You may recall that Occupy Cleveland took a turn for the corporate in December when it rented office space in the City Club building. But the group — a local offshoot of the nationwide backlash against corporate America — didn't offer up a very convincing impression of a good corporate citizen.
The office, intended mainly for meetings and a place for Public Square tent-dwellers to occasionally shake off the winter chill, quickly turned into something more resembling a hostel for wayward youth. The 30 or so tent occupiers — average age 21 — who volunteer for eight-hour shifts were using the office to sleep, relieve themselves, and eat. And they left a lot of dirty dishes lying about.
And so the City Club building kicked them back to the street early this year.
"The building wasn't thrilled with a lot of the kids' behavior," says Occupy member Leatrice Tolls. "They were defiant that they need a warm place to sleep. And their needs, in their minds, are more important than the needs of the group."
It's not just a Cleveland problem. One faction nationwide wants modest Occupy funds to support them — ostensibly the same cycle they're trying to break on Wall Street. It's creating a rift in the movement, particularly throughout the Midwest.
In Cleveland, Occupy is taking on two primary forms: Those who hang out at the tent looking the part, and those who make up "working groups": mostly more experienced volunteers who offer their time to actually accomplish something — the current project is canvassing neighborhoods to help those facing eviction because of foreclosure.
"There's a core group of people in each town who want to create a permanent welfare state of activists, and they want all their needs met," says Tolls. "We've raised a generation of spoiled people, and we didn't give them the tools to be self-sufficient." Tolls respects the young people for having the courage to man the tent, but she's concerned that they do nothing else.
"If we're going to pay for their food and give them a place to live, what are they going to do in return? Have a party?"
Adding to her concern are complaints from visitors on Public Square. "They've had less than satisfactory conversations," she says.
The local movement hopes to head off the boorishness by instituting new boot-camp sessions for Occupy volunteers. Every Saturday, members of the intentionally leaderless group will convene to learn about ... leadership principles.
"Nothing is mandatory. For those who want to learn, it's a resource we're offering," says community organizer and full-time Occupy member Peter Schanz. Topics include group structure, public narrative, relationship building, and other leadership concepts.
By summer, Tolls expects Occupy Cleveland to erect more tents on Public Square, which she hopes will be accompanied by better overall structure and a stronger focus on group initiatives like the foreclosure project.
For now, the group has found new warehouse space about two miles from downtown in the Clark-Fulton neighborhood. There, Occupiers are free to sleep, shower, hang out, and make signs.
"It's more suited to their needs," Tolls says. Translation: It's already a dive.
Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.