OCCUPY L.A. 24 Hours until Eviction? ( PART FOUR )By: Brett Redmayne-Titley
- “VICTORY!!! …..VICTORY!!”
They’re here. I count fourteen black and whites that just headed towards the camp at high speed with blue- red- and- whites on and sirens blaring. All have suddenly turned east out of sight. Helicopters swirl above, very high up, with their spot light shining everywhere. The crowd changes focus and begins to collect near the south sidewalk. It’s 1:45.AM. It’s on.
Over the past four hours or so the crowd has been steadily growing and staying busy keeping motivated and conducting business as usual. The Generally Assembly area which has its epicenter at the base of the south stairs is shoulder to shoulder all the way up the stairs and 50 yards in every direction. The GA has continued for several hours with the newcomers joining in with the fledgling Democracy unfolding before them. Everyone listens respectfully as many are given a chance to speak. Opportunities are provided to the assembly members to either provide opinions, suggestions, or criticisms. One or two lead members keep the meeting moving since OCCUPY democracy is a rather intricate process because it deliberately encourages the incorporation of the whole group. Occasional dissent is shouted and interruptions occur but these are quickly solved by any member calling out,”Mic Check !!”, to which the majority respond in unison,”Mic Check!!”, this being universally understood as translating into,“ Shut the fuck up and let the speaker be heard.”
Throughout the meeting the facilitators of the meeting routinely call for votes via silent hand signals. By these the members show approval, disapproval, or complete rejection of the ideas presented. The process works well, moves quickly, and benefits the discussion while at the same time honing the speaker’s argument or suggestion. The goal is to reach a consensus and ultimately, if possible a Resolution. Although this democratic processes is fast paced it is thorough to the point of being cautious of making the same mistakes of the current,” American Democracy”.
So it takes a while. One very popular motion, which was well supported tonight, was respectfully sent back to its sponsor solely due to objections, supported by the group, to its current wording. The sponsor thanked the crowd and enthusiastically promised a revision for the next GA.
Over the past few evening’s GA’s a resolution to eliminate corporations from being legally considered as individuals made its way towards Resolution status. Tonight this motion’s sponsor presented the final draft for approval as a Resolution. After reading the Resolution, and a final period for comment, the motion is put to a vote. The crowd of no less than 1500 showed their unanimous support by holding up two fingers in a victory sign and roaring their approval. Corporations would never perpetrate their evil in this democracy.
At this point the meeting broke up but most stayed around since this is now the center of the night’s energy. Enthusiasm continues to rise as the crowd finds new ways to keep their energy up for the likely battle to come. At this point there is not a cop to be seen anywhere.
Small speeches break out with the same rules of decorum politely enforced. Small groups of 20-40 people develop in many spots as yet another speaker finds a willing audience. Parades of twenty or more snake through the crowd grabbing and losing members as they go. Many are lead by a drummer or a speaker with a megaphone expressing support and opinion. Some groups meditate. At one group a member plays a single note on a simple trumpet while the rest of the group of 20-30 sings that one note. It made for a beautiful harmony. It ‘s now almost midnight. Where are the cops?
As I stroll amongst the crowd I decide to do some re-con and check out the north side. As the frenzy continues to build I receive a call to come to a final meeting of the Legal Observer team. As I head that way I take in the various signs stuck everywhere on tents or trees, on stakes, or laid on the ground. While the hundreds of signs voice, clearly, most of the view points of the OCCUPY movement, a great percentage had attached to them a second message; one of non-violence.
Non- violence is not just a theme here; it is a mandate. Many of the people I have interviewed understand the historical necessity of non-violence being essential to successful social change. Reminders to the police of this message are more than obvious.
The Legal Observer meeting is short, mostly reminders, and we break up and fan out. It’s midnight so we have to be ready for the cops to carry out their public threat to evict everyone. I’m standing with Lawrence Zeise when several protesters about 150 yards away near the Southwest corner overturn the bus stop bench. ”Oh”, he sighs,”That’s not going to help”.
