Friday, December 30, 2011

Missoula County Blames Shit on Occupy

Mea culpa: I should have been blogging this from the beginning, because now I am way behind.

It seemed after the Vietnam War ended, most people thought war had ended. Few realized war is necessary to keep our system going, and plans were already made to move military operations into the Mid-east. Today, few realize our nation has been bought by rich and powerful corporate interests, who don't care how many die in their wars, or starve, or suffer due to lack of medical treatment, as long as profits go up.

Most people don't know this, because corporations own the media. You already knew that, and I'm preaching to the choir. My question is: How do we wake more people up to reality?

It seemed around the world, people had resisted tyranny and fought for freedom, while this nation's citizens slept in front of their televisions. When OWS sprang up in New York, spreading quickly coast to coast, I was amazed and excited. A fervor against greed, war and empire fervor seemed to fill the air again, as it did in the 60s. Maybe we could stop the giant earth-raping machine we had become. We can always hope, right? Seems like I heard that somewhere.

While the hip realize Gil Scott-Heron was right about the revolution not being televised, many think it is now streaming live.

The initials of the occupy movement, and it's local rendition, Occupy Missoula, form an ancient, universal peace chant. Try it sometime. You might like it. OM

I am not camped on the courthouse lawn, because I think it would probably kill me. The people still camped on the lawn in, spite of increasing pressure from the county, are my heroes. I couldn't do it.
That is a Korean War issue army tent, purchased and raised by volunteers.

Personally, I think it looks good, better than empty lawn, which is a waste of space. Let's plant vegetables and flowers all over the place.

I swear if I hear one more time about the poor county employees who have had to pick up human feces from the Missoula County Courthouse lawn, since the Occupiers arrived, I shall scream. Houseless people and late night revelers leaving the bars finding no public bathrooms have been using that space for a toilet for years. When Occupy Missoula first marched from the fish sculpture to the courthouse, a team was formed to police the grounds. They removed human shit, toilet paper and other debris hidden by the bushes. With the assistance of local sponsors and donors, Occupy Missoula arranged for porta-potties to serve the encampment. The vandals who turned over those outhouses, stirred up a shit storm.

The porta-potties had to be returned. The county claimed their employees had to be vaccinated for protection from shit now on the lawn. The county claimed the cost of vaccinations was caused by Occupy. Haven't those employees been getting vaccinated, since there has been shit on that lawn for years? 

Pathogens is a buzzword the county has thrown to the media in an effort to raise fears about the Occupation's threat to health and welfare. How many noticed that a proud local health institution had a pond and plaza full of bird shit, with possible pathogens tracked into the cafeteria and on into the food preparation and service areas? Did surgeons walk through duck shit on the way to operating rooms? Did any city or county staff want to talk about that issue?

One fact which became obvious was that downtown Missoula needs more public restrooms. When the bars close, many people are stuck with bursting bladders, or worse. During peak events, homecoming, the rugby fest and the like, it is best to stay out of downtown alleys where there is much pissing and breaking of glass. Occupy didn't cause those messes either.

Another issue Occupy made plain is in spite of Missoula's reputation as a liberal, enlightened Camelot, there is a small elite making most of the major decisions for the community. Guess what? They aren't always guided by what would be best for the largest number of local citizens, but what would best serve their career goals and profit their friends. We knew this was true on a federal level, and this year we saw the Montana state government veer into insanity. Now we know Missoula city and county governments aren't as clean and shiny as we thought.

Media is full of glowing accounts of the local non-profits serving the less privileged, and, of course, the local politicians brag about all their good works. Behind the facade is a cold outlook and a callous approach to handling the houseless, the mentally disabled, physically disabled and substance abusing street population of Missoula. Sweep them under the rug and out of sight sums up the basic policy with big doses of harassment and intimidation thrown in.

Three weeks ago Missoula County commissioners sent a letter to Occupy Missoula saying they "...would like to request that Occupy Missoula relocate their camp or use the Gazebo without tents during the day."  

They wanted a response the following Monday, December 12. The letter was, of course, sent to dozens of media outlets also and provided a preview of how the county would handle it's PR. 

Presented with that letter, the General Assembly of OM met on a Sunday to discuss a response. Assemblies operate by consensus, which is harder than democracy. While democracy produces winners and losers, consensus strives for agreement among all concerned. It's a slow and difficult process. Four and half hours of discussion failed to produce a communication back to the county. 

KPAX showed some snips of that GA, and summed it up saying the occupiers blamed the homeless for the shit on the lawn. Not so. First, the homeless prefer to be called houseless, because they carry their homes with them, and can be at home almost anywhere. Second, these hardy souls are not a problem, just a symptom of the problem. Third, it is likely the drunks who toppled the outhouses were common garden-variety Missoula carousers. 

A small group met the next morning to write a response asking for more time to make a response. Got that? That letter reached the commissioners, and they graciously extended their deadline. 
Letters and communications went back and forth. The General Assembly battled to a draw on the issue of the encampment. The county began to up the pressure against the campers on the court house lawn. Since OM had peacefully vacated for Veterans Day, they asked for a repeat performance on First Night to allow the annual ice sculpture event to take place. Did the Missoula Cultural Council need the whole lawn for ice sculpture? OM arranged to meet with representatives of MCC to discuss an amicable division of the lawn. 

Now comes a major coincidence, as the county staff rousted the entire camp about 5-5:30am, unsettling everyone and claiming a houseless veteran's tent as abandoned property, because he wasn't in it. Later that morning, the county announced to all the usual media outlets that they had removed the porta-potty to encourage OM to remove their tents and to save taxpayers' money. At that point, they had not actually removed the shitter. They performed that act approximately an hour before the meeting between Occupy and the Cultural Council was to take place. 

Executive Director, Tom Bensen, and board member, Pam Walzer, represented MCC, county employees attending were Dale Bickell and Larry Farnes, and several Occupy Missoula participants were there. It was a friendly discussion. Occupy Missoula ceded the entire east side of the lawn for the ice sculpture event,  and the county agreed to provide MCC with electricity at the flagpole.

The county commissioners talk about supporting free speech, but at least one of them would prefer not to hear any. They will be meeting Wednesday, January 4, to change the law to make camping on the court house lawn illegal. Maybe we are better off in Missoula than other places. The federal government now changes laws regularly to make their previous crimes legal. Local politicians are smart enough to change the law first.

2B continued...

Coming soon: Why did city council dump two million dollars on the stadium? Why did the county commissioners approve an elite refuge for McMansions on rare fertile farmland? Who is in bed with developers? Have public funds been misused?