Occupy Flint

There are about forty to fifty Occupy encampments left in the United States. But, as I found out during a demonstration against Governor Rick Snyder’s emergency manager law on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, there are probably a number of encampments that are flying under the radar.

At the entrance to the gated community where Gov. Snyder takes shelter from the reality, which his policies are creating in Michigan through his fealty and servility to the 1%, I spoke with a member of Occupy Detroit. He informed me that Occupy Flint was likely the last encampment in Michigan that was still going.

I decided I needed to add Occupy Flint as a stop on my current Great Lakes tour. I postponed my visit to Occupy Detroit and drove out to see this camp.

I arrived at the site where I immediately noticed there were two campers and one large shelter. I then saw a few tents that were next to this large shelter. The few tents had bales of hay surrounding them.

I walked around to a dirt pathway that led into the door of this large shelter and saw a few occupiers standing outside the shelter. A few of them were wearing camouflage pants. I told them I had hats and gloves from Occupy Supply to deliver.

When I brought the box into the shelter and opened it up, the six or seven people there were very excited and grateful. They each took gloves and wanted a hat that was a color they liked. There were also a few winter socks, which I gave them that they were incredibly happy to receive.

One of the occupiers, Quentin, described the shelter and how the city has to allow it because it is not a permanent structure and has no cement foundation. He says there is a “ridiculous amount” of space and shows me the snack station, dining room area, kitchen and library. He pointed out a map on the wall that has a color-coded key of all the Occupy sites in the United States. “Occupys under siege” are red, “summit occupations” are dark green, “donation locations” are purple, “home bases” are black, “occupied cities” are yellow. It was hard to tell if the map is updated, but there are pins all over the map with many different colored pins in all forty eight states.

This is a “space where people can come and learn about the Occupy movement,” Quentin explained. Then, once they learn something, they can “engage.”

He pointed out “double-bubble mylar insulation” that had been put on the ceiling, which “reflects up to 95% of all heat that comes out.”

The temperature in the shelter at the time was 60 degrees and outside it was pouring rain and thirty-five degrees.

A tech guy, who is also occupying Flint, described  the three separate power systems running at the encampment. He helped rig a 50-watt array on the roof that powers mobile batteries and backup communications like a ham and CB radio, which are hooked to an antenna. There’s also a 110-watt array that does “backup” power for the “house.” Then there is the 380-watt main array, which has two 185-watt solar modules with two deep cycle batteries attached and a 40-amp charge control.

The encampment has a generator, but they haven’t had to run it for weeks. They maybe run it a day or two each month and so they haven’t had to do any “energy austerity.”

Two of the power systems were donated by a local solar installer. The third came from the tech’s home, as he installs solar for a living.

The owner of the property next door gave Occupy Flint permission to put the solar modules on the roof.

Quentin told me virtually all of the materials and supplies at the Occupy site were donated by the “people of the city of Flint.” He celebrates how this shows “people really can make a change.”

The 24/7 protest has been there since October 14. Quentin describes some of the events or actions the occupation had organized so far. In the fall, they had Occupy Fridays, “which were community-based resource and arts events” that were “designed to get people out in the community.” The occupation wanted participants to really learn what was happening with people in Flint.

They had “two large coat drives” for homeless veterans and citizens in Flint. They collected so many coats that they had to take the coats to ABC12 to get rid of them.

At the end of the month, Flint will hold a massive general assembly to plant the seeds of direct democracy. Mayor Dayne Walling will likely attend. They intend to pack an auditorium at the University of Michigan-Flint. Hopefully, this will give Flint residents a chance to communicate to Mayor Walling about their concerns and it may even make it possible to escalate action against the emergency manager law, which makes it possible for an emergency manager to be appointed to come into a city and renegotiate, modify or terminate collective bargaining agreements.

Occupy Flint, like many other occupations, has been dealing with foreclosures. Quentin pulled out another map, this one of foreclosures in Flint. He shows how the small purple rectangles on the map are Land Bank-owned. Then he points out how the pink rectangles are houses that foreclosed in 2010. There are a “ridiculous number” of homes that foreclosed in 2010.

“How many of these foreclosures were fraudulent foreclosures that were made by Bank of America, Chase, and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac?” asked Quentin. The occupation, he said, has gone “door-to-door” to figure out when foreclosures are taking place and who is responsible. They have been trying to help individuals or families get into “stable living environments” because “pulling someone out of their home is one of the most devastating things you can do to a person.”

Occupy Flint has also taken action on a national issue—the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act, what Quentin considers the “most anti-American bill” he has ever read “parts” of in his life. He thinks 99% of Americans have no idea this bill that allows indefinite detention was signed on New Year’s Eve.

A young veteran, who is occupying too, walked over to add that occupiers were able to sit down and talk to Mayor Walling. He had no idea about the NDAA and claimed his “wife dealt with the national side of everything.” This veteran talked to the mayor and said, “Wouldn’t you want to know if SWAT trucks were coming in black bagging your constituents?” Because these would be people who voted for Walling.

The veteran said it is a slap in the face to see this happen in this country. It’s also a slap in the face, after medical charge, to come back and see veterans are being labeled “extremists.”

I asked Quentin and the veteran what they would like to see Occupy do and what their priorities are. The veteran answered, “Everything.” And Quentin said, “We’re going to change the world. Whatever that encompasses and whatever that involves.” They were both confident and that is not surprising given the fact that they seemed to be completely self-sufficient, at least when it came to things like electricity.

Occupiers showed me their wood-burning stove. They have it setup to pull in cold air. It has no open flame and is up to code.

Just as I was about to leave, the tech told me how police setup a drug checkpoint nearby the encampment when it was first setup. This was seen as a violation of the Fourth Amendment to many and so they challenged the checkpoint and even got on local television. The drug checkpoint was forced to move or, rather, decide they would only pull people over if they turned around at the drug checkpoint and tried to go the other direction.

The occupiers also described how they have done neighborhood watch in the area around their encampment. The police came by one time to tell them they were there in the area keeping an eye on the neighborhood. Occupiers said that was great but they have been out and about and they saw this and this and this and could tell the police this was going on. They said we have our own watch team. A police chief was present for this news.

It was time for me to go and I wished them all luck. I hopped into my car and drove away thinking about the feel of the camp. It had a post-apocalyptic feel to it, like society has failed and even completely collapsed and out of the ruin this is what has risen up in its place.

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Interviews with Flint Occupiers

Quentin & the Veteran:

An occupier who has done a lot of the tech for Occupy Flint: