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Chasing Boars, Seeing Red

Posted in Austin, Life, and Occupy Wall Street

Occupy Austin had a problem with a creepy douchebag who I’ll call the Boar. This guy occupied since the early days, back when we had a real encampment. Some people say he’s made genuine contributions to our occupation, but I’ll take others word for it.

A Wild Boar. Photograph by Liliana.

The problem was his ‘anger issues,’ the way he’d lash out at people without homes despite being homeless himself, and most of all — women: how he spoke about them, how he treated them, how, frankly, he scared them away from our events. He stalked them on Facebook then followed them around, and touched women inappropriately on our street marches.

Several women had complained, and for a while I talked to occupiers one on one about the problem, trying to rally community support to do something. Several one on one discussions proved fruitless. His attitude got worse and worse; more severe problems like the groping came to light and he progressed from glowering in a sinister way at the edges of our meetings to ranting on Facebook about us. I private messaged a bunch of our occupiers and said I’d be confronting the guy, and I wanted help and a plan of action. Others had been making similar plans in response to his Facebook diatribes which I didn’t see till later.

Happily, with some encouragement to let the more reticent see how severe the problem had become, the community stepped up. Our Safer Spaces group, which started to deal with issues like this, rose from the grave. At an almost 2 hour meeting, we agreed to confront the Boar when next he appeared. We nominated a few spokespeople to talk calmly and reasonably, but to make it absolutely clear he was no longer welcome.

We talked about several contingencies — what if he got violent? what if he accused other people of imperfect behavior? What we didn’t consider was what to do if he ran.

The Boar showed up near the end of our General Assembly. Instead of calmly approaching him when he arrived, I lost my mind. I mic checked his arrival. He turned and started speedwalking away.

His flight made me feel like a cheetah watching a fleeing gazelle. I saw red & instinctively pursued. His speed picked up — he was running like an Olympic sprinter, like his backpack was weightless on his back. Completely irrational, I screamed GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE YOU MOTHERFUCKER as he fled & my fellow occupiers chased me yelling “What the fuck, Kit?”

Kit O'Connell at Occupy Austin's 6 month anniversary. Photo by Lainie Duro.

I got my shit together after a few feet and made no effort to pursue as he fled. I felt awful. I felt like I’d ruined everything. I apologized and fled the general assembly. A dear friend (who was also one of the women that’d been sounding the alarm about the Boar) bought me a beer and got me to sit and relax until the adrenaline wore off.

I wish I’d kept my cool, followed our core principle of nonviolence, and let us at least try the calm, orderly procedure we’d worked out. Should he choose to return, we’ll try it then. I’m not sad he’s gone though — good riddance.

I’m basically a mellow hippie guy most of the time, but I am capable of fierce anger. These days, my anger is most often protective but I can remember this kind of thing back into my childhood. Once on a bus in a high school, some bullies were picking on a schoolmate with significant mental disabilities. I listened until I couldn’t handle it and then next thing I know, despite being a guy who got picked on myself, I stood up screaming. I think I yelled SHUT UP YOU ELEPHANT TRUMPET — and what does that even mean? But the tone and the look of rage on my face put an end to the teasing, at least by those kids when I was around. I guess I’m lucky I didn’t yell motherfucker on the school bus.

I shocked people at the Port of Houston with how angry I got at police (though I remained physically nonviolent & somehow avoided arrest). But there too I saw red — in this case, the red tent police used to hide the arrests from cameras. The moments before we realized the tent was inflatable, when we thought gas might be pumped on the people inside, were the worst & my angriest.

Chasing boars isn’t always a rational, or a smart way to get a wild animal to leave. It’s not what the ‘ideal Kit’ in my head would do in these situations. My occubuddies know me well enough now to check in with me when the action gets tense. “Are you OK, Kit?” they ask. “You seem pretty mad.” Occupying teaches us all a greater awareness of self, and hopefully over time I learn to channel my passions more productively.

On the other hand, it’s appropriate I wore that Animal shirt on our 6 month birthday. With luck the guy is gone for good, and there’s a new awareness of this problem at Occupy Austin, as well as new dedication to passing our Safer Spaces agreement and meeting as a group regularly to support it.

A few links about misogyny and dealing rationally with assholes:

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  • Tim Thraeryn

    I know I can easily over-think situations that I believe might become confrontations. I think about how I’d like it to go; I think about how it might go poorly; I think about how I’ll react if it goes poorly. I think how satisfying it would be to show everyone how poor the other person’s behavior is, how right I am, and how gratifying it would be to FORCE the other person to see their shitty thoughts and attitudes.

    And then it stops being about the first, calm, optimal situation I imagined. The one where I impose my will, shame the other person, and force them to submit becomes the optimal situation.

    Sadly, I’m not sure I have any great advice here. It’s easy to suggest that we don’t think of how things could go wrong, and DAMNED HARD to do.

    I suppose, instead of trying to figure out what we’ll do if things go wrong, we could instead try to figure out who we’ll have around us if things go wrong.

    • Kit

      @Tim: Some good thoughts on this. I don’t know that there is advice to be had — but the point you make is a good one. Situations are always unpredictable but we can try to have people who will ‘have our back’ with us when they do, if we have time to plan in advance. I’m glad I had that here — both for sanity & in case they’d gone much worse than they did. The Boar is a hell of a lot bigger than me…

  • Gyesika Safety

    I got one word for you: Taurus.

    I literally see red, too, when I get protectively angry. Hell hath no fury like a protective bull. However one feels about astrology, I do believe that waving a red flag in front of a bull usually stirs up the bull. It’s important to know our triggers, our red flags, because of situations like this.

    And by the way … yelling at someone may be verbally violent but this person *assaulted* people. I’m going to give you a pass.

    • Kit

      @Gyesika: I don’t consider shouting to be ‘violence’ exactly but its also not exactly peaceful. At the same time, my anger has never once led me to physically hurt someone with a couple childhood exceptions I consider self defense. It’s the loss of control that bothers me more than the results.

  • R. Michael Litchfiel

    OccupyEugene, which had good relations with the town and police was effectively ended when an aggressive homeless drunk was beaten to death in the encampment.

    • Kit

      @R Michael Litchfield: That’s a tragic situation but can you tell me what you intend to express by bringing it up in this context?

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