After 3773 straight hours of protest stretching back to October 15, 2011, the Occupy OC encampment ended today at 3 p.m. — with a little bit of a bang, a little bit of a whimper, some tears, some satisfaction, and some quiet sighs of relief. None of us back in early October, I can confidently say, had envisioned our having a continuous round-the-clock street presence lasting until March 20, 2012 — over 157 days. Now that it’s over, many have problems imagining a short-term future without one.
I have two posts to combine here from my writing on the Orange Juice Blog. I'm not entirely sure which to put first. There's the news story of the end of what I believe to have been the longest-lasting continuous 24/7 Occupation in the country. Then there's also the story of what we were up to -- on the other, even more non-violent, end of "diversity of tactics" -- that allowed us to stay for so long. That aspect of the Occupy Orange County story has not been appreciated much -- except by those people, within the county and visiting from without, who have come into contact with it.
I'll go with the news story first -- but I hope that you'll jump ahead to the philosophical and tactical aspects of the story at the end before you're done.
Occupy OC people had been staying overnight in Huntington Beach for about two weeks, but unlike our experiences with Irvine and Fullerton we had not come to an agreement with the city on a permanent campsite. A week ago yesterday, things looked like they might work out. But communication, command, and control — those necessities of any offensive — were lacking, and the city’s demand that Occupy file a permit had not been passed up to those people who would have sought one. About a dozen people received criminal citations for “lodging” — often a questionable assertion by municipal governments against the homeless – on the morning of Tuesday March 13. (One of our earliest fights with the City of Irvine during the third week of October 2011 was whether merely sleeping in a bag on the ground constituted “lodging.”)
That afternoon -- I don't know if it was intended as a response -- two people from the Occupy movement, one who had come up from San Diego and one who had come down from Long Beach, did a little protest art. They did a mic check in a Chase Bank in Huntington Harbor and announced that they wanted to "pretty up" the bank, tossing glitter (and, we were told today, rice), then writing an anti-illegal foreclosure message in dry-erase marker on the window. As vandalism goes, this was not very vandalism-y, but it did fall into the category and the bank branch determined to press charges. (The alleged perps remain on the lam.)
Despite Occupy HB disavowing and condemning the action -- see the story on our philosophy below if that response surprises you -- our relations with the most sympathetic members of the City Council, Joe Shaw and Connie Boardman, became strained. Boardman conveyed to us an “if this happens one more time …” message. Shaw pointed out that he was having enough time getting to four votes allowing us to camp including Boardman; we’d have no chance without her.
Then, yesterday afternoon, two other participants in the encampment apparently decided that it would be a great idea to conduct a “dine and dash” at a local restaurant — this is not in keeping with the Occupy OC philosophy, which has included volunteer work in food banks — and were promptly arrested. (I just heard that they blame a third party who dined with them, went to the restroom, and ran away.) Our Civic Liaison on the spot Mike Anderson received an e-mail from Boardman withdrawing her intention to introduce resolutions of the sort that had been considered by the Fullerton City Council -- reinvestment in local community banks and credit unions and working against easy credit scams for students, both of which passed, and opposition to Citizens United, which failed by a vote.) We pretty much folded, deciding that under the circumstances it would be best not to even show up and say howdy at last night’s meeting.
We had a meeting at 2 p.m. this afternoon with City Manager Fred Wilson, Police Chief Kenneth Small, and City Attorney Jennifer McGrath. The first thing they did when I entered the room, a couple minutes after seven of the people who had been cited for lodging, was to circulate to me lovely, heavy-stock, glossy photos of the photos that uniformed officers had taken of the campers-in-search-of-a-camp. I include a photo I took of one such picture above. It was pretty clear: this was lodging lodging, not “pretext” lodging. We had homeless people who didn’t have anyplace else to stow their things, some of whom were intent on trying to heat food. While Beach and PCH had been intended as a stopgap location on our way to a longer-term camp, it was fair to say that even without our being in tents they could probably make a lodging charge stick.
