Tuesday, December 13, 2011
5 of 5 essays: How Occupy LA got itself evicted
Hopefully my earlier reporting here about Occupy LA as well as material from OccupyLosAngeles.org, OccupyLA.org, LosAngelesGA.net and @OccupyLA can provide enough context.
So I will publish them here as I did to the list serv, one a day for the next five days:
Monday: Did 1st Amendment protect OLA encampment @ City Hall Park?
Tuesday: Was DHS behind the eviction of Occupy LA?
Wednesday: What's the real reason Villaraigosa kicked us out?
Thursday: The Demonization of Mario
Friday: How Occupy LA got itself evicted
As I heard the Occupy LA Code of Conduct being read before the local news TV cameras at the General Assembly "The community will respect the individual's right to use drugs and alcohol," I realized that the encampment at city hall would probably be shut down soon, for while the standards of allowable conduct for the community that had become the Occupy LA encampment at city hall may have been okay with drug and alcohol use in public parks, the larger community that represents 99% of Los Angeles was not. As I had said before, ours is not a military occupation, it is a non-violent occupation. We don't hold city hall park by force of arms, we hold it with our moral authority and popular support. When we lose those, we will lose the encampment.
This eviction happened because the city let us have enough rope to hang ourselves with and we greedily took it. Many occupiers knew there were serious problems with drugs, alcohol and more at the encampment. We also knew that we did not introduce these problems to downtown Los Angeles. But just as the encampment became a refuge for many in our society seeking shelter from the cold, it became a "liberated" zone for unlawful activities that in many cases, we did not even try to control.
The city and police knew what was going on too and these problems were discussed more or less openly in a number of city liaison meetings I attended. These were meetings between reps from the mayor and LAPD and self-appointed or selected occupiers that volunteered for this necessary but ultimately thankless task. There were also phone calls, a select group of numbers some commanders at LAPD had to call whenever they had a problem or a question.
I think the city liaison work developed in a non-transparent, non GA approved way, like much of our work, not because of any sinister intentions, but because of the "fly by the seat of the pants" nature in which almost everything associated with Occupy LA developed in the early days. I got involved because I received a call from Alarcon's office about Occupy LA support for responsible banking even before the occupation began.
They called me because they found my name associated with Occupy LA somewhere in the biosphere and they didn't know shit about bringing a proposal to the GA. And I guess it can be fairly argued that when I used the term "we" and asked for his help modifying the LAPD position that we couldn't camp out at city hall, I was representing Occupy LA to a city or police official in a non-transparent way without either GA approval or GA report back, and that was only the first time. I initiated other calls on behalf of Occupy LA to other city and police officials even that same day.
After the initial efforts. in which the city council support resolution was secured and the practical right to keep tents on the grass, have porta potties, and amplified sound, etc. were gained, I think the most important function these meetings and phone calls served was to give the city a way to complain. For those doing this work, it was mostly about taking the heat and putting out the fires. We were trying to maintain a relationship with the city govt because that was the only basis upon which the occupation of city hall park was viable now. In my experience, relationships work better if you feel you have someone to talk to and the other party is actually listening. Even if little or no real progress is being made with regards to your "issues", you're likely to continue the relationship as long as you feel they are being "addressed." The quickest way to end the relationship is to suddenly cut lines of communications.
And I must now admit that I did often consciously miss-represent Occupy LA to city and police officials. I think others did too but they have to speak for themselves. For example, when the above mentioned problems would come up, as they often did. I would always seek to minimize them, put them even below levels that I knew to be true. I would say that we were as concerned about drug and alcohol abuse as they were, blah, blah, blah. I would play up our efforts to address these problems and consciously under-represent views at Occupy LA that were okay with drug and alcohol use in the park.
I think I was a good candidate for city liaison because on these issues I could tell these officials in earnest what they wanted to hear. I could do that because I always opposed drug and alcohol use at the encampment. But I also knew that the GA had a resolution that condoned it. Why I wasn't there to hard block that is another question, apparently consensus is only 100% if everyone can be there for every decision, but that is besides the point. I miss-presented Occupy LA, I told then that we were doing more to address these problems than we were doing, when in fact I knew that many at Occupy LA didn't see open drug and alcohol use in the city park as a problem at all. I did this both because I really did think we shouldn't allow drug and alcohol use in the encampment and because I knew that the position embodied in that code of conduct was incompatible with the city's continued support for the encampment in the city hall park.
