Occupy Champaign: An introduction to the local movement
Published: Thursday, February 9, 2012 - 4:16pm
We've all heard about the Occupy movement, and when it came to Champaign, I decided to attend with my sister in the hopes of learning more about it. We had a really great time, meeting new people, opening our eyes to a different type of democracy, and questioning our own and others' political views and sanity.
From Jan. 27-29, our local IMC [Independent Media Center] hosted an Occupy convergence of Occupy groups from Chicago, Springfield, St. Louis, Bloomington, and Indianapolis to update the Champaign-Urbana community on the movement and to educate others on how to get involved with the 99 percent.
On Jan. 27, a group gathered to discuss the movement as a whole and what should be done in Champaign-Urbana. The event began with everyone introducing themselves and what they hoped to gain from attending this workshop. Answers ranged from belief in social change through social action, to participating in something bigger than themselves, to a very personal connection to the movement and the work that it is doing, to basic education. People ranged in age from high-schoolers (my sister and I) to retirees.
Before the presentation and guest speaker began, people introduced themselves and wondered why two high schoolers chose to spend their Friday evening at the IMC. We felt very welcome and met many people; they were really excited that we were showing an interest in community events.
Everyone we spoke to had a real enthusiasm for the movement and they believed that over time the movement can change the system to help all citizens. It was refreshing to meet people who do not just complain about politics and politicians, but organize and unite to stand up for their beliefs.
Truthfully, her presentation was extraordinarily confusing to me. The focus of her speech was "cybernetics," and she reserved the right, as the presenter, "not to explain that." No one could doubt her enthusiasm--I simply found the leap from the Occupy Movement to cybernetics (which according to Wikipedia is "the interdisciplinary study of the structure of regulatory systems,") baffling.
After the presentation, everyone gathered in a circle to practice an Occupy General Assembly. We learned all of the Occupy Movement's hand gestures that allow everyone to see each other's feelings on a topic. We certainly had our share of misunderstanding and debates, but we managed to power through.
At times it got confusing about who was speaking when - there can be stacks within stacks, but overall I really enjoyed the experience of participating in a new form of democracy. Occupiers believe that in order for a vote to pass at least ninety percent must say yes. Within the movement there is quite a bit of restructuring and compromise, so ultimately no one loves the final decision, but it is one that everyone can live with.
Following the presentation was for me, a period of extreme guilt. We were unaware that a potluck would be taking place, so the Dolan Family failed to provide any part of the meal that we ate after the practice General Assembly. Still, the food was excellent and the conversation accompanying the meal was scintillating. No one ever tried to force their opinions onto us; they simply told us to do research and really think before we ever vote or form an opinion and to remember there are multiple sides to every story.
The real General Assembly began soon after we finished our delicious vegetarian meals. The person moderating the discussion asked everyone what they would like to discuss during the meeting today and how much time they would need for each topic.
The topics varied from outreach, to future meetings, to signing petitions for "Companies are not People," to the Facebook page . At the General Assembly the group also used the hand gestures to get a feel for what the group felt on a specific topic and to see how the subject of the vote can be amended to accommodate everyone.
Everyone had the chance to speak their mind, and everyone's opinions were taken into account. At this General Assembly no votes were taken because of the fact that there were many visitors present who might not attend any more assemblies later on.
Unfortunately, we had to leave before the General Assembly was over, and we were unable to see the play that followed featuring the Champaign-Urbana Socialists. Overall, we had a very educational and fun experience, and although we did not agree with many people's opinions, and were often confused, we do hope to go back.
So if you are interested in joining or learning about the local Occupy movement you should stop by the Champaign Public Library every Friday night at 6 o'clock by the library cafe.