More than an hour into the Wednesday evening General Assembly meeting, a longtime activist told the group, “I don’t understand why we’re here. I know why I’m here.”
This summed up the sprawling discussion among 30-35 Occupy Hartford activists. A proposal was made to march against Bank of America on Friday, go out with a “bang,” and end the camping segment of the movement. After most people weighed in on it, several times, this was dismissed for the time being. Caron, a school nurse, called the proposal to stop occupying the vacant lot on Friday “premature,” but like many, was not opposed entirely to coming up with some end date. Another said, “it’s important to realize people can’t camp out forever.”
The proposal sparked emotional responses from several who have been camping since Friday. Alice — who camped out every night except for the first night — said that the suggestion to end everything already sounds “like you’re not appreciating what those of us sleeping out are doing.”
That it could snow in October was a main reason cited for why the group should pack up. One man jumped in, saying, “I went through this in 1978,” and experienced snow. He said, “we slept in the cold. We improvised. . . . y’all got better things than we had. Y’all got tents.”
Another activist warned that clearing out after only a week would be a defeat: “the system know ya gonna break down” when the weather gets bad, “so you need to learn how to dress warm.”
Mary Sanders let them know that if they were to pack up too early, the communities that the group is still working to reach would see this as a predictable move for “white activists.” Sanders said that more work must be done to engage the immigrant community, community of color, homeless, those on welfare, and those on social security.
“You haven’t even touched anyone in Hartford yet,” said another activist.
But the end date discussion was only a surface issue. What arose from this was a conversation about what Occupy Hartford stands for. Dave said that the occupation in Hartford “happened too quickly” and that “we should’ve had this conversation [about meaning] before we chose to occupy.”
Sanders added that the Occupy Wall Street message was basically adopted by the local group, and that it is “somewhat generic,” but “there are other things, winnable things” that the organization can address in Connecticut. She said that this state “has the most repressive welfare reform in the U.S.”and that she would like to broaden the focus from economic justice to also include social justice.
As one participant said, “you can micromanage something to death.” Eventually, a proposal went through so that the group would alternate between having strategic and logistic General Assemblies; Thursday’s GA meeting will be a strategic one.
The issues seemed to feed off each other: too many Occupiers were exhausted, but others who might camp out to ease their burden wanted to know why they were going to be taking that action.
In the meantime, the activists plan to have conversations to promote rotation of those people camping out, particularly those who are concerned with hypothermia. The meeting started with a message from the Medical Committee, which said that they have tips on how activists can stay dry. They will be providing information about hypothermia awareness, and that anyone who has concerns about his/her condition should seek assistance from one of the on-site medics who can provide emergency blankets and heat pads.
While one person sounded ready to call off camping, others have planned beyond Friday. The Wellness Committee reported that a nonviolent training was in the works for this weekend, though the actual day and time would need to be discussed further due to the Hartford Marathon’s potential to reroute traffic. Scott, who has been camping out, spoke about how it feels like they are only getting started, as they have had electricity for three days and two portapotties arrived on site today.
For those who want to camp but are without tents, there are pallets at the lot that could be slept upon. As of late Wednesday evening, the tents were still up.