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.
It was surreal standing in the middle of art walk with two friends knowing that Occupy LA were essentially banned from Spring Street due to a police riot that broke out a month before. On July 12, 2011, the LAPD shot rubber bullets into a crowd of art walk attendees mixed with members of Occupy LA, myself included, because some were writing with chalk on the sidewalks. In an effort to avoid any more injuries from police violence, the Occupy LA General Assembly accepted a proposal effectively relegating all activities related to “chalking” to Pershing Square for the August 9th art walk. Occupy LA also called for solidarity “chalking” actions across the World on the same day.
In the week leading up to art walk, the LAPD arrested members of Occupy LA for chalking and other public misdemeanors, while the media published various articles debating the LAPD’s use of a vandalism law to arrest people writing with chalk. Early in the morning of August 9th, the cops detained members of Fresh Juice Party shortly after they finished an enormous chalk mural in Pershing Square. Later that day, the LA Times reported that a fist fight broke out between someone from Occupy LA and a visitor from Occupy Oakland over chalking skills. This only compounded the tensions that were amplified in the media over the LAPD “bracing” for Occupy LA’s return to art walk.
“No stopping! No talking! Just buying! Everything’s fine!” I shouted as people passed on the crowded sidewalks of 5th and Spring. My two friends and I posted up near a KCAL reporter on the corner and unfurled our “Class WARhol” banner, while another held a sign that read “Legalize Art.”
Within a few minutes we were asked to move by the LAPD. We crossed the street and stopped again. This time we positioned ourselves behind a parked police car and a fire hydrant, so as not to disrupt the flow of pedestrians. LAPD Sergeant Bogart approached us on his bicycle and said “I’m going to need to ask you to move.”
My friend replied, “Where to? Three feet this way? Three feet that way? We were just told to move from the other corner.”
“I can’t tell you that. You just have to move” repeated the Sergeant.
I was looking down at my feet, a bit nervous to be around so many police, when I saw spit land next to my right foot. I looked up and asked the Sergeant, “Did you just spit at me?”
He smirked and said, “Does that make you feel intimidated?”
Choking on my words, I quietly said, “Why? Should I be?”
The Sergeant spit to my left side and smiled, “Did it look just like that?”
My friend then asked the Sergeant if it was department policy to allow officers to chew tobacco while on duty, to which the Sergeant replied, “I see we are going to have a problem here.” The Sergeant then got off his bike and spit again. This time it landed a little further from me, but still within a few inches.
My recent research into police tactics during protests made it easier to detect what the Sergeant was doing. He wanted either me or my friends to overreact to his taunts, so that we could be arrested and the LAPD could declare a moral victory over Occupy LA in the morning’s press. I stepped back and stated loudly “I am backing up! No need to spit at me!” By this time, there were at least five cameras on us, yet no one intervened. Because the cameras were not there when the altercation began, there is no ‘proof’ of his assault, but because the cameras were present during the aftermath, they may have protected me from further insult. Ironically, I had two cameras on me, but did not want to be shot for “reaching into a pocket” like so many others. Due to the Sergeant’s smugness, I have no doubt that this man has used a similar tactic to force compliance on other occasions. All that remains is my word and those of the witnesses against the Sergeant. I imagine the frustration I experienced is quite common in communities that are forced to interact with the police “for their own safety.”
The situation gives me pause to reflect again on police provocation, testimonies, and cameras. If anyone surrounding me did intervene, the consequences for all could have been tragic. There were no less than 30 police officers in that intersection, some on horses, others on bikes, and many on foot. The build-up by the local media to Occupy LA’s attendance at art walk, like Tyson Vs. Holyfield, put everyone on edge. No one wanted to back down. By spitting at me, Sergeant Bogart could have triggered a much larger reaction that would have provided the rationale for deploying hundreds of extra police to stamp out the vestiges of political speech in Downtown LA.
