Saturday, December 24, 2011

OccupyLA 6

     With uncharacteristic adroitness, Chief Charlie Beck had his LAPD troops clear the park around City Hall of the Occupy Wall Street/LA encampment. Starting around seven o’clock, on the night of November 29-30, uniformed police began assembling at Dodger Stadium in Chavez Ravine, adjacent to the Police Academy. As reported on the local news, a small fleet of Metro buses carried the 1400 law enforcers down the hill to the area around the park. Wearing their riot helmets, with visors up, the police moved in around 10:30 pm. Scores of police emerged from the south entrance of City Hall about 1 am, clearing the steps and lawn around the plaza. The park was surrounded and cut off, sealing occupiers inside, preventing supporters from entering.
     The police and Occupiers held their ground for about an hour, the police repeating their order to clear the area and disperse. The Occupiers chanted, arms linked, sitting in the plaza, observed by the approved media pool and supporters kept at a distance by the police line. At 2 am the arrests began. Occupiers were cuffed in plastic and put on the buses for transport to booking and jail. According to reports given to Carol Sobel (ACLU) and Jim Lafferty (NLG), people were left on the buses for up to seven hours, in restraints, without water or access to toilets, and were forced to soil themselves.
     After the media left and live coverage ended, incidents of police assaulting Occupiers were reported. Some 280 people were arrested and charged with failing to obey police orders, a misdemeanor, but were held on $5000 bail, an outrageous abuse of judicial power. Eventually, bail was reduced and most were released on their own recognizance after a day or two.
     The park is now fenced, the debris cleared. The General Assembly continues to meet on the west side, four times a week. Committees continue to function. Actions will continue, including occupations to prevent evictions of families and marches in support of labor. People in the #OWS movement seem to be saying pretty much the same thing in the wake of the police actions that swept the country. The occupation of public space is not the point, but talking about jobs, fairness, democracy and a decent society is what it’s about. The goal for now appears to be to reach out into the communities, to educate and “broaden the base” of the movement, to form stronger alliances among students, labor, the immigrant community and the Green movement.
     When I visited the encampment (on the anniversary of the JFK assassination), I didn’t think I’d get to return. That same Tuesday evening, the City announced the park would be closed and cleared Sunday night, the 27th. The police did show up, but so did several thousand citizens. The police left, and the Occupation resumed, but the tension remained. So, on Tuesday afternoon, I went back one more time. As the pictures I took show, much of the encampment had departed, people removing what they feared the police would destroy. The stalwarts who remained had no doubt that the police would come, soon, to remove them. They were ready to resist, non-violently, and go to jail. As it turned out, the police did come that night, and the people I talked to did go to jail.
     The movement is going into its next phase. Occupations will continue, here and there, as strategy dictates. They can’t evict an idea. The teachable moment continues.
December 8-10
Eagle Rock

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Nov.29/ The day after LAPD didn't raid OccupyLA

"Last night was like a big party! Thousands of people came, and when the police showed up... no way they were gonna stop the music!"

"We know they're gonna come back to clear us out, just not when."

A tree house under construction.
Citizens wait and keep vigil.

Tree house near the main public entrance on the south plaza.

"We're working on adding another couple floors..."

Indigenous people's prayer space.

"About half the people here left. Not all of us can get arrested just now, but we'll be here when the raid comes."

Nap time inside Kid Village.

A few tents remain on the fringes.

Most Occupiers on the north lawn moved to the south side.


... and the last word....

