Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Occupy Los Angeles is Dead; Long Live Occupy Los Angeles

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 movment.”

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 [the treehouse] down?” asked the Fox bimbo? “No,” shouted one of the Occupiers, “We’re building it higher.” The bimbo turns to the camera and gives a ‘those crazy people look’ to the camera. Then the Occupier shouts, “I’ve always had the dream to build a treehouse and so this is a celebration.” Lest you think the treehouse folk were only political, their treehouse displayed a sign saying “Free Hugs.” The first tears of the evening spring out of my eyes.

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 mintues, 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.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Everything that Rises Must Converge: Reflections on Occupy Los Angeles, Nov. 25-27

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 ( 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.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

People’s Mic Poetry: Reflections on Occupy Los Angeles, Nov. 18-20

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:

Modified Language

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.