I remained collected enough to walk away with my body intact, but my dignity obliterated. The next day, The LAist wrote that Occupy LA claimed that the LAPD stood down (which they did because there were no arrests in a chalk covered Pershing Square), while the LAPD claimed that Occupy LA backed off (which they did because they did not go to art walk en mass). Importantly, this battle of Los Angeles has nothing to do with the medium of chalk as reported in the media. For the LAPD, it is really about vilifying those already marginalized and legitimating the increased policing of downtown, but for Occupy LA it is about slowing the gentrification of downtown in defense of the very poor.
The abundance of police during art walk- and in downtown more generally- has been questioned many times before Occupy LA even existed. In fact, the majority of Occupy LA unknowingly stepped into the debate after the raid on November 30, 2011. For years, the LAPD and The Central City Association’s private security have patrolled art walk to stave off the wayward homeless from neighboring skid row, so that the very poor, with their cries of hunger and untreated open wounds, do not disrupt the roving middle class crowd. Moreover, the art walk crowd is taught to fear skid row as lines of cops audibly warn middle class attendees not to travel far from Main Street.
My “Class WARhol” banner was designed to engage intelligent art walk attendees in conversation about the on-going class war in LA’s historic downtown core. I spoke with some art walk patrons who thought the banner was clever, but did not know much the treatment of the very poor in downtown LA. Others knew about the dangers of life on skid row (including rampant police harassment), but did not know that the police typically searched and arrested homeless people from skid row in preparation for art walk. While the galleries are busy washing their walls white to prepare for new art, the LAPD and CCA security are conducting their own kind of whitewash just outside.
CCA Prepares to “Clean Up” Skid Row
“Clean streets” in downtown LA does not simply mean removing trash and washing human waste into the gutters, it really implies ridding the streets of poor people and what little they own. Recently, it has come to include removing all memory traces of political speech by erasing the most ephemeral form of expression: sidewalk chalk. In the case of Occupy LA, they are getting lambasted by the police for calling attention to the problems of the very poor. Even more disheartening though, the shifting demographics of Occupy LA over the last 3 months are used to justify the actions of the LAPD – the poor, gay, black, and brown are now at the forefront of the Occupy movement and consequently, they bear the brunt of the attacks from the police. These populations are the favored marks of an institution that derives its own authority by depriving the people of their own power.
Lastly, I am beginning to better understand the imperative of ‘camera power’ to new social movements. Footage of cops enforcing their requests does in a flash what it might take years of filing official complaints to accomplish, the images reveal the non-institutionalized means by which compliance is actually accomplished: spitting, hair pulling, arm twisting, finger bending, and so on… all the things that children usually resort to in order to get their way. Resembling Tyson, when faced with an opponent that won’t yield, cops must also resort to cheating. Sadly though, like DNA evidence, future reliance on technology is at a cost to human witnessing itself as people’s testimonies become a comparably less authoritative account of an event. Like I said before, ‘give me the YouTube link, or it didn’t happen!’
– Joan Donovan –]]>
Below is a selection of images from the photographer; more photos from the protests may be found here.
– CourtneyOccupy –]]>
Los Angeles, CA–Los Angeles residents have been laying siege to the Central City Association for nearly a month. The people have been dutifully operating within the law, pitching tents at 9 p.m. and breaking down camp by 6 a.m. right in front of the “1%’s” lobby here in Los Angeles. In the day, we occupy Pershing Square and outreach, rest, and build our community. The people involved have been arrested and harassed, and it is escalating each day we camp at the doorsteps of corporate power.
Who exactly is the CCA? Their clients include Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Boeing, Target, US Bank, Verizon, Chevron, Walmart, and AT&T. They have the ear of the City Council and mayor as they push pro-business, anti-people regulations and laws. They are the shockingly overt bridge between money and politics.
In short, they are the perfect villain – both symbolically and literally. They represent Wall St. and profits over people. They represent how policies driven by corporate cash work to oppress the poor, elderly, and communities of color. They are behind gentrification in downtown LA, evictions, rent hikes, harassment, LAPD thuggery, and government ordinances against the “99%”.
