Occupy Leaders Go “Underground”

Thomas MacMillan PhotoAs the city prepares to dismantle Occupy New Haven on the upper Green at high noon Tuesday, three key organizers have decamped to an undisclosed location—to begin dismantling capitalism from the ground up.

The organizers took the Independent, blindfolded, to their new outpost to describe where their movement heads next as its tent-city roots disintegrate on the Green.

The three men were among the founding members and public spokesmen for Occupy New Haven, the protest camp that has held a portion of the upper Green for nearly six months, until a recent bout of ugly infighting. (Read about that here.) After a ruling handed down by federal Judge Mark Kravitz Monday, the city can remove the encampment starting at noon Tuesday.

As the last chapters of the eviction drama play out, the three have abandoned the occupation and headed “underground.” They’ve installed themselves in an apartment at an “unknown” location in a New Haven neighborhood, where they said they’ve already begun working on the next phase of a movement to create a new society of skill-sharing, self-reliance, and self-governance. (They do, however, plan to return to the Green Tuesday in a “solidarity of friendship” to watch the final showdown between the authorities and the encampment they helped birth.)

In an effort to announce the launch of their new project and say a final farewell before disappearing, one of the organizers called the Independent last week to set up the interview.

He told me he’d pick me up on Friday and take me to the “Appleseed” movement’s new home base. He said I’d have to be blindfolded. I suggested I could just keep the location off the record.

But wouldn’t it make for a better article if you were blindfolded? he replied.

Calling “Coyote”

At 4:30 p.m. on Friday an organizer pulled up in a gray Kia Sorrento outside the DelMonico hat shop on Elm Street. He had a black bandanna over his nose and mouth, as did the woman in the passenger seat, who trained a cell phone video camera on me as I climbed in the backseat. A third member, in the back and also masked, pulled out a black bandanna decorated with skulls-and-crossbones and tied it over my eyes.

“Coyote at home base, this is Snake. We have the package,” one of the masked men in the SUV said into a cell phone.

Skrillex’s “First Of The Year” blared from the car stereo complete with the disconcerting chorus of someone shrieking “Call 911 now!”

We drove without conversation for about 15 minutes. Three aggressive electronic songs and one intentionally circuitous drive later, the car arrived at the new headquarters of the “Appleseed Affinity Group,” an Occupy New Haven splinter cell. Snake put a bag over my head. I was led by the hand up about a half-dozen steps, onto a porch and into a building.

Sugar?

I was guided to a seat on a chest cooler, where I was allowed to remove the bag and blindfold, revealing a wood-floored room with the curtains drawn, furnished only with two folding chairs, a milk crate, and bank of home-recording equipment. A popper-stoppered mic on a boom stand was connected to a laptop running CoolEdit Pro. Audio from the ensuing interview was recorded while the woman—who declined to give her name or totem animal—shot cell-phone video.

Coyote poured English Breakfast into a matching tea set. “Do you prefer sugar?”

The three sat on the chairs and crate. Sipping tea with the bandannas over their mouths presented a problem for the revolutionaries, so the masks came down—on the condition that I not take pictures with their faces showing.

“Behind the masks we are you,” Coyote explained.

“Hello from the underground,” Cricket began.

Over cups of English Breakfast tea and Yellowtail merlot, “Coyote,” “Snake,” and “Cricket” revealed the details of their plan to transform society from the ground up.

The ultimate goal is abandonment of the money economy and an end to wage slavery, they explained during the interview in their clandestine redoubt Friday.

Occupation was never more than a tactic, not an end in itself, they said. When the tactic became “a drag,” Cricket, Snake, and Coyote decided to create a smaller and nimbler group to engage in “direct action” instead of endless palaver. They said the next phase of their movement for change will take place outside of the public eye, in the form of grassroots neighborhood efforts to transform people’s relationship to money and to each other.

Anonymity and collectivism are an integral part of the effort. The three men asked to be referred to by their animal-kingdom noms de guerre. They said they’ve seen firsthand the dangers of becoming the public face of a movement: It undermines cooperation and stifles self-direction.

Three months ago, Cricket said, Occupy New Haven began forming “affinity groups,” small networks of like-minded people coming together to work on specific tasks. Cricket, Coyote, and Snake formed the Appleseed Affinity Group to begin bringing the organizing tools of Occupy into the neighborhoods of New Haven.

