Occupy Santa Fe has too much food on Thanksgiving. Two double-burner stoves run in the mess tent, baking pies and stuffing for lack of an oven. St. Elizabeth Shelter donated a turkey, mashed potatoes, some rolls and a chicken. More than one family arrives, drops off food and disappears.
There is fruit salad, soup, ambrosias, squash, posole, dressing and “more pies than God could eat,” Lyric Kali, a redhead who lives nearby and comes out most days, says. Behind the stoves, her boyfriend, Jacob Phillips, prepares chocolate-pecan pie with anise and coconut. He cooks a lot of the donated food that’s not already prepared, but says he isn’t part of the 99 percent or the 1 percent. “I’m in this world, but I’m not of this world,” he says, keeping his head down.
Most of the 20-odd people who camp out are living there, but more—some involved with other parts of the movement, others who are just alone or hungry on Thanksgiving—come for the meal.
Cary Johnson, the camp coordinator, says the occupiers weren’t expecting so much food. Johnson, who goes by the nickname Shuttle, has been coordinating Rainbow Gatherings—National Forest camp-ins—since 1972.
Three times a week, the General Assembly, the closest thing OSF has to a governing body, meets in the Railyard to plan protests, coordinate working groups (including the camp group) and make rules. Only a few of the GAers and campers overlap, and they often disagree on the movement’s fundamentals.
If the GA is the government, the camp is the face. The campers do their own thing. They try to live peacefully, to get along with the police and to obey fire codes. They don’t have a camping permit, Mayor David Coss says, but he lets them exercise their constitutional right to assemble, even providing portable toilets and police checkups. Though OSF has been spared some of the conflict other occupations have endured, at two months old and with winter coming, the movement faces an endurance test.
The camp is circular, set up in the gravel around a grassy area. A couple of generators power the lights, a radio (playing the Cowboys game) and a coffee pot in the mess tent. Near the campfire, there’s a sign with camp rules: kindness, no alcohol, no drugs, no violence, no intoxication, no whining.
It’s not a coincidence that alcohol and other drugs show up three times on a six-item list. The camp practice is to gently require visibly inebriated people to leave if they’re being disruptive. Still, alcohol is a problem.
“When someone gets too drunk or someone gets too violent, don’t just push them out of the park; send them to a shelter, or send them to a hospital,” Emil Lopez—rail-thin, homeless and outgoing—advises. “I’m out here ’cause I got no place else to go.”
The presence of transients, common in many Occupy camps, is also a reason the movement began.
“I just see a lot of these people here—including myself—as canaries in the coal mine,” occupier Lee Jordan says. “These are the dispossessed. These are the people who have been rejected by society or have rejected society themselves—but still, they long for society.” But the Occupy movement also recreates society, both in camps and in the GA—and that isn’t necessarily bad.
When Adam, who’s lived in camp for more than two weeks and checked into therapy more than once, starts shaking and speaking incoherently, the community picks up his case.
“Have you ever been homeless?” Adam asks me. I shake my head and ask him if it’s hard.
“What do you think?” he says. Fair enough. It was a stupid question. He’s crying a little bit.
“We love you, man; you know that,” Shuttle tells him. An OSF member is on her way to pick Adam up; another Adam, Adam Ricker, gives him his coat and accompanies him to the hospital.
Ricker returns shortly, saying Adam is checking into a 90-day program. Shuttle attributes it to alcohol withdrawal and psychological issues.
Meanwhile, campers are singing The Doors around the fire, rolling cigarettes, trading them and joking about marijuana. At least one has been drinking. Ricker notes that there have been no real fights in the month since the Railyard camp went up. That’s true for another half an hour.
Phillips is sitting on a bench by the fire, when a camper who has been drinking bumps him and picks a fight. Phillips responds, and soon they’re wrestling in the dirt. Someone calls the police, who eject the drinker, but he’s back within a half hour, and two more shouting matches break out before the night ends.
It rains off and on, and in the morning, there are big, fat, wet snowflakes. The campers chat, scavenge for leftover food, make coffee and deal with last night’s fallout.
Shuttle’s going to leave, he tells me. He’s been stuck in New Mexico for more than two years, waiting on disability for his “torched lungs” (mesothelioma), and it’s finally come through. He’s going to split for Oregon, where his daughter is. What’ll happen once he goes?
Shuttle shrugs. He can’t afford to worry about it.