That morning, on Sherman Way and Van Nuys Blvd., one block away from the Hernandez home, a homeless woman was set on fire at the bus bench that had been her spot for years. Even though 200 sworn officers were just down the block, a civilian had to chase down the attacker, and hold him for 30 minutes till the police arrived because the police were too busy with their eviction plan to make more people homeless.
Even though we had known this moment was coming for the last 124 days, as the 30 of us were led into the chill of the early morning air at gunpoint past the seemingly endless lines of nervous cops equipped with shotguns and bulletproof vests, I could not help but be surprised at the extreme response to what had been an entirely peaceful protest. I shouldn’t have been. Having been involved in many police incited confrontations on the streets of downtown LA, I should have been well aware that the first response of the reactionary monied class to any attempt by the people to enforce their basic human rights is to criminalize us, using the very agencies we pay for to deny us our rights. But still, the response was, in a word, overkill.
Despite the direct and obvious evidence of fraud on the part of Countrywide and BOA presented by the Hernandez family, both directly to the police and in court, our elected officials spent nearly half a million dollars in public money to harass, patrol, surveill and criminalize an innocent family, simply to evict them from a house with a market value of barely $260,000. I remember thinking, how, in a country where vacant homes outnumber homeless people 5 to 1, in a city where hundreds of thousands of people sleep on the streets every night, is this ridiculous waste of public funds even slightly justifiable?
The pigs finally shuffled us out from behind the police lines and into the parking lot of the Lucky’s supermarket, which had recently closed down because of all the displacement in the area. Guadalupe Hernandez, who we had come to call Mama Lupe, stood on the sidewalk across Wynedote St. wrapped in a purple blanket, looking distraught, and shivering in the cold. Ulisses stood next to his mother, eyes fixed on the ground, the heat of his anger palpable in the early morning air, while Antonio and a few supporters mocked the police’s ridiculous show of force on live stream. But it was the look on Javier Hernandez’s face, that mixture of sorrow, guilt, and shock, as he took in the scene of his mother, brothers, and the rest of his newly adopted family, huddled with whatever meager possessions they had managed to save, that still haunts me to this day.
A gray Mustang followed by two U-Haul trucks pulled onto Wynedote and was stopped at the police line, until the driver announced that he was from the bank, and the jeering from our people began, at which point the police surrounded the car as if President Obama himself was inside. This served only to reinvigorate our makeshift clan of family members, houseless activists, and organizers, and shake us out of our dejection.
The rest of the morning was a blur of activity as our team sprang into action, testing the police lines, herding the media, and destroying the police’s credibility in front of the neighbors, our people were in rare form, and I was never more proud of them than in those immediate post eviction hours.
A little past 10am, after the U-haul trucks pulled away illegally carrying out the Hernandez families memories and possessions from their home of 7 years the sheriffs returned to their armored vehicles, patting themselves on the back for following orders, and we hoped they might hate themselves a little. The LAPD slinked wearily back to their patrol cars after a rough morning of oppressing the people behind them, and the neighbors finally poked their heads out of the houses only to be told to “get the fuck inside” by the pigs. Antonio and Javi led us back down Leadwell st, to the place that had, until that morning, been everyone’s home.
I walked a few steps behind Mama Lupe. The wooden barricade painted with the large letters “Government of for and by the people” had been replaced by a 12 foot chain link fence- how fitting. The banners reading “housing is a human right” and “Bank stolen property” were gone, replaced by a 2×2 foot sign, “For Sale, Ben Soifer Realty”. Mama Lupe sighed deeply to herself “Mi casa”, then looked around at her children, the ones she had given birth to, and those of us she had taken in over the last 4 months, we were dejected, depressed, powerless. Swallowing her own pain, Lupe did what needed to be done, what only a mother could do. She grabbed a lone metal lawn chair, left behind on the curb by the real estate company that had just stolen all of her earthly possessions, pulled it up in front of the fence, sat down, threw her fist high in the air, and proclaimed “La Fuerza Sigue!”, the strength continues.
Those words, spoken in the kind and powerful tones of her voice sparked something in those of us who couldn’t speak, nor think, nor do anything in that moment but silently stare at the ground and one another with confusion and sadness. It was as if the sun finally burst through the clouds after a rainstorm. A reminder of why we had come to Leadwell st in the first place, to empower the people. She continued, translating through Javier, “ Thank you all for all of your hard work. I love you all. Our fight isn’t over, it has just begun. Anyone else that needs help, we will be there to fight with them.” It was at this moment that the tears I had been repressing all morning finally pushed their way past my anger.
See, that’s what made #FuerzaHernandez, and the Hernandez family, so special. Not only was the one story house with the 9 foot painted barricade around it there to protect the Hernandez families human right to housing, and many houseless organizers and activists, it had become the unofficial heart of the local community. A place where children’s parties and know your rights classes were held, where tenants could go to learn how to fight their evictions, or neighbors could stop to have a friendly conversation. For 4 months, Van Nuys finally had a real community center. The Hernandez resistance served to inspire housing victims across the country, and presented a strong example of people coming together to fight an unjust system to the world. The Lucero family, of east LA, had also built a barricade to protect against their eviction, and as of this writing they are still standing strong 91 days after their November 4, 2012 eviction date. La fuerza sigue indeed.
But, not a day goes by that I don’t think of the look on Javi’s face on that cold December morning, looking at all of us with such sadness and guilt, as if he had failed us, when, the way I see it, it was the other way around. If the #FuerzaHernandez action was any kind of victory, it was a Pyrrhic one. When Lupe left that morning, her and her family were forced to cram 12 people into a small apartment down the street from their stolen home. When they tried to pick up their belongings, a representative from Soifer’s office tried to get Javi to sign off on the contents of the storage space without being able to examine them, everything the family owned still being held ransom.
A month and a half later, Lupe still can’t find work, and may be forced to move back to Mexico with Adrian, her youngest son. The breakup of the family we fought so hard to prevent, may well still happen anyway, while Ben Soifer, the board of BOA, and all the other money grubbing scumbags involved in the their fraudulent eviction are safe in their homes with their families. Homes purchased by perpetrating the suffering of others while 150 million of us struggle to breathe under the crushing weight of poverty, and the police spread terror in the name of those who exploit and oppress us.
The Hernandez family will survive, and thrive, have no doubt. Their family and community solidarity has never been stronger. Their courage and self determination in the face of a corrupt vampiristic system serves as an inspiration to us all. BOA had to send it’s minions to destroy #FuerzaHernandez, it’s very existence exposed the illegitimacy of the US financial system, simply by telling millions of other people in the same situation that they were not alone, and they could fight back. Now imagine if everyone facing forced eviction did the same. What would happen? We would win.
