaders missed yet another opportunity to showcase to the world the progressive forward thinking of most of the Queen cities citizens. In our collective opinions late night raids/removals, broken promises and a whole lot of “just following orders” by police in riot gear is not the proper way to handle things in a democratic society. Again, just another wide right in Buffalo’s history books.

  • mike

    You heard it here first!! The next midnight news will be the moving van’s on one bills drive loading up.

  • GIVE ME A BREAK! The City Of Buffalo isn’t going to give me room to SQUAT and make a home for myself! It was more than past time for the movement to be disbanded! We all heard their message. I believe we should all TRY to get along with our fellow man, regardless of color or race…therefore, I believe the “Occupiers” should suck it up and be part of the existing communities.

  • Claude

    Chris you are not very strong at reading comprehension.

  • e

    The best best point made here is that they took over the square and excluded people, I guess by some odd voting process, and basically including the general public from a public place. Enough, figure something else out, but get out and give the space back to others it was never yours to take in the first place.

  • Doug

    “Militaristic”? I watched some footage of a “barbaric” Buffalo Police Officer helping one of the protesters drag a tent away. Maybe it would have been better for the copper to just quit. Or, maybe he has an infant son too. “brown shirt with armbands” “one percent with jobs got sweet overtime”hyperbole anyone?

  • Ken

    I look damn good in a brown shirt with an armband. I’m also an expert with a riding crop.

    Coincidentally, I looked excellent in my US military uniform as well, defending the rights of the protesters to even do what they did. The laws that evicted the occupiers are the ones that let you indirectly call me a Nazi, and the same ones that let me tell you to sit your ignorant, entitled self down and have a nice warm mug of shut the hell up. You’ve added nothing valuable to this debate, aside from a random insult and a word you read out of the Urban Dictionary.

  • Karen

    Ken, it’s funny I don’t recall protestors taking the park by force and kicking all others out. They have all agreed to abide by the principle of non-violence; therefore, no guns or billy clubs or handcuffs or military vehicles were used during the protest. If that was the case, I’m sure the dept of homeland security would have instantly identified them as terrorists and bombed them or something. And no, Ken. Your tax dollars didn’t go to cleaning up the p!ark–they went to messing it up when the backhoes came and tore everything to smitherenes. It was the protestors themselves who came back to the square on Thursday and Friday to rake and pick up trash. AND two police officers approached them while they were cleaning and threatened them with arrest. Even though a judge had just stated that people had a right to do anything (within legal means) in the park as long as it wasn’t camping. Fortunately, the police went away and the protestors were able to get back to voluntarily cleaning up the mess made by people earning overtime pay.

  • Karen

    Cluade, what is it about the “look” of the protestors that offends your senses? Because I think most of them are very beautiful, both physically and spiritually. I don’t know, maybe you are a Swedish model or something, but that doesn’t give you the right to judge others for the features God gave them.

  • Karen

    Words of wisdom by ‘e’: “they took over the square and excluded people, I guess by some odd voting process…”

    That would be something called “direct democracy.” It just seems odd because we haven’t seen it in awhile. Oh, and how were they excluding people? You were welcome to stop by, e. Afterall, it IS a public park.

    “basically including the general public from a public place.” Ok, so now you DO acknowledge their inclusivity, and you DO realize it is a public space, so you actually have nothing to complain about, other than the fact that an inadequate education failed to teach you what democracy looks like. Don’t worry, though. Education reform is one of their main concerns and they regularly attend school board meetings to speak up for people like yourself.

  • Ken

    Karen,

    Let’s talk about this use of guns, billy clubs, and military vehicles for a second. Can you point out which protesters were shot, beaten, or run over? Some were arrested, yes. Non violently, because they were peacefully loitering, and they were well aware of it. I’m beyond sick of people acting like the police came in and started firebombing the group. It was far less dramatic than that, much to the protesters chagrin.

    The police have weapons for self defense and the defense of others. I’d hate to imagine what would have happened if they had shown up with Teddy bears and cotton candy for the protesters. What if one of the occupiers got the hare-brained idea to bring a gun (which is their right by law)? Should the police not be prepared for contingencies?