Occupiers, most of whom are themselves houseless, have been peacefully gathering every night to protest the Economic Development Meeting and the downtown 2020 plan to build new high rises, the AEG Stadium and further criminalize dissent and push out the homeless. These are some of the things they are lobbying for:
So we had four arrests last night. Here are some thoughts and testimonies to the terror plot orchestrated by the LAPD around midnight, the night of June 21, 2012.
My first thoughts written last night:
4 Arrests in Midnight LAPD Raid on CCA Siege – Occupy Los Angeles – three of my best friends and roommates, and an unknown 4th man ARRESTED. Charges unknown. Police orchestrated tactical raid with 25+ cops, pepper spray out and batons swinging. Captain Frank (at a compañera’s trial yesterday) pointed at her and said, “Don’t I know you?” Another police officer told a fifth occupier that “You’re getting arrested tomorrow.”
I couldn’t move, trapped inside a tent and seeing silhouettes of gum-chewing cops, fidgety and in war-mode. LAPD’s true colors emerging.
You want to talk targeted kidnappings and terror? Cops were laughing as they pushed and hit us. Laughing as they sent 3 snatch squads and took my friends in the dead of night.
We’re traumatized and enraged. Three of my roommates were snatched by LAPD last night. Bails are $50,000, $25,000, and $10,000. They’ve been some of the most visible organizers with the siege on the Central City Association (1%’s lobby here in Los Angeles) for nearly a month. They have all been harassed, intimidated, brutalized, and arrested by the LAPD before. They have all been occupying for months and are inspiring in their defiance and rejection of the oppressive status quo.
It began, yet again, with chalk. We’ve had five arrests for chalking at #626Wilshire, despite the 9th circuit court decision of Mackinney vs. Neilson (1995) that states: “No chalk would damage a sidewalk.” This information, along with a cease & desist letter from the National Lawyers’ Guild in Los Angeles, has been sent to the LA Police Department. Clearly they don’t care, as the first arrest of the night was for chalking. An unknown man was quickly arrested as the raid materialized from around both corners.
I was in my tent sleeping and was awoken to screams, shouts, and crying. No sirens, no instructions on a bullhorn – there was a frightening SILENCE of legitimacy as 25+ LAPD officers came out of nowhere and ambushed the peaceful, LAWFUL encampment in front of the CCA. I did not go outside.
I did not go outside because I saw silhouettes of cops with batons surrounding my tent. I did not go outside because I was threatened with arrest and flagged as a “leader” in El Segundo on Tuesday at an anti-drone military-industrial complex action. I did not go outside because the day before (June 20), I was nearly taken into custody for an alleged bench warrant. IN OPEN COURT in which I WAS A WITNESS YET TO TESTIFY. The judge said, “That reeks of witness intimidation” and wouldn’t allow it. I didn’t go outside because I heard some of the strongest comrades I know shouting in fear and uncontrollably crying in confusion and terror. The silence from the LAPD was deafening.
I did not go outside of my hiding place because I am a political dissident the State is targeting.
So I listened.
Here’s a report-back from an OccupyLA participant laying siege to the Central City Association:
Tonight at 626Wilshire the police assaulted the camp because one lone participant was chalking. They surrounded him, wrestling him to the ground, unable to site the code they were enforcing. We reminded them that chalk is not vandalism, that it is not graffiti, it washes off, and at bare minimum it is free political speech.
We stood there, six peaceful protesters, standing our ground observing this injustice- filming the police. Questioning their authority. One pig tells us,“Move to the corner of the sidewalk” and “If you don’t do what I tell you, I will make you”.
We had not moved any closer, we were not any threat to the police officers. We were peaceful protesters. The police called back up. Squad car after squad car pulled up. They took out their batons. They took out their pepper spray. They began screaming in our face. They incited violence and began beating us. They dragged away three of our comrades. They were laughing. We stood our ground. They are the terrorists of the police state. Any fucking pig with a badge, baton and gun is a coward. LAPD is a fully funded, militarized gang.
As I write this, I am listening to the streamer broadcasting the current but temporary eviction of Occupy Skid Row. 5 tickets have been issued, some of the VERY SAME cops from last night are taping off the area as dump trucks and bulldozers move in to continue criminalizing the homeless.
