I was lying in bed, drowsing in and out of a Thera-flu induced stupor. Mike Malloy’s talk show on AM 1150 Progressive Talk Radio was playing softly on my clock radio. It was about 9:45 p.m. when I heard Malloy interview someone named ‘Sanchez’ from East L.A. Sanchez seemed to be talking as if a raid on Occupy Los Angeles (OLA) were imminent. But I thought I had to be hearing a recorded show from the previous Sunday-Monday period. Enough clues soon emerged from Malloy’s interview to let me know I was actually listening to a live show.
“Honey,” I called to my wife Alma, “it sounds like they’re raiding the camp right now.”
Alma, out in the living room trying studiously to avoid the contagion zone, turned the TV to channel 11 (the local Fox affiliate).
“They’re showing it live on TV now,” she said.
So I bundled up in my dark-blue Snuggie and headed out to the couch to watch the gotterdamerung of Occupy Los Angeles.
Please remember that what follows was recorded and notated through a Thera-flu haze, so I apologize up front for any inaccuracies or misrepresentations.
The first thing I have to say is how much I despise Fox 11 and KTLA5. Their pro-police bias consistently showed through in their continual color commentary and in the silly questions they constantly asked OLA protesters. At one point, one of the male anchors at Fox suggested that the LAPD shoot one of the protesters out of the tree “like a bear.” Needless to say, I will be making calls to Fox and to KTLA5 to inform them that I will be calling each of their advertisers to announce that I will no longer purchase any of those advertisers’ products or services. I am making that my mission for today.
The second thing I have to say is that we no longer have journalists in this country. We now have only stenographers to power, sycophants who suckle at the teat of authority. Many times, the Fox and KTLA5 reporters would announce that the LAPD would arrest them if they remained within the park after the official order to disperse. They would announce this breathlessly and uncritically, as if there were nothing whatsoever wrong with it. I wanted to throw up (or throw my TV through the window). I mean, really, why shouldn’t reporters have to stand inside ‘safety zones’?
A Fox bimbo interviews a young person clad in bandanna who calls himself ‘Fame.’ “What are you doing with that stick.” the Fox reporter asks. “I was using it to dry my clothes,” Fame replies. “So you’re not going to use it against anyone?” Fame chuckles. “Of course not, “ he says. “We’re a non-violent movement.”
This would play itself out over and over again as the night progressed. Fox and KTLA5 interpreted every oblong object as a potential weapon. Every OLA protester loudly and directly eschewed violence. And yet, even after the 4th or 5th such schooling, Fox and KTLA 5 were still resorting to language like ‘outside agitator’ and ‘troublemaker’ to justify LAPD tactics.
In contrast to the media’s continual fellating of LAPD and Chief Charlie Beck, the Eichmann-esque shadowy figure who was filmed standing across the street talking with his commanders (and who was breathlessly described by the Fox bimbo as ‘heroic’ for not wearing a helmet), the night was full of OLA heroics and creative non-violence.
Many OLA Occupiers sat down and linked arms around a single tent they designated as “The last tent standing.” Some Occupiers occupied the trees in the park. A hilarious interchange occurred between the clueless Fox reporters and three young occupiers in a tree house. One of the Occupiers was waving an upside-down American flag , the universal symbol for distress. “Are you tearing it
At about 11:30 p.m., the LAPD gave its first order to disperse. Before they did so, however, they had set up the cordons around City Hall Park. The commentators kept breathlessly saying that the LAPD wanted people to leave voluntarily. Alma and I knew from our experience that this was not necessarily true, based on what we had experienced on Sunday-Monday when the camp first came under threat. We were unable to leave southward along Spring St. and had to make a large circuitious route to return to our car. Had we stayed another 30 minutes, we would not have been able to leave at all.
According to KTLA5, the LAPD had deployed some 30 buses each with 45 LAPD officers, for a total of over 1200 LAPD officers. The city at 9:30 (when I first started waking up) had declared a city-wide tactical alert which allowed it to stop responding to low-level calls. I thought to myself that this would be the perfect time to commit a petty crime, were one so inclined.
Time and again, reporters would ask Occupiers “Are you planning to leave?” and “Are you planning to get arrested?” Time after time, Occupiers would respond that they either planned to get arrested and would not leave except under duress or that they planned not to get arrested and would vacate when given the final order to disperse. This was the result of meticulous OLA planning that had begun the day after Thanksgiving, when Villaraigosa famously issued his ultimatum. Those plans, coordinated by the Raid Committee and implemented through the General Assembly, asked folks to decide whether they wished to be arrested or to show support. So everyone had a chance to make an informed decision as to what they wished to do.
Why raid the camp tonight? The Fox bimbo assured us that Villaraigosa had decided the raid should happen tonight when he learned that children were staying at the camp. Again, nary a word of critical pause from these sycophants. But kids had been staying at the OLA camp since October 1. If Villaraigosa were only finding out about it now, he was woefully behind the curve. Truth is, there was a tent called ‘Kids Village’ staffed by people like KPFK’s Margaret Prescott that was constantly devising programming and activities for children. It was one of the most endearing parts of the camp. On Sunday-Monday, Alma and I saw a group of Occupiers holding a candle-light vigil in front of it and vowing they would have to be arrested before it was dismantled. I’m not sure if the same group was there last night. My notes on Villaraigosa’s concern for the children say simply: “What a crock!”
There were some beautiful signs for the world to see. One said simply, “The First Amendment is our permit.” Another said, “You can’t evict an idea.” I saw a pre-printed one I thought especially a propos: “The LAPD protects and serves the 1%.” (Taking up that line, many of the seated Occupiers chanted repeatedly “Who do you serve? Who do you protect?”)
It was a racially and demographically mixed crowd. I did not see any children, as they had been shephereded by OLA to safety long before raid began. But I did see many college students and a couple elderly women, one in her 80s and another in her 90s. The two women said they would not be arrested but were there to “show support.” I was bawling openly now.
The third thing I will say is that LAPD from helicopters look like a bunch of scurrying cockroaches suddenly exposed to light when they deploy. About the time of the third and final order to disperse at midnight, the helicopters showed the scurrying roaches taking up positions inside the park. City Hall Park is open on all four sides and the Occupiers were always going to have trouble defending its boundaries.
When they finally deployed, it seemed as if they exploded from within City Hall. Indeed, Alma read somewhere on one of the social networking sites that some LAPD had been pre-positioned inside City Hall. The crowd had massed along 1st St. at Spring and Main, briefly occupying the intersections at each. So the LAPD came in from the backside. They had LAPD in white haz mat suits, looking like creatures off an episode of Star Wars. They had a bomb squad and SWAT officers. But I was struck watching an LAPD officer repeatedly stomp on the tent poles of one of the campers. The frustration in that gesture. I’m sure that police officer never expected he would be involved in an illegal eviction when he signed up to serve and protect.
The LAPD started arresting Occupiers one by one. (Eventually, over 200 would be arrested and bails set as high as $5,000.) Many times I saw the LAPD engage in what can only be called ‘provocations,’ shoving Occupiers. For the most part, Occupiers refused to take the LAPD bait. The LAPD started dismantling the tents one by one. “The LAPD doesn’t know what they will find in those tents,” the Fox bimbo announced. “They might find contraband, they might find feces.” Alma and I looked at each other and went “What the fuck?” I thought to myself that the only excrement I was seeing on the TV was the LAPD’s excrement.
Oh, those brave LAPD officers. Pointing guns at Occupiers in the trees. Shooting rubber bullets at a few Occupiers, as was alleged by one of the arrestees. Shoving Occupiers without provocation. Contrast that with the bravery of the medics and legal observers, each of whom became subject to arrest as soon as the final order to disburse was issued. Or with the Occupier who climbed a traffic light signal and deployed a sign saying “Save Mother Earth Now.”
The televised feeds ended at about 2 a.m. and, echoing Samuel Johnson’s assessment of Milton’s Paradise Lost, no one would have wished them any longer. The livestream videos were choppy and constantly freezing. I do know that a large contingent of supporters had rallied outside the police cordon at 1st and Broadway, attempting to join up with their comrades inside the park. Some of the scariest footage was when the SWAT team gang-tackled some of these entirely non-violent protesters.
I would like to say this morning that I am ashamed to be an Angeleno, ashamed to share my address with the likes of toadies like Villaraigosa and Beck. Except that the Occupiers last night held up a beacon to the world. Although the camp at City Hall may be destroyed, Occupy Los Angeles will rally, recover and, I hope, re-occupy in the not-too-distant future. OLA is the Los Angeles I am proud to be a part of. The Occupiers are the real patriots. And now the whole world will know.
On edit: According to the LA Times, General Assembly will take place tonight at Pershing Square.
As Alma and I drove eastward on the 10 Freeway towards downtown Los Angeles on Sunday, I saw a light scattering of cirrus clouds in a mostly-blue sky. Los Angeles had been the beneficiary of a modest heat wave over the 3 days following Thanksgiving Day and so we each wore 3-4 layers of clothing that could easily be added or removed
We were going to downtown LA to support our brothers and sisters at Occupy Los Angeles (OLA) who had encamped at City Hall on October 1 and who now faced the threat of a forced eviction, based on a threat announced by Mayor Antonio Villagraigosa on Thanksgiving Day.
That threat culminated several days of contentious back and forth between OLA and the Mayor’s office. It should be remembered that, back in mid October, Villaraigosa had publicly and warmly welcomed the Occupation, a welcome seconded by the LA City Council in the form of a resolution recognizing the Occupation’s inherent right to petition for redress of grievances.
Since mid October, however, Villaraigosa and the City Council had grown tired of the Occupation with Villaraigosa saying that the Occupiers could not ‘stay indefinitely’ and with a key early backer, Councilperson Bill Rosendahl, announcing that Occupiers would have to leave.
In the two days prior to Thanksgiving, the city made an offer to a group from OLA’s City Liaison Committee (CLC) that essentially offered the Occupiers alternate space in return for the occupiers relinquishing their camp on the nourth, south and west lawns of City Hall. That offer had been debated by OLA’s General Assembly (GA) on Tuesday night but no official response ensued for various procedural reasons. When the CLC returned to negotiations on Wednesday, the mayoral delegation led by Deputy Mayor Matt Szabo informed the CLC that the offer was now ‘rescinded,’ for reasons that remain unclear.
The OLA GA subsequently rejected the offer at the GA on Wednesday night and published on its website a very eloquent explanation for why it had to reject the offer.
And so, on Thursday, as Angelenos snoozed over the remnants of turkey and stuffing, and Occupiers at the camp enjoyed Thanksgiving dinners donated by the communityd and ferried in to the camp, printed notices were placed on various trees in the camp that stated what hours the park was open and what hour s it was closed and that violaters were subject to arrest. Something of a panic ensued at OLA, as many Occupiers interpreted the notices as constructive notices of eviction.
Alma and I had not gone to OLA on Thursday, but we were paying close attention to events on the official OLA website (http://occupylosangeles.org ) and various affiliated sites. Alma and I decided we had to break with our normal pattern of only visiting on the weekends and so we first went down on Friday, Nov. 25.
Another factor motivating us to return to OLA that Friday was that Mayor Villaraigosa and LAPD Chief Charlie Beck would be holding a press conference to update the city about plans for removing OLA and evicting Occupiers. When Alma and I arrived at City Hall, however, we found that we could not get into City Hall to attend the press conference. (A couple OLA folk, I subsequently learned, did manage to attend and hilariously mic checked the Mayor and Police Chief.)
Instead, I return to the Facilitation Committee (FC), many of whose regular participants I have become close to over the past few weeks. Tonight Jared moderates the FC meeting and I agree to be his ‘Stacker’ (the person who keeps track of which order people speak) for contentious issues. When the meeting begins, word has reached the camp that Villaraigosa has set Monday, November 28, at 12:01 a.m. as the point after which the park will be closed and those who remain in violation of the law.
Much of tonight’s GA will focus on the impending raid, specifically preparations by a newly-formed ‘Raid Committee’ and legal work by the Legal Committee. But the GA’s Order of the Day contains some routine administrative business and some contentious issues as well. One contentious proposal of note is being brought by an individual who wishes the GA to dissolve the CLC for its failure to report back to the GA in a timely manner its secret negotiations with the city. This all has the whiff of “inside baseball” to me but, according to some accounts, the CLC was stacked with members of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) and paranoia runs rampant at the camp that CLC may be negotiating terms that best benefit SEIU but not the camp as a whole.
During Friday’s GA, I am struck by a new seriousness of purpose and a sense of stubborn determination that has seized the Occupiers. Gone are the annoying and disruptive drum circles, the crowd is orderly and respectful of the semi-circle in which GA speakers and FC staff work and the break-out groups on the topic of raid preparations produce some awesome ideas. My little raid prevention breakout group is tasked with two items: 1) what a press release going out that night should say and 2) what we can do to defend the camp against the raid.
For task number 1, our breakout group ‘consenses’ (a neologism I believe that has been coined by the OWS movement) around stating that political figures who fail to act to stop the raid will pay a huge political price and that OLA’s wide support in the larger community, although currently dormant, will become active in the event. For task number 2, there are many great ideas. Alma suggests mobilizing visual documentarians like photographers to capture images of names and badge numbers of LAPD officers. Mike suggests we form scouting parties to venture 2-3 blocks out to see whether we can identify staging areas for the raid and report them back to the Raid Committee by cellphone in real time. Spenser suggests that we all use social networking tools to mobilize mass numbers to populate the camp, thereby giving authorities pause. And I, the student of military history, suggest that we thing out avenues of retreat and a base camp where OLA can regroup and recover.
The breakout group names me its spokesperson and I give a fiery 2-minute speech worthy, I hope, of Eugene Debs. The roar of the crowd in support and the waving jazz fingers seem to suggest I am not doing half-bad.