As I saw it, that was the main job of city liaison, to give them somebody to bitch and complain to, and to give them some private channels to do that in and us some idea about what was on their mind. Yes, much of this was on the qt, very 'hush-hush', non-transparent, not for public consumption or broadcast. Anyone who has ever been involved in talks of this kind, like talks with an enemy to end a war or maintain a peace, knows that transparency is not so much a friend of that mission as confidentiality is.
Also I would have to say that as a whole the city liaison team did not fairly represent Occupy LA in that it represented only those that believed in working with the police and the city, that thought we should ask for permission before we acted without it, thought city government had a legitimate role in coordinating and regulating the use of public resources, and wanted a climate of peace with the city and the LAPD so that we could focus on the fight against Wall St. Until that very last city liaison meeting, after which we were evicted, it did not represent those occupiers that opposed any discussions with the city, opposed any request for permits or thought from the very beginning that the main issue was stopping police brutality at Occupy LA.
But in spite of those weaknesses, or perhaps, because of them, the city liaison team seemed to be doing an excellent job, at least from the point of view of someone who wanted to see the encampment at city hall continue through the winter and play the vital role that it could have played for the whole Occupy Wall St. movement in this period. While the City wanted us off the lawn of city hall sooner or later, for a whole variety of reasons, before this "transparency" row, they were offering us buildings and farm land and floating January 31st as an agreeable end date for the last of the encampment.
The city liaison team was not agreeing, we were extending the talks, and with them the occupation. As far as I'm concerned, what we were doing was still working, as it had for seven weeks. If instead, you want the LAPD to come down to the GA and publicly air their issues with Occupy LA while the cameras are rolling, you will get what we got.
The encampment at Los Angeles City Hall that started on October 1st and ended with our eviction on November 30th was a tremendously important groundbreaking for Occupy Los Angeles. For two months we held the ground at city hall. From the beginning it was very diverse in it's representation of all the various black, white, Latino, Asian and indigenous peoples of Los Angeles. We got a lot of support from community groups and labor. With over 400 tents and 500 overnight occupiers staying on city hall lawn, and many more 'day trippers' like myself, we build what was probably the largest encampment in the United States, and with creations like the People's Collective University, the Print Shop, the Bike Repair Shop & community bike pool, the Kids Center, not to mention the welcome tent, the media tent, security, medical and of course the food tent, probably one of the ones most sophisticated in it's organization.
With the encampment at city hall as our base camp we were able to host numerous events that drew thousands, the LAPD reported 15 thousand for the march on October 15th, and carry forward a constant stream of protests against the banks and other seats of power in downtown LA. We were able to make our voice heard inside city hall too, as it proved convenient for occupiers to attend city council and committee meetings in city hall and weigh in on "business as usual" as never before.
I could go on and on about the accomplishments of Occupy Los Angeles to date because they are not easy to minimize, but quite obviously, that is not the point of these essays. Besides there are many writers who will uncritically sing the praises of the movement. My intention here is to shine a bright light on our problems so that we can correct them and move forward. I will continue to say nobody can defeat this movement if we don't defeat ourselves. Strength comes from within, but so does weakness. Nothing lasts forever and while the encampment at city hall had to end sooner or later, it could have ended later and on much more favorable terms. I hope I have shown that the conditions that led to the eviction of Occupy LA from the city hall park in this instant were internal to the movement and, as such, things that we should have been able to control directly. I hope that some lessons can be learned.
As to the future, I think the eviction has actually had a liberating effect on Occupy Los Angeles. After two months, the sheer logistics of maintaining the camp, even without all the internal camp problems that were cropping up, was draining the energy of far too many activists. Now we are free to organize wide ranging campaigns all over Los Angeles.
The General Assembly continues to meet on the west steps of city hall nightly @ 7:30p.
Yesterday, there was a bold action to shutdown the westcoast ports.
On December 15th we will Occupy I.C.E. to stop deportations and raids.
Occupy Los Angeles is just beginning. Occupy 2.0 is now being launched.