Editor's note: Freelance journalist Skylaire Alfvegren has been attending Occupy L.A. general assemblies since they first began two months ago. She previously covered the Nov. 17 arrests of 46 occupiers for the Weekly and was there last night as police moved in.
On the 60th day of Occupy Los Angeles, tipped off in the afternoon that the Los Angeles Police Department had contacted a charter bus company with an order for 20 buses capable of holding 50 people a piece, this writer knew long before dusk that the powers that be were orchestrating a show of force not seen since the L.A. riots.
“This is the time for solidarity. If the raid happens tonight, we will go to the church,” came the word at the occupiers' General Assembly. Contrary to network news reports hours later, the Occupiers did have a plan: to reassemble at La Placita Olvera church on Main Street, which had been serving them hot food from day one. “And we will head for the cornfield” – also known as L.A. Historic Park on North Spring. “We will decide where to go after that … to figure out where tomorrow's GA will happen.”
“You can't arrest an idea, but you can certainly beat the shit out of it,” someone half-joked as the evening's General Assembly rambled through various sub-committee meetings, even as the tension grew. It was not business as usual on the steps of City Hall; one lone candy-flipper screeched “eviction block party!” but his ravings fell on deaf ears. Violet armbands denoting non-violent unity were distributed. A Solidarity Circle was formed. The much-photographed tree house still stood (later, its occupant would be the only recipient of forcible removal via bean-bag gun).
The air was electric. The fact that the LAPD allowed only three print and three television outlets (none of them Spanish-language) to be part of their “media pool” forced a dozen news vans and twice as many citizen journos to line the south side of 1st Street, facing the park, yards away from the LAPD's sleek headquarters. “Legal observers” roamed, the media tent adjacent to the steps of City Hall was dismantled, and perhaps 100 tents still stood as the Occupiers braced for an unprecedented confrontation. New signs were hanging: “You're making this a police state.” “Stop the military industrial complex.” “If the corporation is king, burn the palace down.” “We care we will we do we are the 99%.” And, ominously, “Those who make revolutions halfway only dig their own graves.”
Sixty days of camping felt like enough. It was, in some ways, time to move on: Part-time Occupiers felt that two months of camping — no matter how well-organized, no matter how many great lectures and workshops and food deliveries took place — was enough. “This is not the time of Socrates, we can't just listen to talking under shady trees forever,” one Occupier tells me.
I ask about the notions of Occupy 2.0, the idea that, indeed, “the world is watching.” Internet rumors that 20,000 people showed up the night of the original deadline to leave were swollen, but telling: Tonight, LAPD forces were assembling a mobile booking station in the parking lot of Dodger Stadium; a friend's police scanner fed us updates as word spread that upwards of 1,000 officers, most likely in riot gear, would soon arrive. The word was that there would also be the National Guard and Homeland Security, who, I am told, “have had a presence since day one and straight-up kidnapped three of our military guys.” This is especially creepy news in the face of S 1867, the “National Defense Authorization Act,” just approved by the Senate, which would make all of America a potential “battlefield” and extend the government's ability to arrest and indefinitely detain with no charges, American citizens on American soil. This is Minority Report territory.
A tactical alert had again been declared. At 9:15 p.m., the LAPD scanner told us the buses at Dodger Stadium — 27, each with 20 officers –were loaded. Not long after, an Elysian Park resident tells me Dodger Stadium was a sea of riot cops doing wedge exercises.” Someone walks by with a sign, “Forget the grass, save my ass!” (A retort to the mayor's complaints that it would cost upwards of $150,000 to fix the landscaping, which, if you believed city officials, had been so opulent and perfect that families eschewed real parks and regularly gathered to picnic there on the weekends.) Tension was rising.
But here's the funny part; we knew the cop-filled buses had come down Alameda; what no one saw coming was the fact that it would take more than two hours for the show of force to actually begin, that the bulk of the buses wouldn't roll until after midnight, that the LAPD had reportedly intended to unleash their dazzling display at 10:30 p.m. but had become “frantic and disorganized” in the face of the hundreds of Occupy supporters who began streaming into Solidarity Park and eventually took to jumping the “skirmish lines” to get in. An unscheduled, V for Vendetta-style red-and-white fireworks display temporarily broke the tension.
By 10:30, MTA buses were rerouted and trains were ordered to bypass downtown stops. At 11:22, so many supporters were arriving that the LAPD was outnumbered at all points. (A tear came to this curmudgeon's eye as she was briefed on her 5th Amendment rights by someone who was barely legally allowed to drink.)
At 1st and Broadway, riot cops, batons and air rifles in hand, faced down a growing number of Occupiers holding a banner that read, “Decolonize LA.” The idea that the LAPD were attempting to break people down with all this downtime was soon treated as a joke. “They can't get started,” someone laughed in disbelief. But they eventually did — and in spectacular fashion, having entered the subterranean tunnel under City Hall and streaming out from the building itself in large clusters.
The effect was, in fact, dazzling and unexpected. Hundreds were gathered at the intersections around City Hall, wondering on which cordoned-off street the riot cops would march; no one expected the police to descend upon Occupy, literally, from within. “We only react to how people are,” an officer stationed by the news vans noted. And people were awesome.
Among the uniformed officers streaming through the throngs were clusters of white-suited arresting officers, who, later on television, looked remarkably like the Droogs of A Clockwork Orange, sans hats and baseball bats.
Contrary to Sunday night, no one was penned in 'til 6 a.m.; later it was learned that more than 1,400 officers were involved in removing — at times almost begging — Occupiers to move along. Through the night, there were three shows of force, and a couple hundred arrests — only a handful of Occupiers were hoping for confrontation.
Yes, water trucks were brought in near 3 a.m. Forty minutes earlier, about 100 Occupiers were “chased” away by cops, as new masses assembled. Near 3 a.m., as police gave dispersement orders and read the penal code violations, an Occupier yelled, “You are in violation of the 1st Amendment, so SHUT UP.” At the same time, Occupiers were already setting up tents at 536 N. Main. Around 5 a.m., it took hundreds of cops to remove the 20+ diehards left, who'd linked arms and were chanting, “take off your riot helmets!”
A sign hung at the corner of 1st and Broadway: “More cuts to police. 10,000 police to lose grant funding. Save LAPD jobs.” We all knew the truth would be spun. Yes, the oft-maligned LAPD were on their best behavior; but so were the 1,000+ Occupiers and supporters present this night. “We're still mad as hell,” one long-time Occupier tells me. “It's just time to change the game.”
With dawn breaking, a CNN reporter whines, “There's an incredible amount of filth — dog food, medicine, toilet paper.” The mayor made a statement that Occupy had to go when he learned that “children were living at the park.” A sanitation official talks about compromised irrigation and dead grass, and how it could take “months” to re-landscape: all bullcrap.
Those who were there know the truth. Crisis was averted, and Occupy LA may be changing locations, but it is far from quashed. Stay tuned for Occupy 2.0.