Monday, January 16, 2012

OccupyLA 7

     A couple weeks ago I went downtown to the Superior Court on Temple for my turn on jury service. After clearing security, I joined the throng in the lobby waiting for the elevators to the eleventh floor. The first three filled and I was herded into the fourth box, one that bounced between the basement and the lobby half-a-dozen times without opening for a good five minutes. One woman, claustrophobically kept saying, “Can’t you open the doors? I want to get out.” Finally, the doors opened in the sub- basement and we got out. The floor was littered with weight-lifting stuff. We stepped over barbells and headed for the stairs, resigned to a dozen or more flights. At four, I quit and went through a door into a hall that brought me to another bank of elevators. I got off at twelve and walked downstairs to the Jury Assembly Room. The lively orientation went on for more than two hours, and two panels were called. At noon a cheer went up when we were told there would be no more panels called, so we could all go home.
    I walked down to City Hall to see what there was to see a month after the eviction of the Occupation. I took a few pictures with my cell phone to post here. The cyclone fence and the cement bunkers effectively keep everyone out of the park and off the grounds around the building.

The place looked quite desolate, more than empty. An official from the department of parks estimates restoring the area will cost the city about $400,000. The LA Times reported that the cost to the city of removing the Occupation was more than $1,000,000, mostly over-time for police and other city services. (The article mentions that clean-up after the Lakers won the championship was more expensive.)

    That phase of the struggle is clearly no longer viable on this site without the application of force, sound strategic reasons and very large numbers. Pacifica (KPFK) reports daily on the Occupy Movement and several websites carry real-time transmissions and updates from around the country. Despite some harsh weather and police intimidation, #OWS actions have continued, but for the most part, the movement appears to have largely dispersed into office buildings, back onto campus and out into the community. General Assemblies on the steps of City Hall continue to bring hundreds together, and GAs are happening in dozens of towns. Activists from the Occupation seem to be quite mobile, marching with longshore union members to close ports up and down the coast one day, assembling in several residential neighbor- hoods to support people resisting foreclosure a couple days later.
    To my mind, the GA remains the most significant thing to appear thus far, though my attendance has been as a remote observer and reader. The salient fact is that citizens are assembling to talk about their lives, their community, their government. People are gathering in the park, in the plaza, in the agora to share their dissatisfaction about what is happening. One #OWS activist admonished people, “You don’t start a General Assembly because it’s fashionable right now. You do it because you need to talk about what’s important to you and together, figure out what you can do.” The public forum has been revitalized, amplified by the social networks available in cyberspace.

     Although there are regular meetings of the GA, marches and solidarity actions every week, it’s difficult for me to participate. There is more information on the internet than I can process and half a dozen daily emails from various movement groups. Despite being on the periphery, I hope to offer useful observations and suggestions here, as well as refer readers to material I find valuable. A recent communique from reproduced an essay in Margaret Flowers’ blog, I recommend it to all of us who are thinking about the next stages of the struggle as opposition stiffens and repression increases. The author (Ashley Sanders?) presents a summary of points from Lawrence Goodwyn’s study, The Populist Moment, a book I intend to borrow from the library, maybe buy.
    One more referral/reminder. Yesterday during a listening skills warm-up exercise with my class, we had a text describing the relative sizes of Jupiter and Earth and the velocity of our planet as it orbits the sun. The image of “Spaceship Earth” came to mind. Popularized on the cover of The Whole Earth Catalog, it has become part of our contemporary iconography, and one of the books in the Catalog has become a classic among futurists: Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth by R. Buckminster Fuller. Perhaps it’s a good time to have another look at Bucky’s work.
    A substantial archive of Fuller’s life and work exists, including photos, film and audio recordings, a smattering of which can be found on YouTube. In this 1974 television interview,  Bucky makes an elegant digression early in the conversation. He wants to make a distinction between ‘mind’ and ‘brain.’ The brain receives data from the senses which it turns into packets of information that are stored in its neural network. The mind is the special evolutionary endowment, according to Fuller, that makes humans different from every other species. The mind’s special feature is the ability to find patterns among the information packets stored in the brain, and it is this skill at patterning that gives us  our evolutionary advantage. By understanding patterns, we are able to anticipate what is likely to happen in the future.

Parker Center, across the street from the park.
    For Fuller, the challenge eventually took the form of “anticipatory design,” based on the recognition that the environments we create and inhabit can be designed  to better anticipate and satisfy human needs, as well as modify human behavior in beneficial ways. Most of the engineering is beyond me, and some of his philosophical tenets are incomprehensible to me, but that’s okay. I’m still learning from Bucky.

Eagle Rock
December 2011 - January 2012