Occupy Wall Street open forum on Movement Building “Egypt Proposal” passed at General Assembly.
Nov. 16th, 6pm, 60 Wall.
Facilitator: Maralena (OWS Movement Building), later Abe
Participants: Abe, Ada (OWS), Becky (OWS), Ben (American who has lived in Cairo), Chris (OWS Security), Jeff, Liesbeth (OWS Movement Building), Maria (OWS Movement Building), Micah (American documentary filmmaker with experience in Cairo), Michael (OWS Movement Building), Oscar (Occupy El Barrio, East Harlem), Ryan, Sara (OWS), Suzanne (OWS Mediation and Nonviolent Communication), Shimaa (Egyptian citizen involved in Revolution), Shimri (Occupy London), Tashy (OWS), Tej.
Minutes: Greg (OWS Movement Building)
Maralena: Groups are still delivering nominations to Egypt task force [of Movement Building work group], which would then select nominees to submit to “Egypt.” “Egypt” would then choose travelers.
Abe: Point of Concern. Please read the original proposal passed at the GA [General Assembly]. Friday 5pm there will be a Movement Building meeting open to all to decide on any potential friendly amendments.
Liesbeth: Concerns about differing beliefs within April 6th movement and what if any, the role of OWS should be in a trip to Egypt and if it should be for the election.
Tej: Clarification: a friendly amendment would be to stop the trip or to change the purpose?
Liesbeth: That might be part of an amendment or a point of concern to the proposal passed at GA.
Michael: Also relevant is something that happened in the last couple days at GA.
Abe: What “something” happened in the last couple days at GA?
Michael: A “Statement of Autonomy” passed GA and may apply to Egypt trip. [Reads excerpt].
Maralena: Are we done with process explanation? Should we read the original proposal statement?
[Temperature check. Maria reads proposal. Floor open for stack questions.]
Abe point of process: I’d like to suggest we follow rules with facilitator, timekeeper, etc.
Sara: I was surprised there wasn’t more question of the proposal passed. The cost is surprising, then and especially now after the raid. Is this the best use of funds? Solidarity hell yeah, but we have a movement right here we have to fund…. also, why are we doing this before we had clarified goals and visions?
Question: about process. Are we here and now talking about going versus not going or raising concerns about the passed proposal?
Maria. Stack. I just want to address the issue of my [professional] background, which seems to have become an issue. I’m happy to talk about it and I’m not offended by concerns about me personally.
Becky: I would like to know more about the trip, how the request evolved and from whom. I’d like to follow process with transparency.
Maralena: “April 6th” is the name we had. We were ignorant and we knew we were ignorant and thought the trip would help us with our ignorance. Now we’re having an information-gathering open forum.
Becky: comuniqué was issued from 4 groups asking for solidarity in different ways, none of which asked for observing the elections. [Passes around documents].
Abe: Point of clarification. Can we have all documents sent to Movement Building and OWS posted on the [www.nycga.net] website?
Becky: I’ll do it.
Maria: I’d like to clarify the process that led to the invitation. Dinners and meetings in DC with Asma’a, Ahmed Maher, etc., U-Shahid Coalition for Election Monitoring, etc. These were informal meetings after the “Egyptian Revolution Conference”(?) in DC.
Suzanne: on stack. Pass for now.
[Interruption: Abe uncomfortable with the meeting being filmed. Micah, new to the group and standing behind chairs, would like to film with iPhone(?). Group: discussion and clarifying questions about how we should address filming. At long last Micah is welcomed in the group and agrees to film only those agreeing to be filmed].
Question: If the trip were just about solidarity as opposed to election observation would that necessitate an amendment?
Maralena (facilitator): Yes.
Suzanne: More information on the content of the proposal that reached consensus. In particular, would groups boycotting the Egyptian election want our presence during the elections?
Maria: There is a difference of opinion between groups and lots of factions…
Suzanne: [Is the purpose of the trip] skill-sharing or observing elections? I’d like clarification on the position of groups in the movement in Egypt.
Abe: There are over four hundred factions right now. No consensus.
Maria: Can someone else bring up the file I sent today?
Becky: I have a concern about the anonymity of groups.
Suzanne: I want to know about groups boycotting the elections that would want us to come as observers.
Maria: There’s no consensus but some groups are in favor…
[confused objection to use of OWS funds or the amount]
Suzanne: There are other ways of getting money. Someone asked, “What’s the link between OWS and Egypt?” [expresses amazement].
Ben: It’s very strange to be communicating with a group that no one’s ever heard of. There are perhaps better ways to show solidarity?
Suzanne: If we keep having to research the who and the why, we’d never do anything.
Shimaa: You need to know the context of politics in Egypt before becoming involved.
Maralena: If we do this, we’re now choosing to do this post-raid. What’s best for our movement and what will generate support? I also think there’s the potential for something really beautiful to happen… but info and education is really important because there’s also the risk that being uninformed, things could go really wrong.