So what is holding us back? Fear? Everything that has happened to the Hernandez family post-eviction, would have happened whether they had resisted or not. A lack of leadership? It is time to stop waiting on someone to lead us out of the darkness, and turn on the lights ourselves. You are the next great leader in your community. You are the next Malcolm X, the next Ella Baker, the next Fred Hampton, the next Guadalupe Hernandez. If you or your neighbor are facing eviction, do not panic, do not move, organize. The power is yours sisters and brothers, all you have to do is seize it.
Take back your land! Take back your homes!
Amandala Ngawethu! Power to the Poor People! And peace to you all, if you are willing to fight for it.
Idaho Springs, CO–Yesterday a highly militarized police force arrived at the home of 63 year old Sahara Donahue to evict her from her residence of 24 years. She was petitioning US Bank for an additional 60 days to remain in her home, so she could have some time to find a new place to live, secure her belongings and leave her home with dignity. She came to the Colorado Foreclosure Resistance Coalition and Occupy Denver General Assembly to ask for our help. She knew no one in Occupy Denver prior to reaching out. We immediately started mobilizing to try to get her the assistance she needed and a group went up to her house for the first rumored eviction on Thursday 10/25. When that eviction didn’t happen, we planned an in-town action at US Bank on Monday for Sahara to try to find someone to speak with about her situation, with carpools up to her house later that day as the eviction was said to be scheduled for Tuesday 10/30. Occupiers laid barricades from fallen trees to prevent moving trucks and workers from entering the property and were able to stave off the eviction for a few hours.
At 2:45pm ten or more truckloads of police in full combat gear armed with live-ammo AR-15’s, and grenade launchers arrived on the scene & forced occupiers to the ground at gun point. Police then made their way to the house, broke down the front door, threw Sahara to the ground in her own kitchen and pointed their guns at the heads of a mother and son who were in the house with Sahara along with others. They continued to break items in the house as they searched it. They unplugged the modem, which was the only mode of communication as there was no cell phone coverage in the area, in order to stop the livestream and all communications.
After the livestream cut out, the Occupy Denver legal team spent a harrowing hour in communication blackout wondering if they would be receiving calls from the hospital instead of the jail this time. This psychological violence did not stop one brave activist from jumping into the bucket of the bulldozer that was going to tear through the barricades and forced the operator to stop for several minutes. Three arrests were made, two activists were assaulted and all have been released. Many of the people on the ground have survived multiple occupations and riot cop lines but all agree that this was the most surreal and violent state repression they have experienced protesting. There has been overwhelming community support as other activists and concerned people watched the unnecessary militarized drama unfold online. Everyone is asking “Seriously, why are they in military gear?” All captions for the following photographs are actual comments made on the Occupy Denver Facebook Page.
Sheriffs, SWAT, and Assault Rifles – A Foreclosure Story by Michael Steadman
Idaho Springs, Colorado may seem like a quiet, peaceful, and even quaint little town off I-70 in the mountains west of Denver. However, in the early afternoon of October 30, 2012, the Clear Creek County Sheriff’s office proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that looks can be extremely deceiving. Make no mistake; this is not a kindhearted Mayberry RFD type of law enforcement. This was a tactical, military style assault against unarmed, peaceful protesters.
But first, let’s go back a bit in order to give you a little better understanding of the events leading up to, as well as during their demonstration of excessive use of force.
Sahara Donahue has lived in her home for over 20 years, has been a volunteer in her community, and was a decent law abiding citizen. She suffered injuries from a near-fatal accident, including a head injury that was not properly diagnosed until over a year after the accident. She could no longer perform the duties of her job, and therefore was forced to rely on the generosity of friends to help pay her mortgage for several years. She made every attempt to communicate and work with the banks, and even retained the services of an attorney, in the hopes of finding some resolution to keep her home. However, the banks (as well as a corrupt realtor) apparently had different plans.
These are protestors they are standing over with machine guns???? -L.R.
After she was given a run-around by US Bank, several of us made our way up the canyon to stand with her and support her in case the eviction went through the following day. Later in the day we were informed that the only compromise offered to Sahara involved her immediate eviction – BUT – they would be magnanimous enough to store her things for 30 days. Those of us at the house began planning our course of action for the remainder of the night as well as for Eviction Day.
We barricaded the driveway with fallen trees in order to limit access to the house, and held several impromptu meetings in order to discuss our tactics. Sahara’s wishes were for us to be respectful when the Sheriff arrived, since she has a history with this community. We agreed that we would all respect her wishes and approach the situation in a peaceful manner. We were led to believe that the realtor would be arriving with a crew of workers to remove items from the house, and the Sheriff would be there to “keep the peace.” Sahara had also asked one of the group’s members to be a spokesman. He would speak directly with those who arrived and deliver legal letters to the Sheriff. This way things would proceed smoothly and help eliminate any unnecessary escalation.
As night closed in we shared stories, discussed ideas, and enjoyed each other’s company in a very peaceful positive environment. Eventually people began to settle down for the night. Most were sleeping in the house on couches or on the floor, while I and another went out to sleep in our tents beside the barricade in case of any unexpected late night surprises.
The following morning we all began to stir as coffee was brewing. There seemed to be an overall sense of optimism among the group. We received word of some more people coming up to join us, and we had another meeting to determine tactics regarding the expected arrivals for the eviction. Several of us collected more timber to fortify the barricades, others were making food, and everyone was ready for whatever was coming (or so we thought).
The first arrival of the day was a truck hauling a dumpster that was apparently to be left there for the workers to put her things in. Seeing the barricades, he got out and spoke with us. He was very friendly and supportive towards us, and then called his supervisor who after several minutes instructed him to bring the dumpster back. We had our first victory of the day and the excitement filled the air.
A while later a white van filled with workers from a “day labor” company pulled up and stopped. These were the men who were supposed to remove her belongings from the house. They needed to wait for the Sheriff to arrive, and since there is no cell phone service in the area, they just relaxed and spoke with us for a while. We even tried to recruit a few of them to stand with us, but to no avail. Finally they decided to leave in order to go back down the mountain to find a place with better reception to make calls. We all began a second celebration as we filled the air with singing, “Na na na na, hey hey hey, GOOD-BYE!”
Things were really starting to look up for us. We felt we had made some incredible progress. Then we heard a vehicle coming. Around the corner I saw a Sheriff’s vehicle through the trees as it was approaching. Then I saw behind it another, and another, and another. About 10 vehicles filled with men in what appeared to be full battle gear (and assault weapons already in hand) began to fill the road in front of the house. In all our planning and meetings, we never expected this kind of response. After all, we were led to believe that the Sheriff was only going to be there to “keep the peace.” And don’t forget to keep in mind that we were unarmed, peaceful demonstrators.
