Occupy L.A.: An Arrestee's Story
Editor's note: Matt Kresling was arrested last Wednesday along with 292 others at the Occupy L.A. encampment. He submitted this first-person account to the Weekly share his reasons for involvement - as well as explain what happened after the arrestees were separated from the watchful eye of the media.
BY MATT KRESLING
I wasn't a camper, just a sympathizer. Like a lot of Angelenos, I visited the Occupy L.A. encampment on the occasional afternoon to attend meetings or teach-ins, but didn't stay for any extended length of time until Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa declared his intention to close it.
It seemed to me that the camp's presence was too important -- that by its sheer existence encircling City Hall, it was the physical embodiment of a financial elephant in the room that the government and media had heretofore too easily ignored. And so it was with a sense of outrage that I read Villaraigosa had declared that it was "time for the protest to end." Gosh, that made me mad. The time for a protest to end, it seems to me, is when there has been a redress of grievances. It wasn't for the Mayor to dictate when that had occurred. That was a bit like the people of Vicksburg dictating to the Union Army that it was time for the Siege of Vicksburg to end. Sieges don't end until the besieging army is defeated or the city falls.
And so I went to the encampment on the night of Sunday, Nov. 27, with the intention of defying the mayor's 12:01 a.m. eviction deadline and probably getting arrested.
Arriving at City Hall, I took part in a short class in non-violent resistance on the north steps. We practiced the proper ways to sit with locked-arms; how to clasp your hands so that your thumbs wouldn't be broken when the police pried them apart (keep your thumbs in); what to do if beaten with a baton (duck your head!). Basically it was a class in injury-minimization, though we also practiced restraining fellow protesters in the event they become violent. There were additional details on police behavior and how we would respond in various unique situations, and I got a profound sense of "I-will-immediately-forget- this-in-the-chaos-of-the-moment," which I later did.
Then the other "Arrestables" and I took our positions, sitting cross-legged with locked arms, around a symbolic center tent in the middle of the south plaza. In our pockets were vinegar-soaked bandanas, in case the police employed tear gas. I found myself sitting at various points next to an eighth grade teacher from Compton, a professor of urban planning from UC-Irvine, a cook from a Chinese restaurant and a sales representative for high-end baked goods, none of whom lived at the camp and none of whom had been arrested before. Somehow these disparate people had spontaneously decided that now was the time they would put their bodies on the line for something they believed was too important to let die.
The park was full of people milling around in the darkness, maybe 2,000. At times it felt as if the Arrestables (around 50 or so) were outnumbered by the media members photographing them, but as the morning wore on and the police failed to enter the park, the population seemed to bleed away. We worried that the LAPD would merely wait for our numbers to sufficiently diminish, then move in, but the blow never came. Sometime around noon, having chanted "New York was raided, but L.A. won't take it!" about a thousand times, I took a bus home.
I remained home Monday, but returned Tuesday night. Previously, I'd spoken to a reporter from KPCC who'd made an interesting observation. The LAPD had exhausted itself calling 1,400 officers into service to clear the park on Sunday, he said. They would probably need a day or so to recuperate before activating so large a force again, so the inevitable closure would probably not occur Monday night, but Tuesday.