Random Thoughts: October 27, 2011

Occupy Denver on 10/26/11:
Temperature - Cold, Community - Caring
by Jasmine Sailing

We had a heavy wet snow in Denver. It began as rain in the afternoon of the 25th. I’d been roaming around by the Tivoli and Auraria, and was already feeling pretty soaked when I dropped by Occupy Denver. Warm clothes and drinks were being handed out, all of which I refused because I was going home.

I’m unhealthy, I know I can’t make it through the night there. I immensely respect the people who do, though! If it was a couple of decades ago I’m sure I would’ve been one of the people staying out (I can’t say I have never slept in a park). Seemed I was always waiting for this to happen back then. Ah well, better to be able to hobble around it now than to not see it at all in my lifetime.

In the evening the rain became snow... that aforementioned heavy wet snow. The depth in inches that accumulated over night wasn’t an issue nearly as much as how wet it was. All over Denver lots of tree branches were down in the morning (and more throughout the day), including big ones that blocked streets and alleys. Plenty must have fallen on power lines, too. Reportedly 100,000 customers in the front range were without power, and 40,000 in the city of Denver itself.

I was amongst the 40,000 in Denver. No phone, no computer... I couldn’t work... And what I found was bothering me the most was having no way to check in to make sure people hadn’t frozen to death at Occupy Denver. So I rounded up a plastic bag full of donations, plus my sign (which I had just recoloured) and camera, and hopped on the 15 (the East Colfax bus).

For a good chunk of the day I was just standing along Broadway with my sign, shifting as needed to avoid hindering emergency situations or obstructing passersby, and generally picking up news as I heard it. I did drink some hot cider early on, and some hot cocoa later. Stubborn though I am, I figured I could accept that much if I was going to be standing out in wet snow all day.

I was offered a poncho and tried to refuse, saying I have somewhere nearby where I can warm up so I would rather it go to someone who needs it more. The person offering told me there were plenty of them, and ultimately he helped me put it on. That was the correct choice. I had already wandered off to use the restroom and warm up once, and I’m an experienced outdoors person who was dressed very warmly (heavy boots, heavy socks, my warmest pants, sweater, heavy hooded grey jacket, gloves)... but the point in the plastic poncho is to stay dry and I was definitely not dry (feet excluded).

40 year old woman, with home to return to, and nearby place to warm up during the day, getting gently forced into a plastic poncho because the people there really wanted to take care of the people there. Regardless of who they were. And there were announcements to this effect. No matter who you were or what your circumstances, if you needed food you should get food and if you needed any form of warm clothing you should get that. I admit I didn’t eat anything and ultimately went home with my blood sugar crashing. Obviously my own damn fault, I can’t quite shake that “But someone else needs it more...” side of my brain.

And, no, that’s not a “holier than thou” attitude on my part. My life has steadily changed from a hand-to-mouth, and even a “previously on welfare as a single parent”, type of existence to the steadier lifestyle I have now. I remember my past, and that is why I know all too well that someone does indeed need it more. But perhaps I should also keep it mind that I do have a lot of health problems and no one is going to do anyone any good being laid up or in any way broken (an announcement to the extent of the last half of that statement was also made... contrary to many hurled insults online, there are a lot of bright individuals at Occupy Denver).

What I really loved seeing yesterday, and I saw it constantly, was how much so many people genuinely cared as a community. The constant doling out of warm drinks and warm clothes, constant checking on people, obviously constant reminders to keep yourself safe and healthy. Cars often stopped by with donations, or to pick up laundry that needed to be dried. I heard one round-up of anyone who needed to be transported somewhere to be warmed up for a while (odds are there were more and I simply only heard one).

People were very friendly, very grateful for support. I can’t claim I’ve ever been chatted with and thanked so much for simply standing by a street holding a sign before. Though part of why I was there was because I knew it would be important to demonstrate that a storm didn’t beat Occupy Denver.

At one point I was standing out of the way watching the last 2 (of 5) hypothermia victims being checked and loaded into an ambulance. An Occupy Denver medic had been treating them while waiting for the emergency help to arrive. First on the scene was a firetruck. The firemen quickly joined in with first aid help, and were able to fill the paramedics in when they arrived. One person getting into the ambulance was wearing sandals over heavy socks, which was a worrisome sight. Anyone have spare boots they want to get rid of?

While watching this it dawned on me that homeless people really are a lot safer around Occupy Denver in storms like that. If they are showing signs of needing help, help is called... and it even arrives quickly enough. If they are sleeping under tarps during the day they get checked regularly (even a single person mentioned that he checks them every hour) to make sure they aren’t dying or developing hypothermia. It goes far beyond the already great display of giving out clothes and warm food and drinks, and of drying laundry and driving people away for warm-ups (and, yes, the dry clothes and warm people do return). Everyone is seriously being checked on, helped, treated as needed.

After a while I started feeling like I may have seen more genuine acts of compassion and community in one day than I have seen in my entire life. Odds are that’s not quite true but, compressed as it was into that time slot, it sure felt that way. I was terribly impressed. I felt like some of my cynical heart was warming, and some pieces of my long-broken heart were mending.

When you see something like this, and then you see people (eg on Twitter) yelling “Idiots!”... it’s easy to tell who the genuinely uninformed people are. (For the record, there on the ground there are far more supportive passersby than asinine ones. Though one day when I was sign-waving after a 3pm GA I joked, because 2 guys drove by flipping us off, “Is my penance for the time when I was a teen and accidentally flipped someone off for yelling ‘Merry Christmas’ to now wave at people who are flipping me off?”.)

