Fifty-two weeks ago today, on Saturday, October 15, a bunch of activists who had been meeting for the previous couple of weeks put into motion their plan to establish a tent city on the lawn at the corner of Harvard and Alton, in front of (or, the city would have it, behind) the Irvine Civic Center. Four weeks before that, Occupy Wall Street had sprung into existence in Manhattan’s Zuccotti Park; two weeks before, Occupy LA had come into what for a long time was a peaceful existence; Occupy Santa Ana had already begun its stirrings. We were both Occupy OC (more or less covering the donut around the central hole of Santa Ana) and Occupy Irvine — a duality that we’ve never quite nailed down.
We didn’t know if we would face mass arrests — or even be allowed to raise tents on the lawn at all. (The lawn appeared to be in disrepair at the time, so we didn’t think that we’d do much damage; we didn’t know that it was being prepared for reseeding.) The signs from the City and its Police Department regarding what would be accepted from us were mixed. San Diego, Long Beach, and Sacramento were slated to come into existence on the same day — as it happened, all three faced violent police repression within a week. Occupy Irvine looked like it might — but through perseverance, negotiation with the city, and support from a community that honked its praise (or in some cases its derision) at us long enough into the night to drive the neighbors nuts — we managed to get out tents into the ground and stay there for 88 days.
Our stint in Irvine was followed by almost two months in Fullerton, which built upon the good relations we’d built with Irvine’s police and city government (which were apparently taking close notes on us). We spent another couple of weeks in Huntington Beach, when the movement — by then largely consisting of homeless people who wanted a place to sleep — fell apart in exhaustion after 3773 straight hours of protest.
We’re going back to Irvine this weekend — not to sleep over, but to celebrate. On Sunday Oct. 15, from 1 to 5 p.m., we’ll gather at Gazebo 4 in Bill Barber Park (part of Civic Center Park, San Juan entrance for parking), just across from the Civic Center complex for a picnic. We’ll enjoy potluck dining, visiting with old friends or making new ones, and enjoy live music (which yes, of course, includes Vern Nelson), and speakers.
Lots of us are proud of what we (and our cousins in Santa Ana) were able to accomplish last year. We were part of helping to change the national debate from being about imposition of austerity to about fighting back against the rapaciousness of Wall Street and the corruption of our political system — among many other grievances. The Occupy Wall Street movement has foundered somewhat nationally, but not nearly as bad as people think. The First Amendment right to protest has largely been vindicated in court — though it took a long time — and those who suffered police abuse have often received significant settlements. (Critics of Irvine and Fullerton for “coddling us” sometimes forget that not only did we have a right to protest, but that by honoring that right both cities saved their residents tens and perhaps hundreds of thousands of dollars or more in lawsuits that would be coming to fruition right about now. Cities from across the country called Irvine for advice on how to deal with Occupy — a story Irvine that was happy to tell.)
I’ve recently been otherwise, um, “occupied” during the election season, so while I’ve known that the plans were on track and proceeding apace I have not kept track of whom to credit for bringing this together. (In other words, expect this next sentence to be revised a few times.) Proud new papa Leif Christian (as most of us know him) and JB Wagoner were major instigators of the anniversary; Linda Swartz did a lot of the heavy lifting over the past month and more to get things done to make it actually happen. And a lot of other people just pitched in as needed. Geoff Huston contributed in a particularly beautiful way by making this video, entitled “Occupy Anniversary.”