Read about the Siege on the Central City Association here. Read about gentrification here. This fight is in the streets and the people have picked the perfect situation to build a hyper-localized community of resistance. To build revolution, as so many say, we must start from the ground up. The houseless, the disaffected, the broke and hungry… they’re in the streets, they’re in jail, and they’re fighting back. Join us.
– Ryan Rice –]]>
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.
Following the general assembly, about seventy occupiers took to the streets to march to the ongoing occupation of the Central City Association. We had a lot more people than the previous night, and the energy felt euphoric and tactile, much like the tribes around City Hall in last year. Young and old helping set up tents, an artist painting on canvas, and cardboard codes of conduct taped to trees. Pots, pans, guitars, boom boxes, and voices… all doing their part in clanging, strumming, thumping, and singing about solidarity and the revolution. Check out the photos here by Erik Herrera.
Some delicious vegan food showed up around 10:15 p.m. or so (Thank you, M.T.!) and we sat down with some hot tea and got to chalk-uppying the sidewalk. This was a new element, and along with the boost in occupiers, tents, and activities, made it feel like Solidarity Park last fall.
The camp groggily started to stir at about 5:45 a.m., when the 6 a.m. warning calls were being issued. (The rule throughout the city is tents can stay up from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m.) The LAPD had waited until about 7 a.m. on Day One to mobilize, but this morning they were only two minutes late. The same cops as yesterday strutted up and repeated their dance for the 1%. We didn’t.
The discipline and militancy of the first day was echoed for Day Two. The tents were immediately in the air. No one talked to the pigs. Yet still, one man was arrested for chalking on the sidewalk. Chalk is not graffiti… it has been deemed Constitutionally-protected free speech. He was chalking the names of Black Panthers who were killed by the police. They waited until he was finished, approached him and told him he was under arrest. No warning was given even though others had been chalking.
We spent the rest of the morning protesting the CCA on the corners and handing out flyers to the community. I noticed a markedly more positive response to outreach efforts. Some said they had seen us yesterday and were wondering what we were about. Others couldn’t help but grin as they said, “Good morning AGAIN!” to the adamant stalwarts lining the sidewalk. In this suffocating urban rat race, music and laughter and courtesy and compassion are becoming contagious as we occupiers remain vigilant.
– Ryan Rice –]]>
New York, NY – For very personal reasons I don’t respond well to verbal abuse, and people had been yelling at me from the moment my cab pulled up in proximity to the bus I needed to catch. The wheels of the vehicle I was in had barely ground to a halt before the screaming started.
“You can’t pull up here.”
“But I’m getting on one of the buses.”
“I’m trying to.”
“I can’t, I have to pay the driver and get my bags.”
I’m no futzer or dilly-dallier for fucks sake. And the cops wouldn’t exactly be happy if I vacated the cab without paying my tab. Argh! What did they want me to do that I wasn’t already doing?
Flustered, I threw myself and my bags onto the first New York bound bus I found. Only to be yelled at again. This time by an alternate driver, for some bizarre reason involving his need to sit in a specific seat so he could use a boombox to help him sleep?!?
“You don’t want to be in this bus if I can’t sleep. NO ONE DOES!!!!!”
I was getting sick of men taking their frustrations out on me. Fuck this shit.
I jumped off that bus and on to the next, only to be yelled at again, this time because it was “full.” Only it wasn’t. Fuck this shit, again.
Having run out of New York buses available to board, I collapsed with my bags on the pavement as chaos reigned around me. The presence of the police, barking unnecessary and nonsensical orders, which in turn harassed and panicked riders, was irrational. It was merely causing undue stress and hindering proceedings with absolutely zero tactical gain. After all, they were getting what they wanted, us “trouble makers” were leaving town. Like most abusive situations though, it seemed to be a power play, an action that gave the abuser the illusion of control. I hope someone felt better after yelling at me.
