For months, the Big sites have reported that the conditions at various Occupy camps have become a magnet for predators, and that the movement’s collectivist method of dealing with the incidents by way of “consensus” decision making, rather than through law enforcement when appropriate, has created an environment that is unsafe for women. Numerous accounts of rapes and various sex offenses were reported in news outlets, though we’ll likely never know the real number of incidents because of the policies of many Occupy locations which favor internal resolution.
The now viral video of Andrew Breitbart confronting Occupy protesters at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Washington DC with chants of his own, like “Behave Yourselves” and “Stop Raping People,” may be something of a joke to left-wing pundits like Keith Olbermann and Cenk Uygur. But rape is no joke, and what that video has done is bring the reality of how sex crimes at Occupy are treated – within and outside of the movement – to the forefront as a national discussion.
Supporters of the Occupy movement have been on the defense ever since, some rushing to say that rapes and sex offenses have been minimal and don’t represent the whole of Occupy, others blindly and willfully claiming the incidents are non-existent entirely. The truth is, whether it’s been 20 sex crimes or 2,000, one is too many. And denying that rapes have occurred is as equally abhorrent as raping those victims all over again.
But don’t take an evil “Breitbart blogger’s” word for it, take it from some of the women from Occupy.
A comprehensive article last month from the Boston Phoenix about Occupy Boston provides remarkable insight into the inner-workings of the movement, as that camp struggles with the same challenges that have plagued so many other Occupy camps across the country in dealing with crime and harassment of a sexual nature.
The article provides numerous direct accounts of women who have voiced concerns about the need for a safe environment, free from sexual predators, only to become targets of verbal attacks themselves.
The article begins:
It was after 10 pm on Tuesday, January 10, in the stale, bright basement of the Arlington Street Church, where now-nomadic Occupy Boston was holding a meeting. At issue was something that would seem straightforward: a proposal to prevent level-three sex offenders from being a part of Occupy. But suddenly, it felt as if the entire movement could be splintering. Two nights earlier, the sex-offender proposal was blocked. And now, as the Occupiers attempted to deal with the aftermath, the room filled with a tense whirlwind of emotional outcries about feeling triggered and targeted by misogyny, sexism, and homophobia.
At Occupy Boston, the resulting struggle is indicative of a more widespread problem that stems from the movement’s ideology, and illustrates how “participatory democracy,” by nature, can (and will) lend itself to mob rule.
The article continues to set the stage and lays out the issues at hand, from the perspective of an observer and that of Occupy Boston insiders:
Within the first half-hour of the assembly, it was clear that a typical GA (General Assembly) wouldn’t work for the night’s anxiousness. So instead, it became more of a Quaker-style community speak-out, with rows of about 75 chairs reorganized into a circle. The facilitator told the group to “let a spirit guide them,” and to speak as they felt inclined, without being called on. Someone handed out stress-relieving clay; the room even took a moment for “spiritual grounding” as someone from the Faith and Spirituality working group sounded a Tibetan singing bowl. It all worked surprisingly well for the first three hours.
But eventually, it broke — people started lashing out, yelling, antagonizing, walking out of the room. A new hand gesture was soon established for the night’s GA — a fist covered by an open hand, to signal oppressive language or verbal abuse — but it wasn’t working. Overall, the night confirmed that, as one Occupier put it, “Shit’s boiling over right now.”
The fight over whether to ban level-three sex offenders has become an even larger issue — highlighting the weaknesses of the open, consensus-based process that Occupy GAs rely on. And according to representatives from other Occupy cities, the issue isn’t unique to Boston.
The author is correct, the issue isn’t unique to Boston.
For four months, this very website and its sister sites have meticulously documented incidents of crime at Occupy camps nationwide. Through our reporting on the ground, a picture began to emerge. Women in particular were being put at unnecessary risk, and it was the movement’s “democratic process,” along with the fear of bad press, that was putting them there.
Like Occupy Boston, other camps have had sympathetic organizers and whistleblowers. Bigs reporters Lee Stranahan and Brandon Darby interviewed a female activist last November, who spoke openly on camera about ongoing sexual assaults and rapes, among other crimes, at Occupy Wall Street in Zuccotti Park.
Two of the incidents at Zuccotti Park have resulted in the arrest of one man.
