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"The Missed Insurrection"
We found each other with a conspiratorial wink - our alliance affirmed. We spilled our secrets deep into morning, sparking at the resin in a stranger’s bowl. Under a sprawling canopy, amidst the snoring corpses of this futile left, we whispered the names of our ancient heroes - Malatesta. Berkman. Goldman. De Cleyre. Parsons. We shared a cigarette you had expertly rolled. Everyone around us was asleep. Or dead. We found each other as neighbors, unzipping our tents together each morning. Inured to the sartorial zombies shuffling past us to their offices, we’d lament that first hateful light of the day. “Fuck work,” you’d grumble. Then go, anyway. Returning drunk from other worlds, we’d reconcile at camp - outside our homes, cursing the bongos together. Or loving them. Screaming maniacally into the night, either way. We found each other in line at the toilet. Unprepared for a wait, we both went barefoot and overexposed. We arrived as strangers, but became comrades huddling together against an Autumn chill. “This bathroom is occupied,” came the reply to our final, plaintive knock. That joke was old before the first person ever said it aloud. We found each other in a large circle. There were forty of us there; our arms interlocked, our hands clasped tightly in front of us as if in desperate prayer. You wondered aloud how the hell we had gotten there. “Who gets arrested on purpose?” Not us. We muttered our quiet regrets through vinegar-soaked bandanas, our woe lost to the whirling helicopters overhead. We’d seen them try take the park - to try to hold that little space - but they were too few. We joined them first just to stare down that phalanx of cops - because where the pigs don’t want us is where we want to be. Just like that, we were trapped. An aging hippie kept reciting overwrought poetry, so we belted out the chorus of ‘Solidarity Forever’ together to drown him out. The chorus was the only part all of us knew. The battle between our repetition and his recitation proved a bigger struggle than the one he put up when the pigs finally pried him away. He hardly resisted. We were almost glad to see him go. We were the last subdued. We found each other tangled together in a dog pile. The pigs were twisting your foot. I screamed every time they did. It felt like my own foot was being twisted. I think that’s what solidarity means. We found each other at a secret meeting for some secret action. Everyone there was so solemn and serious. The organizer welcomed us as “the best and brightest.” Then spoke of armbands. Security. A new camp, free of the freeloaders. Their discussion turned to the tickets they’d distribute to prove people had worked - tickets they’d need in order to get fed. They plotted their occupation like incidental fascists. Then you raised your finger. When it was your turn to speak, you denounced them all - excoriating everyone in a righteous rage. We found each other on the ListServ. You had written a rambling manifesto about the CIA, the FBI or some other, alphabet soup agency you were certain they both worked for. You wanted to meet me, but you needed to find a safe place first. When we finally got a chance to meet, you wrote everything out to me on a notepad, despite us being alone inside of your van. “Certain this car is bugged” was the first phrase you wrote. You wrote so hard, you nearly tore the paper with the pen. I half expected you to eat that first page after you had finished scrawling on it with that trembling hand. You didn’t. You wrote more paranoia, but some of it made perfect sense. The last note itself read: “they’re too pretty and too smart to be hanging out with the two of us and not be getting paid.” I’d eventually learn you’d normally have been right. We found each other that day it rained, trapped under a tarp together for hours, listening in on a conversation - like two NSA spies - as a libertarian and Sovereign began falling slowly in love. We found each other in a bedroom, in a crowded meeting you doubtless don’t remember. You and a partner were languishing beneath the sheets in an oversized bed that dominated that space like unchecked, white privilege. For the first hour, I didn’t even know you were there. Your name had, as yet, only been whispered to me with a reverence oft-reserved for the dead. When you emerged groggily from beneath the covers to finally speak, I felt - for the first time - a totalizing sadness at the impermanence of life. When I looked in your eyes, I saw painkiller prescriptions. But the joy you all share reminds me I’ve often been wrong. I hope I’m wrong. We found each other after meetings, through meandering conversations that always seemed to end too soon, no matter how late it was. We found each other trapped between a chainlink fence and a skirmish line, tear gas already hanging heavy in the air. You had been busily clipping away at it with snips before I arrived to try to tear it down. Our numbers grew fast when the acrid smoke thickened. Then, like a failing dam, the fence finally burst and we poured over it in a torrent toward freedom. We were unstoppable - and in that moment - another world was possible. We found each other handcuffed to a pipe together in a police garage. Left alone - the two of us - strangers far behind enemy lines. We felt forgotten. Our conversation itself was an intricate dance, each of us hesitant to talk, neither of us knowing if the other was a cop. You’d ask me something and I’d only respond tersely. I’d ask you something and you’d barely nod. Wary of any topic that might possibly implicate us - the spell was only broken when we gushed about our cats. We found each other at Social Services. We were both applying to get food stamps for our first time. Each beset by our shame, we sat next to each other as they “taught” us how to write a resume. We hung our heads, too embarrassed to talk too much - speaking, at last, only when they asked us our names. It was hard for me to ever forget your subtle, Caribbean accent - harder still to forget your distinctive, whitening dreads. The day