OccupyLA 5

    It appears my last walk around the OccupyLA encampment may have been my last walk. The front page of today’s LA Times reports that the City is about to close the park, to protect the lawn and the safety of the occupiers. The people in the park have said they will stay, and resist eviction without violence. They have declined to cooperate or negotiate further until ten conditions are addressed.  Go to the website to read the statement. There are regular communiques posted, as well as transcripts of the General Assembly.     
    Yesterday, Tuesday, I went to visit the encampment again. It‘s been about three weeks since I was able to get down there, though I’ve been trying to follow things on line. The site was crowded with tents and there were scores of people around. As I walked around for the next two hours, I talked with a number of people about the encampment. Overall, spirits remain high despite the problems inherent in the situation. Several hundred people living together with minimal infrastructure (primitive camping conditions) are bound to meet some difficulties.
    As I walked into the site, a knot of people were gathered in front of the Wellness tent. Most were trying to see what was happening, snapping pictures with cell phones, as loud canine yelps came from under the huddle of humans. Apparently, a couple dogs had gotten into a fight, and this one was badly hurt. I moved away and continued on to the plaza and the steps on the south side. This is the largest open area around City Hall. Most activity at the encampment seems to begin here: announcements, food service, General Assemblies, marches, etc. A man with a megaphone was announcing a teach-in on the Federal Reserve, followed by a march at four to the LA Fed nearby.
    There are four paths into the plaza, rays converging at the steps up to the building. A few paces along the path, past the meditation tent, brought me to Kid Village. It looked pretty rough&tumble, sheets and tarps stretched over cord wrapped round palm trees, highlighted with bungees. It created a secluded space within a circle of tents, enough for a dozen children to be comfortably cared for. A six foot banquet table was stacked with beverage containers, cartons of fruit and boxes of granola bars. More behind the table, with general supplies you’d find at a spartan daycare center, a few women talking as I stepped inside.
    “May I come in?”
    “I’m sorry, but…” one of the women began.
    “He’s okay,” said another, “he’s one of the good guys. I’ve seen him here before.”
    I thanked her and we talked about what was happening in the space. At the moment, one child was full-time, living in Kid Village, being home-schooled by a teacher also living on-site. A couple more children came regularly for the afternoon, but the “boom time” was on the weekends. I could see evidence of art and craft activities, hand-made toys, an altar, but no kids. Then, a high, tentative query, “Mom?” came from the tent beside me, and one of the women disappeared inside. I thanked them and found my way out.
    Going back through the plaza I happened upon a small black tent, decked out in Star Wars ornaments. I took it to be an installation, or sculpture. Its presence there made me smile, but it did cause a twinge of malaise. On the hillside a few steps on, there was a roped off area, decorated with stones, shells, gourds and feathers, by the Indigenous People’s Justice group. As I stood there, a young woman appeared, leading a small group of people. She seemed to be guiding them around the Occupation, like a tour-guide.
    In their wake I came to a table under a tent where a big banner proclaimed “End Foreclosures!” The man I talked with behind the table had a pretty loose idea of what the demand meant, but his friend, seated on a bicycle, was quite articulate.
    “They manipulate the market,” he began. “How they do that? First they break Glass-Stiegal so banks can speculate. Then they rig the credit game and get the Fed to lower the prime.”
    “So how does that get us here?” asked the big man in the chair.
    “Look, when money is cheap, you borrow and pay less interest. And, since everything just gets more expensive, it makes sense to buy it now. Right?” said the guy with the bicycle. “So, your bank tells you that you can take a second mortgage on your home at this incredible rate, AND your home has increased in value since you bought it!
