I alluded yesterday to the debate raging at Occupy Otautahi over whether or not the camp should move. This is a fucking huge deal to us. Some people are ready to leave if it doesn’t go through (not the movement itself, just go to other occupations, and it’s not just over the location, it’s more about the decision to move as a symbol of what we’re doing) while others are quite firmly opposed. Hopefully there’ll be a decision tonight, but I don’t know. I’m going to try and represent both sides of the argument here just so people know what’s going on.
The Hagley Ave site (where we are now) has several problems. There aren’t toilets close by that we can really use. Senior management at the hospital has told us to cease using hospital toilets, flat out. The portaloos from the bus exchange are gone. Any public toilets are a fair walk away. (Pops today told TC that she could walk to the one in the carpark in two minutes easily. I looked at the distance and went “uh….” Things you have to think about when your legs don’t work properly all the time.) There is a tap where we can get water, but we’re not sure whether we’re actually supposed to use it, and that’s also a bit of a walk.
Deans Ave has fully public toilets right there, as well as a fully public water supply right there.
Now that the bus exchange is gone from Hagley Ave, the traffic is joggers, dog walkers and nurses, mostly. Most of these people come past on a regular basis.
At Deans Ave, you have a) one of the busiest intersections in the city. b) A lot of foot traffic. c) Several bus lines heading from town to the west side. d) Sports fields nearby that are used regularly.
Nearness to Other Sites
Hagley Ave is closer to the central city. Unfortunately there isn’t much in the central city. Cashel Mall can be busy, but that’s only a very small area.
Deans Ave is near Riccarton and Addington, which are becoming among the biggest shopping and business hubs in Christchurch, respectively.
There is an argument that Hagley is safer for children. Deans Ave is diagonally opposite the Running Bull, so there’ll be drunk people on Thurs-Sat nights. However we already get drunk people (last night we had to call the police about a couple of guys, though luckily we managed to deal with the situation without them having to actually come out), and there is three police units actually stationed by the Running Bull on busy nights whose job it is to deal with drunk and disorderly in the immediate vicinity.
Some people feel that moving would open us up to criticisms of being unstable and indecisive. This is very easily resolved by issuing a press release the day of the move, if we decide to do so, explaining our reasoning for moving and pointing out that Hagley Ave was never supposed to be a permanent location. We could even explicitly link this to the changing shape of the city itself – the bus station moved on to bigger and better things and now we are too. Further, we already get media backlash, and a lot of the backlash is specifically criticising us for being too comfortable and just hanging out. Which brings me to,
The increased traffic means that Deans Ave is potentially noisier, and one of our homeless members said that the wind coming down Riccarton Road would be a problem. Beyond that, though, there’s the fact that we’re simply settled at Hagley, the space is a really nice positive one that everyone enjoys and we can have a good community focus there.
The rebuttal to this is that we can settle at Deans Ave too, that nothing at Hagley can’t be recreated there. The other rebuttal is that we’re not actually there to be comfortable and have a commune. If we wanted comfort we could just stay at home and go on protests during the day or whatever. This doesn’t necessarily mean we have to be uncomfortable, but comfort shouldn’t be a compelling argument in this. (TC mentioned today something that also bothers me – while we’re having this argument, Occupy Melbourne is in Federal Court challenging the City over the violent evictions, Occupy Sydney had a ton of riot police turn up to arrest ten people in an abandoned building, people in America and the UK are getting shot with rubber bullets, having tear gas canisters thrown at them, somewhere around a thousand people have been arrested in the US and it’s winter there. TC is American, so it’s even bigger for her because that’s her own people.) We’ve had a lot of comments about people giving us respect for being out in the weather and sticking it out. The day after we nearly got flooded out, people’s response was this sort of awe that we were still there, and because it was fairly early on there was this realisation that hey, we were actually freaking serious about this!