    Taking the square by force is the same whether it is done with signs and tents, or frontloaders and militaristic police officers. Either way, those of us who had no dog in that fight were excluded.

    Now, do you have any solutions to the problems they were protesting? Because honestly… we all have the opportunity to be the 1%. It’s just a question of less whining, and more working.

    Take it from a guy who was unemployed and homeless two years ago.

  • Bbill

    Because honestly… we all have the opportunity to be the 1%. It’s just a question of less whining, and more working.

    All you have to do is shut up and obey Fox News and the plutocrats, and one day you’ll wake up and your last name will be Walton or Dupont. Or Rockefeller maybe. Or if you’re extra-special, Koch! Now do as you’re told.

  • Karen

    Ken, the fact is that they had them, whereas the protestors did not. The only reason the police didn’t get to physically use their weapons is because the protestor remained peaceful. The weapons were in fact used, though, whether you like it or not. They were used to frighten, intimidate, and control. I am not saying the police don’t have a right to defend themselves and others–that would be absurd. I am simply trying to explain to you and other readers why your statement “When the Buffalo Police used their own tactics against them, it suddenly became militaristic” is a logical fallacy. As is your claim “… we all have the opportunity to be the 1%. It’s just a question of less whining, and more working.” I don’t think you understand how percentages work. See, if we were all earning the same amount of money, then you could say we’re all the 100%. But you can’t say we can all be 1%, because that begs the question, what happened to the other 99%? Did it fall into some mathematical black hole? Maybe some creative magical accounting? I don’t think so… and besides, we don’t want to be millionaires. We just want fair wages and equal treatment for everybody. If that takes a constitutional amendment that prohibits private money entering the hands of politicians and political parties, then that’s what we have to do. If we have to federalize education to make it equal for every student no matter if they live in Amherst or East Buffalo, then so be it.

  • I don’t know what your saying… mumbler!!! 🙂

  • so if i know it maybe interesting!

  • so what are the police complainig about? I know that everything is true… but what is false????

  • 🙂

  • James H. Burnette

    Ken stated:

    “You’ve added nothing valuable to this debate, aside from a random insult…”

    You’re right, Ken. You also stated:

    “I looked excellent in my US military uniform as well, defending the rights of the protesters to even do what they did.”

    Is that so ? They got forced out at 2AM, because negotiations for a contract extension broke down the previous day. Do you really think that a Wall Street firm that doesn’t pay its fair share in taxes will get manhandled and members arrested at 2AM ?

    Quite the contrary. They get extensions… in fact, they get a $16 Billion rebate on the Stock Transfer Tax.

    Did you risk your life to fight for our rights… or did you risk your life to fight for corporations who benefited from war profiteering, and attempted to set up US corporate friendly dictators in a resource rich area of the world?

    You want to talk about freeloaders. The military subsidizes trade by keeping shipping lanes safe. To show their gratitude, multinationals don’t pay extra taxes… they pay undisclosed campaign contributions to their favorite pols who vote to allow off-shoring, tax loopholes, subsidies for outsourcing or relocating to less stringent jurisdictions with weak child labor, sweatshop, resource extraction, and pollution dumping laws, and refuse to slap import tariffs on these guys in order to maintain a level playing field with domestic manufacturers. Instead, they blame our environmental protection laws for our current unemployment problems.

    Your blood was spilled not for US, but for US Multinational Corporations who show no alliance to the US. That’s why the Occupiers want to be eyesores every day; every day that K Street lobbyists get the undivided attention of legislators in DC and in state capitals across the country.

    Well, Ken, you got rid of them damned hippies, but the lobbyists are still there, dictating how much lead and mercury is acceptable in your food and water, how much pesticides are considered acceptable in your food, and how much CO2 is safe in your atmosphere. They’ll also tell you how many miscarriages are OK for your wife. They don’t arrive at these conclusions by listening to biologists or appealing to safety and ethics considerations. It’s purely a cost-benefit analysis. Their benefit-our cost.

    Thank you for your service in the military, Ken. You served the Corporation well. When your C.O. points at a picture of a middle eastern goat herder and refers to him as “the bad guys”, you correct him, point to a picture of a Wall Street suit and say “that’s the real enemy”. Next time, fight for the right side.