2000 Consecutive Hours on the Corner


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Occupy Irvine Protesters 10-16 0500

Occupy Protesters on the sidewalk, 5 a.m. on Oct. 16, late on the first full day of occupying the corner of Alton and Harvard in Irvine, about 2000 hours ago.

(For those of you who don’t like long posts — don’t even bother.  For those of you who are interested, enjoy!)

At 6:00 p.m. Pacific Time tonight, Occupy Orange County protesters in Irvine, CA will have spent 2000 consecutive hours on the portion of Civic Center Plaza, housing City Hall, closest to the intersection of Harvard Avenue and Alton Parkway.  That is 2000 consecutive hours, day and night, heat and cold, wind and rain, sidewalk and grass, without exception.  We have been there since 10 a.m. on October 15, the first “International Day of Action” for the Occupy movement.

Of the 24/7 Occupations I know of, only Nashville’s has been longer, and that only because they got a cease and desist court order when Tennessee’s Governor ordered bulldozers to push everything into trash bins.  (If the site was cleared during that time and then resettled, then that actually makes us the longest continuous occupation in the country — but we’re willing to share the glory.)

We’re ending the 24/7 stage our occupation in Irvine in the next few days.  Our agreement with the city is that we can stay until 10 a.m. Wednesday morning, although we think that we might leave Tuesday night.  At 10 p.m. Tuesday, around the time when the City Council meeting (the fourth one we will have addressed) ends, we will have completed 2100 hours, and that’s a round enough figure for us to declare victory and leave.  Of course, we’ll be back, probably often, when the park is open, as it is 16 hours a day; but as it is we’ve more than made our point.  There’s no point in staying 24/7 just to say that we can do it.  We’ve already more than shown that we can do it, for what will have been more than 88 days.  In any event, we’ll still be around.  This will always be the spiritual home of the movement in Orange County, the likely site of future General Assemblies.  But we have a lot to do now and, like most other occupations, we can do it without sleeping in cold tents.

At 10 a.m. next Wednesday, they are re-sodding the lawn on which we’ve been staying.  Many of us think that that’s silly – the kikuya grass would come back by itself in a few months and what’s a few months of patchy lawn at a national moment like this — but the fact that it’s happening at all testifies to the improbability of our longevity here.  We were not what one would expect from Irvine — at all.

“You’re out of your minds — it’s Irvine, for Pete’s sake,” we heard at the start of our efforts (in somewhat less Romneyesque language) — a prosperous and mostly progressive planned community that is home to UCI, to the center of Orange County’s business community, and to the Great Park, which is close to the center of Orange County and, when complete, will be larger than New York’s Central Park.  They’re really serious about how things look here, and while some dream of xeriscaping it would be prohibitively expensive – so at this point we will be replaced be sod.

Our first meeting with the city was pugnacious.  (That was my choice, as the loudest of three civic liaisons present and the only one with legal training.  We were not about to show weakness.)  The City’s team meeting with us presented itself as understanding and respectful of our goals, but was sadly doubtful that it could accommodate us.  That just was not going to be good enough for us.    So we agreed to disagree and continued to negotiate; we broke down and carted off our encampment each day and stood on the sidewalks around “our lawn” at night, until after a while we could convince the police to let us sit in lawn chairs, for 10 days straight.  It was not “war in Afghanistan” or “impoverished plague victim” level of miserable, but it was miserable enough by most of our standards.

A week after that meeting, we won the most unexpected prize we could have imagined.  We went to the City Council meeting (where how to deal with us was not on the agenda), told our stories poignantly during the public comments section, and so impressed the Council that it added an emergency item to authorize us to stay on the lawn.  It received unanimous approval from the 3 Democrat, 2 Republican City Council to sleep on our lawn.  Despite the unhappiness of the community – we were literally across the street from residential communities on the other three corners, and even without intending to we tending to elicit an un-Californian level of honking – we were renewed three time, the last from December 21 through January 11.  Politically, this is about as close as you’ll find to a miracle.

Well, what did we accomplish?  People ask that all the time.  I wrote a comment about this to my people on the special Facebook page I have as a civic liaison, but I left out the first item because it’s something that we already knew, so I’ll start there.

Almost every extended Occupation in the country has had its incidents of violence, even if it was just the response of the police to the protesters.  Ours wasn’t.  We were not squatting; we were not engaged in civil disobedience (due to the fact that we were there based on a formal agreement, called a “Letter of Understanding, with the City.)  We had our disagreements at time with the police, but never a serious confrontation.  (There was one arrest of a camper, but not for an act that involved Occupy’s principles, and even then that person has enjoyed tremendous solidarity among most of his protesters.)  The police did a great job with us.  Lots of Occupations can say that at the beginning; we can still say it after almost three months.