As Occupy continued to drag on and began to “sound like a bunch of doddering twits,” as Coyote put it, the group decided to leave the camp and devote themselves fully to Appleseed.

The group has begun holding Occupy-style “General Assembly” meetings in the neighborhood, they said. The meetings are a way for neighbors to talk about what the neighborhood needs and to cooperate together on improvement projects. The goal is a kind of leaderless, self-governing community, “without bureaucracy or an agenda,” Coyote said.

They’ve begun participating in neighborhood clean-ups and establishing community gardens. They’re working on ways to “up-cycle” stuff, to make useful new objects out of discarded items. They said they have “access to animals” for food and have been living off donated or otherwise free groceries. It’s a kind of urban “homesteading.”

They’re working to learn from and share these skills with the neighborhood through “culture swapping” and “rapport building.” The goal is to organize the neighborhood to tackle problems like crime or bad landlords.

It sounds like basic—if a little unorthodox—community cooperation and neighborhood improvement, but there’s a larger goal. Eventually, as self-reliance spreads block-by-block, communities will be able to “step back from the monetary system,” Cricket said.

As people share resources and skills, they’ll have more time to create the neighborhood and life they really want, Coyote said.

“We’re trying to remove loneliness and fear from society,” Snake said. People will be able to “cut out the need” for huge chain stores with their shelves of plastic consumables destined for “planned obsolescence,” he said.

“Wage slavery” will end, Cricket said. So will organizational hierarchies. People will collectively own “the means of production.”

People will “no longer be subservient to the monetary system,” Coyote said.

That might sounds like anarchism or communism, but Appleseed rejects those and other -isms. “We don’t like to paint with the A-word,” Coyote said.

“I Can Use A Brick”

Since the movement is about empowering communities to govern themselves, Appleseed is inherently a collective effort. Any emphasis on the individual is counterproductive, hence the anonymity, the organizers claimed.

We will take no credit for our activism henceforth, Snake said.

“The only important brand is community,” Cricket said.

The importance of anonymity is a hard-won lesson of the Occupy movement, of which Appleseed members said they are now “neither affiliated nor unaffiliated.” When the three emerged as leaders in the camp they found it stifled the development of leadership and self-direction among others, they said.

Snake said he visited the camp shortly after he left and found it in “pure chaos.” Then he stopped by again a couple weeks later and found it was “running fine”; new leaders had emerged to fill the void.

Appleseed shares some of the goals of the Occupy movement, but it has abandoned the tactic of camping, which had become “a drag,” Coyote said.

“If you need to hit a nail and you’ve been using a hammer, that doesn’t make you a ‘hammerist,’” Cricket said. The goal is driving the nail, not swinging a hammer. “I can use a brick.”

Appleseed’s motto is SUDS, “Shut Up, Do Something.” The acronym has intentional soapy connotations of “cleaning up your act.”

Full-Time “Cadre”; Like Tecumseh

The Appleseed members declined to say how long they’ve been set up in whatever neighborhood they’re in, but said they’ve had a positive response already from their neighbors. “They’re all very happy to have us here,” Cricket said.

They wear their black bandannas around their necks in the neighborhood, as a conversation starter, Cricket said. He said the bandanna prompted a neighborhood kid to ask him if he’s in a gang.

“We want to bring all the gangs together,” Cricket replied. Like Tecumseh, he said. “Can you dig it?”

They pay no rent for the apartment they’re in. It has no heat and no electricity apart from a single cable snaked up from the basement. They declined to say how many people are sleeping there or who donated the space.

“What makes you think we sleep?” Coyote said.

“We eat communally and we sleep communally,” Cricket said.

“Every single day is a new experience,” Snake said. He said Appleseed is working tirelessly and is learning from neighbors at least as much as it is teaching, if not more.

They described the neighborhood as a racially diverse, low-income area. (During a trip to the Appleseed bathroom, I pulled out my phone and determined my location using its GPS. The Appleseed description of the neighborhood is accurate.)

It’s probably seen as “a dangerous neighborhood,” Coyote said.

They also declined to say how long they might stay in the neighborhood—“Long enough to be effective.” In the spirit of Johnny Appleseed, they said the movement is designed to move around in order to plant seeds and move on to plant some more.

