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3 of 5 essays: What's the real reason Villaraigosa kicked us out?
A week ago I published a series of essays to the Occupy Los Angeles list serv about our eviction from the Los Angeles city Hall Park on November 30th. They evoked a lively discussion on the list. My plan is to use this material in a larger piece designed for a more distant readership. However with the holidays fast approaching and the press of other matters, it is not clear when that piece will get done and I have been convinced that there is some value in publishing them here now in this more raw form.
So I will publish them here as I did to the list serv, one a day for the next five days:
Monday: Did 1st Amendment protect OLA encampment @ City Hall Park?
Tuesday: Was DHS behind the eviction of Occupy LA?
Wednesday: What's the real reason Villaraigosa kicked us out?
Thursday: The Demonization of Mario
Friday: How Occupy LA got itself evicted
On November 23rd, it fell to Matt Szabo, Deputy Mayor and Villaraigosa's rep to city liaison meetings taking place between the city, the LAPD and members of Occupy LA, to deliver the mayor's decision to close the encampment at city hall. He spoke to a greatly expanded Occupy LA liaison team at what became the last of such meetings before we were evicted on November 29th. His words were unscripted and he was clearly uncomfortable with the news we had to deliver because he knew it would be very unpopular with our side of the table. His sentences ran on, and his thoughts jumped from thing to thing. Thanks to Mark Lipmann, who recorded the meeting, we have a YouTube [02:10 - 04:09] posting.
The reason I have transcribed his comments below is precisely because they are unrehearsed, precisely because he has just come back from a meeting with the mayor and he stumbles over his words, they provide a unique window into the real reasons Occupy Los Angeles was evicted from city hall park after almost two months of city tolerance. This is what he said:
I don't know how much discussion would be required. I'd be happy to engage in whatever you would like, but, I did just come from a meeting with my boss and we've had a number of discussions about a number of issues over a period of time. ah
Probably the majority of you are new to the table, at least since I've been a part of it. ah, and you know it is, there are some clear difficulties,
I think, to the extent, this is clearly an unusual situation, to refer to this as a negotiation is really a bit of a misnomer.
We're trying to work together to, to, you know, best manage as a city a situation where we would value your 1st amendment rights and we were trying to work together to see how we could move this forward in what I believe most of us understood as an unsustainable situation, at least for the long term, on city hall park.
For a variety of reasons, and I don't assign any blame here, I think I did, I tried to do the best that I could, I know that folks around the table were only acting out of the best interests of what they thought would be the best interests of the movement, ah the decision making process and the governing process is a bit cumbersome, I guess you might say.
I've learned quite a bit over the past couple of days, ah, so, ah, The bottom line is that the mayor is going to close the park next week and I do not know and can not tell you when that will be. I will tell you that you will receive notice, appropriate notice but the park shall close at some point next week.
That is how the news of the eviction was first delivered. When Matt complains that "to refer to this as a negotiation is really a bit of a misnomer," what is he talking about? Who is he speaking to?
Perhaps he is referring to the internal, but very public, dialogue within Occupy LA about the lack of transparency with regards to the discussions between the city liaison team and city officials.
By the second week of November when Cody James and others opposed to the talks with the city submitted to the General Assembly "RESOLUTION TO PREVENT DELIBERATE MISREPRESENTATION OF OCCUPY LOS ANGELES", that dialogue had turned into an open struggle to overthrow some of the original organizers of Occupy LA, chief among them, Mario Brito. This struggle against "Mario and his minions" was conducted by a group that opposed any talks with city officials or police. They opposed getting permits for marches or the seeking of any co-operation or support from the city for the occupation.
On the very first night of the occupation, October 1st, they were a handful of occupiers that wanted to keep tents on the lawn after 10:30pm in violation of police orders to move them to the sidewalk. Even after the GA decided we should comply with the order that night, they asserted their "autonomous right" to keep their tents on the lawn. They favored making the struggle with the police primary over the struggle against Wall St. from that first day. Many of us told them it was a question of tactics. That as soon as our numbers swelled we could fail to move the tents and make it stick. Ten nights later that was the way it was, but not that first night.
After the security team and other occupiers "twisted their arm" to comply and move the tents, they railed. They accused the security team of "acting like police", of doing the police bidding, etc. They said we don't need police in the movement and called for the disbanding of the security team. They railed again at an early metro rally when people chanted to the transit cops, who were friendly and did nothing to stop us from passing out leaflets, "You are the 99%." They made clear to everyone who would listen, that they did not consider the police to be part of the 99% and then they formed a closed group "End Police Brutality at Occupy LA" even though there was none at the time.
One occupier that was not of like mind, Paul Jenvey, tried to join this group. This is what he wrote when the occupation was only 4 days old:
I would like to make everyone aware of my encounter with this facebook group. I joined their group and attempted to engage in a dialogue with them and they censored me and banned me, I this is quite indicative of the fact that they have ulterior motives and are trying to push an agenda that does not work with the non-violence that the GA has already voted to adhere to.
