Thursday, November 17, 2011

Two Months With OWS And All I Got Was Nearly Arrested...

You could hear the helicopters overhead as I got off the Metro stop in downtown L.A....

B of A's ivory tower and one of several copters.

I knew they were probably hovering over the place I was headed - the Bank Of America Plaza where members of Occupy LA stopped after a march.  It's the two-month anniversary of Occupy Wall Street's first day, and L.A. has a series of actions planned for the remainder of the week.  I was sitting at home, working on a project on the computer, when I started seeing the word on Facebook and Twitter: "POLICE SURROUNDING PEACEFUL PROTESTORS!! WATCH NOW! SOLIDARITY! THE WHOLE WORLD IS WATCHING YOU LAPD."  A few minutes online, and I got the gist of what was happening - the marchers who stopped at Bank Of America were being surrounded, and possibly arrested.

I've been going to and supporting Occupy LA as much as possible since I first went down on October 1st, the first day of the Occupation at City Hall.  I was so struck that first day by the power, the energy, the enthusiasm and the intelligence of the people I saw down there, that I decided to become involved. I found the Demands and Objectives Committee on my second or third day, and started to participate in the system, a new system.  I've always been involved in the political process; I am a registered Independent, so I am always looking for the best person for the job, no matter what their party affiliation.  That first day, I realized the best person might just be the 99%.

So, when I heard arrests of my fellow Occupiers were about to happen, I decided to become involved again. I put the finishing touches on the project, sent it off, and, as luck would have it, my girlfriend walked into our apartment, so I could let her know what was going on.

"What're you going to do?" she asked, after I told her the latest.

"I think I'm going downtown to get arrested," I replied.

We talked about it for a few minutes. I told her I thought my risk was low - I'm not about to get in some cop's face or get violent - and that, if I was arrested, I would probably be released on my own recognizance.  She told me she would keep her phone on, and to call her if there was anything she could do, and we hugged and kissed. As I left, I yelled up the stairs, "Hopefully, I'll see you soon!" She laughed, and I was off.

It's a strange feeling to pay a dollar fifty for the chance to go downtown to get arrested.  It's not something I wanted to do; it's something I felt I had to.  I really believe that what we're standing for, the Occupy Movement and the 99%, is too important to stay away from.  It's something that I want to be a part of - for better or worse, I'm married to this movement.

Walking to Bank of America Plaza was time-consuming, but not difficult.  As I got closer to the Plaza, the presence of cops in uniform became prevalent.  The first group I found was about 15 large.  I walked up to them with my 99% arm band on, and asked them which way to the protestors.  They told me, and I wished them all well and told them to stay safe.  They said the same to me.

The Welcoming Committee

I finished my walk, observing greater numbers of cops, cop cars, cop motorcycles, the helicopters (what were they going to do if things got hairy on the ground?) and eventually, the buses the police have to haul people away in situations like this.

Reality can be a bitch.

Approaching the plaza - more cops than I've seen since the New Year's Eve Party I threw in 1994.

I observed what I could from my vantage point, and followed a guy who told the cops he just wanted to get to his car somewhere on the other side of the center of action.  They let him pass, so I tagged behind and said, "My car's over there, too," and with that, I was in.

I walked up the stairs at B of A and as far forward as I could, which was a line of cops who seemed to be blocking the green space in the very center of the plaza.  Tents were piled around the perimeter, and cops holding green rifles were standing guard.  There were officers in full gear, holding batons or rifles everywhere.  It was...intimidating.

I found out, talking with others, that there were several people inside that protective ring, who we couldn't see, because of the way the cops situated the tents that protestors had brought down with them.  I think the plan was to Occupy the Bank of America Plaza. They were having none of that tonight.

The Thin Blue Line is actually fairly substantial, when you get down to it.

Although I was face to face with a line of police in helmets holding batons, I was lucky enough to be standing next to my favorite kind of Occupier - a good-natured smart-ass. This kid on the front line was calling the cops by name and trying to get them to talk and laugh.  When he got one cop, "Anderson," to smile, he couldn't have been happier. "Anderson, you finally smiled! It's good for your soul, Anderson.  That's all I wanted to see!"

I yelled, "That's it, Occupation's over.  This whole thing for the past couple of months was just to get Anderson to loosen up a little. We can all go home, now!"  Anderson smiled a little more, a few of us laughed, including a couple of cops, and it was on.

