COLUMBIA — Occupy COMO protesters passed around cups of hot cider and lit one another's cigarettes Tuesday night as they waited for their general assembly to start. By 8 p.m., the scattered few had become an enclosed circle.
The meeting is a direct democracy, as is the group. There were two elected moderators, but their only role was to keep the general assembly focused on the suggested proposals.
On the docket Tuesday was a proposal to adopt an official Occupy COMO statement. It was based on similar proposals adopted by the St. Louis and Wall Street occupations. At only half a page in length, the document delved briefly into the beliefs and mission of the group. It also stressed individual protestors' autonomy and codified their leaderless model.
"We are leaderless," the statement read. "We come as individuals, autonomous, with distinct concerns about a variety of issues. We stand as one people, united, against a system, which allows for the domination of the vast majority of the population by a wealthy few."
"The proposal is just stating that the group is leaderless, but not disorganized," said Cameron Jackson.
Jackson has been occupying outside the Daniel Boone Building off and on for three weeks. He started out as an "occupation observer," but after talking to the protestors, he was eventually drawn into the group as a more active participant. "I got sucked into it," he said.
Jackson was among the 19 people that assembled together Tuesday night. By the end of the meeting, discussion was focused on the impending winter. Many of the occupiers were already bundled in layers as they gripped their cider.
Before getting into Tuesday's proposals, two moderators reviewed the list of hand signals: wave when you agree with a proposal; make a proposal by forming your hands into a steeple; wave your hand upside down if you disagree; if someone is getting too long-winded, rotate your hand as if motioning them to wrap it up.
There were only two hours designated each week to the general assemblies. Without the signals, discussion can very quickly turn to ideological debate, which, once it starts, can be hard to stifle among a group of individuals who have made this occupation their mission. At the conclusion of the general assembly, open forum began.
The number of people occupying overnight is already dwindling, and Jackson said if more people don't participate, the occupation could be in danger of falling apart.
"It's not an occupation without at least one person here," he said. "Usually the ones staying out here at night are the least fortunate, which isn't right. They shouldn't be the ones carrying the majority of the burden."
During the General Assembly, a proposal to craft a volunteer-based schedule was brought up. At the next General Assembly at 8 p.m. Saturday, the discussion will be continued. The group also continues to utilize the online forum and the groups Facebook page, which at the time of publication had more than 2,700 likes.