So, what do we do? Huntington Beach Police had been courteous to the campers throughout the two weeks there. Normally, you try to choose a ripe target for civil disobedience, and Huntington Beach had been pretty reasonable to us — and, in any event, with our reduced numbers we weren’t prepared for it. The City Attorney would retain, but not file the charges so long as the infractions were not repeated, but if they were repeated it could lead to arrest. The best way to do that, we agreed (after a lot of Facebook discussion earlier in the day), was to try to move the encampment out of the city. Some efforts we had had underway failed to materialize — and so we ended our streak.
To be fair, 3773 hours (out of an 8784-hour leap year) is something significant. It hurt to walk away from it, but after a while it becomes the record driving the occupation rather than the needs of the movement doing so. It was time to leave, to recover, to recoup, and then perhaps to begin again with the clock reset to zero.
The middle-class activists of the early days have over time been largely replaced by lower-class homeless — but that they are in that category should not be taken as a reason to debase them. We told them, based on our understanding of the law, that they had to stay up all night so as to avoid being cited. And they did. They slept, when they could, during the day. This is not easy, especially in the rain and wind that we had last weekend. Had they just been looking for a warm place to sleep, they could have found better ones these past two weeks. Had they not cared about the ideals of the movement as well as the lodging, they would have gone elsewhere when the going got tough. But they didn’t; they stood tough. Call them homeless, sure, but you can’t call them heartless or powerless. People who think that people like me and other home-based Occupiers were serving them fail to understand that that, by holding the fort, were also serving us.
Now people are dispersed. One man — wild-bearded, good-humored, piercing eyed, and very experienced at being homeless — will continue to go to the Huntington Beach Pier during daytime hours and circulate petitions against GMO foods. Stop by and see Dave sometime, sign his petitions, and tell him that I sent you. (If you drop him a buck or two, maybe you’ll help him find a room for the night.) Others are living the lives that the homeless do, many others of us remain in our homes, preparing for days of action as the rest of the nation thaws out this spring.
In talking to the Huntington Beach brass this afternoon, many of the Occupiers talked about the great interactions they’ve been having with the citizens of the somewhat quirky city. For every sneer of “get a job,” one said, five people reacted positively. Their disappointment came largely from their sense that they did feel that they were accomplishing something, on a one-to-one basis, with citizens who wanted to learn more about them — and who were often surprised and pleased to learn that the Occupy Wall Street movement had, quite literally, landed on their local shores.
We agreed with the city officials that we would be able to come back to Huntington Beach during the daytime and continue our activities, reaching out to citizens and to tourists. We’ll meet with the Chief of Police to determine how to do so while offering the most to the City and causing the least reasonable disruption to its tourism industry. If this was a defeat, it was one with a bright silver lining and much hope for the months to come.
But like others, right now, I’m tired and stunned. To the last, I thought that we would somehow find another good location for an encampment at the last minute, but we didn’t. It’s OK. The time we’ve put in has not been wasted (as some feared); the seeds we have planted in Orange County civic culture will continue to grow. It will just, at least for a while, be different.
We end our meetings with the statement that “The Occupation Continues.” It does — just not quite so continuously. Not here, at least; not, at least, tonight.
(But we will be back. There’s too much passion in this group for it to remain dormant for long.)
Behind the News
Some Background as to How Occupiers Think about Violence
The initial call about vandalism came in the context of a local, regional, national, and international discussion within the Occupy movement about “diversity of tactics” – that linked article gives a great background on the dispute, by the way, for anyone who is truly interested — which for some people means the legitimacy of a resort to means that are not “non-violent.” I phrase that as a double negative because most “not non-violent” actions are not ones that you, Dear Reader, would be likely to consider violent. I’m not talking about shootouts or slugfests with the police. We have a phrase in Occupy for people who favor that sort of thing — and that phrase is “not in Occupy.” We just don’t do that sort of thing. We know who has more firepower, we know how the American public would react, and most of us have real hesitation about what we would do after a violent revolution anyway. (You know how it goes — put in Danton, soon find yourself with Robespierre, and end up with Napoleon.) So, no, we’re not Tea Party-like gun-toters. You can tell because if we showed up armed like Tea Party people to our events, we’d be shot to death. There is an important lesson in there about politics.
