Revolution #252, December 11, 2011
Occupy LA Eviction: Determined Resistance Up Against Deceit and Repression
On Tuesday, November 29, Occupy LA (OLA) was evicted from its two-month-old site at City Hall Park (renamed Solidarity Park).
For weeks, city officials had tried to convince OLA to move by offering city-owned office space for $1 per year, land for a community garden and shelter for some of the homeless at OLA. To their credit, it was an offer OLA steadfastly rejected. This open defiance and exposure of the great pain and inequity of their system—and that people can resist and unite against it—was to be traded for a space to be either irrelevant and/or co-opted. This "offer" reveals a great deal about what has been most significant about the occupations—and what those with power have found intolerable: people putting their lives on hold, their bodies on the line, and occupying sites at the heart of the seat of government, or as in NYC at the heart of finance, or right in the middle of the universities where critical thinking is already under assault.
The city then rescinded that offer and instead made an "offer" they felt OLA couldn't refuse. On Black Friday, Los Angeles Mayor Villaraigosa issued a call to shut down OLA and gave a Sunday midnight deadline.
Instead of closing down, all day Sunday thousands from all over Southern California and all walks of life poured into the encampment to firmly stand with and show support for OLA. The people in the park included urban and suburban youth, veteran activists, everyday people and Hollywood movie stars, union officials, university professors, revolutionary communists, and punk rockers. The radical punk band NOFX gave a concert in the park and people sang along with them. Many came from other occupations and neighboring cities and from many college and university campuses all over the area.
With up to 500 tents, OLA had become the largest remaining Occupy site in the country, inspiring the people but infuriating the authorities. Like the Occupy movement nationally, Occupy LA opened up a physical as well as mental space for all kinds of people "to think, imagine, and dream of new possibility." It stood in sharp contrast to the cruel and crumbling economic, social, cultural, intellectual and political reality of 21st century America. The system found the Occupy movement's communal existence and cooperative ethos absolutely intolerable. The youths quoted below express the sentiments of the Occupy movement overall— that a better world is possible.
Several Latino youths, some from mainly Black and Latino South Central LA, told Revolution why they had come to OLA to be part of defying the Sunday eviction deadline:
- This is the first movement of our generation that matters. There's no reason why I shouldn't be here.
- This is where this generation is finally opening its eyes, and getting away from the television set and doing something, getting together as human beings, fighting for the common good.
- I'm here because I think another world is possible. Then upon being released from jail after Tuesday's eviction he told us More than ever!
"We're Still Here!"
On Sunday evening more than 2,000 people attended the biggest general assembly since the start of OLA. People boldly and joyfully voted to refuse being evicted. As the city's 12:01 am deadline passed, the huge crowd began chanting in unison "we're still here!"
Shortly after midnight, the Occupiers still numbered over 2,000. While some stayed inside the park watching the tents and others prepared for nonviolent civil disobedience and arrests, many moved into the streets and confronted riot gear cops. There was plenty of camaraderie and creativity that had come to characterize OLA. This spirit was captured by a big truck that drove into the area about 1 am; opening its side panels to reveal a bank of huge speakers blasting out Marvin Gaye's "What's Going On?" About 4 am, the city and the cops withdrew.
On Tuesday night, November 29, the LAPD issued a citywide tactical alert and overran OLA with an overwhelming force of over 1,400 cops, an unspecified number of LA sheriffs and members of other police agencies, including undercover cops.
The cops set up a six-block police perimeter blockading OLA's site and preventing people from entering the area. Hundreds of cops in riot gear marched out from the nearby police headquarters, and hundreds more poured out from inside City Hall, SWAT teams swarmed in by foot, hundreds more arrived on 30 metro buses, police helicopters buzzed the night sky.
The LAPD was armed with batons, many in hazmat suits (i.e., white hazardous-materials coveralls), pepper spray and tear gas, guns that shoot rubber bullets and more lethal ones. All this had the markings of a military-style operation that lasted all night—culminating in a cyclone fence erected around the OLA campsite by dawn, and the arrest of nearly 300 people.
This attack on OLA is part and parcel of the system's orchestrated nationwide repression against the Occupy movement—from New York to Oakland to UC Davis and UC Berkeley and dozens of other locations. This movement has become increasingly threatening to the functioning and ethos of capitalism in shifting the polarization of imperial America—where the masses of people have been taught to blame themselves or those on the bottom of society for society's problems—instead of those on top who own and run things (aka the 1%).
The resolve and courage of OLA protesters resisting eviction has been most inspiring to many. When the police invaded the park, there were reports that many who did not move fast enough to police liking were clubbed viciously. All Tuesday night, hundreds driven into the streets by police aggression continued to march and chant slogans, and the 60 protesters who locked arms and sat down together in the park itself were undaunted. Many in the latter group were first-time protesters who stood their ground to fight what they saw as social inequalities and injustices. Many said they did not want to be arrested, did not know what to expect from the historically brutal LAPD, yet stood firm heroically.
