Saturday, November 26, 2011

Black Friday at OccupyLA

The press conference with the Mayor was scheduled for 4PM Friday afternoon, Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.  One could almost imagine that the timing was designed to see the story buried over the weekend, replaced instead by lurid headlines of crazed shoppers pushing, punching and pepper spraying each other to get bargain-priced items for the Christmas rush.

Why pay attention to the eviction of a peaceful protest from public property when you can gawk at Wal-Mart shoppers taking society a few giant steps closer to Thunderdome in the pursuit of cheap flat-screen TVs?

I decided earlier in the week to make another trip down to City Hall Friday, to get some interviews and sound bites for my radio show, "Independent Thinking", which debuts Monday.  I didn't know at the time that I would be there for the Mayor's announcement, or even that there would be one.  Not that it mattered; there was no access to the Mayor, except by authorized media outlets.

 Listen Monday at 10AM PST/1PM EST for the debut of my show on!

I arrived at City Hall a little after 2 and started talking to people to try to find out what they thought the announcement would be.  Everyone was certain that it was our eviction notice, which the city had been kind enough to tell us would be coming next week, with at least 72 hours notice.  This, of course, came a few weeks after the city had been kind enough to say we would be able to stay at City Hall as long as we wanted.

Somewhere, a Native American tribe is nodding, in complete understanding.

I always enjoy the conversations I have with the Occupiers at City Hall, and this day was no exception.  Adding in the fact that I was interviewing several people along the way, giving them a chance to express their opinions on the Occupy Movement and what they thought the future would hold - it was interesting and uplifting.  The spirit of these protesters and the people helping out is just amazing.  If you're listening Monday, you'll hear thoughts from a woman who discovered politics through a spiritual quest and decided Ron Paul is her savior; a 53 year-old New York native who has been staying at OccupyLA since Day One and who keeps himself busy helping out wherever it's needed; and a woman who prepares soup and vegan stews for the Occupiers out of her own budget.  They're all intelligent, thoughtful individuals, and I'm hoping that getting their words out there will help others understand what the Occupiers are trying to accomplish.

As four o'clock came and passed and the press conference still hadn't started, I noticed that the mood of the Occupiers wasn't affected much by the impeding announcement.  Everyone seemed  pretty upbeat, in fact.

I found myself on the East steps of City Hall, listening to a press conference with Occupy Media representatives, responding to the Mayor Villaraigosa's  announcement that the OccupyLA site had to be gone by Monday morning at 12:01AM.  The basic sentiment was that we were disappointed that the Mayor took the easy way out, making the encampment move, rather than doing the hard work of trying to respond to the injustices that are clearly affecting the average citizen's life, from coast to coast.  And that some Occupiers would leave before the deadline, and that some would stay. But, no matter what, OccupyLA would continue.

And that seemed to be the mood of the people I talked to up until the GA (General Assembly) that night at 7:30.  We knew they wouldn't let us stay forever, we have enjoyed a pretty decent working relationship with the City and LAPD, and now, we would have to protest under different circumstances.  But no one seemed deterred, or ready to back down.

As I sat down to record the GA that night, I was pleased to see a really good-sized crowd on the South steps of City Hall.  It's one of the biggest shopping days of the year, and hundreds of people are still willing to show up and show support for the idea of making some positive change.

Around 7:30, a Mic Check was called for, and the People's Microphone was put into play to begin the GA.  I was surprised that there was no mention of the Mayor's press conference; I guess everyone took it for granted that we all knew already, and basically, we did.  There was a mention of breaking the GA down into smaller groups to discuss tactics and options, and after an announcement about a small notepad that had been found, they asked for a volunteer to read OWS' Principles of Solidarity.  When no one responded and they asked again, I raised my hand.

And that's how I ended up addressing OccupyLA on Black Friday.

 I am really connecting with that guy in the folding lawn chair.
I bet he'll buy one of my T-shirts after the show...

After some more announcements (a statement of non-violence was read, reminding Occupiers that we are, above all else, a peaceful movement; South Central Farmers declared solidarity with OccupyLA; and a member of the National Lawyers Guild, who told us what could and would happen the night of the eviction), the group broke down for discussion into two groups - those who were willing to be arrested, and those who were unwilling or unable to be arrested - for example, foreigners living in America who risked deportation if arrested in a political protest, people with prior arrests, and undocumented immigrants.  The groups broke down and discussions began.

I stayed a while longer, made my way back to the Metro, and dropped another buck and a half to return to North Hollywood, where I could eat, relax with my girl, and reflect on what was going on.  OccupyLA is being evicted.  By the time my show hits the air Monday morning, this will all be in play or finished.  Something will have happened.  Hopefully, no one will be hurt.  There's no reason for it, but that's still on my mind.  I have a lot of friends who will be there, resisting eviction.  And OccupyLA will now be forced to change.

Look for Occupy 2.0, in time for Christmas.  And Happy Weekend Of Unbridled Consumerism, America - lookin' good!


Monday, November 28th, "Independent Thinking With Steve Gelder" debuts on  Every weekday morning at 10AM Pacific, 1PM Eastern. 

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