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Inside "Occupy Berkeley"—A Week in the Life of a Nascent Revolution

by Ted Friedman
Monday October 17, 2011 - 11:06:00 AM
Last week and days before she resigned, Sistah, fires up the "general assembly--at Occupy Berkeley
Ted Friedman
Last week and days before she resigned, Sistah, fires up the "general assembly--at Occupy Berkeley
From left, Miles, with notes, John, Bo-Peter, Rachel co-facilitating last week at BA Plaza
Ted Friedman
From left, Miles, with notes, John, Bo-Peter, Rachel co-facilitating last week at BA Plaza
Last week, when Michael Delacour, center, arm raised, was not yet disaffected with Occupy Berkeley
Ted Friedman
Last week, when Michael Delacour, center, arm raised, was not yet disaffected with Occupy Berkeley

The first thing some protesters experience is demo-paranoia.

Paranoia shone its bloodshot eyes early—on all factions among the protesters.

Some of the paranoia: fear that the occupy movement is a sting operation to identify America's most dangerous radicals and charge them as terrorists: fear of provocateurs and obstructionists; fear of being co-opted by larger movements; fear of politicians, fear of reporters and photographers; fears that unauthorized flyers and buttons would not benefit the protest; and the fear that someone would steal the donations that support the protest.

Saturday, I investigated a suspicious police training in a large building (the old U.C. Press Building), at Oxford and Center. Signs in the lobby touted police trainings, and an FBI Van was parked out front, less than a half block from Saturday's protest. 

As I peered through the window, someone stepped outside and asked if I had any questions, although he was the one with a question: Who are you? 

I told him the rumors about police trainings being a cover for a surveillance operation. His answer—that the event had been planned for three months— sent me packing. 

But if this was a thoughtful government surveillance, wouldn't "they" have known the protest's plans for months? In fact Berkeley activists seemed to have been openly working up to a major protest for months. Saturday night, a vehicle with four policemen parked the wrong way on Center, across from the new occupying encampment, gawked for a while and left. 

Reportedly, the squad car's identification insignia had been taped-over, and carried four uniformed Berkeley police, possibly fresh from their training at the press building. 

We're taking paranoia seriously. 

But it wasn't threats from without, which marked the first week, but threats from within. 

Some protesters quickly adopted protest protocols that came by way of Spain and Manhattan, while others struggled. 

"Mike check" is a call and response technique which requires speakers to craft brief sound-bytes that are then repeated by the audience. Mike check was necessary in Manhattan where mikes were banned. Not everyone could adapt to the unfamiliar format. Some called it programmed, "robotic," or just weird. The term "manchurian candidate," was heard. Indeed some of the statements and proclamations sounded canned. 

Attempts were made to introduce the more familiar Roberts Rules of Order, a staple of PTAs, fraternal organizations, and unions, but this failed. Still, "point of order," dies hard. Some facilitators have allowed it. 

Occupiers prefer hand signals to Roberts. For opposing, you cross your hands at the wrist at chest-level. 

Some of the facilitators have said they are impatient with rambling speeches. Friday, a protester called "Propeller Head" (propeller on a bike helmet) was warned that he was disrupting when he vowed to "block everything," in protest against the process. 

A discussion on whether a vendor could sell his own Occupy Berkeley buttons took more than fifteen minutes. Often a proposal that was "passed," in one meeting is not enforced the next night. A thirty minute discussion over right to photograph was passed, but not enforced the next night. 

Then there was an ideological rift when Michael Delacour saw his Berkeley demonstration—launched from the People's Park stage—grabbed from him by mesmerizing Cal students that he thought he was recruiting. Apparently the students were recruiting him. 

The Delacour embroilment came to a head at Friday's general assembly, the night before Saturday’s major rally and march downtown. Delacour proposed a general strike to shut down the nation's workforce and infrastructure. When there were no pros and several cons, Mike left angrily with the mike. It was his equipment. 

He returned the equipment the next day in time for the keynote speaker to spark off the march downtown. 

In a fiery resignation, Friday, "Sistah," one of the most inspirational speakers in the GA (if only she didn't repeat herself), characterized Occupy as "deceptive, inexperienced or arrogant at best, or simply dangerous in that it puts too many vulnerable people at risk…." 

Before splitting, she charged that the protest was dominated by Adbuster's magazine, a 

120,00-circulation Canadian magazine with more than half its readers in the U.S. Sistah's charge was fueled by the key role in the protest -someone described in Adbusters \ast year as "a Contributing Editor at Adbusters and an independent activist. He lives in Berkeley and is writing a book about the future of activism." 

This Berkeley "independent activist" recently spawned an anti-corporatist movement that launched from lower Manhattan in September to spread throughout the world. 

The independent activist and writer does not want to be named, but anyone can find him hiding in their computers. The Adbusters activist has made several low-key visits to Occupy Berkeley, and has gone out of his way to be just another protester. While in attendance, he always seems to be enjoying himself. 

This editor's publicity-shy attitude may come from yet another paranoia—that some popular figure will hijack the protest. Participants you could swear were leading want to be called facilitators. The facilitators' committee is open to the public and anyone—with a little training provided by the committee—can facilitate. So everyone leads. 

All week we were asking "How Berkeley is Occupy Berkeley?" when the franchise turns out to have been inspired by a Berkeley resident (newbie) and his Adbuster colleagues. How Berkeley is that? 

Or is the "independent activist," just another outside agitator like Benjamin, who is accused of being one in "The Graduate?" 

If you launch an international protest from Berkeley that will get you into the history books, you should get credit whether you want it or not. And maybe Berkeley will get its own credit, yet. 


Ted Friedman, Off-beat South side reporter for the Planet, is again off-beat. Michael M. 

contributed. Friedman's six-part protest series (daily coverage) ran last week.