Linda Swartz — who signed our first agreement with the City of Irvine to allow us to, literally, put down stakes for a while and who played a huge role in making this event possible — was in on the planning of Occupy Irvine from the beginning. At my invitation, she sent along a reminiscence of those heady early days:
Somebody asked me today about Occupy. Interesting.It seems not so long ago and yet seems like a long time ago. A year ago after being so disgusted with the banks and seeing Occupy Wall Street in the news. Finding the Occupy Orange County Facebook Page and making that first contact. The meetings, group phone calls, someone creating our first sign advertising Occupy Orange County, hurrying to get it in transferable status to take to Kinko’s.We made four signs. The goal was to get the people to our Facebook Page so we could communicate with the people. Solidarity.After our first “Walk Around the Circle” in Orange, we hit the streets from Anaheim to Huntington Beach to spread the word of our “Village” that would be established at the Irvine City Hall. Irvine is the Financial District in Orange County, where many of our big corporations live.October 15th was the day in 2011 we established our Village. Once there we (about 50) agreed we would not be leaving. We were there to stay until we decided to leave. Occupy Orange County made the choiceto embrace the strength of peaceful perseverance rather than police confrontation. We wanted the power of the people to convince the City Council to gives us a legal permit to “be on the grass”. It was important to keep the focus of Occupy on our message of money imbalance, not legality of camping.The people came through. Occupy spent some hard days and nights, putting up our camp and taking it down each night; spending the night, sometimes in shifts, on the corner sidewalk. At first, we had to keep moving or standing, under the close watch of Irvine PD. We persevered, and within a few nights we could bring lawn chairs and blankets – just so long as we didn’t block the sidewalk. And so it went on, day after day, putting it (all the tents,sleeping bags, food, etc) up, taking it down, packing it in the truck, unloading it from the truck. Everyone worked without complaint as our purpose was profound.Again the people came through. We presented ourselves to the Council several times, with wonderful support from the community. Irvine City Council showed a lot of courage to give us that permit. This Council understood the importance of getting the Occupy message to the community. It was the right thing to do and this Council did it. They will always have my deepest respect, especially in a time when partisan politics too often rules decisions. This Council made a non-partisan decision.On the grass full time, our Village was able to settle in. Our first big protest event, we had 1400 people show up. We had teachers sending high school and college students to visit, we had people in the community and people from all over the country stopping by for conversation and sharing of information.What information – Occupy represents issues for the people. Money issues, corporations paying their fair share, money out of politics, citizen’s rights, energy and environmental issues, protecting our food supply, our water supply, paying attention to other countries and what is done in our name(drones). These are the Occupy issues, and I’m sure I haven’t named them all.Occupy is alive and well, make no mistake. It’s like a beehive, humming along on our Facebook pages, sharing information to the community, the country and the world. We are bringing awareness to the issues. I suspect you won’t see us big numbers in the streets until after the inauguration of the President. Now that’s just my personal opinion. Certainly actions are happening now with Walmart in California and Keystone in Texas. We are also helping on some foreclosures. Occupiers are on the move, many working with coalition groups on various issues. There is an Occupy in almost every city in the U.S. and in almost every country. Yes, Occupy is alive and well. Join with us when you can and help make a difference.An Orange County Occupy Person
If Linda were reading this in person, I’d be twinkling “spirit fingers” in agreement with this. (I’d do it here, but it makes it hard to type.) I do want to stress one point: while we no longer have a full-time physical occupation here — and if people think that we’ve gone away, that just goes to show that having that tent city truly did serve a purpose after all! — we’re in touch with each other all the time. We can’t agree on much politically — stretching as we do from far leftist and Greens through the full range of the Democratic Party from progressive to centrist, to anti-establishment libertarian Republicans who were largely enamored of Ron Paul, to activists on single issues from food safety and animal rights to LGBTIQ issues to opposition to the financial system and the security state.
I expect to see a lot of people this weekend that I’ve fought with — but while I’ve fought with them at times I’ve also fought with them. We have our differences, but we’ve generally been able to put them aside as the need calls for it. We are broadly aware of what we’re each capable of, and we’re generally aware that when the need arises we will have each others’ backs. When we have needed to put something together, we’ve been able to — often (as with protests of Mitt Romney’s fundraising visits) pretty damn quickly and effectively. We notify each other, we argue things out, and we’ve generally created a reformist network on the computers (and sometimes couches) of Orange County.
That’s not perfect. Occupy had a lot of force (and a lot of fear-mongering and flat-out lying) exerted against it to try to ruin its reputation with the public at large. While Occupy OC played into it less than most, we could hardly avoid being tarred with it — and most of us have great sympathy for those who engaged in non-violent civil disobedience elsewhere (including many of our own members and those of Occupy Santa Ana, who made road trips to “take their fair share of abuse.”) But we’ve planted a seed of resistance here that continues to grow. We don’t know what fruit it will bear yet, but we are confident that it will bear fruit for a long and productive time.
That wasn’t here, in quite the same way, before. It’s here now — and that’s something to celebrate.
The official announcement, in orange:
On 10/15/11 1,500 people, inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement, came together in Irvine to stand up for the “99%”.
A year later we’re meeting to celebrate with food, music, open mic time, and speakers. We will also be honored with a performance by the OCPC Peace Choir. At the end of the day, a well-remembered walk from the park to our former Village area in front of City Hall will give us all time to reflect on what we have accomplished and what we still need do to.
Occupy Orange County invites you to join us for an “Occupy Potluck Picnic”.
What to bring – Potluck picnic food, (We will supply charcoal)
Your lawn chair or picnic blanket
Shade canopy if you have one
Join us for an afternoon of seeing old friends or making new ones, enjoying the music and speaking presentations.
Our picnic is located at Gazebo 4. Use San Juan Entrance for parking.
This is a family-friendly, “good vibes” and legal event. All are welcome.
This poster (from which the banner was adapted) was the work of our PosterMaster, Jose Mendez: