Los Angeles and Long Beach

Note: this post was authored on the first day of my long commute from SoCal to Seattle, two days ago now.

On the train from Los Angeles to Seattle, a 34-hour juggernaut that takes me right by home. Though I hadn’t been particularly dreading this leg, I’m not totally feeling it right now, partly because I feel sore from the pushups I did yesterday. Physical fitness has suffered a bit from the tour, and I’m looking forward to having a chance to get back into the habit. In short, this is the first time I’ve felt kind of weary of the road, which is okay. I’ve less than two weeks of it left, and I’m still excited for the places and faces I’ll see in the Northwest. Also, I think the Southern California route is one of the prettier stretches of travel so far, and I’m about to catch a bomb sunset over mountains here in the observation car.

Los Angeles was great. Both shows were really strong, not least of all because I was joined by my wonderful old friend Robyn on two songs: harmonies on “My Weakness”, where none had been before, and “The Tenderness In Me” as a duet. Friday at Old Towne Pub was the test run, which went pretty well, and then we killed it at the house show at Seb’s Sunday. That was my most collaborative show yet, with Robyn’s dad Dennis Garrels joining me on “You’re A Fox” with some stanky trombone, and closing the set with Wolf Larsen on “If My Love”. Wolf and Seb’s sets killed as well.

I got to check out two different Occupations while I was in town. I went to Occupy LA on Saturday for the huge march, which was huge as expected. Reaffirmed my feeling that marching and chanting is all well and good, but the real strength of the Occupy movement is discussion and community-building. Attended a free class on universal health care, which mostly covered what I already knew but was valuable anyway. Wandered around for a bit, taking it in. It was about on the scale that Liberty Plaza was when I visited on September 30, maybe a tad bigger.

I was pleased by what I saw there, with just a few footnotes. The food area was not nearly as expansive as New York’s, and they were really insistent on only accepting donations and giving out only prepackaged items. At first I thought this was for fear of litigation, which seemed a little silly (whom would you sue? the volunteer with the bandanna and the cutoff jeans who wasn’t there anymore?), but maybe it was for fear of shutdown by the health department. Which would be understandable but unfortunate; the bustling kitchen in NY was one of the most hospitable features of that occupation, which is what I think this movement needs.

There was also this pop indie band who played on the Roccupy LA stage, who were pretty good actually, but the only statement they made to the crowd pertaining to the moment was a generic “don’t forget to vote” sentiment, which I felt frustrated with. As I mentioned in a previous post, my disillusionment with electoral politics has grown by leaps and bounds as of late, but has been replaced by renewed faith in self-empowerment via community building. I think engagement in that process is still a good thing generally, but I’d like to see more people shift their focus away from it. Not because everyone has to see things the way I do, but I think the less one hopes that voting will fix everything and engages more in other ways of improving our communities and our lives, the less disappointed we’ll feel when the political system runs itself into a ditch, as it’s so very liable to do.
Someone announced that Occupy Long Beach was occupying for their first night that night and anticipated a standoff with their police force; conveniently enough, I was planning on taking the train down that way to see a friend, and I was dropped off right in front of their park. The cops had already put up huge floodlights over the occupied park and were announcing on the bullhorn every few minutes that the park was closing. The plan in the group was to move their tents to the sidewalk, officially off the grass and onto a public thoroughfare which was wide enough so as still to allow foot traffic. The cops came back with more obscure ordinances, forbidding not only tents on sidewalks but also lying down and sleeping. I couldn’t help but remark (sarcastically), “Good thing there’s been this war on homelessness for so many years, so they have all these laws on hand to bust out on protesters on a moment’s notice.” The occupiers knew that, at a minimum, it would be lawful for them to continue to march and demonstrate through the night, and that’s what they did. For my part, I excused myself to hang out with my friend once it became clear that the police would not force them to disperse. I visited them again the next morning, shared some Indian leftovers with one organizer, and sat in on a tactical meeting for about an hour before tackling the long commute back to North Hollywood.

Something I’m concerned about / interested in is the fine line between coalition-building and having the movement co-opted by other powers. The latter is most clearly questionable in the case of any candidate for political office, which almost across the board I think is suspect. By contrast, I think most would agree that the movement benefited (both in PR and in actual strength) when unions joined on en masse. But there’s plenty of gray area too, with organizations like ANSWER, environmental and other advocacy groups joining in. While I’ve so far had an attitude of attendance being almost always a good thing, I’m leery of seeing occupations turn into a street fair with different groups each pushing their own interests, however noble they may be. I don’t want this movement reject their participation out of hand, because I think there’s probably a lot to learn from more seasoned organizers (there are plenty of these in OWS, but also plenty of novices), but I also want the vision and purpose behind these congregations to be unified and not either splintered or guided by a specific group pushing a predetermined agenda. I’d love to hear anyone else’s thoughts on this.

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