Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore

A View from Occupy Santa Fe

Filed By Mattilda Bernstein Sycamore | October 17, 2011 10:00 AM | comments

Filed in: Politics, The Movement
Tags: Canyon Road, decolonialism, direct action group, occupy Santa Fe, occupy Wall Street, organizing, policing

Occupy Santa Fe - inspired, of course, by Occupy Wall Street and the resulting movements across the country - started two weeks ago after a call-out on Facebook for a Saturday protest in the parking lot of a Bank of America branch on one of the busiest intersections in Santa Fe (busy for cars, that is, but certainly well outside the visible commercial center of Santa Fe's tourist industry).

That first protest was pretty festive - music and signs, about 70 people when I was there, mostly in their 40s and older I would say, overwhelmingly straight and white, a few people in their 20s and 30s, and several straight couples with kids. Santa_fe.jpgThe second week was similar, although twice as many people and a wider range - high school and college students, a contingent from the Taos Pueblo, a horrifying hot pink Hummer filled with older gay men and lesbians. Both weeks, the whole action centered around getting the attention of all the cars driving by, a little strange for me since wasn't Bank of America the target?

The third week, the protest moves to the Roundhouse, New Mexico's State Capitol, which unfortunately has way less visibility on a Saturday, even if it does wield more symbolic importance and is closer to the center of town. I went to the meeting to organize Saturday's protest, held at a new encampment directly across the street from the Bank of America parking lot. I'll admit I was skeptical about this encampment, which apparently has received the blessing of both the Mayor of Santa Fe and the Santa Fe Police Department - a blessing I assume came because it's not in the Plaza, the symbolic center of Santa Fe, or interfering with any tourist photo opportunities. But, when I arrived, it was pretty fascinating to see the infrastructure that had emerged in just a few days - tons of free food and water, several tents and an Airstream trailer.

And then, when I entered the tent where the meeting was taking place, maybe 15 minutes after the start, I couldn't believe it was packed with 50 people. 50 people at an activist meeting in Santa Fe, a town of less than 70,000 - that's pretty impressive!

It was standing-room-only in the tent, and I would say the demographic was pretty close to the protests - the majority insisted of white people in their 40s and older, although most facilitation and information-sharing seemed to be coming from people in their late-20s and 30s (all of this is an approximation, of course). Later, more people in their 20s and 30s arrived, and a contingent of six or seven young women of color who arrived together - it turned out that these women organize the local Food Not Bombs, and wanted to serve food at Saturday's protest.

Everyone agreed that noon would be the best time, but these women argued that, no, the general time for serving food was 5:30 pm, they wanted to serve dinner so that they could bring the people who usually come out for food to the protest. In one of the smoothest moments of the meeting, a quick consensus emerged for 5:30 pm, even though the protest was officially called for 10 am to 5 pm - and, since it is apparently a permitted protest (I'm curious who paid the hefty fee for the permit), this means it would go on after the permit expired.

I'll admit that I was frightened by the fact that, soon after the meeting began, people were asserting, over and over - if anything goes wrong at the campsite, call 911. People were even naming names of the elected officials you needed to call in order to march on the sidewalk - although, then, one woman did stand up and say that she came of age in the 1960s - "in my generation, we don't trust the cops for anything," she said - she also seemed very knowledgeable about Santa Fe police in particular. This was perhaps the least popular thing that anyone said at the meeting - immediately people started holding peace signs in the air (ironically, of course, many of these people had also come of age in the 1960s - apparently a flurry of peace signs meant let's stop this conversation now. But, the way it was resolved was to start a civil disobedience working group - not a bad solution, if it was it just to shut this woman up.

Someone demonstrated the "people's mike," the call-and-response technique popularized by Occupy Wall Street once they were prevented by the police from using amplified sound. Even though I wasn't sure exactly why the organizers had already turned down the sound system allowed for by the permit, I'll admit it was kind of fun to repeat things. It seemed like there was a pretty wide range of experiences represented by people at the meeting, which left me with an excitement I don't think I was expecting. I'm not sure if it's just because I live in this depoliticized town, or because I haven't directly been involved in an activist collective in several years and, oh my, do I miss it, or because of the participatory possibilities, but I left kind of wired actually.

Oh - and, my idea for an Occupy protest in Santa Fe, where the occupation angle seems particularly problematic... Remember, this is a town where the multiple legacies of colonialism are sold as tourist ambience, where the largest celebration of the year marks the "peaceful reconquest" of Diego de Vargas in 1690. I figure we should occupy Canyon Road, the heart of Santa Fe's art market, also in the wealthiest section of Santa Fe. Free Art! Occupy Canyon Road! Since Santa Fe is a town run by the art market and the tourists industries, Canyon Road is our Wall Street. I even woke up in the middle of the night thinking of slogans - "Whose Art? Our Art?" Or, blowing bubbles while chanting POP POP POP the art bubble! Or maybe Decolonize Art, Occupy Canyon Road, which Jessica Lawless just threw my way in a voicemail.

As of last night's meeting, there's now an Occupy Canyon Road working group - we'll see what emerges...

Crossposted from NOBODY PASSES, darling

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