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Tustin Remains #Unoccupied

Occupy Tustin Mask QuestionWell, the rain date for Occupy Tustin has come and gone with nary an occupier to show up. Judging from the way things seem to be going lately,this may not be a bad thing. Our friends over at the Liberal OC have had quite a bit to say about the movement as a whole and where it is going lately.

What concerns me most is that the movement is suffering from, well, lack of movement. Occupy, which appears to have started on Wall Street, swept into a nationwide campaign of protest representing the “99%”, those who presumably see what is happening to our country but have, so far, done nothing about it. They proclaimed to stand up against corporate greed and call for a change in the way the government operates in order to stop the migration of wealth to the wealthy at the fleecing of the middleclass. Their ranks were drawn from nearly every walk of life, every religion and every political party to come up with…. a broad representation of middle America.

But, as the movement has come to various cities throughout the nation, it has received vastly different and sometimes surprising responses from local governments. New York allowed the protesters to occupy Wall Street for a relatively long period of time. NYPD then attempted to move the protesters out using bright orange nets and pepper spray. That just moved them around. Recently, when NYPD did another roust, the @Anonymous twitter feeds were busy moving the protest to the Brooklyn Bridge.

The city of Sacramento has yet to allow Occupiers to camp out and has moved every encampment they have attempted to erect. In Oakland, it was unfortunate but expected, that Occupiers were joined by the perennial crowd that always seems ready to riot at a moments notice in that city. The resulting violence should have been expected. Adding to the confusion was an indecisive mayor who could not decide whether the city should align themselves with Occupy or oppose them as other cities had done. Mayor Jean Quan gave conflicting orders to the OPD and city staff that resulted in nothing but mass confusion and a plea from the Oakland Police Officers Association asking just exactly what she wanted from them. Well, if they had been listening, she wanted them to be nice while they billy clubbed and pepper sprayed their way through the masses. But, don’t hurt anybody. If there was one city in California that Occupy should have stayed clear of, it was definitely Oakland. even the Occupy movement rues that decision.

Los Angeles has been relatively nice about the whole thing. When they heard Occupy was coming to LA, they first unleashed their mounted patrol to discourage the masses. When the group moved onto Mayor Villaraigosa’s lawn, he then offered them farmland, a building and shelter beds for the homeless (didn’t they already have those?). That offer has since been rescinded (and, no, they didn’t get a pony either, as the Times suggested) and now the good Mayor has given orders to dismantle their tent town and move on. Watching Charlie Beck (doesn’t he remind you of Tom Selleck, or is it just me) on the news, squirming because you know he so wanted to send his riot-helmeted storm troopers in to quell the disgusting demonstration of Americans exercising their free speech rights, was quite interesting. One had to wonder if he feared an assassination attempt by Anonymous as he was surrounded by more bodyguards checking rooftops than the President has when he comes to town.

Of course, UC Davis was the ugliest scene to date. While protesters peacefully occupied the quad area of the college, the university police  quietly and efficiently went about dispensing pepper spray into the faces of the offending protesters. The populace were in an uproar. The dean was in an uproar. Even a chancellor or two were in an uproar. When I heard about this, I couldn’t help but remember the tree huggers in Humboldt County a few years ago who were pepper sprayed for trying to save a couple of trees. Of course, there was a little more to this than just what the Tweets and Facebook postings had. If you look at the video, these cops were in full riot gear, had flex-cuffs expecting mass arrests, and many had their billy clubs out. No wonder the dean was upset. Even most Republicans, who incorrectly dismiss the Occupy movement as a bunch of disgruntled liberals, were appalled at the police response. And the Board of Regents, apparently fearing physical attack, decided to meet in several different places Monday by teleconference. Hmmm. Brown act violation regarding notice and access?

Here in Orange County, we have seen a variety of responses to the Occupy movement. Recently, The Liberal OC wrote a couple stories on OccupyOC. Chris Prevatt wrote about the protest moving to South Coast Plaza, briefly, for Black Friday. A series of photos shows the group interacting with shoppers standing in line for their bargain-basement treasures. Most seemed amused, but I doubt if any felt the call to leave the line at Macy’s and go shop locally.

And therein lies the problem.

When the Occupy movement got rolling, everyone wanted to know what the message was they were trying to convey. The reply, in so many words, was that the 99 percent were suffering under the corporate greed, largely brought on by an inequality of laws designed to favor big business over people. Throughout the movement, the words have changed and specifics have been reasoned out, but the overall message has not wavered. Unfortunately, many cities, including Santa Ana, who has never embraced the movement and Irvine, who rolled out the red carpet for them, are now finding the occupiers are wearing out their welcome.

So, what does the movement need to do to keep the momentum going? For one, they need to do what everyone from Wall Street to Los Angeles has been telling them – solidify your message. Unfortunately, that may be their undoing as it would require some semblance of leadership coming forth and, as everyone knows the movement, by definition, has no leadership. And the minute it does form a leadership, it no longer resembles #Occupy.

They also need to come up with more ideas on how to involve people that does not take a lot of time out of their day. People don’t want to be inconvenienced when they protest (porta-potties are a downer, too). Remember Bank Transfer Day? It took a person maybe 20 minutes of their time to effect protest. Anyone who tells you that didn’t make BofA stand up and take notice is drunk or stupid. Sure, it was only a couple of hundred billion dollars in a trillion dollar market but, the sheer number of people who responded and moved their money to consumer friendly credit unions, based on what some @Anonymous protester in a Guy Fawkes mask was telling them, was startling, even to me.

In the meantime, the whole Occupy movement is beginning to look  like it will either fizzle or worse, become inconsequential. It is Christmas holiday time and they will have a tough time having their message heard above the toll of the Salvation Army bellringers and the atheist billboards shouting, “don’t believe it!”. If not, they may as well fold camp and unoccupy the USA.

Revisiting #OccupyOC

Isn't Tustin Already Occupied?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.