I sat on the cold hard concrete for a couple of minutes with my head in my hands, trying to tune out the un-checked aggression I’d been accosted with. I looked up and saw a friendly face walking towards me. It belonged to Stephen Webber, the deceptively unassuming and utterly awesome individual that had wrangled funds for the fleet of fourteen 99% Solidarity buses from the NNU. He told me not to worry, that two more NYC buses were waiting in the wings. Then, as he approached, so did the swing driver from the first bus I’d tried to board. I guess he felt guilty (he was), and offered to carry my bags to the second bus, which had now magically found room for me.
Ensconced in the relative calm of the bus, I got myself situated. Having captained one of the three buses out from LA, I’d bought a power converter with me to create a charging zone for the power hungry livestreamers aboard my designated media bus. As I negotiated with the diver as to how best to distribute his cigarette lighter-sourced juice, a female fellow Brit chirped, “Are you English?”
I turned around to see who’d inquired and immediately honed in on a girl with a crimson shock of hair. There was only one person it could be: UK journalist Laurie Penny a.k.a. my recent Twitter acquaintance @PennyRed.
I’d started following her after my friend, SG contributor @ZDRoberts had raved about her work, and had subsequently posted an excerpt from her Notes from the New Age of Dissent book – an essay entitled “In Defense of Cunt” – on this very blog. Consequently, when @PennyRed’s message saying “@99Solidarity trying to get in touch with you” showed up in my timeline, I’d immediately reached out to help. Turned out she’d been commissioned to write a story on the Chicago #NoNATO trip by The Independent, and needed a spot on one of our buses – something, as a member of the 99% Solidarity team, I’d been able to facilitate.
At the time, she’d told me she was only taking the bus one way, out from New York to Chicago, so it was a pleasant surprise to see her on the return ride. It was this kind of serendipity, born of often adverse situations, that’d been a reoccurring theme in the past few days. After all, if the first bus driver hadn’t been so offensive, I’d have never boarded this one, and we’d never have met.
The ride back otherwise was pretty uneventful, and, being a mere 15-hour journey, was far less grueling than my 50-hour epic ride out from LA. As the NY skyline appeared on the horizon, the mostly slumbering bus began to stir. “Welcome back to the rotten apple,” shouted one passenger as I stared at the deceptively beautiful view ahead. Closing in on our Upper West Side drop off point, another hollered with barely a hint of irony, “Mic Check! Does anyone know if there’s an action scheduled for today?”
As a bus captain and member of the 99% Solidarity crew, at times, organizing occupiers was akin to herding cats. But that’s kind of the point. These free-thinking individuals doggedly refuse to follow the crowd like sheep, and are not easily led. It’s this very quality that more Americans could do to be imbued with. They could also use a little of the tenacity of occupiers, something that those who claim the Occupy movement is over clearly underestimate.
My coast-to-coast adventure had been a trip in more ways than one. Thought I’d traveled across the country, I’d actually seen very little of it from the microcosm of the occu-bus. But I’d been rewarded in other ways. As I rolled across America, I’d forged new friendships, strengthened the bonds of existing ones, and substantially extended my network of like-minded activists. As a group, we’d learned a few things too; That a little organization goes a long way and that united by a common cause we could depend on and trust in the kindness of strangers, especially if those strangers self-identified as occupiers.
Though 99% Solidarity had always hoped that the Chicago trip would lead to greater cohesion and an exchange of ideas between occupiers from different cities, no one had anticipated it would lead to an actual exchange of occupiers to the extent that it did. As I write this, I’m on sabbatical from LA, occupying my friend, investigative journalist @Greg_Palast’s couch in NYC. And, having been made to feel so at home by the Occupy Chicago crew, all of whom were strangers to me prior to the advent of this trip, I look forward to paying it forward to the new members of OccupyLA once I return to the arbitrary place on this rock hurtling through space that I currently refer to as home.
Talking of which, one of the other things I realized on this fantastic journey is that regardless of whether I’m in Los Angeles, New York, Chicago or my native United Kingdom, when I’m amongst occupiers I am home.
