I took my seven year old daughter to Occupy Irvine, a part of Occupy Orange County, on the lawn in front of City Hall on Saturday. What follows is just one report on one relatively small event out of nearly 2,000 in the United States–with many larger and more volatile ones around the globe.
I expect that the protests are playing out somewhat differently everywhere, depending upon what the place is like, how the police react, and who is organizing the effort. Simply, the character of Occupy isn’t something created from nothing, but rather, will be connected to the political history of the relevant actors.
Irvine, where I live, sits in the heart of Orange County, the political birthplace of Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan, and more recently, of the Minuteman Project, an organizing effort against undocumented immigrants. My Congressman, John Campbell, is a conservative Republican, determined to cut government spending of all kinds; a strong Democratic candidate will poll 40% running against him–or any Republican. Irvine is represented in the state senate and state assembly by equally conservative Republicans.
Although Orange County has changed over the years, mostly a function of immigration, it still isn’t a place you’d expect to be particularly fertile for a movement from the left end of the political spectrum.
Irvine is a planned city of just over 200,000 people, incorporated in1971, and comprised of 17 community associations. It’s a mostly affluent community, known for its extremely low crime rate and the exceptionally high test scores public school students post on state-wide
exams. Irvine is home to numerous national corporate headquarters, as well as the branch of the University of California where I work. There is little public transportation, and the City is laid out to avoid providing demonstrators with visible and disruptive places to protest; there is no downtown.
In short, Irvine is a tough test for a movement from the left.
I was surprised to see a large number of people (local newspapers estimated 600-1000); I knew several people were going to Los Angeles instead (about 75 minutes driving time), where they expected more interesting activities (this is the general plight of the suburbs). More significantly, they looked like the range of people I see in grocery stores and at sporting events in Irvine all the time. There were young people, to be sure, some with the Anonymous Guy Fawkes mask, but plenty of people who looked like whatever suburban stereotype you carry around. There were older women wearing tee-shirts with political slogans, and gray-haired men with good haircuts and pastel polo shirts.
Organizers, some from Moveon.org, brought markers and cardboard, and people made signs. (My daughter couldn’t find many kids her age, and organizers offered to let her draw.) The sentiments looked like other Occupy protests (list): we are the 99%; banks got bailed out, we got sold out; time for an American spring; we’re not from the left, we’re not
from the right, we’re from the bottom and we’re coming for the top. And many many more. Some focused on local targets, calling for an oil extraction tax to fund public schools, for example. (This was my favorite.) There was a band, and a large drum, but only one, and I didn’t hear anyone play it.
The notes making up the Occupy chord were a little too diverse to offer a clear tone. I noticed perhaps a half-dozen Oath Keepers (a group of current and former military, police, and firefighters determined to defend their vision of the Constitution, a similar number supporting Ron Paul’s presidential campaign, and a couple of LaRouchies with a very large banner covering the most visible corner. Someone was handing out leaflets about ending the fed, while another was handing out leaflets advising people about how to deal with the police (don’t talk!).
It’s not odd to see counter-protesters at a large event, or marginal efforts seeking an audience. What seemed different here was that both the majority of activists and the conservative contingents treated their simultaneous presence as something of a momentary populist alliance. I don’t believe an alliance this broad is sustainable or potentially influential; I don’t think many of the activists do either. But this was a different kind of politics day.
Drivers going by honked out support, but it was hard to tell who they were supporting. Most of the demonstrators at the first rally walked a long march on a major thoroughfare on a hot autumn day.
On Saturday night, Occupy Irvine’s Facebook page reports, a much smaller group of a few dozen held their first General Assembly meeting, making plans for a long camp-out at City Hall. They stayed the night, but local police prevented them from sleeping, and they await a ruling from the City Council about their planned Occupation.
The most vigorous organizers seem committed to figuring out how to stage a long time occupation. More interesting, at least to me, was the broad swath of support for the general Occupy claims about inequality, and the eagerness of many people to try to do something.