The spokesman of our group got on the megaphone and began trying to get everyone to converge up at the house, but it was already too late. The Tactical Response Team had already reacted. As we were rushing up the driveway, we were cut-off by several men gripping their assault rifles as they began shouting at us to get on the ground on our knees. To my left, the spokesman was coming up, shouting on the megaphone, attempting to discern who was in charge since he had the letters to deliver. The officers didn’t care, in fact as the spokesman was telling them he had letters, one of the officers shouted back, “No, you don’t have letters!” and they continued ordering us to get on our knees. We remained standing and continued trying to open up some kind of conversation.
At this point, I was standing there with the spokesman, and a few others. Mind you, I am about 6’2” tall and about 200 lbs. The others standing with me were as big, if not bigger, with the exception of an older gentleman to my left. Since none of us would get on our knees, these fully armed, militarized officers decided to arrest the smallest and oldest person there. With all their firepower and intimidation techniques, they targeted the least imposing person there. They put him face down in the dirt and gravel, and cuffed his hands behind him with their zip-tie handcuffs.
Finally, the man in charge came forward, but when he was presented with the letters, he informed us that he would take them but it didn’t matter. He then folded them up without even really looking at them. It was obvious that those with the money and the guns couldn’t have cared less about the injustice taking place, and they were ready and willing to do whatever was necessary to shut us down.
I was offered a ride by one of the activists, since the Sheriff was so gracious to let some of us go without further incident. As we made our way down the private drive, we saw at the bottom of the hill the bulldozer that was just waiting to tear through our barricades, and the van of day labor workers ready to fulfill their job descriptions. After a couple turns down Hwy 103 another realization occurred to me. There on the shoulder of the road was an ambulance waiting on stand-by. Maybe I am mistaken, but it would appear that the Sheriff’s Department was prepared to do, and had every intention of doing, whatever was necessary to obey their bank’s wishes.
We pulled into a local convenience store after making it into town. As we sat collecting our thoughts, and trying to decompress after the events that had transpired, I was struck by something else. I watched the people of the town as they nonchalantly passed by and it occurred to me that this was a sort of metaphor about our entire society today. Just up the hill, innocent people were having guns shoved in their faces, people were being evicted from their homes, and much more. At the same time, the rest of the town went about its daily routine, completely oblivious as to what was going on just around the corner.
“Military tactics, Military equipment, Military mindset. Looks like this nation is occupied by the bankers military.” -K.Y.
Later around 6:45pm Occupiers and other residents returned with Sahara to help her sift through her things which were now thrown in piles on the outskirts of the property. Many of her possessions were destroyed by the movers. One Occupier who was there for the armed raid, and stayed to help said, “Seeing these things that represented a large cross-section of this woman’s life strewn across the front yard was one of the worst things I have ever had to witness in my life. Why is the general population letting the big banks do this to us?” As the temperature started to drop as night set in, the only thing people could do was to cover her piles of belongings with tarps, as there was nowhere for her to take her things. Sahara was only able to take her two dogs, Rodeo and French Fry, and what ever she could fit in her small vehicle. She is currently staying in a motel, and is uncertain as to where she will be able to live next. Occupiers will continue to assist her until her living situation has stabilized.
Philadelphia, PA–Last night I saw one of the most beautiful moments of my entire 40 years on earth. The Veterans for Peace and Occupy Marines acquired a permit to have a canopy and information table on Independence Mall next to the first amendment monument. They have been there, 24 hours a day, since Saturday. Yesterday afternoon the National Park Service notified the veterans that their permit had been revoked and that they would be evicted from their spot in front of Independence Hall at 9pm.
News spread quickly among the Occupiers, who have been camping on the grounds of an historic site owned by the Quakers at 4th and Arch Streets during the night and gathering at the city-owned Franklin Square Park at 6th and Race for workshops and festivities during the day. We asked the Veterans to let us know what we could do for them to stand in solidarity. The Veterans were determined not to be removed from the space that they believe their brothers in arms had died to defend their right to be there, assemble, engage in free speech and petition their government for a redress of grievances. “That tent and info table will remain there until we have been physically dragged out of the park and the National Park Service comes in with a bulldozer.” Due to Independence Mall being federally owned land, any act of civil disobedience that takes place there will land you in the federal detention center with very serious charges and very high bail. One of the Veterans said “I signed up to die for the right to stand here, jail is nothing compared to death.”
By 8pm the presence of park rangers, park service and city riot police, bike cops, US Marshals and Homeland Security forces began to escalate dramatically. A few minutes before 9pm the Veterans met with park officials at the edge of the park. It was a tense 5 minutes as the 20 or 30 of us who were there in solidarity with the Vets awaited the results of the meeting. When the Veterans from the meeting returned, a mic check was initiated and the Vets announced that the park rangers would take no action until 11am the next morning when a high enough ranking park service official would meet with them to negotiate a possible compromise. Imminent eviction had been avoided, the fate still left to hang in the hands of some unknown bureaucrat, to be determined by his whim in the morning.
Just moments after the announcement was made a march of 400 occupiers led by a Revolutionary War-style drummer came around the corner. We ran to greet them and inform them that what had looked like it would be a massive confrontation was now a celebration! Shouts of joy went through the mass of Occupiers as they joined us in a now festive celebration of solidarity with the Veterans and the temporary retreat of the Park Service.
As songs, mic checks, sign wavers and even a hula hooper reveled on the sidewalk in front of the Vets for Peace canopy tent and info table, an extremely large contingent of police officers and federal agent remained all around us. About 20 riot police in full gear stood in formation just feet away from us, staring robotically straight ahead. The veterans asked us to move back 10 feet from the line of riot cops and promised us that the vets themselves would form a line of protection between the riot cops and us. As soon as that arrangement had been made the riot cops turned and marched in formation off of independence mall to rapturous cheers and clapping from all who had gathered.
The celebration continued for at least an hour before the Veterans mic checked us and asked anyone who wanted to remain overnight in solidarity do so by sleeping across the street, off of federal land, in front of the regional headquarters of Wells Fargo. Walking past on my way to the train for a quick pit stop at home, there were at least 30 groggy occupiers waking up from a night of sidewalk sleeping. I will return shortly and all of us, Occupiers and Veterans for Peace, will await the results of the meeting at 11am today.
It is impossible to describe the joy and beauty that I witnessed last night. I had a lump in my throat and am still beaming with positive vibes even though I too am exhausted after my 3rd night of sleeping on the ground in a Quaker parking lot.
– Mattymoo –]]>
Philadelphia, PA–On the first day of the Occupy National Gathering, the excitement to meet one another was hampered by police confrontation. This led to indecision and internal arguments over contingency plans, but by the evening, Occupiers were safely assembled at jail solidarity or at the National Gathering Comedy Show.
