Occupy: At the beginning

| November 24, 2011
Occupy Eureka member Jack Nounnan breaks it down.
Occupy Eureka member Jack Nounnan breaks it down.
- photo by Andrew Goff
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Thirteen days after the Occupy Wall Street movement erupted in New York City's Zuccotti Park, it came to Humboldt County. On Sept. 30, Arcata resident Trish Tillotson went down to the Arcata Plaza with signs she'd made from cardboard boxes scrounged from behind a furniture store. They said things like "separation of corporations and government," "love not hate" and "freedom is your responsibility."

Tillotson had been following what was going on in New York and was galvanized when she saw a YouTube video of a protester there getting pepper sprayed. She worried that people here didn't know what was going on, so she made her signs and put up an Occupy Arcata page on Facebook. She and a gathering horde of occupiers went to the plaza every day after that, protesting and cooking food for the hungry.

At the same time, Humboldt State University journalism student Travis Turner was plotting a similar debut. Turner, who writes and shoots for the Journal on occasion and is president of a media outfit called Venatore Media LLC, got fed up with the mainstream media's coverage -- or non-coverage, he says -- of Occupy Wall Street. So he put up a post on his own Facebook page urging people to join in solidarity with the Zuccotti Park protesters by meeting him on Oct. 1 in the grassy area at the top of B Street on campus. About 35 to 40 people showed up that first day, Turner made an official Facebook page, and Occupy Humboldt was born.

Occupy Eureka began seven days later, after Jack Nounnan sent an email from his "Communities For Justice and Peace" forum inviting people to go to the Humboldt County Courthouse on Oct. 8 between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. to show solidarity with Occupy Wall Street. James Decker answered the call. "That first day, a lot of us talked about the Middle East, and Arab Spring, and how in places like Tunisia and Egypt the price of food had gone so high that working people couldn't feed their families -- and how, in the meantime, their governments quit subsidizing fuel and food," Decker said last Tuesday night after attending a Eureka City Council meeting. "And we thought, 'It's just like here.'"

Occupy encampments formed at the three protest sites, each with a small library and a kitchen, at times a pirate radio station commanded from a laptop, and daily "general assembly" meetings. Otherwise they developed completely different characters. A nurse set up a clinic at the courthouse camp. Occupy Humboldt staged protests at banks, organized an all-day teach-in and began plotting a spring Occupy caravan to Washington, D.C., that organizers hope will sweep up participants in cities along the way. In Arcata and Eureka's camps, fitful societies emerged whose multiple messages and complicated housekeeping issues often seemed to drown out the original message to get corporate money out of politics and make Richy pay more taxes.

In Eureka, protest signs included admonishments to stop war, end nuclear power and rid the town of bad cops. The camp has been raided and cleared out twice in the wee hours of morning by law enforcement - for illegal camping -- and several dozen were arrested. After each raid, protesters repopulated the site, or the sidewalk near it. Their message became more stridently about the right to camp as part of a peaceful assembly and protest. But many, including a number of lunch-break protesters who had jobs to return to, also still came to talk Wall Street and financial injustice. One afternoon a former Marine and ex-cop, Michael Corell, came to the protest with his wife. He's disabled, she quit her job to take care of him, they're broke with debt piling up, and they have three kids. Their struggle aside, Corell was provoked into coming to the Occupy protest when he heard that police had removed the camp a second time.

"As a police officer I took an oath to protect and serve, and I believe in it," Corell said. "People are being forcibly removed from public property ... for peaceably protesting. The cops are the sheepdogs, and they're biting the sheep."

Arcata's original camp, on the plaza, was ordered by Arcata Police Chief Tom Chapman to vacate, following multiple amicable conversations between the chief, the mayor and organizers. It was allowed to set up at Arcata City Hall, a couple blocks away. The plaza had become one big, loud, ugly party corrupted by the town's usual parade of late-night barflies and daytime layabouts -- a dysfunction that annoyed earnest occupiers and townsfolk alike. At the city hall camp, a large white sign went up pleading for a public bathroom -- a long-standing issue the city council had recently revived again -- and that issue seemed to steal the focus. Some protesters used the city hall bathrooms during the weekdays and nearby Safeway's bathrooms almost any time or day, or went en plein air.

The Arcata police patrolled the city hall camp routinely and adopted a patient wait-and-see attitude -- until last Wednesday, when Chief Chapman said they could keep protesting on the site, but they had to take the tents and kitchen down; he cited drugs, alcohol, harassment, urine-soaked grounds and other illegal activity. The next day the occupiers dismantled the camp. Organizer Lois Cordova said many now occupy her living room, where they're hatching a plan to start a group called Humboldt Village, a possibly online site for the non-monetary exchange of goods and services.

