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Occupy: from campus to factory, from Isla Vista to LA
January 2012

 An Education in Occupy

— Connor Elkington

TWO MONTHS EARLIER, I had been sitting in class listening to an ILWU member talk about Export Grain Terminal’s (EGT) union-busting tactics in Longview, WA. “Great,” I thought, “but how can I help from the campus of a little college in Moraga, California?”

Little did I know that the answer would develop out of my class project on Occupy Wall Street, when researching its strategies quickly morphed into organizing a movement on campus.

After coming into contact with Occupy encampments in Oakland, San Francisco and the CAL campus, I learned that not only did thousands share my disillusionment with society, but that there was a possibility for real social and economic change in our generation.

On our first trip to Oscar Grant Plaza, home of the Occupy Oakland camp, I was excited to see a self-sustaining community that took care of its members and even tried to help care for those who couldn’t help themselves. A library was established and filled with historical, educational and entertaining texts.

A kitchen was set up to feed not only the Occupiers, but anybody from the surrounding community in need of a meal; a garden was built to supply that kitchen with produce grown for, and by, the Occupiers. It was refreshing to see a “people over profits” ideal not only effectively put into action, but in a way that put the problems of society on display in public space for all to see.

Following the first Occupy Oakland police raid, I couldn’t help but ask myself: Why would the police move on peaceful protestors in such a violent way? Why would they intentionally shoot tear gas at people who were acting as members of the media, mainstream or otherwise? And why was it necessary to remove the Occupiers in the first place?

As I tried to answer these questions for myself I realized that it didn’t matter how or why the encampment was evicted, just that the group was getting larger and the chants of “banks got bailed out, we got sold out” and “we, are, the 99 percent” were getting louder as a result.

As the evictions took place in Oakland, students in my social justice organizing class came together to form the group “Occupy SMC.” Our first goal was to educate our campus on the issues that were driving the Occupy movement and how they relate to students. Hastily we began to organize a teach-in, inviting professors from a range of departments to speak on their areas of expertise.

The event was successful — and best of all was the fact that it fell on the same day as the Occupy Oakland’s general strike and shutdown of the Port of Oakland.

As the teach-in came to a close we transported students to Occupy Oakland. This was our opportunity to stand with the longshoremen in their fight against EGT and their union-busting ways.

We went to the strike to show solidarity, not just with Occupy Oakland or EGT, but also with any worker who has been exploited by an employer. This march also served as a “warning shot from Occupy Oakland to EGT,” clearly stating that if EGT didn’t stop targeting workers’ livelihoods for the sake of greater shareholder profits, they would feel the power of the extended strike.

This support of the ILWU and workers didn’t stop with the November 2nd strike. Occupy Oakland re-upped its commitment just days after, calling for a West coast port shutdown on December 12th.

Occupy SMC lives on, holding a “Walk out, to Speak out” where over 150 students walked out of classes on November 16th to protest the rising cost of education and other economic issues on campus. We are also holding General Assemblies modeled after Occupy Oakland.

Now that countless encampments have been physically evicted it is important for all of the movements to support each other’s actions.

 Why I Stand with Occupy

— Elizabeth Roland

SOME OF YOU might know me; I’m Elizabeth Roland and a senior at Saint Mary’s. I am a women’s studies major and history minor and have worked damn hard to keep a 3.808 GPA. I am super active and social on campus, the only thing is…. I am not on campus this semester.

Instead, I work in a factory, 45 hours a week making aerospace printers for minimum wage. I am sure that sentence was hard to comprehend but, yes there is such a thing as aerospace printers, and yes I work in a factory that makes them.

I got to this point because my SMC scholarship was cut by 78% for the 2011-2012 school year. When I tell this to people, I am asked “Did your parents make more money?” The answer is no.