The afternoon began with workshops around issues like the All In The Red debt campaign and the War on Drugs. Through the afternoon, the Occupy Caravans delivered activists from Tuscon, Wichita, Los Angeles, Salt Lake City and many more cities from around the country, who were all formally welcomed at the informational meeting at 3:30 on Independence Mall. At the meeting, National Gathering Working Group members explained issues from food to legal safety, reviewing the logistics Occupy National Gathering Welcome Packet.
At 6pm, an enthusiastic and dance-filled March to End Corporate Personhood began at Wells Fargo and looped around to the park behind Independence Mall. The heavy police presence prompted a series of mic-checks, in which Occupiers shared a range of opinions about Occupy’s relationship with the cops.
Around 7pm, an Occupier attempted to put down a cot and police officers and park rangers informed the group that any setting up of bedding was prohibited. Occupiers set down a tent and surrounded it in solidarity. Members of the Philadelphia Police strike force pushed through the protest line using bikes to clear Occupiers. In the clashes, one Occupier was arrested while others were knocked to the ground. The officers carried away all sleeping material, including those not being set up.
Still surrounded by police, the conversation was strained about what to do next. NatGat Working Group members informed the assembled that Occupiers were legally allowed to sleep on sidewalks, which would also show solidarity with Philadelphia’s homeless, or stay at 4th and Arch in the parking lot of the Philadelphia Friend’s Center. However, the ring of police around the meeting made some feel uncomfortable with a discussion about strategy, causing the attempted impromptu assembly to largely devolve. Most went to 4th and Arch, although others remained in the park or went elsewhere.
At a little after 9pm, a group of Occupiers gathered in the Friends’ Center parking lot for the upcoming entertainment, while another group went to the Philadelphia roundhouse to do jail solidarity for the arrested protester — who was reportedly arrested for assaulting a police officer on federal property. The National Gathering Comedy Show was hosted by N.A. Po of Occupy Philly and included several local comedians. Activists drank from water jugs and enjoyed pizza and snacks in the parking lot where many settled for the night.
– Zachary Bell –]]>
Los Angles, CA – It’s almost midnight on Tuesday, November 29, 2011, and we’re preparing ourselves for the end of the longest-running Occupy encampment in the United States. We’ve known it’s been coming since Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who had initially professed his solidarity with the movement, announced the camp was no longer “sustainable” at a late-afternoon press conference the previous Friday. On Sunday evening, thousands of supporters kept the police from entering the camp. They’re back, and for the second time now I sit with a hundred people circling a tent filled with supplies for the night. We’ve been here for hours, passing water jugs, chanting, singing, feeling our legs go numb, huddling into each other for warmth. We keep our arms linked, stay planted in the middle of the City Hall plaza—Solidarity Park to us—and listen for the news, arriving in breathless reports from fellow occupiers in the street. Helicopters swarm overhead and a cluster of media is allowed in the park behind a line of officers.
Finally, early Wednesday morning hundreds of police in riot gear stream out of City Hall (underground tunnels, it’s true!) and surround us. A voice from a speaker in a white police van declares that we are an unlawful assembly according to Los Angeles municipal code. We declare our right to peaceably assemble for redress of grievances under the First Amendment. In a few other American cities, that argument has worked to forestall police evictions.
Now, though, the cops won’t look us in the eye. They descend on my circle.
One officer digs into pressure points on my neck and back. Another officer pulls my left leg out from under me and twists my ankle. The third pulls on my arms, using pressure points to force me to let go. “The last man to touch me like this was a rapist!” I yell. Once they force me out of the circle, I go limp. They toss me onto my stomach, then turn me back over and carry me out to stand in line with others who have been arrested.
“The cameras are off you now,” the officer carrying my upper half says. “Your little statement is over. You can walk now.”
“No thanks,” I say. I never see his face.
Meanwhile, LAPD officers in hazmat suits—an unsubtle message for anyone watching the news—raze thousands of dollars of camping equipment that could have been redistributed to Skid Row. I watch them stomp on our tents, destroy our meeting spaces, break our equipment, and knock over ingenious makeshift furniture built of found objects. The news will not mention our devoted internal sanitation crew or the people who worked day and night to make sure we had Porta Potties. The media seem more interested in the political theater of officers in space suits than in understanding the stunningly beautiful, innovative community of shared resources Occupy L.A. had become.
The camp is gone in a flash and now I am one of the 292 people arrested at the “peaceful eviction” of Occupy Los Angeles. We are put in tight, plastic zip ties and loaded onto a bus at 4 a.m. When the bus starts on its way nearly an hour later, Christmas music blares from the speakers.
An elderly woman cries because her cuffs are too tight. We ask the driver to do something about it. “Maybe she should have left her eighty-year-old ass at home,” he says during a particularly reverent rendition of “Little Drummer Boy.” The girls in the back start scream-singing songs from The Rocky Horror Picture Show to drown out “Jingle Bell Rock.”
“This is weird,” I say to my friend Kayla. I hadn’t expected it to be so surreal. Bing Crosby? At this hour? In this situation?
We shift around to accommodate each other’s aching arms and stinging wrists. One woman faints from the pain. Others pee themselves after being denied bathrooms for hours. We watch the sun rise through the bus windows and demand to know where we are—too far away from downtown for any of us to speculate. The driver does not answer. We chant our solidarity with Wall Street, Tahrir Square, protesters in Syria who are all suffering more cruelty than we are. After dawn, we discover we’re at Valley Jail Section in Van Nuys, a detention center nearly thirty miles from the site of our arrest.
Los Angeles may have deployed 1,400 officers to handle the eviction, but the jails processing our arrests seem eerily understaffed. The handful of cops working the early-morning shift are not jailers, but beat cops who have no experience with the paperwork or the protocol. Property is lost. Medicine is denied. The windowless processing room is recognizably government-issue: graying wood file cabinets, metal furniture, scratched plexiglass, and corners caked with years of detritus. The jail cells are painted a soothing green, and the vinyl on the cots sticks to our skin unless we wrap ourselves in our scratchy blankets. The vegetarian option is Cheerios.
On the second day, we are allowed ten minutes outside to shower, six at a time, under two shower heads. Women who had never met are suddenly naked, scrubbing, averting their eyes and attempting to beat the clock. We put our stinking clothes back on. My stepfather is told I’m on a bus on my way to my arraignment, though I’ve been in the same holding cell since I got here. It doesn’t take long to get lost in the machine.
Occupy Los Angeles was one of the largest Occupy encampments in the United States. Our General Assemblies were smaller than Occupy Wall Street’s but our tent city was massive and intricate. Our organization around direct actions was and is less focused than Occupy Oakland’s. Our interaction with cops, until the eviction, was bizarrely friendly, a source of much internal conflict.