The contentious proposal to dissolve CLC ends up not producing the heat we predicted, because its author, John, decides to table it in the interest of freeing up more time for raid preparation. And the GA consenes around a proposal by a legal person to file for an injunction electronically in federal court over the holiday weekend, even though we do not have as yet the exact text of the injunction being sought. This is the spirit of individual and joint self-sacrifice that marks this movement. People routinely leave their egos behind in sacrificing to the needs of the collective. However, there is still more than enough ego to go around, as Saturday’s GA will show.
Morale at the camp remains quite high. Of the 600 tents that populated the grounds of City Hall at OLA’s height, I estimate that at least 500 remain. A few empty spaces exist now, the bare earth testimony to the tents that stood there for almost two months. Alma and I return on Saturday, November 26, bearing two 5-gallon jugs of water and some toilet paper, items for which demand is unquenchable. The folks at the Welcome and Food tents warmly welcome our donations.
Alma and I have taken to getting our daily exercise by walking the perimeter of the City Hall block several times and taking in the various sensory delights and nightmares. In the latter category surely must rank the Porta-Potties, groups of which exists in three locations. You can smell them before you see them and they are, as might be expected, not a paragon of hygiene. I remark to Alma after using one to take a leak that it felt as though I were entering the anteroom of Dante’s Inferno.
Such petit-bourgeois considerations aside, the visual stimulations are still too numerous to catalogue, from the sign-making corner at Temple and Spring where a group of Occupiers generate signs on multiple topics to the silk screen press, where T-shirts emblazoned with the 99% logo are free for the taking. Everywhere, people are talking, to one another individually, in small groups and committees and in a larger, informal “People’s Assembly,” a sort of round-robin open mike. When I stop to think about it, the amount of political discourse going on inside the boundaries of this city block probably outweighs any other locale in the city.
At 5:30, I return to FC where I again stack, this time for Esteban. This night has a crowded agenda with 7-8 proposals to come before the GA, some of them of an ‘emergency’ status. Normal proposals are required to wait through a 24-hour public comment period before being considered by GA, but emergency proposals (those deemed by FC to legitimately be time-sensitive) do not face the 24-hour requirement.
One of the early backers of OLA, Councilman Bill Rosendahl, also has asked to address the GA and FC is asked to find a time slot where he can safely speak. Rosendahl has been receiving death threats in the past week as his backpedaling on support for OLA has enraged some of his constituents. (For the record, Rosendahl is my councilperson and I have left numerous voice messages with his staff and received not one call back.) So the first 60 minutes of Saturday’s FC are devoted to trying to find a specific spot in the agenda where Rosendahl can speak. (According to the person bringing the suggestion, Rosendahl will only speak at a designated time because of the death threats. This smells like rubbish to me but, because I am against stacking FC, I keep my opinions for the most part to myself.
Fortunately, I do not have to utter my opinions as there are plenty of people at FC who share my reservations about Rosendahl’s getting special privileges, merely because of his earlier record of supporting OLA. While it is true that OLA has granted special consideration to other ‘celebrities’ in the past, like Deepak Chopra and Russell Simmons, each time we knew what the person wanted to say to GA. In this case, we have only the vaguest representations of what Rosendahl will say. Supposedly, he will tell us a way that we can stay in the camp without being raided. This is the carrot dangled before the GA, that a savior from the political class will descend from Mount Olympus to rescue OLA from the storm clouds that are roiling its horizon.
There are enough folks present who refuse to take the bait, though, and who insist that Rosendahl wait his turn, just as any regular citizen would. The debate goes round and round, back and forth, and many newcomers to FC express frustration that the matter takes so long to resolve. The discussion (and the 60 minutes spent discussing it) is rendered moot when Rosendahl or his representative calls to inform us that he is withdrawing his offer. My bullshit detector is in the red zone now, as Rosendahl’s withdrawal mirrors the withdrawal of the offer by the city a couple days earlier. (My misgivings prove entirely well-founded when Rosendahl appears at the People’s Assembly the next day to tell OLA that it must leave.)
We next take up emergency proposals, including one to designate the National Lawyers’ Guild our sole legal representative. This has been occasioned by rumors that the federal injunction, filed by someone working with the Legal Team, has brought OLA’s relationship with the NLG into question. Why is this important and an ‘emergency’? Because various Occupiers plan to get arrested during the raid by committing civil disobedience. Indeed, much of the raid planning has involved splitting Occupiers into those who plan to get arrested and those who do not. However, people planning to get arrested need to have relative assurance that they will have legal representation so locking down the NLG’s status is considered of crucial importance. Much time is spent debating where this proposal should appear in the Order of the Day. We finally consense around making it the first of the emergency proposals, a decision that will again prove moot, as the person making the proposal is nowhere to be found when his time comes to present it to the GA.
Indeed, tonight’s FC is showing cracks in the process of proposal-making and agenda setting. One can get a proposal onto the agenda with no requirement that the person making the proposal actually be there to present it. FC wastes a lot of time debating how to order proposals, only to see the supposed proposer fail to show up. I guess this is part of the nitty gritty of politics, but it strikes me as amateurish. (I will get a chance to exact a measure of revenge on Sunday. So much for ego vanishing before the needs of the collective.)
Not every proposal on the agenda is of an ‘emergency’ or even ‘policy’ nature. Anthony, a genial and a bit scruffy young man, has authored a routine common-sense proposal to require committees to report back to the GA twice per week or risk being terminated by the GA is on the agenda. (As of this writing, the OLA GA had authorized some 40 committees.) This is common sense, because many committees are not functioning. If they are functioning, they seldom regularly report back. At its most malignant, committees like the CLC are conducting business crucial to OLA but reporting back only sporadically if at all. This measure will impose a reporting requirement upon any committee.
But when this proposal comes before GA, it quickly becomes apparent that it is anything but routine. Despite Anthony pointing out the absurdity of a Volunteer Committee wit no volunteers, several people hard block the proposal for various procedural grounds, such as who will be monitoring the committee report backs and how often committees will be required to report back. Anthony is willing to accept some friendly amendments that make his proposal language more specific, but hard blocks remain for reasons that are unclear to me but probably have to do with certain committees feeling threatened and on the defensive.
A proposal defining one of OLA’s objectives as ‘ending corporatism’ finds consensus, as does an emergency proposal from Dele, a soft-spoken African, to make a call to local clergy to speak in defense of OLA. The person proposing that the NLG be made OLA’s official representative is nowhere to be found and his proposal is tabled.
Sunday, November 27, the OLA camp has the feeling of high noon about it. Alma and I take our daily walk and notice that the number of empty tent sites has increased somewhat over night. OLA has been doing a good job of disseminating warning to people with outstanding warrants and questionable immigration statuses that they may not want to be on site when the raid comes. And there are a certain number of Occupiers who shy away from any contact with police for reasons only they know. However, my estimate that 500 tents remain is corroborated by a piece in the Los Angeles Times by a sometime sympathetic columnist whose numbers seem to resemble mine. On a humorous note, Alma and I have parked at a lot on 2nd and Spring St., a block down from the Times building. As we walk to OLA, I stop in at the Times to hand-deliver a copy of the first issue of the Occupied Los Angeles Times to the startled somnolent security guard manning the front entrance. The 4-page issue uses the same fonts and typeface of its parent publication and I think it only fitting that folks at the Times (currently operating in bankruptcy) understand there is a new sheriff in town.
Well, there are a few more people than normal there at 3:30, as Alma and I begin our walk. And we meet several familiar faces while walking and share contact information with them so we can stay in touch after any raid occurs. But at 5:30, when I go to FC to stack again, nothing suggests what we will be seeing during the night’s GA.
I agree to be a shadow moderator for tonight’s GA, which will be moderated by the veterans Jared and Elena. A shadow moderator functions as a page of sorts, shuttling names of people in stack from the stackers to the moderators in a timely manner so as to keep the GA flowing with few awkward breaks. It sounds simple but can get very complicated quickly when there are contentious proposals with lots of hard blocks or when the GA has many people attending who wish to speak. I am glad that I have brought 2 little notebooks with me, as I will need a lot of blank paper before the night is through.
As opposed to the previous night’s contention over Rosendahl’s appearance, tonight we are graced with the presence of anti-war activist and celebrity Ron Kovic (of Born on the Fourth of July fame) who wishes to address the GA during its opening minutes. There is quick consensus reached on this and Ron hangs around the FC quietly watching the give and take as we settle on the order of the day. Ruth is facilitating this FC and I am stacking and Ruth has a way of imposing discipline on the discussion that makes stacking a breeze. Likewise, because Jared and Elena, our moderators for tonight’s GA, have both done it many times before, we are able to settle on roles for the GA and our Order of the Day quickly.
When the proposal to make the NLG the official representative of OLA is again fronted to FC, I remind everyone that its proposer was nowhere to be found the night previous despite the proposal being labeled an 'emergency.' I thereby move to put the NLG proposal last on the agenda but am over-ruled for what I think are compelling reasons having to do with the need for those facing arrest to be secure in their legal representation. As it happens, much of this debate proves moot also, as the Director of the LA NLG, Jim Lafferty, appears in person to state publicly his organization's full support of OLA and its arrestees.
Our breakout groups will be discussing the topic of “Why We Occupy”. But the real highlight of the GA, I think, will be the presentation by the Raid Committee and its various sub-committees (like Tactics or Bail).
I am proved wrong. The real highlight of the night’s GA is the 3—4,000 people who attend. Alma is seated on the stairs and she tells me that, as the GA begins, she can look out to see the two diagonal sidewalks that converge on the plaza full of people. The plaza itself is packed. It’s the most people I’ve ever seen at a GA, and I can see that others from FC are similarly taken aback at how we failed to anticipate the huge turnout.
But the crowd is remarkably civilized. The GA on Sunday passes three measures by consensus, incredible given the huge turnout. The Raid Committee does not fail to impress either as it discusses GA-sanctioned civil disobedience and messaging. And bail and the need for donations.
Again, though, the real highlight is the huge turnout. And the quality of the speakers. Jose, from Occupy Orange County, is here to tell us that we never needed all the material goods, we only needed each other. Elissa, from the Action Committee, tells us it is our duty to fight, it is our duty to win. Lauren, from the Peace in Action Affinity Group, asks us to look up beyond the lights on City Hall, up beyond the lights of the police chopper that sends its blinding searchlight into our midst, to the starts and to remember Martin Luther King’s statement that “The universe is on the side of justice.” Although I am shadow moderating, I find myself also weeping inexplicably at odd moments and have to bring my arm up over my eyes to compose myself.
Ron Kovic’s opening remarks set the tone for the evening. The rhapsodic quality of Kovic's remarks evoke the memory of the 56,000 who died in Vietnam on behalf of a lie and that we, the Occupy Movement, with the eyes of the world upon us, are fulfilling the unkept promises of that long-ago decade. The crowd roars its approval and Kovic backs his wheelchair out to the perimeter with all the other folks. I had brought the poem ‘America’ by Tony Hoagland to read to the crowd as a sort of elegy or valedictory, but in the end there was no need. This was raw poetry in the flesh and William Blake, Percy Shelley, Walt Whitman, W.H. Auden, Carl Sandburg, there spirits all were represented in this crowd.
Why were there 3-4,000 people that night? Charlie Beck, the LAPD police chief, now admits that this is one reason the LAPD did not raid that night. Turns out the folks in Media had put word out on Twitter of an Eviction Block Party. Apparently, that tweet was read by some 16 million world-wide. Only a small fraction of those showed up, of course, but it was enough to deter the LAPD from raiding as the clock struck midnight.
The police said the park would be closed at 12:01 and, yes, they did come en masse at midnight, especially after a contingent of protesters defiantly marched in the streets and intersections. The ranks of LAPD, attired in their riot gear, reminded me of a scene from Star Wars and imperial troopers. We bumped into their cordons on our way back to our car and had to beat a retreat and take a circuitous route to reach our car. (The irony is that LAPD Police Chief Charlie Beck said he wanted people leaving OLA ‘voluntarily.’ But when the time came, the LAPD quite rudely refused to let us leave heading southward along Spring. And their white officers kept making disparaging remarks about civil liberties and OLA.)
Finally, the LAPD did arrest 4 individuals who refused to stop blocking an intersection at 1st and Main after receiving an order to disperse. But the LAPD never entered the camp. At 8 a.m. the following Monday, the tents still stood. And there was a regular GA Monday night. Would a raid be coming? Some informed speculation was that it might happen as early as Wednesday, in the absence of an injunction. For now, though, OLA stood unscathed and unbowed.
General Assembly (GA) of Occupy Los Angeles (OLA).
Folks, many of you know that OLA faces the threat of forcible eviction, possibly commencing as early as 12:01 (PST) Monday morning. In practical terms, tonight's GA may be the last on the City Hall steps in the short term.
I would like to read a poem to the GA as an invocation of sorts but cannot decide which to read. I've had a couple ideas this morning:
Dylan Thomas' "Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night" http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Do_not_go_gen...
Shakespeare's "Once More Unto the Breach" (from Henry V) http://www.liebreich.com/LDC/HTML/Opinion/...
I am beside myself with sadness and rage that it has come to this and so I retreat to poetry to find consolation.
Does anyone have any other suggestions for a poem that may commemorate the final GA of OLA at City Hall? If so, could you please reply with title, link to text and a brief explanation of why you think it appropriate? Poem should be readable in 1-2 minuts max, so Shelley's "Mask of Anarchy" (the 92-stanza version), while a propos, is probably not suitable.
Thanks everyone for your consideration.
On edit: Also possibly Shakespeare's "Saint Crispin's Day" (from Henry V) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Once_more_unt...