“Violence,” within Occupy movement discussions usually refers to “property destruction” — even that is a misleading term. ”Property destruction” may be taken to mean arson or sabotage of public systems — and, again, I don’t even hear discussion of that. Some people favor things like breaking windows — something that would clearly qualify as vandalism — or spray-painting graffiti. Most of us, especially in Orange County, do not. Doing that changes the subject of conversation to our actual criticisms of corporate-dominated governance to the subject of whether we should be allowed to break windows. Frankly, we’re on less firm moral ground there, so many of us think: why bother?
Violence in Orange County — or, Rather, the Lack of It
“Diversity of tactics” in Orange County has a different meaning that you’ll see in the article linked above. Here, the disagreement is mostly over civil disobedience — and there is mutual respect between the camps. Should people be able to trespass on abandoned property, refuse police orders to disperse, chain themselves to objects, protest (even loudly) where they’re not wanted, etc.? Look — our non-violent forebears, from Jesus (who, by the way, also vandalized the money-changers’ operation in the temple) to Gandhi to King to Mandela to Aung San Suu Kyi — have all engaged in civil disobedience. The question — for them and for us — is how effective it will be in a given situation.
There are, more or less, third major Occupy groups in OC (plus a number of others that don’t meet regularly): Occupy Santa Ana, what I call the Traveling Encampment, and what I’ll call the Anti-Campers. Occupy Santa Ana believes in active civil disobedience; the Traveling Encampment doesn’t. And we get along just fine. If you want to engage in civil disobedience, go hang out with Occupy Santa Ana; if you don’t — at least barring extreme circumstances of repression of First Amendment rights — hang out with the encampment. If you decide to do something different once day, go to the other one. If Santa Ana has something going that needs help from the encampment, or vice-versa, they send out the request. If another Occupation in the region has something going on, as recently happened with an Occupy LA action, people from either or both groups may go there and do whatever people there do. Meanwhile, the third group — people who don’t think that there should be a permanent encampment or civil disobedience, but that we should still have marches and events to promote the Occupy message — do their own thing, and all of us sometimes mix in our message boards.
This is such a good system that I wish that we could claim that we came up with it intentionally, but it just sort of evolved. The relevant rules, in effect, are these:
- don’t engage in property damage in Orange County, period;This division of labor makes sense. Santa Ana is “urban” Orange County — as well as being the centrally located “dumping ground” that the rest of the city uses for the homeless. People will react differently to civil disobedience there than elsewhere. If you live in most of Santa Ana, you’ve already decided that you’re not all that interested in the domestic Newport Beach, Anaheim Hills, or Coto de Caza experience.
- if you want to engage in civil disobedience, stick with Santa Ana;
- if you don’t want civil disobedience but do want an encampment for purposes of outreach and esprit d’corps (and at this point out of sheer interest in extending our world record for largest continuous engagement in Occupy encampment), be part of the Traveling Encampment;
- if you just want to spread the message without the above, do your own thing as “Occupy 2.0″-style non-campers.
For most of the rest of Orange County, civil disobedience is alienating. You can do it where people live, but they will tend to freak out, distance themselves, call the cops, and hide their children. Simply engaging in lawful protest is enough to rock their world. Suburban Orange County — commonly referred to as “Orange County” — has learned to shrug off most single-day protests as just eccentrics being themselves; what is different about the Traveling Encampment is that it persists for weeks and so becomes a point of continued irritation, titillation, and interest. Because it is lawful, it brings out lots of people in support of the Occupiers who in the process learn that others around them share the same interests and perspectives. It is, in a fanciful way, like a 1930 speakeasy, a 1950s jazz club, a 1970s gay bar, a 1990s poetry slam — a place where people who think about themselves and the world differently can meet to act on that understanding — in this case, to foster appropriate change.
Except for this: you don’t have to go to downtown LA (or Santa Ana) for it. This traveling carnival will come to your town!
Now, someday, we recognize — and it could be this month or next in Huntington Beach — a city will decide that it will not put up with the traveling carnival for its residents and the Traveling Encampment may turn to civil disobedience as the best of bad options. What I and others are trying to do is to forestall that day.
(And -- as you note from the first part of the diary -- that attempt didn't work. But as tragedies go, it's a pretty mild one. Very much has gone right, and 3773 consecutive hours is a long time to do anything good.)