The other night, I finally stopped by the Irvine Civic Center to check out the latest in the @Occupy movement, OccupyOC or OccupyOCIrvine. There has been quite a bit written about a movement that started on Wall Street and has swept across America, with folks from every background joining in. Occupy Irvine was, apparently, the first in Orange County. But, there have been several other Occupy [insert city here] throughout the Real OC, including Fullerton, Garden Grove and Huntington Beach. In fact, there are over 10 Occupy cities in our fair county. Yes, there is even going to be an OccupyTustin on November 4th at 3pm in front of the Wells Fargo bank at Newport and Irvine Blvd.
Back to Irvine. I wanted to stop and talk to a few of these folks for myself and see what, if any, message they were trying to convey to the public. What I found was a small group of standard bearers (it was 11:30 pm) holding their ground until the next day when the larger group would get together again. They had been forced off the grass onto the sidewalk but everyone I saw seemed to be in great spirits. In keeping with the anonymous nature of the movement, I did not ask names. I did not seek anyone in particular out to speak with. I didn’t have to. Of the thirty or so folks who were out there, many of them came up to me when I pulled my motorcycle up on the side of the road next to them. Of course, the first thing I asked was, where are the cops?
One young man told me they had not had a police presence for the past day or two. That said a lot to me. This eclectic group of people were so peaceful and orderly, the police did not need to do much more than swing by once in awhile to check on them. They moved off the grass when told to and moved back on in the morning, when Irvine’s “parks” open back up for general use. So, what about the message? One young lady, the wife of a United States Marine, said it best I think, when she said, “I have no voice in this Country.”
Listening to a few of them speak, it was quite clear. The overriding theme was, “end corporate greed”. They specifically told me they were not looking for handouts. They were looking for a fair shake. While some did tout an increase in government services to the poor and elderly, most simply wanted to have the ability to make a life for themselves in spite of the fact that megacorporations, aided by the government, were working daily to make the rich richer and the poor poorer. That was a pretty clear message and one I could not disagree with. Of course, there were lots of signs up and everyone there was advertising some different aspect of the overall message. Once thing was clear – they were going to be around for awhile.
So, last Saturday, there was supposed to be a culmination of the Occupy Movement at the Santa Ana Civic Center area. Some reports had the group pegged at about 120 protesters. Pictures and reports from the OC Weekly showed quite a larger crowd in front of the Ronald Reagan Federal Building. The Santa Ana Police Department was so worried about this being a major riot, they called in the mounted patrol. At that site, four members of the protest group were arrested, cited and released for camping in the area after hours. The police had, apparently, explained the protesters would not be able to camp out after 8 pm. Interestingly, many of the homeless who inhabit the area stood (or laid) side-by-side with the protesters. One of them had it right on when he said, “They are protesting for me”.
Should you think the Occupy movement is just a bunch of disgruntled, out of work college kids, think twice. OccupyOCIrvine has seen as many as 1000 protesters and as few as 20 or 30, who are willing to brave the cold and the isolation of an Irvine thoroughfare in the middle of the night. As one Twitter feed said,
@execplatinum: #OccupyIrvine looks like a commercial for Abercrombie & Fitch, Juicy Couture and Mercedes Benz” lol. 99%=everybody but 1.
They are lawyers, doctors, blue collar workers, bankers, students and housewives who are fed up with the pending demise of Middle Class America.
The City of Irvine “accidentally” turned the sprinklers on them one night. Subsequently, they attended Tuesday night’s city council meeting where they respectfully stood their ground and won some concessions from the City Council to be able to stay on the grass and, in some way, camp. They had plenty of support from the community. Councilmember Steven Choi commended them for their actions, saying they should be proud of themselves. They did not come to riot, they came to stand up for the 99 percent. And, they seem to be doing a pretty good job of it.
Councilmember Larry Agran said, “This is a new kind of demonstration.” It is, Larry, it is. And, it may be here to stay.