Thanks for the recs - at times like this, DU shows how big its heart is.
Rumors have been swirling at the Occupy Los Angeles (OLA) camp at City Hall for the past few days of an impending shut down of the camp and forcible eviction of its Occupiers. Alternately, rumors of secret deal making and negotiations between the city and certain Occupiers also have set the camp astir.
Here is a timeline of events over the past few days as I have reconstructed them, based upon my notes and memory. I am trying to refrain from passing along gossip and unsubstantiated rumors, so this timeline will be rather spartan in certain particulars as to 'why' and 'who'.
On the evening of Tuesday, Nov. 22, members of the OLA City Liaison Committee (CLC) appeared before the General Assembly (GA) and informed the GA that an offer from the city was now on the table. That offer included a 10,000 square foot office space in an underground shopping mall across the street from City Hall, an unspecified parcel of farmland and 100 beds for the homeless in return for OLA abandoning its camp on the lawn of City Hall.
Announcement of this offer by the city was highly contentious at the GA, with many Occupiers angrily demanding to know why they were only now hearing of the negotiations and\or why the offer was not yet in writing. No action was taken in response to the offer by the GA that night and negotiators returned to meet with the city officials the next day.
On Wednesday, Nov. 23, the OLA negotiators were told by representatives from the city that the city's offer had been “rescinded”.
On Wednesday night, Nov. 23, OLA’s GA approved the text of a refusal of the offer, even though said offer was referred to as already ‘allegedly rescinded.’ This refusal was published on the OLA website on November 24.
On Thursday, Nov. 24, notices were placed on trees and other posts stating that City Hall Park closed at 10 p.m. each night. The placing of these notices was taken by many Occupiers as ‘constructive notice’ of impending eviction, meaning they thought that the city was giving Occupiers 72 hours notice of its intent to evict them. (The city denied it was doing this.)
On Friday, Nov. 25, Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa held a press conference at which he announced that the rule about the park closing at 10 p.m. would be enforced starting at 12:01 a.m. on Monday, November 28. Anyone who remained after that time would be subject to possible arrest.
On Friday evening, Nov. 25, the GA convened and began deliberations upon its response. The General Assembly divided itself into two groups: those willing to face arrest to defend the camp and those unwilling to risk arrest but willing to support the first group. Each group discussed strategy and tactics in small break-out groups and spokespeople presented each group’s findings to the GA at large. Additionally, the GA unanimously approved a proposal to file for injunctive relief in U.S. Federal Court, as it can accept filings electronically at all times and the state courts are closed until Monday.
Where does this leave OLA? Right now, everyone assumes that any raid will occur no earlier than Monday at 12:01 a.m. Last night’s GA witnessed a new seriousness of tone and purpose and a sense of stubborn determination. Very little defeatism was evident and I do not think the OLA camp will be broken up easily. Although the vast majority of Occupiers remain firmly committed to non-violence, there is a lot of thinking going on about the creative uses of non-violence to resist the Mayor and his forces.
Alma and I will be returning to OLA later today and tomorrow and I will update this thread with pertinent information as it becomes available. Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers, especially the brave OLA patriots who, in committing non-violent civil disobedience, will now face the combined might of LA law enforcement.
Because I have a life outside of OLA and GA and cannot devote myself full-time (yet!) to being a citizen-journalist, I heartily encourage and welcome any corrections to this timeline and, of course, any comments or perspectives you have.
Author's Note: I decided to end my self-imposed exile by posting an account of Occupy Los Angeles from this past weekend.
So much has happened with the Occupy Movement in the past week, from the most banal to the almost transcendent. The mood on the ground at Occupy Los Angeles (OLA) seems to change from day to day from exuberance to dejection. Alma and I have actually taken to watching each weeknight’s General Assembly (GA) of OLA via Livestream\Ustream broadcasts. Although we cannot participate directly or vote on proposals, the streams typically have a chat window where we can chat with the person doing the video streaming and others who are watching, thereby participating in an interactive spectator’s gallery of sorts.
On the mundane level, the person who had lent his Public Address equipment to OLA has since recovered it. And thus last week each GA had to be conducted using the so-called “People’s Mic,” a call and repetition system where the speaker says 4-6 words and then waits while the assembled crowd repeats the words back. Ironically, this retreat to low tech has produced an eerie and oddly moving echo effect that defies precise description. There have been several times during this past week where I swore to myself that I was hearing a new American poetry, of simple plain-spoken eloquence, willing itself into existence before my very eyes and ears. (So strong is this poetic effect that I have written my first poem in 20 years.)
Friday night’s GA (Nov. 18) was no exception. The Occupiers assembled on the broad plaza of the South steps after at least 47 of them had been arrested at the previous day’s “Day of Action” against the banks and financial sector. Many of those arrested had been bailed out or released on their own recognizance by the time of Friday’s GA. But at least 2 – one with outstanding warrants and a second who would only identify himself to the Los Angeles Police Department as “John Doe” -- still remained behind bars.
How can this not be poetry? One of the Occupiers regales the crowd with the story of his confrontation with LAPD at the Bank of America plaza in the heart of the financial district (on the ironically named ‘Hope Street’). “We had,” this Occupier said, “about 45 minutes to conduct a Teach-In of the police before we were arrested. I said to the line of cops, ‘Would you rather have pizza with us or shoot tear gas at us?’” As he regaled the crowd on Friday night, this Occupier said he saw one policeman in line smile. The police officer who smiled had coincidentally an Italian-sounding surname “Maldonado” and the Occupier continued to joke with him about how much he would rather have a pizza than shoot tear gas. By the end of the exchange, Maldonado was openly laughing and several others in the line of riot cops had started smiling and laughing also.
This occupier’s point was that dialogue and interaction with the ‘person’ who wields the baton humanized the showdown and caused the cops to see the protesters as human beings with the result that his group of 5-6 protesters who were subsequently arrested for trespassing on BofA property were not brutalized. And my point to you is that, had I not seen and heard this anecdote regaled with cadence and response\repetition with my own ears and eyes, I could never have stated plainly that this IS a new American poetry. Both my wife and I were in tears by the end at the absolute pathos and the music in the words. Indescribable in prose.
More poetry. A different Occupier asked a cop directly: “What will you tell your grandchildren when they ask which side of the line you stood on?” This Occupier, another scruffy-looking young man, told those assembled that he saw the officer begin to weep before the arrests started, such that that officer’s supervising sergeant had to come over to pat the officer’s back and reassure him everything would be all right.
And you want to know a secret? I have only detailed the tiniest tip of the iceberg. These anecdotes, poetic in themselves and even more so in the telling, came fast and furious at the Friday night GA. (Thursday night's GA was also replete with these accounts of latter-day heroism in the face of overwhelming police power.)
Alma and I returned on Saturday as heavy storms started to move into the Southern California region. We found the tents still standing. The colder temperatures we’ve had recently may have driven down the number of encamped Occupiers a little bit, but the energy of those who remained more than compensated for any who had departed. We arrived at about 4:00 p.m., shortly after a huge Health Fair had wound up. This Health Fair had taken over the block of Temple St. to the immediate east of City Hall with various mental and physical health specialists brought in to assist anyone at the camp who desired their assistance. I think there were also some Social Workers there to help any of the homeless who were encamped at OLA transition into more permanent quarters if they were so inclined.
At 5:30, I dutifully returned to the Facilitation Committee (FC). Here, though, I got a bit of a reality check. One of the FC regulars, a sober and taciturn young man in a navy pea coat named David, said he did not think we would be able to have a GA that night because there were not enough people present to administer it. He pointed specifically to the question of who would moderate it. “You,” he said pointing to me, “are the only person here who have ever moderated a GA before. And you can’t do it alone tonight, because there is a very contentious proposal to come before the GA.” David did not consider himself yet well-versed enough to moderate the GA because there are now new rules as to who can moderate. I apparently have been grand-fathered in because I moderated before these rules came into existence. The main rule is that you must moderate 2 meetings of FC before you can moderate a GA. I have never moderated a meeting of FC but I did moderate the GA on November 13.
David’s worries prove premature, as enough people (experienced and otherwise) trickle in late to FC that we eventually have enough people to run the GA. David is moderating this FC and I am ‘stacking’ it (basically, a stacker keeps the queue of speakers on any given topic). Caroline and Anthony, two long-time regulars, agree to moderate GA. Two more long-time regulars, Dele and Colin, agree to stack the GA. Two new-comers (Greg and Christian) agree to ‘shadow-stack’ (assist the stackers). Mitchell, stolid and unflappable (and whom I remember from last Sunday’s FC), agrees to be timekeeper. And I volunteer to serve as ‘shadow moderator,’ a role I have already served.
Roles for the GA established, we next turn our attention to the “Order of the Day.” The hot topic is this contentious proposal of who is authorized to speak on behalf of the GA to outside groups and individuals (like the LAPD or city administration, for example) when the GA is not in session. This proposal has been kicked around and presented several times under various names, each time being tabled because of strong objections. Tonight will prove no different. Over the past few weeks, various OLA individuals and groups have allegedly been talking and negotiating on OLA’s behalf with city officials and with the LAPD without first being authorized by GA to do so. Or at least it is rumored that such is happening. The back-biting and acrimony have reached the point where members on the City Liaison committee, officially charged by GA with negotiating with the city, now routinely refuse to speak in front of GA for fear of being attacked verbally and physically.
This fear of physical attack has caused Alma to worry a good deal about GA moderation, to the extent we had agreed that I would not moderate GA again until the GA was made more secure for speakers and FC members running it. Mitchell allays those fears somewhat but stokes new ones by pointing out that LAPD has so many undercover cops on site that there would be no violence allowed to reach that point. A crucial dialectic exposes itself though: too much order (undercover LAPD cops) vs. not enough order (mayhem and violence at the GA). I have to say that currently the scale tilts toward the latter, not the former. But Mitchell may be right. He camps at the site and has a far more nuanced perspective on dynamics than do Alma and I.
While FC establishes its Order of the Day, a few light rain drops begin to fall. Alma and I have come equipped, each of us wears at least 4 layers of clothing on our upper body and Alma sports her long lined trench coat while I am wearing my winter coat with hood. We had brought our umbrella with us also, and Alma opens it up. However, even though Alma is wearing boots, her feet refuse to stay warm on the cold concrete of City Hall.
The GA will commence with routine procedural matters followed by a 15-20 minute discussion of the topic of ‘Leadership in a Leaderless Movement.’ A last minute suggestion by Greg has FC decide (with some adverse consequences to continuity) to put the contentious Proposal before Committee Announcements. The motives for so doing are laudable. It is cold and threatens to rain and the idea is to have the proposal discussed by as many folks as possible before cold and rain (if it comes) drive them away. The downside, which I only realize after the fact, is that Committee spokespeople may not feel a burning desire to hang around for the outcome of the contentious proposal discussion. But that is for later.
We amble over to the south steps from the north steps where FC had met. My notes at this point go into overdrive:FUCKING DRUM CIRCLE. ASSHOLES. BRINGING AIR HORNS NEXT TIME. What this refers to is that on the plaza in front of the south steps a group of drummers are banging away on their various percussion implements while surrounded by a small group of dancing Dionysians (as I refer to them). It is broadly understood that GA will commence and is now commencing. Do the drummers stop? No. They are surrounded by perhaps 10 Occupiers but they keep banging away, to the point where those on the steps like Alma cannot hear the speakers even though prodigious use of the people’s mic attempts to be heard over the drums. I silently resolve, in full accord with David’s suggestion, that tomorrow night I will bring one of those compressed-air gadgets they use at sporting events. I think they’re called air horns.
I am really pissed off at this display of self-indulgent expression. Although the drummers claim they want ‘respect,’ Alma suggests that what they really want is ‘control’ and ‘attention.’ The drummers keep up this display for about 45 minutes and are only stopped when Mother Nature decides to do some serious drumming of Her own, in the form of rain (thereby giving concrete form to the aphorism that every cloud has a silver lining.) Drummers pack up their instruments and head for the shelter of their tents. Good riddance to bad rubbish, I’m thinking. Assholes.
By the time the drummers have been silenced, we have started the 15-minute Leadership discussion in small groups of 8-10 people. My group features an awesome range of opinions. I fail to make note of more than 1-2 specifically because I am busy coordinating shadow moderation with mods and stackers and shadow stackers. In my group, Julia notes that any leader needs to be subject to recall. When it is my turn to speak, I second Julia’s point and talk about the value of ‘checks and balances’ on any accretion of power. A disruptor in our group keeps interrupting and gets contentious when called upon it.
And now the contentious proposal. For the edification of those who cannot attend an Occupy in person, I am pasting in the entire text of the proposal as originally written:
–Proposal to make a public statement and hold a press conference– (Proposal for Transparent and Responsible Communication)
Why: The General Assembly is the only body that speaks and makes decisions for the OLA movement as a whole. The General Assembly has already agreed that no individual or group has the right or responsibility to negotiate or contract for, or speak on behalf of OLA as a whole, without the explicit consent of the General Assembly. The public, including the public servants, should be notified of this reality.
What: The General Assembly of OLA should issue the following public statement—
1) The General Assembly is the only body that speaks and makes decisions for the OLA movement as a whole. This assertion includes the idea that anyone, especially those in a public servant class largely bought off and, at this point, deeply disloyal to the spirit of their oaths and to the lives, liberties and general welfare of We the People (i.e. Police, Mayor, City Council, FBI, President, Congress etc.), that seeks to gather, understand or engender a decision for action or statement from the OLA movement as a group should seek it through the open General Assembly process.
All individuals or groups involved in OLA are inherently still free within their autonomous rights to speak and act as they so choose with and to anyone or any institution. However, this shall serve as notice that any communication or agreement with an individual or group shall not be recognized to represent OLA as a whole, unless it has been given the explicit consent of the General Assembly.
