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.
10:16 p.m.: There are about 35 tents and dozens of people loitering. A white lady whom I've seen around since Saturday asks to read what she wrote at work today about the group's successes. She says it's only a few pages long. A few pages?, I think. Lord, have mercy. Turns out to be very thoughtful and eloquent, but...
10:17 p.m.: I leave after page 1 to pitch my tent.
The weather has improved, but things are quiet and it's cold. Today is less rowdy than normal, and by less rowdy, I mean not fun.
10:20 p.m.: We decide to walk to 7-Eleven. I'm now convinced a small army of homeless dudes will be in my tent when I return. I accept this fate.
People are playing chess and eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The group not only recycles but also composts. A security team from within the movement watches our crap while we go buy more crap.
10:30 p.m.: 7-Eleven is a hub of action! It's like the Peach Pit, except Brenda and Brandon are completely sleep-deprived and don't live in Beverly Hills anymore. The store owners probably aren't complaining about all the new business.
11:10 p.m.: Full of pizza and taquitos, I return to the site to find people holding hands and meditating around a fountain. With the Bank of America building looming in the background, the scene is pretty groovy.
At the same time, there's a Dead Can Dance video being projected under some stairs. I wonder if we've been transported to the early '90s. Who chose this video?, I think. Thank God it's not Dave Matthews. Apparently, they've been screening films at night, including documentaries and V for Vendetta.
There are quite a few homeless folks napping about.
11:21 p.m.: No longer full, I can't stop eating.
Michelle, the head of the food committee, passes around PB&J and apologetically says, "That's all I got." I don't take the food 'cause my mouth is full of Twix. Thanks, 7-Eleven!
11:29 p.m.: I'm a little bored.
11:40 p.m.: Some action stirs. I think the female facilitator and her friend are mad at photographer Carlos Miller, who's covering the occupation, for taking their picture. We are protesting in a public space. He can take pictures in a public place. However, there's a ministink about it. Some of these protesters need to chill out. There's definitely a sprinkling of holier-than-thou divas.
While the argument continues, I chat with Michelle, the food lass and a 20-year-old college student with the coolest haircut I've ever seen. It's the style I wanted in high school, except mine made me look like a man. She tells me about food conflicts with the homeless (organizers have been feeding them the surplus chow) and her struggle to find donations. If you can offer prepared meals, do it for poor Michelle!
12:10 a.m.: The wind picks up and tents go flying, mine included. Kind folks place sandbags and stakes in the renegade tents. That's like really, really nice. Community is cool, guys.
12:23 a.m.: A man snores loudly in the next tent.
12:30 a.m.: Cheering. Around midnight each day, everyone celebrates that they've been out there and made it through another day.
12:36 a.m.: Another person begins to snore, making that two snorers next to my tent. End Game is being screened.
12:42 a.m.: People roll up on bikes to hang out.
12:50 a.m.: I am the only person on a cell phone. I am also the only person laughing.
1:12 a.m.: I try to read by my iPod light while someone talks mad shit outside my tent. He's angry and a little nuts. He says something about pop culture, something else about white people, and something to me because he can see the light of my cell phone as I type this. He doesn't like my cell phone usage. A sane person tries to reason with him.
1:23 a.m.: A loud guy speaks intelligently to other people whose voices don't carry. There's some complaining about general assembly meetings, talking about closing his Bank of America account, and chattering about smoking cigs after working out.
3 a.m.: People are still up, talking.
4:42 a.m.: Same people talking. There is some discussion about men and women sharing tents, figuring out how many can fit in each. No monkey business is likely (see the observation at 9:01 p.m.).
6 a.m.: It's actually really quiet.
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8 a.m.: My neck hurts. It's chilly. I need help breaking down my tent. I'm a camping simpleton. My desperation stinks. I begin to admire these people more for the energy it takes to be out here and less for some of the attitudes.
As people leave for work, a young, hip-looking couple — a woman with cropped white hair and a guy with a Chihuahua — take down their tent. They greet us. I haven't seen them around and realize that a ton of people have been coming and going.
8:30 a.m.: My voice sounds sick from the humidity, but the morning light is sort of healing. Can't wait to shower and eat. NPR informs that Gadhafi is probably dead. What a funky political year this has been.
8:50 a.m.: I take the most satisfying pee of my life. Thank you, indoor plumbing.