The police singled out protesters who showed any defiance for extra punishment. It was reported that arrestees who voluntarily stood up and were "escorted out" of the camp by cops were given $100 bail; others reported leaving and being arrested blocks away. But those who sat down and linked/locked arms were given $5,000 bail. A woman seen going limp while being arrested was roughed up and lifted off the ground by four beefy pigs, and those who occupied atop a tree at the camp were shot with bean bags.
And when OLA protesters were released from jail, one condition of their release was that they not return to the City Hall area where the camp was set up. Again, what does this tell us about what the authorities understand is at stake?
Reporters Banned and "Embedded"
The repression came down in an unprecedented media ban on coverage of the eviction. Alternative media like KPFK and others were not allowed in the camp during the raid, while mainstream media were told that only "embedded" media were permitted—as has been done with media in Iraq and Afghanistan. The very few media allowed to witness parts of the police raid on OLA willingly complied with every police command, and portrayed anyone who didn't as deserving of whatever they got from the cops. They reported the police story and repeatedly denigrated and dehumanized the protesters, while the cops were portrayed as ever so brave and endangered by angry protesters.
The embedded media acted to spread lies and confusion about how the eviction of OLA was handled differently and without any violence by the LAPD, unlike any other cities or campuses in the rest of the U.S. There has been an ideological assault that accompanied and followed the physical assault on OLA by portraying the LAPD as reformed and reasonable, and promoting the lie that this is a new model of "crowd management," that the way they carried out the eviction was the LAPD's "finest moment in its history" because it did not openly show its iron fist, barely hidden under a thin glove of apparent restraint. One well-known civil rights lawyer even went so far as to say "this is not our grandfather's LAPD."
This official story was challenged by a righteous demonstration called by OLA against police brutality on December 3. Several of those released from jail recounted being brutalized during and after the LAPD raid, and while in jail such as being put in very cold showers or taken out of sight of other prisoners and beaten, or denied food. One youth showed his broken wrist that he said was hit by a rubber bullet during the raid. Many said the media had grossly distorted the facts.
The mainstream media has helped cover over the illegitimacy of the system and its police in attempting to shut down this entire Occupy movement across the country with overwhelming force and THREAT of force. They've functioned to mold public opinion that the police rightfully have total monopoly on legitimate violence in capitalist society. In doing so they are trying to influence the debate that has been taking place within the Occupy movement, and far beyond, over whether the police are part of the 99%, rather than the armed force acting in the interests of the capitalist class or what the Occupy movement calls the 1%.
The crude capitalist propaganda aimed at OLA, praising the LAPD to the sky and mocking protesters, also serves a wider purpose than just the eviction of OLA. It's meant to suck in people, especially the middle classes, around a good cop/bad cop view of these brutal enforcers for the system. This kind of public opinion serves to create a broad atmosphere where anyone who is attacked by the police—such as many basic masses in the neighborhoods (stop and frisk comes to mind), or non-compliant protesters, are simply assumed to have done something wrong to deserve it, e.g., Oscar Grant or Manuel Jaminez.
These lessons are being debated before, during and after this eviction by many in LA and around the country. As part of the search for answers and sense of urgency, about 60 people at OLA attended a talk by Revolution writer and KPFK radio host Michael Slate on Sunday afternoon on the importance of the Occupy movement, the juncture it's facing and the road forward. Drawing on Andy Zee's article "Two-Month Anniversary of Occupy Wall Street: Resistance Up Against Nationwide Attacks," as well as Bob Avakian's "A Reflection on the 'Occupy' Movement: An Inspiring Beginning... And the Need To Go Further" (Revolution #251, November 27, 2011), the scene on the steps of City Hall featured more than an hour of lively discussion and debate, including over the kind of world we need and how to get there.
There was real agonizing and debate about what should characterize this movement. Some felt it should have tangible and realizable demands, but many others argued for why the sights must continue to be set on a better world and not something more narrow, routine and acceptable to the system.
It has indeed been a very inspiring beginning for a movement that is full of vitality and promise about a better future. It does need to go much further, including spreading more forcefully onto the college campuses. It has and can contribute to the societal questioning and searching for a much better future for humanity.
The battle for the Occupy movement is not over. Right now, the movement is confronting a major juncture. To come back and move forward even stronger will require being clear that the movement has captured the aspirations of millions because it has gone up against the way this system is destroying people and the planet. Moving forward will involve the creativity and the determination of tens of thousands around the country. Revolutionaries need to be in the fray—contributing to this process as part of building a movement for revolution. And, all those who aspire to a better world than the misery of capitalism need to find out about and engage this revolution. As Bob Avakian's statement says:
As with very positive movements in the past (including the very broad and very radical movements of the 1960s), left to their own spontaneous course (that is, without the necessary process of revolutionary communists uniting with and working to build these struggles but also working to provide the direction to divert things onto a more fully and consciously revolutionary path) these movements, even while they can involve truly large numbers of people and have a very positive impact, will eventually be repressed and/or dissipated, and/or brought under the domination of the ruling class, in one form or another—unless masses of people involved in them are won to, become firmly convinced of, the need to develop the struggle further, into a movement for revolution, with the necessary understanding and organization—yes, including the necessary structures and leadership—that is required to finally sweep away this system and bring into being a radically new system with the aim of ultimately abolishing all exploitation and oppression.
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