Thursday, November 24, 2011

Interview With Participant in L.A. Occupy Blockdown

Service Employees Local 721, Occupy LA participants and community organizations marched to Bank of America Plaza in downtown Los Angeles Nov. 17. Police arrested 27 activists at a morning blockdown and 46 more in the afternoon. We interviewed one of those arrested, John Parker, who has been representing Workers World Party at the occupation at City Hall.

WW: Why did you participate in this action?

John Parker: This was Occupy LA’s boldest action so far in conjunction with the union movement. This was also part of national actions called in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street protesters, who had just been brutalized by the police, to demand jobs and to fight against austerity. The unions emphasized the demand for jobs.

The march ended at a major intersection by the freeway ramp bleeding into the financial district of downtown LA at rush hour, stalling traffic into downtown. Occupy LA partnered with SEIU Local 721 for this action.

The large police presence threatened massive violence with military weaponry and formation against unarmed civilians. It was inspiring to see the participants, including many union members, willing to be arrested, and that probably inspired greater participation of Occupy LA participants later that day where 46 people, I among them, were arrested in defiance against the police and the banks they protect.

WW: What were you doing when you were arrested?

Parker: Occupy LA planned to set up tents on the grassy area of the bank plaza. I was on one of the four front lines organized to protect the tents’ perimeter. We eventually faced the boot-clad, 8-inch-steel-tear-gas-pellet-wearing, military-assault-weapon-bearing, club-gripping cops. The cheers of other protesters outside the grassy area encouraged us. We also realized that the many TV cameras and reporters present were helping to magnify the significance of occupying a bank. This helped steel our courage as we locked arms in solidarity with each other and our class.

During the three hours we waited on that front line to get arrested, we had a great dialogue about the role of the police, our message and the importance of using the media to define and clarify the message that is most helpful to push the movement forward, especially when cameras were rolling, resulting in one of the main chants being “Jail the bankers, not the occupiers.”

WW: What is the character of the Occupy LA movement?

Inspired by Occupy Wall Street, the movement in LA began with an anti-bank, anti-corporate and, perhaps by a majority, anti-capitalist character. Most were youth new to politics and activism, but just recently hit by the economic crisis. No jobs.

More people of color have been joining. Some create their own occupy groups or hold actions in oppressed communities; some join the general assembly and affinity groups. Still, most here at Occupy LA are white. However, their strongest supporters have been the unions, especially the service worker unions like SEIU with a predominantly Black and Brown membership. Union participation has made the largest demonstrations predominantly people of color.

WW: How does this composition affect the movement’s direction?

We have been trying from the beginning to see how we can help build unity among the Occupy LA forces and the oppressed communities and their organizations and unions. The history and background of most occupiers here and the influence of those dominating the General Assembly are obstacles. It’s important for the movement to understand issues like police brutality that so heavily affect the everyday experience of especially communities in East Los Angeles and South Central. Otherwise you’ll lack the ability to create any sort of solidarity with those communities.

If you say you’re for the 99 percent, then you should say that the plight of the most oppressed sector of the 99 percent is vital.

WW: Are there any specific examples of this attitude?

Parker: Sometimes the movement has raised chants that praise the police, calling them part of the 99 percent. Really, the police are the protectors of the 1 percent. These are the same people in uniform who abuse and repress your sisters and brothers in East LA and South Central. If you call them your protectors, your heroes -- even saying that you love them, you’re sending a hostile message, albeit unintended -- to Black and Latino/a people everywhere.

I’m not being rhetorical. Many times these are literally the same exact cops who carried out military-style assaults on my community in South Central, sometimes on my own block. Or they were involved in the horrific number of killings of Black and Latino/a youths in Los Angeles. Los Angeles Police Department policy is a daily nightmare of humiliation and terror.

To call those same cops your heroes means you ignore their atrocities and complicity in those atrocities, and more dangerously, you encourage those and future atrocities. Appealing to the cops sabotages solidarity with the most important sectors of the 99 percent, whose membership in any movement for social progress is indispensable.

WW: What has Workers World done here to help encourage solidarity?

Parker: We’ve been active in building and participating in affinity groups and even helped form a committee in the General Assembly. We’ve shown a film on building socialism in Cuba. In partnership with BAYAN-USA we’ve held a teach-in on the economic crisis and the necessity of building international solidarity to help define who are the movement’s strategic allies, what defines the working class, and given the universality of the jobs issue, capitalism’s drive toward greater unemployment.

We know the action of people in the struggle is primary in building their consciousness. We’ve made sure to participate and help build the marches and actions at Occupy LA. Currently we’re initiating an action Nov. 23 to shut down an auction in Norwalk with the theme “We need jobs, not foreclosures” to coincide with the national Occupy 4 Jobs campaign kickoff.

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