The reason for this is that for many who gathered here, the financial inequality, illegal foreclosures, corporate personhood, corrupt banking system, and Wall Street crimes are felt most palpably at home, in the form of law enforcement. The occupiers who have spent their lives as targets of police surveillance and violence (especially the communities who are used to organizing internally in East Los Angeles, South-Central, Inglewood, Skid Row, and so on), tended to have little patience for those of us who insisted on being “liaisons” to law enforcement, on working with the city officials who eventually ordered our camp to be destroyed.
The “peaceful eviction” provided a crash course in reality for many occupiers unfamiliar with the physical and psychological reality of the prison-industrial complex and militarized police forces. One of my cellies, a woman in her forties, breaks down in tears on the floor next to our exposed toilets and says, “This is it. I’m never going to be the same after this.” I still see her at marches weeks after our eventual release. She’s not going back to her safe and comfortable former life.
There are many more where she came from. Nearly six weeks after the eviction, twenty occupiers set up a small camp in the backyard of a wrongfully foreclosed home in Van Nuys. The sheriff’s deputies are surprised to find us there and come at us with their guns drawn. They put three of us in cuffs and lock out the pajama-clad homeowner, Bertha Herrera.
Herrera kept perfect records to show that her case was mishandled by the bank, but so far she’s been denied her day in court to fight for the home she’s owned for thirty-one years. I walk door-to-door in the neighborhood with her, telling her story to neighbors, and discover that six homes in a two-block radius are facing similar proceedings. Herrera tells me that without the occupiers there to help her, she would have not had the strength to fight. We are mobilizing to help the other families in her area.
The day after Herrera is kicked out of her home, I go to what would have been my arraignment at the Superior Court. No charges have been filed against me in the November 30 arrest, but the city attorney can hold on to my case for a year and file charges at any time. Many occupiers are in a similar situation. Regardless of whether this is a calculated deterrent or the result of our overwhelming the system, the effect is that we are all on an informal probation.
I’d like to sit in a room with a few of those 400 people who control most of the wealth in this country and say, “Come on, guys. Seriously. You know what you did. Fix it.” Instead, it seems that people are looking to the Occupy movement for the answers. We are less than a year old. We are a diverse and fluid crew of people with all levels of experience, education, and commitment, who are still trying to get to know each other and understand our political differences. We struggle constantly with the problems of building consensus and the joys of group decision making, and we are not moving fast, but we are going far.
Washington, DC–Having set my alarm for 6am at 4:30am the morning of June 5th, I went to sleep on an air mattress that fit the entire area of the foyer. The banners were set to dry and the blockade was most of the way complete. It only needed to be attached to the fence, gate and bar; tightened; and padlocked on the inside.
The plan seemed foolproof. They would have no choice but to spend hours cutting apart our insane barricades or to simply walk away thinking that we were insane. It may or may not have been a rumor, but we were working off of the assumption that the US Marshals only had an hour to execute a court order before they had to move onto the next.
We intended to give them at least two hours of work through an initial soft blockade and then the hard blockades we were erecting. We estimated that the soft blockade would take a half hour while the hard blockade would take an hour.
When my alarm rang an hour and a half after I had lain my head to sleep, I set about waking the others up after I hit the snooze button a couple of times. It took until about 7am before everyone was up.
I finished rigging up the barricade while Hippy Brian finished the banner. Marshall rigged up the first banner which read “Eviction Free Zone” in all capital letters with rope and connected it to the fence outside while Ricky and Marc fashioned their makeshift Sleeping Dragon. Melissa contacted media inside while Anne wrote a statement for the court for Dawn’s hearing that day.
I finished what I could of the crate-astrophe while still allowing the front door to be operable since Marc had glued the locks of the gates to the back door the night before. Ben, who had done much of the legwork in setting up the crates the previous night, went to get breakfast from the 7-11 down the street. He would later lead the soft blockade. Marc and I followed soon after.
When we came back, I did my part to hurry Anne in writing her court statement. The pressure to finish before the US Marshals were scheduled to arrive forced her to belie her sentimentality with her home. She wanted to remain inside, to go down with the ship. Although I was optimistic that the Marshals would never get inside for one of several reasons, I insisted that she must be out by 9am, that being out of the purview of any cameras or witnesses gave the officers a license to act with impunity, that they know that in a courtroom it is her word against theirs.
The house was empty of people by 8:52am.
We were all rather disappointed and somewhat appalled by the resulting media from the day. Nearly every story apart from one article on the Washington Times blog section led with clashes between US Marshals and protestors.
An article on WAMU seemed to imply that protestors assaulted law enforcement. The aforementioned Washington Times article stated that one protestor “became unconscious.” Social media talked of wounded warriors and displays of state militarism. Media left and right roiled in exaggerated tales of martyrdom and hooliganism.
By June 7th, Dawn was receiving calls from relatives reacting to certain news pieces that made it seem as if she was unable to make her rent payments. Marc and I both found ourselves misquoted in OccupyDC’s own newspaper, the DC Mic Check. If it wasn’t already, it became glaringly obvious: In the face of controversy, there is no such thing as truth.
Beyond the anti-state propaganda, tales of irresponsible radical rebellion, willful ignorance of fact, and stretching of truth, that we were fighting for the right to housing was almost invisible. Pictures of US Marshals with M-4 assault rifles circulated the internet while pictures of Anne Butler’s broken sake glass collection were distributed only by a few of us within Occupy Our Homes-DC.
Commenters poked fun at pictures of the US Marshal sitting on the ground dumbfounded at his self-inflicted injuries. Occupiers spewed calls for vengeance at pictures of Marc lying unconscious on the street, having been repeatedly strangled, pulled by the head, and having his head pinned to a wall by the leg of a US Marshal before passing out and being thrown into the midst of his comrades.
At least we could vent our collective frustration to each other on the Occupy Our Homes-DC list serv. This marks probably the only time that a list serv has ever actually calmed its members down and made them grow closer.
According to those who did not have themselves chained to the house, the US Marshals did not want to proceed with eviction given what they saw. The representative from Chase Bank which stole the house from the Butlers insisted that the eviction proceed.
The Marshals asked MPD to intercede with the blockades of people as such a task was not within the purview of the authority of the US Marshals in eviction orders. The MPD refused, insisting instead on doing crowd control on the sidewalk. According to our lawyers, the US Marshals had unlawfully assaulted everyone whom they touched that day.
The front gate had been padlocked with one of the Brinks locks and lashed closed with nylon rope. Marshall, Brian and I were attached to the milk crate blockade with a roller bar of a thin PVC pipe woven with wire rope. Marc and Ricky were braceleted downstairs with Marc outside so he could smoke cigarettes. Ricky realized he would not be able to roll cigarettes with one arm lassoed inside the PVC pipe.
