Saturday, November 19, 2011

Bunker Hill, banker mentality

I watched the Occupy LA protests six hours live-streamed Thursday, four miles from my house. The progress of the Day of Solidarity can be seen from the videotaped standoff near 4th and Hope after the occupiers set up tents in front of the Bank of America tower. Then, inevitable late-afternoon arrests. The LAPD lined up in front of admittedly privately-owned (Brookfield-Trizec, same as Zuccotti Park) tiled promenade disheartened me: police (with lord knows how much cost to taxpayers like me in this decaying city) lined up to protect the powers that be. Some of the protesters appeared callow, but I could tell many were sincere. Their "supporting" unions, contrary to LAT coverage, seemed to melt away by mid-afternoon.

I asked myself: why don't I take the subway down there? But, I had to earn a living (paperwork online), while I waited for my wife and son to come home. By then, even though I mulled over trying to head by the protest site first, these arrests were already in progress. That area was locked down around Bunker Hill. How could I support this national November 17th Day of Solidarity? I'd found out about this live-stream, globally, from Evie in Dublin; then Mouse via John W. Smart's blog told of the Zuccotti Park crackdowns. I then shared the OLA live-stream on FB and JWS, as well as with a Boston writer-activist who'd been to OWS often. I worked, and I began a massive novel assigned for review, Peter Nádas' Parallel Stories; a footnote for we English readers explained the revolt against the Soviets in Hungary, as if already forgotten.

How long would my children remember the encampments here? My older son demurred, until my wife reminded him that similar marches had ended a war once; my younger son had accompanied my wife and myself, and he wrote a report about it for school. I get the sense lately it's already receding into nostalgia, book-deals, a movie pitch or three, Obama's re-election spin, teleprompted jokes, all by way of The Onion.

Later that night, I'd take supplies downtown---not to OLA as before, but for concessions to Silverlake Children's Theater Group to support them by sales at performances starring my son and a cast of dozens. My weary, generous, volunteer (no less for SCTG than those for whom she'd sent granola and gauze, cereal and water, a tent, our books--those who marched downtown, for a better society, in our microcosm) wife had loaded the car with drinks and supplies. I hauled it and my son past a few dense or dismal, destitute and dreary blocks from the encampment and the BofA. The plays this season will be featured at a fittingly titled Inner City Arts center, albeit a spotless, squeaky new edifice. Near The Midnight Mission and a Greyhound depot, Skid Row adjacent's full of the homeless. Their tents or boxes, lacking signs, aren't on a live-stream.

Driving down, I listened as NPR aired a program that noted about Occupiers the need to shift from "the symbolic to the real." The host concluded that "occupation" had meant having a job; now it meant "political protest." I added one tiny part to a big project yesterday to help someone's dreams of acting on stage, or seeing their child or sibling perform in one of three (!) plays this weekend, while I watched a protest that on an amateur's wobbly camera appeared more visceral than the clean soundbites fed us by the MSM.

I found its live-stream "journalist," who labeled himself as an occupier and protester on his UStream site, a bit disingenuous, as he claimed there to be at a camp for three weeks at OWS and now at OLA, but when asked by the LAPD on camera, he distanced himself, saying he was "press" and that he possessed a "letter from a magazine" as credentials, which failed to convince the officer. But I sympathize with this young man's subterfuge. I commend him for his day-long diligence under trying circumstances. A FB feed could be seen alongside the stream, with generally supportive comments (that he often responded to via his voiceover) but with a lot of snark tossed in, as this was the Net. I also listened to this young man comment all day long, and I wondered how many of the students I taught would have the inspiration or stamina to do this for free.

Understandably, "Jordan" appeared to dance around the drama of how much he wanted to capture on tape the mayhem that some wanted to spark. Being in the crowd ("Mic-Check: Global Revolution and U-Stream have 11,000 viewers" he would call out from time to time to tell the crowd "the whole world [in part] was watching") but also wishing to capture it for those of us away from the front lines. After all, he needed to act as if a journalist, for survival. I wondered what 1870 Paris or 1917 St. Petersburg or 1956 Budapest would have been with such an eyewitness. And, he was a journalist, if one of the masses and not a professional.