My scholarship was cut because I pursued another scholarship, the saddest oxymoron a college student can experience. I was offered the position of Resident Advisor for this school year, only to have to turn it down. The sum for the RA scholarship was simply subtracted from the original financial aid I have been receiving for three years. It is a math problem a fifth grader could do:

Original financial aid – sum of the RA scholarship +RA scholarship = the exact same amount of money towards financial aid, but now you have to work full-time and be an RA to receive it.

This logic still makes no sense to me. So instead of spending the first half of my senior year in a collegial, educational atmosphere surrounded by friends and professors, I am surrounded by printers.

The Occupy movement on St. Mary’s campus has been criticized for being these “selfish, privileged kids protesting for no reason and if they have such a problem with SMC they should just go somewhere else.” Here’s a Facebook post:

“How’s this, if you don’t like how much you have to pay to attend SMC, go to a state college or another school that can provide you with better opportunities for scholarships. So instead of wasting your tuition dollars by walking out of a class early on Wednesday maybe you should be thankful that you’ve been able to attend Saint Mary’s as long as you have.”

The Occupy protesters are protesting for me. They protest for students who are unfairly treated by institutions that are supposed to protect them. We do not want to go to another college. We want our college to be a place that values students’ educations over money.

It feels amazing to know there are students — some I know, some I don’t — who are walking out of class and protesting on the streets for me. When I say “for me,” I mean not only for my experience, but for any student who has been through something like this and has not had the opportunity to share her voice.

I have felt so silenced this semester, so let down by a college I call home. That is why I am sharing my very personal story. I want the college community to know how my pain and realize that change needs to happen, or there will be more stories like mine.

I am asking YOU the reader, to imagine my story with your best friend in my place. I bet you would be protesting for them. Make it personal and you will understand the Occupy Movement.

Hearing about Occupy SMC has given me hope, given me hope that our college will be accountable for its actions and for its students. I’m returning to finish my degree in the January term and will be graduating in spring (thank you AP credits) but I will stand in solidarity and protest for all the students who have been silenced in the past.

Thank you Occupy SMC, for everything you have done for me.

[After this statement was circulated to the entire faculty, the financial aid office “restructured” her package.]

 Where to Occupy Next?

 — Antonio Venegas

I TRULY DON’T want to be another sob story. But when the rare opportunity comes along to tell my story and affect many, like a stone cast into the water, it is necessary to at least attempt to grab the hearts of people who will listen.

As I constructed the presentation that I was going to show my social justice organizing class at St. Mary’s College about my experience with the organization Causa Justa (Just Cause), I ran across something that froze me. I searched for “foreclosure” on Wikipedia in hopes of finding a comprehensive definition, and like most articles on that site, its words were displayed accompanied by an image.

The picture was of a house with a foreclosure sign in front, but underneath it was the name of my home city. I wish I could show you the image and somehow cause you to feel as I felt; I realized this was that stone cast into the water. All who came to that page would feel the ripple and have the image engraved into their minds that Salinas, California was the “foreclosure” town.

My house, once said to be worth half-a-million dollars, declined to a quarter of that amount. At the time I did not know how it was possible, but that resulted in the foreclosure of our home. I now know that my father had been deceived by a bank’s predatory loan and fallen victim to a market, in which he had no say and that gave people false perceptions.

Of these times I remember most that he didn’t sleep very much. Some days I would wake up early and he would be reclined on the sofa with the television on, but he wouldn’t be looking at it. The number of mornings that I found him doing this told me clearly that he didn’t know a way out, or that there existed a way out, of his situation.

Through Just Cause I learned that my father didn’t know that there was such a thing as a loan modification, much less that its denial could be appealed. I think this is the case with most Americans.

People don’t have any idea that they have power to defend themselves against banks. They assume that because they signed a contract, a contract that most don’t even fully understand, especially for those who can’t easily read English, they have no option but to lose their homes.

I want more people to know that it is not their fault and that they are not worthless because they can’t pay their bills. That there is hope, hope that is found through organizations like Just Cause who agree with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the “American Dream” once proclaimed, that housing is a human right.

