It's 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, October 19, and Occupy Miami's general assembly is raging outside the Stephen P. Clark Government Center in downtown Miami. This gathering of about 60 borderline yuppies, handbag-stylin' people, bike folks, college students, and South American grandfather revolutionaries started two long hours ago.
Most of this group's gatherings are meetings about how to hold meetings. Conversations tend to go in circles that seemingly never end. It's not that nothing gets done — the campsite is running smoothly — but these get-togethers are boring and sometimes masturbatory.
I camped out overnight with these trailblazers, trying to determine where they were headed, what they wanted, and what life in a Noah's Ark-like deluge means to activism. Here's a minute-by-minute chronology of my night with Occupy Miamians:
8:35 p.m.: A facilitator who looks a bit like a conquistador, with chin-length hair and a black mustache, stands to speak. The cops, who are cozying up to the occupiers, might have sinister, hidden intentions, he says. Then he asks the group to consider that maybe the police aren't their friends and to think about this if the occupiers decide to take stronger action.
After giving his paranoid opinion, he leaves the circle, uninterested in the group's reaction to his incendiary statement. Most people disagree. Many of them like the cops. The po-po brought protesters Little Caesars pizza a few days ago. Maybe this guy is a Papa John's fan? The cops are also letting protesters hit up a john at the police station nearby.
Next, a young black guy with tight braids encourages the group to avoid a mob mentality. The 20-something, pretty female facilitator, sporting tight short braids, clarifies that the conversation was about a march planned to support police. She doesn't want to create a bad rapport with the cops.
Then Alfredo, a smart young guy who spent the first three days in a skinny tie and button-down shirt, brings some real common sense to the discussion. He reminds them that if you exclude any one group — such as the cops — it's the end of this movement. He points out that even police brutality is a systemic problem, not a 99 percent problem. Amen, brother.
These people have been out here for several days. Sleep deprivation makes people nuts, and some folks seem to be losing perspective.
8:36 p.m.: I realize this is the first time I've stayed silent at a political-type planning meeting. Then I decide that day of silence will never come, and I speak my mind. No one gives a shit about what I have to say, though. I'm a trained nonprofiter, and they're passionate protesters. My ideas are trite and boring, perhaps, but I think I'm right on, of course. I'm like a senior stateswoman in my own mind.
8:37 p.m.: Good news! The arts and culture committee plans to paint a mural on Eighth Street during Viernes Culturales.
Sometime around 9, the female facilitator asks everyone to stretch, because things are getting a little out-of-control cranky. She suggests a chant to bring unity back. One Hispanic dude starts, "We're the 99 percent. We're here. We're strong. We're here to represent." Everyone gets into these chants. I don't understand their purpose. Maybe I'm too old and institutionalized for this movement.
Someone suggests saying, "Om," and the group musters up a weak omette. A mature Italian lady, new to activism and wearing a Guy Fawkes mask, points out that Occupy Miami is OM.
A white man in shorts rolls his eyes.
9 p.m.: Eye-roller Dave starts talking to the group. He has brought a giant Post-It board, because even though he works all day, he seems to have time to brainstorm, likely while he is at work. His job keeps him from occupying, he explains; then he asks that the occupiers discuss stuff like what's for dinner and who'll sweep up the trash during the day and save this after-work time for discussions about ideas. Dave thinks this is the time of day to bring other people who can't spend the night into the fold. Others agree and talk about it like forever.
9:01 p.m.: Someone is stinky. Who is it?, I wonder. That will determine where I stand.
9:03 p.m.: Another person smells lovely. I stand by him, a guy wearing dangling earrings and a sarong. I like him.
9:04 p.m.: I realize he smells great because he's holding a stick of incense. I knew I liked this dude.
9:05 p.m.: I lose interest in "the process" and chat with a friend about how some good old facilitator training would greatly assist in "the process."
9:50 p.m.: I interview local environmentalist Ana Campos about a Saturday rally she's planning downtown. Occupy Miami will support her, she says.
10:15 p.m.: The theory group is meeting and anyone can join. I opt out.