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Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Porterhaus, the AU-GA and the Machine of the Student Body


Ever since Occupy DC was evicted from our home under the Tent of Dreams in McPherson Square I’ve been sleeping at what was originally described to me as a “punk house”. I had no idea what “punk house” meant (and still don’t), but as I introduced myself to my new friends offering shelter from that rainy intersection of K St and Occupation I could tell that their camaraderie would add an important new impression to my definition of “occupier”. I found myself at Porterhaus that night, a student residence a few stops up the Red and a short mile from the American University.

I occupied their couch for a week or two, and then agreed on rent for a bed through the end of March. The room I share regularly has a fresh stack of books on unionist theory, my roommate a veritable encyclopedia of the stuff. A poster of an image printed far too large for the resolution of the image hangs on the wall, “The I.W.W. is coming! Join the One Big Union!” across from from old samurai movie posters penned entirely in Kanji. The living room is our social space, its large windows casting light across its couches and chairs. The kitchen gives evidence of how many have passed through Porterhaus before: so far I have found 6 separate can openers and continue to find food no one ever knew was there. The shelves of extra unmatched cups, plates, bowls, mason jars and mugs nearly overflow before the dishwasher is even unloaded. My obsessive-compulsive desire to clean and organize are sated by the piles of stuff laying in most corners that belong to no one in particular.

I am not currently in school, but as I plan to return I still consider myself to be a student. I hadn’t really attended many real college parties during my time at the University of Cincinnati, I always preferred smaller gatherings where I already knew most of the faces. Porterhaus is however - as I abruptly learned one night - a party house. That first party, passing through the basement I came to the realization that the floorboards above me were supporting 50+ people. After 5 months of encamping with those of every age and shape this brought to me with full awareness that I was once again among students, and I took a long moment in my drunken state to behold the young future of our nation.

Occupy the American University

Three of my four roommates are involved in the occupation in some form or another, mostly with the Occupy American University General Assembly (AU-GA). After months spent standing in on the metropolitan assemblies of Cincinnati and DC I was eager to see how a college occupation functioned, and that next Wednesday I found myself sitting in a neatly arranged circle of about 25 students in the high-traffic foyer/lounge of AU’s School of International Service. I sat, watched, listened and, in the end, was rightly impressed by nearly every aspect of the AU-GA.

While there is certainly room for improvement, compared to the open metropolitan assemblies in the public parks the AU-GA runs like an oiled machine. Taking only an hour and twenty minutes, their assembly tackled issues so complex that would take a ‘regular’ GA of equal size hours, if not days, to chew through. Rules of process are recognized to a far higher degree: stacks are adhered to and standards of interpersonal respect are palpably stronger. Engaging each other to grind through challenge the young gears of this work with efficiency and cheer. With about 30 active members on a campus of ~6,000 undergrads the AU-GA is huge in context to its environment.

So what makes the student body so much more capable?

The Machine

The students of this nation are of the first generations to be totally immersed in the patterns of behavior introduced by the world wide information network we call the Internet. There is not a single person in this group who remembers a time before their browser’s address bar. The gears of their minds have been similarly refined by the information mill of the Internet, a complex machine of systems and social interaction which requires from anyone the same basic sets of rules and etiquette to navigate efficiently.

A general assembly follows a progression of logical procedures designed to maximize the rate at which the machine can process information through discussion stacks and consensus processes. The stacks are a simple queue and the consensus process a type of simple yes/no decision for the group. This generation of students, preexposed to processing large quantities of information through the logical processes engrained in them by growing along side the Internet, are inherently more capable of utilizing the tool of their GA than any other demographic. Their engagement in social activity at school and their constant consumption of academia only catalyzes this utilization by ensuring that there is more information churning through the minds of it’s individuals at any given time. The machine of the AU-GA is already measurably more complex than that of the metropolitan DC-GA.

With higher densities of knowledge and information comes a higher potential for connectivity and relevancy between ideas; a discussion between students can resonate on more frequencies between those engaged. When combined together in the social machine of a GA this results in more potential for cooperation between individuals. As a cybernetic system the AU-GA as is capable of processing information faster than the metropolitan DC-GA. I’m certain that there are student assemblies are just as capable as AU nation wide and that, once all these pieces of machinery are coupled together across the Internet, a national student body will emerge far more powerful than just the sum of its parts.

An American Spring

I noticed a few weeks ago a flower, a purple drop in an ocean of dilapidated grass along side the road outside of Porterhaus. It wasn't much, but it was the first real splash of color to break the uniformity of winter’s grey. It brings with it the arrival of an American Spring, a rebirth from a time when the freezing showers falling from the sky seemed just too massive to influence. Standing in the center of K St as our assembly dispersed after our eviction it felt like the rain would grow only colder, but I knew that this “punk house” would bring warm refuge. I have learned a lot here, and through it I have beheld the gears and engines to bring warmth back to the American soul.

We the students are the stewards of our future democracy; we must accept our responsibility to this nation. We must defend our rights and see out our visions; we must let those powerful few know that we are not going anywhere. The call to occupy has found our houses of education, and we must heed this call while the idea of an education still exists. Across the nation tens of thousands have been evicted from their homes and encampments; we the people are running out of time to define ‘freedom’ for ourselves before those in power define it for us.


It is our skills that will reclaim this nation from corruption.

It is our words that will pave the course of our society.

It is our technologies that will bring us to the stars.

It is our music that will keep our bodies moving.

It is our diversity that will grow the world,

And it is our children who will inherit it.

We the future have found our voice.

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