One recent morning before the chief's order to de-tent, in Occupy Arcata's designated "smokers' corner" -- a curb across the street awaft in tobacco and pot smoke and booze-breath -- kindly care-worn women mingled with ragtag discontents, and they talked of foreclosures and stalled job searches. In front of the cramped camp on the city hall's lawn, Rachel Smith, 21, and Kyle Brown, 20, sat on a low concrete wall taking in the weak winter sun and propping up a big cardboard sign: "Unity in Individuality." They're homeless. They just found out Smith is pregnant.

Brown moved here from Wisconsin three months ago and camped the first month in the redwoods. Was he here to protest Wall Street? "Not really," he said, looking shy. Once he got his ID, he said, he'd go look for a job.

Smith said she'd recently left an abusive relationship with another man. "I think we all have rights," she said. "I don't vote, I don't have a house or pay taxes, but I'm still human. Some of us just lose what we have all of a sudden -- one minute you're rich and everything, next minute you're homeless."

Tillotson wouldn't show up until later that day. On the phone, she said she no longer camps or cooks at Occupy Arcata -- too chaotic, she said, and besides she's had a falling out with some current occupiers. But she visits often and advocates for a bathroom. "I think homeless people, and people that have disabilities or are poor, are the first indicator of something wrong," she said by phone last week.

Later that same day, in Occupy Humboldt's tranquil, parklike setting on the HSU campus, a tinkle of piano and blare of trumpet leaked from the nearby music building. A structure made of thin wire stood out amid the small cluster of canopied shelters and tents. It was aflutter with small, prayer flag-like handwritten messages from students bemoaning student loan debt and overpaid administrators. The site was tidy and tucked away, unobtrusive. (As long as they adhered to campus guidelines, they were free to assemble and protest as long as they liked, HSU spokesman Paul Mann said in an email last week, adding: "Their self-policing is excellent -- they themselves enforce a 'no drugs, no alcohol' ban at their site ... and they urge everyone to refrain from vile language.")

Under one canopy, two occupiers sat at computer terminals. Nearby, community activist Kern Huerta was eager to talk. After losing his bellman job in La Jolla, he wound his way by highway and John Muir Trail to Humboldt six weeks ago, drawn here by the forest. He spent his first night under the 11th Street bridge over the freeway. Samba music woke him up, and he saw dancers and drummers snaking by overhead.

"I thought, 'This is what this town is like?'" he said, smiling. The Samba dancers were with the Occupy Humboldt group, marching into town to occupy the plaza. Huerta joined them, and he's been with Occupy Humboldt ever since. He wants a job, he said; he'll dig holes, anything. He might go to college. For now, though, he's fully immersed in the movement -- which he barely knew about until he set foot in Humboldt.

"I've been waiting for this moment my whole life," he said.

Activist Jim Paquin arrived with a litany of Wall Street crimes, of statistics on poverty and the  uninsured and the income gap. A Vietnam veteran surviving all right on his social security, he said compassion drives him to immerse in the Occupy movement -- which he doesn't think ever will really end.

"This is a lifetime commitment," he said. "Right now we're a little baby movement."

Turner, one of the first to bring "Occupy Wall Street" to Humboldt, arrived at the computer tent and sat down. He said Occupy Humboldt isn't what he thought it would be -- a local force of solidarity shining a light on the movement he thought the regular media was ignoring.

"It's so much more," he said. "More people are talking at General Assembly now who never used to say anything. Now, I'm hoping that nationally this really changes something."