It’s also something that they encourage and expect others to do elsewhere in New Haven, they said.

The three said they’re not working, at least not for money. Cricket recently quit his job to become “cadre.”

Asked for details about themselves, the three revolutionaries were predictably vague. They’re all around “a quarter-century” old. Cricket said he’s been community organizing for 10 years. He said he “moved around a lot” growing up. Coyote and Snake said they’re both from Connecticut.

They even declined to say if they were on the first floor of the house or the second.

“It really depends how you’re looking at it,” Coyote said.

“Or not looking at it,” Cricket added.

After a tour of several rooms of the Appleseed headquarters, Coyote and Cricket bagged me up again and delivered me back to the corner of Elm and Orange.

Then they drove back to their undisclosed location, to continue dismantling capitalism.

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Comments

posted by: William Kurtz on April 10, 2012  7:09am

Okay, I give. I can’t tell whether this is a joke. Can we ask self-proclaimed influential person and non-camping “Occupier” Ben Aubin–I mean “Cricket”?

It’s too bad that self-aggrandizing and ineffectual would-be ‘activists’, play-acting at revolution, have become the (local) face of a movement that might really have galvanized public opinion.

posted by: Special Agent K on April 10, 2012  7:36am

I can’t imagine how hard it must have been for the reporter to keep a straight face during this hilarious community theater performance.I was laughing out loud reading it. After the adaptation of “Lord of the Flies” on the green and this “Selected Scenes from Fight Club” in the undisclosed location is there any word on what movie this group will adapt next? Perhaps that new Three Stooges that opens on Friday?

posted by: Gristlepig on April 10, 2012  7:36am

This article brought a gigantic smile to my face.

It’s nice to see something solid emerging from the ashes of Occupy.

These folks are doing it right!

posted by: anonymous on April 10, 2012  7:37am

Undisclosed location in New Haven is an oxymoron. New Haven is a small place.

posted by: NewHavenPatriot on April 10, 2012  7:54am

There is no such thing as an “Occupy Leader”... there are doers and non-doers.

Make sure to come out for the Six-Month Anniversary on Sunday, April 15th, on the Green. It’s time to get organized with community groups to improve the community for the 99%.

RSVP Here: https://www.facebook.com/events/262859647138839/

posted by: robn on April 10, 2012  7:56am

Question #1: How does one “install” oneself in an apartment?

Question #2: While dismantling capitalism, will the “underground” strictly adhere to their credo and avoid all capital product including roads, utilities, laptops, guitars (and their cosy apartment)?

Question #3 : Is there any NHI reader who doesn’t recognize Ben Aubin’s $100 haircut?

posted by: Schlemihl on April 10, 2012  7:59am

This has to be a joke, right?

posted by: Mike Ouellette on April 10, 2012  8:03am

Wow, they’re in an apartment in Westville contributing to Capitalism by paying rent.  Laughable.

posted by: Curious on April 10, 2012  8:17am

As if this wasn’t already enough of a laughingstock.

posted by: streever on April 10, 2012  8:33am

I want to join. From this day on, I will be known as Monkey.

I would like my bandanna in pink, please.

Also, how can I convince my landlord to stop charging rent?

posted by: Gristlepig on April 10, 2012  8:56am

I applaud these activists and their aims. They realize the residents of the hood need more than bike lanes…

posted by: streever on April 10, 2012  9:19am

Gristlepig
I’m sure they have great intentions and do care, but, wearing bandannas and calling themselves cricket is a bit silly you admit, right?

As to bike lanes, and mass transit improvements, the cost to own a car per year averages at almost $8,000. For a family of four with 2 parents, and 2 cars, you are looking at a serious expense.

If the neighborhood is improved with reliable transit and bike amenities, families would be able to live—as they do in NY—without a car without any inconvenience.

I don’t have an estimate handy for annual transit and bike use, but it is vastly lower than 8k.