Abe: I’d like to speak on behalf of my friend who was in Tahrir. Reads quotes from a letter. “April 6th Youth Movement is not really trusted in Egypt, nor is Asma’a, who people think has been co-opted…” She’s also concerned OWS is being corrupted and that this perception would be reinforced by OWS creating ties to April 6th or other groups already under suspicion in Egypt.
Abe: What are our principles? If groups in other countries share our principles, we should show solidarity. We could reach out…
Maralena: Point of clarification. OWS did not reach out to any groups in Egypt. OWS responded to an invitation.
Abe: I think any trip to Egypt has to be autonomous.
Maria: It wasn’t just April 6th…
Tashy: As an activist in Palestine, the worst, most conflictive and dangerous thing that can happen is to be caught between factions. This is something I would want to avoid at all costs. I believe in solidarity with the people.
Maria: The difference is that groups in Palestine are often armed.
Micah: [Strongly] I want to clarify: we were just in Cairo and we saw twenty-seven people killed.
Maria: [Raises voice] By whom? By April 6th?
Micah: By the army.
Maralena: We’re aware of the military violence, we’re aware of the risk. We’re also aware that the Egyptian government doesn’t have incentive to shoot Americans right now.
Micah: Lots of red flags going up hearing what you just said… the army has 260,000 paid thugs. It doesn’t have to directly be the army and there’s a very strong anti-American sentiment. I think it’s a very dangerous expenditure –$29,000– without being very well informed.
[Interruption of three strong overlapping voices against money being designated to send OWS people to Egypt].
Tej: Question about the nominating process. Who [decides] and how would it be decided what the travelers would do?
Maria: As far as I understand it would all be consensus-based. It would depend on people’s skills, willingness to take risk, etc. I’m concerned about what nominees who go to Egypt would be facing. Also, could all documents be online? That would be really good for clarity and to point people to.
Shimaa: If people here at OWS aren’t aware of the extremely complex issues in Egypt right now, they shouldn’t be going to Egypt. That’s just my opinion but it’s very strongly held.
Suzanne: Direct question: would it be possible in some way for people here to be helpful by going to Egypt?
Shimaa: I’m scared. There are a lot of other ways of helping and showing solidarity without going. We’re having violence directed at us and it could be worse for foreigners, English speakers, etc.
Abe: Could you [indicating Shimaa] give a little more specific information about factions?
Shimaa: Opposition split into eight groups, plus parties, etc… also, April 6th split into two groups. Ahmed’s group: people think they’re getting funding from outside groups (US, etc.). This is how the average Egyptian thinks the election is being corrupted by a repressive government.
Maria: I don’t mean to be confrontational, but you’re not supportive of the electoral process, so in a sense you’re part of a faction that doesn’t think the elections are fair.
Micah: I’d like to correct something you [indicating Maria] said. The process up to the ballot box is not fair. There’s corruption of the election process: payments to get on the ballot, etc.
Suzanne: We can say we’re showing solidarity with the people of Egypt, but the reality is we’d be showing a much bigger issue than what’s happening here and it could be a very compelling story, regardless of the risk.
Micah: The rights we’re fighting for here are First Amendment rights. The most powerful thing about Egypt was that everyone was filming everything, all the time. You would not find a meeting like this [resistant to being filmed] in Egypt. I’m a big supporter of Egypt. I helped Shimaa come here. I was flummoxed, to say the least, to learn of $29,000 being issued for electoral observers from OWS. This is a recipe for a media and PR nightmare. How would you feel if people from Egypt came here to monitor our elections? It smacks of colonialism, sorry.
Ryan(?): Egyptian people should see what’s going on at OWS… OWS is all a show… there’s nothing legitimate.
Micah: I disagree. The presence of everyone here legitimizes this movement. I also think $29K legitimizes neither movement [OWS nor Egyptian revolutionary movement].
Ada: So from now on I’m going to call Movement Builders “Money Wasters.” Who here was at the solidarity marches [for the Egyptian revolution] here in New York? I’m all for solidarity but I’m totally against spending. I was not aware of the GA proposal. If I had known I would have blocked it and stayed to ensure my block was held. I looked up tickets on priceline: they were $850, not $1500. There must be people in the movement in Egypt willing to offer you to stay in their homes. If you’re going to go, pay your own way or learn how to be a budget traveler. The East Coast bus trip I heard about (for training, etc…) seems like a much better allocation of resources.
Ryan: If it’s a global movement, this could be very relevant.
Shimri: Point of process. I feel the tone is very confrontational. I just came here and it’s stressing me to be here.
Abe (as facilitator, having taken over from Maralena, who had to leave): Point of Process. Thirty second moment of silence.
Ada: [upset about poor communication of the proposal].
Maria: it was announced, it was shared on websites, etc.
Micah: Tensions are high here, but it’s because 7% of the budget was passed. Meanwhile, people can’t pay mortgages in the Bronx… it seems like we’re back to dealing with the problems we’re fighting against.
Maria: We have a lot of money and we haven’t even tried to fundraise…
Chris: I’m all for everything global. I slept out in the rain and felt that what I contribute was for here but that it [OWS] should reach out to all parts of the world without going there. When you get off that plane, they’re going to ask you questions. What are you doing there? For observation?! Let me tell you, in Egypt, you can’t just go wherever you want. I would hate to see someone going in peace then tried as a spy. I went on a Hajj: it’s very choreographed. You cannot go where you want to go and you cannot get politically involved.
