Occupy I-5 Tour comes to an end at Day 7: Occupy Eureka, Occupy HSU

Sunday, December 4th
Occupy Eureka on Facebook
Occupy Arcata on Facebook
Occupy Humboldt (HSU)

Not exactly on the I-5 tour, since the last leg home is on Hwy 101 through Northern California, but I stopped off last night in Arcata to stay with a friend. On this frosty, quiet morning I made quick visits to Occupy HSU (Humboldt State University) in Arcata and Occupy Eureka, in front of the county courthouse.

The half-dozen campers on the quad at HSU were still awakening when I got there. One, seemingly with a case of the pre-caffeine crabbies, plugged a hot plate into an extension cord that disappeared behind one of the tarped-over picnic canopies that serve as tents there. The Occupiers live in four of these make-shift shelters, next to a couple rickety pole constructions made of branches that serve to hold signs and flyers.

It was all men there this morning. The one I spoke with the most indicated that they were nearly all refugees from raids on Occupy Arcata and Occupy Eureka. One was busted at the Eureka raid and doesn’t want to risk violating his release agreement by going back there. Originally started by students, they have all since left, going back to their dorm rooms and studies. My camp host this morning said that “the energy has changed since the students left,” though he didn’t elaborate.

Apparently, there are regular General Assemblies, attended by 10-20 people. A recent one had nearly 100. The topic was creating a joint Arcata/Eureka/HSU Occupy camp, voted down for now. It’s a topic that he says will be discussed at the next GA.

The camp has the blessing of the University administration, apparently, along with the official student body, but is likely to fold up during the winter school break. Maybe in the spring, come better weather (a relative term for Humboldt County), the camp will get new life. That probably depends more upon what happens with the larger movement in the meantime.

Occupy HSU Code Of Conduct

***

Next stop was Occupy Eureka, about ten miles away to the south down Hwy 101. They once had a significant camp there (for a small town), but it was busted up about a month ago and the grass area surrounded with inhospitable chainlink fencing adorned with “No Camping” signs. Occupiers had felt-penned letters “K” and “W” through the fence, so some of the signs now read “Know Camping.” Occupiers are now limited to the concrete areas and courthouse steps, with no tents or camping structures allowed. Likewise, nothing may be affixed to any County property or structures.

This became an issue minutes after I pulled up. A Eureka Police Department officer walked over and began ripping down any signs attached to the fence or railings, including a large banner. People confronted him when he began to take down a large plywood sign covered in stapled-on flyers that had been leaning against the chainlink fencing. A minor confrontation ensued, with the officer calling for a backup unit and a crazy guy with a portable radio, which he pointed at the cops like it was a camera, screaming nonsense. (I turned around and told him to stop, that it wasn’t helping and he quieted down for a few minutes before starting up again.)

Another EPD officer arrived shortly, along with a Humboldt County Sheriff deputy, both of whom stood by without involvement. I think they might have been a bit confused by me filming with my Flip camera and tweeting frantically with my iPhone, since I had my local, somewhat official-looking volunteer fire dept. sweatshirt on and, well, probably didn’t look like I was part of the usual-suspect group there.

Eureka Police Dept. and Humboldt County Sheriff negotiate with Occupy Eureka protesters for removal of sign. They were allowed to move this one and make it into a table-top for their flyers. The issue was that it was attached to County property.

I know this will bother some people, but in this case I thought the confrontation was needless and could have been easily avoided by the occupiers. While we can argue about whether or not signs should be allowed to be attached to County structures, is an easy rule to live with if it avoids confrontations with law enforcement. The first cop, the one on the right in the photo above, also appeared to ask the meditating protesters to remove the other banner before removing it himself. (I was behind him filming, with road noise, so I couldn’t hear exactly what he said, but that is how it appeared to me.)

Either way, the occupiers lost their banner and the cops wasted a bunch of time and got caught on camera looking mean. Let me suggest that all occupiers try to take the moral high ground in these situations and consider what they’re spending energy on, who they’re pissing off and what impression they might be giving to passers-by.

A supporter brings brownies to Occupiers

Three people had been meditating quietly in their white long-johns on the top of the first flight of steps when I arrived. After the cops left, a handful of occupiers gathered back there on their makeshift cardboard meditation mats to talk. A woman with a friendly smile showed up a few minutes later with a tin of what looked like homemade marshmallow brownies for everyone. Every few minutes a motorist would give what I took to be a friendly honk.

Not being allowed tents, they are sleeping in the open on the concrete. This must be difficult enough on sub-freezing nights like last night, but once the rains return, will become impossible, if not life-threatening. I think that’s the County’s strategy. Prohibiting them from any presence would be a clear violation of First Amendment rights, but by preventing structures or shelters, officials in Eureka, never known for having much affection for protesters, can simply freeze them out. One guy said he would get a tarp and “burrito-up” in it, though I can’t imagine this being viable for long. On the other hand, he’s been living on the street for years, so he might be used to it.

And that brings up the question: who is Occupy Eureka and what role do they play? There are some people who hang out there who clearly have behavioral or mental-health issues. This is true to varying degrees in virtually all camps, though some, like Tacoma seem to be good at kicking disruptive people out. Other larger camps absorb these people as part of the encampment, dealing with bad behavior as it arises.

