Yesterday afternoon, about 150 people came out to the Cleaners at the Ace Hotel for Your Slice of OccuPIE, a Mercury/Bus Project-organized discussion on ways to promote economic equality beyond camping out. Every single ounce of donated pie was consumed—which is pretty impressive considering Whiffies donated 100 handpies and Random Order Coffeehouse donated 10 of its big pies. Those pies were amazing. And, despite threats, no one threw pie in my face! Or disrupted the discussion, as happened in Seattle. Instead, the crowd ranging from people who had never been to an Occupy-related event before to people who had camped out for the full five weeks in Portland, had a pretty solid, civil, hour-long discussion.
Matt Bors made this drawing to commemorate the event:
Also, here is a photo of the pie, to prove it existed.
Below the cut: A rundown on what we actually talked about!
Instead of a regular panel discussion where a group of experts sits at the front of the room and talks to a quiet audience, we wanted to have a discussion where panelists were part of an actual discussion with the rest of the room. So we split the crowd into four groups (pumpkin, apple, banana cream, and razzleberry—which is a "daring" pie made up by a major corporation, BTW) and had the panelists rotate every 15 minutes between the groups to facilitate the smaller conversations.
The panelists represented four different perspectives on activism: Occupy Portland (with Reid Parham and Micaiah Dutt), advocacy (with Economic Fairness Oregon's Mari Borden and Oregon Action's Steve Gilliam), government (with mayoral staffer Jen Yocom and Senator Jeff Merkley Deputy Directory Mary Beth Healy) and media (with Matt Bors and whatshisface).
Any feedback from anyone how attended on who the small groups worked? It's a format we just made up. The room was a bit loud and there was less back-and-forth than I hoped there would be, but overall, I think it was definitely better than a traditional panel. Feel free to disagree, though.
Each of the groups had someone taking notes on giant paper notepads stuck to the wall. Looking at the scrawls from all four groups, some themes emerge.
One major conversation that kept occurring was how to best engage in the political system. Several people noted that you can make a bigger impact locally than on national issues, and local politics matter a lot. For example, in 2010, Portland voters rejected a measure for campaign finance reform. The representatives from government and advocacy groups argued that your voice really does make a difference in local elections and with politicians: Yocom noted that Sam Adams' office started looking into switching city investment to credit unions after a single email from a citizen. Most citizens don't take the time to speak up, so the loudest voice hitting politicians comes from lobbyists. They recommended well known ways of getting involved, like writing an email to your electeds. Merkley's office, which is working on a
anti-corporate personhood campaign finance amendment, gets over 15,000 comments from citizens a week.
Several people in the crowd offered that people figure out what key issues are important to you and keep track of when those issues are up for any sort of decision, then weigh in with politicians. A good way to do this, offered some people, is to sign up for email lists or as members of advocacy groups that work on those issues, then they do the work of letting you know when there's a big decision looming. Also, anyone can sign up to speak in front of city council on any topic for three minutes every week.
One group got into this interesting discussion: Should Occupy try to take over the Democratic party, like the Tea Party did to Republicans?
All in all, though, the crowd was definitely split on whether it's best to work within the system or not. "You can't change a government that fundamentally doesn't represent us," wrote one group. "Should we trust the system?" wrote another. That line of thinking led to advocating for people to get involved with direct actions (like marches and protests) and with Occupy itself, by joining one its myriad working groups.
As for other issues, one group brought up that we need more communication between the police and non-police citizens, in a non-hostile setting.
Other conversations revolved around improving media. Denis Theriault and Matt Bors recommended getting in contact with reporters—send them emails or post comments on their stories with polite corrections or perspectives that weren't included in the piece.
The Occupy livestream crew brought up making your own media: Contribute to a blog by writing, snapping photos, making videos and getting all three out to more mainstream media. Often, shoddy media coverage is the result of reporters and editors not wanting to go outside familiar narratives on stories. "Mainstream media repeats stories they hear."
My group (razzleberry) wound up talking a lot about barriers to getting involved in Occupy. One girl mentioned that she felt the whole discussion the 99 percent ignored differences within the 99 percent—and she personally felt a bit excluded as a woman, since there is a gender gap in who speaks up at Occupy events. Another woman mentioned age as an issue—she felt like maybe she would not be welcome among the young crowd as a middle-aged person.
Other interesting topics that were covered or not discussed, anyone?