I arrived at Occupy Baltimore just in time to see a young man with purple hair getting walked like a dog. On the other end of the leash, a sexy brunette activist in heels – the “cruel mistress of capitalism,” as her cohorts jokingly called her – snickering at the audience. Of course I would have expected nothing less at the “Military Industrial Complex S&M Pageant,” which had already delivered an explicit scene depicting horrors that companies like Bechtel inflict upon all of us. The masochism clips didn't make the local news (video below), but naturally we snapped some winners.
The Baltimore action was impressive in both its energy and organization. One key ingredient to this success is their location at the McKeldin Fountain, which is simultaneously located in the heart of the downtown area, and wedged between moron attractions like the Hard Rock Cafe and the financial district. As a result, they have way more foot traffic than Boston or DC, where folks almost have to go out of their way to check the goings on up close. As a result, Baltimore has recruited a number of passers-by, while repulsing blond-haired young Republicans en route to Dick's Last Resort.
WEB SITE(S) occupybmore.org (WARNING: occupybaltimore.com is a sham, as someone appears to be holding the URL hostage looking to get paid)
TWITTER HANDLES @OccupyBaltimore
Sorry if it already sounds like I'm gushing, but the Occupy Baltimore inhabitants are a truly clever group of mostly young but also middle-aged activists who – at least for the time-being – don't feel the need to argue over every fucking detail. They seem artsy on the outside, and in many cases are, but some covers don't do justice to the books. The head of their medical group, who throws one hell-of-a-hip into a hula hoop – is a doctoral candidate at nearby Johns Hopkins. They also have some solid homeless participants, as well as the most competent facilitation group I've seen anywhere (note: I haven't been to Wall Street yet).
So far Baltimore occupants have been crashing in the dry McKeldin Fountain (nicknamed “Queer Camp Mortville”) in the rear of their camp site. They don't have a permits (yet) – whether or not they'll apply for one is a current point of positive contention – so there are no tents. But they haven't had rain yet, so – other than some backaches from crashing on concrete – the 25-or-so every-nighters are doing just fine. Like at the other occupations that I've rolled to, Food Not Bombs is on the grub beat (they have a few days worth of food supplies as of Friday), while the media team – while unable (or unwilling) to answer some pretty basic questions for me – seems to be getting the job done as far as internal dissemination. Oh yeah – and one person even brought a hammock.
Occupy Baltimore really has its shit together (sorry – I had to). In addition to having a bunch of nearby chain restaurants and public rest rooms to poop and shave in, they've rented a port-a-potty and raised enough dough to get it cleaned regularly. For a divine throne, though, I recommend the McCormick & Schmick's a few blocks away, which has a mighty convenient side entrance and luxurious hand towels.
Nearly everybody on the ground says that the police have been cool at Occupy Baltimore. Like in Boston, authorities have let squatters set up without permission, and for their own part have maintained a non-threatening presence. So it's ridiculous that the resident anarchist contingent is angling to hang a sign that says “ALL COPS ARE BASTARDS” despite opposition from the overwhelming majority. I consider myself somewhat of an anarchist – not to mention a pretty ardent cop-hater with several arrests under my belt – but I have to call bullshit on Occupy anarchists who are more-or-less trolling the movement. Anarchy can mean a lot of things, but it certainly doesn't entail trying desperately to co-opt revolutionary actions for the sake of subverting them by any means.
Occupy facilitators from other cities – who want their general assemblies and daily grinds to run more smoothly – need to come and check the Baltimore cats. They had a lot of nonsense worked out before the big nightly powwow began, and that made everything gel lovely. I'm aware that horizontal democracy allows little room for decisions to be made without the whole contingent present, but from what I've seen elsewhere, that limitation can lead to entire assemblies devolving into spats reminiscent of schoolyard brawls over the rules to HORSE. Now go ahead and leave a comment about how I don't understand the first thing about Occupy.
This is not a reflection on Occupy Baltimore specifically – as far as occupiers go, I found them to be relatively hospitable. With that said, my personal opinion is that Occupy groups everywhere need to wear their welcome hats proudly, and engage strangers and newcomers like salesmen on a used car lot. To their credit, when it came time for the general assembly Baltimore facilitators absolutely laid the down ground rules for the benefit of first-timers, and abstained from snapping on folks who asked stupid questions or accidentally broke the process.
While at Occupy Baltimore someone said one of the most sensible things I've heard in weeks: “We're all oppressed in different ways, and that's what unites us.” Sure, they also have break-out groups that are working on a specific mission statement and such, but I think the gang should go with that simple slogan. In fact I think that the entire movement should embrace ambiguity, if for no other reason than to tell big media and all Americans: “EVERYTHING IS COMPLETELY FUCKED. ISN'T THAT ENOUGH TO PISS YOU OFF TOO???”
SIGNATURE CHANT “Hey hey – ho ho – this corporate greed has got to go”
I say this lovingly, but Occupy Baltimore definitely has the homeless-chic thing going for it. Overall an incredibly anti-fashionable group that nonetheless fits the bill in their comfy pants and second-hand Army jackets.
I did not come across any celebrities at Occupy Baltimore, nor did I care to look like Mario Lopez and ask if they've had any Tinsel Town muscle stop by. With that said, I can't cover something of this nature in Baltimore without shouting out one of my favorite scribblers of all-time, H.L. Mencken. Here go two quotations from the legendary Sun columnist that I think apply: “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want and deserve to get it good and hard;” “Every decent man is ashamed of the government he lives under.”
I'm happy to say that these ignoramuses do not have a physical presence at Occupy Baltimore. Let's hope it stays that way, as the next person I see with an Obama-Hitler poster is getting doused with cold water.
As mentioned in the toilet section, the Baltimore waterfront has more than a dozen soul-crushing chain establishments – all of which are hella overpriced. The good news, however, is that the smut district is close by, and you can find the dive bar of all dive bars right across the street from the Hustler Club (hard to miss – they have a cooler in the window showcasing their impressive selection of 40-ounce bottles). Just don't say anything misogynistic; following a freestyle rap battle with an inebriated regular, the bartender scolded me for using a certain word in referencing the female anatomy (she told me that her “business customers were arriving for happy hour,” and that she didn't want me and the boys to scare them off). Ironic that after doing such a good job of biting my politically incorrect tongue for weeks at Occupy rallies, I got reprimanded at the lowest bar this side of pre-Giuliani 42nd Street.
Of all the hopeful things I saw at Occupy Baltimore – from the S&M pageant to the friendly police officers – the standout moment came when Food Not Bombs co-founder C.T. Butler opened the general assembly. As I've been bitching about for more than a week now, Occupy participants in cities that I've been to demonstrate an unsettling animosity toward older activists and organizers. In Baltimore, though, they treated Butler with the respect that he deserves, and even voted unanimously – following his talk – to implement consensus building techniques that he designed decades ago. As the inevitable freak-out unfolds over whether Occupy is being co-opted by outside entities, it's important to remember that a lot of old picket line standbys like Butler can be a huge help. In his words: “I'm an anarchist – I don't want power over any of you.”