Occupy Maine is a diverse community of people working together to transform society. We are students, parents and elders, professionals and working-class, homeless people and veterans. We come from all over. We each bring different gifts, and we each have things that we struggle with. But we all fundamentally want the same thing - to build a world where everyone is treated kindly and our planet is able to heal.
If you are interested in interviewing activists in your own community to contribute to this project, contact Rob at
Evan is a diehard - commited to the end. As soon as the Occupation began, he jumped in with both feet and has remained at the center, working tooth and nail to keep the fire of the movement burning. He lives in Portland.
What draws you to the Occupy Movement?
Well, for years I’ve felt the anarchist philosophy is how I view the world. It’s about mutual egalitarian discourse and lateral democracy. It’s about what the camps stood for and the Occupy Movement as a whole stands for in terms of how it governs itself and how it participates in the dialogue it’s trying to have. I stumbled upon the camp in Lincoln Park in October. Since I’ve lived in these kinds of settings before, I wanted to help finally move us onto the path to tangible change.
For so long I heard its fine to protest, but stop at ten PM because that’s when the war stops; people stop starving in America at ten PM so we can go to sleep. I said no! We can do things to keep this conscious 24 hours a day. Our discussion is about changing the paradigm we live in so that democracy can have meaning again. Goldman Sachs and other transnational corporate interests in a worldwide economy set up this game and what we need to do is to replace that game by just ignoring it, dismantling it, whatever we do. The global economy says they want to do it their way. We say, let’s do it better, replace it so that politicians with the best intentions have a game in which they can best represent us.
Can you tell me about your experience at the encampment? You’re the first person I’ve interviewed who was actually there.
It had its ups and downs. It was like any intentional community I’ve been in, especially an anarchist commune I joined for 3 years at college. Because it was an anarchist commune, we may have had different philosophies, but we were all united under this core structure whereby we live laterally so things go smoothly. But at the Occupy camp not everyone necessarily came from a mind-set of communal living and lateral democracy. You know, we had some people who went to Quaker school or different organizations, but there were a lot of people who come from top-down structures. They were used to living that way and there was definitely a culture shock that happened within the camp.
Campers like Desiree and myself and a few others who understood how this works were trying to help acclimate campers, and that created tensions because a lateral democracy thrives on communication. You have to be able to be human to the utmost with each other and that sometimes requires facilitating dialogue and conflict resolution so that when people go to GA, and they’re working in camp, they’re there as themselves representing what they believe and not “I don’t like what this person did outside of the camp” and “they dinged my tire” and all that is external to the pressures of the assembly. When you live in a democracy like what the camp represents in the community you can’t really hold on to your tensions with people. You have to find a way to move past them and understand how we can all work together.
Does that mean nearly all conflicts occurring within an intentional community can be resolved?
I think at least within the Anarchist ideal of communal living. I think that the early Anarchist writings were based on the philosopher John Locke’s ideals of essential biotic human goodness, that as a species we have goodness, caring and kindness as part of who we are, and if we access that we can work through conflicts so we will no longer need government to intervene. Instead we can come together and decide for ourselves how we shall live together and agree to those contracts as members of the community for the benefit of the whole community, all the while maintaining our personal freedom. When conflicts arise we sit down and discuss them peacefully and equitably to move past them as best as possible.
Have you discovered that there are people within the Occupy Movement who don’t necessarily subscribe to a more anarchist point of view? How do you find yourself working out relationships with them?
I’ve talked with people who are all over the spectrum of Occupy. For years I’ve talked with Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, Green Partiers and Tea Partiers and people who want to work in and out of the system. I always try to go with what we can agree on and try to get to some understanding. We can agree on health care and agree that the system might need some reform and a drastic overhaul. These are some things that we can tackle together. I try to look for those commonalities first and work within those. Then I’ll continue working with other people toward my own vision, not necessarily try to convert people but convey information, put it out there, and they can do what they will with it. What I find most important is that if we’re going to have to have representative democracy that people understand that their involvement doesn’t end at the ballot box and that choice is a large one that has a lot of considerations.
