Occupy Baltimore: A model for the society we'd like to see

The Sun has invited participants at the Occupy Baltimore protest in the Inner Harbor to contribute articles about their experience, views and goals. This entry is written by Meredith Mitchell, a co-owner of Baltimore Bicycle Works, a cooperatively run bike shop in Baltimore.

One of the things I find most inspiring about the Occupy movement is the idea that we are not only creating a space to air our complaints about the existing system, but we are working together to create a model for how we would like society to operate in the future. There are many specifics about this new model that I find impressive including practicing true participatory democracy, working on consensus building, and sharing responsibilities so that the needs of all are met. Yet, one of the most impressive results of this new model, at least in my opinion, is that it serves every individual in our little community well, no matter how great or little their needs may be.

Baltimore has a very large population of people living with shortages of their most fundamental needs, including food and housing. As such, when Occupy Baltimore decided to set up camp in McKeldin Square, we found there were many others there who had already called this area their home. Because Occupy is about representing the 99 percent, we welcomed all and recognized that those who live in Baltimore, and all over our nation and the world, without a home to call their own are a critical component of this movement. As such on night one it was clarified to all that we would not be providing “charity” to anyone, but instead we would share our resources with anyone and everyone in the 99 percent.

As someone who is very familiar with the concept of charity, having worked for the largest human service non-profit agency in the state, I find this model of sharing resources very compelling as compared to the predominant societal model of providing charity. Each night when our hot meal is served, we all line up together; in that moment we are all in need, we are all looking for nourishment, and as a result we are all experiencing the essence of humanity together.

At Occupy Baltimore, we are not only able to share our food resources, we also have a fully staffed and stocked medical tent, educational workshops, and companionship. We too are preparing our home for rain, we too are living in the realities of downtown Baltimore. It is my belief that this model retains a greater level of dignity for all.

Just the other night when I arrived at McKeldin Square for the General Assembly and was locking up my bike, I began to talk with a man who had just finished preparing his camp for the expected rain. “It’s my very own man cave” he announced as I looked at the fort he created under one of the fountain bridges. We talked for a bit about Occupy Baltimore in general, he caught me up on all the activities of the day and told me how we had assisted protesters in managing a negative encounter with some intoxicated passers by. He warned me that the streets could be rough and that we young people needed to be careful out here. Finally he assured me that he was keeping an eye out for all of us.

It wasn’t until he revealed that his inside knowledge of how to live on the streets safely came from years of homelessness that I realized he was living without a home. While I know clearly that our new model has certainly not solved the issue of homelessness, what I took from the conversation was that in return for sharing our resources with him, he too was sharing his with us. He was sharing his knowledge, his relationships with local security and police and his ability to mediate conflict. To me that is what community is all about. We ALL have something to offer each other, and I think Occupy Baltimore is a great example of what happens when we all share our resources freely.

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