If advocates can reduce this cost to a working family by improving their neighborhood transportation grid, I would suggest that they are doing a lot more than people with silly names and bandannas.

posted by: Dean Moriarty on April 10, 2012  9:19am

“Sipping tea with the bandannas over their mouths presented a problem for the revolutionaries…”  Mr. MacMillan, please, never cease writing. Your pieces are truly classic. This one really stands out.  Thank you!

posted by: davecoon on April 10, 2012  9:34am

For a second there, I thought a reincarnated Jim Carroll was staring back at me.  But it’s just a guy named Cricket.
Maybe you shouldn’t go tromping through the hood dressed like that?  Those guys there don’t play.

posted by: Billy on April 10, 2012  9:35am

This is definitely a joke.  In fact, you’ll be seeing it on an upcoming episode of Portlandia.  No one other than Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein could create something so perfectly ridiculous.  Didn’t anyone tell these guys that the revolution will not be televised, or covered incessantly in the NHI.  Really…we need to not waste any more space in this wonderful publication on these clowns.  There are many of us grassroots agents of change who have been working on myriad issues in New Haven for a long time - public safety, youth violence reduction, anti-racism work, advocating for police accountability, food security, anti-poverty initiatives, education reform…you name it.  We don’t need these kids playing cops and robbers, with their bandannas and code names, to tell us how to do activism in New Haven.  Occupy New Haven would have been MUCH better off it were ACTUALLY leaderless, instead of being steered by these misguided, inexperienced, attention-seeking jokers!

posted by: Bruce on April 10, 2012  9:42am

This is hilarious—easily one of my favorite NHI stories of all time.  I totally respect what they’re trying to do.  But still, hilarious.

posted by: rdeeds on April 10, 2012  9:46am

Hilarious and counter-effective theatrics aside; (naive?) optimism aside, (outsider paternalism aside?)...

these are worthwhile efforts.

posted by: A.T. on April 10, 2012  10:06am

I’m sending you boys my secret decoder ring and Spiderman gloves.  I think you may also need a cloaking device for your apartment, but I’m going to need to watch a few more eppies of Star Trek to figure out how that works.  In the meanwhile, may the force be with you!

posted by: BenBerkowitz on April 10, 2012  10:12am

I thought the first rule of fight club is ‘you don’t talk about fight club’
PS, this is cute.

PPS, why anonymity? No one cares enough to threaten you and showing half your face only creates more attention for you and less for the movement.

PPPS, Thomas can we play this game next weekend? My mom use to do this with me when I was being hyperactive as a kid. She called them ‘mystery trips’.  I can’t promise a bandana but I can’t say that you won’t see a whale at mystic seaport either.

posted by: anonymous on April 10, 2012  10:19am

“I applaud these activists and their aims. They realize the residents of the hood need more than bike lanes.”

I have attended meetings (not in East Rock, Downtown, or Westville) where residents have been asking for bike lanes for the past 30 years.  But when you spend years asking for something and the City never does anything, eventually you stop asking. This is actually a good strategy for maintaining a bureaucracy.

posted by: HhE on April 10, 2012  11:24am

Laughable, yes, but much more “pathetic” than “funny.”

posted by: Ex-NHPD on April 10, 2012  11:36am

They should call themselves Napoleon, Snowball, and Squealer.

How long will it take them to get to Chapter 7, where their seventh maxim will be “All Appleseeders are equal, but some are more equal then others.”

Finally, if it walks like an Anarchist, and talks like an Anarchist, it is an Anarchist.  The only question is will they fight to the end (with violence to get their way), or give up and join the establishment?

posted by: Chatham Square Resident on April 10, 2012  11:41am

Is this article intended to be tongue-in-cheek satire? I actually snorted at least once while reading and spent a lot of time shaking my head and smirking. For some reason, the animal monikers really got me going. I wonder if they’re in my ‘hood? Since they have no electricity, are they stealing it via the one cable snaking up from the basement? We don’t need you in Fair Haven, if that’s where you’re holed up. We’re pretty good at holding our own and building community and, quite frankly, masked crusaders, I think you would end up getting your ridiculous butts whupped.

posted by: cnr146 on April 10, 2012  12:36pm

I really love the Locally Caught Fish.

posted by: BenBerkowitz on April 10, 2012  12:37pm

Holy Crap,
Just realized that Aubin is holding a Lord of The Rings Sword. They really are playing a joke on us.

posted by: Havenman on April 10, 2012  1:10pm

Excellent use of the word palaver.

