America's Most Critical Journal (since 1999)
The Occupational Hazards of Occupying
By Jeff B Willey
“If 9-11 was indeed a mass scale ritual, a sacrifice of thousands to the appeasement of some dark force, then it should be asked who are the gratified demigods of that supplication? And who received the boons from satiating them?”
The speaker addressing the crowd was a man in a Corona poncho, eyes like spinning marbles, more conspiracist than activist. What bullshit muttered Frederic Zamtoit, waiting his turn at the microphone.
The topics that day were many: land rights, prisons, corporate greed, and cronyism. There were many outrages to give voice to. What united those gathered in the second week of protest was the conviction that something was very wrong with the world; they were divided on what to do about it.
The group was not seeing the larger picture thought Zamtoit. Here was his chance to enlighten them. But first a motion on currency was up for debate. There were proposals, consultations, counter-proposals, friendly amendments and tests for consensus. After nearly two hours it was decreed that all money was to be banned; anti-money would be used in its place.
Frederic Zamtoit was already at full lather when he took up the microphone and stepped onto the fountain at the centre of Confederation Park in downtown Ottawa, Ontario.
“I have listened and this is violence!”
“This is violence!” some in the crowd repeated.
“This is fractal brain pathology, bloody teeth on the ground! I've bathed in their words, underwritten by the media, but I am not cleansed. They reject our call for mere transparency. Instead we get justifications for corporate exceptionalism and denial of the plainly obvious: that our so-called prosperity depends on the plunder of the earth from under our feet and those of millions across the planet. They call this globalization. The system hinges on warfare, or the threat of it, to keep resources on the feed line. Warfare against those in other countries, but also against our own underclass.”
There were shouts of resignation, and Zamtoit, bolstered by this support, traced a circle in the air as he continued. “Resource wealth allows the weapons that subjugate the vassal states that permits further resource extraction―under the guise of “free markets”, and to the benefit of only they who control this cycle. Feel that on your back? That’s the Big Hand, moving his pawns around.”
Someone yelled out “shadow systems!”, and the crowd voiced its disapproval.
“But I am strangely clearheaded from the assault," Zamtoit declared, "like how an electric shock straightens out the nerves. And I am ready to move, MOVE!”
“MOVE!” raged the crowd.
Zamtoit could sense he had them. “You know who the enemy is” he said.
“Who?” shouted many in unison, the crowd wanting to hear it.
“I’ll tell you. After-hour old boys, where the dress shirt rule is one button per drink and it starts with a loosening of the tie, and ends with white guts hung out, ties wrapped around the skull and another profit round on our backs. Then send for the whores.”
“For shame” someone yelled.
“It’s how the skin-suits roll. But I say on with the city, on with industry! On with the workers marching a billion strong and you best clear out the way because this rebalancing act is long past due!”
The crowd roared decisively: their leader had been found.
Working groups broke out nearly immediately to plan next level actions. Under Zamtoit’s direction, all banks, corporate offices and economic regulatory centers in the vicinity were to be occupied. This action would, over ensuing days, spread them thin, with only a handful of protesters available for each target, but it was the symbolism that counted.
Life at Tent City acquired a rhythm and direction. A man known as Drumbaba led the daily drum circle. A roundtable was held almost every afternoon. The group maintained that it was a collective of peers, nonpartisan and open to all, with every voice accorded value. In practice it was Zamtoit who set the agenda, it being implicitly understood that all matters of importance were deferred to him.
Group cohesion faced certain challenges. The protesters initially comprised students and disaffected labor with a healthy dose of young socially-conscious women, all sleeping in solidarity under tents afforded by the heir-radicals of wealthy families. But the demographics had quietly been shifting. Homeless and individuals with mental health issues had been finding their way to Tent City, indeed the park had been home to many of them long before the movement had sprung up. These people were incorporated into the movement, the idealistic young scholars gladly sharing high-quality recreational gear with them. By the end of the third week the dynamic had noticeably veered from young, energized and gender-balanced to older, less stable and overtly male. Part and parcel with this shift were increased confrontations, incidences of intimidation, health concerns and the formation of splinter groups. The Marxist faction awoke one morning to tents draped with urine-, feces- and blood-stained blankets; this was how messages were sent. In an attempt to curb this behavior Zamtoit enacted a code of conduct and appointed minders to monitor and report on internal activities.
A more insidious problem presented itself during the fifth week. In Silico, the hacktivist group and vanguard of the group’s technological frontline, had brought to light an alleged plot to discredit the movement via subtle cognitive disruption. Specifically, several communiqués were uncovered revealing that municipal health authorities were aware of attempts at the purposeful dosing of the camp’s water supply with yohimbine. It had happened more than once, and though they didn't reveal the perpetrators, the messages exposed complicity in hiding knowledge of this sabotage from the public and those affected.