you first spoke before the assembly, you told everyone about those forty, proud years you’d worked as an electrician - and then bravely confessed the shame of that one day we’d only recently shared. I was so happy to see you there, with the rest of us, I quietly cried. It wasn’t until then that I knew I was finally in the right place. We found each other after the raid, huddled together in an abandoned intersection beneath blinking red traffic lights. The entire city was ours. Many among us knew each other by name, some of us - only as faces that we recognized and could trust. I’d never been so happy to see you - there with all of us. All around, a thousand strangers were shouting out their ill-conceived plans. “Let’s go back to the camp,” one voice roared. “Let’s take the freeway,” another. Hurriedly, we exchanged whatever intel each of us had. All rumors. Speculation. You got a call from someone who said they were kettled near the concert hall. “We have to get to them - to combine these marches.” I nodded eagerly. “We’ll draw the pigs away from the camp,” another comrade agreed. A hundred fingers twinkled; the quickest consensus I’d ever yet seen. I was sure this group could do it. I still thought we could do anything then. We found each other on a rooftop, chain-smoking cigarettes. She was yours and hers and his and his and I think his, too. I could never be sure. But what does it mean to be "someone’s," anyway? She was letting me sleep on her floor instead of being out in the cold. Whenever you came by, we’d sneak off to that resplendent rooftop - where the entire city itself flickered like fluttering little fireflies beneath us. What should’ve been a brief, smokers’ excursion often became a reticence to return. You would wax philosophical. Sometimes, I’d have to pretend to understand even half of what you had said. You were kind to never let on if you knew. We found each other long after the fire had already died. Back then, you hadn’t even been anywhere at all near its warmth. Somehow, we tell each other - we’re sure we’re related. Somehow, despite this, we’re sure we can fuck. There’s a lot going on now, maybe too much - in fact. To be honest, I’m unsure if I’ll come out intact. But I hope if I do - if that fire ever returns - you’ll be there beside me to watch as it burns. We found each other too soon - it turns out. In those heady days, after the raid, we had a lot of big ideas. Rolling actions would culminate in a General Strike. If we ever doubted it, we never said so. Everything had changed and we were determined to never go back. But time makes liars out of all of us, it seems. Slowly, our conversations lost their luster. After MayDay, the ordinary - always insistent - reasserted itself at last. All of our plans became less exciting. What was once talk of Chiapas, or training a militia, staying off the grid, eviscerating liberals, an upcoming action, doing shit - became complaints about work, mere survival, navigating friendships, and fights with your wife. We went through a lot of shit together, but you’re gonna have to go through this next shit alone. I love you, but her poison kills all that it touches. We found each other sitting in the last car. You were the driver. I was on “comms.” It wasn’t long before we had an escort - more pigs than I’d seen since the raid. I relayed this into the walkie-talkie. “Just so you know, uh… we have lots of pigs following.” A black militant chided me, “no shit,” crackling her response. Despite an inauspicious start, it felt like our plan was working. When the caravan stopped at 41st & Central, we were probably a half-mile back - so many cars ahead of us in the procession. By then we both had to pee so bad, we’d stopped talking - having to focus all our effort on not pissing ourselves in your car. We scrambled on solo missions to find a bathroom. When we returned, I confessed something I hadn’t yet told you. I’d actually met you long before all of this. In a club. Where you danced. When I told you, in my sheepish way, you laughed. You thought I was silly for not having told you long, long before. There’s a million stories like that between us now. I hope there are at least a million more. We found each other when you handed me a paper. You were always on the periphery, handing them out. I’m pretty sure I’m going to leave this city. I can’t figure out why you haven’t. If I don’t, if I stay here, I know I’d be lucky to end up like you. The truth is I’ve never had all that much luck. We found each other on the Playa. You took me aside and whispered, “you’re security culture is bad.” I laughed. I looked at the endless desert full of all of the fucked up dreamers tripping out on privilege and I was sure you were joking. You weren’t. We found each other after a heated argument. You said tersely, “I’ll be at the General Assembly.” I said, “I always am.” I lurked around the fringe that night, chain smoking cigarettes - staring hard into every unfamiliar face. Your emails always said, “sent from the heart of the revolution,” but we’d never met. Toward the end of it, a harmless-enough looking guy in glasses and a grin ambled up to me. Without a word, you gave me a hug. We found each other every night at camp. I’d steal you a tomato & mozzarella sandwich from work, because you don’t eat meat. We saw some shit together. It all seemed so fucking significant, didn’t it? I didn’t know anyone when it started. I don’t think you did, either. I always thought you were shy and aloof like me, but every time you had to step up, you did. Like there was nothing to it. Then, Covergirl. But you handled even that with a radical aplomb. If there’s one thing I miss about the camp, it’s you. We found each other splayed out on couches, our supine bodies intertwined, huddled behind velvet drapes deep within that cavernous, Queer bar - the one place where we all felt almost at ease. Buying each other round after round of watered-down shots, we raised our fists to every one of our comrades’ spirited toasts, sang our hearts out to all our rebel songs, and plotted the fucking revolution - the way it should be and hopefully will be again.
