OccupyKC not going away
by Bruce Rodgers
Many public officials and police departments in “Occupy” cities — at least those in an intemperate climate — are waiting for winter to descend. Surely with rain, sleet, snow and cold, the “occupiers” would take down the tents and head indoors. Visibly removed, the chance for confrontation lessens, marches delayed, money saved on police deployment and a message diluted as political officials go back to dealing with (or ignoring) less contentious issues.
Disappearing “occupations” aren’t going to happen, even with somewhat mild-mannered Occupy Kansas City.
The question now, after nearly two months of Occupy actions, isn’t whether the movement will last or even if it has changed the national political dialogue — it has, something the corporate mainstream media has recognized. In a few short weeks, the media message play, as to what’s wrong with America, has gone from “big government” to “big inequality.”
With the Occupy movement becoming part of the nation’s political fabric in its response against a corporate dominated representative system, the question arises as to where the movement will focus on the local level.
In some cities — Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Chicago and particularly Occupy Oakland — local actions directed at the symbols of national institutions — and how they affect people locally — have been happening. Occupy Oakland’s General Strike and Day of Action on Nov. 2, and violence from a police crackdown in Denver, quickly brought declarations of solidarity from across the Occupy spectrum.
“We have across the board solidarity with every occupation,” said Jeff Johnson, a member of the media working group with OccupyKC.
Johnson, 47, has children and says he works a variety of jobs to get by. He also stresses, in keeping with leaderless, consensus decision-making approach adopted by the Occupy movement, that he is not a spokesman for OccupyKC, just a member of the media working group responding to an email.
Though Johnson notes that each occupation may have a different process in their interactions with their community, “There’s nothing that has caused OccupyKC to disavow anything that has happened (in Oakland or elsewhere).
“We believe the violence — if not due to outright police provocation — can be because of bad police department strategy.”
To date there hasn’t been a serious confrontation between OccupyKC participants and the Kansas City Police Department. Johnson says that daily one police officer or another will remind people at the OccupyKC encampment at Liberty Memorial that erecting tents is illegal.
“The police are choosing not to enforce it for whatever reason,” said Johnson. He adds that the group is seeking some sort of “understanding” through a resolution with the city council and the city’s Board of Parks and Recreation Commissioners. “We told them why we’re here and why we want to stay here.”
Johnson said he doesn’t know what circumstances the group will face in the future but that nonviolence is the focus. “We’re trying to get the message out. We’re inviting all citizens to join us in re-democratizing the community and the nation.”
Some elements of the local organized labor — IBEW 124 and UAW 31 – have joined OccupyKC to an extent. “There’s a growing relationship between OccupyKC and the Kansas City Labor Council,” said Judy Ancel, director for the Institute of Labor Studies.
Ancel sees OccupyKC supporting local issues endemic to progressive views and organized labor. She mentioned the initiative curbing payday lending abuses and supporting registered nurses at Research Medical Center in joining the National Nurses Organizing Committee-Missouri, an affiliate of National Nurses United, which has taken part in marches with Occupy Wall Street, Occupy Washington DC and Occupy Oakland.
(CORRECTION: OKC participants supported specialized technicians and health care workers affiliated with the Service Employees International Union in their dispute with Research Medical Center, not RNs at the hospital.)
“OccupyKC has every intention of taking on local issues,” said Ancel. She points out that the march on Oct. 30 to the northeast community was a “mobilization and outreach to communities in crisis.”
Johnson agrees that OccupyKC will be addressing local issues through consensus within its General Assembly, and he doesn’t rule out “some limited civil disobedience — generally speaking.”
But at present, he says, OccupyKC shares a consensus reached by all Occupy groups — the national issue of “corporatist” influence and the realization by citizens that “the economy is not working for them.” Beyond that, it’s the coming cold weather that OccupyKC’s General Assembly will be dealing with.
“We have winter facing us and need an indoor place for our electronics,” said Johnson.
“This is a long-term commitment — I prefer not to refer to OccupyKC as a protest because it sounds temporary. Protest is part of it but we’ll do this until it is not necessary.
“Kansas City-specific issues are down the line. This is very much about the people here.”
Bruce Rodgers can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor's Note: To read a comment by Jeff Johnson of OccupyKC on this column, go to http://www.kcactive.com/EMAILS/index.htm.