The first meeting of Occupy Williamsburg last night unfolded like a very civil Airing of Grievances, where anyone with an issue was given time to present an argument. It was more about the woes of gentrification than the evils of Wall Street: The range of issues discussed included the overarching purpose of Occupy Williamsburg, concrete goals like saving PS 19 — a school targeted to be turned into a charter school — and more abstract ideas like how to avoid the bar-and-consumption driven life of the typical Williamsburger. Optimism ran high, although one person, concerned about taking on real estate developers, warned, “be careful about whose toes you step on.” The calm discussion supported the idea that the Occupy movement could thrive in the world capital of Not Giving A Shit. But will they actually take action?
Well, it’s too early to say. No concrete action plan came out of the meeting, but there was enthusiasm. The meeting was held at Union Pool (a venue more familiar with hosting your friend’s country band), with the idea of “repurposing a space ordinarily used for banal consumption” according to facilitator Corey Eastwood, one of the proprietors of Book Thug Nation. The meeting drew a crowd of 30 to 40 people, enough to fill up the back room. Attendees included neighborhood dwellers, activists from other Occupy movements around the borough and people who had hung out in Williamsburg before it was all gentrified, from young 20-somethings to more grizzled veterans of the activism scene. Naturally, gentrification was on everyone’s mind.
So, what brought people there?
Josh, an 11-year resident of Brooklyn living in Greenpoint and parent of a kid who is in the odd position of attending an arts and humanities school that had its arts and humanities programs eliminated due to budget cuts, said he wanted the group to call attention to other schools that had no arts programs. They could do it by working with local artists and musicians, either to encourage protests or to volunteer their time for concerts or classes.
Discussion of more specific issues like that happened in break out groups for Education Reform, Community Relations/Education and Occupying Public Spaces. Not unlike a typical night at Union Pool, it looked and sounded like people milling around between bands, but instead of talking about buzz bands, people talked about strategies to reach out to the surrounding neighborhood or how to best explain occupying a space to someone not familiar with the movement.
There were media representatives there other outlets, including a blogger from The Atlantic and a reporter from Reuters. The Reuters guy managed to knock over a bunch of posterboard the organizers had set up on an easel to record people’s ideas. The reaction to the media was lukewarm at best; I got the stink-eye from one of the attendees while I was taking notes on a breakout group, but others were more understanding of the fact that I had a (unpaid) job to do.
No permanent or imminent action was put on the agenda, but the next meeting dates were set for Dec. 20 and Jan. 4 (the venues will be posted on OccupyBK.org). The general agreement was that Occupy Williamsburg is a long-term social project that would require patience. People lingered after the meeting, sat around the fire outside and talked about upcoming actions and future plans.
Follow David: @HerbertHarper.