Photo by Jeremiah Mayhew of arrests at Cesar Chavez Plaza, Sacramento, 10-09-11
Apparently last night's arrests of Occupiers in Cesar Chavez Plaza went viral and national due to the livestreaming by the #OccupySacramento media team (who, by the way, have been doing an outstanding job under extreme pressure and with limited facilities, experience, and equipment). According to one report I saw this morning -- and I'm still sorting the stories out -- this is the only West Coast city that is still arresting Occupiers for the crime of peaceably assembling to assert the right of free speech and to press for the redress of grievances. I don't know whether that's actually true or not, but it would be interesting if it was.
Once again, Occupiers volunteered for arrest, the police behaved with complete courtesy and respect toward the Occupiers, courtesy and respect that was once again reciprocated by the Occupiers, and once again we'll repeat the cycle of what amounts to a highly ritualized -- but necessary -- refusal to comply, arrest, detention, and release to repeat the process again and again and again until the police themselves are released from this task to do more important work.
One of the points I've made is that the police have discretion in these cases; they do not have to arrest anyone. However, it appears that they are under orders from city management to clear the Plaza every night that the Occupation tries to stay. It's clear they would rather not be performing these arrests. There are far more important matters for them to attend to. On the other hand, there is this: they seem to genuinely like and respect the Occupiers that they have gotten to know, and they greatly appreciate the fact that there is no hostility toward the police force at all in the Plaza or among the Occupiers. In fact, there is a rather elaborate appreciation for them.
Plenty of issues about police conduct apart from this demonstration are raised by the Occupiers, some of whom have very intimate personal experience. But that's a different topic to be dealt with in a broader context. As far as the Occupation goes, the Sacramento Police Department, after some initial leeriness, has become a part of the Occupation itself, though without yet "joining." It could come. And it could come in ways we might not expect.
The Occupation is planning to address the City Council on Tuesday to press the council to allow the Occupation to continue in the Plaza unmolested by the police and ask them to let the Occupation stay overnight. Of course given the elaborate protocols involved with the public addressing the council at all, they may not be allowed to speak. On the other hand, this is not an issue that actually has to go before the council to be resolved. There doesn't have to be a resolution of support, as there was in Los Angeles; there doesn't have to be a direction to staff to study the issue and report back; there doesn't have to be any hearing or action by the council at all. Gosh knows, they have more important things to deal with than the People's needs and rights. The very most important thing on their plate right now is figuring out how to get a new basketball arena built so that the NBA and the owners of the Sacramento Kings are happy and satisfied. After that, they need to find ways to keep a whole raft of real estate developers and speculators happy. And so on. Priorities!
I admit, I'm very cynical about this mayor and council, as are many others in Sacramento. The lot of them are in the pockets of Big Sports and Big Real Estate, and making any headway with them will be almost miraculous.
But it is something that must be tried.
As I say, the council doesn't have take any action, staff is perfectly capable of handling it. And really, all they would have to do is to order a stop to the arrests. Period. That's it. They don't have to do anything else. Staff already has that authority. And by "staff" in this case, I mean the City Manager, the Parks and Recreation Director, and the Police Chief. They can do it on their own without involving the council.
From reports, though, calls to the City Manager are greeted with extraordinary hostility by his administrative assistant -- who simply cannot be bothered with this riff-raff pestering his office with incomprehensible requests and demands that they have no time for or interest in. If these reports are true, as I assume they are (I will not call the City Manager's office because I'd just be furious), it represents complete institutional breakdown -- not to mention incompetence on an epic scale. And this, by the way, represents a perfect example of why the 99% are up in arms and in the squares and in the streets.
It is for this reason: the People's interests and concerns are simply ignored or dismissed out of hand by those in power. The People have no voice that the Powerful believe they must pay attention to. This is a nearly textbook example of how the political system has failed and is failing the People.
And so it goes.
The fact that these Occupiers are volunteering to be arrested, some of them over and over again, is a testament to the importance of what the People are trying to do. It is being done in part to shame the authorities (not so much the police as it is intended to shame those who direct the police). It is being done in solidarity. And it is being done to demonstrate the fact that you have to be prepared to take risks and persist in your demands if you expect to gain anything.
The one day, safe and sane marches and demonstrations don't do it anymore. The polite requests don't do it any more. The unwillingness to step out of one's comfort zone, even for a cause that is just, won't do it any more. Regular forms of procedure won't do it any more.
