Vacating Occupy LA

LA Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has consistently praised Occupy LA, camped out on the lawn in front of City Hall for two months.  (The most interesting achievement, according to an environmental activist, was destroying the environmentally unsound green lawn.)   Throughout the Occupation, the mayor and police chief kept talking to the protesters, emphasizing their respect and intent to work together to manage any problems.

Indeed, one police commander gave two stuffed turkeys to the Occupation for the Thanksgiving holiday.  Ostensibly embracing the dissent is an alternative social control strategy, one commonly practiced in the United States today.

The praise didn’t skip a beat yesterday when the mayor and Police Chief Charlie Beck announced that the Occupiers would not be allowed to camp on the lawn past Monday morning.  In a letter to the Occupation, the mayor continued to endorse both the issues and the effort: “In seven short weeks, you have awakened the country’s conscience…You have given voice to those who have not been heard.” But he was also clear that they had to find somewhere else to stay in the very near future.

The mayor, police chief, and the City Council have all been on this script for the duration of the Occupation, even as they’ve demanded that it end.  For the past two weeks, the Mayor has tried to negotiate a triumphant exit for the Occupiers, reportedly offering farm land for encampment and cultivation, a $1 a year lease on office space in City Hall, and beds for up to 100 of the Occupiers who are otherwise homeless.

But negotiating with a leaderless collective governed by consensus is a virtually impossible task.  (Indeed, that’s part of the idea.  Enthusiasts for horizontal organization and grassroots democracy argue that avoiding leaders means preventing the creation of someone who can sell you out.)  For people who are primarily concerned with pursuing politics to redress political and economic inequality, land and legitimation are real assets.  Abandoning the need to manage the logistics of the Occupation is yet another advantage.

But Occupy LA includes people who want to recreate the world from the ground up, and others who have found a place to live and a community.  Politics indoors isn’t very attractive to them.

Occupy LA’s General Assembly rejected the deal, and then announced demands for discussions leading to any other deal:

We reject outright the City’s attempts to lure us out of City Hall and into negotiations by offering us nebulous, non-transparent and unconfirmed offers which fail to even begin to address our local grievances. We will continue to occupy this space, in solidarity with our global movement, until the forces of the few are forced to capitulate to the power of the people.

When the following grievances have been addressed – grievances which we have agreed upon as a movement through our General Assembly as advancing our cause and providing for the people of Los Angeles – we as a movement will be happy to initiate dialogue with the Mayor and Los Angeles City Council….

  1. A moratorium on all foreclosures in the City of Los Angeles. The City of Los Angeles to divest from all major banks, and money to be removed from politics.

  1. A citywide effort undertaken to solve the homelessness problem which has led to 18,000 homeless people sleeping on Skid Row every night. Rehabilitation and housing must be provided for all homeless people.

  1. South Central Farm to be returned to the same LA community from which it was taken, and all other vacant and distressed land be open for the community use, and money to the tune of 1 million dollars – taken from Skid Row and given to the multi million dollar NFL firm – to be returned to Skid Row.

  2. Los Angeles to be declared a sanctuary city for the undocumented, deportations to be discontinued and cooperation with immigration authorities be ended – including the turning in of arrestees’ names to immigration authorities.

  3. All forms of weaponry used by multiple law enforcement officials – including, but not limited, to rubber bullets, pepper spray, verbal abuse, arrest, foam batons, long-range acoustic devices and more – are not to be used on those exercising their First Amendment Rights to petition our government for redress of grievances. We do not accept interference with freedom of the press and the public to document police actions in public spaces. We will not tolerate brutality.

  4. We assert our right to an open plaza on the South Side of City Hall for people to peacefully assemble, voice grievances, speak freely, hold our General Assembly and come to the people’s consensus 24 hours a day if needed.

  5. The City of Los Angeles to pressure the State to start a convention, as provided for in the Constitution, to remove corporate personhood and money from politics at a national level.

  6. The City of Los Angeles to begin a dialogue at the State and Federal level on the issues of student debt and tuition hikes.

  7. No cutbacks in city services or attacks on the wages, work conditions and pensions of city employees.

  8. A world class transit system which addresses our debilitating traffic problem and restores the quality of life in Los Angeles.

The communique above was endorsed without exception by the General Assembly, but the comments posted below it, some offered by people who participated in the discussion, reflect a more conflicted process.  Some pragmatists protested that some of the demands were impossible, and others, like stopping foreclosures, completely outside the control of the mayor or city government.  Others disagreed with the wisdom of some of the demands in the first place.

But the communique announced the firm intent of the Occupiers to continue, really the most important thing uniting them.  The General Assembly is comprised each night of the people who are present, who vary in outlook, ideology, goals, and commitment.  Those not present who may agree have little input into decisions because they haven’t made the commitment to participate.  It’s a demanding democracy.

It’s not clear at this moment whether any of the Occupiers will leave without police assistance (and Chief Charlie Beck has described his plans for evacuating the Occupation as helping the activists to leave), how many visitors will come to stand with them, or whether any of the mayor’s initial offerings will ever materialize.

Opponents of cutting a deal saw the mayor’s negotiations as a way to fragment the movement, and regardless of the mayor’s intent, concessions certainly work this way.  Those engaged in a political Occupation will find other ways to do politics.  Others will take the direct action struggle elsewhere, already including banks and college campuses.  Still others will find somewhere else to be.

To the extent that disparate efforts are united by a shared set of beliefs or demands, the movement becomes more powerful.  Maintaining such connections in the absence of a space, however, is a new and difficult challenge for a very young movement.

About David S. Meyer

Author and professor of Sociology and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.