This plays into the previous point a bit too. The number of people at camp is a constant topic of discussion. People who are pro-Deans argue we can get more attention there, and thus more people. People who are pro-Hagley argue that if it’s less comfortable at Deans everyone will leave and no one will join for long. People who are pro-Deans argue that it won’t be that bad and people who really believe in it will stay anyway. (See: America, Australia, etc.) It goes on.
My contribution last night was that we’re already losing people. We are at risk of dying off. If that happens, I would far rather die off after having moved to Deans Ave to try to counteract that than die off at Hagley Ave after having shot the idea down. That got quite a lot of agreement from other pro-Deans people. (lol face it, I’m not unbiased here – I am very much all for moving.)
This is really the crux of the issue. We have two groups of people, basically, with two different ideas about what our direction should be. One group thinks that we are inherently a protest and we should be getting in people’s faces. They tend to be pro-Deans. The other group is in favour of a more gentle approach, leading by example, setting up something sustainable to show it can be done. They tend to be pro-Hagley. Honestly I can see both sides here and both ideas are important. I just think that we need a protest more urgently.
There’s a lot of other issues that really get all wrapped up in this, like the consensus system we work within itself. Many other places have adopted a 75% consensus rule. We don’t have one. The only real rule we have is a 10 person quorum. Beyond that the idea seems to be that everyone has to decide and that’s just unrealistic when you get into bigger groups, let alone huge groups. As I said today, we live in a world with John Banks in it, and he’s never going to let us get 100% consensus. (We’d been talking about him shortly before this.) So I have no idea how much support we need to have to pass the motion, let alone how much support we have right now. I have to do the dishes tonight so I’m not sure whether I’m going to go back for the GA – I’m sort of tired of rehashing the same points over and over, which bothers me more than the wind chill.
The other underlying issue is the motivation. At the moment almost all our time is taken up with just keeping the camp going. We have to move the tents at least twice a week, and half the tents don’t even have people sleeping in them. If we moved apparently we wouldn’t have to do that – I haven’t been there very recently to look at the exact layout, I just sort of know the area and trust the reporting of those who went to check it out in the rain the other day – an important step because we need to know the drainage situation so we don’t get flooded. As I said to begin with, the move has become a symbol of us actually doing something. If the people who have expressed they will likely leave do leave, it won’t be because we didn’t move the camp, it will be because we are spending most of our time camping instead of protesting, and as several people have said, they can do that on their computers. You know, like I am, while also going to the camp. It’s particularly tense because the people who are really stepping up to do things are often those who are deeply committed because they were already activists. They have the experience, they have the knowledge, they have the connections, but because they’re trying to keep things running they’re not getting the chance to use any of it.
Someone (I think TC again – sorry, I was having a long discussion with her and Rob and she said a lot of stuff) said that in Dunedin, there’s no leader so if someone has an idea they do it. I nodded and added that in Christchurch, there’s no leader so if someone has an idea we all have to agree on it. A lot of things simply don’t get done after we have agreed. I suspect they’re partly getting diluted or blunted – you lose urgency and possessiveness of an idea when you have to talk it out, and then people start getting the impression that someone else will deal with it. In reality they won’t. It becomes yet another thing that’s in the background, that [the group as a whole] needs to do [sometime], along with all these other things that [the group as a whole] needs to do [sometime] which includes both other protest-related things and other camping-related things like doing the dishes.
Sadly, if Christchurch can’t get past this and fails, that’s a big score for the people who don’t want us to succeed. I can see this happening so clearly but it’s hard to fix it. I have to know how to do it, and be able to do it, and this is while I’m going through my own shit – these last few months I have made fucking huge strides in improving my basic state of existence. I am able to go out and talk to strangers and give opinions. I have a job. I have an occupation. I have a blog. My life is determined by what I need to do instead of what I won’t hate doing to fill in the time while I hate myself to death. Right now I don’t quite have the space to be proud of that because I’m so invested in Occupy, and that’s not a bad thing, it’s great, it’s pretty amazing actually, but it means I cannot really be the person who stands up and saves the whole thing, as much as I want to.