The ‘peaceful evacuation’ of Occupy Los Angeles
‘Evacuation’ is what kindly firefighters do when buildings are in danger of collapsing. This was an attack on people exercising their first amendment rights to assembly and speech in a public space.
LOS ANGELES — I used to read stories of revolutionaries in Chiapas, Northern Ireland, Spain, and elsewhere, and think: if we were able to start something revolutionary in the USA, would I have the courage to stand my ground against the inevitable crackdown of the police state, once we started to escalate?
It turns out I didn’t have to wait for the USA to become truly revolutionary to experience that moment.
Truth be told, I didn’t need to see my brothers and sisters kidnapped and manhandled before my eyes to feel an overwhelming sense of anger and sorrow at the specter of what my country has become. I did three years between San Quentin and DVI Tracy prison in California. Living three years in the waste heap where the 1% spits out the human byproducts of its ingenious socialize-the-risks-and-privatize-the-profits enterprise, I already had that.
But I watched these people who had become a family — nah, scratch that. Family sounds too quaint for what we’re doing. Who had become a people at last. I watched them radicalize in a matter of days. As Rebel Alliance (from Star Wars) leader Princess Leia says to an Imperial general: the tighter you squeeze your fist, the more we slip through your fingers.
The rebel alliance is forming, and the more they crush us, the more rebel we get. Indeed, some of the liberal-democratic Democratic party patsies that annoyed me the most have become close comrades, just by virtue of the attack (let’s not mince words here).
But even for me — who went to what Lenin called a training ground for revolutionaries (prison) — something changes when you see the people you live with in your home dragged violently away, or chased into traps where they are kidnapped and safely stored away from our increasingly privatized “public” spaces.
Perhaps what made it poignant is that, although it was our home, it was truly our home, not my home in any way. That felt better than any apartment, cell, dorm, overcrowded ex-gymnasium full of triple-stacked bunks and 400 inmates, or house I’ve lived in. To be living Woody Guthrie’s ”This Land is Your Land,” instead of just singing the non-commie verses with my hand over my heart in grade school.
Perhaps we need to see each other suffer before our deepest and longest love comes to the forefront of our scattered American hearts. Perhaps watching people, whose commitment to democracy you could only guess at based on their listserve posts or handmade signs, stay behind in the freezing cold for hours and hours, knowing they are about to be attacked, finally allows you to put aside your mistrust and feel the force of an actual movement, which knows itself viscerally to be on the right side of history now.
Perhaps our government is making the same mistake as so many empires past — pushing people until they feel enough solidarity to feel like The People again.
I suppose I should get to some details. I’m hesitant, though, because even internally there were voices indignantly clamoring for “evidence” of police brutality. I am suspicious and do a quick privilege check when I or anyone around me seems loathe to believe their country could be oppressive in this way.
But the stories in the mainstream media the next day revealed just such an aversion to believing that we the people could live in the kind of police state that serves as the bad guy in our spy movies and bad Tom Clancy novels. The L.A. Times glowed about how “peaceful” the “evacuation” was.
Evacuation? Evacuation is what kindly firefighters do when buildings are in danger of collapsing. This was an attack on people exercising their first amendment rights to assembly and speech in a public space.
To be fair to the media, it’s hard to properly cover an incursion of a paramilitary force (complete with Department of Homeland Security patches on some of the uniforms, which I saw with my own eyes) when the city ad hoc creates a “media pool” allowing only a handful of trustily patsy media sources in to witness. Even then, the cops patiently waited until the media was gone before the violence.
While my partner was being arrested along with other friends and members of our newfound community of rich and poor, artistic and artisan, sober and using, educated and uneducated, I was out in the street with another mass of demonstrators.
We had finally overcome the conservative forces within Occupy that think obeying every order by the cops, no matter how unjust or illegal, will win us widespread public support. So we marched into the street chanting, “Whose streets?! Our streets!,” exercising what for many of us was a new understanding of public space as ours, not theirs.
It’s sad it’s come to this, that our elected representatives, their enforcers, and the 1% who they serve, are no longer us. These are the conditions for revolution, and that is what we are witnessing — first stirrings of revolution in perhaps the most counterrevolutionary industrialized nation.
The cops shoved batons into chests of those in the front row. Those from communities always and everywhere targeted by the LAPD and their Drug War chanted things like, “Oink, oink, bang, bang, everyday the same thang.” Those who come from communities where you never see cops and when you do they’re there to help, you gave flowers and (embarrassingly) chanted “You are part of the 99%.”
Meanwhile the police, in one of many ad hoc legal decisions, decided we were now all guilty of unlawful assembly and would be arrested. As in the park, those who were not willing to take such risks were escorted into a separate area where… they were arrested anyway.
Dastardly. Many escaped. Many didn’t. Those of us not about to follow an unjust order stayed, and when the cops moved in, we fled through Japantown, cops organizing on radios and meeting us head on at various crossings.
Each time we would sprint right or left, into a shopping center or parking garage, running, laughing, chanting, “Ain’t no power like the power of the people ‘cause the power of the people don’t stop,” and generally experiencing our common bonds like never before.
By now it was 4 a.m. and the cops had succeeded in dividing us into smaller groups. No media, no mob = safe to attack. Some were beaten as they were chased down steps. Others were beaten when they ran down the wrong dead end.
The frightening aspect of all this aggression and illegality is that there is video. We’re not dummies, and many of us were livestreaming or recording on phones, and we put them up on YouTube, sent them to mainstream media outlets, and generally tried to spread the word.
Did that change the story? Not much. Soon our videos began to be deleted from YouTube (wait — I thought Cuba was the country that censored media). Perhaps it’s the United States of American insistence on high-quality video footage. We don’t like those new Godard films with the unprofessional looking camerawork. But I suspect it’s something more sinister than that.
And this isn’t even to speak of the horrendous and illegal treatment of our people in the jails. Many were held on buses, in tight zipcuffs, for hours, begging to use a bathroom. People were denied medical treatment. Most were not booked for at least three hours after being arrested, some were held without booking up to nine hours.
Protesters with no prior arrests and no other complications should be released on their own recognizance when they show their identification. Occupiers were held for 48 hours, and only those who were able to contact the Bail Commissioner were considered for OR. These are all choices made by the LAPD to teach us a lesson.
In the days after, the LAPD and their cronies have stepped up the violence. One friend was mercilessly beaten for riding his bike along a march route. So were those who stepped in to protest.
As in New York City, the cops have taken to attacking people with cameras first. The arrests have become arbitrary along with the laws. One person was arrested for walking the City Hall steps with a sign at midnight. The next day the same person wasn’t. Suddenly a largely white and middle class group is being treated like our brothers and sisters on Skid Row. Big mistake. Before, half of us thought those people were treated like that because they’re misbehaving. Now we know, and the veil of Maya is lifted forever from the face of authority in the USA.
You had us where you wanted us — safely unradicalized and believing that the people in jail deserved to be there. Then we went and lived with them. Now we know. My friend Carolyn used to write and talk mostly about being more polite to each other, involving the cops in our struggle, and making sure we appeal to every single person in the USA with our message.
She got out of jail quoting revolutionary rappers and talking like Mike Davis. And there are many more like her now. Big mistake.
[Anthony Cristofani is a writer, musician, and PhD candidate based in Los Angeles.]