Activists gather to plan Occupy Baltimore movement

Activists gather to plan Occupy Baltimore movement

“Banks Got Bailed Out, We Got Sold Out!” chanted the crowd.  

The growing nationwide “Occupy” movement may be coming to Baltimore.  More than two hundred activists gathered at St. Johns Church in Charles Village Sunday night for more than three hours, planning a response to calls for public action by their counterparts in New York.  
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The Occupy Wall Street actions have attracted international attention, drawing an array of mostly young participants, and sparking hundreds of arrests.  Dozens of other cities have taken the same approach in the last few weeks, with hundreds of activists taking to public spaces to express their outrage at the disenfranchisement of “99%” of Americans in favor of the wealthy.

The Occupy Baltimore movement began as a Facebook page and Google group, both with hundreds of members.  Sunday’s meeting was meant to decide on a number of issues, including what the movement’s goals should be, and how it should go about achieving them.  But one of the distinguishing themes of the Occupy movement has been the intentional lack of specific demands, as participants have opted instead to use the opportunity for shared education and discussion.  The Occupy Baltimore movement chose the same route Sunday, with a number of participants expressing dismay not only at the system of government they deal with, but also with the lack of mechanisms available for changing it.  One participant said they would like to educate themselves and “offer something instead of demand something.”  There were however, a minority that felt the goals of the movement should have been discussed in more detail, and that Baltimore’s largest demographic, poor African Americans, were not adequately represented at the meeting.

The Occupy Baltimore movement is aiming to follow consensus-based decision making, and for the most part seemed to adhere to the system.  On occasion, a few participants “blocked” decisions, signalling that they felt if the group disregarded their position, they would leave it, but it did not appear anyone felt sidelined enough to actually bring their participation to an end.  A mainstream reporter who asked for permission from the group to report on the decision making process was asked to leave, due to the strong objections of a small minority, highlighting the degree of adherence to the consensus process.

Baltimore activists are particularly weary of law enforcement, having been the target of extensive illegal surveillance by undercover state and local agents, leading to a congressional investigation and a number of lawsuits.

The discussion on where any action or occupation would occur touched on the kind of message the movement hopes to send to the public.  A number of locations were discussed, but in the end a presence around the financial district and the Inner Harbor was settled upon, as a number of participants pointed out the nature of the area: a publicly funded development that provides little benefit for working class locals.  The Inner Harbor has been in the spotlight recently, drawing criticism for the lack of public space there, and the labor practices of some of the businesses there, many of them national franchises.

The list of grievances included the epidemic of foreclosures in Baltimore, the incentives given to developers, the lack of jobs paying a living wage, the lack of funding for schools, the lack of health care, and the continuing wars overseas.  

The group plans on meeting again Monday, and will begin public actions Tuesday at noon at the McKeldin Fountains at Pratt and Light streets, a public park.  Almost all of the participants also pledged to march in support of a previously planned action being organized Tuesday evening by more than 30 community groups to denounce a planned $100 million juvenile detention facility downtown.