2) Those seeking to communicate directly with, inform, influence or negotiate with the OLA movement must understand that the legitimate, dignified and proper way to do that is through the open General Assembly process. They, including any governmental groups (i.e. the City Council, Police, Mayor, Congress, President, Homeland Security, FBI etc.) that seek to communicate with OLA are encouraged to attend the General Assembly and/or its committees and abide by its process.
We would invite and expect any publicly-employed servants who desire to communicate with the OLA movement as a whole to come be heard in our open General Assembly, just as they would ask us to come to their meetings to be heard during public comment. Our decision-making body, because of its open, deliberatively inclusive and participatory principles, no matter how rough in progress it might be, is quickly becoming a much more legitimate and lawful proceeding than the corporate-sponsored, criminal activities, fronted as public process inside many government buildings.
This is an official invitation for the publicly-employed servants to speak openly, articulately and plainly about what their desires and concerns are in all of this (i.e. what they are concerned about in terms of the City Hall lawn space, if they want to suggest or negotiate a change of form or venue for the lawful and peaceful assembly, or what kind of world they want their children to live in etc.). They, of course, have the rights, just as we all do as individuals or groups, to engage in private conversations, idea huddles, rumor mongering, media-managed messaging, implied political threats, coalition building, faction playing or any other such unsubstantiated forms of communicating about and within an open political process. However, they cannot expect this to be received as any type of official communication. It is beneath even them to approach We the People, under this assumption.
3) We assert that no one has the right, especially a public servant, to imply, threaten, initiate or participate in a use of violence (i.e. unlawful force) in response to an assembly of peaceful people. Any public servants or private individuals, including agent provocateurs, found to be engaged in implying, threatening, initiating and/or participating in a use of violence (i.e. unlawful force) against an assembly of peaceful people can and will be held responsible to the full extent of criminal and civil accountability under the laws of the State of California and the U.S. Federal government.
As former Philadelphia Police Captain Ray Lewis said recently in New York in regards to the NYPD, “You should, by law, only use force to protect someone’s life or to protect them from being bodily injured OK? If you’re not protecting somebody’s life or protecting them from bodily injury, there’s no need to use force.”
4) City Hall, Police, and other local Governmental agencies, whether in collusion with so-called ‘Homeland Security’ or not, have said that they want to “help” us find an exit strategy. What is really going on here is that We the People are lawfully and peaceably assembled in public space, seeking, at minimum, a full redress of grievances for the government’s criminal mistreatment of the people and fraudulent allocation of fiduciary responsibilities. Additionally, We the People, are in the process of opening a window of opportunity (i.e. an exit strategy) for our public servants who desire a way out of the cesspools and sinkholes of criminality and other high corruption that we have allowed our governments to become.
We hope that all people occupy the ethical depths and creative horizons of their hearts and minds, and come join with their fellow companions of good faith assembled here in the open. Together we can cooperate to lawfully and peacefully arrest the ongoing corruption and criminality, and rebuild our homes, communities, states, nations and world.
The public statement outlined in the “What” section of this proposal shall be read, in its entirety, into the public comments section of a City Council meeting within one week. Additionally, a paper copy of the statement shall be delivered to the office of each member of City Council, the Mayor, the Los Angeles Chief of Police, the LA Times and the Central City Association of Los Angeles. If there is time and desire, this delivery can be extended to the Dept. of Homeland Security and other Federal Agencies.
OLA will organize and call a press conference as soon as possible following the passing of this proposal and read this public statement as well as other public statements consented to by the General Assembly. Additionally, other subjects can be addressed in the manner described below:
-The press conference will be moderated and introduced by Facilitation following a process similar to the General Assembly, containing a series of announcements with questions and answers for each announcement.
-The press conference will take place on the South steps, span 2-3 hours outside of normal General Assembly time (i.e. 9am-12 or 2-5pm).
-PR and Media will be responsible for notifying the press, and recording and live-streaming the press conference.
-Stagecraft will be responsible for setting the stage and any PA equipment.
-Stacks will be opened after every announcement for a few questions and answers.
-Announcements will start with General Assembly-consented public statements that have been submitted to Facilitation 24 hours in advance.
-The press conference will then proceed to announcements of General Assembly-consented actions or process, which also need to be submitted to Facilitation 24 hours in advance.
-It will then proceed to Committee announcements, 1 per each Committee, who will make it clear that they are speaking on behalf of a Committee.
-If there is time left over, stacks can open to additional questions or comments.
Because we are using People’s Mic, Jeremy uses about 5 minutes to read the entire text while the rain continues and people strain to hear. The moderators ask for Questions of Clarity and there are several (about the proposed press conference, about the tensions between polemic and. action) and several concerns disguised as questions of clarity. Jeremy and Laurie respond to them. Next come Concerns and there are several (length, tone, and press conference). Although experienced, the moderators announce they will have 3 speaking for and 3 speaking against mixed in with these Concerns, so it gets confusing as to exactly where we are in process. Anyone with a concern can speak but also we need 3 speaking for the proposal and 3 speaking against.
By this point, I am feeling utterly bewildered as to exactly what is being proposed for, as he hears each Concern expressed, Jeremy agrees to modify the proposal’s language. By the end, I no longer have a clear understanding of what we will be voting on, should it come to that. Not to worry though, for Caroline informs me that we do not ‘vote,’ we merely decide. Somehow I do not take much comfort in that semantic distinction.
The moderators take a first temperature check following the section of concerns There are numerous people signaling opposition and numerous hard blocks. So we break out into small discussion groups. Our break out group (Me, attorney Frank, Shadow Stacker Greg, thin Richard) is unanimous in disagreeing with it. Frank is designated as our group’s spokesperson. Frank wants to take the proposal and reduce it to a simple two-sentence declaration: The GA is the sole legitimate spokesperson for OLA. All communications from the GA must be in writing in order to be legitimate.
Upon reconvening, each group signals its approval or disapproval through its spokesperson. Frank signals our disapproval. Other groups signal strong approval. Proposers respond to our group and others groups’ concerns by editing language of proposal on fly in the rain. By the time they are finished, my sense that I no longer feel I understand what is being proposed has grown even more pronounced Crowd seems to want to rush it through. Caroline asks for a temperature check. I and many others are using the chopping arm motion to signal our concerns. But because we haven’t hard blocked, Caroline and Anthony announce that consensus has been reached. There’s a huge outcry from the crowd at this – I and Frank and many others immediately change our gestures of concern to hard blocks and, in return, receive the crowd’s hostility for so doing.
I am asked to explain how the proposal, as modified on the fly tonight, threatens group solidarity. I say there is a principle that you don’t vote on a proposal without final language and that none of us any longer know exactly what we are voting for. (I had previously suggested proposal be tabled for wording revision for exactly this reason.) And that I will walk away from the movement if it passes such an important measure based upon vague promises of the proposer to edit the proposal subsequent to the vote.
Much anger from the crowd (but also many people making jazz fingers at my statement.) Whatever. I am prepared to walk away from OLA if this measure in its current disheveled state passes. Fortunately, I am not alone. There are many other hard blocks and the proposer eventually accedes to what I had suggested an hour earlier: to table the proposal and bring it back Sunday.
The energy of the crowd sapped by the proposal discussion and continuing rain, only a few hardy souls remain for announcements. And only a couple people remain to make announcements. The Saturday GA dissolves without much in the way of a formal adjournment. But I consider the discussion to have been incredibly valuable to all who participated, including us hard blockers.
On Sunday, I submit suggested revised proposal via online portal during the day on Sunday. Here’s my suggested revision:
The General Assembly (GA) of Occupy Los Angeles (OLA) is the sole body that makes decisions for OLA.
Therefore, be it noted that, as of today and henceforth, only communications in writing duly authorized and issued by the GA shall have legitimacy with any outside body or individual when GA is not in session.
Be it further noted that, at its sole discretion, the GA may from time to time authorize designated OLA groups and OLA individuals to speak on the GA’s behalf with outside groups and individuals. Only those OLA groups and OLA individuals carrying and presenting written authorization issuing from the GA shall have legitimacy to speak for OLA. All other groups and individuals speak only for themselves.
While GA is in session (nightly from approximately 7:30 – 10 p.m.), certain official communications may issue from GA by consensus of those convened.
I never get a chance to present and defend my suggested revision. The light rain of Saturday turns into a torrential downpour mid-day Sunday. Power goes out to our building and my car is trapped in our garage. When power comes back on, it continues to rain hard and is now cold and dark. Alma and I make a strategic decision to stay home and watch via GA via Livestream. We are thwarted in even that plan, as there are technical difficulties stemming from the rain that prevent broadcast of Sunday’s GA. I understand the contentious proposal again did not meet consensus but this time had only a single hard block. As I write on Tuesday (Nov. 22), I remain unclear on the future (if any) of the contentious proposal. Its concerns have been overtaken by events, which I shall attempt to cover in my next post.
At least I did not have to listen to another infernal drum circle on Sunday. Thank you, Mother Nature, for that blessing in disguise.
In an effort to cool my rage at Obama and his cohort and their continued silence about illegal police actions taken against American citizens involved in the Occupy Movement, I am hereby imposing an exile upon myself from DU for the next 7 days. I will be lurking and reading your contributions, but will not be responding to posts or creating any original posts for 7 days.
I do this for two reasons:
1) Last night, I found myself so enraged at what was going down in New York City that I was calling fellow DUers in good standing and of good intent "Nazis". I do not believe this of you (or of President Obama) and, upon sober reflection this morning, found myself appalled with what I had posted at the height of my rage. I understand it is too late now to retract those comments but, for those whom I have offended, I do hereby apologize for my intemperate remarks and ask only that you consider that passion is generally a virtue except when it boils over.
2) I have begun to question whether I can any longer remain a member of the Democratic Party, since my various representatives (Rep. Karen Bass, Gov. Jerry Brown, Senators Boxer and Feinstein and President Obama) have remained silent in the face of what I consider rampant police brutality at various locales across the length and breadth of this nation, despite my numerous written and telephonic entreaties to various of them. During the next 7 days, I will be reflecting on whether I can remain within a party that, by its silence, seemingly consents to such police behaviors.
The sole exception I would make to the above remarks would be if the Occupy Los Angeles camp were to be raided by law enforcement while I am on site. In such a circumstance, I would consider the historical value of real time reporting to this community to outweigh any of the moral and ethical considerations outlined above.
Feel free to respond to this thread as you wish, but please understand that, while I may read your responses, I will not be responding to any of them until next Monday (November 21) at the earliest.
Thanks for your understanding.
Author's Note: This is the latest in a series of reports from the Occupy Los Angeles encampment at City Hall in downtown Los Angeles. If certain concepts or processes seem unfamilair, please see my journal for earlier reports where thsoe concepts and processes are explained. Or feel free to reply here with your questions and I will endeavor to answer them fully and completely.
November in Los Angeles often witnesses temperatures that drop sharply and clear skies that suddenly give way to dark clouds and occasionally heavy rains. This November has been no exception, although the Occupy Los Angeles encampment has thus far been spared any heavy rain. Alma and I returned after a two-week absence (due to both of us having had a cold last weekend) to OLA at City Hall for extended stays on Saturday and Sunday. It was nice to be back, but a trifle bitter-sweet.
We found the camp still well attended and populated although some old familiar faces were missing (like David and Eeva or Vance). There might have been a tad bit more open space than back in the middle of October, but certainly no more than 5% of the tents have folded – the grounds of City Hall still appear jammed with Occupiers. The camp does seem a bit more insular and grimy, understandable given the changing seasonality, such that many of the light-weight tents are now covered with heavier tarps and sheet plastic. This weekend we found evidence that a nascent ‘tribalism’ we had seen initial signs of on our last visit has now taken on physical shape, in the form of several smaller pup tents now being grouped together under a single tarp that swallow and envelops them. Several OLA occupiers I spoke with expressed some reservations about this latest housing trend. “We don’t know what’s going on
At 5:30 on Saturday night, I return to the Facilitation Committee (FC). An Occupier pulling a red wagon piled high with sleeping bags and blankets stops by shortly after we convene to see if anyone needs sleep gear. One young woman jumps to her feet, announces that her sleeping bag had been stolen the night previously, and gladly accepts a rolled sleeping bag the wagon-puller pronounces “fairly new and clean.
Despite a spate of such petty thefts in recent days – cell phones seem particularly prone to being “liberated” – morale among OLA Occupiers remains remarkably high. This weekend marks the beginning of their seventh week occupying. Brian, one of the new faces at Facilitation and originally from Denver, tells me before the FC meeting begins that OLA is beginning to experience a lot of problems with drugs and alcohol being consumed on site. “Some people are here only to party 24-7,” Brian says, “and they frequently antagonize those here to advance the Movement.” This theme – of developing splits between OLA’s Apollonians and its Dionysians -- I will hear repeated in various forms throughout the weekend.
But no one I meet speaks of quitting, of giving up. If anything, people speak of their absolute determination to see this through, to see that OLA is not undermined by agents provocateurs or by a descent into decadence. Those speaking most vociferously on this tend to hail from the generation of the 60s. They feel, as do I, that we have been waiting our whole lives for this revolutionary moment and do not want to see the movement fizzle for entirely preventable reasons.
Some 15-20 Occupiers are attending FC on Saturday. We begin by establishing an “Order of the Day” for the coming night’s General Assembly (GA). The OLA GA has the habit of beginning each night’s proceedings with a 15-minute discussion period. And a suggested topic for tonight’s discussion is a purported lawsuit that has been filed against the Los Angeles Police Department and other state and municipal agencies in the name of OLA. While Elena who is facilitating the FC says she saw the Summons and Complaint earlier that morning, she does not have a copy with her, nor does Jessica, the woman who has insisted that it be discussed tonight. Why the urgency? Because OLA never authorized itself to be named as a plaintiff to any legal action. As it happens, this proposed discussion topic meshes quite nicely with a proposal on the agenda for later in the evening and so Jessica rushes off to see whether she can secure a copy of the purported lawsuit.