 
Humboldt State University student Travis Turner started Occupy Humboldt on campus.
Humboldt State University student Travis Turner started Occupy Humboldt on campus.
- Photo by Heidi Walters
Serial political candidate and Occupy Arcata denizen Geronimo Garcia.
Serial political candidate and Occupy Arcata denizen Geronimo Garcia.
- Photo by Heidi Walters
Community activist Jim Paquin at Occupy Humboldt on the HSU campus.
Community activist Jim Paquin at Occupy Humboldt on the HSU campus.
- Photo by heidi Walters
Occupy Arcata, the day before the Arcata police chief ordered it to remove the tents.
Occupy Arcata, the day before the Arcata police chief ordered it to remove the tents.
- Photo by heidi Walters
On prayer flag-like poles, HSU students have penned their grief over the mounting costs of a university education.
On prayer flag-like poles, HSU students have penned their grief over the mounting costs of a university education.
- Photo by Heidi Walters
U.S. Marine Corps veteran and ex-cop Michael Corell, who can’t work because of a rare degenerative blood disease, took a stand with Occupy Eureka after local police booted it twice.
U.S. Marine Corps veteran and ex-cop Michael Corell, who can’t work because of a rare degenerative blood disease, took a stand with Occupy Eureka after local police booted it twice.
- Photo by Heidi Walters
Up-for-grabs warm clothes hang as the Occupy Eureka general assembly convenes.
Up-for-grabs warm clothes hang as the Occupy Eureka general assembly convenes.
- photo by Andrew Goff
The evening Occupy Eureka General Assembly on Veteran’s Day.
The evening Occupy Eureka General Assembly on Veteran’s Day.
- photo by Andrew Goff
Preaching the occu-gospel via megaphone.
Preaching the occu-gospel via megaphone.
- photo by Andrew Goff
Occupier James Decker converses with Eureka Police Officer Rodrigo Reyna-Sanchez.
Occupier James Decker converses with Eureka Police Officer Rodrigo Reyna-Sanchez.
- photo by Andrew Goff
Occupiers and officers keep their distance from one another on Nov. 7.
Occupiers and officers keep their distance from one another on Nov. 7.
- photo by Andrew Goff
The aftermath of the early morning Nov. 7 raid.
The aftermath of the early morning Nov. 7 raid.
- photo by Andrew Goff
America was once the great middle-class society. Now we are divided between rich and poor with the greatest degree of inequality among high-income democracies. The top 1% of households take almost a quarter of all household income — a share not seen since
America was once the great middle-class society. Now we are divided between rich and poor with the greatest degree of inequality among high-income democracies. The top 1% of households take almost a quarter of all household income — a share not seen since
- Courtesy of Time Magazine

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Comments (10)

Showing 1-10 of 10

If Heidi bothered to interview some of the other participants of OWS by asking police where their union rights came from (Occupy protests) , or ask a veteran where their GI Bill came from (Occupy protests), or ask campus and elected officials about the U.S. Constitutional right to protest, she would be exposing our society's deeply disturbing ironies, a form of journalism not seen in a generation of mainstream "reporting". Instead, another opportunity to connect the dots, offer a morsel of historic relevance, and actually inform readers, is sacrificed for the NCJ trademark human-interest-story imperative. It's a crying shame that our rural rags play their part in perpetuating the propaganda that occupy movements just began last month with OWS!

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Posted by A Good Start on 11/25/2011 at 12:08 PM

You are so wrong! Where these folks poop and pee is journalism 101.

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Posted by Anonymous on 11/25/2011 at 12:17 PM

Did our Eureka Mayor participate? "In New York, a state supreme court justice and a New York City council member were beaten up; in Berkeley, California, one of our greatest national poets, Robert Hass, was beaten with batons. The picture darkened still further when Wonkette and Washingtonsblog.com reported that the Mayor of Oakland acknowledged that the Department of Homeland Security had participated in an 18-city mayor conference call advising mayors on "how to suppress" Occupy protests." From the Guardian -- Naomi Wolf Article.

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Posted by JF on 11/27/2011 at 11:50 AM

Most of these individuales do not know its the culture of entitlement casued by the democrats in congress that have caused the mess, not george bush, even with a majority of democrats in congress presidente obama still did nothing of value to change the culture of give me give me, or was he able to change it, now blaming the republicans is like blaming the pot these fools are smoking

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Posted by camello lea on 11/27/2011 at 1:04 PM

One item is the notion that they can "evict" protestors, actually the legal way would be for all protesters agree to it since we are the owners of the government property, since we the people paid for it, not the government, we empowered the people in government, not vis versa

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Posted by leal brown on 11/27/2011 at 1:07 PM

Keep commenting, Camello Lea. We all need someone to feel superior to, and you'll do nicely. Smug hugs!

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Posted by Dung Beetle on 11/27/2011 at 6:42 PM

As long as over half the money coming out of my paycheck is being used to fund war and pay off the debt of the world's richest people, anybody's complaints about legalities of protesting that fact is falling on deaf ears.

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Posted by Power to the People on 11/27/2011 at 7:12 PM

Camello Lea, another aging irrelevant voice in revolutionary times. Excellent work upholding the status quo, the bankers send their regards. After they throw you out on the street, that is.

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Posted by slie on 11/28/2011 at 8:45 AM

The entire city of Arcata is a pit, craphole, and vagrents, and they don't care about the future or the actual going on. Makes me sick, scum.

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Posted by Chris on 11/30/2011 at 12:08 PM

Found this on the Occupy Eureka FB page. I would have to agree with this wholeheartedly!

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Posted by fizzle out on 11/30/2011 at 4:06 PM
Showing 1-10 of 10

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