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After 3773 straight hours of protest stretching back to October 15, 2011, the Occupy OC encampment ended today at 3 p.m. — with a little bit of a bang, a little bit of a whimper, some tears, some satisfaction, and some quiet sighs of relief. None of us back in early October, I can confidently say, had envisioned our having a continuous round-the-clock street presence lasting until March 20, 2012 — over 157 days. Now that it’s over, many have problems imagining a short-term future without one.
Occupy people had been staying overnight in Huntington Beach for about two weeks, but had not come to an agreement with the city on a permanent campsite. As recounted here, a week ago yesterday things looked like they might work out. But communication, command, and control — those necessities of any offensive — were lacking, and the city’s demand that Occupy file a permit had not been passed up to those people who would have sought one. About a dozen people received citations for “lodging” — often a questionable assertion by municipal governments against the homeless — on the morning of Tuesday March 13. (One of our earliest fights with the City of Irvine during the third week of October 2011 was whether merely sleeping in a bag on the ground constituted “lodging.”)
That afternoon, two people from the Occupy movement, one who had come up from San Diego and one who had come down from Long Beach, did a little protest art, tossing glitter (and, we were told today, rice) in a Chase Bank in Huntington Harbor, then writing an anti-illegal foreclosure message in dry-erase marker on the window. As vandalism goes, this was not very vandalism-y, but it did call into the category and the bank branch determined to press charges. (The alleged perps remain on the lam.) Despite Occupy HB disavowing and condemning the action Our relations with the most sympathetic members of the City Council, Joe Shaw and Connie Boardman, became strained. Boardman conveyed to us an “if this happens one more time …” message. Shaw pointed out that he was having enough time getting to four votes allowing us to camp including Boardman; we’d have no chance without her.
Then, yesterday afternoon, two other participants in the encampment decided that it would be a great idea to conduct a “dine and dash” at a local restaurant — this is not in keeping with the Occupy OC philosophy, which has included volunteer work in food banks — and were promptly arrested. When our Civic Liaison on the spot Mike Anderson received an e-mail from Boardman withdrawing her intention to introduce resolutions of the sort that had been considered by the Fullerton City Council. We pretty much folded, deciding that under the circumstances it would be best not to even show up and say howdy at last night’s meeting.
We had a meeting at 2 p.m. this afternoon with City Manager Fred Wilson, Police Chief Kenneth Small, and City Attorney Jennifer McGrath. The first thing they did when I entered the room, a couple minutes after seven of the people who had been cited for lodging, was to circulate to me lovely, heavy-stock, glossy photos of the photos that uniformed officers had taken of the campers-in-search-of-a-camp. I include a photo I took of one such picture above. It was pretty clear: this was lodging lodging, not “pretext” lodging. We had homeless people who didn’t have anyplace else to stow their things, some of whom were intent on trying to heat food. While Beach and PCH had been intended as a stopgap location on our way to a longer-term camp, it was fair to say that even without our being in tents they could probably make a lodging charge stick.
So, what do we do? Huntington Beach Police had been courteous to the campers throughout the two weeks there. Normally, you try to choose a ripe target for civil disobedience, and Huntington Beach had been pretty reasonable to us — and, in any event, with our reduced numbers we weren’t prepared for it. The City Attorney would retain, but not file the charges so long as the infractions were not repeated, but if they were repeated it could lead to arrest. The best way to do that, we agreed (after a lot of Facebook discussion earlier in the day), was to try to move the encampment out of the city. Some efforts we had had underway failed to materialize — and so we ended our streak.
To be fair, 3773 hours (out of an 8784-hour leap year) is something significant. It hurt to walk away from it, but after a while it becomes the record driving the occupation rather than the needs of the movement doing so. It was time to leave, to recover, to recoup, and then perhaps to begin again with the clock reset to zero.
The middle-class activists of the early days have over time been largely replaced by lower-class homeless — but that they are in that category should not be taken as a reason to debase them. We told them, based on our understanding of the law, that they had to stay up all night so as to avoid being cited. And they did. They slept, when they could, during the day. This is not easy, especially in the rain and wind that we had last weekend. Had they just been looking for a warm place to sleep, they could have found better ones these past two weeks. Had they not cared about the ideals of the movement as well as the lodging, they would have gone elsewhere when the going got tough. But they didn’t; they stood tough. Call them homeless, sure, but you can’t call them heartless or powerless. People who think that people like me and other home-based Occupiers were serving them fail to understand that that, by holding the fort, were also serving us.
Now people are dispersed. One man — wild-bearded, good-humored, piercing eyed, and very experienced at being homeless — will continue to go to the Huntington Beach Pier during daytime hours and circulate petitions against GMO foods. Stop by and see Dave sometime, sign his petitions, and tell him that I sent you. (If you drop him a buck or two, maybe you’ll help him find a room for the night.) Others are living the lives that the homeless do, many others of us remain in our homes, preparing for days of action as the rest of the nation thaws out this spring.
In talking to the Huntington Beach brass this afternoon, many of the Occupiers talked about the great interactions they’ve been having with the citizens of the somewhat quirky city. For every sneer of “get a job,” one said, five people reacted positively. Their disappointment came largely from their sense that they did feel that they were accomplishing something, on a one-to-one basis, with citizens who wanted to learn more about them — and who were often surprised and pleased to learn that the Occupy Wall Street movement had, quite literally, landed on their local shores.
We agreed with the city officials that we would be able to come back to Huntington Beach during the daytime and continue our activities, reaching out to citizens and to tourists. We’ll meet with the Chief of Police to determine how to do so while offering the most to the City and causing the least reasonable disruption to its tourism industry. If this was a defeat, it was one with a bright silver lining and much hope for the months to come.
But like others, right now, I’m tired and stunned. To the last, I thought that we would somehow find another good location for an encampment at the last minute, but we didn’t. It’s OK. The time we’ve put in has not been wasted (as some feared); the seeds we have planted in Orange County civic culture will continue to grow. It will just, at least for a while, be different.
We end our meetings with the statement that “The Occupation Continues.” It does — just not quite so continuously. Not here, at least; not, at least, tonight.
(But we will be back. There’s too much passion in this group for it to remain dormant for long.)