As 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.
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.
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.