Full disclosure: Nicole Powers has been assisting with 99% Solidarity’s efforts and is in no way an impartial observer. She is proud of this fact.]]>
Chicago, IL–After 50 hours on the road, and three days without a proper night’s sleep, tiredness was becoming a serious factor. Our ragtag group of activists, occupiers, and livestreamers had gathered in Pershing Square between 3 and 4 AM on the morning of Wednesday, May 16, and most, including us, had foregone sleep the night before in order to make last-minute preparations. The expected 4 AM departure of the three 99% Solidarity-organized and National Nurses United-funded Los Angeles occu-buses had been delayed for two hours while we awaited the arrival of the Bay Area Nine – a heroic group of Oakland and San Francisco occupiers who had traveled down via Greyhound after their direct ride to Chicago had been cancelled at short notice. It was therefore around 6 AM before we finally set off from Downtown LA.
Our journey time had been further extended by two separate cases of overheated-engine syndrome as we convoyed through the Nevada desert, and a minor medical emergency 100+ miles away from the Illinois state line. A few over-extended, but essential, pee and smoke breaks had also impacted our ETA. When we arrived at our final destination, a short walk away from Occupy Chicago’s Convergence Center at around 6 AM on Friday May 19, we were nearly half a day late. But despite the exhaustion, our spirits were for the most part high, boosted by the excitement of what was to come, and by the beauty of the city, which the majority of our group had never visited before.
As one of three designated bus captains, I hung around to make sure everyone was situated. Since the lateness of our arrival meant we’d mostly missed our accommodation opportunities for the night, some of our group decided to join other occupiers who were occupying Lake Michigan’s beach, some headed off to meet with friends, and the rest followed representatives from Occupy Chicago, who had kindly greeted us with an offer of breakfast, which would be served was soon as their Convergence Center opened at 8:30 AM.
With photos to edit and upload, and words such as these to file, I headed to a motel room which was serving as 99% Solidarity’s temporary base. Having been starved of a reliable internet connection for the past two days, there was much to catch up on, and very little time, since the march leading up to the NNU organized People’s G8 / Robin Hood Tax Rally was scheduled to star at 11 AM.
Following a shower, and a frenzy of emails, uploads, and social media posts, I grabbed a much-needed Starbucks, a liquid breakfast/boost being all I had time for. (Unfortunately, sometimes, corporate crack is unavoidable – and this was one of those occasions!) I met up with a core group of occupiers and activists at Michigan and Madison, and headed over to Daley Plaza with them.
As we made our way down E Washington, we admired the barricades which the Chicago Police Department had kindly laid out on either side of the street to make out of town occupiers feel right at home. Given the much-publicized increased police presence, which involved importing officers from several other states, the atmosphere was surprisingly relaxed. When a group of CPD officers wearing full-on riot helmets cycled past on bikes, at this juncture, quite frankly the sight was more ridiculous than threatening. But as we closed in on Daley Plaza, the police presence was far less frivolous.
It was heartening to see an impressively large crowd had turned out to support the nurses and their call for a Robin Hood Tax. These overworked and underpaid group of individuals are on the frontlines of the war against the working and middle class, and the breakdown of our economy is particularly salient to those who staff our emergency rooms. There is therefore a natural affinity between the goals of Occupy and the nurses union, who were among the first of the traditional labor organizations to support the fledgling alternative grassroots activist movement.
Another stalwart supporter of the Occupy movement is Tom Morello, who performed at the rally once the talk was done. He gleefully taunted Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who had attempted to silence the Rage Against the Machine guitarist by pulling the NNU’s permit after they announced he was scheduled to perform. The resulting public outcry having forced Emanuel to relent.
“I know damn well I’m welcome in Chicago” Morello said to the cheering and appreciative crowd. “The mayor’s office tried to shut this whole thing down…How ridiculous for the mayor’s office to think I would do anything to hurt Chicago? Chicago is my favorite city on the whole world.”
After Morello’s perfectly pitched mix of rhetoric and rebel songs, the rally dissipated. The nurses took to their buses, occupiers took to the streets, and, after another burst of essential online activity, this activist/journalist voted for sleep.
Visit the gallery at SuicideGirls.com for oodles more images from the event.