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The Battle for Wall Street
The ring of a bicycle bell chimes repeatedly through the air - breaking the monotony of the muzak version of “La Cucaracha” resounding in loops from a stopped ice cream truck. Both are lost amongst the excited chatter of the large crowd congregating in an alley just off Main and 99th Streets as those gathered shelter themselves in thin layers of shade from the heat of the late July sun. Around the corner, a woman in curlers argues with a young man with tattoos and large plugs in his ears, “Your boss is a thief, and you ain’t nothing but his lackey.” Ariana Alcaraz, of the L.A. Anti-Eviction Campaign (L.A.A.E.C), checks her phone repeatedly, waiting for the go signal. The final battle for Wall Street is about to begin.
Two weeks earlier, on July 12, 2013, three men sat in a car on Wall St. just south of 99th St. in South Los Angeles, stalking the movements of Ms. Cathelene Hughes. As soon as Ms. Hughes left to attend a function at her church, the men crept quickly to her door, broke in, and ILLEGALLY changed the locks. These men were not unknown to Ms. Hughes. They worked for Strategic Acquisitions, agents of Colony Realty, which is owned and operated by Thomas Barrack of Santa Monica. Colony had purchased the title to her home for pennies on the dollar at a trustee’s sale in August 2012.
After being informed by a neighbor what was happening, the 71years young Ms. Hughes immediately called both the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department and the LAPD and attempted to file reports in person. As instructed by LAPD, she waited in front of her home for three hours for a lieutenant to arrive and do his duty under the law - to reverse the lockout- all the while frantically making phone calls and looking for a safe place to spend the night with her pet chihuahua Prince, who was locked in the house when the investors changed the locks. As the warm sunlight gave way to the cold darkness, Ms. Hughes called the police station again. The lieutenant wasn’t coming.
Mrs. Hughes was another victim of bank fraud. Her income was inflated on her loan application, and her mortgage nearly doubled after just two years. “I was denied a modification ten times because my loan was adjusting. I had no idea it was an adjustable. A guy from Countrywide called and told me that it was adjusting a couple weeks before they did it. Then he explained the situation to me.”
She paid thousands of dollars to people promising to negotiate modifications. Bank of America, which took over her original lender Countrywide in 2008, sold her house to Colony Realty - even as her bankruptcy application, which would have given her time to find an attorney, was pending in court.
In February 2013, Colony, under the subsidiary Colfin AI CA 5, an LLC which Colony uses to acquire properties in dispute, evicted Ms. Hughes from her home. Even though she had been working with a social worker from Adult Protective Services, the only housing available to her was a temporary homeless shelter. She had played by the rules her whole life - worked within the system as far as she could go, done everything she was asked to do - yet still, she had lost her home. She had learned too late that “the system isn’t made to help us, only to exploit us until we have nothing left, then they throw us away.” That was when Ms. Cathelene Hughes decided to change the rules.
She joined the Los Angeles Anti-Eviction Campaign, a human rights organization dedicated to fostering a culture of self defense against the exploitation of poor communities, and filed a suit for title against Deutsche Bank, Bank of America, and Colony, as well as an eviction lawsuit against Peter Baher, CEO of Strategic on the basis of fraud. She obtained a judgment and a writ of execution against Baher, and on March 6 the L.A. Sheriff’s Department allowed her to move back into her vacant home.
Ms. Hughes wasted no time during the few peaceful weeks after reclaiming her home. She opened an Anti-Eviction Campaign office in her garage, helping several of her neighbors stop their evictions, and holding community events and meetings in both English and Spanish - successfully bridging the language and culture gap between longtime neighbors who until recently had been strangers to one another.
