Little Rock We were visiting in the old Little Rock ACORN office about books, campaigns, and organizing. This conversation led to an invitation by Robert Nunn, son of an Arkansas ACORN leader from the old Oak Forest group and the anti-blockbusting campaign and old friend from 40 years ago, Walter Nunn, to come down and talk to the “Occupy Little Rock GA” or general assembly about community organizing and social movements. By Sunday evening it had been raining hard and steadily all day in central Arkansas, and I had been out in it, walking a few miles for a cell phone connection in the morning, buying a shotgun with the brother-in-laws out at Gander Mountain past North Little Rock, and getting my running shoes wet and muddied when the horses were fed. Added to all that, the sister-in-law had made a delicious pot of spaghetti, the Saints were going on TV to play Detroit, I had my Robert Meacham #17 jersey with me, and I could feel a cold coming, but, damn, a promise is a promise and work can never wait, so there I went out to the truck through the rain down to the Occupy Little Rock encampment.
Good things grow in the hardscrabble of Little Rock. Things like ACORN and perhaps things like Occupy Little Rock, because there’s a chance this could be one of the last encampments or plantons still standing when all is said and done. Whether through a stroke of luck, good organizing, or just the special magical access of Little Rock, the Occupy folks had made a deal with the police chief. If they moved from the grounds of the Clinton Presidential Library to some open space behind the post office where the old Downtowner Motel used to stand, then they were welcome to stay. Even though I arrived in the night and rain, the Occupy encampment looked orderly and well laid out to me. There was a police fence around the property so that you could only enter through the front (4th Street) entrance. Which is not to say that people were relaxed and that this was just a camporee, because when I approached through the rain and stopped to take a picture of this large, well lit, domed tent before jumping into the Occupy world, two or three folks met me at the door as if I might be looking for trouble and asked for the password.
The tent was warm and inviting and fairly easily seated 20 or so between the various chairs and couches although there were 25 folks were . A young, red headed fire cracker ran the meeting as tightly and smoothly as just about any organizer or leader I’ve ever seen handle a meeting, and effectively proved that consensus could be welded into shape easily in a meeting this size (keeping in mind there were reports of huge difficulties and endless meetings around the country when 2 or 300 people are involved). The GA marched through the business, the bulk of which had to do with getting an agreement to spend a couple of dollars for propane fuel or reimburse folks for out of pocket supplies for action preparations or one thing and another. The Plumbers’ Union and the AFL-CIO had been supplying the gas. Outsiders would have been surprised to hear the conversations in the GA about where they could get flags for the Army, Marines, Navy, etc since so many of them were veterans and wanted to fly their flags outside. There was also a long conversation about how they were sewing revolutionary war Continental Army uniforms for a “winter soldier” action that would take place in a couple of weeks.
When I asked later, they reported that people had been unceasingly generous and every day something showed up by way of money or donations or supplies or whatever. On a raising of hands about half of the folks were “residential” and the other half with jobs or families or both came and went between their houses and the encampment. The Occupy Little Rock group was diverse in its own way. There were young and old, veteran activists and young, grungy “travelers,” a young couple with their sleeping child, a couple in Cartharts and some in khakis, and generally nothing out of the ordinary.
When I spoke, folks were excited to have someone with a deep connection to ACORN. They enjoyed my report that the Local 100 United Labor Unions board had passed a solidarity resolution for them and the other Occupy forces in our cities. They listened politely about ACORN International’s work in the megaslums.
The questions though were more interesting. Some were Little Rock “inside baseball” types, with one guy wanting to know where his monthly bank draft dues payment was going if ACORN had gone out of business and another wanting to know if everything was good between our old radio station KABF and the ACORN successor organization: I was clueless. The more interesting questions had to do with advice they sought on whether or not they should incorporate and “form an LLC [limited liability corporation]” which caught me by surprise, though it was good to hear that they were thinking down the road. They asked for advice, and I offered it for what it was worth, essentially lobbying them to start thinking about how to use the encampment as a symbol, prepare for the future, ally their program to others, and build their base.
The Occupy Little Rock folks were good people trying to do great things here. In a couple of months they could be among the last folks still firmly established in a planton. I urged them to prepare themselves then to speak for the entire movement. It would be a serious political and organizing error to not take them all very seriously. From my time in the cold and rain with them, I would trust them to do a good job of it.
The Saints won handily without my help. I may have a cold to take home with me now, but at least I know I went where I was needed.