As I head for the north side there are many people still just hanging out on the west side in the normal tent communities. Some tents are gone but 80 percent are still here. I take a right turn through the tents and drop down a slight grassy slope and can see that there are many people here too and that the Raid Committee is also having a final meeting of about 40 members. Everyone is too focused on the speaker to notice me until one of the members next to me quietly says to me, ”Off the record right?” I nod and show her that my recorder is off. She smiles approvingly.
The Raid Committee meeting breaks into two groups; those willing to passively resist to the end and those willing to be arrested. The committee has also had the wisdom to provide a safe house, a church, for those who cannot be, or do not want to be, arrested. They can set up camp there. As they break up into groups their enthusiasm is infectious. It’s 12:23AM and time to be ready. They have talked, prepared, and planned for this moment. It will soon be time for action.
I finish my tour by going down the east side. This is mostly side walk and another concrete entry way. Protesters go back and forth along the street staying busy, keep their energy high. My routine nesting point has been a wide promenade which runs both east and west on either side of the south door and the stairs where the GA is held. I have been hanging out there for two reasons. It provides the best vantage point to see all that the trees will allow on the entire south side, which is most of it. The east, west, and south streets are reasonably visible, as is the crowd which continues to get louder as it moves and swirls below me.
This location also will give me time to plot quick strategy when the cops come. I don’t want to be painted into a corner. From here I can move quickly and, hopeful, ahead of the cops while still being able to get photos.
Where are the cops? It’s almost 1AM and the only cops are the three or four that are on detail at City Hall. They generally stay just behind the glass doors at the top of the stairs across the promenade. They have ventured into the crowd only twice that I have seen. This was during the day. It is fair to give these police credit as I saw them take a lot of verbal abuse from protesters during their rounds. These officers were professional at all times and I did not see them provoke their antagonists. For the last four or five hours they have been content to stay behind the glass doors occasionally stepping out for breath of air or a look-see. At one point I attempt a conversation with the officer who appears to be in charge. He identifies himself as “Victor”. We have a cursory but cordial chat for a minute or two. He is friendly and reserved but does not want to give any information. I thank him and we shake hands.
I realize I have been on my feet for eight hours without a break so I head to eastern edge of the promenade and grab a seat. Like everyone I want to keep my strength up. No one knows r when this eviction is going to happen. Maybe it won’t happen at all. Would the police actually take on a crowd of this size and temper? I guess Oakland answered that.
I get comfy on the concrete, stretch out my legs and with a well- deserved sigh, close my eyes. It feels good to relax. Then I hear them. Sirens. And choppers
I jump to my feet quickly surveying the south lawn from east to west. The crowd is more than ready. Almost immediately everyone begins to congregate on the south lawn and mostly towards the perimeter which is bordered by the three streets. It seems hard to believe but the crowd has grown. The southeast corner where the cop cars disappeared to has at least 500 people. No one is in the streets as traffic continues to pass occasionally.
Chants of “WE are LA !!”,” Occupy…Occupy !!”, as well as reminders of non- violence, break out. I get down to the corner and can see that the crowd is orderly but very vocal and anxious. Shouts of bravado, confidence, support, outrage, and challenges to the cops are everywhere by the second. Wearing a white mask from the Movie, “V”, a protester with a megaphone climbs the traffic light pole and stands on the “DON”T WALK” sign. Like everyone else he has strong opinions and will be heard. He has a megaphone.
Where did those cops go? I head back to the promenade for a better look. When I get there I look down on the crowd which is covering every square foot of lawn at the three roadsides 10-30 yards deep. No one is in the streets. Controlled, yet outraged, democracy, spawned by civil disobedience, is working well.
And then things change.
From my vantage point on the promenade I see a large brown van pull up at the SE corner. It is being surrounded by a portion of the crowd and some are now on the street. I thought this might be a cop. The van stays a couple minutes and then moves off slowly despite being initially surrounded. That did it. The entire Southeast corner empties into the street to be immediately followed by the southwest corner. The border has just expanded. (I was later told by a witness that the van was driven by a person showing support for the crowd by blaring a healthy dose of ‘70’s disco music. This thrilled the protesters beyond all possible control).
The uncontrolled mayhem now flooded into the intersections cheering wildly. “Our Street. Not Wall Street!!” they all cheer over and over. These intersections are areas four lanes across in four directions with sidewalks. Big areas I estimate at 30 yards across. Both are so packed that people spill directly onto First Street for more room.
