Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Occupy Journal of a Country Radical: "Occupy Sacramento" October 8, 2011

By Michael Israel

David and half a shower curtain.
  I returned to Occupy Sacramento mid-afternoon, Saturday October 8th. I met in Cesar Chavez Park with a handful of other foothill activists, including Alan Willard and David Roddy. David and I  worked on making a banner behind Alan’s tent, which serves as a sort of base camp for us Mother Lode folks. Armed with paint, stencils and half a shower curtain, we set to work:


 We join occupiers on a march towards the Wells Fargo bank. They shut out us activists but you can see a handful of smiling bank employees on the inside, part of the 99%. My guess is they are supportive of the cause. We start marching back to the park, chanting along the way. There is a slightly humorous moment when a group begins to chant “El Pueblo Unido Jamas Sera Vencido” and most of the previously chanting marchers fall silent. We have got to work on our Spanish.

On the march back to the park, I have a very peculiar encounter. While marchers chant: “The People United will Never be Divided”, I faintly overhear another activist telling David that the chant should say “Defeated.” I move towards them to join the conversation. Facial recognition does not kick in immediately, but I immediately recognize the man’s voice and distinct East Coast accent.

 It is Vince, a supporter of the 2007 March for Peace, when I and some other activists walked across the country to protest the war in Iraq. I ask if he is Vince from Carson City, he gives me a very puzzled look, “Yeah, I used to live in Carson a while back.”

Me:  “Do you remember the peace walk that passed through? You helped us out.”
Vince:  “Yeah, back in 07, I helped out these two walking across the US. They stayed at my place a little  while”
He doesn't recognize me. It’s because of the Mohawk.
Me:  “Vince, it’s me Mike, from the walk”
Vince:  “Yeah...I think one of them was named Mike”

Suddenly, his eyes brighten up. He remembers me finally. It’s understandable that we don't recognize each other at first glance. We only met for one day on what was a four month long march, over 4 years ago.

Vince would call up us marchers periodically and see how we were doing; I suppose that is why I recognized his accent before his face. Supporters like Vince were the reason that march was able to keep going when times got tough.

Just a few of the Mother Lode crowd.
 Later, I meet up with Alan Willard again. The other folks from Calaveras County that he carpooled down with are getting ready to head home. Alan isn’t ready to leave the occupation just yet though, so we arrange for him to carpool back with me the next morning. Before they leave, they let us know that the attorney Mark Merin offered for us to crash at his place, instead of trying to camp out in the city. The Merin’s are very active with Safe Ground, and are doing what they can to push the city to assist Sacramento’s homeless population.

As the midnight demonstration curfew draws near, Alan and I start to pack up our belongings. While collecting our things, a woman stumbles into the area where Alan had previously pitched his tent. She is very out of the element. Guessing by her backpack, I would say she is one of Sacramento’s homeless. We try to find out if she is ok, or if she has a place to stay. She is incoherent, but she repeats that she is “scared” a few times, though I’m not sure of what specifically, but I would also be scared if I was on Sacramento’s streets with nowhere to go.

We manage to get her name: Anna. I am guessing it was more than just alcohol afflicting Anna…
At any rate, I feel it is unsafe for her to be sleeping on the street the way she is. I find a fellow occupier to sit with her, while I go to try getting a hold of some kind of shelter or outreach group that might be able to take her.

I ask a group of young activists if they know the numbers to any shelters, explaining Anna’s situation to them. They are all eager to help, and we make some calls. It is no use; all of Sac’s shelters are at or beyond capacity and most have long waiting lists. Even the voices of people taking the phone calls sound strained. They may not have been willing to take Anna anyway, as she appears intoxicated. It was worth a shot, and I thank the kids that made the calls with me.

The time for riot police to replace protesters in the park is drawing near. As a last resort, I approach a group of officers in the park who are watching occupiers pack up. I let them know that Anna is not all together and ask for them to be mindful of that when they start driving people from the park. They say they will keep an eye out for her. I know I shouldn’t, but I do have mixed feelings about trusting the police to watch out for people. Police are supposed to be here to protect us and they are human beings just like you and me after all, but it still nags at me that part of their job is to enforce unjust laws that effectively criminalize the homeless.

  I return to where I left Anna. She and the activist have moved since, not sure to where, possibly away from the park, as a growing number of police wagons appear on the street surrounding the park. I pick up my things and give one last look around the park for them, no sight. I head out in the direction of the Merin’s, feeling absolutely awful. Not just about Anna, but also about the condition forced upon many millions of Americans. It makes me ill, knowing that some hold the belief that people live in poverty, are homeless because of laziness, an unwillingness to work. Never mind predetermining factors like whether one was born into a stable family with parents that have stable jobs, going to a public school that isn’t overcrowded, or having meaningful work that can cover basic needs. The world should know it takes a strong person to endure the physical and mental hardships of poverty.

  I try to walk towards the Merin’s home. I am not sure of its exact location or the address.
“Mike”, I hear Alan call me from their door. Good timing, he had just stepped out onto the porch as I was passing by. Their home is beautifully decorated; a Sandinista poster catches my eye. I realize that Alan and I are the only ones in the building though, as the Merin’s are out. I feel out of place, yet I a feeling of comradely and trust fills me, knowing that they would open their home to a complete stranger fighting in the same cause as them. I sleep well, better than the few winks I got at the County Jail.

  We rally in Cesar Chavez park the next morning. Alan and I stick around to hear some fellow activists speak at the open mic, but we leave late morning to be back in the foothills by the afternoon.

In Solidarity,

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