Abe: There is a group of people who think that getting this proposal passed –this invitation– is very choreographed. You know why? Because it’s a set-up. The real journalists get shot.
Chris: They’re gong to tell you, “Welcome to Egypt… over here are the Pyramids… have a good time.”
Maria: I take offense… I want you [Abe] to go on camera and make an allegation like that… that essentially Asma’a Mahfouz and Ahmed are paid by the CIA?!
Abe: I did not say that. do not put words in my mouth. Did you [Maria] work for the US State Department? Did you take your profile off LinkedIn? When?
Maria: I was contacted by Parker Tide. There was a contract for the State Department that I worked on and was rejected because it was too much about resistance. I didn’t get paid. [Explanation of LinkedIn profile and her visa status]. This was two years ago.
Chris: Everything that’s done here will reach abroad and we don’t have to go over there. You want to deal with the United States government or the Egyptian government? I don’t want to deal with either, but if I have to choose, I’ll choose the US.
Micah: [question about the purpose of this meeting]
Abe (as facilitator): The purpose of this meeting is to have actionable proposals.
Micah: Why are we in a rush to spend this money?
Abe: Actionable ideas!
Maria: There’s a notion that if we go, its less money, fewer travelers.
Abe (facilitator): Closing stack.
Ada: I have a friendly amendment: pay for your own ticket!
Oscar: We (Occupy El Barrio, East Harlem) work with groups in the US. We also have been asked to share ideas and support groups in foreign countries. We don’t have money to go there: we show solidarity and give support via internet. We don’t impose: we ask them what help we can offer.
Maria: There was a concrete invitation.
Abe: What makes me concerned about the process at OWS: we came up with a concrete proposal, which was passed. We then asked for an open forum and reports from other groups opposed to the proposal? [Incredulous, questioning shrug].
Chris: Take this proposal to the church tonight to find out what the real occupiers need and what they think about sending money to Egypt.
Abe: And ask the people sleeping in the streets in Tahrir Square!
[Suzanne/Abe confrontation regarding Chris and process. Abe cedes facilitator duties to Suzanne].
Micah: We’re spending all this money to appease three particular people who are public figures… some of whom are paid to fly back and forth to the US.
Oscar: We need to ask them how we can support them. We don’t know the reality there. Let them have a say in how we spend the money.
Maria. [questions scarcity of resources and brings up the potential for resources over one million dollars]. We’re getting so much money without even fundraising.
Abe: You keep bringing that up. Please, join our fundraising! If you can get one or two million dollars, please do!
Shimaa: We are the second-largest recipient of US aid after Israel. If you really want to help us, learn what your government is doing in Egypt.
Micah: If you save one person from losing their house, you’ll help a lot more than sending twenty people to Egypt.
Suzanne: OWS can represent the US in a positive way.
Abe: I’m very concerned about OWS representing the US.
Chris: This seems like a proposal for the 1% of the 99%.
Micah: I’d like to make a proposal: $2.50 for people to go to the South Bronx.
Abe: There is an elite forming at OWS.
Chris: We’re definitely doing this. You know why? Because the decisions are being made by people sitting in seats, comfortable inside. What’s the difference between that and what we’re fighting against?
Ben: I’d like you [indicating Maria and Suzanne] to respond to how sending twenty people to Egypt has greater value than some of the other possibilities suggested.
Maria: [Recounts points already discussed. Mentions livestreaming].
Abe: regarding livestreaming, it’a a two-way kiosk between OWS and Egypt. I can actually build it.
Micah: There has to be something in which no more than, say, 1/2%, can be earmarked without multiple processes.
Maria: I think money should be spent (and raised).
Jeff: Why isn’t it proposed that funds be raised specifically for this trip?
Maria: There is a proposal. [kickstarter, etc.].
Abe: It might be an independent fund from an external source that would pay for an independent, non-sanctioned trip.
Recount of Concrete Amendments:
Chris: Let’s send computers instead of people and we could communicate to each other.
Abe: Significantly reduce money and people, one or two of whom really understands the technology (livestreams) and one or two of whom really represent us [OWS] and our ideals.
Micah: Scrap this entirely. It’s very dangerous to send OWS people to Egypt. If you want to go, do kickstarter or whatever.
Abe: Change this entirely to something we consense upon. About what we believe in. Make it educational. Talk about factions (hundreds). Make it so our delegation meets with everyone from Islamic Brotherhood to whoever… as many groups and factions with trusted, verified contacts. Change the purpose of this proposal! If you want to go and die, go and die!
Shimaa: The 99% of Egyptians are the ones who do everything but no one gives a shit about them. People like [indicates Chris] in Egypt need someone to speak for them. As for US involvement, you should fix your own issues first.
Chris: My proposal is I need $4.50 to let me go home every night.
[Laura from People's Library gives brief on November 16th library break-up].
—————End open forum————-