The Occupy movement has been sparking conversation among US citizens for two months now. In the past weeks, I have been traveling from occupation to occupation bringing Firedoglake’s Occupy Supply fund to encampments that need help so they can survive the winter. I visited Occupy Madison in Wisconsin a couple weeks ago. Here is a report on my visit:
I arrive on a day when the weather is cold, rainy and windy. I had just driven from Occupy Des Moines. I park my car in the lot of what used to be a car dealership until the city took it over. This is where citizens of Madison are occupying.
The occupiers are all in one large structure taking shelter from the rain. It is in the evening and they are preparing for their General Assembly. I meet up with Cindi, a key organizer in the occupation, and Katherine and her husband, who have agreed to host me while I am in Madison. I also meet up with a representative with the Machinists Union. We talk about how I have been traveling occupation to occupation in the Midwest.
The General Assembly is just beginning when we leave to go pick up supplies. We are given a tour of the camp and shown the tent where supplies are kept. We are shown the other tents in the camp too. Not surprisingly, in the midst of pouring rain, the occupier giving us a tour tells us Occupy Madison needs big tarps to hang and help reinforce the structures they have built for permanent occupiers (not all occupiers sleep in these camps). The occupation also wants storage containers to protect items from being damaged in rainy or snowy weather.
We pick up tarps and storage containers and return to the encampment. The General Assembly is in session. The discussion focuses on how to make it through the winter. They are talking about whether they can build straw bale homes or not. It is mentioned the Fire Department will probably not like this idea. There is much debate and many attempts to achieve consensus on purchasing supplies to build these straw bale homes, but ultimately the occupation chooses to have someone go down to a fire station and figure out what the occupation can do without violating any city codes.
The next day I go to the camp again to get some photos of the camp and talk to some occupiers. Dennis Welch, a permanent occupier who has been occupying Madison for weeks now, agrees to talk. He came to the occupation from Chicago, did not know what the occupation was about and was informed of how the occupiers lived. He saw how occupiers treated each other and knew immediately he needed to be occupying.
Welch explains how the camp has been moved by the city multiple times. They were in Veterans’ Park first but then a Halloween celebration pushed them to move to Minona Terrace. Then, the city met with occupiers a day and a half later and offered the lot they are in now with no restrictions. Occupy Madison jumped at the opportunity.
The city has been fairly cooperative thus far. But, while I am here, the occupation is having an issue with the Health Department, which wants the occupation to obtain a permit. The occupation put it to a vote in the General Assembly and decided not to get a permit. They also decided this lot was now the occupation’s home and they were not going anywhere. This meant they would have to go back and forth with the city and hopefully get the Health Department to back down.
Welch also talks to me about actions Occupy Madison had been doing. He says they had been doing actions against the banks that essentially make the banks lock down. They lock their doors to keep customers out. Chase Bank, for example, posts a security guard and customers who look to “protesty” are not allowed to enter.
He describes how he and another occupier went into the M&I Bank, a bank whose executives and board members were some of the biggest donors to Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker’s election campaign). The two wanted to open a bank account for the Finance Committee. But, they were not allowed to open an account because they were too “protesty.”
Finally, Welch offers his take on the movement and says the way that we live here is the solution.
There’s people from every political background, religious extremists of the both side, in a different situation people that may even be physically assaulting each other because of their different beliefs. Here that all dissolves. All the barriers and things that separate fall away because people believe in that one thing and they will become selfless in order to advance it. I think if there’s anything that I have seen in my life it is Occupy because of that because—all the things that divide people in groups—they vanish.
The visit to Occupy Madison is the last stop on my Midwest tour. Many of the occupations I have visited are in locations of the country that citizens might think do not have cultures of dissent. At every camp, I meet at least ten or more people, who are ensuring their city continues to have an occupation that can act as a launch pad for actions aimed at calling attention to economic and social justice issues in not only the country but also their local community.
The tour is energizing and inspiring. Days later, I begin a tour of occupations in the New England region of the United States.
Interview with Dennis Welch of Occupy Madison