A lot of people agree with Occupy that there are fundamental problems with inequality of income, but are then afraid to take the next step: to change things in society to be more egalitarian, more based on ordinary peoples’ needs. Do you have any thoughts on how people who feel that way can come to feel less threatened, since a lot of people fear more losing what they still have more than what they hope to gain from a freer society?
The Occupy movement is ultimately calling for a shift in paradigm, based on our understanding that there is something wrong with human life as it exists now. What we’re saying is that the way that we look at the world now is inherently flawed and we need to change who we are as human beings. And that is a very scary thing to do. At its most extreme it is calling for an existential overhaul of the entire planet and rethinking what it means to be a human being, what it means to be American, a man or a woman, gay or straight, black or white. And how does that impact me and the people around me? What can I change in myself?
These are very scary things to do. But it is a burden that does not have to be taken on alone. We can make changes such as doing simple things that can get us to see beyond the current paradigm, like setting up community farms and stuff like that. Building structures in our lives that involve people in our neighborhoods that get us thinking about how any action we take impacts other people and eventually making it an effort by the whole human race to more calmly and organically shift our way of living towards a more sustainable paradigm.
Are there things that we can do in the meantime that can nudge people forward to ultimately accept that vision? I asked that because it could be a long time and what can we do in the meantime?
One of the important things we can do is encourage more public use of community space. I’ve been working for years with Preble St. Resource Center and Wayside. It’s almost become a homeless industry where we treat homeless people like cattle, like a stripping down of humanity. And then you get into a mindset where you feel like nobody’s going to help you and it’s hard to help yourself because what you see is your choices being stripped away. I think if we encourage community space and we have more things like community gardens and community suppers where everyone’s coming together to help feed those in need, and we have more cooperative housing where people are working together to better their own situation, then they feel that not only is their community helping but they feel they have a lot more autonomy.
Do you think that what you said also applies to all the people who are just one payment away from losing their home, one illness away from bankruptcy, where their primary experience in life seems to be insecurity?
Well I think its true all across the board. Even some people at the tipity top may have all the money but what do they do with it? This may be too idealistic but part of me thinks even Donald Trump is looking at his money and thinking there has to be something more. I think that for everyone, coming together as community to feed each other and keep each other healthy enables our expenses to go down and our quality of life to go up. It’s really about allowing yourself to access happiness and enjoyment. It’s getting tougher and tougher for people to do that, but if we encourage everyone to help each other to lessen the burdens of living, we can all see happiness. We can all find the peace we long for. When you’re sitting under a bridge living in a cardboard box and there doesn’t seem to be anything – then drinking can seem nice! You can get lost in it because you feel it’s the only thing you have and its either that or suicide. You don’t want to do that, so there’s the drink, there’s the drugs and you’re trying to cover up your feeling of lack of access to true happiness and community.
As an anarchist I take the lessons of non-violence to heart, though the US movement isn’t going to bring it to the world in 5, 50, 100 or even a 1000 years. But as long as people live it truly they can be that example.
What could you see in 5 or 10 years that we in Occupy could possibly impact?
I think that some of the more structural social changes such as single payer health care, Glass-Steagel, GMO labeling and the Monsanto case, are easier battles I think we can win. Getting rid of corporate money in politics is tough. It might need to be part of a 10- year plan. All Citizens United did was to make what corporations have done since the founding of our country worse. Even if we overturn Citizens United, it’s just going to get pushed underground. It will then be a tougher battle, because it’s going to be off public record.
But I look at how Martin Luther King or Gandhi framed things over a 100-year plan. King tried to genuinely listen to those who stood against him and say, “I understand where you’re coming from, but here’s a different world.” That’s where anarchy comes in – I can understand the violence in this world, and that’s why I wish to go past it. And if we learn not to be assholes to our neighbors, then we don’t need government to tell us not to be violent. Its not leading by example, but its providing an example.