Other crimes of sexual harassment and assault have been alleged in locations such as Occupy Hartford, Occupy Cleveland, Occupy Baltimore and Occupy Philly, some of which have resulted in arrests. From all accounts, while Occupy has set up internal procedures at most camps for dealing with such incidents, reporting them to police seems to be a grey area. There is criticism of the process from other occupiers, as many locations still prefer to take a consensus before reporting such incidents to authorities, a step that’s not always a comfortable one for victims of sexual harassment or assault. Additionally, there is a real fear of how reports of the incidents will portray the movement – it’s easy for Occupy supporters to scream and yell that anything Breitbart-branded isn’t credible (despite the fact that the reports are true), but having anything make its way into mainstream media is unacceptable to many in the Occupy movement. Some women have therefore expressed concern and fear over aggressive pushback, and what that does to the victims.
Back at Occupy Boston, some of that pushback was evident. Aside from concerns about being inclusive, the pushback in this case was also the result of activism to reform sex offender laws, resulting in the blocking of the camp’s proposal to ban level three sex offenders, which are the highest classification in Massachusetts.
On January 8, the proposal was brought up, and blocked. At Occupy, there’s a complex procedure for how a proposal can be blocked; it takes a three-quarters vote on whether the block is a valid, or “principled,” block, before participants vote for or against the proposal; in the end, it takes only the votes of 10 percent of those present to cement the block. On the night in question, that required only eight people.
One of the eight was a man named Paul Shannon. Shannon did not reveal his affiliations at the time, but was later identified as a key proponent of an organization called “Reform Sex Offender Laws.” The reason that’s important is that Occupy’s “statement of autonomy” requires participants to disclose any outside organizations they represent. It’s essentially Occupy’s conflict-of-interest statement.
Because of the internal process, by which everything at Occupy is decided via consensus through direct democracy, even an individual who hasn’t attended many meetings, in this case one seemingly with his own agenda, can derail proposals that represent a larger portion of the group’s wishes.
The block on the sex offender ban proposal prompted some of the camp’s other occupiers to speak out in protest of the decision, some even walking out on the meeting.
“The community doesn’t have a good way for dealing, through the process, with blocks of that nature,” said Ross. “Is it really consensus if eight or nine people can thwart what seemed like the strong will of the whole of Occupy Boston? No, I don’t think so.
“[It’s] the culture of misogyny that prevails in our society at large,” she added. “Like it or not, we’re a microcosm of that society.”
On January 8, when the sex-offender proposal was blocked, 20 or so Occupiers walked out of the general assembly, according to numerous witnesses.
“A lot of us have been surprised that for a progressive community, how in line [Occupy Boston] is with the mainstream as far as not taking women seriously, tolerating harassment of women, both verbal and physical,” said Jender, who was among the walk-outs. “This is something that has been brewing for a while. Things really are not changing. Once one problem is gone, another one appears.”
The Occupy movement often seems to suffer from decision paralysis. In its desire to live in a bubble apart from the rest of the world, where the process of ruling by consensus through direct democracy is a pillar of its foundational existence, Occupy’s system of governance sacrifices good, reasoned results by giving more attention to talking about how to make others feel included. But many of Occupy’s supporters, especially those in the media, don’t seem to realize it’s sometimes having the opposite effect. One that’s painfully illustrated at Occupy Boston.
“We’re not having that conversation yet!” said one Occupier during the church basement assembly, as someone tried transitioning from a process discussion to the actual discussion of the sex-offender proposal. “We’re having a conversation about a conversation.”
“And now we’re having a conversation about a conversation about a conversation,” said the facilitator.
At one point later in the evening, I was taking notes as a girl sitting behind me was sobbing.
That’s when someone in a fur coat ran in and started shouting. The message was confused and incendiary: a Boston Occupier had allegedly been drugged by another Occupier the previous night at a “safe house” in Mattapan, the messenger told us; the alleged victim woke up in a pool of sweat and remembers nothing; the person who did it was here earlier tonight; he had been sitting in the back of the room, but he left around 9 pm — and now no one knew where he was.
There was an immediate explosion of questions and commotion. But no one knew how to process this information. And eventually the speak-out resumed. “I’m frightened!” one woman screamed. People told her to keep it down. “Why am I not allowed to say ‘I’m frightened’ loudly?” she asked. “I’m frightened, too!” another woman screamed back. “Let’s be frightened together!” the first replied. They met in the middle of the circle for a hug.
While there has been a good deal of discussion at Occupy locations all across the country, much like what’s occurring at Occupy Boston, it’s largely hidden from the media. And as more and more people voice their concerns about incidents of rapes, sexual harassment and assaults, the more the media tries to turn their backs to the crimes, the more they turn their backs on the female victims of Occupy.