Over the next four months, amid constant harassment and attempted intimidation by agents of Colony and Strategic, Ms. Hughes went about proving that the system is prejudiced against anyone attempting to fight an eviction as a defendant. Even after filing 5 separate ex-parte motions and attending almost a dozen court hearings, billionaire Thomas Barrack still could not manage to legally re-evict her. The only way for Colony to regain control of the property they had helped Deutsch and BOA steal from Ms. Hughes was to send their thugs to perform an illegal lock out.
It’s now July 29 and the crowd in the alley - joined by friends and neighbors, as well as supporters from Los Angeles Community Action Network, Revolutionary Autonomous Communities, LA Human Right to Housing Collective, and Occupy Fights Foreclosure - has swelled to over 50. Around the corner, Ms. Hughes continues to argue with the man with the plugs, one of the Strategic agents who preformed the illegal lock out. He insists that she finish moving her things in the next 10 minutes - warning her that whatever she can’t pack in that time will go in the trash - to which Ms. Hughes, her son, Dion, and the two L.A.A.E.C. members in the house respond with disregard.
As he steps outside to call more employees, in an attempt to intimidate his point home, Ms. Hughes looks at one of her fellow organizers and nods her head. A text is sent immediately, “GO”. The crowd begins to move quickly up the block, a group of neighborhood children with “No Displacement Zone” signs taped to the handlebars of their bikes lead the way, proclaiming loudly, “WE WANT FREEDOM!!” The crowd rounds the corner and swarms into the house, pushing the shocked agent out of the yard and into the street. “Who’s house? MS. HUGHES HOUSE!”
The Strategic agent retreats down the street to call the police as expected. Some of Ms. Hughes’s supporters set up a popcorn maker and a hot dog machine while others help her finish moving her things out of the house. More neighbors flock to her house, joining the festive atmosphere. The crowd continues to chant loudly “FIGHT! FIGHT! FIGHT! HOUSING IS A HUMAN RIGHT!”
Within 15 minutes, an LAPD lieutenant arrives with 35 officers in tow. They are greeted by Eric Post, a representative of the National Lawyer’s Guild, who has courteously printed out the law on illegal lock outs and is more than ready to explain it in great detail to every officer on scene. While the police block off the street to prevent more neighbors from joining the crowd, Ms. Hughes finishes loading her meager possessions into a U-Haul.
A line of 15 police move in and are visibly surprised when the crowd shifts to let them through. This action was never about keeping her home. Ms. Hughes did this to prove a point, and the LAPD, in their attempts to criminalize her legal and constitutionally protected activity, proved it better than she ever could have alone.
The crowd gathers on the corners outside the police line. A neighbor speak up, “Somebody tried to break into my house last month, the police never came, I had to go down to the station to file a report, but they come out in force like this just to kick an elder out of her house? It’s ridiculous.” Another chimes in, “The only time we see the police is when they’re attacking us.”
Ms. Hughes, along with millions of others across the country, was yet another victim of the largest scam in world history. Thomas Barrack was one of countless investors whose greed nearly caused the collapse of the world economy. He is now profiting from his crimes by buying properties distressed by the market conditions that he helped create at a fraction of their value (Colfin has acquired over 7000 trustee’s deeds just since June 2011). Colony and Deutsche Bank are now gearing up to bundle these rental contracts into securities - creating yet another bubble that will put many more people on the streets when it bursts. But have dozens of officers ever shown up at his home? No.
Malcolm X once said, “In America, Democracy is hypocrisy.” Through her actions, Ms. Hughes proved to her friends and neighbors that this is true. She has still not been able to secure long term housing. When asked what was next for her, she selflessly replied, “Well, there are still a lot of people who need help.”
As she stated in a letter circulated to her community earlier that July day, “Yes, I am tired. I am tired of being victimized, I am tired of being intimidated, I am tired of being afraid, I am tired of allowing more and more vital things to be taken away while keeping quiet, desperately trying to hold on to the meager things I need to survive. I am tired of the police we pay to protect us instead protecting those who exploit and attack us. While I may legally be able to do what I have done today, I do not do this for myself. I do this to give you an example of how to fight back, because only if we stand together can we win.”
"Peace to you, if you are willing to fight for it." - Ramona Hampton
For more info on our comrades at LAAEC or to get involved, please visit and “like” their Facebook page https://www.facebook.com/laantieviction
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Special to OLAASM by a comrade
“I’m sleepy now. I never get into bed before three o’clock. He should have killed himself last week.”
