Thursday, February 16, 2012


Jan 24, 2012

My heart sank the moment I walked up to 101 Market and saw the 8 large aluminium trays of food already there! Every person I had asked had insisted on their great need for food at the General Assemblies, and nobody mentioned to me that they have a semi-regular donor who buys and delivers cooked food most GA nights. On their website, the page which is supposed to have such up-to-date info for potential donors hasn't been updated since October! (As of last night their WebMaster was asked to resign and, apparently out of spite, curtailed access by other Working Group members.) Since they have no kitchen, they have no Kitchen Working Group, and there is no single point person who integrates "distributed information" (more on this later). My kitchen contact Meagan is involved in many other more important Working Groups (e.g. Financial), as well as reciprocal commitments to other causes (e.g. yesterday Meagan was to attend the first anniversary of the Egypt street protests), in between making a living (last night she was called to the restaurant to substitute for another employee. Have I mentioned that she is a Stanford grad.? - employed waiting tables! Who in their right minds thinks this is by choice?). In addition, Meagan's priority, perhaps, is and should be to ensure that there is food. So if there is uncertainty about the regular donor, she can't afford to turn away another. Hence the double-booking.

My on the ground contact for that night Miles apologized for not having called me as soon as he found out there was food there already, but in his defense, let me point out that the Occupy site is fairly dynamic. While the General Assembly proceeds there are satellite discussions, new people coming in that need to be filled in, pamphleteered or whose questions need to be addressed. Plus, Miles may have seen the task as solely to help me unload and serve, and there is a general skittishness about making decisions without "consensus". Distributed decision-making doesn't work either.

My reaction? Of course, personally frustrated or offended, "never going to bring them food again", my home-cooked food going to waste etc etc. OK, over it.

The fix: I decided and told Miles I would just take the stews back with me and refrigerate them for another day. He then had the excellent thought of taking it to Oakland this weekend, where they plan to take over an abandoned building and establish Occupy there, with a social center, first aid post, full working kitchen etc. A big call is going out, Move-in day rally is at noon at Oscar Grant Plaza and a two day festival is planned. So my thought was to find someone/place in Oakland where I could drop the food off on Friday night for the OO social center. There was also a large amount of food left-over from the cooked food donation - three trays each of rice and soft flour tortillas, which I volunteered to take back, refrigerate and deliver to Oakland. Somehow! I've come back home with more food than I left with!

The Solution: RyanRh, independently of me and my problem, boldly announced the formation of the Post of Food Coordinator and Food Point Person. He is going to be my main contact henceforth, and will coordinate information for me. Plus, he has a place in Berkeley where I can store all the food on Friday night for the Oakland events. And I now have Aluminium trays for my food so I don't have to take my pots.

The best part? After the General Assembly, Big Mike and Miles still had not eaten, neither had I, and the pseudoSpanish rice and plain soft flour tortillas looked unappetizing compared to the stews I'd cooked.
Vegetarian beans and greens
Beans Greens and Hotdogs

 So 6 of us went back to where I'd parked on Beale and Market and ate my stews out of the back of my station wagon,
Mike and Miles

sitting on the curb. And I now realise that I seriously overestimate how many people 3.5 gallons of stew and 8 kg of cooked rice can feed, if the people are twenty-something guys who haven't eaten all day and are allowed unlimited seconds.

Distributed Information and Decision-Making: I know various people in OccupySF, one of whom, Meagan, has been my principal contact so far, the others have mostly been helpful with physical aspects like carrying things back and forth and serving food. From the other extreme at which information is present, at a minimum the Regular Food Donor knew that food would be available that night, but there is no central clearing house with meal requirements that both RFD and I can access. Both RFD and I must know Occupy Peeps in common, though it is not clear that Miles knows RFD. Why could I not have been in touch with RFD earlier? Because there is no central clearing house for responsibilities/roles and contact information. Because decision-making is diffuse, no one person was in the position of making the connection (RFD's peeps know my peeps, which is a 3rd degree connection.). From the computational analogy, you still need one single processor for integrating the assignment of tasks to the other parallel processors and interacting with the human. All processors are equal, some processors just have to be more equal than others.

OccupySF really needs a web-based information clearing house and space for community contributions. Maybe with a new webmaster.

Outcome so far? I've got contact info for other possible Food coordinators, met and interviewed various other new people: a latina-palestina, an artist doing political Occupy related work, and 2-3 people who are engaged in the sustainable food movement - community gardening, integrated agriculture and sustainable landscaping. Miles has his own landscaping company and now is interning with SF Parks and Rec. Dept. Someone with expertise in helping communities self-organize should connect with him and help out.

How did the GA go? I haven't yet reached consensus on that, most of me thinks it was a waste of time and inefficient and too much time is dedicated to the opinionated nay-sayer holdouts who exercise their effective veto power to prevent things from moving along, but my left pinky wants to be heard, the rest of me respectfully listens to its point, that this is the nature of the beast of consensus decision-making and hence it refuses to join in the general censure of the GA by the rest of me and refuses to walk-away. We tried to decide to vote and adjourn but Left Pinky still has something important to say, even though it has been pointed out to it that everybody else has heard this same point, has understood it and disagrees. So we continue. Once the motion passes unanimously I'll let you know my opinion about the GA proceedings.

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