Everyone who was part of the hard blockade was expecting to be arrested. The US Marshals moved in, pushing aside people who sat on the front steps. As they were pushed, they ran around to the neighbor’s yard in order to hop the fence to set up a second wave of blockades, much to the chagrin of the media who had posted up in the front yard.
Eli with a sprained ankle rejoined the soft blockade at least twice. Kelly at least once. Lash was thrown down the front steps. Melissa was thrown across the front lawn. Insults and expletives were hurled at the mostly silent Marshals.
Finally the Marshals got to the hard blockade. Brian wrapped his arms and legs around Kevin. Eli was pushed off of the stoop onto a rock in the neighbor’s yard. Kevin was pulled out. Brian’s arm was twisted through the gap between the PVC roller bar and the wire rope by a Marshal who appeared intent on breaking Brian’s wrist.
The US Marshals began frenetically pulling on the roller bar. Some of the milk crates began falling on our heads. Then a crack. The door came loose, and with it, the entire crate-astrophe tumbled over our heads into the line of Marshals.
Marshall was pushed over the side fence. Brian was dragged out of the yard. I was left sitting on the steps until the US Marshals hoisted me up and carried me upside-down across the yard. When my head was in a milk crate, the officers hoisted my upper body and carried me gently to the street.
Minutes later I saw Marc laying in the street unconscious. A US Marshall walked by with a bloody ACE bandage wrapped over his eye. Several occupiers were sobbing over Marc’s body. His head beet red. His eyes shut. His breathing shallow. Jeremy led us in a poorly worded but heartfelt prayer.
We harangued the MPD officers to call for an ambulance. When they said that they’ve called for one, we decided we didn’t believe them and make our own call. After 10 minutes of Marc being unconscious with his head in Kelly’s cross-legged lap, I impatiently made room in my hatchback for Marc’s body, lined it with my sleeping materials, and pulled the car around. I yelled for them to put him in. Everyone insisted that we can’t move him because we don’t know what damage has been done.
Fifteen minutes after being thrown into the street, Marc came to consciousness as the ambulances pulled up. A wave of relief swept over all of us. After the EMTs arrived, they helped Marc up and tested his mental well-being: “Do you know where you are?”
With a smile, he said, “Uh, DC?”
Washingto, DC–It was supposed to be a serendipitous tale of the American Dream: A tenant, through a combination of luck and hard work, purchases the home she had been renting for six years. Dawn Butler was willing to buy the house, her landlord was willing to cede the house, and even the bank at one point was willing to let her take over the mortgage.
However, real estate lawyers Rosenberg & Associates insisted on forcing a foreclosure. Butler was denied a court hearing at every turn. When she got with the Occupy Our Homes-DC lawyer, her case was heard but quickly dismissed.
On June 6th, the day after the eviction, I found myself bawling outside of National Tire and Battery waiting for repairs to be made on my car. The reality of these kinds of things always takes about a day to sink in.
It wasn’t the reality of my friend having been choked by a US Marshal into unconsciousness, nor was it the reality of many more of my friends having been thrown down brick stairs.
It was the reality that these people had lost their home. It was the reality that six years of their lives, catalogued in a house full of personal possessions, had been tossed onto the curb like piles of Wednesday refuse after a spring cleaning.
The leather couch I had sat on the night before while planning our insane milk-crate experiment being dragged down the stairs upside-down. The grandfather clock still ticking at 12:35pm. A US Marshal personally handing a crystal vase to Anne, Dawn’s mother. I wondered what had happened to the years’ worth of Mother’s Day cards on the mantel.
One June 5th, the night of the eviction, we had our regular Occupy Our Homes-DC meeting on the front lawn of the boarded up house. The front door, which had broken in half horizontally when the US Marshals tore me and two others from our makeshift blockade, was wedged back in place behind two large planks of particle board. The remainder of the milk crate blockade, our crate-astrophe, was lying in a heap on the lawn.
Despite the new location, I think the routine gave us all a sense of calm and resolve. The tone of our conversations was hopeful and proud. There was not a trace of defeat in anyone’s voice.
Triumphantly, it was announced that we had stopped nine other evictions that day. We discussed the reality of having to prepare for the next potential eviction. How we weighed the value of property and human life.
Sitting on the steps at the auto shop the next day I would wonder how we could possibly manage a nationwide call to camp out at the headquarters of a certain banking institution. How can we treat these throngs of people as more than a number? More than a spot in line?
Dawn Butler has lived as a tenant in a house since 2006. The lease she has had with the owner is based on sweat equity. Over the course of those six years, Dawn and Anne have put over $200,000 into the home – an average of $27,77.78 a month.
In 2009, the owner of the house fell ill and fell behind on his mortgage payments in order to pay his medical bills. Until she got with our lawyers at Occupy Our Homes-DC, she was castigated in every court hearing or was denied a hearing altogether.
While I was getting to the first defense of Dawn’s home on April 2nd, our lawyer Ann Wilcox won a stay of eviction. The Marshals left; everyone rejoiced; I came late from an appointment for my car in Virginia.
A lot of this struggle has involved auto care for me.
At 8pm on June 4th, I was sitting in the Occupy DC Resource Center with Rooj when I got a call from Laura telling me that the US Marshals were due to evict Dawn at 9am. Rooj and I immediately went to work texting everyone we knew in the city to be at Dawn’s house at 8am the following day.
She created an event on Facebook and blasted it across social media. I drafted an announcement for an email blast on paper with a pencil since I didn’t have my laptop with me, having just come from a demonstration at the Freddie Mac Public Policy Office and the Washington DC Chase Mortgage Modification Center.
We called for an emergency meeting at 9pm at the Butlers’ home to plan the morning’s defense. I stopped by my apartment to grab sleeping materials for the night. I’m not sure if I’ll be spending the night, but I assume that it’s a pretty good possibility.
Marc threw his backpack in my car as he met me on Colorado Ave. Having slept at my house the night prior, he was on the same amount of sleep that I was. Having marshaled the march with me earlier that day, he was just as drained.
I think he took a nap on the way.
Four occupiers, Lash, Britta, Eli the Medic, Kevin, and Marshall piled into my car to visit Marc at Howard University Hospital at around 1:30pm on June 5th. Lash had his shirt off and was leaning sideways in the front seat to avoid allowing the square foot scratch from being thrown down the bottom set of stairs by the US Marshals.
Eli the medic told us how she had offered to provide treatment for the US Marshal who had hit himself in the face while trying to pull me off the milk crate barricade even though she hates cops. Britta talked about how she used how she was stereotyped as a womyn as a weapon in order to remain behind police lines, acting daft when given police orders. Kevin and Marshall were silent as they had been all day.