    “Now what does that mean? If you are the lender, you have created a money stream into your assets column. If you are the consumer, the borrower, you have created a money leak, losing equity as the housing market and stock market collapse. Follow me?”
    “Okay,” I said, picking up the thread, “so with the government backing the lenders and the regulators on the take, these loans were bundled and sold, with insurance, to banks around the world. As more and more borrowers failed to pay, banks began to fail and the insurance underwriters weren’t able to cover the losses.”
    “That’s when the bail-out happened,” said the big guy.
    “Right. Tax payers save the banks and the banks say thank you by foreclosing on their homes. That’s how we got here.”
    “I hope the Occupation can make that a demand,” I said pointing at the banner. We talked a bit more and I continued my tour.
 *                                             *
     Across the street on the east side, mobile units from the local TV stations were parked, waiting for a press conference to begin. On the north side lawn, tents were less densely pitched. The library was in a stage of recovery after the rain and wind of the weekend. A couple men were sorting and shelving the books, optimistic about the improved library-to-come. They directed me up the slope to the artists‘ area on the corner. The young people there reminded me a little of our cohort in the 60s, the Sherwood Forest Collective. We often had more energy and passion than good sense, and there was something familiar here as I talked with them. The silkscreen images and day-glow colors were nostalgic, as were the clothes. I don’t know what I expected, but it was disappointing to find little more than buttons, discarded posters and souvenir t-shirts on display.
    The narrow patches of lawn on either side of the west entrance are still covered with tents and clusters of Port-a-potties and trash bins. A young woman was sitting in front of the main entrance, meditating. A few yards away, an older man sat in a folding chair, speaking into a microphone held by a young woman. Finishing my circuit, I reentered the encampment and found my way through the plaza to the food tent.
    The young woman there smiled, recognized me from my earlier visits, and introduced me as “an outside activist occupier.” Didn’t I blush? She introduced me to the two young men sitting on a stack of sacks of grains. They were the camp cooks, resting after a day of making and serving food. I learned that the food was being prepared at a church in Pasadena, and offered to help on the weekend. Unfortunately, they weren’t sure about the name of the church or schedule…. As we talked, a woman with a shopping cart full of bags of dog food appeared and began portioning the kibble into baggies. As she pointed out, “Dogs have to eat too.”
    On my way past the Street Theatre tents, I learned that the people had gone to Venice, for an action. Snaking through the tents I reached the Welcome tent, behind the sidewalk Metro bench. A large dry chalkboard propped against a table listed hour-by-hour meetings and gatherings. Another listed materials and resources needed. Four or five people circulated behind the banquet tables and the makeshift shelving under the tent, talking across the tables or into cell phones. I noted that at noon there had been a non-violence training workshop.
    As I stood there, someone rushed in, “Two guys over there, with sticks,” pointing, panting. Three of the men behind the table dashed toward the scuffle, one with his cell phone recording. It appeared to be an accident, a tall man with wiry red hair was twirling his staff when a short dark-haired man inadvertently walked into the baton. Both men seemed to be “off their meds.”  I turned on the big guy and asked him, “You hurt?” He shook his head, no, and I waved him away. The other men had surrounded the injured party who really wanted to use his pepper spray on someone, but he calmed down and went away after a few minutes.
    The two hour tour had tired me, and I still had a couple blocks up hill to the Red Line. I made a mental salute to my comrades and left.
23 November 2011
Eagle Rock

