The Structural Engineer and the Colander

Wren on April 29th, 2012

Like thousands of other people across America for the past six months, I have lived, breathed and oozed Occupy since it’s beginnings, dedicating my waking and sleepless moments to the beautiful, hopeful, flawed movement.

Most full-timers buried themselves in working groups and showed up for every next direct action of their local Occupy. My partner, Food Not Bombs cofounder and consensus trainer C.T. Butler, and I went from one Occupy to the next, sitting in on working groups and General Assemblies  and offering countless workshops, large and small.

It could have and should have been hundreds of thousands or millions who were rolling up sleeves and joining us. They came to check out their local encampments, but something happened. The movement itself, not the government, disappeared them.

From our first day or two on McKeldin Square in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, C.T. and I were concerned about the members of the 99% who would show up, wander around, read signs, maybe hold cardboard at traffic for a while, maybe talk to people, maybe attend that night’s General Assembly, but never hook up with the event, and after one or three nights, or three weeks at most, they were gone.

Over the course of our tour of fifteen Occupy encampments in November and December of 2011, I would repeatedly talk about the people the movement was bleeding out, as if through a colander. Those people numbered so many times more than the people who stayed, the remaining “activists” often shouting their GA’s into nonfunctional institutions.

By the time, I think early January, when C.T. Butler and I came home and did a two-day Consensus: Body and Soul workshop for our own Occupy of Baltimore, General Assembly attendance had gone from two hundred and more to twenty or thirty. And some stark demographics were visible.

What I mean to say is that, as people fell into and out of the movement, draining out of that colander, two archetypes of individuals remained, attending meetings and steering the actions of Occupy: First, those shouting people who love their own ideas and dominate meetings until people go along, and second, activists who wanted to find a way to incorporate the shouters’ agendas with their own desire that everyone just get along, and some memory of a desire that all voices be heard.

We came to call the two the cowboys (gender irrelevant) and the placators/enablers.

The heat of privilege and oppression had been so high in the structure that Occupy donned that all other personality types remembered that they had laundry to do and went home. Only the cowboys and their enablers could stand it.

And the enablers aren’t happy. They call C.T. and me almost daily still with requests that we help fix Occupy.

But the enablers’ target audience, the cowboys, have lofty ideas that they should figure out their own models/structures themselves, reinventing all wheels. They don’t want C.T.’s fingerprints on anything. “We shouldn’t pay some White guy…” They say, with no understanding that what we teach comes from the Iroquois through the Quakers through the feminist movement. Read a book, please! Also, am I invisible standing next to C.T.?

One woman, upset at C.T., said she would attend our workshop if I would teach it alone! But whether people like C.T.’s packaging, personality or gender identity, he’s the one with the knowledge the movement needs, not so much me.

He’s a sort of group dynamics structural engineer. In my experience, and I’ve been in this field a long time, there are maybe five people like C.T. alive on the planet right now. And I don’t know who or where the other four are. I’m saying something important.


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