This cooperation is, so far as I can tell, unique for a city of this size (population over 200,000) with an occupation of anything like this duration – especially in a residential area.  We had wanted this in part because we knew that we had to be different in Orange County than we could be in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley, if we wanted to win the hearts and minds of those around us.  We didn’t have a large community around us ready to rally to our aid.  Orange County protests generally last one day — and are tolerated (though sometimes jeered.)  Violent Orange County protests are generally aggressively suppressed – and the public says good riddance to the protestors.  They didn’t come to Orange County to be around violent protests; they came for safety and security, to be protected from the ravages of the outside.  We thus decided that our continued presence itself would be enough to discomfit the citizenry, enough to get the point across that things were different now.  And, by and large that has worked – without leading to a huge charge to get rid of us.  The City, and that portion of the community not within range of our honking, pretty much likes us and is happy to see us take these stands.  You could have won a lot of money the day before October 15 betting against that happening.

The City did spend some money on us, but my estimate is that it was less than $25,000 – and that was mostly for traffic signs telling drivers “Do Not Honk” (later cannily changed, at the suggestion of one of our campers, to the less easily misunderstood “Quiet Zone), for their City Attorney to review contract language with us, and finally for the lawn.  That’s simply not a lot of money — certainly less than what Irvine would pay for comparably good PR.  Compare that to the costs of police in riot gear; to the costs of processing many arrestees and the possible reactions (including a larger occupation) that that might provoke; to the risks of a lawsuit if the police went overboard.  The City got off easy – but that wasn’t luck on the City’s part (or on ours); it was excruciatingly hard work.

There’s lot of credit to go around for this – and I’ll claim a large share for our protesters, who by and large have toed the line well even when people from outside thought that the time was right for violent resistance – but a great deal of it has to go to the City Council, Democrat and Republican alike.  If this had NOT worked out, the egg would have been in their faces.  We don’t face voters; they do.  On the night of that first City Council meeting, the city government and the Council embraced one another and have remained locked in that embrace since then.  A good resolution was good for both of us; a bad resolution bad for both.  They took a sort of risk that politicians rarely take.  I, we, salute them for that.

In exchange, Irvine’s reputation was enhanced.  Most media coverage we got was unusually positive – for conservative/libertarian Orange County, almost unimaginably so.  Irvine doesn’t make the TV news like the violent clashes in Santa Ana, Long Beach, San Diego, and of course that one rotten overnight in Los Angeles – “if it bleeds, it leads, after all” – but it did attract notice.  People evidently called Irvine City Hall from across the county, asking: “Can this work?”  The answer given, I’m told, was a cautious “It works here.”  And that has been our message to the rest of the country.  If you want confrontation in your protest, there have been plenty of places to find it and there always will be.  However, where a city and its protestors can cooperate in good faith – without the protestors diminishing their commitment to the principles of the Occupy movement at all – we can co-exist for a long, long, time – for what will have been even longer than 2000 consecutive hours.

“So the City just waited you out,” I’ve heard some people sneer.  That always makes me smile.  We outlasted almost everyone, after all, and we’re not done.  Only the continuous occupation ends; the presence in the community (not limited to Irvine’s Civic Center, but sometimes here, in accordance with the law, as well) does not.  The City “waited us out” in the sense that a pregnant woman “waits out” her fetus prior to birth.  We haven’t been decaying here, we’ve been GESTATING.  And now we’re ready to go out and romp around a little.  Thanks, Irvine, for the nicely apportioned womb.

Here’s a slightly edited (just for greater explanation, with annotations [in brackets and italics]) version of the letter I’ve send to my community of protestors, describing our accomplishments.

OUR SUCCESSES

While I know that there has been a fair amount of acrimony lately [and there has been — you try living and working in a constantly changing group with disparate political philosophies for almost three months – but there’s also a great deal of underlying love and respect] I think that it’s a good time to look at our successes, which have been huge.

(1) Friday at 6 p.m. we will have completed 2000 CONSECUTIVE HOURS OF OCCUPATION OF THE CORNER OF ALTON AND HARVARD. I believe that this is second only to Occupy Nashville, which had the advantage of a court order (and which may have been pushed off the lawn when the police destroyed all of their things.) We’ve lasted longer than almost anyone — this is amazing. And ending the 24/7 occupation on this site does not mean that we’re going away.  We have kept the principles and concerns of the Occupy Movement on the minds of those around us — and in the weeks and months and hopefully years to come, we will continue to do so.

(2) In lasting this long, we’ve also tested the limits of community building and maintenance for almost 3 months and shown other occupations what logistical and social conflicts will need to be addressed. What we may feel as a negative is actually the fruit of our success. We have not had the “benefit” of having to come together to face an external, pepper-spraying, baton-wielding enemy that threatened our continued existence at any time. Instead, we have had to learn to live with each other and face REAL SOCIAL PROBLEMS of self-governance. That is, in its way, harder than getting arrested — and it’s certainly more a lot more complicated. By and large, we’ve done it well — for what will have been over 2000 consecutive hours.

