The following is my column coming out in today’s Claremont Courier. I will add just that, based on what was said by all of those who addressed this issue during the public comment period at last night’s City Council meeting, I don’t see how the Council could not decide to reverse its decision to shut down Occupy Claremont. (It did appear that it would move in this direction - “these things take time” - although a new site may be suggested.)
THINGS THAT SHOULD OCCUPY US - EXPRESSION, AWARENESS
Last Fall, I was on a roll. I wrote two columns in November on the Occupy movement protesting economic inequality and other injustices. The first was about my visit to Occupy L.A, and the second had to do with how the issues brought up by the nationwide protests, which origintated in the Wall Street financial district in New York City, might be dealt with in Claremont. Obviously, I was very excited and moved and thought that this grass-roots, hands-on movement was the real deal, history being made.
I still think that.
But when the real deal became the real thing here, when Occupy Claremont started not long before Thanksgiving, I didn’t write about it. I may have written a few lines about finding it amusing that the occupiers camped out in front of the City Council chambers, mostly Pitzer College students, packed it in and went home for Thanksgiving, but I otherwise dropped the subject.
Probably because I was more amused than moved.
I have to confess that, with the critical exception of the Sunday afternoon general assemblies, I was thinking of Occupy Claremont as a joke. And not just because of the all-too-literal Thanksgiving break.
Much of this had to do with Occupy Claremont starting when most of the other occupy protests were (forcibly) closing down. Appropriately enough for the time of year, it was like Christmas decorations left up in January and February. Dude, it’s so yesterday, as my teenaged nephew would say. Take a clue from a fellow movement and move on.
Moreover, I kept thinking - yes, cynically and perhaps not getting all the information that I should have - that a few students thought, awfully late in the game, it would be cool to do Occupy Claremont. It was like they were playing Occupy.
I didn’t want to write this. I didn’t want to write that Occupy Claremont is a joke.
But, really, I didn’t have to write this.
For one thing, there were, as I said, the general assemblies on Sunday afternoons. With these sessions, the students made a real effort to make something happen, to at least raise awareness and create a truly open dialogue on economic and other concerns. They made it clear that this was/is more than a camp-out.
Also, even if it has been just a camp-out, it has been there for nearly three months (a month more than Occupy L.A). This is a long time to camp, especially on a cold, hard cement patio (even if this winter has been remarkably mild and dry). This is considerably more of an effort than spray-painting the wall of a bank (how much more constructive and productive the general assemblies are!) or attending an afternoon rally. This is not a joke.
No, when it comes to jokes, what was really a joke was when a man wrote in a letter in these pages that he didn’t feel safe doing his Christmas shopping in the Village with Occupy Claremont there. Really? A man - or a woman or even a child - being afraid of a few scruffy students from an expensive college?
This sounds like an argument from someone desperate for an excuse. A more cogent, more truthful, if no less ridiculous argument is the one in several letters in these pages saying that Occupy Claremont not only takes up public space but, most importantly, does so in an unattractive manner. One recent letter-writer stated that the encampment was “gross” to walk through when attending a city council or commission meeting.
Well, isn’t that the point?
I can’t help but recall that I started out writing about the Occupy movement by mentioning that some people probably were not amused when the Hot Pecans kept saying “Welcome to Occupy Claremont!” during their Friday Night Live performance in early October right where Occupy Claremont has been. Who would have thought there would be an Occupy encampment not only in Claremont, safely away from the big city, but in this very spot? But I did think that these people were uncomfortable and unhappy with such an idea.
This isn’t a surprise. Occupy Claremont isn’t supposed to make us comfortable and happy. Occupy Claremont is supposed to make us uncomfortable and unhappy. It is supposed even to be gross.
Keep in mind that “gross” isn’t the same as messy. It has been noted many times that Occupy Claremont is, in addition to not blocking anyone’s way, notably neat and tidy (not to mention safe and crime-free). But, as it is supposed to and as with all the other Occupy protests, Occupy Claremont makes us think about messy, uncomfortable, unhappy, gross issues. It makes us face homelessness, poverty, inequality and other unpleasant things.
These people would rather not see and deal with these ugly things and are cheering the City Council’s decision to include Occupy Claremont in the city’s camping ban - a decision that is not only a joke but a bad one. Saying that Occupy Claremont is a camp and thus has to be cleared is most unreasonable, because, as has been made clear, it is, as a mode of expression raising awareness, so much more than a camp.
A popular argument with those who are against Occupy Claremont is that the City wouldn’t have let the encampment stay up so long if it was done by Tea Party folks. I have to say that, putting aside the Tea Party message not really fitting with the camping mode as with the Occupy protests, they have a point and the City should let the Tea Partiers protest in this manner, as long as, like with Occupy Claremont, it is neat and tidy and doesn’t pose a threat or danger (as with, say, a white power group).
So, now, Occupy Claremont is due to clear out or be cleared out later this month. This is, unfortunately, no joke at all. It will be even less so if force and violence are involved.