Some of this trend or faction also put up the website UnPermittedLA - "There's no permit for revolution." The very title tells you what their stand is on working with the city while building the protest movement. They don't believe in getting permits or talking to cops no matter how transparent the discussions.
On the front page of this website is a description of how on day one of the city hall occupation, a number of people with prior working relationships as activists discovered that Occupy LA had not precipitated out of thin air in response to a call from Occupy Wall St., but was the work of a group of dedicated activists that had been building the event and setting the stage in the weeks before. Part of that work had been establishing liaison with the city and the LAPD, which is why things went so smoothly that day and the police weren't waking people up with orders to move that first night.
On October first, hundreds of people from around Los Angeles answered the call from Occupy Wall Street to start claiming public spaces to meet and decide together what to do to build an economy that meets the needs of the people in the place of capitalism. As the day progressed, a group of people with previous working relationships as organizers in various communities in Los Angeles and trusted allies gathered to collectively share thoughts and ideas about what we were witnessing and taking part in. Our first impression was that the “occupation” resembled a carnival and that it was was disorganized. What we eventually realized, however, was that the “occupation” was, in fact, very carefully organized [ thank you ], but for objectives we did not anticipate. Crouched under the banner of “leaderlessness” was a small circle of organizers unaware of and unapologetic for their own privileges, and fiercely intent on maintaining their grasp on power and ownership over Occupy LA.
In telling us that they first thought it disorganize and then found out differently, they were telling us they weren't involved in the planning or organizing for Occupy LA prior to that, but that didn't stop them from coming to the conclusion, on their first day, that the organizers were "a small circle of organizers unaware of and unapologetic for their own privileges" and so of course, they formed a faction that has been fiercely intent on taking over ownership of Occupy LA ever since. These occupiers think of themselves as much more radical than most of the older, more experienced activists. When members of this group were accused of bullying others on the list serv recently. On 12/5/ 2011, Bethania P. describe the struggle this way:
To put it in context, the vast majority of strife on this listserve and at OLA in general has been caused by the fact that most of us are more radical thinking than the people who have stepped in and appointed themselves to speak for us are. To call this bullying is inaccurate. What it is, is frustration that is starting to coalesce and come to a head.
To make a long story, short, this faction tried a lot of different approaches to selling themselves and their story but nothing really gained traction until they hit on the question of transparency. They weren't concerned about "transparency" with regards to the website where some people were being banned or censored without notice or process, and they weren't concerned about "transparency" with regards to the "Resources Committee" after several thousand dollars turned up missing, or the many other aspects of Occupy LA that could use more transparency. They were concerned about "transparency" with regard to the one area that seemed to be running smoothly, city liaison. Of course that was only true if one desired the forbearance of the city and the LAPD for the encampment and these people always preferred confrontation over compromise. From their POV, city liaison was doing a terrible job because there had as yet been no reason to "End Police Brutality at Occupy LA."
The truth that much of what the city liaison team did and even its composition had developed in an organic, ad hoc way with very little in the way of General Assembly approval or monitoring was an argument that was easy to win. Then on top of that they added suspicion without evidence or even detailed theory that something very nefarious was going on and somehow these people were making nice with the police to line there own pockets.
The first major vehicle for the "transparency" argument was the above named resolution. It stated "this resolution shall serve a warning to would-be opportunists that we will not tolerate usurpation (by supposed allies) of what we are building." The resolution called for the following two paragraphs be sent to the city and the LAPD:
Occupy Los Angeles hereby asserts that the only line of communication with Occupy Los Angeles is the General Assembly and our committee meetings. Unless they have full knowledge and support of the General Assembly, no person or group shall participate in any formal meeting with established authorities intended to shape or inform official policies towards Occupy Los Angeles. This includes meetings containing significant discussions of Occupy Los Angeles logistics, communications, group dynamics and politics, strategies for managing our activities, our demands.
If it is demonstrated that any person or organization deliberately entered or participated in such a meeting without the fully informed consent of the General Assembly, Occupy Los Angeles will issue a public statement and press release containing our evidence and details of their actions, disavowing any connection between that individual (and any groups they were representing) and Occupy Los Angeles, condemning their unprincipled behaviour, and discouraging supporters from future collaboration with individuals and groups involved in the meeting.
This resolution attempts to dictate who can meet with who whether or not they claim to represent Occupy LA. When they couldn't get this resolution passed because about 40% of the General Assembly was hard blocking it, it got replace by this proposal:
Proposal: Nov. 15, 2011 Install a OccupyLA Roundtable Council of Committee Representatives to Insure Transparency & Accountability and select Spokespersons/Negotiators.