Friday, November 25, 2011

Images from Occupy LA/ 22 November (part 2)

Plastic shelter/sculpture.

 Poster pinned to a tent on the south lawn.
Local media
More local media.
And more local media.
After the rain, rebuilding the library.
Library needs.
Land and Liberty.
Red pins on the map represent Occupations in the US and around the world.
Souvenirs made on site at the Occupation.
Art Center at Occupy LA.
Tents on the north lawn, library midway on right.

 The Welcome Tent near the sidewalk on the south lawn.

 The Wellness Tent on the south lawn.
Very young fur person at OccupyLA.

Images from Occupy LA/ 22 November

Homeland Security cruises past the encampment.

Across the street is the OccupyLA encampment on the south lawn of City Hall.

Entering the camp, walking toward the plaza.
The re-decorated plaza.
It is what it is. Whatever that is.
Gathering in the plaza.
Outside the media center.
Occupation residents on the south lawn.
Indigenous people's sacred space.
Do you know about Chemtrails?
Welcome to the kids' space.
Behind this wall is the Kid Village.
Inside the Kid Village.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Happy Turkey Day

    It appears the “Super Committee” has failed to reach agreement on measures to cover the government’s deficit of $1.2 trillion by today’s deadline.  The fruitless talks will trigger a ten-year across the board cut to all programs. For example, Medicare reimbursement rates will drop 30%, Social Security benefits will shrink.  All “discretionary” funding will be reduced by 3% a year. Happy Thanksgiving,  Amerika!
    As expected, the members from the GOP refused to budge on tax measures the Democrats proposed, and, thankfully, the so-called liberals held firm on Social Security and Medicare cuts the Republicans wanted. It should be plain to all that those potato-heads in Congress are beholden to the deep pockets who pay for their campaigns, more than they are to their “constituents” back home who pay their salary and voted them into office.
    The importance of “campaign finance reform” has never been so obvious. The Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United v. FEC tilts the table in favor of corporate power in the struggle for political sway.  Advocates for consumers’ rights, environmental protection, social justice, a woman’s right to choose, et al., will have less access to the forum of free speech. Corporate domination of the media, seeking to limit the terms of acceptable discussion, effectively does so during the campaigns as it spotlights the party-preferred candidates.  The exclusion of “third party” candidates is a shameful, and persistent, indictment of the media’s anti-democratic bias.
    The Kerry-Feingold campaign finance reform law was an improvement in some ways, but badly flawed in others. It was supposed to be that way.  To indulge in a well-worn trope, letting Congress write campaign reform law is like turning over the security of the chicken coop to the foxes. Remember, these are the folks who vote themselves raises, in the dark of night, while the rest of us are struggling to stay even in a crumbling economy.  Serious reform has to come from an independent authority, recognized by the American people. I don’t know what that authority that might be, but a Constitutional amendment preceded by state referenda might be a strategy worth considering.
    To return to the current debacle, it’s important to put this episode in context. The attempt to resolve the deficit is really a distraction from the structural contradictions that need to be addressed.  We should all realize by now that when capitalism exceeds the human scale it becomes destructive. Our social institutions can no longer be “profit-driven.” Our common wealth can no longer be “privatized.” The attempt to balance the budget and control the deficit is one part of the State’s strategy for preserving corporate capitalism.
    Another aspect of the struggle we must always remember is the State’s willingness to use force to “preserve order.” This lesson has been taught to those occupying New York, Portland, Oakland, Berkeley,  Atlanta, UC Davis, Toronto, and the list will grow. Here in LA there are negotiations under way to relocate the Occupation to unoccupied buildings the city would lease for $1 a year.  Sentiment among people at the GA tends toward rejecting the City’s proposal. I’d like to find out more about this. It may not be a bad idea. It might defuse the energy of the movement, appearing to allow itself to be co-opted, moving indoors. Then again, a protected shelter could allow the movement to grow in other ways and develop some new models for organizing and making the transition to transparent governance.
    Leaving the lawn around City Hall voluntarily is not necessarily to be gone for good. This week in Cairo and Alexandria, spreading across the country, the people have returned to the squares to demand the military get out of the way. Scores have been killed. I pray it will not come to that here, or anywhere else, but if we do leave the encampments, and then have to return, then we will.
    Since we have come to petition the government, to exercise our right to speak freely, and demand redress of our grievances, before we depart we should obtain some form of redress from the city.  The city should accept some conditions that are consistent with the Occupy movement. Perhaps terms like these.  The city and county will:
  • provide shelter for homeless people   
  • accept a 24 month moratorium on enforcing foreclosures and evictions of homeowners
  • reopen trauma centers
  • establish a living wage policy for all employees
  • divest from companies that pollute
  • divest from Wall Street
What else?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