I talked to the cops on the front line for a while, eventually finding one who would talk with me.  Through the course of our conversation, I found out he had been there since 5 this morning (it was about 12 hours later while we chatted), that he had a wife, that LAPD don't get overtime pay due to budget cuts (need to verify that), and that he considered himself to be one of the 99%.

He said those words to me: "I am one of the 99%."

"I am one of the 99%..." ~ LAPD Officer
who will remain unnamed

Officer 99% and I talked some more.  I asked him what the rifles were loaded with.  He turned slightly and said, "The green ones?  Bean bags." 

"What are those like to get hit by?" I asked.  He didn't know, but he said he thought they left a bruise.  I asked him if they were required to be on the receiving end of the weapons they carried, and he told me he had to be tazed and pepper sprayed, to know what it felt like. I asked him what was worse.

"Pepper spray sucks," he said.

I yelled out during a quiet moment, "Hey, what do you say we call this whole thing off and go get a beer, on me?"  A few cops smiled, but there were no takers.  "All these cops and no one wants a beer?" I yelled. "What have they done to you guys?" 

There were three or four of us at my corner, trying to connect to the human beings inside the uniform, and it seemed to be working.  Occasionally, they would ask us to take a step back, and they would take one step forward, moving the line.  After a few minutes of this, I noticed we had cops now surrounding us.  "We've been outflanked, and I don't even understand military terms," I yelled. 

Back a step, cops forward a step.  Back a step, cops forward a step.  More than a few of my fellow Occupiers had left the front line and were making their way back to the sidewalk, or the streets, probably headed back to the site at City Hall.  I figured I'd wait it out a while.

The cops made an announcement: "You have ten minutes to vacate this area. This is private property. You have ten minutes."  More Occupiers left, but some of us stuck around.  I noticed a group of five or six people who were sitting in a semi-circle, waiting for arrest, it seemed.  I decided to sit down with them.

"Gotta go," I said to my new cop friend.  "I'm huge fan of sitting. Take it easy!"

I crossed some cameras and equipment media types had with them, and joined the circle.  "What's up, Guys?"  I asked.  "Are you tired of standing, too?" This smaller group was a little more grim, preparing for what could have been the worst.  Someone yelled that we had eight minutes to clear the space.

One Occupier asked for a "Mic check".  This is the way we communicate in our groups; one person yells "Mic check!" And everyone around him repeats, "Mic check!"  The next circle of people out repeat, "Mic check!"  And then the original speaker starts to deliver his message, three or four words at a time.  We're human amplifiers.

This guy was from Occupy LA, and advised us that we would be arrested if we remained, ,and that it might be in our best interests to avoid that, over this situation. Basically, save your "Get Out Of Jail, Free" card for another day.  We decided, as a small circle, to stand and leave.

We were still being advanced upon by the line of cops.   I was physically nudged from the Plaza.  But, before we left for the night, we thanked the police for keeping it peaceful and for doing their jobs to the best of their ability.  That's all they're doing, whether they want to be there or not.

I saw one "alternative press" guy yelling at a cop because he wasn't being let through to where Commander Smith was talking with the press.  He eventually called the cop, a tolerant African-American officer "a fucking fool" and stormed away.  I immediately got closer to the cop and said "I can't believe he called you a funky fool - does he know you can bust a move?"  That cop laughed, as did several of his fellow officers.  "Have a good night, Officers," I said, and they wished me the same.

I yelled a goodnight to my new cop friend, Officer 99%, and the rest of the cops there, and walked back to the camp at City Hall.

There will be more actions this week, and more conflicts for the movement across the country before this is all through.  I'm not sure how long it will go on, or what the outcome will be.  I like to think we're changing the conversation in this country already. I'd like to think we're making a difference.

But, I've seen the batons and the rifles and over 200 cops lined up to stop, what is still, a peaceful protest.  I'm afraid it's going to get worse before it gets better. 

Hopefully, I can find my cop one of these days, and buy him a beer.  And maybe he'll want to buy me one, too.

•  •  •

Remember, if I'm not behind bars, my new radio show "Independent Thinking" debuts in less than a week and a half - weekday mornings at 10AM starting November 28th on

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