I think an important dialogue for any non-violent movement to have is a reflective discussion of purposeful violence or disruption. For instance, why did the IRA use violence? When the Weathermen blew up FBI and police buildings, they made sure they were empty, but they blew them up to destroy a symbol of oppression. Let’s reflect on why we aren’t doing that. Is there a moral justification for that? What is the effectiveness of that as an action? Face the moral argument of why someone would take up a gun. It’s a discussion that Occupy hasn’t had yet because it’s a difficult discussion to have. We’re trying to come up with a counter-argument to why we’re non-violent. Well, why? Because we have to understand that blowing up buildings did work pretty well for the IRA. I had long discussions with people who said, “You don’t get it – violence can work”. I had to sit down and say, “I understand your point, but that is why I choose non-violence in the face of that”. If you want to convince an increasingly militarized world to lay down its arms, you have to understand why it’s militarized and why violence exists. It’s a scary discussion to have, very emotional, very divisive.
Might part of the difficulty of having that discussion within Occupy be the fear it might get distorted in the media and work against Occupy?
I think there’s that fear. I also think there’s a fear that if you discuss the merits of violent actions then you are justifying violence for yourself by appealing to a part of you that might want to blow up a building. But that’s not true, it just means you can understand why someone might want to. I spent 4 years on a white supremacist blog listening to stories about why people hate whoever, trying to understand them. But here’s where you should move past all that and try to show them a way towards understanding the world that lies beyond that hate and the roots of that hate. You have to understand why that person is carrying that hate for so long before you can try to alleviate it. If you don’t understand why someone took up a rifle against Margaret Thatcher or threw a bomb at a bank, or even why Timothy McVeigh drove a car into the Oklahoma City Federal Building and blew it up, you can’t convince future Timothy McVeighs to not do that. It’s a discussion I’ve been wanting to have in Occupy Maine for a while and I’ve tried to spark it up, but it’s always been “Aaak!” But people should be ready to discuss it. If you’re not going to shoot Hitler, then how are you going to persuade him not to commit genocide? Perhaps we can do it around a movie night where we can discuss it afterward, where it feels more natural.
Do you generally like the way Occupy Maine is functioning now, or are there some changes you would like to see take place?
As someone who was at the camp, a lot of the behind-the-back infighting that took place at camp at Lincoln Park is continuing. There are conflicts that are persisting that are not being talked about, and I don’t know how to address that – just try to start a peer mediation team? I think there are people who have conflicts with each other, anger, frustration toward each other who really need to get together to talk it out if they want to work within the movement and want this movement to last. It’s something that I still see swept under the rug. Some say there’s tension, let’s move on. But I think we need to talk about it, so we move past it, so it’s not there anymore. That’s been one of our major drawbacks and one outcome is we’ve had breakdowns in structural communication, about coordinating events and stuff like that and it just spirals. Talking with one another when you don’t like each other is very hard to do and we come from a culture that says avoid conflict, instead of embracing it and getting past it. Sort of like pretending there’s no Iraq war going on, just go shopping! Sweep it under the rug is the mantra most people have lived under for decades. If Occupy then says that we need to talk it out, then that’s an abrupt change from what we are used to in our culture. It’s a slow process to confront someone and say I’m really pissed off at you and let’s talk it out.
Are there differences in how moderate vs. how radical to be among people in Occupy?
I think there are genuine tensions between radicals and moderates. But the beauty of Occupy is that it has no unit language. Everyone comes with their own history, own way of thinking about things. If people come with very different ways of communicating, it can be hard to bridge differences between people who want to reform the existing system and those who wish for a new system. Occupy succeeded in getting millions of people to speak a different version of the English language and develop their own way to communicate. Parties have platforms. But when I work in Occupy I am myself part of the communal dialogue, and it turns out the revolutionist and the reformer can have a lot in common. It can be like: these are the reforms that can lead to the upcoming revolution, but it’s hard to see that if you have different forms of communicating. There are some people who want to communicate at the picket line. They want to do actions. Then there are some who say, let’s just sit down and talk about this. There needs to be a way to bridge that gap that separates us.
Thanks, Evan, for a terrific interview.