- Ernest Hemingway, 'A Clean, Well Lighted Place’
There is a photo of a four-year-old me swaddled in a puffy, winter coat - a repurposed jump-rope cinched tightly around my waist securing an over-sized couch cushion to my butt. In it, I am standing upright-yet-unsteady on borrowed roller skates - but the picture clearly conveys that I am teetering on the brink of imminent catastrophe.
My sisters didn’t teach me how to roller skate that day, but that isn’t really important to me now. What matters is how much care went into helping me try. Solidarity - the sense that my struggle was inseparable from my sisters’ and yet could only be achieved through my effort alone - that’s what I remember when I look at that old photograph.
I am reminded of learning to skate because I felt much the same way then as I did when I surrendered at LA County’s imposing central jail to serve a 30 day sentence dispensed, despite many serious-sounding proclamations by my prosecutor and judge to the contrary, solely due to my involvement in “Occupy.” For whatever reason - mostly, I’m convinced, a combination of dumb luck and my own white skin - I had managed to live 33 years without seriously running afoul of the law. Or at least without encountering the consequences of being caught for it. Occupy changed that.
In truth, I hadn’t even had so much as a speeding ticket in the fifteen years before I became involved in that now-fashionably-maligned-but-always-hearteningly-earnest gasp for social justice. I had chosen instead to quietly lead my own unremarkable life, wallowing in an entirely individualized and mostly-private melancholy I was convinced I was fated to endure alone.
While I believed deeply that things were generally wrong in the world, I was unable or unwilling to muster what it takes to openly defy the forces that wanted things to stay that way. I accepted the bribes those forces offered me to keep quiet.
I grumbled here and there about politicians, sure. I groaned at the media circus that so often seemed so easily misdirected. I opened a Twitter account for the occasional rant, but was seldom compelled to use it. I did what most white people I knew did: I got by as best I could, day-by-day, making as little trouble as I knew how.
I finally found myself living vicariously through other revolutions - white-knuckling what felt like real anxiety as I watched live footage streaming out of Tahrir or Syntagma Squares. People were doing far more with far less against far more brazen injustices than I could fathom in North Africa, the Middle East, and even Europe. People were resisting in Greece and Spain, too. They didn’t see it as hopeless. They weren’t resigned to the sad, solitary fate I saw for myself.
It wasn’t long before I was angrily indicting my own government’s clear culpability in the repressive wrath each of these uprisings inevitably met. This was the “peace dividend” we had bequeathed to the world! I couldn’t overlook that each tear gas canister I saw fired into a peaceful crowd bore the same, familiar stamp: “Made in the USA.” Someone here was getting rich every time a crowd was violently dispersed and, in all likelihood, that person looks and acts a lot like me.
As I watched, the things I used to feel when I could still feel things started surging back into me anew. The first long-forgotten friend to revisit me was anger.
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Six Months of InTentCity #M17
OLA Flash occupation & street festival
12 PM Saturday March 17, 2012
Solidarity Park at 100 W. 1st Street
Help us create a world where all may thrive
It’s been six months. A sigh escapes my lips as I gaze into an empty Solidarity Park. It feels Jurassic. It’s nearing midnight in a desolate downtown LA, and I’m contemplating some tired ferns and ghostly mist. This isn’t a public square, it’s an exhibit. Where are the dinosaurs and monsters that once roamed downtown Los Angeles? Where are the psychedelic freak shows and the legions of determined youth in Guy Fawkes masks? The yoga instructors, the People’s Collective University guest professors, the pot activists, the spirited drum circles and breakout discussion groups and consensus pizza games… where are they?
The rational side of my brain knows the answer as I look to where Star Tribe used to make camp. All that remains is a scrawled anarchist “A” and a forgotten bicycle tire still locked to the City Hall grate. I remember when City Hall was more than just cold stone and rows of tired flags. I remember when City Hall was alive. Do you?
Before there was the Fascist Fence, there was Love Tribe and Kids’ Village. Before there was police tape and intimidation patrols, there was a bucket of humanity splattered around the seats of power in Los Angeles. Ninety-niners from all walks of life came to Solidarity Park for what is was - both real and imagined. It was a haven for the downtrodden, where basic medical services and food were provided free of charge. It was a boisterous declaration of what could be better, and it was fought for by handing out delicious organic carrot juice or painting a magnificent purple vampire octopus or by living in a fucking tent for sixty days.
It’s been six months. The perspective on that time frame is hard to judge, especially since my pocket watch doesn’t tell time. A cherished gift from a loved one, the timepiece is engraved with my initials and the words, “An Occupier of the People’s Evolution - 10/1/11” The damned thing hasn’t kept time since I received it - which is exactly how a revolutionary watch should be. There is no winning or losing the revolution, there is only the struggle, which is ongoing.