With the topic of the 15-minute discussion pending Jessica’s return, we move on to assign roles for the GA. With only the sketchiest of understandings of what it will entail, I volunteer to serve as a ‘Shadow Moderator’. This is a promotion of sorts for me, as before now I have only served as time-keeper for the GA. Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts and minds of men? Certainly not this Shadow Moderator. But there will be plenty of time for me to discover it. For the moment, though, I am beset by a bit of stage-fright, thinking that a Shadow Moderator must be something akin to the British Shadow Prime Minister. My fear tonight, as it happens, is mis-directed. Caroline, an OLA and FC veteran who will co-moderate tonight’s GA informs me that the Shadow Moderator basically serves as a ‘page’ to the GA, shuttling names and topics from the Stacks between Stacker and Moderator. Whew!
So, when the veteran Caroline calls FC the ‘shitty committee’ (a dryly hilarious quip that goes by so fast you would miss it if you were even momentarily distracted), she is referring to the hostility commonly directed at FC by OLA Occupiers unhappy with the substance or direction of a given discussion but not to the utter centrality of FC’s role. One thing I notice that FC is doing correctly now is ‘thinking ahead.’ A procedural change sometime during the past two weeks requires that almost all proposals to come before the GA for consideration receive a 24-hour ‘airing-out’ period for discovery and deliberation at the Welcome Tent. (An exception remains for time-sensitive emergency proposals.) This procedural revision means that any proposal coming before the GA must acquire written form first, must answer 3 questions: “What, When and Why” and must remain at the Welcome Tent for perusal by anyone interested for 24 hours before coming before the GA. All of which is to say that FC can now look ahead to the GA the night following, at least with respect to proposals At a larger level, though, FC is now entrusted with executing a basic level of quality control over matters to come before the GA. If a proposal in writing and more than 24 hours at the Welcome Tent is under review but does not answer the three questions of ‘What, When and Why’ to its satisfaction, FC can now relegate the proposal to the appropriate committee possessing jurisdiction.. Hence, a proposal to create an anti-war Committee is bruited for Sunday’s GA and noted for inclusion on the FC agenda for Sunday. Already opinion is hardening against reifying anti-war sentiment in a committee form but Elena quickly brings such deliberations to a halt.
Jessica never does return with a copy of the purported lawsuit, so FC makes what turns out, in hindsight, to be a poor decision to allow the GA itself to decide the topic of discussion for the 15-minute discussion period. With that, FC adjourns to await the commencement of Saturday’s GA.
When GA begins, the introductory rituals (principles of solidarity, statement of non-violence, community standards and hand signals) are quickly dispensed with and, following the unity clap, co-moderators Caroline and Omar open stacks for topics to discuss during the 15-minute discussion period.
Here’s where a problem with too much participatory democracy first asserts itself, as a good 15 minutes is spent arriving at four possible topics of discussion. In other words, the Order of the Day morphs into something else entirely. With four possible topics, Caroline announces stacks are open for those who wish to discuss the first of the four. By that point, however, Occupiers interested in all four topics have already placed themselves in stack. In the failing light of evening, the stacker Shiyam and I squint at our tablets as we try in vain to maintain four separate sub-stacks and finally give in to necessity and simply compile a single aggregate stack. So the next 15 minutes are spent listening to speakers speak on a variety of different topics, not the single topic intended to galvanize the GA and forge a stronger spirit of community. Instead, think of the Saturday 15-minute opening discussion period as a glorified “Open Mic,” where each Occupier who put him- or herself on Stack can trot out his or her favorite hobbyhorse; I make a mental note to push for guided discussions when the FC next meets.
The discussion period concluded, a spate of routine Committee, Affinity Group and Individual Announcements follows. And we finally reach the Proposals section.
Trouble brews. A proposal is offered by Cody -- ‘The Resolution to Discourage Mis-Representation of Occupy Los Angeles' – that essentially mandates that no one can claim to speak officially for OLA without first obtaining the imprimatur of the GA. The intention behind the proposal is honorable and empowering to the GA. OLA does not want a person claiming to speak for OLA negotiating, for example, with the LAPD over its access to the camp, when that person has not been authorized by the GA to perform that role.
The problem is that the proposal is very loosely and generally worded. As I mentioned above, there has been a spate of petty crimes and hooliganism affecting OLA in the past couple weeks. Likewise, certain alleged petty criminals have come to OLA seeking refuge from the jurisdiction of municipal law enforcement. And some people claim membership in each group.
So objections and hard blocks quickly emerge to this proposal from Occupiers who wish to retain their ability to speak to the LAPD without the GA’s approval. Rather than table the proposal and send it back to the committee whence it originated (I still am not clear which Committee fronted the proposal), the Moderators allow the period of questions and concerns to continue unchecked. Cody remains to answer about half the questions. He suddenly disappears though, even though 15-20 Occupiers remain on Stack with questions and concerns. A host of self-appointed spokespeople in favor of the proposal starts trying to answer the questions and concerns. I make a note to push for the Proposal Presenter being mandated to remain available until all deliberations are concluded on any future presentation at our next FC.
There is an enormous amount of cross-talk, of heckling of the speakers, of a couple individuals rushing the mic and jumping stack (I know your names and who you are, you anti-democratic bastards) and of Occupiers threatening the continuation of the GA itself by their wild antics. Caroline and Omar try to maintain control. Caroline calls for two 3-minute periods of silence. But each time, those determined to block the proposal re-assert themselves. Finally, the motion as written is tabled and returned to its committee. (I subsequently learn that a concerted effort by a small group of Occupiers had determined to hard block the proposal using any means necessary.)
Alma subsequently points out to me that the proposal was rock solid and actually empowered the OLA GA and that those blocking it were mis-guided. Alma herself gets off one of the better quips of the evening (for my ears only): “Consensus doesn’t work when there are too many loose screws.” I honestly could not formulate an opinion on the proposal because I was too busy trying to help Shiyam police the stack and maintain order on the podium. Shiyam is a young woman whose wry expressions, continual aplomb in the face of pushy and rude occupiers and affable and genial disposition keep me from blowing my own stack (npi) at the blatant violations of process. I merely note violators and resolve to myself to address it at the next FC.
When the proposal is finally tabled after what seems hours of contention, I have two gentlemen who have been waiting in Stack to ask questions about it for 30-45 minutes. One of them, a young AA man who calls himself simply ‘O’ is razor-sharp and I quickly recognize his brilliance and sympathize with his frustration. The other, Burt, is an older white male who watches in frustration as the microphone is repeatedly hijacked and the process breaks down. I apologize to him personally for this total breach of decorum and say, “this is the first time I’ve ever seen this happen.” Burt seems unfazed, “I’ve seen it happen many times,” he dryly notes.
Susan next presents a second proposal to draft an ordinance prohibiting paid lobbyists from lobbying for city business while on city property, a push back to an ordinance being drafted (by the arch-villain CCA, I believe) that would outlaw encampments like OLA.
This proposal has a much more civil debate, although at first temperature check, several people including myself use a hard block to prevent its passage. I am immediately accosted by a woman named Cheryl wearing a green army field jacket who demands from the floor that I defend my hard block. Mods seem amenable, so I simply point out that current law viz Citizens United recognizes that money equals speech. I am quick to announce that I think CU is ‘bad law,’ but that it strikes me that the proposed ordinance as drafted would seem to be to violate the CU decision. The occupier named ‘O’ also hard blocks on similar grounds. Gary, from Labor, hard blocks because of concerns that measure might be construed as anti-labor.
After much civil to-and-fro (during which PA is turned off to comply with OLA’s own rules governing amplified sound after 10 p.m.), Susan clarifies that the proposal merely seeks to secure GA’s blessing for its continued work on drafting the ordinance. With that clarified, “O”, Gary and I rescind our hard blocks and measure to allow continued drafting of ordinance for consideration by GA when language on several alternate drafts is complete passes by consensus.
Whew! Again, I am struck by how the beauty of the consensus process can be undermined by a few loud-mouthed individuals who are willing to violate stack, to become physically aggressive while meanwhile threatening those who attempt to push back with filing ‘assault charges’. I am spitting mad for myself, for Shiyam, for ‘O’ and for Burt and I will be making motions to censure formally two specific individuals that I witnessed violating process repeatedly and deliberately.
Sunday opens with clearer skies and warmer temperatures. Alma and I return to OLA at about 3:00 p.m. so I am there in time to attend the “Point-Person’s Coordination Committee’ Meeting *(PCC). This Committee, charged with coordinating efforts between all the various OLA committees, meets only on Sundays and Wednesdays. I attend as a self-designated point-person for FC. Good thing, as no one else from FC shows up Ideally, FC on Saturday would have designated a point person to attend but, having attended FC Saturday, I honestly do not think anyone knew we were supposed to. Indeed, I only found out about the meeting because Colin, working the Welcome Tent when I approached it, told me he had to attend. I dutifully followed him to the west steps.
After Emily, who is facilitating the PCC, has asked each of us to identify ourselves and our respective committees, I get an earful from various members over the conduct of the GA last night and the last several nights. Apparently, there is a perception out there that FC is restricting access to the microphone and refusing admission to stack. Ironically, one of the people making this latter charge herself jumped stack the previous night, but I do not have the presence of mind to remind her of this.
After a round-robin where each PPC attendee can make brief announcements, the meeting morphs gracefully into a ‘What next?’ discussion. Matt, from the Resources Committee, notes the crucial dialectic that OLA exemplifies: between those who seek ‘refuge’ (including the afore-mentioned 24-7 party contingent) and those who seek a ‘movement’ (the true believers who want OLA to focus on the financial industry and banks). There is a lot of back and forth discussion about whether OLA serves a valuable function as a shadow social-services agency or whether, in so doing, it risks wasting its energies upon the shoals of the general societal dysfunction that is 21st-century America.
Make no mistake about it; OLA is attempting to practice a very primitive form of communism. I have seen it first-hand with the gentleman disbursing sleep gear Saturday, with the volunteer cosmetologists dispensing haircuts to all on a first-come, first-served basis, to the Occupiers walking around with trays of sandwiches offering them to anyone without any question as to whether said Occupier were entitled. It is alternately heart-warming and bewildering. A large donation of tents and tarps had been received at Resources and a well-meaning individual had taken it upon herself to gather together some of OLA’s homeless to requisition said tents. The poor Occupier manning the Resources tent must have been terribly conflicted, as resources are supposed to be divvied up equally and not given to those who make the most strident demands. But for each PCC attendee who referred to the tent distribution as ‘theft’ from OLA, another PCC attendee would say that the homeless had an equally compelling claim upon those resources. Very little money changes hands among anyone at OLA, except for donations received at the Resources\Welcome tent. Everyone is doing everything for free. It’s really quite amazing to be liberated from the getting and spending routine, if only for a few hours.
So is OLA a ‘Movement’ or is it a Social Service agency? The question was left open but I thought the discussion itself was evidence yet again of how serious OLA and its Occupiers are. I was so deeply moved by the passion and commitment each person at PCC brought and found myself humbled in front of this spirit. I promised to take the PCC’s concerns about facilitation to FC which itself convened a short 30 minutes later.
When FC convened on Sunday night, I found myself one of only three people there who had experience as a Shadow Moderator, Caroline being the other. Because Caroline had been GA moderator Saturday night, only Candace and myself were left as possible Moderators for Sunday’s GA. So, yes, I volunteered to be a Moderator for the Sunday GA. Thankfully, Candace had moderated before. If I had stage fright on Saturday, I now had a full-blown panic. I had taught classes before but never more than a group of 15-20. And never with a requirement of consensus above all else. FC decided that the GA would begin with a 15-minute discussion in small groups on the topic of Transparency and Accountability. I was relieved that FC was designating said topic, rather than relying on the GA to decide upon one or more. And, as it happens, ‘Transparency and Accountability’ mean many different things to many different people.
GA begins at 7:30 p.m. and it is already growing dark now when it begins. I was concerned that I would be unable to read the Principles of Solidarity due to inadequate lighting and that I would violate process myself. So preoccupied was I with making sure I moderated appropriately that I left most of my anger at the previous night’s violations unmentioned. Interestingly, people on the PCC were discussing how to expel one of the two offenders I had noted and people on FC also have begun to consider disciplinary proceedings for gross violators. All of which is to say that I did not introduce my motions to censure the two Occupiers I had specifically identified.
And I suppose it’s just as well. For Sunday’s GA, I am happy to say, proceeded far more smoothly than Saturday’s. I cannot take much credit for this. Indeed, in announcing that the 15-minute discussion period would begin with occupiers breaking into small groups of 10 and selecting a ‘leader’ to speak for it, I inadvertently stepped on a semantic landmine. Turns out OLA is not big on the whole ‘leader’ thing. We are all leaders but no one is allowed to lead. That Zen paradox seems to encapsulate OLA thinking on the subject. I was quickly dis-abused of my linguistic mis-step by hecklers in the crowd who themselves were opposed to breaking into small groups.
One reason I think Sunday’s GA went so smoothly is that the stage was rearranged and designated speaking areas were taped off facing the South Steps. The result is that the Occupiers attending GA sat on the steps and the speakers and moderators spoke looking up at them, a neat replication of the ancient Greek proscenium, I imagine. It was beautifully pulled off by Michael in logistics and perfectly executed by my shadow moderator, the extremely knowledgeable Vanessa.
The one contentious proposal, for the GA to authorize the purchase of 20 gas masks for use by health and security staff in the event of a tear gas raid by law enforcement, went off smoothly, if only because the person presenting the proposal, Colin, graciously remained to answer all questions and concerns and affably accepted the friendly amendment that the 20 recipients of the masks be identified and the lowest-cost vendor be secured.
Candace was solicitous of me at all times and she and I communicated remarkably well to make sure we alternated speakers from each stack. The only thing I would change would be that the time keepers have a more obvious way to signal that times are up. Frequently, as moderators, Candace and I found ourselves having to use gentle nudges and touches on the backs of speakers to remind them that their times had expired. By and large, though, the speakers themselves were all to happy to relinquish the mic after being so nudged, a graciousness sorely lacking during Saturday’s GA.
When Sunday’s GA had concluded, several people congratulated me on how well the GA had gone and how well I had done. No doubt it was only with comparison to the bedlam that had ensued the night before, I think. And, really, I could not take hardly any credit for the GA’s success. As the moderator, I was its face perhaps (along with Candace), but it only went smoothly because so many people cared so much and worked so hard to make it happen. At the end of the GA, I collectively thanked the Occupiers and told them I hoped to return soon.
Alma and I both came down with colds last week. The worst of mine had ended by Friday, but even today I still have a lingering cough and occasional stuffiness. Just as mine was ending, Alma’s was beginning. (Funny how that works.) Alma was pretty distraught that we would not be able to attend Occupy Los Angeles in person this weekend. I might have gone by myself, but a wintry storm front moved through Southern California this weekend also, bringing colder temperatures and rains that alternated between light mist and steady drizzle.
One of the things I admire most about the Occupiers who camp at Los Angeles’ City Hall is their resilience and stamina. I know from first-hand experience that there is no easy way to warm up there when outside attending a General Assembly. True, Southern California does not have the winter extremes experienced by our colleagues on the east coast and Pacific northwest. But there’s something about the way a Los Angeles damp cold seeps into your bones. As that old Albert Hammond song would have it, “It never rains in California . . . it pours, man, it pours.”
This weekend Alma’s cold and my own tentative recuperation constrained us to experience Occupy Los Angeles at a distance via live internet video feeds. As it happens, this was the perfect weekend for remote participation, because OLA Committees had scheduled full days of teach-ins both Saturday and Sunday. Virtual participation, I’ve found, is an experience alternately frustrating and exhilarating, as it can often appear that OLA’s reach exceeds its grasp on the technical front. Ah, but when the technology clicks and one watches a panel composed of Robert Scheer, William Black, Joel Rogers and (remotely via a separate real-time feed) Michael Hudson, one suddenly has a sense of what this movement can become with time and continued devotion. Move over, PBS and NPR. There’s a new dog in town and it actually represents the 99%!
So Saturday, November 5, was the infamous Bank Transfer Day. Personal confession here, I have not yet closed my accounts at Wells Fargo over some lingering concerns about how closing accounts would affect employees at those institutions and, frankly, a bit of laziness also. However, some consultations with folks over the weekend on this forum and others have now set me straight and cleared my thinking. So Wells Fargo shareholders are hereby warned, you’ll have two fewer accounts generating profits for you come this time next week!
Saturday morning began with a march from California Plaza to City Hall, a walk which, not coincidentally, took Occupiers and affiliated marchers through LA’s downtown financial district. I was not too upset to have missed this march, as I remember all too well the absurdity of marching through downtown on Saturdays during the latest Iraq War (2003-Present), when the streets of downtown LA would be little more than empty urban caverns, the only spectators the isolated Latino and Asian shopkeepers and their customers. Alma and I actually stopped marching in the downtown Saturday anti-war marches for that very reason, i.e., the expenditures of vast amounts of time, energy and money to preach only to the converted. Not saying such events don’t have their uses (and they did for us, at least at first, in that the mass marches validated for us our sense that we were not alone), but Alma and I ended up feeling we could affect public opinion more by participating in local anti-war vigils which we did conscientiously from 2004-10.
There were some moments of hilarity during this Bank Transfer Day march, at least based on what I saw from home. The funniest came at the downtown branch of Wells Fargo where several Occupiers entered the facility in order to close their accounts, only to have WF employees try to lower metal security gates and blinds with the Occupiers still inside. Would the Occupiers be allowed to leave without being arrested. We both held our breath and exhaled a huge sign of relief when protesters emerged unscathed and unarrested, their accounts at WF presumably now closed. According to some who were inside the WF facility, employees looked variously bewildered or panicked.
Saturday’s events continued after lunch with a teach-in on the economy that featured opening remarks by former U.S. Secretary of Labor Robert Reich and a panel moderated by Robert Scheer, Senior Editor at Truth Dig and former op-ed columnist for the Los Angeles Times. The Media group of OLA outdid itself during all phases of this teach-in and it was great hearing Reich ‘give ‘em hell’ and the panelists led by Scheer explain and analyse the causes of the current financial disaster.
I commented to Alma that the economy teach-in should be required viewing for all Americans of voting age. What made it more noteworthy was the use of General Assembly ‘Stack’ process afterwards whereby members of the audience could ask questions of the panelists and of Reich. For the most part, these Q&A exchanges were remarkably civil, a further example of how OLA has provided a forum for serious discourse from knowledgable and thoughtful participants. At one point, Robert Scheer took issue with someone who pooh-poohed the advances made in the past 30 years and thoroughly schooled the questioner in a somewhat-uncivil tone. But Scheer’s passion was balanced by those (like SCLC and Planned Parenthood), of whose achievements he was reminding the audience. Scheer’s larger message is that activism and involvement within the system can bring massive change of a progressive nature.
The presentation by William Black reminded us, as I’m sure was his intent, that we had been down this road before, during the S&L crisis of the Reagan years, which can now feel like a charming relic of a distant age. Not so, according to Black, who noted the vigorous use of the judicial system to right wrongs, while contrasting it with the current regime’s pathetic record in that regard.
We tried to watch the General Assembly on Saturday night by remote feed (through a haze of cold meds for each of us), but we had very bad connections as apparently did many others watching remotely. The audio and video feeds were down or choppy frequently. I gathered that a proposal was made and passed by consensus to “occupy” the Los Angeles Dodgers. That seems like something of a moot point, at least until Spring of 2012 at the earliest. But a definite sign that the movement is continuing to think ‘mainstream,’ even as public opinion polls show the larger Occupy’s popularity beginning to shrink a little under the constant onslaught of negative stories propagated by the corporate media.
For remote viewers, Sunday’s schedule began with a teach-in on Civil Disobedience at 11 a.m. that featured panelists from a wide spectrum of L.A.’s activist community. One of the panelists whose name I failed to note made the excellent point that each of the panelists represented an organization with structure and specific policy interests and that the virtue of the Occupy movement is that it had caused these organizations to ‘think outside of the box’ and place their own organization’s efforts in a larger context of broader societal needs. I was especially moved by Erick Huerte’s presentation on the Dream Act and how he and his schoolmates used CD to move the Dream Act forward in Arizona and California. (For those unfamiliar, the Dream Act recently signed by California Governor Jerry Brown allows undocumented children to pay in-state tuition at California’s public colleges, provided they meet all other admissions requirements.)
After lunch on Sunday, a panel convened on the topic of ‘Sustainable Living.” The most poignant presentation, I feel, concerned the South Central Farmers. At one point, a group of some 300 predominantly minority families farmed an 85-acre urban plot of land, the largest urban farm in the country. Wouldn’t you know it, the Los Angeles City Council decided that the farm had to end thanks to some leasing arrangement that pre-dated the farmers’ tenancy. LA County Sherriff’s performed an eviction in the face of substantial civil disobedience a few years back – I remember well listening to it go down on my local Pacifica radio affiliate – and the farmers were given other land as a substitute.
It so happens that these farmers, who used to set up a farmers’ market once per week on the lawn of City Hall that is now occupied, are now having problems making sales at their alternate locations and their case comes before the GA every so often. If about 10-15 Occupiers would relocate their tents one day per week, the problem would be solved. But consensus-building is a long, hard process and, thus far, as far as I know, the farmers’ plight continues.
My heart goes out to those hardy souls who braved the cold temperatures for Sunday night’s General Assembly. I had taken an anti-histamine before it began, so I faded in and out as it continued. At one point, the person running the video camera commented in the chat window that he could see his breath in front of him. I really wish there were some way the GA could be held indoors during the winter months or that OLA could figure out a way for people to quickly warm themselves up, as the inclement weather will put a damper on participation. By the end of Sunday’s GA, only some 30 Occupiers remained. I think the GA passed a measure involving the enforcing of a code of conduct for campers but by then the anti-histamines were in full force and I actually fell asleep with the laptop open on my lap.
We hope and plan to return to Occupy Los Angeles in person next weekend. I wish there were some way people could participate remotely, aside from chatting in the chat rooms that accompany the live stream. It would be great to be able to make proposals remotely or even to vote on them using your computer. But I feel like I actually learned more watching these live streams as I would have had I been at OLA in person. That is a tribute to the dedicated folks at OLA who presented quality content both days and, for the most part, delivered that content in ways that were accessible to anyone with an internet connection. Bravo!
first secure the active agreement of the 15% of Americans currently covered by collective bargaining agreements to violate Taft-Hartley en masse and, by so doing, nullify it entirely. We must next mobilize the masses of students and youth whose futures lie precariously in the balance. Finally, we must reach out to the enlisted ranks of the armed services and to sympathisers within the security services to break with their chains of command and support the working class. With these elements we will have the critical mass to bring the entire lumbering mass that is American post-industrial crony capitalism to a creaking halt so that the beast can be slain and a new order arise from its corpse.
Acrylic on canvas
We hope to deploy the sign this weekend at Occupy Los Angeles
Hey, folks, been down with a pretty severe cold for the past couple days. On this past Sunday, though, I attended a meeting of the Demands and Objectives Committee of Occupy Los Angeles. It has agreed upon a set of 8 preliminary demands that have been reported out to the General Assembly and will be under consideration in the days to come.
I thought folks on DU might like to get a sense of what an Occupy movement's demands might look like. So here they are (without comment):
1) Stop the wars
2) Repeal the Patriot Act
3) Divert military spending to social programs
4) Declare a moratorium on all residential foreclosures
5) Prohibit LA County personnel, e.g., Sheriff's deputies, from assisting in any foreclosure actions
6) Repeal the National Security Act
7) Repeal the Federal Reserve Act
8) End Corporate 'Personhood'
The only one I strongly oppose is Demand #7. The one I most strongly support is #5 as it is the most specific and contains within it the seeds of its own implemenation (via the LA County Board of Supervisors).
Look forward to reading people's take on this list.
On Sunday, October 30, 2011, Occupy Los Angeles turned 30. Make that 30 days, not years. I mention this, because OLA Occupiers made brief mention of the milestone at both the General Assembly (GA) of Saturday, October 29 on the South Steps of City Hall and at the GA of Sunday, October 30 on the North Steps of City Hall. It is fitting that we should speak of 'days,' rather than 'weeks' or 'years,' because some ominous portents have appeared this past week, namely Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's veiled threat that OLA cannot remain at City Hall "indefinitely" and Councilperson Bill Rosendahl's suggestion on the local ABC affiliate that occupiers start to "move on." Note: Rosendahl is my Councilperson. Neither Villaraigosa's nor Rosendahl's offices returned my calls asking for an explanation of their comments.
OLA is no different from many of the other Occupy encampments around the country and, in many ways, has it better. Most readers already know about the police riot unleashed on entirely peaceful demonstrators in Oakland on Tuesday, of the numerous Keystone Kops raids on Occupy Nashville throughout the week, and of the raids in Boston and Chicago. These are but a sampling of the ongoing attempts by the security services to crack down on this grass roots movement. For the moment, at least, it appears that the crackdown is having the opposite effect from what is intended. Support for the Occupy movement is broad based and shows little sign of diminishing. But, as summer turns to autumn at Los Angeles' City Hall, more than the physical temperature has started to change.
So far, OLA has not experienced any crackdown from the external security services. This has not stopped Occupiers here from beginning to make preparations should a crackdown appear imminent. And if Oakland has proved anything, it is that OLA Occupiers should prepare. The morale at OLA remains quite high and, this weekend's growing pains aside, remains an inspiration and a source of joy to those Angelenos who are paying attention.
Alma and I missed some of that joy on Saturday, as we arrived at City Hall a bit later than usual. Apparently, we just missed witnessing a Native American wedding ceremony conducted on the steps of City Hall with the full blessings of OLA and, knowing the folks there, their active participation in the rituals. A spectator who witnessed the wedding told me it was quite beautiful and I am sure he was correct, based on the eye candy of which I constantly partake there.
At 5:30 on Saturday, we once again headed to the meeting of the Facilitation Committee (the committee charged with daily administration of the General Assembly). The Committee consisted of many faces I recognized from the previous weekend. There was Vance, a well-rounded generalist who, with his pork pie hat and ponytail, conveys the air of the grand impresario. There was Sergey, the husky fellow with wild black beard and an accent that hints of his origin in perhaps Spain, who had done such a wonderful job time-keeping at last Sunday's GA. There was Dele, a well-dressed and bespectacled traveller from, of all places, Nigeria. Ruth, a British woman who carries a little Chihuahua wearing a multi-colored blanket sweater. Jessica, studious-looking and highly detail-oriented. Caroline, vivacious and charismatic. Rick, studious and, with his wire-rimmed glasses and slightly unkempt but short hair, reminiscent of a young John Lennon. There were also some new faces. Vanessa, a reed-thin blond from the original Occupy Wall Street encampment in New York City whose words on the Consensus process and best practices from Wall Street, served to focus the group's energy. A very hyper gentleman named Alan who arrived a 1/2 hour late, had little patience for the process and who was constantly being chided by the moderators for his interruptions. Others too numerous to mention. And myself.
I have said this before and I will say it again. This is democracy in the raw. These folks are learning as they go and it is quite inspiring and moving. So much so that, during the assignment of roles for Saturday nights' GA, I found myself volunteering to serve as time-keeper. Being the weekend warrior I am, I had only the faintest of ideas as to what exactly I was supposed to be doing. I was fortunate indeed that Sergey volunteered both his touchscreen phone with its 'stop watch' app and his fastidiously-printed set of sheets showing time remaining. And Jessica, dear Jessica, took it upon herself to write down for me the various times allotted for each type of appearance before GA:
Announcements - 1 minute
Proposals - 5 minutes
Responses to Proposals (Questions and Hard Blocks) - 2 minutes
Questions of Concern - 2 minutes
Questions of Clarity - 2 minutes
Without the assistance of Sergey and Jessica, I can plainly state that I would have sucked as a timekeeper. So those who subsequently complimented me during GA on my 'professional time-keeping' were complimenting not only me but those two as well.
I should step back and point out that while individuals at these committee meetings argue their positions and ideas with passionate ferocity, this energy is balanced and complemented quite nicely by a spirit of love and comradeship that infuses the group dynamic. Joe, the tireless and good-humored man who runs logistics for the GA (getting the public address system set up, making sure the power sources measure up to the task and positioning the various pieces of other audio-visual equipment) and seems to do it almost single-handedly
After the minutiae of settling upon roles for the GA was decided, the Committee took up proposals. Sergey advanced a proposal that 'Faciliation' expand its domain and set up teams of ten 'facilitators' to travel the grounds in the minutes preceding the GA and immediately following its commencement to serve as emissaries and facilitators for the GA and OLA. It was a proposal that the Committee took under advisement. Basically, I think the Committee was reluctant to take on still more roles when it barely can staff its current roles.
The Committee adjourned and we all headed from the North Steps over to the South Steps where the GA would take place, me trailing meekly in Sergey's footsteps. (Joe had left about 15 minutes before us to see that all facilities were up and running for the GA.) When we arrived at the South Steps, I was astounded to see a huge circle of people already assembled around 2-3 people with a megaphone who were holding what seemed to be an impromptu assembly of their own. Indeed, this so-called "People's Assembly" (PA) had sprung up out of frustrations with the seeming rigidity of the GA process and apparently continued the Open Mike that graces the South Steps during the day. I bumped into Joe and both he and Sergey seemed concerned that this PA was supplanting the formally constituted GA. As it happened, the conveners of the PA did not see themselves as a rump GA but rather as an adjunct, and they cooled down after Vance started speaking into the microphone for the GA's public address system. I'm not sure the PA willingly surrendered - it may have been that they conceded in the face of their hand-held megaphone being no match for the public address system of the GA. A veritable Battle of the Bands, if you will.
As the GA began, I estimated the number in attendance between 2- 250 Occupiers. The GA does not seem to have grown much from last week, but neither had it shrunk noticeably. Somewhat surprising, given that this was Halloween weekend and many people who might otherwise have attended were probably attending Halloween parties and festivities elsewhere.
Some Occupiers feel that GA has become too process-oriented. Having sat through countless corporate meetings, I can say for a fact that there is an absolute minimum of process here. Indeed, I would say that the process, such as it is, broke down on Saturday night through no one's fault in particular.
After opening with the clap of solidarity and routine committee, affinity group and individual announcements, the GA's moderators Jessica and Ruth had moved the GA on to proposals. The Labor Solidarity affinity group was presenting a proposal that OLA endorse a work stoppage by the Sugar Beet Growers Union. While Caroline was reading the text of the proposal to the GA, a stoutly built young black man strode past me very quickly towards the area where Caroline was speaking. Upon reaching her, the black man seized the microphone from Caroline's hands and proceeded to start yelling incomprehensibly into it. This Disruptor (as I have taken to calling him) was immediately swarmed upon by OLA Occupiers who attempted peacefully to usher him into Stack (the method GA uses to queue up speakers) . The Disruptor raged back at them saying he had a First Amendment right to free speech and continuing to bull his way back toward the area where Caroline, Ruth and Jessica stood. By this point, the crowd of Occupiers surrounding the Disruptor had grown to about 20-25. Imagine a rugby match where players swarm on top of the person carrying the ball while all remain standing and a bit crouched over and you will have the exact image of what was transpiring.
Up until this point, the GA was practicing Shante Sinah, a regimen whereby members of the GA encircle any disruptive person and, by their mere presence, attempt to re-focus the disruptive person's energies. It was not working on Saturday night or was not working as efficiently as one might have hoped, however. The Disruptor continued to lead the swarming circle in circles around the plaza. I had decided to make discretion the better part of valor and so had pulled myself off to the grassy hillock where Alma sat observing. I did this not out of fear for my own person per se, but more out of fear that Sergey's expensive cell phone might get damaged in the melee.
Various attempts were made to move the Disruptor away from the GA area but to no avail. While this drama was playing itself out, the microphone had become up for grabs and anyone who wanted could grab it. Competing announcements were uttered from the stage by persons with no authority to make them via the GA's process. So we heard, variously, that LAPD had been summoned and that we should "let the officers do their job." (They were summoned but were never needed to subdue the Disruptor.) We heard that the GA would relocate to the North Steps. (A group of Occupiers dutifully set off towards the North Steps.) Various people were yelling at Jessica and Ruth, the two moderators, that it was their fault this had happened. (It was most certainly not their fault.) In short, general pandemonium reigned for about 30 minutes.
Eventually the swarming circle somehow got the Disruptor into the hands of the LAPD and I learned subsequently that he had a history of such run-ins with the police who, last night, hospitalized him on some sort of emergency psychiatric hold. And eventually the GA resumed on the South Steps. (The resolution supporting the Sugar Beet Growers Union passed by consensus shortly after GA resumed.) The episode raises many red flags for OLA going forward. First and foremost, while their hearts are clearly in the right place, OLA has neither the structures nor the expertise to handle the severely mentally ill. Leading to a second observation that speakers at GA are all at risk of facing another Disruptor bent upon 'rushing the stage' and getting his or her 15 minutes of fame. Perhaps most important, though, is that the sanctity of GA is under threat. Occupiers had to put up with a 30-minute disruption to the normal deliberative process last night.
After Saturday's GA adjourned and the open mike (sans amplification) resumed on the South Steps, we on Facilitations retreated to a tent on the north side for a debriefing. A couple people who had not been on Facilitation Committee before the GA showed up for the after-the-fact session. One of them, George, spoke movingly and eloquently about the absolute necessity and possibility for resolving future disruptive events non-violently by engaging in 'active listening' of the individual. I was in too much shock from what had transpired to speak coherently about my feelings. So I merely complimented Ruth and Jessica on their poise and grace under fire and passed the baton to my right. Alma then mentioned that, with a contingent of 200 nurses attending OLA on next Thursday (as part of the California Association of Nurses union) that OLA should take advantage of those nurses' expertise to find out how to 'restrain' the mentally ill, should the need ever arise again. I think frankly that everyone was in a state of shock that the Disruptor had so significantly disrupted events. (It happens that there may have been some tent pilfering going on while the Disruptor raged, perhaps a sharp-eyed opportunist awaiting his or her moment to strike.)
I believe in non-violence as a tactic and a strategy. I believe that Martin Luther King's vision of a peaceful and just world remains to this day a dream deferred. But I also believe that under no circumstances should this Disruptor have been able to breach the line (the 'Stack') to confront Caroline and seize the mike from her. That he did so can only have a chilling effect on women's willingness to speak at GA or on anyone who is concerned for his or her safety.
Indeed, I am sorry to say that a common theme I heard voiced this past weekend (on both days) was many women's concerns for their personal safety. Apparently, there have been some incidents of voyeurism and even sexual assaults directed against some of the women who camp at City Hall. Jessica spoke in the debriefing about her personal worry that she could and might be accosted or assaulted by any aggrieved lunatic with an ax to grind who decided in his or her tortured imaginations to fix the locus of discontent and frustration upon the moderator and not upon the very process itself. This revolution means absolutely nothing, in my opinion, if a segment of our brave front-line soldiers no longer feel safe and secure in their persons. But I am at a loss as to what to suggest to ameliorate the situation.
Thus I returned on Sunday bristling with a proposal of my own, that the GA authorize Facilitation to appoint a Sergeant at Arms with power to see to it that the microphone and the person speaking into it are protected at all times and that the sanctity of GA be placed as a value above all other values at OLA. I did not make my proposal because, on Sunday, Ruth was moderating the Facilitations Committee meeting. She mentioned to another proposer that all proposals presented at Committee were supposed to be in writing. Well, mine was in writing in my little notebook. But it was in no shape to be presented to the 15-20 members of Facilitations who met on Sunday. So I withdrew my proposal, then offered it as a 'friendly amendment' to another proposal to situate speakers at the top of the stairs, rather than at ground-level. That proposal was taken under advisement, since it too was not in writing. So I shall return next weekend with my proposal\amendment typed up and printed out for presentation to the Committee.
Alma and I reached Facilitations Committee about a half-hour late because Alma wished to place a demand before the Demands and Objectives Committee and both committees were meeting at the same time. This is a pet peeve of mine, that it is nigh impossible to attend two very important Committees because both are meeting at the same time. Believe it or not, there is some kind of Coordination Committee that is supposed to address coordination between various OLA committees. I don't know when it meets and perhaps I shall have to attend it next Saturday to make my concern heard.
I can see, though, why some Occupiers might feel the GA is excessively focused on the process. It so happens that showing up at the Demands and Objectives Committee is not enough to place a demand before the GA. The process is very long and drawn out and it quickly became clear that the D&O Committee would not be entertaining new demands on Sunday night. Instead, we were advised to put our written demand into the Suggestion Box for consideration by D&O at a later date. In fairness to the D&O Committee, it is acting under processes duly authorized by GA. And, to its credit, D&O has a set of preliminary demands:
1) Stop the wars
2) Repeal the Patriot Act
3) Divert military spending to social programs
4) Declare a moratorium on all residential foreclosures
5) Prohibit LA County personnel, e.g., Sheriff's deputies, from assisting in any foreclosure actions
6) Repeal the National Security Act
7) Repeal the Federal Reserve Act
8) End Corporate 'Personhood'
With the exception of Demand #7, I find these are all laudable aims. This set of demands, according to a regular attendee of D&O who provided me with the list, has now been sent to the Research Committee prior to its return to D&O for presentation to GA. A cumbersome process indeed, I think it is fair to say. I advised Alma to place her idea -- that corporations be held responsible for destroying the environment -- in the Suggestion Box and, that decided, we departed for the Facilitations Committee again.
We came upon that meeting in medias res as it were, upon those same north steps as the day previous. The usual suspects were present and the discussion was raging fast and furious around the actions of the Disruptor of the day previous. So having decided to self-table my proposal for a Sergeant at Arms, I again volunteered to serve as timekeeper, my offer accepted by unanimous consent of the Committee.
A decision had been reached between the conveners of the People's Assembly, the Facilitations Committee and Logistics that Sunday's GA would be held on the North Steps. This was a fortuitous decision, as there was no ponderous public address system to set up and manage but instead a small guitar amplifier with a simple mike attached to it. The GA on Sunday night had more of a town hall feel to it than any I have attended previously.
Andrea, who had appeared before the Facilitations Committee the previous Sunday, opened the GA with a stirring demonstration of the "Moving Torah" (a version of interpretive dance). I would guess there were 100 Occupiers at Sunday night's GA, all of them making various bodily gestures in sync with Andrea and her companion, to phsyicalize (if such a word exists) the personal narratives of 5 Occupiers. I was in tears again by the end of it.
The normal run of announcements took place. And then the moderators, Vance and Caroline, announced a special presentation by Scott and Isaac on non-violence and civil disobedience (CD). It was fascinating watching the two of them demonstrate to a circle of Occupiers various best practices for CD, should the need arise. Attendees practiced linking arms and holding hands in such a way as to minimize the potential for broken thumbs and fingers. Isaac demonstrated various hand signals we might expect to see from the security services should the oft-anticipated crackdown commence.
I was a bit grouchy from sleep deprivation and at first groused to Alma that this non-violence presentation was hijacking the GA. Alma rightfully pointed out how absolutely essential it was that Occupiers know this information ahead of time, should the need for it ever arise. And I must give Scott and Isaac credit. By the end of their presentation about how Occupiers could more easily frustrate police efforts by forming a 'puppy pile,' I was transported, watching a circle of some 50 Occupiers formed in two rings play-act the act of civil disobedience in the face of a police onslaught. Again, this was one of the more moving experiences of my life. They seem to be coming fast and furious these days.
Sunday night's GA concluded with a proposal for a march to build support for the Bank Transfer Day this coming November 5. This march of support will happen in the late afternoon and early evening on November 4 and will march from City Hall to the downtown facility of the Los Angeles Public Library. It will happen during the time when GA is normally slated to occur and consensus was reached to skip GA next Friday and instead do a 'Speak Out' in the Public Library's huge grounds. I was at first torn, because I believe in the absolute sanctity of GA. But I also have come to trust the correctness of the consensus process. And, besides, tireless Joe in logistics will need a day off by then, as OLA will have by then been going for some 35 days. So I wiggled my hands in the patented spirit fingers, aka jazz wave, to signal that I approved. With that GA adjourned.
