New Update: Police are massing nearby; they’ve reportedly been through “wedge” training and are on buses. San Diegans plan on leaving park at the 2:30 a.m. warning.
Two dozen local activists join LA protesters at the hour of their eviction
When a few of us in Occupy San Diego this past weekend heard that our sisters and brothers in Occupy LA were facing eviction early Monday morning, about two dozen of us traveled up to LA and camped out with them in solidarity.
When OSD veteran Julie M. put up on facebook that she wanted to drive up to LA and show support for their occupation, a number of us jumped at the chance to drive up there with her. So Howard, Humberto, Claudia and I crammed into Julie’s Prius and headed out for LA, leaving from the Civic Center Plaza on Sunday, the 27th. We had plans to stay at least one night and be there when the occupiers at the LA City Hall faced off with their eviction – which was set for 12:01 a.m. Monday morning.
We arrived at downtown LA in the late afternoon, and after wandering around in wonder at the sight of hundreds of tents in the sprawling encampment that surrounded the LA City Hall – the largest occupation on the West Coast – we set up a San Diego occupation of one small section of the concrete steps next to where their General Assemblies were held. Music was playing and a large crowd was partying in the middle of the small plaza – the atmosphere being one of a grand festival.
And even though the site was facing an eviction by the police that night, there was virtually no great police presence. In fact, during our first hours there, we only saw a couple of cops. We muttered to ourselves, “if this was San Diego ….”
To us, in comparison, there was a real lack of any tension in the air, and we couldn’t help but contrast what we found in LA with what Occupy San Diego has been facing over these last few weeks with the stand-offs with police and city government in general. LA was so much more laid-back even as it was so much larger in scale than the height of OSD’s tent city at our City Hall in early October.
LA had 400 – 500 tents at its peak, and even though it was evident by the time we got there that many tents had been removed, there were still so many standing, that it didn’t matter. We watched the scene in envy – and as LA is the place to people watch – their tent city was no different. There was a huge media tent, a “Kids Village”, several tributes to sacred land and other symbols.
Other San Diegans arrived – and by night’s end we counted nearly 25 of us who had traveled north in a half dozen vehicles. A bunch of us gathered around where Julie had set up her tent – two San Diegans were already slumbering in it.
The massive city hall buildings were surrounded by tents, and as I took a walk around the building, I found several committees meeting near the great entrance to the place. There was a legal observer training at one place, and about 50 yards away, a GA-process type committee was planning for the assembly meeting itself. They had more people at this committee meeting that we have sometimes at our own GA.
As night drew its curtains, we returned to the steps where we had raised our invisible San Diego banner. Being LA, I was not that surprised when I saw my first actress briefly milling about near the GA steps by 5:30. More and more people showed up and by time the GA started at about 7:30 pm, there were literally thousands in the park-like setting that engulfed this corner of LA. Later, organizers had declared this was the largest GA ever in the history of Occupy LA.
The co-moderators and others who spoke and guided the assembly were so-LA; they were polished, experienced, accomplished, and were immersed in a self-deprecating humor that strengthened the patience and energy of the crowd. The guy in charge of the stage craft sounded like a professional radio announcer. The “Raid Committee” gave their report, as did the other important committees at this crucial time. Committee reports were timed and everything flowed fairly well.
Ron Kovic – the fairly famous anti-Vietnam war protester – whose antics had been made into a movie, “Born On the Fourth of July” with Tom Cruise – gave a very stirring speech, praising the occupiers as the hope of the nation.
Over the next couple of hours, two resolutions passed – each with a tight consensus of thousands of people. The one I recall blasted the Supreme Court’s classification of corporations as people coupled with an affirmation of freedom of speech. Somewhere between 10:00 and 10:30 the GA broke up – there had been an announcement that a march was to begin soon after. We along with the other masses waited for the anointed hour – 12:01 – the moment of supposed eviction. One former San Diegan had gone around collecting cigarette donations to be ostensibly handed out at that minute.
The park was packed and around 11, many people poured out into the darkened, empty streets. Banners and chants dominated a couple of street corners. Some people sat down in the middle of the street, some began dancing to a drum circle, most simply milled about. Lots of people wore bandanas and had some form of mask on top of their head, waiting for the tear gas or mace or pepper spray which they were convinced would be sprayed that night. The excitement was growing and when the cops finally showed up in mass about a block away from the encampment, hundreds ran down to greet them. A bunch of young men climbed on top of a bus stop and took a defiant posture.