...to select our official spokespersons or negotiators elected by us/the Roundtable, and not self-appointed individuals with hidden agendas, making deals without our Occupy Los Angeles movements knowledge. This is the reality that currently exists when we have a "shadow leadership" not accountable to OLA's movement.
we can select 5 to 7 Negotiators or OLA Bargaining Team to work with the mayor, LA City Council, and police and other important departments. These selected spokespersons, will be accountable to the body and can be removed at our discretion. These negotiators/spokespersons will be chosen from the Roundtable council. Currently, we have no official spokenspersons and we urgently need them to represent our demand and officially representing OLA and accountable to us. No more secret meetings, or opportunists with personal agendas negotiating without OLA's approval.
Goals: The ultimate goal is to itemize Demands:
1. So we can officially negotiate with o\political city representatives
2. So we can demand a building for our movement.
3. So we can demand 100,000 jobs in Los Angeles- (Millions of dollars for Jobs.)
4. Demand affordable Low cost Housing. (Millions of dollars)
5. Provide affordable healthy & organic food for everyone. (millions of dollars)
6. Demand health care, including dental care, for everyone. (millions of dollars)
We know that they have been keeping up with our internal affairs, so most likely it was these Occupy LA discussions and documents the mayor's deputy was addressing when he said "to refer to this as a negotiation is really a bit of a misnomer."
From the point of view of the mayor, there never was any question about his legal power to close the park. And with the LAPD at his Beck [sorry, can't resist the pun] and call, there was never any question about his practical power to do it. He could never afford to be seen negotiating about that. Even when city council pasted the resolution of support, it was clear to them and to everyone else that they could only appeal to Villaraigosa to allow us to camp in the park.
In fact, the only real question on the limit of Villaraigosa's power to regulate the park was whether he really had the legal authority to wave laws prohibiting camping in the park, which he probably did not have if anyone wanted to press the point, which nobody did because after a brief internal struggle on the city's side, the LAPD was on board, the City Attorney was on board and all but two members of the city council were on board with this peaceful approach and even they weren't voting no. But since the mayor was probably doing something he really didn't have the right to do, allowing us to sleep in the park, he had his own problems with transparency. He couldn't afford to have it being said publicly that he was negotiating with some nebulous, "leaderless" group about a matter of city law.
The day the order to close the park went into effect, the LA Times published an interview with the mayor in which he said children living at Occupy L.A. sparked eviction order
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said he decided it was time to evict Occupy L.A. protesters from the City Hall lawn after learning that there were children staying there.
Given the smattering of assaults and other incidents reported at the camp, “the chaos out there could produce something awful,” he said in an interview with The Times.
As the protest wore on, Villaraigosa said it became increasingly clear that the city would not be able to negotiate an end to the demonstration with protesters because “the process for them to reach an agreement made it impossible.” At Occupy L.A., decisions are made by 100% consensus at a nightly General Assembly meeting.When it was revealed last week that several from their ranks had been meeting with police and an official from the mayor’s office in private talks, outrage spread through the camp
At that city liaison meeting at which he gave us the eviction notice, Matt Szabo noted all the new occupiers at the table and also gave as the reason for the mayor decision their pessimism that they could ever reach a peaceful agreement, a "negoitiated" settlement, if you will, with Occupy LA. [You Tube 09:11-09:36]
It is clear to me that there was and is very little ability, given the constructs of the decision making body at your end of the table to reach consensus about anything..
On the day of the raid, Mayor Villaraigosa again gave this reason while being interviewed on KTLA [Video here 03:50-04:15]:
"What we said is that we wanted to provide [Occupy LA] with an alternate site, camping at city hall was not sustainable. It was clear however, that we couldn't get, they have a 90% threshold to build consensus. It was clear we weren't going to get that with any proposal, and once that became clear we thought it was time to close the park."
This makes it pretty clear that the eviction notice was a direct response to the whole dust-up around the "transparency" resolution, the overthrow of Mario & other people doing city liaison and keeping the peace, and the resulting break in discussions with the city, just as I warned two weeks ago when I wrote to this list:
So what is a likely response from the LAPD when they receive "Resolution to Prevent Deliberate Misrepresentation of Occupy LA?" I think that they are likely to think that the occupiers at the GA are saying or implying that the people they have been talking to from Occupy LA are not supported by Occupy LA and Occupy LA is trying to distance themselves from those efforts.
They may feel deceived and frustrated. They may conclude that they have no one to talk to from Occupy LA or that their contact people are being disavowed because a different approach to police relations is being launched. Besides this resolution arrogantly informs them that "Occupy Los Angeles hereby asserts that the only line of communication with Occupy Los Angeles is the General Assembly and our committee meetings."
While they have shown a willingness to meet with people from Occupy LA in their offices. I don't believe they will come to our meetings and submit proposals. So I think that there is a real danger that the practical result of passing this resolution could the that they show it's framers that another "line of communication with Occupy Los Angeles" is the police bullhorn telling us to get out or face arrest.
Next: More on Mario