The false urgency the mainstream media shoves down your throat doesn’t matter. The election is a farce, that’s why we began occupying in the first place. The only true urgency can be found in the wisdom of a fellow occupier. When asked what his demand is, he replied, “Come outside.” We have an urgent and immediate duty to come outside and occupy space. We must be visible, we must speak truth to power, and we must come together.
It’s been six months. Six months since those brave few in Manhattan pitched tents and planted black flags for freedom. But its also been years for the Egyptians, decades for the Palestinians, and centuries for indigenous peoples and our comrades of color. This oppressive system is not simply going to roll over and die. We must smash it.
In these few months we’ve seen the sophomoric debt ceiling argument fade away to be replaced by mentions of capitalism and income inequality. We’ve witnessed tens of thousands take the streets. We’ve had the pleasure to facilitate over a million people move their money to credit unions and pressured Bank of America into hastily reversing their $5 debit card fee. In just six months, millions of Americans have been shocked awake to the gross realities of illegal foreclosures and police brutality. What comes next in this revolution?
It’s up to us. The rollercoaster of activism is filled with joys and miseries, victories and setbacks. Luckily for us, this revolution is also sometimes blessedly funny. It’s funny because there will be cuddle puddles and safety breaks at this festival. Emma would be proud because this revolutionary festival also has dancing, courtesy of DJ M1GS and all you movers and shakers out there. This revolution has tasty vegan food, courtesy of volunteers in our Food Committee and Food Not Bombs. This revolution has truth, courtesy of teach-outs and OLA’s Freedom School. The revolution will not be televised… you’ve got to Come Outside.
We’re still here, and we’re growing. This Saturday, Spring is here.
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* (Ed: On March 5, 2012, several thousand “occupy” protesters and their allies descended on the Capitol in Sacramento to “demand” nothing more than their human right to education. Or so many of them thought. The following is an account of the events of that day, submitted recently by an OLAASM comrade who was there. We offer this brief introduction only to give context to our comrades’ insights.)
Never doubt that a group of thoughtless, committed reformists can completely smother a radical moment.
It is a special occasion when approximately 500 people invade a State capitol, ready and willing to take direct action and risk arrest to Occupy it for the night. it is an even more awesome spectacle when the enthusiasm and the opportunity to do something politically relevant is robbed from those 500 people by a crew of dipshits like the ones who assumed control of the action once people were inside, and steer them into a dead-end “process” that subverts the goals that brought them together in the first place.
After driving all night from Southern California in a van filled with comrades, we were excited to arrive in Sacramento and participate in a highly anticipated direct action - an attempt at an overnight occupation of the Capitol.
As we “take” the Rotunda in the entrance of the Capitol building, rather than chant in victory, the facilitators quickly mobilize themselves and began an enthusiastic chant of “please…sit…down.” Please sit down?! Why should we sit down? So that our fearless facilitators can tell us what the General Assembly is going to do. However, the moment the Assembly is announced, the sheriffs move into position and block off all four entrances into the Rotunda. When questioned why, the sheriffs, predictably, do not respond. When a comrade tries to walk through, he is pushed back. This is supposed to be the day when we, students and citizens, reclaim the Capitol; instead almost immediately it becomes clear that we are not here to take back public space, we are not here to Occupy, rather, we are here for another performance of planned, civil disobedience.
It did not take long to realize that the General Assembly had been co-opted by liberal reformist, patriarchal white men and women, who spread fear mongering, misinformed predictions for how the day would unfold (you WILL get arrested!!!), turning the General Assembly into a ridiculous, tedious discussion about ‘demands.’ When we spoke up to ask why we weren’t discussing whether we should even be making demands, whether that is really what we should be spending our time on when we were surrounded by the police state, we were not listened to; we were looked at with blank or suspicious stares.
A large chunk of time, at least an hour, was devoted merely to the number of demands that we should make. 1-5, 5-10, 10-15? The option of zero demands was conspicuously missing. Zero demands, not explained, not de-constructed, finally presented as an option, gains only a fraction of the votes. What did it matter anyway? the vote was at its best symbolic; but more realistically, it was useless.
After determining the number of demands, they thank us for our patience because we are wearing thin. our bladders are full. As commands from our facilitators to “BE QUIET” echo against the walls of the rotunda, frustration settles in. Thousands of eager activists did not travel hours to the heart of the state government apparatus to be harassed by one relentless question: “What are our demands?”
