In October, a group of Montana State University students sparked Bozeman into action. They organized a march and rally that attracted some 200 Bozemanites as well as a good deal of media attention. For a lot of people in Bozeman, that was the last anyone heard of an occupy movement here. However, the truth has been that the residents of Bozeman have continued to organize ever since, and momentum is now building with new energy and actions. Since October, Occupy Bozeman has taken a street action against Wells Fargo, another at the Bozeman office of U.S. Senator Max Baucus, and a Black Friday people's microphone inside of Walmart. The group has screened the movies Inside Job and The Corporation. During the Christmas Stroll, Occupy Bozeman engaged in satirical anti-corporate Christmas caroling. They held a series of general assemblies both inside and out - the outside ones being in downtown Soroptimist Park. During those meetings, Occupy Bozeman has honed its consensus process, developed working groups, and has gone a long way toward improving communications. In the past week, occupybozeman.org finally went live. The group now has organizing email lists and a vibrant presence on Facebook. What's more, the separately developed new independent media site in Bozeman - www.rockyMT.org - has been able to help report on Occupy Bozeman and connect the movement to the other activists working on different issues in this region. (Indeed, I got involved with both projects because of the October Occupy Bozeman rally, which put me in touch with other activists who wanted the site which has since sprung up.)
Nevertheless, one can argue that while other occupy movements have been busy shutting down ports, setting up impressive tent cities, and standing strong in the face of police brutality, things have been rather slow and haphazard in Bozeman, a town hardly known for its vibrant activist community. Activism has been for people from Missoula or historically for the people of Butte, but that has generally not been the history of Bozeman. People here spend a lot of time outdoors in relative affluence often seemingly unconcerned with the troubles of the rest of the world. This is the city that infamously used federal stimulus money to improve its tennis courts, not a city known for taking on corporatism.
These things are beginning to change. In the last few weeks, Occupy Bozeman has been perhaps more vibrant and energetic than it has ever been. This month has no fewer than five separate things going on, and one in particular aspires to bring Occupy Bozeman fully on board with the spirit of the movement that arose this fall - that of occupying space with the aim of making a difference on the issues of economic disparity that plague our country. This month, Occupy Bozeman has its share of scattered events that include a January 11 protest against Guantamo Bay, Bagram, and indefinite detenition of U.S. citizens, a potluck - known as the Occu-Party - on January 12, a petition to call on the city of Bozeman to pass a resolution in support of a constitutional amendment ending corporate personhood (starting on January 20), and co-sponosoring a screening of Breaking the Spell (January 26), a movie about the WTO protests in Seattle.
It is the fifth thing, though, that perhaps is the most ambitious. Occupy Bozeman is writing a call to action that will call on all people to pull their money out of for-profit banks, particularly Wells Fargo Bank. It is the beginning of a divestment campaign against and focused on Wells Fargo (one of the "big four" banks) that nevertheless is part of a larger campaign to get all people and institutions to pull their money out of the banks that have caused so much of the economic disparity in our country and across the world. For instance, the group has already consented to work on getting Montana State University to pull their money out of U.S. Bank. Occupy Bozeman is calling on people to move their money out of these banks and into alternative not-for-profit solutions, like credit unions.
To achieve this, the first thing that Occupy Bozeman will be doing is to set up a regular day-long picket line on January 23 (and again on January 30), which will hopefully grow in scope over time. The idea is to occupy a piece of ground toward a strategic purpose against the interests of Wall Street that exist in our town. The picket line tactic is meant to fulfill the idea that we need to be occupying ground that matters to the bank and to be doing something that can actually make a difference. The picket is the first tactic of choice, but others are in the works and are being discussed at every general assembly.
Thus, more than a scattering of random actions, Occupy Bozeman is taking the strategic question seriously. How do we do something about economic disparity, and what is the most effective use of our resources here in Bozeman? Ideally, we would love to focus this on every single for-profit bank, but obviously that is not tenable for a group with limited resources. However, if we can make life difficult for Wells Fargo in Bozeman, it should have a ripple effect on every bank in town. If our campaign is organized well enough, it can serve as a model for other occupy movements and provide a repository of resources for the campaign. It will show that we are as serious about taking on the conditions of economic disparity, and we will be moving from tent cities in public parks to the public sidewalks in front of the banks (and even perhaps to the homes these banks dare to foreclose.)
So much needs to be done for this campaign to be a success, and the planning is still in the very early stages. Bozeman moves a bit like the tortoise, but I have seen how much energy there is behind the scenes. People really want to do this the right way. It will happen.
Occupy Bozeman ultimately is whatever the people who get involved want to make it. That is why it will continue to be a hodgepodge of actions that may appear to outsiders as all over the map, and that's how it should be. What is not a hodgepodge, however, is the central idea that we provide a space to empower people to take actions on the things that they care about, for which they have no voice in our society. Nevertheless, for those who want something that has a direct focus - which goes at why many of us don't have a voice - I hope that people will get involved with the campaign against Wells Fargo. Begin by moving your money, and take further action by joining a picket, or by providing some other resource to the people out in the street. We can use anyone who can help with legal, media, and public outreach. We can use artists. We can use researchers. We can use people who can do something as simple as providing coffee to picketers. No matter who you are, we can use you.
To reach us, go to occupybozeman.org, where there are lots of ways of plugging in.
I myself don't shy from calling myself an anarchist. I know that there are a lot of non-anarchists in the group. What I care about is making sure that people have voice. I don't agree with the tactical aims of every action, but I love that we operate in such a non-hierarchical fashion.
I hope things get better in Billings. I wouldn't worry about scattered groups. Sometimes, that's organic. Let it happen. Find the people you can work with, and go for it. Sometimes such decentralization can be quite an advantage. However, I also know that a lot of times things can degenerate into an intramural pissing match for a whole sort of reasons. At the very least, I hope you all can respect each other.
My best to you and thanks for your informative comments to my essay,