After reading several reports on how anarchists are being treated in many of the occupy movements I feel that I should share my experience in Denver. Although I consider myself an anarchist, I am not affiliated with any of the local anarchist groups and have been attending Occupy Denver as an individual. I decided to enter this particular situation in Denver as an observer/listener and therefore have not been singled out or labeled nearly as much as many other people.
Problems concerning anarchist involvement arose starting at the first general assembly hosted by Occupy Denver. Although I did not attend, I have listened to the audio and spoken to members on both sides who were there. It appears that a mix of people gathered; a mix of long-term activists and newbies. The first thing agreed to at the meeting was a commitment to nonviolence. No one seemed to have a problem with that. After that discussion the topic of of – gasp – a diversity of tactics threw the newbies into disarray. It was simply mentioned that a diversity of tactics be respected; or at the least, talked about. Being a student of Gandhi and King, it troubled me that these newbies were using these great people as a shield of pacifism, locking out any notion towards the term diversity of tactics (even though both Gandhi and King supported such). In the end, there were threats to DOX anyone speaking about other forms of action and many of the groups began to feel uncomfortable within this new movement. This caused a major split in the group. I showed up a few days later. Although I was not on board or in agreement with the main goals being stated by OD (mainly reform) I did not see anyone being treated unfairly, so, I stuck around.
Slowly, I began to notice some prejudices creeping out of the woodwork. When anyone one would mention doing anything unpermitted, that person would be pressured to stay nonviolent. If, during a march, someone would cross the street on a red light or walk in the actual road, members of OD not only accused protesters of being provocateurs, but went so far as to point out specific people and scream it through a megaphone.
Shit really hit the fan when OD got the notice – on October13th– that the governor would be sending his thugs in to remove our tents and other belongings if participants didn’t do it themselves. Naturally, the reformist newbies were inclined to stay within the perimeter of the law and remove all of the things we had spent three weeks building. After all, “the police and politicians are our friends and are acting in the best interest of the people”.
The majority of OD’s group on the ground wanted to stay, but a few of the newbie organizers insisted that this would force the police to get violent and to them not following laws was violent (or at least not nonviolent). The point made by myself and a few others there was that there’s nothing violent about civil disobedience. We explained that everyone has a right to be on this land, that the group calls itself an occupation, and there indeed was a need to stay and fight for OD’s structures. Fear mongers stood up and warned participants who would most certainly face time in prison, huge fines, and have a record that would follow them around for their entire life. A decent number of folks responded by explaining that each person has a choice and that no one would need to stay if they didn’t want to, but that those who chose to stay would know the consequences.
Denver Anarchist Black Cross has been getting fucked with by the police in this town for years and have an established legal team set up. Denver ABC made sure everyone interested in staying had a number to call for legal assistance. Even though they were one of the main groups who felt uncomfortable being in a space with potential snitches, they (and Denver CopWatch) offered their unwavering support to those who wished to stay and face arrest.
There was so much fear mongering and trying to talk those of us willing to stay out of staying, and I believe that because of that, no time was set aside to talk about strategy or anything relevant for that matter. Nothing was done when the police brutally tore down the 60 or so tents that had been put up, but arrestables quickly formed protection circles around the medic tent and the Thunderdome (the kitchen that served up to 400 meals per day, not only to Occupy members, but also to the surrounding homeless community). While this standoff ensued, I saw none of the self-proclaimed OD leaders around, but only Denver ABC and CopWatch. Then, 24 of us were arrested.
In jail the only number made available to us (meaning the only people who were even prepared enough to have a number) was from Denver ABC’s legal line, so we called. When the arrested showed up (myself included) for court that day, not only was the courtroom packed with supporters, but four lawyers awaited us. On the other side of things, the Occupy Denver website and Facebook page were practically useless, as no one thought it necessary to post updates or even answer my wife and friends as they frantically posted questions as to my whereabouts. When, twelve hours after our arrest, most were finally released, the first (and only) person I saw – as soon as I walked out the doors – was a member of Denver ABC, offering me invaluable support. As of today, the only legal help I have gotten has been from Denver ABC; not one single thing has been done by the members of Occupy Denver.
As far as the people who were left in jail (some people had previous charges, causing the judge to set bail), every penny needed to get the 1st group of participants out (and the 24 people arrested the very next day) was raised by – you guessed it – Denver ABC. Despite all of this, certain members of Occupy Denver refuse to allow Denver ABC onto its legal team or to provide any other kind of critical help. Regardless of their disrespect for Denver ABC, myself and most of the arrestees know who is able to offer the most help, and we will go to them.
There are mainly three people pushing for the oust of any influential Anarchists (because apparently anarchists are not part of the 99%). One of the most vocal of the Anarchist haters stood up at Sunday’s 3pm general assembly and, after re-stressing her commitment to nonviolence said, “ to all the people in this group who consider themselves anarchists. I was wrong. I judged you and I was completely wrong and I am sorry. I am proud to call you all allies.” While this was mind blowing, it was only one person, and one who is very rarely on site.
Right now, the group is having a standoff with the mayor and governor (who is the former – up until less than a year ago – mayor of Denver), there are around 50 people facing charges, and the occupation is growing immensely with every passing day, yet instead of pulling together there are (at least) two people still insisting that Occupy have nothing to do with Denver ABC or any other anarchist people or groups.
After all of my observations and experiences it feels to me like things are headed either towards total destruction or being divided into two movements. We cannot let this happen. I, repeat, we cannot let this happen. This is what always happens. This is what our opponents want. From things I’ve read by other anarchists in other occupies, it is possible to make people understand a broader concept of nonviolence and diversity of tactics. This was proven by the fact that the older lady who threatened to DOX anarchists three weeks ago was able to change the opinion she had held on to for decades, simply because of a few acts. Although I do not feel like we should have to get on our knees and beg for acceptance, I do think that we can be the people who show up organized, help new comers understand what our minds are open to, how we have come to this place where we question and challenge power structures and furthermore, how to bring others in rather than keep opposing ideas on the outside. In my opinion, this is the only viable solution for the lack of knowledge we are facing. For centuries, anarchists have been made – by the media, the police, and others – to look like a bunch of crazy kids who just want to light shit on fire and smash windows, but we all know that we are much more than this. As soon as that connection is made, we will officially be unstoppable