Occupy Denver develops democratic process, suspends first member
Last night's 7 p.m. Occupy Denver general assembly proved to be an important one as the group further develops its own democratic system, but it was likely the movement's most aggressive and divisive yet. In it, several issues about the group's financial structure came to a head, with one member being suspended from all of her group duties and identified as an agent provocateur.
In a group as large and diverse as Occupy Denver, outlying voices of derision are an unavoidable issue. The general assembly procedure's committee is currently drafting a document that would guide the group through future conflict resolution. However, last night's meeting demanded a solution before that process is finished. The three-hour-long meeting was openly compared to the Salem witch trials and an episode of Survivor during the collective's attempts to squash infighting.
The issue behind last night's meeting was twofold: A numerous protesters have raised concern about the way donations are tracked, recorded and handled inside the group -- a process that, though loosely organized, has remained functional. These anxieties have provoked proposals to tax the group's funds, among others. There's also the impending creation of a treasury committee devoted entirely to managing these funds in the future. Because the Thunderdome -- the kitchen -- has established itself as a separate entity, the committee will deal with general funds given to the larger organization.
One of last Sunday's Occupy Denver general assemblies in Civic Center Park.
"We are supposed to be inclusive, and I worry that a few of us appear to be making the decisions for all of us," volunteer Rob Piper said in one of the meeting's earliest statements. "We must decide whether we are a circle jerk or a social fucking movement."
The night's second impassioned debate stemmed from the continued involvement of the Denver Anarchist Black Cross, whose constituents serve as medics, cooks and the legal team for Occupy Denver. (It is important to note that the DABC is almost singlehandedly responsible for bailing the group's arrestees out of jail.)
A full-fledged Twitter war has resulted from sentiments opposing the DABC, with public accusations made that the group is mismanaging its bail funds. Even more important is the idea that the public discourse will separate a group so devoted to solidarity into competing factions.
"Correction: The DABC doesn't have funds," jokes Catherine Keffer, a supporter of DABC and an integral member of Occupy Denver's legal team. "The jail has funds."
The movement to restructure the group's finances in a way that draws skepticism about the DABC has so far been led by a protester named Molly (no last name, but her Twitter handle is outrage_molly), who has come out in opposition to anarchists in general. "Let's hold a GA for true action Sunday at 3pm," she tweeted from her public account. "All anarchists will either be in jail or asleep after rioting."
"If it wasn't for the DABC, most of your asses would still be in jail," says Barbara Cohen, a board member for the Colorado National Lawyers Guild. "There's no place in this organization for people like that." Earlier this week, Molly and Keffer were both given 48 hours notice to consider the then-tabled issue before discussing it on Thursday night. Molly chose not to attend last night's meeting, but she was active on Twitter during it.
"Why yes, I am here at the 7pm GA of #OccupyTheSofa," she wrote on her public account, along with, "anarchists supportin #occupydenver r sum of the most organized, experienced & dedicated criminals in this town, dwn 4 money, not 4 1st Ammd."
An arrest last Friday.
Photo by Brandon Marshall
The meeting required two votes to extend it longer than usual -- and in fouler spirits than ever -- to reach a final decision: Molly was suspended from all of its committee activity until she attends a general assembly meeting to defend herself. She's the first Occupy Denver participant to receive such a verdict. The final tally: 88 voted in favor, eight abstained and four opposed.
As for Keffer, she spoke at the assembly. "This is my daughter," she said last night, pointing to a graceful child in a bunny hat. "She is my No. 1. If people want to threaten me and my organization for providing legal support to bail out people that we get home to their families, I have a huge problem with that."
The decision about Molly is less important for its immediate implications than it is as a precedent for the group's future interactions. General assemblies are run through a strict but organized structure, and each one relies heavily on the decisions of past assemblies. Often difficult for outsiders to understand their first time, GAs recognize and trust the standards set in previous meetings.
This decision, then, is an early form of trial by jury. The meeting behind it, however, was not the group's most impressive display of the democratic process to date. Although it successfully created a solution to the issue, future meetings are likely to focus on themes brought up last night -- particularly conflict resolution and the concept of solidarity as applied to all of its members.
"I'm here because the corporations have taken over our country," Piper said. "They want to keep us looking horizontally because as long as we keep accusing each other, we can't look up."
But the final message, as always, is that of the group as a whole. Last night after the meeting, Occupy Denver's public Twitter account came out with a stance promoted by the majority of those in attendance at the meeting: "We must refrain from infighting... It's taking focus away from the reasons we all came to protest."
More from our Occupy Denver archive: "Occupy Denver: City Council's Susan Shepherd calls protests most important thing in country."
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