Since the violent police raid of November 6 and the Occupy Riverside's response thereto, police repression of our encampment has reduced drastically. Whereas in the early days of the encampment, police would awaken us daily and demand we take down our tents, our temporary structures have remained assembled consistently since the rebuilding. It seems that the system, having realized that violence wouldn't deter us like they thought it would, has run out of ideas.
Which is not to say that they haven't made smaller attacks. We have been without access to our electrical supply since the first week, which has limited access to our assemblies to those who can be physically present, effectively excluding many members of the disabled, senior, and young communities. They have even refused to illuminate the white Christmas lights that adorn the jacarandas at our site and which brought so much beauty to our first nights.
Another low-intensity attack was the sectioning off of the grass in our area. They fenced off and fertilized the green space, contributing a bovine aroma to our collective musk. This was, we were assured, a "routine fertilization," which was evident by the fact that only the grass on the block reclaimed in the name of the people was fertilized in this way.
The final prong in their war of attrition is the attacks on our sanitation. We have had a portable toilet on site since the earliest days of the occupation, but city officials and local landholders have consistently demanded its removal, complained, and threatened to impound it, despite our obvious right to sanitary facilities. Nonetheless, we have managed to maintain a facility--unpermitted, no less--with only very temporary lapses, for more than a month!
We have not allowed these annoyances to discourage us. Some of them have even made us stronger. Well after our first day, we learned that the police had intentionally broken up established homeless encampments, previously been safeguarded by remaining out of sight, in the apparent hope that the arrival of the homeless--who we instantly recognized as ninety-nine-percenters who had been occupying since long before we began--would drive us from our downtown sanctuary. True, some of the less-committed, (who tended to come from the upper end of the 99th percentile) were scared off. That left us a core of perseverant souls and a sizable number of individuals with preexisting ties to one another to secure the location during the daytime when many occupiers are forced to sell their labor to The Man. We became stronger and more capable of maintaining a 24-hour occupation.
The transition from a purely political protest camp toward a political camp that was immediately forced to deal with the realities of needing to provide food, sanitation, shelter, and many things beyond our capacity to provide, such as mental health services, was not without tension. But it was also accompanied by new friendships, camaraderie, challenge to our ways of thinking and behaving, and mutual growth.
The fruits of this growth became particularly evident on Thanksgiving, but that took place after our first major action after the police brutality march: the Free, All-Day Education Fair.
Recognizing the vast need for education, as well as the vast intellectual capacity of our community, members and non-members of Occupy Riverside's education committee planned and carried out the November 15 fair.
Attracting about 100 people, it began with a workshop on sustainability and permaculture. The next talk centered on Marxist and non-Marxist critiques of capitalism. Meanwhile, a local gadfly lectured on the complaint-filing process. Next, a renowned local animal rights activist and musician delivered a talk on the role of animal exploitation in the corporatocracy. A smaller talk focused on the challenges of organizing the youth and techniques to overcome them. Two community college professors spoke on the origins of the economic crisis and corporatism more generally, and then the Womyn of Color for Decolonization led a reading group on a chapter from Peter Gelderloos's How Non-violence Protects the State, wbout which they had learned at Oscar Grant Park in Oakland. The reading proved controversial. A number of reformists, mostly from the older generation, were perfectly happy with the state remaining in tact. Fortunately, they were free to attend the non-violence training led by one of the Quakers, and did not have to suffer through exposure to new ideas. A UCR student gave a small workshop on ethics. One of our comrades led a talk on Linux and more generally, open-source software, while another lectured on "Revolutionary Mexico." The talk sought to problematize the question of ownership, to privilege counternarratives, emphasize the popular roots and nature of Mexico's revolutionary currents, and always link Mexican political activity in the homeland to Mexican political activity on the US side of the border. To close the fair, a yoga workshop took place while a compa led a skill-share on making and using stencils as a tool for revolutionary art.
Our next large event was a concert given by talented musicians from numerous bands both local and from afar. The amplified music led to our expulsion from the liberated plaza, but fortunately, we were offered refuge by an occupier who lived nearby and were able to finish the concert there with but one minor interruption from agents of the police state.
Thanksgiving was a big day. Shortly after the raid, Occupy Riverside decided that the spirit of reconciliation embodied in the false narrative of the "First Thanksgiving" was the perfect context in which to extend the olive branch to the servants of the 1% who populate the powerful chairs at City Hall. We know they ordered the violence against us. We know that although their income levels place them squarely with the 99, they serve our enemies. And we knew that they would not attend. But we also know ourselves, and we know that we are much better than that, and are capable of overcoming even that which directly oppresses us. Hence our decision to invite city functionaries to our celebration not of Thanksgiving (we wouldn't dare honor that tribute to genocide) but on Thanksgiving.
We received food donated from local religious organizations, but also organized a potluck, which produced an abundance of victuals. We saw many new faces that day. Some were neighbors, others sojourners, and others the blood families of members of our occupy family.
Many individuals and organizations engage in acts of charity on Thanksgiving. Many feed the homeless. Some will even eat with them that day. Most are clear that it is an act of caritas--of love--of charity. Very few ever realize the difference between their charity and the solidarity Occupy Riverside and the occupy movements worldwide are attempting to create.
My sister tells me of going to some high-profile charity Thanksgiving event with a Christian ex-boyfriend. It's the charity event of choice among Hollywood's youngest stars, as well as the Mayor Villaraigosa. They are able to access the VIP affair because of the socioeconomic status of their church.