It was at the first event in which I volunteered that I had my eyes opened to the possibility of change. I met many others who had endured similar failures as my family had, and some who had found success and regained their homes. But most importantly, I learned that the members of the organization had plans to occupy homes, bringing back people unjustly evicted, and telling the banks that they would not return the home until it was restored to its proper owner.

Robbie Clark, an active member of Just Cause, told me that it was the best place to hit the banks because not only did it affect the profits of banks directly, but also directly helped people have their lives again.

I recall telling my seminar professor, Ms. Meneses, about what Just Cause was doing and how she lit up, agreeing that this was the natural direction for the Occupy Movement to go. I mention her opinion because I think there are many who wonder what will happen next and worry that the power of the movement, in which they have placed so much hope, may stray from serving those who have been most afflicted.

So I say to those who Occupy and are looking for the next step: Join an organization like Just Cause and continue to occupy.

But I must say, as Cesar Preciado told us in class, don’t come thinking that you will help save someone else. It may well be that you will be the one saved. It may well be that you will do something, see something, meet someone, who will save your life — not from death, but from living without purpose as far too many have done before you.

 Two Months in LA’s Solidarity Park

— Vanessa Carlisle

OCCUPY LOS ANGELES was the largest of the “Occupy” encampments: In the space of two months, we grew from around 50 to nearly 500 tents. Our camp developed neighborhoods, tribes, collectives, a print shop, a library, a people’s university, a wellness center, a meditation tent, a kid’s village, and all sorts of fascinating community problems to go with them. This is the particular joy and struggle of being an occupation, and not a traditional group of community organizers; the internal conflict of a commune or a family was playing out simultaneously with our movement and message-building.

Our General Assemblies are smaller than Occupy Wall Street’s but our tent city was over twice as large. We built a massive and intricate world that wrapped around City Hall and spanned over 100,000 square feet.

In the center of what we renamed Solidarity Park, a white fountain stood as a gathering place for occupiers to have committee meetings, drum circles and dialogue. When the city erected an enormous plywood box around the fountain, occupiers painted a stunningly intricate and wildly vivid mural of a purple octopus monster wearing the crest “Federal Reserve Bank” and squeezing a foreclosed home.

We transformed the visual world of downtown with our colors: bright red, green and blue tents and tarps, flowers and flags and signs and people in costume, paintings and tree houses and hundreds of faces and hands and feet ready to march.

We were also located just blocks from Skid Row, where the Los Angeles Police Department will alternately harass or ignore a large concentration of Los Angeles’ house-less population. While media reported that the encampment smelled of marijuana smoke and seemed more like a party than a political statement, we developed methods to address within our own community problems the city at large has still not fixed: poverty, addiction, violence, gangs, disenfranchisement, sexual assault.

We had an Occupiers’ Assembly to discuss camp issues and come up with community guidelines. The fact that our General Assembly functions on consensus, and not majority rule, influences everything: minority voices are encouraged, discourse among diverse opinions is fostered, and no one goes home until the last “hard block” (concern so strong it will stop consensus from moving forward) has been addressed.

LAPD and the media wanted answers and bullet points and efficiency and leaders. We offered, with few exceptions, discussion, horizontal shared leadership, transparency with the group, and slow consideration of every decision.

From Eviction to Rebuilding

Our interaction with cops until our eviction was bizarrely friendly. Now, after our “peaceful evacuation,” more Los Angeles occupiers now seem open to learning the realities of the prison industrial complex and the militarization of our police forces. We are finally talking deeply about privilege and systemic repression.

For many people, financial inequality, illegal foreclosures, corporate personhood, the corrupt banking system, and the fundamental error of allowing white-collar crimes on Wall Street to go unchecked are felt most palpably at home, in the form of law enforcement.

The logic of capitalism is everywhere, and for privileged people it can even seem sane and ethical. For occupiers, it has ceased to be so. Many occupiers who went to jail for our eviction had no plans to be one of the “arrestables,” and have been radicalized by the experience.

