Occupy: Through the Night



It's Veteran's Day. But for the persistent Occupy Eureka crew -- always finding new reasons to feel emboldened -- it's the start of another long, cold night of making a point via presence. Some go home after the traffic ceases its rush. Many stay to hold their territory. I joined them on Friday night, Nov. 11.

3 p.m.: "They keep tearing it down and I'll keep putting it up."

Seventy-nine-year-old Jack Nounnan erects the latest incarnation of the "Scott Olsen Civic Center" -- a shelter/library/hangout for members of Occupy Eureka named after the now iconic Occupy protester injured in a confrontation with Oakland police. Nounnan stretches industrial plastic and tarps over a PVC pipe frame next to the sidewalk on the Humboldt County Courthouse lawn.

"It's like an Erector Set. Kinda fun," Nounnan says.

Even as he's building, Nounnan holds out little hope that the new civic center will last for long. Eureka's version of the Occupy movement had been without serious shelter for four days, since the Eureka Police Department confiscated camping equipment and made several arrests.

"I give it hours," Nounnan says, predicting the civic center's lifespan. The police previously dismantled the camp during the wee hours, a trend he suspects will continue. "The police will not come now because traffic is watching."

A pickup truck pulls up to the curb full of wood pallets. They're brought in so that protesters won't have to sleep on the wet ground, and people hurry to unload them.

4 p.m.: Every member of Occupy Eureka comes with his or her own set of issues. While the group may have received initial inspiration from Occupy Wall Street, the local movement now pretty much covers the breadth of human frustrations.

Just read those signs. A large banner hung across the street from the protest reads "Honoring All VICTIMS of the IRAQ WAR." Right next to it is one reading "STOP GLOBAL WARMING." Big fish.

The people are as diverse as their causes. Some of the Eureka occupiers have jobs, cars and homes. Some are students -- in high school, even. And yes, a good number are homeless.

One protester, a local in-home caregiver, says she resents people assuming that all the protesters are unemployed. Almost on cue, as she speaks passionately about the world's extensive list of injustices, a passing driver in a Williams Bread truck yells out, "Get a fucking job!"

"I have one!" she loudly offers back.

Core members of Occupy Eureka say the local movement started with politically minded people. After a seemingly safe, welcoming community had been established, more homeless people arrived.

5 p.m.: A younger protester funnels his particularly confrontational tone through a community megaphone and spews it at passing cars.

"Don't be ignorant! Inform yourself! Grow! Use your phones for more than Facebook! Learn about your Occupy Wall Street demands!"

"Stop haranguing them," another older protester suggests.

"No, no, no. Don't give advice," the younger protester shoots back, trying to hand over the megaphone to the older man in a then-you-do-it spirit. "Lead by example."

His offer is declined.

"If you're going to say something, say something positive," another protester chimes in.

A van pulls up and a woman emerges with a basket full past the brim with extra pairs of socks for whoever wants them.

6 p.m.: As the evening grows colder, Occupy Eurekans gather near the courthouse flagpole for their scheduled General Assembly -- essentially an all-occupier meeting where issues of the day are aired.

James Decker kicks off the assembly from a blue camping chair. Sporting a long, Santa-worthy white beard, he is one of the older members of the overnight occupiers. While one of the tenets of Occupy is that it is a leaderless movement, people here turn to Decker for his levelheadedness and ability to rationally articulate ideas. With recent raids and arrests fresh in group members' minds and another long night ahead, he addresses his on-edge brothers and sisters with calm conviction:

"We are a community committed to non-violence and we need to make sure that we remember that in the heat of the moment. ...  We, especially now, are probably going to be coming under a lot of focus. So those behaviors that can bring negative attention to us, we need to make sure we take those away from the community so that we don't endanger what we're trying to do here."

For newcomers, Decker runs down the list of now widely recognized hand signals that many occupy groups have adopted for better communication in often hectic environments -- pointing wiggling fingers skyward if you support what's being said, for example.

Lofty political ends are not on the evening's agenda. Virtually the entire discussion focuses on the movement's survival and how the group should deal with the Eureka Police Department. Some discussion highlights:

Group members agree to yell "rollin'" if patrol cars are simply driving by and "six up" if police stop and get out. Air horns are also available for people who commit to use them responsibly.

Protesters should decide in advance whether they are willing to be arrested or not. One protester who was detained earlier in the week explains, "It's not that bad. I had fun the whole time."

Another idea: In the event of a raid, all those arrested will give the name "Scott Olsen." Voted on and approved.

Earlier in the day, police had stopped by to tell Occupy Eureka that it couldn't tie one of its banners to road sign posts. Group members untied it, but later someone reattached it.

Occupier Morgan McEvoy addresses the assembly and recommends untying it again so as not to "defy just to defy" and potentially give more reason for officers to come. She pulls up a statement on her iPhone she says was written by Occupy Arcata's Lois Cordova and reads it aloud to the group: "Occupiers spend more time fighting with city officials and police to remain occupied than on the issues which brought them to the occupation in the first place." The group is expending too much energy in "petty negotiations about whether a tent is or isn't a form of free speech."

Protester Hans Ashbaucher adds, "Sometimes it seems like we're just protesting to protest."

7 p.m.: Other occupiers propose that, since some people need to sleep, perhaps shouting "rollin'" whenever a patrol car was spotted is excessive "since they're always rollin'." Voted on and approved. "Rollin'" nixed.

8 p.m.: A patrol car parks diagonally across the intersection and asks the protesters to remove some signs lying on the sidewalk. This agitates the occupiers who gather on the corner -- now holding the signs -- and yell at the officers.

"We're not paying taxes so you can sit across the street and complain about signs," McEvoy yells. "Go fight real crime."

The protesters direct a chant at the officers: "Get a job!"

9 p.m.: The night wears on. Someone brings coffee. Guitars come out. The air gets colder. Mellow is maintained.

10 p.m.: Four police cars pull to the far side of US Bank across the street, where a few individuals have wandered away from the camp and are allegedly smoking pot. It is the most notable police contact of the evening, a night punctuated by a few quick admonishments over police loudspeakers for encroachments of the sidewalk.

Midnight: The group has dwindled to around 20 people. One protester further claims the space by running a "Don't Tread on Me" flag up the flagpole so that it flies next to the American flag.

2 a.m.: After some acoustic guitar/pots and pans jamming and some animated political discourse, I semi-flake out on my goal to stay the whole night at Occupy Eureka and crawl into my car and under a blanket in the parking lot across the street. I crack a window so that if the raid comes, I'll be able to spring into super-journo mode.

5 a.m.: The raid never comes. With weirdly mixed reportorial feelings, I sit up and start my car. As the sky starts to brighten, I drive home to my bed.

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