Twenty-one members of the nation's 99 percent clustered around a back table at Missoula's Break Espresso Oct. 6, discussing how best to execute Occupy Missoula's first General Assembly the following Saturday. They used hand signals to establish a consensus. But even 21 bodies proved difficult to track.
These folks knew about the hundreds of resistance activists who took over New York City's Liberty Square nearly a month ago. They'd heard of Occupy Wall Street and seconded the frustrations over the rich getting richer while the rest struggle. Still, executing a solidarity movement in Missoula was going to take detailed planning.
"What are we occupying?" one woman asked.
"Where can we camp legally?" asked another.
"All kinds of things are going to be decided at the General Assembly," answered Brooklyn Kittelson, who spearheaded the meeting as much as anyone in a leaderless movement can.
Kittelson repeatedly referred to the Occupy Wall Street website to clarify the intentions for Saturday's event. The goal, she said, would be to hear proposals from those gathered, discuss them and vote as a group—using hand signals—on how best to execute them. That would require structure and a division of labor.
"This isn't your typical protest march," Kittelson told the group. "It's action-oriented democracy."
The gathering eventually split into two camps: those wanting to lend a hand in promoting Occupy Missoula and those interested in filling specific positions at the General Assembly. Drew Fetherolf was first to step forward, offering his services as a moderator. Soon a loose-leaf sheet of paper was floating around the table, a compilation of names for the logistics team, for moderators, for facilitators.
A few voices grew concerned that the General Assembly was already becoming too structured.
"Let it be what it is," one woman said.
Local labor leader Mark Anderlik cautioned about letting the event become too soapboxy. Missoula activist Max Granger concurred.
"My experience is that if you don't have some particular agenda or topic for these meetings, they can tend to spin out of control," Granger said.
The message wasn't altogether clear. But the passion was as unmistakable as it has been on Wall Street since September.
"I think the point we need to realize is, fuckin'-A, we're trying it," Fetherolf said. "And if it's a train wreck, we can try again next week."