OccupyLA 4

    This morning I was giving my class the etymology of 'encyclopedia,' acknowledging that the root, ped, from pedalis, could mean ‘foot,’ giving us a circle of feet, or from paido, the word for ‘child,’ meaning a ring of children, but this ped comes from paedeia, the Greek idea of education, knowledge, virtue. So, the encyclopedia is the circle or wheel of learning, knowledge contained within a circle, text on scrolls, rolled up. Digressing, I expressed my approval of the early Greeks’ practice of waiting for a child’s milk teeth to fall out before starting formal education. In contrast, we --in America-- send our kids off to school as soon as we can. Interesting research suggests that the human brain is not neurologically prepared for the complexities of decoding symbols until about seven years of age. Some have concluded that hastening this process causes stunting in other areas of development. (Joseph Chilton Pearce has long been an advocate for treating infants and children more sensibly. Jean Liedloff, in The Continuum Concept, offers a perspective that is truly radical.)
    Anyone who has observed children (or can themselves remember) knows that a child can become completely absorbed in learning something, and how quickly it is mastered. Our interest, aroused by something in our environment, draws us toward it. Our curiosity brings us back to the thing, the puzzle, the mystery of the thing, until we crack its secret. But if we’re bored, why bother with the thing? If it isn’t stimulating, we won’t respond. Most learning environments for very young children aren’t very sensible, and tend to upset their development. Most kids, in most schools, are mostly bored most of the time.
    This is not news.
    It has long been my opinion that if you wanted to cripple the imagination, stifle creativity and undermine self-esteem, you couldn’t do better than the way America educates its children.  (Paul Goodman’s Growing Up Absurd charts the terrain of the 50s and 60s. "Communique from an Absent Future", a document attributed to the Santa Cruz collective, “Research and Destroy,” extends the critique up to 2009 most powerfully.) There are viable models outside the educational mainstream; some are ancient systems; some are recent constructions. My interest is drawn toward learner-friendly environments, what they are and how we can shape more of them. I’m also interested in the process of generating ‘teachable moments,’ and breaking down the false status barriers between students and teachers.
    When I walk around OccupyLA, or watch the livestream, I don’t yet get a sense of cohesion and unity. It must be there or the occupation would not have continued through two months, despite police action and evictions. The General Assemblies and committees are likely the core instruments of education, organization and action. I hope I can spend some time attending a GA soon. My legs are getting stronger and I can handle being on my feet longer.
    I’d like to test my model against what is actually happening at the encampment. I’m curious how deep the occupiers’ understanding is for what they are doing. Certainly the people in the parks have been severely tested in numerous cities by police raids. There is a pattern in these assaults that is worth noting. The corporate media first report an incident in or near the encampment: an assault, a suicide, a man with a weapon. A follow up decries the disorder and garbage, the health hazard. The mayor warns of safety and health concerns for the occupiers. The camp receives notice to leave with a deadline for forcible removal. The police arrive punctually and proceed with their assignment. Except in Portland, I think it was, and a few other places, the people out-numbered the police and they backed down.
    The raids will not stop the OccupyWallStreet movement. Sympathy will grow and resistance will spread. The Occupation, those raided and those as yet still encamped, should recognize that their weakness was exploited. It is clear that the alternative services, first aid, security, childcare, library, media, etc, need to be more visible. The people in the Occupation can demonstrate for all to see that taking care of each other is a responsibility we take seriously. It is our common wealth. Isn’t this what democracy looks like?
*                             *
     I imagine Consciousness and Environment to be plastic interactive energy fields. We explore and shape our surroundings, as the world around us beckons and defines us. It’s a kind of Taoist approach to experience. Learning to live in harmony with our environment (including other humans) is one of the important opportunities/tasks we have as humans. Each Occupy camp is a full-time, round the clock, learning environment, a kind of learning lab, a situation outside most peoples’ experience.
    Let’s see what we can figure out?
15 November 2011
Eagle  Rock

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Images of Occupy LA/ 26 October

"Never let your studies get in the way of your education."
 "There is abundant evidence to show that high buildings make people crazy."   -- A Pattern Language  

"Economics [is] the science of values under the assumption of scarcity."  -- Ivan Illich

"Of everything that economics measures, women get less."  -- Ivan Illich

"... all conjurations of space require some action within the space, or it won't be real."  -- Edward T Hall

"Isn't it really time that is the shit that hits everybody's fan"?  -- Thomas McGuane

                      "I don't think we can compensate for our misbehavior here on earth with visions of miraculous transcendence." -- Pierre DeLattre

"Every passing hour brings the solar system 43,000 miles closer to Globular Cluster M13 in Hercules -- and still there are some misfits who insist that there is no such thing as progress."  -- attributed to Ransom K Ferm by Kurt Vonnegut

"It is indeed a matter of economic necessity to create a good society." -- Michael Harrington