The demands sprawled from ‘pass Prop ‘x’and 'free education' to 'end capitalism.' Yet the only demand (chant) that made any sense was, “CHP…Let us pee!”Coincidentally, that was the only demand that was conceded, passed only with incongruous help from Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom with his slicked back hair and photo-ready smile. After awhile, much to the chagrin of the facilitators, no paid attention except for the people speaking themselves.
At 4:20 PM, we are mic-checked in order to hear a new proposal:a moment of silence followed by an ‘om.’Absurdly, this was the second most effective proposal of the day. We had spent three to four hours in the rotunda of the Capitol building, surrounded by armed sheriffs, talking about talking. What a waste of a congregation! What a waste of countless hours and hard fought funding, organizing, and traveling! We may not have a home, we may be beaten to a bloody pulp by a police state, but at least we will have demands!
The bright side of this situation is that the CHP was subjected to stand through one of the most miserably boring and useless General Assemblies ever. Really, if the state was thinking strategically, they would encourage us to stay there making masturbatory speeches, providing us with cots and food, until the movement completely implodes and we mic check ourselves to death!
At 5 PM, the Demands are still not tallied. Repeated votes on whether or not we want to leave begin. it is clear that the facilitation team wants to leave. They continue to inform us of how scary jail is, and how long we may end up there if we get arrested. In reality, they do not want to go to jail themselves, and it will look really bad if they leave and the rest of us stay. The rotunda had quickly escalated to symbolize the asphyxiation of an attempted step in the student movement. Students trickled out of the Capitol, exhausted and frustrated at the hollow demands process.
I asked a demonstrator who requested to be mentioned only as “enonymous” what he came here to do today and how he thought it went. He said, “Fuck shit up. Which did not happen here today,” and then walked away with his head hanging.
Another activist asked me what I thought we should have done instead of demands. I replied that we could have done anything. Here was a brilliant moment: a day where angry and passionate students from across the state of California were together in one room (sort of). Another world could have been possible within those elaborately designed walls. We could have shared our collective experiences of the oppressive, institutionalized educational system and how we could free ourselves. We could have discussed a tactical plan for actually taking and keeping the Capitol, instead of once again getting arrested symbolically. We could have used the day to form relationships with one another, to bring back ideas to our campuses, to begin to build a new society out of the ashes of the old one. Why make demands to a dying monster? She agreed with me whole-heartedly and would have rather done that but had simply not understood what “zero demands” meant. For her, voting on demands was tedious and alienating, forcing her to frantically research each proposition before she voted on it. Sounds vaguely similar to a current system… right?
A General Assembly should not be utilized to formulate demands when you issue a call to Occupy. A general Assembly is a group of organized individuals who make collective decisions. to pre-suppose that demands are necessary immediately frames the conversation.
The debate of demands is a contentious one. It is not one to be glossed over. Occupy Wall Street was a success because it was radically different. It dared to question the hierarchical nature of society. It dared to be horizontal, to work based on consensus (and not vote), to be directly democratic and action oriented. It dared to be no more business as usual, punctuated by tents that sprung up everywhere. It dared to be anarchist, to demand nothing and to take what was needed.
Demands are inherently harmful to this movement. Demands invite reform and legitimize the state as an institution of power. We do not need the state.
Demands are a tactic. They are a specific strategy that can be utilized for revolutionary change. But they are definitely not the only strategy for revolution. Why should we move forward with demands? We need to critique the strategy of demands upon the state. To set an agenda with a vote on demands is top-down, and is a mimic of the system which already exists. We should have immediately questioned the authority of the self-proclaimed facilitators. We should have hard-blocked their agenda. Our first “demand” should have been for the sheriffs to release our comrades and unblock them from the rotunda.
There is a reason why, on #J28, the Oakland Police used brute force on activists and then kettled over 400 people. It was because the action threatened the fundamental power of the system: private property. If Occupy the Capitol had manifested itself as a reclamation of public space, the sheriffs would have utilized all the fancy weapons they brought that day. But Occupy the Capitol was not a threat. It was not an act of resistance. It was - at its best - an empty gesture.
We never reached consensus on the demands. We left with the perilous sense that the lobbyists upstairs were actually more effective than us that day. The pigs were bored and not threatened. Even the most staunch neo-con can wait out a day of ‘liberal’ protest.
If we are to change our world, if we are to win a better educational system, we need to dream, we need to dare, we need to shut the fuck up about demands and create, take, take over, and be free!
