Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Occupy Thanksgiving - bringing the movement home for the holidays

Below is my latest column in the Claremont Courier. Meanwhile, two addendums:

1. Occupy L.A has been offered some offices for $1 a year and some land to farm for free in exchange for moving off the City Hall's now-dead lawn, in yet another instance, unlike in other cities, of the city bending over backwards to be accommodating. Mmmmm... I'm not sure if this - being bought off - is, or should be, what the occupiers had in mind. Then again, Occupy L.A has always been the Hollywood version of the movement.

2. There is now Occupy Claremont - two tents set up in front of the City Council chamber by Pitzer College students on Sunday, after my column came out. I can't help but chuckle at the fact that the students won't be there for the Thanksgiving break!


There it was. For all to see. It couldn’t be missed.

The words were spray-painted in deep red on the white wall of the exterior of the Bank of America branch in the Village when I passed by two Friday mornings ago. The paint dribbled down the wall at a few points, like blood oozing from a fresh stabbing.

“Pay tax.”

There was no mistaking the message, and it was indeed a piercing of sorts.
In my last column, I wrote about how the Occupy Wall Street movement, protesting corporate greed and other injustices, social and otherwise, isn’t so far off from Claremont. But I wasn’t expecting it to be this close. Then again, I can’t say I was that surprised.

“That’s horrible!” a friend exclaimed. “How could this happen in nice, little Claremont?” I couldn’t tell if my friend was genuinely disturbed or was being tongue-in-cheek.

When I passed the wall again a few minutes later, a man was working to clean off the graffiti.

“I wish they had done this on the windows,” I heard the man say as I passed by. “That would have made my job a lot easier.”

Maybe it was just as well that he was having a hard time scrubbing off that graffiti. Perhaps we next to look at the writing on the wall, so to speak, here in “nice, little Claremont.”

No one can tell me that there are no people living in Claremont who agree with the sentiment sprawled on the wall, that big financial institutions should be more socially responsible, should be more fair to consumers and shouldn’t be bailed out by the taxpayers. No one can tell me that there are no Claremont residents who are frustrated and hurting, maybe out of a job, maybe out of unemployment checks, having trouble making ends meet.

I don’t think this was some high school kid thinking he was being cool with the message of the moment. After all, it was reported that there was a similar message written on the wall of the other Bank of America office in Claremont, on Foothill Boulevard, that same morning. No, this was someone who knew what they were doing, who had a specific plan and a specific message.

Heck, there are probably at least a few students at the colleges here - or recent graduates sticking around town, who are feeling all but frantic and despairing about paying back hefty student loans, perhaps without being able to find a job.

Not that writing on walls is the best way to express anger and try to change things. But I have to say that I can’t get that worked up about this vandalism. It was not a threat, and I much rather see this than something more destructive or lethal.

I think the real question is, what do we do with the message on the wall? Do we just have it scrubbed off and then go about our way in “nice, little” Claremont?

With the holiday season coming up or more or less already here - we can tick off Halloween and the Pilgrim Place Festival - this may sound like the way to go. It may be best, it may be easier to snuggle into the celebrations and merry-making as the year winds down, even if things are not the best for some or many of us. But it could be that the disturbing, piercing writing on the wall is more bounty in this season of giving thanks.

It could be that, even as we want to not hear all the bad news and all the loud back-biting, this venting, this expression of anger and frustration is a rich bit - a rich, unexpected and even, yes, unwanted bit - in this harvest season.

This venting, this messy, ugly outcrying, even on our quiet, leafy streets, could be seen as a curse, but it is really a blessing - another one this Thanksgiving.

It is unfortunate and sad that things have gotten to the point where people feel that they have to camp out or scrawl messages on a wall, but such activism, such passionate, hands-on civil engagement is something to behold and be thankful for.

That what this is. The Occupy Wall Street movement is way past being a bunch of kooks. It is getting harder and harder not to take it seriously. The question, again, like with the graffiti in the Village, is what to do with it - or should we be doing anything with it here in Claremont?

In my last column, I wrote about visiting Occupy L.A and about how, although things are relatively, even surprisingly calm at the encampment (I think of it as, appropriately enough, the Hollywood version of Occupy), there is notable tension there, with people having differing views and styles, even if they have the same desires and goals. I wrote about the detailed guidelines there for holding meetings and reaching consensus and that, if nothing else, the protesters are learning and showing us all how to and how not to live and work together in community.

Since then, I have heard about people at Occupy L.A getting tired and yelling at each other about smoking pot and drumming late into the night and also segregating themselves. I have heard about people there coming to blows. I have also heard about some of the protesters meditating together and about the suggestion of asking someone who is angry to sit down, “because it is harder to be violent when you are sitting down.”

What can we learn from all this here in Claremont? Is there a message here about making this community more inclusive, where people can express differing views and improve things together, and even more something to be thankful for? Or do we just do what’s easier and only scrub off the unattractive, challenging writing on the wall?


  1. We denied the offices/farm land offers as we pretty much agreed to not "sell out"/"buy in"...Penny for a thought? Forget it. Tensions are getting worked out and we are building solidarity in preparations for the impending eviction. The mayor is being ambiguous with occupiers and media alike, but given the few statements we've received from LAPD, we expect something to happen by Sunday/Monday. I appreciate your focus on and interest in our movement. Thanks John!

  2. Loved when you wrote: "America is going to Hell in a shopping cart"... so very true... thank you for yet another insightful take on humanity...