To keep tabs on the progress of the Chicago bus trip and actions, subscribe to the 99% Solidarity media Twitter list and check in with us via the following livestreams:
Full disclosure: Nicole Powers has been assisting with 99% Solidarity’s efforts and is in no way an impartial observer. She is proud of this fact.]]>
Chicago, IL–Day 2 of our epic journey was very flat, but literally, rather than metaphorically. Having made it through Denver’s Rocky Mountains under the cover of darkness while most on the bus were asleep, we woke up to a spectacular sunrise as we sped across the border into Nebraska. There the terrain was level, very level, as were heads on our designated LA media bus.
California Dream Stream Team member OccupyFreedomLA conducted classes aboard the bus on livestreaming and social media. A veteran occupier, she also made sure everyone knew the local Chicago National Lawyers Guild number and also read out a briefing she’d been given on the Chicago Police Department’s provisions for press over the long weekend. The CPD “Ground Rules For Media” included these ‘highlights’:
No “cutting” in and out of police lines will be permitted, or “going up against their backs.” Those who follow protesters onto private property to document their actions are also will be subject to arrest if laws are broken. Any member of the media who is arrested will have to go through the same booking process as anyone else. Release of equipment depends on what part the equipment played in the events that led to the arrest…
There will not be any quick personal recognizance bond just for media members…
But police emphasized that those who choose to walk amid the protesters are “on your own.” The department cannot guarantee the safety of those who do so and cannot guarantee that they can extract any reporter who ends up the target of protesters.
That last line about reporters becoming targets of protesters was particularly inflammatory, and received the appropriate derisive response from our 99% Solidarity media crew, who though not impartial, were there to accurately report the news rather than make it with acts of violence. Indeed, everyone on board all of the 99% Solidarity buses had signed a pledge confirming their peaceful intentions, which was a pre-requisite for boarding.
Talking of peaceful, positive and progressive intentions, after members participated in one of the weekly Media Consortium Inter-Occupy press briefing calls, we had some great conversations on the direction of the movement over the course of the day – and some even greater ones with our bus drivers, who shared their thoughts on Occupy, which were all very constructive if not entirely supportive. Of the three drivers we’d had (who’d operated in shifts due to the length of our trip), it was our last driver who turned out to be our biggest supporter, somewhat surprisingly given his former occupation: though a former Marine, he shared many of our anti-NATO sentiments, expressing a frustration at our government’s overseas policy and treatment of veterans, which was naturally tempered by his loyalty to his fellow servicemen.
When the conversation died down, the documentaries Casino Jack and The United States of Money, about corrupt lobbyist (is there any other kind?) Jack Abramoff, and Exit Through the Gift Shop, about street artist Banksy and his accidental protégé Mr. Brainwash, kept our group entertained. The standard revolution diet of pizza, again, kept them sustained.
As we drove into Iowa, we were confronted by another spectacular sunset. Our livestreamers, who by now had their own designated hashtag #CaliDST, were getting quite competitive when capturing these.
A minor medical emergency delayed us for an hour just before crossing the Illinois state border. As we headed into Chicago almost 50 hours after our journey had begun, those on the bus let out a collective cheer as we spied the spectacular skyline. Another sunrise, this time over the waters of Lake Michigan, greeted us as we drove into the heart of the city.
Our buses stopped at Lakeshore & Belmont, just a few blocks away from Occupy Chicago’s Convergence Center. Local Occupy members kindly met us with promises of a much-needed breakfast as soon as the staging area opened at 8.30 AM that day. Most on the bus decided to take them up on their offer, not wanting to make history on an empty stomach. Indeed news of the protesters arrival in the Windy City in a fleet of 17 99% Solidarity/NNU buses had already made the news, with a photo of the first of four from NYC taking up most of the Chicago Sun-Times front page!
To keep tabs on the progress of the Chicago bus trip and actions, subscribe to the 99% Solidarity media Twitter list and check in with us via the following livestreams:
Full disclosure: Nicole Powers has been assisting with 99% Solidarity’s efforts and is in no way an impartial observer. She is proud of this fact.]]>