On the one hand, I can’t imagine many people being inspired by the disheveled vibe of the camp as it presented itself this morning. When reporters, especially hostile ones (and hey, guys, I’m sympathetic!), go to Occupy sites like this, they get the material to discredit the movement as just crazy, homeless people messing up public property. Like all camps, I’m sure the energy changes regularly based on who shows up and the Facebook page is very active. But still, it’s not a place that most people I know would want to be associated with. While democracy and cultural diversity may be messier than some people like, there is a point where it pointlessly gives opponents ammunition against us and unnecessarily turns off potential supporters.

On the other hand, based on the car-horn honks and regular donations of food and other material to the protest—it’s not actually a “camp” anymore—it seems that at least some people appreciate some visible presence of the Occupy Wall Street movement in their town. As the movement expands into new arenas such as occupying foreclosures, strikes and shutdowns, bank transfers and who knows what else, will Occupy’s signature image of the tent in the square be so necessary to maintain at all costs?

(This post is probably not finished, but I don’t want to belabor it tonight. I debated about putting in the sentences critical of the messy appearance and behavior, but in the end I always think directness is better than propaganda. I’ve never been much of a propagandist. If anyone is offended by what I wrote, take it as an opportunity for improvement. Once I get a Youtube channel set up, I’ll post the video I mentioned.)

4 thoughts on “Occupy I-5 Tour comes to an end at Day 7: Occupy Eureka, Occupy HSU

    • Thanks for that. This bit conveyed what I was trying to say better than I could.

      “Representing Humboldt — and the 99%– needs to be presented and presented well, without the confrontation, blame game, and the victim card being played. It needn’t be a fine line to tread; otherwise, it detracts and distracts from OWS’ important message that something has gone seriously wrong regarding the disparate inequality and the state of our nation today.”

      It’s the victim card that really bugs me and has always bugged me about the activist scene. What I saw was a clear opportunity for people to take responsibility for eliminating a confrontation, but almost intentionally pursuing it. Victimization only goes so far in getting sympathy and it wears thin fast. The wounding of Scott Olsen, the pepperspraying of the Davis students and the billy-clubbing of the U.C. Berkeley students, all caught on film and instantly spread around the world, served to rally thousands of people because those were clear and disgusting violations of basic decency—never mind civil rights—by law enforcement personnel acting way beyond their authority. The protesters in those cases weren’t being victims at all, but standing strong in the face of brutality inflicted upon them for no justifiable reason.

      The other problem with activists playing victim is that it is a profoundly disempowering method of operation. It’s ultimately passive, waiting or provoking the world to do something nasty so there will be someone to blame. Effective strategy requires an empowered, responsible, forward-looking mode of action and thinking.

  1. Thank you, Mikal. I’m humbled by your kind words. You hit the nail on the head, so to speak. There was one sentence, however, that didn’t make the final cut. I wish it did, looking back. Following ‘without the confrontation, blame game, and the victim card being played…’ it was simply, ‘On both sides.’

    The protesters are canaries in the coal mine, pointing out the general direction that something has been inherently rotten in our system for some time now. What that precisely is, is left up to you. Their hearts and minds are in the right place, the cause is just, important, and accurate. They need to win the hearts and minds of others who may be sympathetic to the underlying cause, those in the slowly deteriorating lower and middle classes who’ve been sitting on the fence watching these events unfold and unsure what to think or do. We’ve seen a ‘push back,’ a backlash against the demonstrations and the dismantling of encampments across the nation by law enforcement some say are coordinated actions. There are media forces attempting to frame the discussion negatively as Washington, Wall Street, politicians and lobbyists go about their business as usual. I hope the awareness these protesters are bringing to the fore continue, evolving and maturing wisely.

    You said it best: “Effective strategy requires an empowered, responsible, forward-looking mode of action and thinking.” Let’s hope that happens. I think it will. Your site and the superb pictures are helping document what’s happening, Mikal. There’s a quote reminding us of why this/your reporting is important– and how the access to the truth and the role of the press has changed from 1880 to today, given the rise of the internet as an equal and independent avenue for all:

    …Asked to give a toast before the prestigious New York Press Club in 1880, John Swinton, the former Chief of Staff at the New York Times, made this candid confession. Swinton was admired greatly by other newsmen:

    There is no such thing, at this date of the world’s history, as an
    independent press. You know it and I know it. There isn’t one of you
    who dares to write your honest opinions, and if you did, you know
    beforehand that it would never appear in print. I am paid weekly for
    keeping my honest opinions out of the paper. Others of you are paid similar salaries for similar things, and any of you who would be so foolish as to write honest opinions would be out on the streets looking for another job.

    If I allowed my honest opinions to appear in one issue of my paper,
    before twenty-four hours my occupation would be gone. The business of
    the journalist is to destroy the truth; to lie outright; to pervert; to
    vilify; to fawn at the feet of Mammon, and to sell the country for his
    daily bread. You know it and I know it and what folly is this toasting
    an independent press. We are the tools and vassals of the rich men
    behind the scenes. We are the jumping jacks, they pull the strings and
    we dance. Our talents, our possibilities and our lives are all the property of other men. We are intellectual prostitutes.

    Not anymore. Let’s change that.

    Thank you, Mikal.

    peace… skips

  2. Pingback: Weekly Roundup For December 9, 2011 | Humboldt Sentinel

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