As one of the folks who sat down in a circle and protested until the final moments, I can recount that the night of the raid was one of the more dramatic pieces of large-scale social theater I have been part of. The LAPD emerged from City Hall via underground tunnels, in full riot gear, and surrounded us.

I watched them stomp through our encampment, break our tent poles, and destroy our community meeting spaces, our makeshift and motley and lovable new creation. They peeled us out of our circle one by one, using pressure points and twisting our joints, taunting us and keeping us cuffed for hours. When we left the jail, our home was gone.

Now I walk past the empty park, and the eight-foot fence stands in stark ugly contrast to what we had built. As we continue to meet for General Assemblies, for committees, and for actions, we find ourselves trying harder and harder to stay connected, to sustain the Occupy movement. We do this as refugees in “normal” life.

Mayor Villaraigosa sounds perfectly reasonable when he claims that the occupation was “unsustainable.” But only a capitalist cares more about the City Hall Lawn than the sixteen thousand house-less people in Los Angeles. Only a capitalist thinks a protest is a more pressing concern than corporate personhood. Only a capitalist sees a tent city as “debris” and not the stunningly beautiful, innovative, fabulous community of shared resource it was.

One night I returned to our tent and found an unfamiliar man sleeping in it. I woke him to tell him he could stay for another hour or two, but then I would need to return to sleep. He agreed. Two hours later, he was gone. The next day he returned, with a blanket that had gone missing from our tent weeks before. I thanked him. We talked for twenty minutes about what happened to him after he lost his job. He needed dental work badly and was in constant pain. He was not adjusted to being house-less and told me he hated not being able to shine his shoes.

Someday I would like to see a photo book of Occupy Signage. The 99% is nearly everyone, which means there is no normal or average 99%-er, and on a walk around camp you would see everything from “End the Fed” to “Eat the Rich” to “Love is the Answer” to “Fuck the Pigs.” “Where’s MY bailout?” “Lost my job, found an occupation.” “Throwing our bodies under the machine,” “Will work for justice,” “Stop illegal wars, which is all wars.”

Some people were devastatingly clever: “Ten years ago we had Steve Jobs, Johnny Cash, and Bob Hope. Now we have No Jobs, No Cash, and No Hope.” My other favorite: “I will believe corporations are people when Texas executes one.”

What do we do next? Everything. Take back the park, occupy foreclosed homes, stage a general strike, organize with other occupations, keep working on our objectives and demands, continue speaking at City Council, find places for our house-less to live, and so on and so on. Our cacophony and diversity is often our strength in the face of state power.

Remember three months ago when mainstream American media wouldn’t even say the word “capitalism,” much less entertain criticisms of it? I remember it as vividly as I remember the sense of love and purpose I felt in the din of the General Assembly crowd just before 1,400 LAPD officers streamed out from City Hall and pretended we had done something wrong.

 Police Violence and Media Coverup

— Vanessa Carlisle

AMONG MANY TACTICS used by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD ) to disorient, dishearten, and divide members of Occupy Los Angeles during our detention at city jails, one of the more insidious was denying us access to the news.

We requested a newspaper, as is our right, on Wednesday morning, November 30 when we were booked and awaiting arraignment. We did not receive one until Thursday morning. Twelve of us sat in a circle and on bunks in a holding cell and read through the cover story about the “peaceful evacuation” of Occupy Los Angeles.

In 2004, when the debate over whether waterboarding could be classified as torture finally reached fever pitch in mainstream media, I sat in horror as the country seemed to accept “leaving no marks” as a measurement of potential damage to a human being. Considering the fact that a veteran is currently more likely to commit suicide than to have been killed in combat, I think it’s time the United States wake up to its own definition of “violence.”

I’ve thought it was time for years. But if it takes nearly five thousand occupation arrests nationwide, and 292 arrests during the “peaceable” eviction of Los Angeles occupiers and supporters on November 29th and 30th to push that conversation into the mainstream, I’ll take it.

