Occupy’s next act

Instead of fizzling out in the wake of police crackdowns, activists take to the trees, parks, banks, ports, radio stations—and soon arenas, ballot boxes and the Capitol itself

Photo by Nick Miller

For a moment, it appeared as if the Occupy movement, including the local chapter here in Sacramento, might be a one-hit wonder.

During the past weeks, law enforcement—with bravado and cunning that belied, some say masked, traditional brute police force—successfully raided and shut down Occupy encampments throughout the country, including Los Angeles, the original Wall Street protest in New York City’s Zucotti Park and most recently in San Francisco.

Here in Sacramento, the movement’s members were in flux, if not dwindling. Until recently, nine original Occupy Sacramento activists faced the prospect of a court trial and possibly six months in prison. Even Occupy Davis—not to be confused with the student brigade on UC Davis’ campus—received notice recently from the city that its little encampment at B and Fifth streets downtown was in violation.

Last week could have been the nationwide movement’s death rattle.

Instead, it might be a of tipping point, one that seems to have ushered in Occupy’s “second act”—with a peek at a potential 2012 agenda, including Occupy electoral candidates and a proposed occupation of the state Capitol.

Photo by Nick Miller

As Occupy Sacramento’s Kevin Carter told SN&R, “We’re just now really getting into the movement.”

Last Wednesday was instructive. On the heels of S.F. police dismantling the city’s large Occupy encampment, Occupy Sacramento quickly mobilized for a show of solidarity and First Amendment Party in downtown’s Cesar Chavez Plaza that evening.

By 10 p.m., the party had taken to the tree tops: Steven Carter, who told SN&R his name was “Joe,” shimmied his way up a magnolia tree near J Street across from the Citizen Hotel. Armed with layers of clothing and eight sandwiches, that night Carter became a rallying cry for protesters, who violated curfew well past 11 p.m., until 12:30 a.m. on Thursday, and finally linked arms around the Cesar Chavez statue at the park’s north end.

Sacramento police, armed with riot gear, moved in by the dozen; 24 occupiers, including Carter, who came down after 28 hours in the tree, were arrested Thursday morning, the local chapter’s single-day record for arrests.

“We’re not trying to cost the city a lot of money,” Kevin Carter said of the protest, which pulled dozens of police off of existing city patrols. “All they have to do is give us our First Amendment right.”

Photo by Nick Miller

The city has said it will continue to enforce curfew during such incidents—which Occupy Sacramento promises more of—despite costs in the hundreds of thousands since the local chapter’s inception on October 6.

Activist Cindy Sheehan—who some now refer to as the original occupier for her anti-war in Iraq protest at President George W. Bush’s Texas ranch in 2005—joined Occupy Sacramento last Wednesday. She’d been arrested before at Cesar Chavez—“It’s absolutely the filthiest, most oppressive jail I’ve been in, Sacramento County. And I’ve been in a lot of filthy, oppressive jails”—but was unable to violate curfew due to her grandson’s impending heart surgery.

“I think they identified the problem pretty well, and they have demands,” she said, praising Occupy’s success with bringing issues of social and economic inequality and corporate greed to the mainstream media’s front pages. “But there hasn’t been really any strategies to make their demands realities.

“I really don’t think it’s that coherent of a movement where they can be a political force.”

Occupy Sacramento activist and media liaison Cres Vellucci, who was arrested last Wednesday, begs to differ. “Since we’re in the state capital, it’s natural for Occupy Sacramento to be political,” he said, adding that he hopes to host other Occupy groups for Capitol-based actions in 2012.

Photo by Nick Miller

One such protest is already planned for Gov. Jerry Brown’s headquarters soon: a day of action on March 1, where public-education and social-services advocates statewide intend to converge on, and occupy, the Capitol itself.

Student governments at college campuses also have called for a similar action, on March 5, to focus specifically on higher-education budget cuts. Activists at UC Davis, who wished to remain anonymous, stated that they intend to occupy the Capitol for “several days,” in addition to marching on downtown Sacramento banks and the Chamber of Commerce.

Meanwhile, UC Davis’ occupiers voted at their general assembly this past Friday to pack up for the holidays and clear out Occupy tents on the quad and inside Dutton Hall.

UC Davis’ news service director Claudia Morain told SN&R that nine tents remain on the quad, which at one point was home to more than 100—including a 30-foot geodesic dome—after the November 18 pepper-spray incident.

“Most of them [are] unoccupied,” she told SN&R. “Campus police report that about three people are living in the tents; all are believed to be unaffiliated with the university.”

UC Davis students have vowed to re-pitch tents on the quad before winter quarter begins on January 6. Morain said that while “the university has been tolerating the encampment as it works with student leaders to reach a solution that embraces freedom of expression,” overnight camping is still prohibited.

It’s uncertain as to whether students will be allowed to rebuild Occupy UC Davis.

Photo by Nick Miller

Occupy Sacramento’s Vellucci argues that the movement is now too structured to disable. He pointed to Occupy Sacramento’s micro-committees, such as a “foreclosure group,” which includes activist Sheehan and has protested home foreclosures by Chase Bank in the Woodland area, and last Friday’s West Coast port-closure attempts. Activist Kevin Carter, who protested Rush Limbaugh and “right-wing radio” outside KFBK headquarters last Friday, says he wants to protest the use of public funds and parking-lot sales revenue to pay for a proposed new Sacramento Kings arena.

The city of Sacramento also dropped charges against curfew violators last Monday, which emboldened the protesters.

“We’re getting organized,” he said, “as much as you can do with a leaderless group.”