As a participant in Occupy Melbourne over the last few days I have reflected much on what has transpired. I wrote an account of my experiences of Saturday and Sunday’s GA to try and make sense of what was happening. What follows is my attempt at a “story” or version of events that makes sense to me as a participant.
‘No Leaders – No politics”
Occupy Melbourne is obviously made up of a number of loose and organised factions as well as many non-aligned individuals. One of these groupings is an informal network or affinity group of key organisers who are spread across a number of Working Groups. This group who have worked hard and closely together since the start of OM and are united in this commitment to the protest. They are also united in their opposition to “politics” within OM which is code for their opposition to the organised socialist groupings within OM. Despite OM not having “leaders” officially I beliveve tis group has played a key role in shaping and leading OM so far.
I believe this group worked hard and closely together during the six days of the City Square Occupation. I believe that they were deeply traumatized by the police ilence of the eviction. I believe that in the week between the eviction and the start of the re-occupation on the 29th of October, this group put their heads together to try and find a plant that would enable OM to continue without being broken up by police again. I believe they decided some time after the eviction and before the 29th that the location of Edinborough Gardens in North Fitzroy was the location that would allow this to happen. A meeting was held between the Logistics Working Group and the Yarra Council and the site was scoped out by the kitchen Working Group too.
The first most of us learnt of this was at the Treasury Gardens on the 29th when Jeff from the Logistics Working Group gave a report back to the crows what marched there with the intention of re-occupying. It was noteworthy that the only possible site that was reported back on was the Ed Gardens. It was noteworthy that no gear was brought into the Treasury Gardens by either the Logistics or Kitchen Working groups. It was noteworthy that the option of staying the in Treasury Gardens wit no structures to avoid conflict with the police was not canvassed. I believe these facts all reflect a prior plan had been made for us to move on Saturday to the Ed Gardens. I believe this was motivated by a desire to avoid conflict with the police and with best intentions.
However this plan went pear shaped when Steve Jolly from the Socialist Party gave a convincing speech rejecting the Ed Gardens in faour of moving to Bowens lane at RMIT on the grounds of its centrality and the apparent support that might follow from the CFMEU. I believe this core group of “leaders” paniced. They had no plan for Bowen’s Lane and felt they ad lost control of the process. In addition the fact that this sudden change of plans was urged by Socialists fed into their underlying fear that the movement was vunerable to a “take over” by the “isms”, in particular Socialists.
When we got to Bowens Lane and were quickly told we were not welcome, this group again tried to get us all to move to the “safety” of the Ed Gardens away from police attention and to where they had a plan to camp. However to their growing frustration and anger the crowd again did not embrace the Ed Gardens, largely because it is out of the CBD. Eventually some within this group cracked it, even before the end of the GA and announced they were going to the Ed Gardens. We were told the Kitched was already set up there again revealing the assumption of the group of how the day would unfold. This group simply could not accept that the majority wanted to stay in the CBD even if ti meant conflict with the police. When the group eventually decided to the State Library many in the group went to the Ed Gardens for the night.
I believe this group blamed the failure of the two Saturday GA’s to embrace the Ed Gardens on manipulation by Socialists who had thwarted “the plan”. I personally don’t believe that there was any manipulation by Socialists at all and the GA’s were simply examples of direct democracy where people tried to make difficult decisions under the stress of possible police violence. However with the benefit of hindsight the decision to go to Bowen’s Lane was a poor one.
During Saturday night and Sunday during the day, the State Library occupation received little support from some of these key organisers in the Working Groups (although others in the Workings groups did their best to help). I thinks they saw the State Library occupationi as both impractical and illegitimate as it arose out of GA’s they believed were manipulated and had arisen out of a “break down in process”.
I think the type of thinking of this group mirrors that of our “leaders” in general. Democracy is only said to be working when it delivers results the leaders want. If it doesn’t it is said to have failed. This is what the Facilitation Working Group to decide the process of the GA’s was broken. This is why they reported back to the GA on Sunday that a meeting on Tuesday would be held of the Faciliation Working Group to “fix” the process and until after this meeting no GA’s were to occur and the next GA’s would be on Wednesday. This is also why they attempted to hollow out the Sunday GA of meaningful discussion by not putting what the camp was doing that night on the agenda.
When this attempt to effectively shut down the decision making processes of OM was resisted by many of those at the Sunday GA panic once again set in amongst the “leaders”. The Facilitation Working Group announced they were not prepared to facilitate a discussion on what was happening next so would be stepping down from running the GA. Once they declared any process they felt they were not in control of as illegitimate. This also explains the angry report back from the Kitchen Working Group representative who basically railed against the GA about stupid people were for wanting the Kitchen to be set up in the CDB. It is clear this individual saw the GA’s as an illegitimate forum. However the Sunday’s GA continued on without the being run by the Facilitation Working Group. Two new moderators/chairs were elected, myself and Nick Carson. Crucially it was decided to have another GA on Monday at 6PM with or without involvement of the Facilitation Working Group. The people had decided that the process of the GA was bigger than the Facilitation Working Group and the process was not in fact “broken”.
On Sunday night and Monday during the day, the State Library Occupation limjped on only due to the persistence and tenacity of those present in the face of ongoing harassment and threats made by the management of the State Library and without the presence of structures.
I was not present at the GA on Monday but I read on Facebook that the GA was well facilitated by some new facilitators. It apparently decided to reconvene for a GA in the City Square on Wednedsay and then immediately re-occupy the Treasury Gardesn. It was obviously decided there was not the energy or support to continue to occupy the State Library for the intervening night. Without being present I sincerely hope this GA was a continuance by those present to keep the power where it belongs, in the GA’s and not within smaller working groups dominated by unofficial leaders and factions. There seems to bea recommitment to a CBD based occupation rather than a retreat to North Fitzroy. I hope the whole Occupy Melbourne movement can once again unite behind this attempt to continue to Occupy Melbourne.
I offer this perspective in the spirit of constructive dialogue. It is inevitable that groups of people, even if they are hard working and well intentioned, will attempt to control this movement. Our General Assemblies are our best defence against this occurring. Lets continue to stand and work together to build a democratic movement that advances the cause of equality, peace, sustainability and justice in the face of corporate greed. To quote my favourite chant “Whats your favourite kind of pie – Occupy!”.