Friday, October 14, 2011

Occupy Portland - The Radical Thought Committee

The Radical Thought Committee
As I walked around the protest camp in Chapman Square on Wednesday evening, I noticed a group of people sitting in a circle, discussing something.  It was a little oasis of organization in an otherwise chaotic scene.  So I set my camera to video mode and I moseyed over to listen. 

I learned that I was witnessing a meeting of the Radical Thought Committee.  As I arrived, the floor belonged to a diminutive African-American fellow with red and tan feathers in his black felt hat and a five-day beard covering his cheeks.  He spoke passionately and expressively, gesticulating with his hands, stomping his feet, leaning forward and peering at the faces in his audience, looking for agreement.  It didn't take long to figure out that he was insane.

He spoke gibberish.  I don't think he managed a single coherent thought in the time he spoke.  There was something about "politicians" and "corruption," but that's about all I caught.  The people in the circle were glancing uncomfortably at one another.

Eventually, the chairman of the committee, a clean-cut young man in a dark blue jacket, managed to interrupt the speaker and gain control of the meeting.  He explained that the purpose of the meeting was to propose workshops for demonstrators --workshops that would educate people on the evils of capitalism and how it might be resisted.

As I mentioned, I was recording it all on my little camera and I started noticing some dirty looks being shot my way from meeting participants.  Eventually, a slight young woman with a nose ring and cropped black hair sauntered over to me and whispered in my ear "Can I talk to you for a minute?"

"Sure," I said.  I was pleased as punch, just as I'm sure most any middle-aged man would be when an attractive hippie chick picks him out of a crowd for a word in private.  I followed her the few steps to the bronze elk sculpture that stands on the traffic island between Lownsdale and Chapman Parks.

"Some of the people here have expressed a wish that they not be recorded," she said.  "Can I get you to delete your video."  Her tone had a distinctly aggressive edge to it.

I was a bit taken aback, but I wanted to cooperate.  After all, I'm sympathetic to the "Occupy" protests, so I wanted to respect the wishes of the protesters.

"Sure, I'll delete it," I said.  "Let me figure out how to do it."  I started to fumble through the complex menu system on my camera.  She continued talking.

"This is the Radical Thought Committee," she said.  "We're discussing how best to overthrow capitalism."  She waited to see if I would respond, but I did not.  I was still trying to figure out how to delete the video.  She tried again.

"So we want to overthrow capitalism and I was just wondering if you're down with that."

I wasn't sure what to say, so I continued to fumble with my camera.  "Ah, there it is!" I said.  "Here ya go."  I pushed "Delete" and showed her the display so she could confirm that I had deleted the video.  Then she saw that I had taken some photos as well.

"Delete those, too," she said.

"Excuse me?" said I.

"You didn't ask before you took those pictures," she said.

But now my hackles were up.  "This is starting to sound like censorship," I said.

Her fangs came out.  "I'm just expressing a request from some of the people here," she said.

"Sorry, sister," I replied.  "This is a public place and I'm a member of the public."

Now she was hostile.  "No one is going to tell you that you can't do it," she said.  "But it would be nice if you asked."

"Duly-noted," I said.  "The video is gone.  I'll keep the pictures."

She disappeared into the crowd and I went back to listen to the Radical Thought Committee meeting.

The meeting was well-run, I'll give them that.  The chairman held the floor and allowed everyone to express their views.  But nothing concrete came out of it.  Each speaker seemed more eager to air his or her opinions than to propose anything.  Eventually, the chairman announced that he had been informed by city officials that unless Main Street was cleared to allow traffic to pass through, the city would no longer service the two public restrooms that were serving the camp. 

At last, here was an actionable item --something that the committee might address meaningfully!  But the committee declined.  The chairman's announcement was met with blank stares.  He shrugged.  "Well, if that's all then, I move that this meeting be adjourned."

A young woman at the edge of the circle raised her hand to be recognized.  The chairman obliged.  She looked very small, standing among the crowd.  She had her arms folded across her midsection.  She wore a gray hoodie and jeans.  "I wanted to announce that there may be a need to physically remove an aggressor from the camp and so anyone who wants to help with that, please see me."

More blank stares.

"Sounds sticky!" I said.  Expressionless faces turned toward me.

Everything hung there for a moment and then the chairman spoke again.  "There's a motion on the floor to adjourn."

"Seconded," someone muttered, and the committee dispersed.

I took another stroll through the camp feeling very unsettled.  Then I cut out and walked back home.  It took a real effort for me to fight back a creeping anxiety.

Anxiety, after all, is the precursor to despair.


Dan Binmore said...

I think we've seen the results of other systems than capitalism.  Unless a new workable proposal is advanced then they were just being uselessly silly.  Unfortunately the movement seems to be the complaints of a very small minority without any practical plans.  This will unfortunately only change opinions about these concerns in a negative manner.  I fear that the "occupy" movement is actually counter-productive, which is a great shame as it could have been the catalyst for actual useful change.

Alicia Davis Konate said...

some people are insane, i know i am. some people are stupid (also, often). i protest, however: the message of the people to end poverty, racism, and war, is not silly.