I texted and then called Sean who had become Marc’s brother after his family took him in following the eviction of the OccupyDC camp at McPherson Square. We pulled up to the hospital parking lot and sat in the waiting room as Marc went through several CT scans. I laid on the floor in the hopes of adding to the one and a half hours of sleep I was running on.
I couldn’t get any.
By midnight on the 6th, we had resolved to erect a barricade out of milk crates collected from the remains of the OccupyDC library connected with whatever kind of chain we could find at Wal-Mart which we decided was likely our only bet for such material at such an hour. Rooj had sent out a press release, and Melissa had sent out an emergency home defense announcement to our email contacts.
Marc and I set out to get the materials necessary for setting up the barricades: 3 padlocks, two hundred feet of chain, 2 U-locks, at least 20 crates, and superglue. I pulled my car around and emptied it of the banner making material that had been taking up my trunk space for the past week.
We returned with what we could find: three Masterlocks, three Brinks locks, 180 feet of 30-foot sections of wire rope, superglue, and 18 milk crates. Marc was dead set on a Sleeping Dragon or Tootsie Roll or Bracelet or whatever. We didn’t have handcuffs, but he resolved to make do with the nylon rope that we had and the carabineer from his keychain.
I went back to McPherson Square to retrieve 12 more crates, a three foot section of wide PVC pipe, a 6 foot section of thin PVC pipe, and a tent pole that unfortunately did us no good. By the time I got back, Hippy Brian was working on the second banner that read “Save This Home” in yellow spray paint outlined in black marker. He had begun to outline the letters with black latex paint, but decided to help us rig up the crate-astrophe.
The crates would be chained to each other, the door handle, the fence on the right side of the yard, the gate to the basement under the stairs, and the bars over the basement window. Marshall, Brian and I would be chained to the barricade while Marc and Ricky would be roped in a Sleeping Dragon through the gate to the basement under the stairs.
A Sleeping Dragon is a pretty ingenious means of slowing the dismantling of a human hard blockade. Instead of merely locking arms or handcuffing to each other, two people’s arms are chained together inside of a length of PVC pipe. In order to be detached, law enforcement must carefully saw through the PVC pipe and then cut the chain. It’s a delicate process that’s usually very time-consuming.
At our regular Occupy Our Homes-DC meeting on May 29th, a week before the eviction, our lawyer Ann Wilcox briefed us on the meaning of the motion that was dismissed the day prior.
Despite both Dawn Butler’s and the landlord’s acknowledgement of the lease, as well as Chase Bank’s acknowledgement of the lease in their written testimony, Judge Wright decided that the work and material value that Dawn and Anne had put into the house did not constitute payment for a lease. What do you expect from someone who doesn’t have to lift more than a pen or a gavel for an income? Such is the illusory value of money over labor in capitalism.
According to Ann, the Marshals executed court orders in a different quadrant of the city every day. The eviction was in a matter of days. Ann had already filed another motion to reconsider to be heard the following Tuesday morning. With a motion pending, we assumed that there was little to work on. Plus, we had a barbecue and a rally with a secret march to plan by the end of the week.
And so we sat on it.
– ArchAngel –]]>
For almost a month, the local Occupy Homes movement has maintained a presence in the foreclosed home. The house belongs to the Cruz family who are staying elsewhere since receiving their eviction notice. With the consent of the family, Occupy Homes has been using the house as a local social center while occupying the home and protesting an impending eviction.
Some people staying inside the home left willingly, while five people locked themselves to various objects throughout the home. The sheriff’s deputies used saws, jack-hammers and other tools to remove the remaining protesters. Ultimately, all five people were removed from the home and arrested.
Approximately 50 supporters arrived to protest the raid and eviction. The scene was tense at moments when people confronted the police line or when the police decided that the protesters should move further from the home. Eventually, a group of people ran around back to outflank the deputies. Some of them jumped the back fence in order to link arms and surround the home. Around this time, with all people removed from the home, and the doors boarded up, the sheriff’s deputies left the scene.
After all law enforcement left, the home was reopened for further occupation.
– Peter Leeman –
Editor’s Note: This is only a sampling of Peter Leeman’s photos of the eviction defense. To view the full series, visit Leeman’s website, which also features images from the first eviction defense. You may view the photos from the slideshow above at our Flickr page.]]>
I want to take a minute to make a confession. Before this occupation began, I don’t think I had ever visited Woodlawn before in my life. It’s easy to say that I simply haven’t had any reason to; I live on the opposite side of the city, 20 miles away. Except that the reality is I never wanted to visit Woodlawn before. It’s a place I’ve only heard of in passing as the site of tragic shootings.
I wasn’t sure how the people who live and work in Woodlawn would feel about someone like me setting up camp on their front lawn, to be honest. But the reaction to our presence in the neighborhood has been overwhelmingly positive. I couldn’t begin to count the number of people who have thanked me for coming down and spending some time with them, fighting their fight. They’ve been welcoming and kind. I don’t know if it’s the recent gentrification, the ever-present police surveillance, or my fellow Occupiers, but I feel safe there. I would sleep there at night if I could. Plus, it’s a lovely drive down the lakefront and through the heart of the city. It’s so easy to become ensconced in the parts of the city I’m familiar with and forget how far it stretches, and what a beautiful place Chicago really is.
While occupying on Sunday, I heard more detailed plans for the clergy event, including the intention to set up tents again. This time, each tent was named after a clinic being closed by the city. It was a win-win situation; either the city arrested us during a prayer service with some prominent local religious leaders in our midst, or the tents stayed for a while.
I was still working when the event began, but made it down to Woodlawn by 8pm. There were about 60 people present, speaking out in the form of a prayer circle. They gave testimonies about themselves and loved ones who struggle with mental health issues and need this vital resource to continue being available. They told of friends and family members who lost the struggle, and the horrifying consequences. It was poignant and heartbreaking. There is a heavy stigma attached to mental health problems that makes hearing them spoken about so openly truly inspiring.
When the tents went up, before I arrived, police presence increased and threats of arrest were made. But by the time I got there, only a couple patrol cars remained parked across the street. The atmosphere was charged, but in a positive way. Nobody doubted the police would be back, but for a time we were free to discuss exactly what is at stake when public clinics are closed or privatized.
As the prayer circle concluded, I wandered between groups of friends discussing the movement and speculating about what the night would bring. A small group went to collect firewood and marched it back through the streets, chanting. We built up the fire and stayed close for warmth. Someone brought a guitar over and started singing in Spanish. It was the most relaxed part of my day, despite sensing the squad cars (many unmarked) circling ever closer.
The calm was shattered by the sounds of sirens as two fire engines and an ambulance pulled up to the retirement home next to the lot we have been occupying. As it turns out, this was a dry run for what was to come later. But as the fire engines drove past us on their way back to the station, they honked and shook their fists in solidarity, eliciting cheers.
