Dispatch: On Last Night’s Eviction of Occupy Buffalo
by Artvoice Staff (@Artvoice) - posted 11:04 am, February 2, 2012
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.
I am the 99%, and so are you.