Then there was this last night.
While I was at the Occupation, I attended the "Open Forum" held at the base of the Cesar Chavez statue. Anyone who wanted to was free to say whatever they wanted or needed to. Many topics were raised, from the support that many suburbanites have for what is going on in the Plaza, even if they can't always be there in solidarity to the promotion of the Zeitgeist Movement which is seeking to remake "everything." Eek.
I thought this guy was the most interesting, though:
October 8 -- or October 9th, as the case may be -- is the anniversary of the summary execution of Che Guevara in 1967 in Bolivia by troops under the auspices of the United States and the CIA. This is still a controversial action on the part of Bolivia and the United States, especially given the way American drones and assassination squads are currently roaming the globe liquidating whomever they choose -- and often anyone who is around them -- with complete impunity.
As is obvious, my online avatar is a picture of Che in a jolly mood, and my online ID has for many years been "Ché Pasa," which some people "get" -- but many don't.
This isn't meant to be The Official Explanation, but I wish people would actually think before they assume anything about the person behind the "Ché Pasa" identity. As I've said in other fora, I'm an old man. I was radicalized -- if you want to call it that -- by the Free Speech Movement at Berkeley and Mario Savio back in 1964; there were sympathy walk-outs in schools and colleges here by 1965, in solidarity with the actions of the students at Berkeley, and I was part of more than one of those walk-outs. I've been involved in political action for Dignity, Justice, Community, and Peace most of my life.
The image of Che Guevara was an important one during the upheavals of the 1960's, but I doubt that many people had any idea what and who was behind the image. It became a marketing image, a brand if you will. It still is. The image of Che doesn't really represent anything anymore except a commercialized "identity" based on nothing more than what's been sold for generations.
I was not a Che Radical Revolutionary in those days, and I'm still not, but I am and have always been a radical for Dignity, Justice, Community, and Peace, for the People, all of the People, all of the time. My "Ché Pasa" online ID is meant as more of a pun or joke based on the fact that the whole Che Thing has been little more than an image on a poster or tee shirt for decades, meant to represent some sort of Radicalism, but which in reality has long since passed its prime. "Ché" is also a Belgian men's magazine; through an old college friend who is an ex-pat guerrilla artist in Belgium (what a complete contradiction in terms!), I saw the magazine and laughed my head off. Had to capture the moment with an online reference, obscure as it is. As for "Pasa", it has to do with the past, but also with the question "¿Qué Pasa?" -- "what's up, what's goin' on?" -- that's at the base of any action one chooses to take.
So, came last night at Cesar Chavez Plaza, and this young fellow in a Che Guevara tee shirt gets up to speak to the assembled multitude (it wasn't an "assembly" as the Occupation uses the term) to say essentially that he's not in favor of all this talk -- which had preceded him from the Zeitgeist fellow -- about overthrowing the system or the Constitution, which is the only thing, he said, that was protecting our rights at all. He was warning people not to go there (that is not to go the Revolutionary route). Protect the Constitution, because it is the only thing that is protecting us.
Well. My. How radicalism has changed. There was just a bit of cognitive dissonance, and yet it seemed completely in keeping with the nature of the Occupations and how people involved in them are finding their way forward. Yes, there are plenty of Constitutionalists who believe they are protected by it. That's part of what the Occupation in Cesar Chavez Plaza -- and in many other places -- is about: asserting the right to peaceably assemble for the purpose of exploring and pressing grievances.
The Constitution supposedly guarantees that right.
On the other hand, another young fellow got up and addressed the issue of the Constitution by pointing out that it isn't a document that really protects us, We the People, it was written by and basically it still protects the elite. That has been its function all through the history of this Republic, and that is its -- obvious -- function today.
Overthrow may or may not be wise, but facing the stark truth of the matter is advisable.
Views differ. Discussion and argument is important. And in America today, a guy in a Che tee shirt might be more likely to make the case for protecting the Constitution than calling for Teh Revolution.
And a guy with an online identity taken from the whole Che thing but punning it, may spend many hours in consideration of the truly revolutionary spirit underlying the Occupations, and yet see them as a necessary -- indeed overdue -- burst of evolutionary action. It's a very swift social evolution that's taking place in real time, right here, right now. There is no other psychic place I'd rather be. This is it.
Make of it what you will.