I write now to argue against the popular story that the LAPD did a model job of dispersing the encampment late night Tuesday/early morning Wednesday.

I was loaded onto a bus with 36 other occupiers, all in sharp plastic zip-tie handcuffs, around 3:30AM Wednesday morning. One was a nearly 80-year-old woman who suffered unbearable pain due to the tightness of the cuffs. When we yelled up to the officer at the wheel of the bus, attempting to get our message through three sets of locked cages, he yelled back, “Well maybe she should have left her 80-year-old ass at home.”

We stayed on that bus, with no water, food or access to a bathroom, until sunrise. Two women were able to wriggle out of their cuffs and assist three others who needed to urinate, using a plastic bag we found under a seat. Occupiers on other busses had no such treasure, and there are many stories of people who urinated, defecated, and in one case vomited on themselves, with no medical attention or evacuation of the buses.

The LAPD claims that they needed Hazmat suits to go through our encampment because of how filthy it was. I have clear and corroborated memories of our own sanitation crew going through the camp and picking up trash, sweeping the square, and sprucing up various parts of camp, every day.

Juan, one of our house-less who was a vocal and prescient presence at tent city, had fashioned an ingenious large-sweeper with a long pole and a piece of discarded clothing. He often wore a top hat adorned with feathers and had gone from nuisance to fixture in the space of two months.

One night, after a day spent cleaning camp, Juan stood up at the General Assembly, mic-checked the crowd, and said, “As your quasi-president, I would just like to say, that I promise you nothing.” He sat down to a round of applause.

Intimidation and Abuse

On the night of the raid, I sat in a circle of approximately one hundred people who had already decided to perform an act of civil disobedience that was likely to end in arrest. We linked arms, chanted, sang, recited statistics about poverty in the United States, and demanded that the press be allowed to film and record our interactions with police.

Later, in the holding cells at Van Nuys Metro Jail, I discovered that at least half of the arrests that night were people who had not intended to be among us, who had been attempting to disperse when the LAPD had kettled them, lied to them, and arrested them.

Usually, a protest arrest is a lighthearted matter, with a quick release on “Own Recognizance,” or a bail set from $100 to $250. We were detained for 48 hours. Our bail was set at $5,000, a few at $10,000, and while we tried to reach the Bail Commissioner, whose number was busy or unreachable for many of us for 24 hours, we were taunted by police who told us we deserved to be in jail, had asked for everything we’d gotten.

Many arrestees were released, with charges dropped, at their arraignments. Some of us still face court dates with misdemeanor charges. Make no mistake: we were kept in custody to prevent us from returning to the site, to our General Assembly, to our comrades who were rallying behind us every step of the way. We were detained to feel punished. We were supposed to decide that the movement wasn’t worth the trouble.

If I were Chief Beck right now, I’d be shaking in my boots: the occupiers are mad as hell, and many came out of their arrests more radicalized, motivated and ready to fight for not only the right to peaceably assemble, but the right to revolution.

We are still gathering stories of negligence, intimidation, and violation of basic rights at the hands of the LAPD. There are at least eight officers standing behind our General Assemblies every night now, listening in to our consensus process, protecting and serving the one percent.

We’ve always said we’ll welcome a brother or sister who is willing to take off their badge and join us. Until they do, they are symbols of our government’s addiction to repressive tactics.

Every General Assembly in this country matters. Every gathering of voices, every conversation about what to do next, and every person who wakes up to the connected systems of capitalist oppression that keep 99% of us in barely manageable chains is yet another reason that the Occupy movement gets to look Power in the face and say, “This is what democracy looks like!”

 Occupy Isla Vista for the 99%

— E. Feng and J. Gamma

ISLA VISTA IS an unincorporated community within the Santa Barbara County, a gentrified ghetto on the sunny seaside of southern California packing 23,000 people within its meager 1.8 square miles. The core is composed of students studying at the nearby University of California, with a largely ignored community composed of Latino/Latina working-class and other permanent residents, including a houseless population.