A while later, some of us went to a nearby church which has given us a key in order to use the bathroom. On our way around the block, we noticed an unmarked car with plainclothes officers watching the encampment from a distance. On the way back, three more unmarked cars were congregated. We knew something was going to happen, and soon.
Sure enough, at 10:30pm (conveniently timed for when the news broadcasts all go off the air), a legion of police vehicles descended upon us. The street was completely lined with them, all points of access blocked off. We were given 30 minutes to clear out before eviction. We all took to our phones to call, text, and tweet for supporters to join us. And then the signs and banners came out, and it became a protest again. That struck me as odd, how it had felt more like a friendly campfire sing-along until the authorities showed up and turned us back into the angry protesters you see on TV.
When the police came to make their arrests, most of us had moved to the sidewalk. Two patients told their stories via megaphone as the supporters standing with them were cuffed and taken away. Then they came for the patients themselves. Have you ever seen a man arrested with his walker? It’s not something I’m likely to forget.
The tents came down, and still CPD occupied our lot with officers numbering close to our own 40 or so people left. They said we had to keep moving or we would be ticketed, so we marched in a circle, still protesting. And then we found out what they were waiting around for as our new friends from the fire department returned, sirens blaring. Several
firefighters jumped off the front engine and put out our grill fire in less time than it took to read this sentence. It was the funniest thing to me, that they would call the fire department out to douse our small, contained grill fire. An Occupier standing near the engines asked why they had given us thumbs up as they drove by earlier. They said they support the occupation and were just following orders. Their jovial attitude made it clear they felt those orders were as ridiculous as we did. Then they pulled away, honking and waving in solidarity.
The cops left, with 10 of our friends in the paddy wagon. What was accomplished? The tents are down, but the space remains occupied. Our fire was restarted within minutes. Surely this whole operation, complete with semi-staged arrests on shaky legal ground, cost the city. How much is it worth to afford us less of a visible, permanent status in the community? And when will they learn that we don’t give up so easily?
The Woodlawn occupation is not leaving, and neither am I.
When viewed through the wall of your soaking tent, every flashing light looks like a
police raid. Every accelerating truck engine on the street a few dozen feet away
sounds like a bulldozer heading your way.
This is the second night like this at McPherson Square in recent weeks, with Occupy
DC’s “de-escalators” keeping an eye out from the perimeter and the Occupiers in
their tents listening with nervousness and dread.
The last time was a few days before Christmas. After a large, drunk, tank-shaped
ruffian kicked an arresting cop in the balls and left him puking in the street, the
camp buzzed with the rumor: Tonight’s the night we get raided.
For veterans of Zuccotti Park, Oakland, U.C. Davis and dozens of other Occupations
across the country, the conditions seemed right: wet, cold, dark, and cops had been
humiliated; it was now personal. Word was that it would happen around 3am.
On that night, our number included Occupy DC’s ambassador of goodwill, a
pipe-smoking man of substantial age who has lived in this park for years, who sits
in a prominent spot and greets every passerby with “Happy Holidays and Happy New
Year!” There’s a guy here who’s got a petition with 1776 signatures that he hopes
will get him–and his waist-length dreads–into the Coast Guard. A genial 50-year-old
unemployed laborer/short-order cook from Tennessee who calls everybody “brother.” A
40-year-old Deadhead who says that this is the best living situation he’s ever had;
he says he’s clueless about the political aspects of this venture, but if he’s truly
lived on the street for as long as he says, perhaps he has a clue even if he doesn’t
A former journalist who had stopped by regularly to donate food and blankets, I set
up a tent in early December in response to a friendly challenge from a few
Occupiers–“What else do we need? How about your body?”–who encouraged me to sleep
here as many nights as I could, even if I had to leave to go to work most mornings.
Elsewhere in the park there’s a working journalist who’s been here since October 1,
the first day of this Occupation. He’s here for the stories, sleeping here because
it gives him access that other media types don’t have, and because of the high price
of hotels in DC. I’m here for the most unprofessional of reasons: to experience
grassroots democracy in action.
I have long wondered if the people of this country would forever sit passively by
and watch our hard-earned gains in the direction of decency and humanity be reversed
by the Republicans (aided by weasel Democrats), watch as the clock is turned back to
the dark ages of crony capitalism. This group is trying to do something about that.
Sleep for many of us never did come that night in December, but neither did the
police. It was one of very few blessings that brutally cold holiday season brought;
the weather was about to take an even more drastic dip, one that would cost us some
There are those who say the movement is incoherent. In a way, I can see the
point–the causes cited by Occupiers are myriad, and it’s not being packaged in those
convenient little soundbites that media talking heads prefer. But if you actually
think about it, my erstwhile colleagues–employing your own brain cells instead of
your tendency to lazily regurgitate–it becomes obvious why that’s the case. With so
many powerful people dedicating so much time to screwing up this country for their
own narrow benefit, the fact that one can’t simply hand over a concise statement of
purpose to cover it, says far more about the size of the problem than about those
trying courageously to begin to correct it.
Some say the movement is too inclusive for its own good, that those hangers-on who
aren’t here for a specific political reason need to be booted. But how can you kick
out the already marginalized, many of whom have things to teach you about surviving
in a hostile environment?
Among the hundreds of people who have come to watch the circus, many have clearly
joined it, at least in spirit. A steady stream of messages from the street tell us
how the revolution looks from there.
“Thank you for doing this for all of us. What can we do for you?” A carload of
elderly women stopped at the light close to my tent.
“God bless you from the rest of us. Don’t lose hope; you’re making history.” A
middle-aged Hispanic man, through the window of a battered pickup, to a chorus of
honking horns behind him.
“Go home, hippies. Get a job, dirty commies.” A series of SUVs and sports cars
barreling down 15th street.
If volume is the measure, the wingnuts win; one of their favorite tactics is to park
close by at 3am and blow their horns nonstop to keep us from sleep.
One of the more blatant hypocrisies I’ve heard is “Give us back our park!” I used to
work across the street, so I know that the main users of this park before October 1
were the homeless and the rats–and both are still here.
Tonight, the rumors fly again, probably with more reason this time: On Friday, the
Park Police, our nemesis/defender, apparently caving to pressure from a rabidly
partisan neocon congressman from California, issued an ominous warning: after noon
today, they will start enforcing the “no camping” rule. Nobody’s sure precisely what
form that enforcement will take, but it involves potentially arresting those
“sleeping or preparing to sleep.”
Once again, we wait. Will the dreaded crackdown come, and if so, what will happen to
my friends and neighbors who are unlucky enough to have no other place to go?
-Story and Image by Jehovah Jones-]]>