(3) We’ve done this while maintaining a good relationship with the City and reasonably good relations with our neighbors, even though we were handicapped by being one of the few occupations literally across the street from residential areas, making the friendly gesture of people honking their horns at us into a problem for us to overcome. (In a commercial area, we would have had the horns never stopping.) We get to end the continuous occupation with our heads held high, unbloodied, arms raised in victory.

(4) We’ve only had one arrest on our side and that was for alleged activities that did not have to do with the protest itself. (I think one or two of those who harassed us were arrested as well.)

(5) At the same time, people who have wanted confrontation with police have been able to find it. Occupy Irvine has been a site from which campers and other protesters have traveled to actions at Occupy LA, at the Port of Long Beach, in Santa Ana, and elsewhere. We’ve provided an option of civil engagement without undercutting the ability of people to engage in civil disobedience where it mattered most.

(6) By maintaining our good relations with the City, we can expect strong support for using areas of City Center Park for large-scale weekend programming with the City’s encouragement. We’ve become part of the culture and lore of the Civic Center — and this will continue.

(7) We still have a nucleus of campers capable of moving to a new location and a large number of former campers and other activists ready to continue supporting the Occupy movement.

(8) We have been and will continue to be active in cooperation with other occupations, such as Occupy the Rose Parade earlier this week in Pasadena and the upcoming Occupy the Courts in Santa Ana on January 20.

(9) We have been and will continue to be active in local protests ranging from our own marches and the Move Your Money protest to the one last week against Scott Walker on Thursday. Some are “our own”; some are combined with other groups. But only we can carry the Occupy banner.

(10) We have become more involved in the anti-foreclosure movement, where we’ve already had substantial success with Trang Che’s home and apparently have other opportunities upcoming. We’ve helped focus attention on Irvine’s arrangement with the Legal Aid Society for its residents in the midst of foreclosure.

(11) We have good indications of the possibility for a continued long-term occupation in Costa Mesa at the Fairgrounds – at a time when the evil “Charter City” proposal is coming up.

(12) We still have the opportunity to try to get the Irvine City Council to pass some motions we’d like to see, including on (a) opposing Corporate Personhood, (b) moving city money, and maybe (c) challenging mortgages allowing big banks to foreclose on the 99% without showing ownership.

(13) We have the possibility to organize and move into serious and high-profile work on sustainable living, including possibly model projects in Great Park.  We hope that our “brand” (and popularity with the public) will work in concert with our cause and with the Great Park itself, attracting attention to the sustainability movement and making the Great Park a showcase for examples of it.

(14) We have been connecting with lots of people (both each other and outsiders), getting positive press, developing a good “brand” and the respect of the population even while under attack.

(15) We have shown our dedication to First Amendment principles. We have done the essential work of Occupy — changing the national conversation and letting people know that critics are out there, are strong, are not going away, and that it is therefore safe for everyone to join the resistance to corruption and destruction of the financial state of the 99%.

(16) Occupy OC-Irvine has spawned at least a half-dozen viable and interesting “working groups,” from “move your money/CCO” to “gent the money out of politics” to “occupy the courts” to “99% Americans for Change” (working on events and programming for non-campers) to “Sustainability Working Group” to the Think Tank to our group working on Foreclosures and probably more. These saplings seeded by the central Occupation here may be the ones that grow into tall trees; they seem to be where a lot of people now enjoy putting in their time. This is a great accomplishment — and maybe even will lead to lasting ones!

We’ve accomplished all this in [at the time I wrote] LESS THAN 80 DAYS. While we have significant problems, we also have great accomplishments and great possibilities. I’m sure that I’m forgetting some things, but the list is already long and that will have to do.

Individually and collectively, we have a great deal to be proud of.

I’ve never seen anything quite like this movement and I don’t know if I ever will again.  It has been exhilarating. It has been exhausting.  The City at one point required us to limit the size of our overnight Occupation, and I think it did us a favor because I don’t think I could have managed anything much longer.  But it has lasted.  And the mark that it will leave on Orange County, and on ourselves, will last.

We leave the continuous phase of the Occupation showing that we have had more wherewithal than almost anyone expected.  Now we have much more to do.  And, we are going to do it.  The Occupation continues.


About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Deposed as Northern Vice Chair of DPOC in April 2014 (in violation of Roberts Rules) when his anti-corruption and pro-consumer work in Anaheim infuriated the Building Trades and Teamsters in spring 2014, who then worked with the lawless and power-mad DPOC Chair to eliminate his internal oversight. Expelled from DPOC in October 2018 (in violation of Roberts Rules) for having endorsed Spitzer over Rackauckas -- which needed to be done. None of his pre-putsch writings ever spoke for the Democratic Party at the local, county, state, national, or galactic level, nor do they now. One of his daughters co-owns a business offering campaign treasurer services to Democratic candidates and the odd independent. He is very proud of her. He doesn't directly profit from her work and it doesn't affect his coverage. (He does not always favor her clients, though she might hesitate to take one that he truly hated.) He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)