Thursday, December 1, 2011

Occupy L.A.: Two months, gone

Well, it's over after the LAPD gave the protesters lots of time to get ready to move on out. Over 300 arrests, and lots of cleanup, two nights ago. Protesters vow as they have elsewhere to continue; some say next spring and better weather will spark an "American Spring."

As for seasons, one blessing is that the tents came down right before "hurricane-force" Santa Ana winds roared in. I couldn't have left home even if I had to today as an enormous jacaranda branch blocked the driveway, and a pepper tree one the garage door. The local train line was shuttered, a disaster zone declared where my son goes to school, and another at the school he goes to tutor. Our version of a snow day, if more blustery than powdery. Hope it's not earthquake weather.

My younger son was able to go to tutoring and to school yesterday. So, by train, he who had been there a few times at OLA again stopped off from the Red Line in the aftermath. He reported a chain link fence around the site kept a few screaming protesters from those who were starting to haul away the mess left when the campers were forced out, if comparatively in polite fashion by a LAPD chastened by its public image and private machinations over the past--how many years or decades of "codes of silence"?

Over at John W. Smart's blog, I've weighed in plenty about my own observations and those of many others, locally, nationally, and abroad, who'd watched Occupy L.A. and its sister sites. Some remain, many vanished. Here's a representative array of JWS blog reactions by left-leaning if dissident, largely progressive sorts, to one enthusiastic OWS report. Lots of pro, con, black, white, and, if me, gray.

Back in mid-October, I'd sent our mutual correspondent, Tamerlane on JWS and at his True Liberal Nexus, a list via Nation of Change's alternative media site the twelve demands of Occupy Chicago. He analyzed each one and weighed in with his political acumen. He'd been active organizing in the same Northern California town where my wife's niece lives. He blogged on the likelihood of their wish-list's fulfillment.

Speaking of wishes, demands were only organized for presentation to the local honchos at City Hall on Thanksgiving, after the LAPD announced OLA's impending shutdown. I wondered if its general assembly should have taken the city’s offer of office space, farmland, and an alternative to too many tents in a City Hall “park” (never that bucolic or verdant, but I feel sorry for the ficus tree now to be removed) turned dirt? 
My family was split over the dinner table. My wife figures the Occupiers (my Latin declension favors Occupii, as in Elvii or Winkelvii) were predictable if principled in turning down City Hall’s offer. My 16-year-old grumbled after seeing it himself more than once that if they wound up inside a building, who would care, three years on, what Occupy had stood for. My 19-year-old rolled his eyes and dissed them for their pothead antics rather than their practical actions. As I’ve weighed in here, I sympathize and I donated, but I also lament their ultimate lack of pragmatism. It came down to claims of public health, and what could have been a political force to educate the city became more, at least locally, a place for more and more people to kickback, waiting for The Man to deliver change, hope, reform, or a stash or six-pack. Those who, like a 20-year-old young man of my acquaintance (in junior college, not employed), lived at OLA to make a stand, and not to make a score, resided next to those who were there for the buzz and the smokes.

This was commented upon in the L.A. Times, maybe not in the beginning, but as of month into the occupation:  Riot is not political and says most of the other homeless people at the camp aren't, either. "The majority of the people don't know why they're here," she said. After a while, she wandered over to the drum circle, where dozens of people beat madly on instruments late into the night.

When day broke Saturday, there were beer cans on the ground but no food.

A group of men were hawking bottles of malt liquor for $2 and cigarettes for 25 cents, but the volunteer at the food tent said there had been no donations for breakfast.

Here are two excerpts from Thanksgiving coverage in the L.A. Times on the final phase of OLA:

“For much of the day Thursday, demonstrators did exactly what they’ve been doing for so many weeks: occupy the once lush Civic Center park. One bearded man twisted into yoga positions as another danced to rancheras and another drowsily yelled out from his tent, “Dude, where’s the pot?”‘

In the “spirit of the holidays.” a non-Thanksgiving “International Day of Giving Thanks” (how does reversing the words change this into a PC-approved version?) was celebrated, with two turkeys donated by the police. Typical of the spirit, for better or worse: :

The Utah native moved to the City Hall lawn from skid row after he heard he could keep his tent up all day. “On skid row, the cops would make me take it down at 5 a.m.,” Gregory said. “But here, it’s cool.” He took part in a few marches, he said, but mostly he steered clear of Occupy meetings because “they argued too much and never got anything done.” 

Over at JWS, this complaint echoed. On leftist sites, more sympathetic spin on the lack of cohesion allowed many to defend the Occupy movement's inability to pin down who was in charge, or why. It also enabled other dogged journalists to burrow in with those on the ground, and to champion "alternative" perspectives.

Skylaire Alfvegren blogged for the L.A. Weekly as an observer-participant of OLA's last stand: With dawn breaking, a CNN reporter whines, "There's an incredible amount of filth -- dog food, medicine, toilet paper." The mayor made a statement that Occupy had to go when he learned that "children were living at the park." A sanitation official talks about compromised irrigation and dead grass, and how it could take "months" to re-landscape: all bullcrap.

I opened the L.A. Times this morning to find this counter-statement, of $400,000 to repair the lawn, of a tree needing removal, and a million (not sure if LAPD overtime gets factored in) in costs to the city, which is us. Compare this with the $260 million or so in tax breaks given by the mayor and City Council to the billionaire investor for L.A. Live's complex, and the shoo-in for his Farmer's Field football stadium with 40 digital billboards proposed--free of any environmental impact report--a couple miles south of this encampment. LAT tells of the massive cleanup, with hazmat-clad workers (see photo above) looking like extras in a post-apocalyptic flick, roaming the remains of the 1.7 acre "park." The local paper (note our LAW blogger's remark about which media had access by the LAPD) reports 30-tons of debris left behind at City Hall tent-city, including a vinyl LP by "the punk band X."

