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.

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