Occupy OC Village Moves: Thanks, Irvine, and Hello Fullerton!





Map of walk from Irvine City Hall to Fullerton City Hall

It's a long walk, almost six hours, from Irvine Civic Center Plaza to Fullerton's Civic Center Plaza. Fortunately for Occupy OC protesters, they took the half-hour drive instead.

And, just like that, it’s over.  Peacefully.  Without a single act of civil disobedience, without a single arrest for Occupy-related activities.  The tents went down.  Everything was packed.  Everyone is off of the Irvine Civic Center Plaza.  The whole carnival has departed for Fullerton.

By now, I doubt that I even have to repeat my disclaimers, but here again I am hopelessly conflicted.  I was (and I suppose still am, if necessary) the Civic Liaison between Occupy Orange County and the Irvine City Government.  My “Never Again” did not last long; when I found out Sunday that the “villagers” were inclining towards moving to Fullerton and found out last night that the deal was done — without the approval or acquiescence of the City — I said that I’d sign up to at least start the Civic Liaison process there too.  After all, I know how to do it now.  We’ll be meeting with the City Manager, Joe Felz, a representative of the police department, and hopefully a rep from the Council, late this afternoon.  (Mayor Sharon Quirk-Silva is ill, for what I am assured are unrelated reasons, and won’t be able to attend.  Bruce Whitaker and/or Pat McKinley will apparently attend in her stead.)

We said goodnight yesterday evening to the Irvine City Council and, on our side, at least, it was poignant.  People expressed their thanks to the council and affection for the city.  The non-violent on either side, mutually agreed-upon, extremely civil occupation of the corner of Irvine Civic Center Plaza has not gotten the television press of the occupations of Long Beach, San Diego, and even Santa Ana — let alone LA, Oakland, Berkeley, UC Davis, etc. — despite that it is one of the most unique and notable.

At the time campers cleared off the lawn at 10 a.m. this morning, Occupy OC had been there on that corner for 88 straight days without a moment’s absence.  That’s 2112 straight hours.  126720 minutes.  7603200 seconds.  (If we’d only known, we might have left 3200 seconds earlier.)  One would think that this would be a story — except possibly for Occupy Nashville, whose occupation was interrupted by the destruction of its camp before a court order could say to stop it, this was the longest continuous 24/7 occupation of a single site in the country, after all.  (Because people arrived in Fullerton before the last people left Irvine, it is still a continuous occupation of Orange County, the villagers would have you know.)

The problem, of course, is with the old media saying: “if it bleeds, it leads.”  I can attest that our first meeting with the City was tense: I expected that we would engage in civil disobedience and the City was more than prepared for it.  We would have made the news.  As it turned out, we froze, we starved, we squabbled, we did lots of things, but we didn’t bleed.  So, we didn’t make the news as much — although with further removal in time, I expect that we’ll play a larger role when the history of events since Sept. 17, 2011 is written.

As I told the City Council at last night’s meeting, the success of our Occupation is due to three groups: “Us, You, and Them.”  I’ll address each in turn.

“US”: Making the news by getting bloodied up would have had its benefits, but it was not, I and others felt, the way to reach the hearts and minds of the communities of Orange County.  Orange County tolerates protests, but is not so hot on people who get arrested.  Demonstration of personal courage is not an insignificant benefit to many activists, and we had lots of people who were prepared to get arrested out of tribute to their convictions.  For them to go along with the program took a lot of suppression of the desire to push back — but they did.  Some people don’t want to give them credit for following the law, but I certainly appreciated it.  We were well-behaved (especially at council meetings), eloquent, and hard-working, along with all of the engagement of the public that we did.  Getting a group of unruly activists to cooperate is not easy in the best of circumstances, but coming close to the best of circumstances turned out to be enough.

“YOU”: (Remember that I was speaking to the Council here.  “You” meant them.)  Most City Councils would not have gone along with the program.  It would still have been in their interest — look at how much Sam Aresheh is going to cost the government all by himself by “throwing himself in the gears of the machine” and demanding a jury trial for a misdemeanor committed on the one-night conflict in Santa Ana — but they professed not to be focused on that.  They said that they favored free speech and they wanted it to work.  Each member of the City Council played a critical role in our success — a role that, for any or all of them, could have blown up in their faces.  Beth Krom took the initiative to place approving us on the agenda when — unbeknownst to her, I didn’t expect it and a failure to act could have led to civil disobedience within the hour.  Larry Agran came prepared with a plan, if one became appropriate.  He and Mayor Sukhee Kang become the subcommittee tasked with making decisions about the encampment by themselves for about half of its existence — and this included making some hard calls about letting us continue and pushing first for us to limit the size of the occupation and second to set a firm ending date (which was today.)  The minority members of the Council, Jeff Lalloway and Steven Choi, played a role more significant than they may have fully appreciated at the time by keeping this from becoming a partisan issue.  (It shouldn’t have been.  We have a lot of Ron Paul supporters in our ranks, mixed in with Democrats, Greens, and people who haven’t been political before.)

Beyond this, the council was supported by an excellent staff under City Manager Sean Joyce, with most of the negotiation and heavy lifting being done by Assistant City Manager Sharon Landers.  (She is a tough negotiator, by the way.)  And the Police Department under Dave Maggert, while clearly no bunch of softies, were professional and often helpful to us.  Commander Barry Aninag in effect had joint control of operations with Landers and was extremely effective and supportive.  The cycle of escalation that one often sees in a crisis became instead a cycle of deescalation, as a basic trust was built between demonstrators and officers.  This was the way to handle a protest.  Other cities, take note!

It also turned out that we learned a lot about what the city was already doing in many of the areas we cared about.  Agran informed us of the sustainability efforts already going on within the Great Park (including a humongous organic farming project that I’d not heard about before), about initiatives for people needing assistance with jobs and foreclosures; the City has a special contract the Legal Aid Society to help its residents in trouble.   We found out from others in the City that they could offer people help with finding temporary shelter.  I’m sure that the City advertises these services, but it was good to see them in action.

“THEM”:  “Them” was the Irvine community.  We were popular with a whole lot of people who would come by and honk their hellos — though after the quiet zone signs went up, the honkers were comparatively more likely to be expressing their antagonism — and who would bring us donations.  We did seem to be an occasion of civil pride.   And while there was opposition from the immediate neighbors, they were mostly patient — and we tried to work with them as best we could (for example by discouraging horn honking.)  Some people who think that it is very important to have green grass in the winter, even before the dormant grass returns, aren’t happy with us, but even they would have to admit that a little sign of the natural life cycle has not been too great of a price to pay.  (And, at any rate, the City Council giving us the right to camp overnight was not what caused the problem; it was our legal ability to have tents up during the day that did that.  The Council got a bum rap over that one.)

My guess is that in the future lots of people who were in opposition to, or sat on the sidelines regarding, the Great Occupation of Irvine will claim to have been supportive of, even enthusiastic about, it in years to come.  Irvine did things right.  We’ll still be around sometimes — pushing for appropriate resolutions, maybe having some special events in the Civic Center Park that we have grown to love — but we don’t live there any more.

Now, it’s Fullerton’s chance to do it right.  We’re back to square one — and we will hope for the best.

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. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)