As OLA continues and matures into something more long-lasting, its growing pains manifest themselves. There is, however, no diminution of morale in the slightest, nor any flagging of devotion to the cause, facts that Mayor Villaraigosa and Councilman Rosendahl would do to note before sending in their goons. For me personally, meeting this wonderful cast of characters has to rank among the high points. I have given you names to go with the faces. But there are the nameless whose faces are just as memorable. Balanced against the annoying Jesus Freaks who have opportunistically attached themselves to OLA and who mercilessly berate passersby with a loud megaphone, there's the young man wielding a push broom on the North Steps in the moments before the GA begins. His clean-up prompts Alma to quip that "It's nice for a change to have someone else do the housework." And there's the older guy with white hair in a ponytail selflessly emptying trash can after trash can into the Dumpsters. I asked him whether Sanitation had ever received the help it had pleaded for the weekend previously. "I don't give a shit about the Committees," he said. "You don't need a committee to tell you that the trash needs to be emptied." I told him I would help him next Saturday or Sunday if I happened to see him. He waved me off and said, "I've pretty much got it under control now." With people like that, this movement is here for the long term.
Sunday. I hope to make a full report of our visit after the weekend.
In the interests of providing solid content, does anyone here at DU have questions about OLA they would like me to ask while I am at City Hall? I see myself as doing participatory journalism and thought I could provide service to my brothers and sisters at DU by asking questions on their behalf.
Just let me know by responding to this thread (or sending me a message, if you wish to remain confidential),
Done on foam core posterboard with acrylic paints.
On edit: Forgot to add that it is a dual tribute to OWS and to French philosopher Rene "I think, therefore I am" Descartes.
The Los Angeles City Hall occupies an entire city block. Bounded by 1st St. on the south, Spring St. on the west, Temple St. on the north and Main St. on the east, the City Hall building (home to Los Angeles' City Council, Mayor's Office and other municipal services) sits in the middle of two areas of grass. Paved sidewalks divide and divide again the portion of grass to the south of the City Hall building, while the grass to its north is broken only by a single large flight of steps that bisects the building's imposing facade.
That grass is now no longer visible to the naked eye because a sea of tents has sprung up on both the north and south sides of the City Hall building. Many of the tents are simple two-person Pup tents, but a few are large enough to sleep a family of four or more. On the weekend of October 22 and 23, I did an unofficial count and found some 227 tents. Remarkable really. And those tents house a group of people Alma and I have taken to calling the "Occupiers."
When I walked on the western edge of the building yesterday (along Spring St.), I saw a garbage Dumpster filled to overflowing with trash and refuse. That was not what caught my eye. What caught my eye were words stencilled neatly in white on the side of the Dumpster: "Autonomous Revolutionary People's Collective". These are strange days indeed.
I'm not sure I'd go so far right now as to say what we are seeing is 'revolutionary'. Perhaps what we witness at Los Angeles' City Hall is what Lenin referred to as the 'vanguard' of the revolution. I'm still trying to figure out what it all means. But here's what I can tell you. A remarkable experiment in self-government is happening outside the official halls of power, an experiment begun by many of the castoffs of today's economy, those for whom capitalism has always ever been a dismal failure.
Take, for example, the middle-aged couple I'll call Eeva and David, from the far eastern reaches of Riverside County. They occupy the same spot each weekend day along the western edge of City Hall. David is currently working part-time but wishes to work full-time. Eeva used to work full-time as a caregiver to an elderly client who suffers from diabetes. That client's assistance fell victim to California's budgetary crisis, according to Eeva, and she lost her job when that government assistance stopped. They had tacked a sign to the tree under which they sat. "Back then we had Steve Jobs, Bob Hope and Johnny Cash," the top portion of the hand-lettered sign said. "Now we have no jobs, no hope and no cash," the rejoinder at the bottom wittily announced.
Eeva and David are but two of the several hundred people who are part of Occupy Los Angeles (OLA). And I have seen them sitting in the same spot for the last three weekends. Like Alma and me, Eeva and David leave at the end of each weekend to return to their daily lives. But their plight echoes and mirrors that of many of the Occupiers.
Alma and I spent a good portion of yesterday and today at the OLA encampment. Yesterday afternoon, I attended a meeting of the 'Action' Committee. This committee, one of 20-some committees organized around various topics, was authorized by the General Assembly and charged with considering proposals for actions that the OLA community could take to make its protest heard and its dissent considered. How did I become a member of this committee? I simply showed up at the appointed time and place (announced on a white board at the Welcome Tent on the North lawn). I showed up and found myself in the middle of a spirited discussion about whether OLA should attend a City Council subcommittee meeting on Monday that would be considering selling a plot of urban park land to one of LA's ubiquitous developers. Some wanted OLA to officially endorse the action and send an official OLA contingent to the meeting to oppose and protest against the proposal. Others warned that OLA risked losing support from the City Council if it too visibly and vocally supported the group of South Central farmers seeking to retain the park plot. And there were a few who actually thought the park plot should be allowed to be sold in exchange for a healthy financial consideration.
And I? I was the proverbial 'undecided' Committee member, undecided mainly because woefully uninformed. That did not matter in the slightest to my fellow Committee members. The model of direct democracy being practiced at OLA is built around achieving group consensus before reporting proposals out to the General Assembly. My voice and opinion, it turns out, meant as much to this Committee as that of the most dedicated policy wonk on urban parkland. (I'm not sure I agree with that model, for what it's worth, but I must dance with those who brung me, so to speak.) So the proposal to send an official OLA contingent was tabled but the person who was there from the South Central Farmers' Group announced that she would be attending and asking those on the Committee who supported her to join her. I'm not sure what you call that, but I see it as a fledgling democracy trying to define what it is and what it isn't.
These folk (most of them young, all of them passionate) constantly struggle with matters of substance, questions of process, issues of authority and privilege. Everything, it seems, is up for reconsideration. And everyone's voice, it seems, is equal. Unsettling to someone like me whose activist roots derive from hierarchical top-down structures. But also strangely beautiful. There is not an ounce of phoniness with any of them, at least the younger generation. They are all deadly serious about this and well they should be, as they face a future with no certain prospects other than crushing debt and crippling un- and under-employment.
That Action Committee meeting yesterday concluded about 30 minutes before the General Assembly (GA) convened at 7:30 p.m. These General Assemblies are something to see. No need to ensure a quorum, no need to ascertain who is a legitimate member or representative there. As with the Committee, each person acquires standing merely by showing up. Each person has equal rights to address the General Assembly directly, a topic that has been casuing some stresses and strains as the movement matures. At last night's General Assembly, the moderators started with a unity clap, similar to one you might hear at a sporting event. The crowd was quite enthusiastic at the start and ended the Unity Clap with a war whoop that would have made Sitting Bull envious.The moderators next read the General Principles of Solidarity that I gather are part of many of the Occupy encampments, and then introduced the various hand signals those attending could use to communciate with one another, with the speakers and with the moderators as necessary.
Alma and I stayed long enough to hear all the Committee announcements and many of the Affinity Group announcements. We left before the GA moved on to announcements from individuals or proposals. (More on those below.) During the Affinity Group announcements, I found myself standing and waving both arms in an up-and-down motion, signalling that the presenter for "Occupy the Hood" was taking too long. (This motion is called "The Hands of the Clock" to signal excessive time being taken.) I was amused to see that I was not alone in my feeling, as the crowd looked like a sea of arms waving up and down at this particular speaker. The moderators took heed and prevailed upon the Occupy the Hood presenter to wrap up his presentation expeditiously. Blessed relief! As Samuel Johnson once said about Milton's "Paradise Lost," no one would have wished it any longer.
These hand signals constitute one signature element of the General Assemblies, so I thought I would catalog them here. If one hears something with which one agrees, one puts both hands up above one's head and wiggles all fingers in a so-called 'Spirit Wave' (aka 'Jazz Fingers'). If one disagrees with something one hears, one chops the right arm up and down from the elbow in short movements known as the "I Don't See It" gesture. If one feels the speaker is violating some aspect of the process, one holds one's fingers up in the shape of a triangle. If one feels the speaker is being unnecessarily repetitive, one rotates one's hands and arms in a circular motion akin to a football ref's illegal procedure signal. If one fells a speaker is taking too long, one waves one's arms up and down like the hands of a clock. Anf, finally, if one finds what a speaker says so morally objectionable as to threaten the solidarity or safety of the movement or one's own participation in it, one crosses both forearms over one's head. This is the so-called 'hard block' and seems to be one source of continuing stress and strain.
As you might imagine, there can be a veritable Tower of Babel effect to these silent hand gestures, as at any moment, some may be using Jazz Fingers to signify approval, while others chop away in disapproval and still others make a triangle to signal a point of process. But it's quite moving to see an entire GA with arms raised above its head and fingers wiggling in ecstatic approval by consensus of some proposal or announcement.
We arrived today in time for me to attend once more the Facilitation Committee. This committee has the tremendous responsibility of first of all finding moderators and support staff (called 'Stackers' who maintain the various speakers' queues) for each nightly General Assembly and, secondly. deciding what rules should govern the General Assembly.
After some spirited give and take, the facilitator for the Committee managed to get two volunteers for Moderator and four volunteers for Stacker. The continued fishing around for a timekeeper right up until the last minute and karma must be good because they got a hulking Latino named Sergio who, tonight's GA would reveal, had to be the most gracious and punctilious timekeeper I've ever seen in either the public or private sectors.
This meeting convened on the steps on the North Side of City Hall. One problem is that the traffic tends to make a lot of noise going by. Add to this that word has gotten out into the larger community and cars going by are frequently honking in support. All of which means that the moderators and Commitee members had to make constant use of another signature element, the so-called 'Human Mike'. This is one of the most moving and endearing mechanisms being used by the Occupy movement. A speaker speaks a short phrase and the assembled listeners then repeat what the speaker has just said. Sets up this chant-response pattern that achieves its own rhythm and power. Whenever anyone had problems hearing, he or she would simply shout out "Mike Check". The crowd would interrupt whatever was being said to repeat back 'Mike Check" before the speaker continued.
Tonight the Facilitation Committee was wrestling with deep issues of democracy, such as whether full 100% consensus was required for measure to be reported out of General Assembly or whether some lesser degree of agreement would suffice. The percentage being bruited tonight was 90% but this brought up all sorts of tangential quesitons, such as 90% of what? How would you count to know whether you had 90%? The whole question was driven by the disproportionate influence the so-called 'hard block' could have on reaching consensus. Under consideration also was how many hard blocks should be able to explain their hard block to the GA before the measure got pushed back to committee or was withdrawn.
Fascinating stuff and I was glad to see that the Committee refused to let itself be rushed into changing the 100% consensus rule, merely in the interests of expedience. This 100% consensus model is both a strength and a weakness of the movement. By allowing a single hard block to prevent measures being voted out, it grants filibuster power to the individual. There is no requirement that said filibuster be maintained with any number of votes to avoid invoking cloture, as one would find in parliamentary systems governed by Robert's Rules of Order. But it is a strength, because it forces dialogue. It forces people to talk to one another, to understand one another and to find a modus vivendi.
There were constant pleasant surprises at this Committee meeting, Most notable in this regard was the Committee's indulgence of a woman named Andrea who gave a stirring presentation on the Moving Torah, a Jewish\Interfaith method for turning words into physical movements. She asked several Committee members why they were there and, upon hearing their stories, turned them into physical movements. She then had the entire committee (about 20 tonight) learning how to turn words into physical gestures. Absolutely astounding, truly poetic and a major stress relief from all the tension around the contentious hard blocks and consensus.
I do not mean to suggest that all is roses and ambrosia and nectar. This is not yet a workers' paradise. At tonight's GA, the Sanitation Committee announced that it had only 4 people to sort out recycling for the entire OLA encampment and pleaded for help. Several OLA folks immediately got up and went over to the Sanitation Committee's tent presumably to help. A group of farmers used to use the City Hall lawn to sell its produce once a week at a Farmers' Market. With all the tents now erected, those farmers can no longer sell their produce at City Hall. At least for now. The issue is being addressed but building consensus (meaning convincing OLAers to move their tents if only for a day) is a long process. Finally, there have been some scattered reports that the city's dysfunctions (drugs and sexual violence) have showed up in the encampment. Again, tonight demonstrated that the problems are getting addressed. But there are problems.
These folks are so committed on all levels. They embody selflessness. There are tents providing free meals, free medical care, free child care, free education (at the "People's Collective University") and even a free library with a sign quoting Henry Beecher that libraries are not luxuries but are necessities. During tonight's General Assembly, a young woman from an affinity group called the Rainbow Village proposed a 'new' way to provide collective security when disputes between Occupiers arose. Whenever anyone at the encampment sees tension or misconduct arising between people, he or she is to chant the words 'Shanti Sinah'. Any Occupier who hears those words is summoned as if by incantation to envelop the people having the dispute in a circle so that the disputants become aware that their dispute is occuring within a larger context and under observation of the larger community. 'Shanti Sinah' are (I think) Hindu words for "Peace Seen'. Alma fancies herself something of an armchair anthropolgoist and she was in tears as this measure passed by consensus, because to her it summons the best practices of tribal societies. I found myself tearing up also and wonderiing where Shanti Sinah was when Bush set out to attack Iraq.
But I digress. The experience is transformative in every positive meaning of the word and makes me think that we are seeing what Abraham Lincoln might have called "a new birth of freedom." I found myself moved to tears so many times last night and tonight. I never thought I would live to see this and there's a part of me who wonders when I will wake from this dream to find that it was all a chimera and that we have returned to the same old greed-ridden shitty days of frontier capitalism. But for now the dream continues apace and I'm going with it. All possible futures except this one suck equally badly from what I can see and so I am content for now to support the Occupy Movement and to participate in its birth pangs. One could do far worse. And the Demands Committee has announced a preliminary set of provisional demands. Alma and I agreed with all of them without either of us ever having sat on the Committee. Maybe this Consensus process has something going for it after all.
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