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San Quentin’s Dangerous Conversion Conditions
Every California male sentenced to time in prison must first be processed at one of two Reception Centers (RCs). In Northern California, they are sent to San Quentin (SQ); in Southern California, the California Institution for Men in Chino (CIM). Until 2011, the RC at San Quentin occupied four units: Donner, Badger, Alpine and Carson. Now, the majority of these units are undergoing “conversion” from RC units, which are designed to be temporary housing for all inmates, to Mainline units, where inmates serve the duration of their sentence. It appears that Donner and many other sections of RC have already been fully converted to Mainline units, now referred to exclusively as West Block. This shuffling of mainline inmates into the unacceptable conditions of RC units, is an unintended consequence of the “criminal justice alignment” stipulations in Assembly Bill 109 (AB 109). AB 109 was an unprecedented attempt to shift state fiscal responsibilities to local counties, which passed amidst controversy in the summer of 2011. Amongst the tremendous consequences of this bill, which has at its core a humane intention to reduce revolving-door recidivism and prison over-population, there are a large number of inmates and employees of the state suffering direct physical consequence without media coverage or methods for redress in sight.
While in RC, inmates are audited, classified, and processed for their placement in a Mainline facility. RC inmates are disallowed many amenities that they will receive once they reach the Mainline. They spend twenty-three out of twenty-four hours per day in their shared 5 x 11 cell and may not go to the yard, library, edification programs, make or receive phone calls, or own any property. RC units were not meant for long-term habitation. The condition of the cells, quality of the food, and general cleanliness of San Quentin’s RC are universally derided by inmates and workers due at least in part to the age of the building itself. It is a brutal stop on the way to a Mainline. Needless to say, inmates are almost eager to be sent from SQ’s RC to their Mainline assignment.
Gov. Jerry Brown signed AB 109 after the Supreme Court cited “serious constitutional violations” regarding overpopulation in California state prisons. AB 109 attempts to address overcrowding and recidivism by shifting as many as 30,000 inmates over the next three years from state prison facilities to county jails. It allows “non-violent, non-serious and non-sex-offenders to serve their time in county jails instead of state prisons” (SQ news). One intention is for overcrowded county jails to do what state prisons refused to: parole inmates and provide reintegration programs to get bodies out of the beds, since the county jails will have to deal with these people ‘in their own backyard.’ Thus, many of the people who would be going through RC on their way to state prison will instead be sentenced to serve time in the county in which their crime was committed, in a county jail.
With less people sent to state prison, SQ is staying in business by reducing its RC and aggressively increasing its mainline population. Under Gov. Brown’s ‘Realignment Plan,” enacted under AB 109, SQ’s already-overcrowded facility is further overwhelmed with buses filled with new arrivals prepared to serve out their entire sentences there. These people are placed in “converted” RC cells. Unfortunately, no significant conversion has actually taken place, due to a lack of state funding. Mainline inmates are forced to share RC cells. According to an inmate currently incarcerated in West Block, these are tiny spaces covered in graffiti, reeking of urine, growing black mold, with no functioning electrical outlets or heat, and standing water. Access to electrical outlets is a particularly vital amenity to inmates because many of them have no access to the outside save for their TV’s, radios, and other appliances. These inmates have to go to the gym to shower (instead of their own hall) and most importantly, they have not been allowed to see their counselors for job assignments or education programs. There are reports of correctional officers (CO’s) sending inmates to these converted cells as a punitive measure. San Quentin’s official tours, led by Sgt. Gabriel Walters, now conspicuously avoid those areas of the prison.
There has been a shocking lack of mainstream media coverage on the consequences of AB 109, and the majority of the information presented here was obtained through SQ inmates themselves. However, the inmates aren’t the only ones attempting to be heard. San Quentin Prison’s labor union, the California Correctional Peace Officer’s Association, (CCPOA-SQ) is outraged at the California Department of Correction and Rehabilitation’s (CDCR) reaction to AB 109, known as the ‘Reduction and Conversion’ plan. The state mandated reduction of staff at SQ means that many reception center-related jobs will be cut, while some jobs will be converted from RC to the mainline. The tentative date for these layoffs is January 2nd.
The conservatives have already coordinated their predictable response: a fear campaign claiming that releasing felons out onto “our” streets will result in chaos and crime infested neighborhoods. They understand that AB 109 threatens not only the convenience of sending the bad guys far far away, but will cost their counties money in rehabilitation and reintegration programs previously considered the sole responsibility of the state prisons. To date, there has been no mobilized counter-response on the left. This is due in part to the fact that AB 109 appears to be a well-intentioned attempt to remedy the obvious failure of the CDCR’s practices. However, in order for it to be effective, we must expose its flaws, and the inhumane treatment of inmates at San Quentin is just one of them.
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