Occupy Isla Vista began on November 5th at People’s Park, adjacent to a university-owned building known as Embarcadero Hall. As a former property of Bank of America, the building was burned down twice by local activists in 1970. The occupation of People’s Park symbolizes the recognition of Isla Vista’s rich sociopolitical history and the reclamation of grassroots activism as an instrument of addressing the failures of the current system.

Building the Occupation

Roughly 120 people gathered for the first day’s kickoff event. Though fewer than half remained for that night’s General Assembly, it was our largest and lengthiest general assembly so far. In eight hours, we drafted a 16-point list of community agreements and ended our first GA at two in the morning.

Over the next two weeks, we erected one canopy, dumpster-dived for food, created a People’s Library, designed “artivist” signs, played music and sang songs from dusk ’til dawn. We marched down the streets, reclaiming them as property of the 99%, and protested the arrests of fellow occupiers. We clogged the telephone lines of the Sheriff’s Department, demanding the release of those who had been unjustly arrested.

Occupiers implemented a Free Skool, set up outreach events on the university campus, and acted in solidarity with other Occupies in California. Aside from its political aspirations, this particular movement encompasses a heartbeat of its own.

The number of occupiers in People’s Park hovered between 20-30 throughout an average day. Due to our size, Occupy Isla Vista encounters challenges different from those faced by most city occupations. We are particularly vulnerable in several ways: authorities are able to identify many of us by name; we are easily threatened by police, as we have less power in numbers; and the loss of one or two occupiers (whether to incarceration or other factors) incurs a great cost to the movement.

The two main instigators of such harassment and excessive surveillance on our occupation are certain members of the Isla Vista Parks and Recreation Board and the Isla Vista Foot Patrol. These two institutions cited our occupation as “unlawful camping” under the Camping and Sleeping Ordinance (NO. 2002-002), which prohibits “camping and sleeping on park district property” — an ordinance that clearly and purposefully criminalizes the houseless.

Arrests and Regrouping

On November 14th the police made the first arrest, charging one occupier with violating the local camping ordinance. We immediately organized a protest march and mobilized camping as a civil-disobedience action — which resulted in several more arrests.

The Occupation gained even more momentum on November 19th, when a UC-Santa Barbara human rights group organized an event at the park in solidarity with the movement. Police were quick to harass this event as well, threatening organizers with the false accusation that the organizers did not obtain a permit for the event.

Two days later, the canopy under which we’d all gathered for an entire two weeks was destroyed, and many occupiers’ belongings confiscated by Isla Vista Foot Patrol. Though physically evicted from People’s Park, the occupiers have continued the movement in a private space, making plans to physically reoccupy the park at a later date.

Occupy Isla Vista began as one of the vast number of small-town occupations that swept the nation in the past few months. It shares the same messages, political energy and tactical repertoire as the larger, flagship occupiers and it acts in tandem with global calls for solidarity.

It also shows regional solidarity by taking part in West Coast Occupations with the 805 Occupy collective (Occupy Santa Barbara, Occupy Oxnard, Occupy Ventura, OccupyThousand Oaks, etc.) to support actions like Wallstreet at the Waterfront. Along the way, however, Occupy IV has reoriented its direction to encompass both the common Occupy struggle and the particular dynamics of a small-town occupation.

As such, Occupy Isla Vista is developing a long-term vision for the Occupation and its role as a galvanizing force within the community. Over the past month, Occupy Isla Vista has become a space for us to experience the cathartic relief of sociopolitical and philosophical freedom.

For some, it endorses the ideology of creating an alternative society — egalitarian and self-sustaining — and stimulates the re-evaluation of institutionalized lifestyles. And for some, it embodies our belief that there are others who have felt and still feel the brunt of inequality on our shoulders, and who are in pursuit of recognition as human beings, not commodities, as well as creating and participating in a true democracy.

* From Against the Current (ATC) N°156, January/February 2012. http://www.solidarity-us.org/



Source : ESSF

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