As with many commentators, then and now, he sided against the authorities, appearing at times to rush towards a confrontation to record, but he did try to remain in control, chatting with Officer Braun when the camera appeared stuck on him ("man-crush?" one commenter jeered) for what seemed like hours during the standoff as arrests neared. I observed how often during scuffles or tension, "Jordan" recited badge numbers and surnames. I learned that the LAPD's green weapons held beanbags while those that looked like paintball guns had rubber bullets, again via the feed. "You are the 99%," "This is what democracy looks like," and "The people united will never be defeated" rose and fell as chants among the small crowd.

At one point, around 4:15, arrests were imminent after a fifteen-minute warning had been announced by the LAPD to clear the plaza when "negotiations" had ended between OLA organizers, police, and owners of the non-public space. His camera went black. An officer had been heard telling "Jordan" he was being arrested, but luckily this did not happen. He remained on the flat tiled walkway steps outside the tents set up on an elevated plinth-parklet where the police, after setting up a tarp to block the cameras seemingly as much in evidence as protesters, cleaned up the city in the name of private property instead of the First Amendment.

Point being: did I offer for "solidarity" a better duty that night by assisting in my clumsy manner a less-noticed portion of the L.A. community in a less dramatic way? Or, did I weaken OLA by my absence at a rally where I could not get near, as the BofA plaza was cordoned off? I tried later, when picking up my son, to steer towards the plaza, but 72 arrests had been made, the LAPD cleared the zone, and it was 10 at night.

Bunker Hill, ironically or not, is well-named in its L.A. setting: a fortress for the banks and the philanthropists who fund and name the art museums and Disney Hall that replaced the flimsy Victorians, the Native American neighborhood, the old cityscape that my blog shows at left in Millard Sheets' "Angels Flight" painting and in one of my favorite novels about my love-hate relationship with this hometown, John Fante's "Ask the Dust," which I read long before its film version, I proudly add, back in college in the early '80s. Bunker Hill, all gleaming steel and buffed granite, shines as the proverbial city on the hill, Reaganesque.

The annoying but accurate Mike Davis noted 20 years ago, pre-Rodney King riots (or "urban uprising" or "Justice rebellion" according to Davis and his cronies, whom I imagined influencing the glum bearded youth in a Mao cap who refused to applaud a spokeswoman's call for non-violence aired by "Jordan") in "City of Quartz" how this "urban core" keeps away the restive. This city is skilled, as a "carceral" setting that isolates those who resent the banks and towers. As I drove, and wound up going the wrong way in my diligence, I pointed up to my son to cock his head so he could see back over my shoulders a glimpse, awkwardly, of the BofA's massif, second highest on the skyline. Its logo shone in red and blue above the incoming whitish haze.

"Hundreds held in Occupy protests across nation"--this implies the SEIU as having more involvement all day, when the live-stream shows them leaving by mid-afternoon. Union reps served in vests as crowd control, which appeared to miff "Jordan" and his nearby marchers when they kept them off the street. I must say I side here with the authorities, for traffic was snarled that morning by the initial march on BofA. I have no liking for those who jam public thoroughfares, congested as workaday L.A.'s downtown core always will be.

"How will Occupy L.A. end?"-- the LAT wonders if it's time is up as a physical presence soon. Six weeks on, Lice infest, lawns die, and pot wafts, as my Occupy L.A.: One Month On previous entry had noted. This embeds many links, some updated since the original, to reflect media attention and competing reactions.

Photo gallery--shows the situation at the Bank of America, as well as OLA's home camp near City Hall and protests in NYC yesterday. This LAT online site did not feature my image, Arkasha Stevenson's print ed. photo of cops vs. sit-down protesters, but Pan African News blog site did. (So much for mainstream media.)


Layne said...

have no crystal ball either but I look at footage all day. When I see the police turning fire hoses on children in Selma I think of our black president and boys burning draft cards evokes the end of the war in Viet Nam. Who knows how much change will result in the OWS movement but I hope the image of tents on the steps of the City Hall will someday be an instant reminder of when things really changed.

Fionnchú said...

I wonder how live-stream footage such of this represents an alternative to the media-controlled representations that archivists have had to rely upon, and we as viewers, for a century? Certainly a more democratic medium on UStream, in theory, at its early stages. Imagine if we had so much hand-held footage in 1917, or 1944, or 1968?

This resource may be a welcome revelation for the future. It is theoretically open (beware of wobbles, blackouts, intrusive ads, and tiresome whines) anyone wishing to evade the usual channels. Given that these corporately-sponsored (ads interrupt without warning!) channels (as with Twitter blocking #OWS or #Occupy) remain truly open and able to endure.