I have been down at the SW corner trying to get a better view for a head count due to the trees. There are approx. 1000 people at both intersections. I had been trying to conservatively estimate the crowd all day. From my surveillance of the two corners and the street in between I was thinking perhaps 2500 total. Heading back toward the promenade I change my mind. Definitely 4000 plus.
I’ve been thinking everyone must be in the streets; there are just so many. Approaching the GA area I see the place is just as packed as during the previous GA meeting. 1500 easy. The group is listening to speeches which are mostly reminders of the Call to Action about to begin and everyone’s training for non-violent protest .I go to the west entrance to avoid the crowd in getting back to the promenade.
Finally back above I get an update from one of the other reporters.” Yep”, he said, “every thirty minutes”. He explains that the spotters have confirmed that we are currently ringed with cops all on sides but we can’t see them because they are a full one block away in all four directions. They have not yet engaged the crowd. Every thirty minutes they are advancing about 50 yards or so and stopping for thirty minutes. Thirty minutes later we find out he is right.
The next time the cops advanced they are visible at the both intersections. I quickly sprint up to the north side and confirm we are indeed blocked in since I counted no less than fifteen officers at either corner. Not much forced needed here as there are, perhaps, ten people present.
Counting cops seems like a good idea so I head back south. There are no less that seventy five at the SW corner. Forty-five on the SE, for just the one street. Five choppers remain in fixed positions very high above. One does not move for over four hours.
The crowd here is so big it is hard to see much. The cops are still on the other side of the street but the protesters are in their faces shouting various opinions. At no time do I hear any protester threaten any officer. They shout, scream, and yell just about anything else.
The cops have us completely surrounded. They hold their positions staying impassive in the face of the jubilant and agitated crowd .I assume they will let people leave, but no one is interested in going anywhere. Looking south down Main St. I see a crowd half way down the street past the line of cops. This makes no sense. Using my camera I get a much clearer and ominous view. This is not a group of protesters. It is a huge circular crowd of cops, twenty yards across, apparently listening to a meeting. I estimate them to be at least one hundred and fifty in number.
For almost two hours we have been in a Mexican stand- off. The protesters march and cheer moving freely about all four streets. And the cops, in their lines, stand there, watching .To their credit they take the abuse hurled at them without response. None of it is threatening, but definitely abusive. ” WE are the 99%!!”, screams a protester into the face shield of one cop. “ You are the also the 99%. WE are trying to help you!!” The cop stares straight ahead.
One of the reporters I have been chatting with comment’s,” That’s not enough cops to clear this crowd”. I agree. Using my own math I quickly calculate them to be out numbered twelve to one. While I have been doing my cop count I have noticed that this is not a police force capable of, at this time, taking on this crowd. Sure there are many very large cops who seem ready for the challenge but I also see diminutive cops looking around nervously. There are many small women cops who, with fear in their eyes, finger their cans of pepper spray nervously or tightly clutch their batons. Some look like they might have been clerical staff not street cops. They are clearly trying to show that they are not intimidated by the crowd. It is not working.
Like the calm before the storm the stand-off continues. It’s now 2:45 AM. The crowd keeps its energy high by starting to march in the streets, chanting, while others stay inches from the cops. Some protesters lay down at the feet of the cops letting them know that they are prepared to be, non-violently, arrested. Then a chain of protesters starts. They want to ring the City Hall grounds with protesters holding hands. It takes only a few minutes for the crowd to work together and border the south lawn side walk on all three sides.
Prognostications are everywhere. What will the cops do and when? Why are they waiting so long? Will they clear the park?
By the time I get back to the promenade it is close to 3AM.The consensus is that the cops have two pending problems. First, they have no choice but to clear the street as Monday morning traffic will start in less than two hours. We are downtown and if the cops don’t clear the streets downtown L.A. can expect traffic jams of biblical proportions. The cops will have to act soon.
But what about clearing the park? If they clear the streets and then attack the park they will have the same crowd back in the streets during rush hour. They will have to act soon.
To kill time I settle into a pleasant and jovial chat at the stairs in front of our cop friends who remain behind the glass door. We wave. They wave back.