Zamtoit, though outraged, was also in a way relieved as the revelation provided a measure of explanation for the increasingly erratic behavior of the collective. He moved to secure the water supply and launch a public outcry, resulting in the shaming of two implicated officials.
Of all the challenges perhaps most grave was the approach of winter. The incessant growl and tang of diesel generators wafted through the ever more forlorn encampment as leaves accumulated on the ground and night came on earlier, the dedicated core pacing, pacing, shivering, pacing. There were rumblings of dissent and discussions of how long they could reasonably be expected to confront the elements. Herb Morganta, leader of the conspiracist faction and a significant rival to Zamtoit, insisted that government Illuminati had planted sowers of dissent within the group, and a general purging was in order.
Informed by the group’s accountant that they were falling behind in payments to the so-called Hobo Syndicate, who, as the original inhabitants of the park, demanded a kind of honorarium for sharing the space, Zamtoit successfully negotiated for the provision of food, narcotics and other goods in lieu of cash.
Zamtoit recognized that the cardinal tension threatening group cohesion was sexual. In a brilliant tactical move, he sent his trusted consigliere Chaya Dalyn, along with select female members, to local college campuses in order to recruit more young and willing women to the cause. Crisis was averted as the improved gender ratio defused the “acting out” on the part of disgruntled male members. “Keep the home fires burning” was the euphemism for this explicit support of the front lines who bravely faced the elements, cool day by freezing night.
Zamtoit’s solution to the impending weather woes was more calculated though no less effective. Many occupiers had banged up rickety structures consisting of stacked pallets insulated with bags of leaves or garbage, but already there were reports of hypothermia as the temperature plunged. Zamtoit, in tandem with Chaya Dalyn (who by then had become his lover), conducted secret negotiations with Forēsis, makers of high-end electric hybrid vehicles. Forēsis agreed to allow the protest movement to “occupy” a portion of their spacious downtown showroom over the winter months. Zamtoit thus secured heat and shelter while also avoiding a confrontation with the parks commission and police, in exchange for what Forēsis viewed as favorable optics among the movement’s well-heeled progressive supporters, who happened to be the car maker’s target market.
Coinciding with relocation to the new wintering grounds, word arrived that an Accountability Auditing Taskforce would be implemented for the oversight of lending practices, an effort touted by the powers that be as a direct outcome of the pressures exerted by protests across the country, and this victory heartened the denizens of Tent City. Somewhat more excitingly, a cabal of wealthy donors (incidentally the majority of whom were in the resource extraction business) had agreed to establish a fund dedicated to the movement’s select projects, be it anti-poverty measures or harm reduction. (“But I thought we didn’t use money anymore, just antimoney?” wondered one confused protester.)
Late one evening a town car pulled up to the dealership and a man stepped out: Mayor Horace Yarrow. Surprising as Mayor Yarrow had initially taken a hostile stance towards the movement. “We have to be locally progressive,” he announced to the attendant media, "especially in the face of an apathetic federal government, unloading itself of social responsibility." He emphasized that he viewed many of the group’s aims as legitimate, and that he would work with them towards solutions. Zamtoit’s behind-the-scenes appeal to City officials had paid off, and he now had an important ally in the sometimes tense interplay with the wider national politik. This would prove to be the group’s high water mark.
There were mounting signs of unrest in the Forēsis showroom as a vocal minority expressed displeasure with the new surroundings. “Sell out!” thundered Herb Morganta, “fucking sell out! They’re laughing at us in the papers. Here we are railing against corporate greed and Zam-twat has us shacked up in a capitalist display case like zoo animals for a company using third world labor and toxic materials to assemble their hypocritical products.”
Arguments raged on the merits of the relocation, Zamtoit fruitlessly trying to quell the turmoil. He was finding it difficult to focus the group’s energies, made worse when allegations arose that the late night one-on-one study sessions held in his private tent had often involved certain extracurricular activities with many a female member. The group was unravelling.
In the end it was Chaya Dalyn who sealed Zamtoit’s fate. In the aftermath of their relationship she approached In Silico to peruse his files and online activities, where it was discovered that the charge of sell out was no hollow accusation. Along with an unhealthy interest in Shōjo manga, the hack revealed that Zamtoit had accepted a handsome commission for marshaling the group to the beneficial ends of Forēsis. This revelation, occurring at a weekly roundtable, was devastating. Zamtoit initially denied the allegation and attempted to muzzle video taken of the meeting, but to no end. Incriminating correspondence surfaced in inboxes and the video racked up hits on YouTube.
The Forēsis showroom was vacated by all except one. Zamtoit alone remained for a meeting at the request of Forēsis management. Noting his ability to negotiate and manipulate they offered him a junior position on the sales floor. The group had disbanded, entering a time of regrouping and reflection in wait for spring's more agreeable camping conditions, while Frederic Zamtoit, bills mounting and with rent to pay, began a career as electric car showman.