Irvine gets it right, unanimously approves Occupy presence
Orange Juice (2011-10-26) Greg Diamond
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More Info: Occupy San Diego
At the celebration on the lawn outside Irvine’s City Center last night around 11:30 p.m., a fellow activist (who was instrumental in securing the City Council’s support for permitting Occupy Irvine to occupy that lawn continuously) struggled gamely to back away from implying that I was an idiot. It was no use. We both knew that it was true.
I had just told her had assured a reporter from the Orange County Register
, who was preparing to leave City Hall six hours earlier, that we of Occupy Irvine had no expectation at all
that the City Council would act on our request for permission that night, because we weren’t on the agenda. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
Sorry, reporter. How wrong I was.
Then again, who could have predicted what happened last night?
(Disclaimer: when I write “we” below so that it looks like I’m speaking for Occupy Irvine, I’m actually giving my own opinions and impressions; I can only speak for myself.)
Councilmember Larry Agran
, perhaps, could have predicted at least some of it: he had clearly done his homework and arrived with a proposal — although it was certainly possible that a less compelling presentation by Occupy Irvine’s proponent would have led him to keep it in his pocket.
Did Mayor Pro-Tem Beth Krom
know when the evening began that should would move, after hearing 42 speeches — some coolly analytical, some passionate, some heart-rending — to a proponent of permitting the occupation to remain in place?
Did Mayor Sukhee Kang
, who masterfully managed the meeting, expect that he and the Council’s two Republicans would support such an extraordinary motion?
Did Councilmember Jeffrey Lalloway
expect that he would get off the line of the night while demonstrating his willingness to tolerate free speech that he said he neither necessarily understood nor supported?
Did Councilmember Stephen Choi
expect to speak movingly of his connection to the demonstrators based on his personal history of demonstrating against the old South Korean dictatorship back in the bad old days?
I doubt it. I very much doubt it.
No one among the Occupy Irvine demonstrators had expected a vote (having been told by some idiot that it was pretty much impossible.) No one anywhere
, I’ll venture, expected a unanimous vote. No one, two weeks ago, thought that we could all end up with this result, with this degree of cooperation and unity, this quickly. On our 11th day of protest in Orange County’s financial capital, we secured an agreement for a permit through Wednesday Nov. 9, to be reviewed at the Nov. 8 council meeting for what we hope will be a 30-day renewal. (We’ll cross later bridges when we come to them.)
Last weekend, four people were taken into custody in Santa Ana and more were cited for misdemeanors in the morning. Yesterday in the early morning hours, the city of Oakland used extraordinary means — rubber bullets, sound cannon — to clear its Occupation from its park. Yesterday mid-day, the San Diego City Council actually walked out on
its own Occupy demonstrators during a raucous and pugnacious public comment section.
And yesterday evening, the Occupy Irvine protesters came into the City Council Chambers respectfully, after ten days and more of setting up their tent city every morning and tearing it down and carting it away each night, and just talked
. The speeches were not coordinated ahead of time; some drafts were scrawled moments before speaking, some prepared drafts were thrown away. We talked
. (Declaration of conflict of interest: I was among them, but unlike some other speakers I don’t think that I made tears well up in people’s eyes.) And when the night was done, we has achieved an amazing victory — a testament to us, our broader movement, to the city government and police, our supporters.
Our business, from our base on the lawn, is largely public education and outreach. Our credo is that we want to engage Orange County in a way that fits Orange County’s ethos — polite and cooperative where possible, non-violent, and tenacious. We want to build connections in the community of Irvine and the communities around us. We want to change what people are talking about; we want to change what people know of their neighbors and their circumstances; we want to change what people believe is possible.
The success of Occupy Irvine comes from our willingness to build trust with city institutions, our commitment to non-violent change, and the city’s willingness to accept our good faith with its good faith in return. (That sprinkler problem looks like it was a mistake on the part of an outside contractor that, as a matter of cosmic humor, happened to come at the exact time one would want it to come if one wanted to drive away the protesters. But we stayed — and that which did not drown us made us stronger.)
We think that Occupy Irvine is a model — on both sides. It’s a model for demonstrators, who we’ve shown can work with a city, demonstrate good behavior and cooperation without compromising on our message, and show the city that we shall
not be moved. It’s also a model for cities hosting demonstrations. Who would you rather be this morning — the public relations person for Irvine, or for Santa Ana, San Diego, or Oakland?
It’s easy to fall into oppositional politics, but the enemies we face are not our city governments or our city police. Many people from Occupy Irvine were prepared to engage in non-violent civil disobedience to show the depth of our commitment to our cause. Among the core members of the movement, I don’t know that anyone would have predicted that it wouldn’t
happen over our first 250 hours of occupation (the conclusion of which brought us to midway in our 42 speeches.) That’s been the pattern: sooner, or later, the clash arrives.
But not here. Not in Irvine.
I can assure you, it was not because either side of our face-off was a pushover. It was because we realized that we could do more cooperatively than having the kabuki of a conflict. Irvine shows itself to be a progressive and enlightened city, one worthy
of leadership in the region. Occupy Irvine shows that this rare “suburban occupation”can
work — and can perhaps encourage peacemakers on all sides in other communities to give the Irvine Model a try.
We — on the lawn and the streets, in the city hall and police headquarters — are not ultimately the story here. The story is what goes on in the hearts and minds of those around us, who don’t want to face the uncomfortable thoughts about the disintegration of the middle class, about an economic ruling class seemingly gone nihilist. One may hope that one won’t be affected, that if one closes one’s eyes all of this will go away.
But it won’t go away. We are confronting our reality; we will help others do the same.
A little while before I left the victory party (where we went through pizza like a swarm of locusts) last night, people from Santa Ana showed up: Theo, Matt, Sam, another of the arrestees. They congratulated us, of course, and we talked about Santa Ana. The protesters stood up for their principles; the city stood up for the rule of law. And yet did either side win — or did both lose? Each side did manage to show its resolve — but did much change for the better?
We had an interesting conversation, unusual for committed firebrand activists. Would the Irvine Model work in Santa Ana? Maybe it would — it’s certainly more possible, after what happened last night. And if it worked in Santa Ana, would it work in San Diego? In Long Beach, Sacramento, San Francisco, Oakland? Beyond California?
The more cities “get it right,” the less attractive it is to be one of the cities that gets it wrong. We started something last night. Irvine became a symbol of getting it right. Who knows how far we can go from here? I see no immovable barrier — no “hard block,” as we say in the park — on the horizon.