Joining me are Tony, a local screen writer who is very familiar with LA politics, and Bud who works in the LA produce industry, has been running the meals program for the camp, and knows a lot about the OCCUPY LA camp and many of the LA political players. We laugh, we joke, we occasionally disagree. I learn a lot by listening. We all agree that the OCCUPY movement is too well organized, sincere, and necessary to all Americas people, the 99%, to be stopped here. We are the patriots. We are proud to be here. WE will create change.
Suddenly, a police van with a huge roof mounted mega phone tells the crowd to clear the streets. They have two minutes or will be arrested. The crowd continues. Ten minutes later they have the same message .No Dice.Then a sudden change.
“We will not be clearing the park tonight”,blares the high decibel monotone. “You must clear the streets or you will be arrested. We will not clear the park tonight”. The crowd erupts into a tremendous cheer. But no one is moving, yet. Should we trust them?
The sincerity and discipline of the OCCUPY LA movement to their insistence on non-violent change now shows itself. Many protesters start chants of, “Clear the streets. Clear the streets”. Mr. V , still high up on the no-walk sign, uses his megaphone to help this cause. Slowly the SE corner starts to back up. ” We need the crowd to make room”, comes the call from a protesters bull horn. A chant springs up, ”Back up. Make Room!!”, and the crowd backs up and the protesters make it on to the side walk.
Every protest has its bad apples. Throughout the day I had heard very isolated, and individual, guarantees of violence towards the cops. I never heard any support for these statements. Sadly, now several throw bottles at the cops and charge them in a foolish show of bravado. An unconscious protester just went by me towards the first aid tent supported by six or eight volunteers screaming,” Medic! Medic”. (I found an eye witness that said he had got what was coming to him.) Since the corner was starting to clear I could see two protesters under arrest, white plastic handcuffs on, being led away. They are not resisting.
It takes great effort by the Occupiers but eventually the entire crowd dutifully stays on the sidewalk just inches from the road. The movement has not slowed or quieted down one bit but it is finally off the street.
The situation is now, once again, static. The protesters are back in the park and the cops have us flanked on all sides. Looking carefully I can see that there is no more than six feet between any one cop as they stand stoically facing the crowd. On First Street a new line of cops now forms right at the edge of the curb, but remaining on the street. This is now the property line. The crowd is going wild expecting the police to break their promise at any moment and advance. Hundreds of protesters are directly in the faces of hundreds of cops. There is fear on the faces of some of the cops. And the protestors. There is fear in the air.
For what seems like eternity the crowd is on a knife’s edge. The cops are at the sidewalk’s edge. The protesters scream just inches away. It’s loud, very loud. God help everyone if a cop sets foot on that side walk. The place will explode.
Incredibly a phalanx of cops on the far side of First Street is backing up. These cops, about thirty in number, move to the back of the rest of the cops on Main St. A huge cheer goes up. .Mr. V, on the his perch yells into his bullhorn, ”WE are winning!! OCCUPY!! OCCUPY!! OCCUPY!!”. Everyone is looking around. There are still a lot of cops left including all the ones at the front line at the curb.
Another tense twenty minutes goes by. Now a line of cops on the far side of First Street turns and leaves down Main St. Cheers are everywhere. Everyone is smiling. Thousands wave Victory fingers in the air. Then the police megaphone.
“Remain off the Streets or will be arrested”, is the warning. The crowd in unison obeys.“ We will be opening First Street in a few minutes. You must remain off the streets or you will be arrested”. Testing the waters a motor cycle platoon two across and six deep starts riding up and down the street, occasionally, near the protesters. Noone confronts or hassles the cops. WE are winning and the crowd knows it. Victory signs, raised fists are everywhere. Smiles, hugs, handshakes, back slaps abound.
More cops turn and head south on Main St away from the crowd.
I look down at my clock and suddenly a crucial part of my research today comes flooding into my mind. It is past 5AM. I can hear others nearby realize the same fact. The park is now officially open again. WE are not in violation. The park is open. There’s not a damn thing the cops can do now. WE have won.
WE have won!! The cops are going home. WE are still here. WE have won!! “Victory!!! Victory!!!” ”Vic!!….tor!!!….Y!!!”
I am so happy I am shaking.