I’ve never been camping before. Crazy, then, that the first time I’m camping out, I’m doing it on a sidewalk in Los Angeles. The things I do for a cause I believe in.
I participated in Day 2/Day 3 of Occupy L.A. spending the night on the sidewalk in front of City Hall on Sunday night. Got there just in time to catch the middle of the daily General Assembly meeting where everyone discusses the issues that matter to them and decide how the group is going to move forward. It was my first experience with Collective Thinking and People’s Assemblies, and it was really interesting. There are different committees that have formed based on things that need to be taken care of – Logistics, Action, Media, Print, etc – and each committee chooses representatives to report to the collective and takes turns making announcements. There’s an Open Mic for anyone who wants to to make proposals to the group. And everything is voted on by the entire group. Time consuming? Sure. Fraught with tension? No doubt – but so’s any decision-making process that involves, you know, human beings with different personalities. However, I was impressed by how well it actually works. Kinks are still being worked out – it was only Day 2 when I arrived, after all – but this is a decision making process that can and is working. Proceedings are run, and votes are taken, using hand signals: Agree/Support (jazz hands in the air!), Disagree (hand waved in front of your face), Hard Block (not only disagree, but this is funamentally antithetical to solidarity and the good of the occupation), You’re Repeating Yourself (move your index fingers in circles around each other), and We’ve Gotta Move On (waving arms in the air). It’s highly visual, and whenever there are Hard Blocks, the issue is tabled for another time. This way, no decision is made that any member of the group is totally against. Minor disagreements are worked through. More people are heard, and everything is done in the open, so there’s transparency. People have been skeptical about the lack of leadership in the occupation, but when everyone’s head is in the same place, there’s no need for one leader.
There are people that have taken the lead on certain things, as is natural when certain people are better at certain things. Someone has to start the actions off, right? But it’s all done in the spirit of “We’re not leading, we’re doing what needs doing without waiting for someone else to start.” And there is a difference. I’ll admit, when I first signed up for the Media Team, I got annoyed at first, because every time I offered my help, and things seemed to already “be covered”, it felt like I was being slighted or left out. What it took me a minute to realize was that everyone was just doing things they needed to do, and doing the stuff they knew they could do, without needing direction. There is such a sense of trust. Once I realized I could do that – once I realized all I had was freedom to help in any way I liked – I just started moving tables and chairs, being a liason between the mainstream press that came to cover us and the rest of the media team, cleaning up, whatever needed doing. As people saw me doing stuff, they asked me to do other stuff. Everyone trusts everyone to know what they’re doing – all you have to do is show that you trust yourself to know what you’re doing. It’s the kind of work environment that everyone wishes they had, but most people don’t.
Once the General Assembly was over, the tensions of taking care of biddness gave way to a more celebratory atmosphere. A Latin-influenced drum circle formed in the middle of the park, and a whole bunch of people started dancing. Across the way, another group of Mexican musicians, with guitars, mostly, were playing different – but equally celebratory – music. There was socializing and commiserating.
Then, at 10:00PM, we had to start moving off the lawn and onto the sidewalk. Legally, we can be in City Hall park until 10:30PM. Then we have until 6AM to be on the sidewalk, when it is illegal for us to be there. So, nightly, there’s this dance from the lawn to the sidewalk and back again. Yeah, it’s a pain – but the occupation isn’t about breaking the law for the sake of breaking the law. All of the occupations all over the country are about non-violence, and excersising our LEGAL right to protest. The arrests in NYC are questionable, the macings unacceptable. Most of those arrested were arrested for no real reason, and most people participating in these occupations are doing so peacefully and legally. In fact, over at Occupy L.A. we conceded the front lawn on Day 3 and moved camp to the opposite side of the park, because a film shoot had a legal permit for the front that day long before Occupy L.A. was even a thing. There were one or two people who advocated staying on the front lawn anyway, but they were quickly outvoted. There is a time and a place for civil disobedience. This wasn’t it. To call every time you break a law “civil disobedience” is to remove power from the act.
I was camping out with my friend, Mike, and he laughed and took pictures as I attempted to start putting together his tent. I’d never put up a tent before. Clearly, I’m not much of an outdoor girl, but I’m learning! Concrete isn’t the most comfy sleeping surface ever, but I was so exhausted it didn’t even matter. Once we set up camp, I started talking to the folks around our tent. I spoke to a female high school student named Kim, who was occupying with her friends. She goes to a charter school where she does independent study and is only required to report to school an hour a day, and she chose to spend the rest of her free time occupying! Anyone who says that teenagers are apathetic needs to check this girl out! Her parents fully support her decision (respecting her ideals – huh, must be how they raised such a smart, free-thinking daughter!), and she was sitting on the concrete next to my tent doing her homework! I spoke to a young man named Colin, who’d spent some time in the Army, but is now headed to UConn to study journalism next year. We talked baseball and the military, and about the fact that not everyone in the military is a mindless drone. I spoke to a couple, Adam and Heidi, who brought up the interesting point that this is the first time since Teddy Roosevelt and the progressive movement then that a revolution has used economic language. Really cool folks. Some might think that sleeping out on a sidewalk would be scary, but I felt nothing but safe.
Also, I need to shout-out the LAPD. They were there to protect us. They were on our side. There was a minimal presence, and those that were there were there to keep us safe. There was this one crazy-looking homeless dude who wasn’t part of our group, and the cops gently escorted him away to keep him from taking (or peeing on) our stuff. Some of us talked to the officers and they totally believe in everything we stand for.
I never thought I’d say this, but apparently the NYPD could learn a thing or two from the LAPD. I’m sure there are wonderful cops who get it in NYC, too. But the bad ones are getting all the press.
The next morning, mainstream press finally decided to show up. KTLA – Channel 5 was the first on the scene, and they started doing live breaks from our site as early as 6:30AM. Other news outlets followed. I got to talking to Jennifer, the reporter from KTLA, and her camera woman (whose name I sadly forget – she was really cool), as well as Peter, the reporter from KNX1070 Talk Radio (a really smart older man who wanted nothing more than to school the young whippersnappers about what revolution really is!). I also talked to a reporter from Fox local news, a guy named Ramon, who was really sweet. They all seemed to be in our corner, and wanted to give us coverage. What’s interesting – and I’m going to write a separate piece about media – was that they, too, seemed like victims of their coprprate bosses. They’re not the enemy. They, too, are the 99%.
Mike and I ended up giving short interviews to KTLA before we had to leave. He had work that morning, and I had no way of getting back home as he was my ride. Plus, I wasn’t really prepared to camp out that night. It was all very impromptu. But I will be back! I’m also hoping to check out Occupy Seattle when I’m there next week. Once I realized that so few of my friends know that this is going on because much of mainstream media isn’t covering it, I realized that one of the best ways I could help the cause was to use my skills to write about what’s going on. I will continue to do just that. Until next time, everyone! Become aware, educate yourself, and join the occupation any way you can! It isn’t just you – it’s the whole world.