One time, I think it was somewhere in the 2:00pm hour, a cop car pulled up. People fretted, cameras aimed, but the police officer got out of his car and simply began speaking. He was there because he was worried. He checked to see if everyone was okay, if more medics were needed. And, though it was a slim chance, he was going to try to speak with his supervisor to convince him that Occupy Denver needs more tarps. While he was speaking there was a hastily spread message that he was being cool and there was nothing to worry about.

Needing more tarps is definitely true. There was a lot of water damage. The organisers (people handling various odds and ends, like sorting out inventory, not organisers in any leadership sense) were scrambling to learn their lessons from the storm and figure out how to fare better with future storms. There’s a long Winter ahead in Denver...

Around 2:30 Rob (who said he had been a peace officer for 5 years, and stressed that he is not an attorney) taught a “Know your rights / protesting peacefully” class. The basics (how to respond to police in various situations, what not to do) were covered and questions were answered. I’d been needing to find out whether or not it is legal to record police in Colorado, because there have been many issues with it being illegal elsewhere. Recording one on one interactions, in protests, is very important if you have the means. That’s one of the reasons I always make sure I at least bring along my old camera that can make little quicktime videos. In Denver you can film police officers “performing their public duty”. Great to know!

During that class, I also heard a call for a yoga warm-up class (I’m interpreting that as “warm-up in the cold with yoga”, which is indeed one of the many uses for it). I had heard at the last rally (when we had our peaceful pre-march focused breathing session) that yoga is taught at 2:30 at Occupy Denver. Would’ve been nice to check that out, too, but I was engrossed in the legalities of peaceful protest (and being as safe as possible about civil disobedience) discussion. To me, it seemed like an excellent idea to teach that class. Definitely a good enough idea to do it more than once and get more people to it (teachers willing).

I was very impressed with the organisation of the Tar Sands civil disobedience at the White House earlier this year, where people were being peacefully arrested daily on the White House lawn to protest the Keystone Pipeline. There was advance training for everyone who wanted to participate, to make sure they knew how to safely engage in civil disobedience and be arrested peacefully. So many little mistakes can be made. At the same time, so many things might not be done because people aren’t sure how safe it is (or how safe it should be) to do them. I’m very glad to see someone stepping up to help educate people in this art here as well. It may be a smaller scale, but every little bit helps (I thought it was a great and helpful talk, so I only say “little” in comparison to the Tar Sands national scale).

Afterward, while waiting to see if 3pm GA would happen (I was pretty strongly needing a restroom by then), I held my sign and listened to the plans for making an igloo. One of the comments I heard was along the lines of “They couldn’t be heartless enough to take down an igloo”. I just smiled, silently wished them luck, and thought “I would like to film kids under the age of 10 building an igloo, and then film it being torn down by the police if it happens”. That’s my PR brain. My human brain thought the existent igloo building was cute, and I took a couple of pictures. I mean, seriously, young people building an igloo in a park... the horror, right?

Maybe the igloo talk had actually been earlier (pre-class), I can’t remember for certain. The tent talk definitely started with take 2 of the GA. The short version: it was announced that it was going to happen. It was an individual act of civil disobedience, other people would possibly be joining in. It wasn’t an issue for the GA, who could really only say they respect individualism. Some people want to commit various forms of civil disobedience, some people want to play it safe and do their best to avoid arrest. It’s up to the individual.

One topic broached at the GA was something I was extremely happy to hear, it was something I’d been hoping either already was happening or would be. They want more people to clean up trash, help pile up broken branches (broken by the storm), help with park clean-up as much as possible. When trash pick-up comes, they help carry everything to the truck. Crowds are always diverse beasts, but some people definitely know that it’s a good thing when people are glad to have you there rather than being resentful about it. I had seen a lot of sweeping earlier, and hadn’t been sure if it was snow sweeping or trash sweeping or both. Probably both. And extra brooms are on the donation wishlist (actually, I have one that I’ll bring down).

I was already, despite my tons of warm clothing and the plastic poncho, developing a cough and a sniffle (I seem to have become WEAK... darn it...). And I admit to being one of the people who wants to play it safer (just not safe enough that I won’t wander in with a sign and risk getting arrested through a small excuse like “obstructing a public walkway”). Supposedly the tents were being erected at 4, and that coincided well with needing to go warm up and use a restroom.

Bruce and I met up and wandered back over at 4:30. No tents, that happened later. That tents still can’t be used regardless of the storm isn’t surprising, some people would obviously like to hope Winter will end the movement for them. I can’t deny feeling disappointed about the igloo. It seems like there could be so many ways to ignore one simple igloo in a park. I’m not at all surprised, I’m simply disappointed. Okay, even more disappointed than I am about the tents.

I know tents and igloos aren’t the topic, but there are a lot of good people there struggling against the cold and wet. They aren't doing it on a whim, they're doing it out of strong political convictions and they won't give up easily. Technically in Winter camping tents aren’t even the best idea, but what they could be great for is keeping more supplies (if not people) dry. I would at least love to see an injunction allowing food and medical tents.

It wasn’t long before Bruce and I left. We needed to make sure the house wasn’t burning down from something we forgot to turn off during the power outage (nope, power was still out until the middle of the night) and pick up our daughter. So I found someone to give my poncho to, and then kept up on news via Bruce reading Twitter on his Blackberry. Eh, like Twitter is reliable for keeping up with news... sometimes it is, to an extent.

When I looked at Twitter this morning I was thinking, not at all for the first time, that it’s pretty weird to look at all of the negativity there after having such a positive day at Occupy Denver.

My feet are feeling a bit broken, and I have a medical ordeal ahead of me tomorrow, but I’m looking forward to Saturday... when the weather will fortunately be nice enough for a lot more people to come out.

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