Others pleaded with the crowds to return to the park with bullhorns and chants. Some did. But as those who were persuaded to go back to the encampment moved away, others flowed over to the police lines as they were the sites of excitement.
Predictably, more police showed up and began to block off entrances to the area. One police vehicle closed in and broadcast a warning that those in the streets would be subject to arrest. Each time the police formed a line, protesters formed up in front of them. This went on for a couple of hours it seemed. The stream of protesters leaving the scene began to tell on those numbers remaining.
Finally, police announced that the street was an illegal assembly. When that happened, most did return to the park, and as the cops closed in after 4:45 am, the intensity of the scene climbed to the scorching zone. Three protesters were arrested as they sat in the street. People lining the street linked arms. Chants and yelling intensified.
Back at the center of the encampment, dozens had encircled several tents and were prepared to be arrested in one final act of resistance if the police had moved into the camp itself. At least two of our San Diego compatriots had been part of that circle.
There was some minor pushing and shoving at the camp’s front lines when police tried to grab somebody. But the line held and even though the streets were declared off-limits to the protesters, eventually police withdrew before the dawn of light. It would be rush-hour soon. As they witnessed the withdrawal, scores sang Steam’s one-song wonder: “nah-nah-nah-han, hey-hey-hey, good-by”. (Three years ago, at Obama’s inauguration as Bush flew out of DC in his helicopter, thousands had sang the same thing.)
There hadn’t been much food and water at the camp for several hours as much of the camp’s infrastructure had been carted away in anticipation of the mass eviction.
With the tension over for the time, the crowds melted into the camp, some collapsing where they could as most had been up all night, others remained upright still on their adrenalin. I found refuge in a space formed by large tree roots, later in a chair, and finally laid down next to other San Diegans slumbering over at our corner of the encampment site.
With the sun coming up, more tents vanished even while a few were freshly erected. Hungry and in need of coffee, I got up and wandered around downtown LA for what seemed like hours looking for something, anything. Finally, I did locate a coffee and breakfast place not far from the demonstration site. As soon as I made my way up to the counter, a dozen police officers walked in to get their share of the java. But all were polite.
Back at the camp, the dozen porta-potties were overflowing. Parts of the camp looked evacuated. People mingled about in a state of numbness and exhaustion. The thousands of the night before had disappeared and there were only hundreds at the camp. Pizza slices and jelly and peanut butter sandwiches were handed out. There was now water, the medical tents were functioning again as the camp began to pick up its pieces and move back to its regularity. Speculation that the police would move in over the next 48 hours was very easy to hear.
Yet, things were different. Hundreds of tents were gone. And the intensity of the weekend faded into rumors of the next “raid” which some were convinced would come at 2 am Monday morning. Many of the San Diegans wanted to stay another night, assured of this. I joined a car that was heading home and we left the encampment at 1pm and returned two hours later to hear stories of the “mini-tents” at our own Plaza. Most of us had only had an hour of sleep so we collapsed back into our San Diego lives and back to the hazards and pain of Occupy San Diego, where the cops are meaner than their LA counter-parts and the cold, harsh aloof posture of the local mayor here in our southern citadel of paradise remains simply amazing.
But we had been part of history. We had stood in solidarity with our sisters and bros up north at the hour of their need. We had experienced something that we could only imagine down here, a real “tent city” that has lasted for some sixty days now in downtown LA.
NEW UPDATE: Tuesday night
10:15 pm 8 major news stations will be allowed into the park during the upcoming eviction – their selection was based on a lottery – as the media were informed that the arrests were coming up. A paddy wagon has pulled up and certain streets have been blocked, some by the police and some by people out watching an amazing fireworks display over the park put on the Occupy LA. The park supposedly closes at 10:30.
9:oopm: We contacted our San Diego occupiers still at Occupy LA; apparently police are massing two blocks away; they have had “wedge” training, and are currently on buses. A lot of media have walkOur friends plan on leaving the park when the 2:30 a.m. last warning is given by police. Also, our friends have set up a small area clearly marked as an Occupy San Diego section – two tents are up along with a banner. People walking by have noticed.
UPDATE: I called one of our San Diego activists camped out at Occupy LA late this morning, and he reported that they had had “an uneventful night.” And they were packing up to come home.
Photo Gallery – (click on photo for larger version).