posted by: cedarhillresident! on April 10, 2012  1:17pm

I think they are on Everit street :)

posted by: Nhv.Org on April 10, 2012  1:18pm

http://nhvorg.blogspot.com/2012/04/art-project-about-message-gone-wrong.html

If you’re going to post jokes, why not post this?  It’s equally as entertaining and actually less contrived!

posted by: OhHum on April 10, 2012  3:38pm

Did they catch the fish with the hatchet? Scary, isn’t it. BTW - Eat the fish.

posted by: William Kurtz on April 10, 2012  3:54pm

As I said earlier, I can’t even tell if it’s a joke, ala Joaquin Phoenix’s rap career and feigned public disintegration. If it is, it’s not a particularly imaginative or funny one. The Yes Men know how to do this kind of thing right. Given the silliness that’s put Mr. Aubin in the news a few times over the last year or so, it seems just as likely that he, at least, is in earnest.

But come on. Squatting in an apartment and tapping into someone else’s electricity while living off of “donated or otherwise free groceries” isn’t “homesteading,” urban or otherwise.

posted by: David S Baker on April 10, 2012  4:23pm

When did Paul sell his website to ‘The Onion’?  SO funny.  McMillan is a comedy genius!  MORE MORE MORE!!! These guys need a TV show!

posted by: Jonathan Hopkins on April 10, 2012  6:21pm

This is so, so clownish

posted by: Excit3d on April 10, 2012  10:36pm

I think the New Haven Independent ran this story 10 days late… lol. Nice job, guys.

posted by: Adam E on April 11, 2012  6:56am

So, all I have to do is find somebody willing to donate food and shelter to me, and then I can quit my job and live in relative squalor with a bunch of other people in a dilapidated house? Sounds like a great plan, guys… although you’ll probably want to find somebody will to donate healthcare to if you’re going to continue to eat that ‘locally caught fish.’ Oh, and somebody to subsidize the dataplan for your iphone too.

This would’ve made for a good April Fool’s day article, but I’m a little worried that I can’t tell if it’s a joke or not.  If not, I think it’s a mistake to try to paint a lifestyle that homeless people & squatters have been living for years as ‘revolutionary,’ and then go on to suggest that it’s a viable (or desirable, for that matter) option for the population at large.  As long as my tax dollars aren’t subsidizing any part of their fantasy lifestyle, I have no objection to these people living their lives as they want, but unless regression is the new progression, this is not going to do much to ‘end capitalism.’

And if it is just a big joke, haha.  I guess.

posted by: OhHum on April 11, 2012  9:11am

From the very beginning of the ONH movement it has all been a game of pretend. The Mayor and his administration should have recognized it and moved them off the Green months ago. Lost in their game of pretend are the real issues of the U.S., CT., and N.H. Their false bravado shows us all what they were up to from the very beginning. They have received much too much attention and should receive no more.

posted by: nh104 on April 11, 2012  10:50am

I hope they are getting spy lessons from Boris and Natasha! donated of course.

Oh and is there radar evading paint on that KIA?

posted by: Mister Jones on April 11, 2012  2:35pm

This comes off as a stunt not worthy of the Independent’s journalistic standards:  “He said I’d have to be blindfolded. I suggested I could just keep the location off the record. But wouldn’t it make for a better article if you were blindfolded? he replied.”

I don’t know about Cricket’s alleged $100 haircut, but he’s got some fancy duds, including a freshly, professionally laundered and pressed dress shirt, as you can tell from the starched cuffs.  Doesn’t look like someone who will “no longer be subservient to the monetary system.”  Surely he’s not a wage slave.

posted by: thehammerist on April 11, 2012  11:52pm

What exactly is a hammerist? I think i’d like to join their game and become one. perhaps I can trade in my level 12 dwarf mage status? I got a pocket full of dice. lets play!

posted by: HhE on April 15, 2012  7:54pm

Didn’t Ben Aubin, I mean Cricket, run a Free Store that failed?  Guys, the reason people use money is that—flaws and all—it works.

posted by: Nhv.Org on April 15, 2012  10:46pm

This “anonymous protester” routine has been going on for quite a while.  Here’s an article from November 2011.  http://nhvorg.blogspot.com/2011/11/that-anonymous-protester-is-ben-aubin.html