I posted about this media discrepancy via a mutual friend on FB (at Occupy Providence) who'd shared the LAW piece. Skylaire Alfvegren herself promptly responded:  The idea that was pushed by City Hall--that the lawn was being suffocated--was pretty shallow. I will say that Occupiers complaining of their belongings being thrown away--where that 30 ton figure comes from--are their own fault as they had plenty of time to move their tent to La Placita, etc... but the Hazmats suits were a bit much, c'mon. There had been a flu outbreak, but news mentions of staph infections were I think bogus. It was sooo clean the night the LAPD came back, no trash anywhere, and recycling was of paramount importance.

It was orderly when we'd dropped off our gauze, books, granola, bottled water, and cereal. I blogged about this at  "Occupy L.A.: One month on". I wonder where our three-person tent wound up. The north side, a small section, was nicknamed "Westwood" for its first aid tent and library tent.  The fascination of this local movement, and its frustration for me, was its lack of organization to push aims forward, as well as a lot of discontent and disgust which I heartily share for our "corporatocracy."

Of course, OWS began mid-September with an intent to raise outrage and make a stand in a logical urban setting. I first heard about it a few days in, as I taught an ethics in the workplace course and we watched clips from the corporate avengers The Yes Men, who later showed up at the nascent OWS. I found out about OWS only when Irish friends posted on FB links to the Guardian--it took a while before the media noticed it here, and it became a tag line on Comedy Central, a debating point to be mocked by the GOP or glossed over uneasily by Obama, and then a viral parody of Pepper Spray Cop (who makes $110k/year) last week.

What happened was that a half-public performance, half-ragtag movement set on drawing attention to a variety of injustices became, at least in my city, one that de- or evolved from 30 tents on Oct. 1 to 350 mid-month to 500 a month later, then 780. That influx came from the homeless more than activists, and the fact that at OLA, unlike Skid Row, tents could stay up all night. Handling the problem of the homeless is part of a complex situation, but this situation per se was not what the Occupy movement was formed to solve. I compared it early on more to a Bonus March, not a Hooverville, if you can see the overlap and distinction.

One overlooked situation in the OLA response to the LAPD shutdown–the park could have been used for peaceable assembly, but not overnight camping. The prospect of camping free of hassle is what led so many to walk a few blocks up from Skid Row to OLA to set up their tents–or to get one donated, I suppose.

The elephant in that park was the homeless occupation, as at many of the sites. The media sometimes downplayed this; OLA appears to have morphed into a greater proportion of homeless overnighters compared to activists who visited daily. City Hall park is a symbolic but poorly chosen place if you, this being L.A., want to attract a mass movement. While across from the L.A. Times & the L.A.P.D. h.q., it’s not the heart of today’s downtown. The Financial District (where the BofA plaza attracted an attempted sit-in on the “Day of Solidarity” Nov. 17th before arrests were made on what was owned by the same managers as Zuccotti Park--I blogged on Bunker Hill, banker mentality) would have been more fitting a capitalist target.

Better yet, a space to stretch out in, near another train station, plenty of open air, just north of Chinatown a couple of miles from the Civic Center, the state park recently opened as the Cornfield--which is today proposed as a new site, along with some at another symbolic if miniscule one, La Placita near Olvera Street. That historic parish has been a radicalized "refuge" for "undocumented" people for decades. The danger is that removed from the cops and press cattycorner from City Hall, marginalization may occur, but I suggest that the Cornfield might prove more pleasant and less gritty. Near City Hall, parking's near non-existent although the subway station's adjacent; I reckon that this discouraged donations and marchers who might have come down to make this less a homeless encampment and more representative of diverse L.A.

While this homeless contingent in part’s proper “solidarity” with the ultimate casualties of downsizing, full of drifters and dreamers, it also shows how the idealism of OWS & its largely Millennial-gen offspring (led by one radical vet and pal of our mayor, a "media liaison" whose leadership of CP-USA here was oddly never mentioned in the frequent LAT quotes from him I read) encountered, and failed to deal with, so many showing up to hang out, get high, and get grub. They might have joined General Assemblies that tried at least early on to generate some hand-jive human-mic action, if not only GOP-but-banker-bashing, Obama-opposed, anti-"Citizens United," principled pragmatism. When this "horizontal decision-making" consensus itself dragged, momentum did. Many waiting for Occupy (note Boston's parallel situation with the homeless) to take the struggle not to downtown parks but to the streets--of the powers-that-be (funded by fatcats in their billion-dollar fundraising campaigns for the Oval Office) in our Nation's Capital--wearied.

The Occupy movement, as at City Hall, represents a symbolic protest, but it needs to become more real.

One telling anecdote is that pasted above. OLA’ers woke to no breakfast as donations had run out, but the malt liquor was doing steady business in the “underground economy” along with the pot. When we had donated granola and cereal, as no cooking was permitted, we were told at first aid they needed gauze and at the food tent that they'd had no water for awhile. We returned dutifully with both in abundance, but what if we had not come, or come back, that cold night? My views on marijuana legalization aside, this decentralized, ad hoc manner of living off the kindness of us strangers, while pot wafted, didn't sell its populist goals to a Middle America given the mockery of Comedy Central, Fox News, and the usual pundits.

Not sure how much one can blame Wall Street for this end to OLA; but I’m sure progressives would use this to prove how drugs pacify the proles and muffle the underclass. Or, do I risk “blaming the victim”..?

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