The pastor is an asshole. He preaches about what an honor it is for the homeless, who have "lost their way," to dine with them, good examples of Christ's gospel on Earth. The disinherited have brought their misfortune upon themselves by deviating from Jesus. Poverty has nothing to do with the overarching social structures that ultimately support his paternalistic, world-simplifying ministry. My sister almost vomits.
The best of the organizations doing this charity work develops a relationship with the most-oppressed of their brethren. They plunge themselves into the depths of pain suffered in the community, and uplift the oppressed. There they approach solidarity. But most don't.
Occupy Riverside, on the other hand, is not a charitable organization. We feed the hungry as best we can, true. But we also sleep on the street beside our comrades. We receive and distribute donated tents, blankets, clothing, and shoes. But we also create togehter just processes for receiving and distributing these resources. We sit beside the homeless on Thanksgiving, but by then, we know their names, their stories, their idiosyncracies. And they know ours. The line, artificial as it ever was, between "occupier" and "long-term occupier" blurs and almost disappears. We share fellowship, and then we hold a general assembly. Bellies full of many dishes, both animal-based and vegan, we crawled into our tents for the night, eager to awaken early for the next day's Festival of Rights.
The Mission Inn is an historic building in Downtown Riverside. Built by rich Anglos in the architectural imitation of the buildings of Spanish colonizers of this area, the massive structure and opulent accomodations have hosted all US presidents since Nixon. The establishment is now owned by Riverside millionaire Duane Roberts, who, by no coincidence, was the number one contributor to Mayor Ron Loveridge's last re-election campaign.
Mission Inn is a behemoth that crushes its workers' spirits and any aspiration they might have had to organize in their own self-defense. It oppresses other local businesses for being too black, or too working class, or daring to sell drinks cheaper than its signature Bella Trattoria. It has received millions in EDA money--read: corporate welfare--and receives massive public subsidies to attract crowds to its consumerist Christmas fesitivity crowned by the "Festival of Lights."
Nothing is more threatening to the Mission Inn's bottom line than a massive tent city downtown. Nothing could be more shocking or scandalous to Riverside's bourgeoisie than an autonomous body conscious of its right to the land, to free speech, to self-determination, and to self-govern democratically. Right? Or maybe it's the fact that we make the city's poverty visible. Or the fact that we live out our values of honoring every individual enough to feed them daily while the powers that be would let them starve. Or the simple fact that we are demonstrating that other ways of life are possible.
It was Riverside's 1% that ordered the shutdown of the People's Kitchen and the violent raid on Occupy Riverside. The cops were just the fools that had to carry it out. And once they realized they could not squash us, and were going to have to deal with us, the "Festival of Lights" became willing to negotiate. "We want to maintain dialgue with you!" "We respect your right to protest! We respect it so much, we're not going to set up our Christmas tree on your block!" "Just make sure to stay here!" was the only sentence they didn't actually verbalize. Meanwhile, our occupants consistently cautioned: "Those families coming to the Festival of Lights are part of the 99% too! Spoiling their fun is no way to win them over!" And the more militant action plans fell by the wayside. And creative visions surfaced.
The Festival of Rights began with a silent march up the pedestrian mall. Participants held signs and distributed flyers and Christmas cards, but shouted no chants as they leafletted amongst the multitudes. Their holiday cards urged recipients not to "let the Grinch steal democracy," and enclosed pro-Occupy counterpropaganda.
They then took a prominent position at a crucial intersection which just happened to be the corner at which the television cameras were aimed. In Guy Fawkes masks and Santa hats they provoked reactions, most of them positive, from the crowd.
Shortly after nightfall, a contingent arrived carrying a tent and set it in the street just before the occupying group. Soon thereafter, they projected an OWS YouTube video on it, and mic-checked a message of resistance to Wall Street.
What the movement gave up in militancy, we made up for in recruitment. Ever since the Festival of Rights began, we have enjoyed the presence of numerous guests and interested passersby, some curious, some critical, some who are deeply aware of the need for change, some who, unbeknownst to them, are being exposed to a radical dosage of direct democracy and consensus-based decisionmaking.
Occupy Riverside continues to not only hold the liberated territory with its presence, but also to feed the hungry as a political act, and to educate all those who are willing to participate. One comrade has facilitated a series of discussions on tactics historically and currently used by peoples' movements. The topics were occupation, street engagements, strikes and class warfare, and alternative institutions.
We also held a talking circle on the issue of tents. From the facebook event page:
"Throughout the course of the occupation of Downtown Riverside, we have been discussing, debating, deliberating, and acting in different ways about tents. We have withheld from putting them up, we have put them up, we have taken them down both unilaterally and with the full consensus of all, we have negotiated with police about putting them up and taking them down.
"We have encountered the homeless, joined them, and they have joined us to differing degrees. Needless to say, the "tent issue" has a much different significance for those of us who don't have the option of a dry and warm home to go to.
"We have brushed up against nuisance laws, defended tents as free speech and their necessity to defend our right to free assembly. We have questioned these (supposedly) Constitutionally-guaranteed rights, and placed them in the context of a global encroachment on individual liberty and forced economic dependence.
"We have contrasted tent free speech with corporate free speech, and argued the different faces of privatization.
"In short, we have engaged in intense contemplation in numerous contexts, and our experiences have formed these contemplations. And we are changing.
"Now is the time to take the time to share these thoughts, to create a shared consciousness based on our thoughts and experiences, and to plan our next course of action on the basis of this collective consciousness."
Occupy Riverside continues as a bastion of resistance to the system, nurturing the sense of community we have created, and are preparing to take the struggle to the next level.