I've never been a huge fan of large crowds in small rooms.
On Saturday 08 October 2011, I found myself in the basement of the W2 Media Cafe, feeling not exceptional, waiting for the forum to begin on the upcoming Occupy Vancouver action.
A large camera was pointed at my face, with some guy with a leer looking at me through its finder.
Before I could even say hello to an acquaintance I had spotted, he turned to me and said "Fuck this, it's too much," pulled his jacket up to his face and walked out through the crowd.
Before the forum even began, the presence of media was a problem. Several times people mentioned that none of the media there had identified themselves or whom they represented.
I had been quite unsure about attending in the first place, given the history between myself, others at the Media Co-op and W2. The city seems to have an easy time forgetting hypocrisy, and so I'd somewhat agreed to show up and if/when prompted point out the irony of meeting in the building that was the flagship of gentrification.
Before we were even 15 minutes into the forum, someone asked to move to the Woodwards atrium due to lack of space. Hundreds had shown up for the meeting: a remarkable thing to see. A friend from Ottawa who came in later asked me if all I saw were the usual suspects milling about; I had to reply that in fact I didn't know the majority of people at the event. I was elated when I said this.
Others have written on the potential for anarchism at the upcoming action, as well as the disturbing stance some of those involved have taken towards snitching. I'm writing about my reaction to the discussion seen yesterday, between a diverse group of people.
The atrium was soon full of people, waiting as facilitators explained how human microphones worked. For some reason the facilitators wanted to get right into creating committees without talking about what was being planned or a basis of unity. A number of voices talked about the need to address the latter before anything else.
Quote of the night came from the lady sitting in front of me, who turned around and said "It's a bit patriarchal to want to occupy the VAG, doin't you think?"
Nevertheless, people did not seem to want to discuss exactly what was going to be occupied.
It was a pleasant surprise to see everyone so open to the idea of having the unceded Coast Salish territory statement entered into the main text for the gathering. Although, even Gregor Robertson acknowledges Coast Salish lands (but without the unceded part). The group did nix the idea to change the name of the event coming up to "Decolonize Vancouver."
Before the first part of the meeting was done, someone whispered to me that two of the people standing on the stairs going up to nowhere were undercovers. Not a huge surprise given how ready the organizers were to speak to the police. A number of people called out the issues with doing this, and so the final point on the collective statement included something about safety from police brutality.
What really made me shake my head was hearing organizers, upon being questioned about having a basis of unity and the police question, hastily dismiss these as coming from " a fringe element."
What did make me pay attention and wake up from my dozing was when a facilitator, upon seeing an even split in what people wanted to do, confessed "I have no idea what to do at this point." There was hope yet, I thought to myself.
Someone at the back who was blocked when she asked for the setup of a safety committee for people within the demo (from issues such as sexual assault) decided to start the committee regardless: a brilliant instance of what real self-facilitation within a leaderless movement meant.
The very last image I had of the meeting before it split into committees and I zoned out was of one of the facilitators making a heart sign at the gathering and telling them they were just a fraction of those that would be there on the 15th. Watching her took me back to seeing protesters during last year's G20 convergence throw up peace signs, not too long before the police attacked them.
I've been organizing in this city since 2009. I went to my first student demo at 15 and never really looked back. I'm bringing some hope and optimism to the 15th, but also a level of caution that comes with having seen the importance trust and safety play in what is being planned.
Edit: I changed the paragraph about Woodwards to make plain my thoughts about the building's prominence in gentrifying the downtown east side.