“In the least f—ed up way that this can sound, it was my drug. It was the revolution, it was the meaning, it was the purpose that I had been waiting for since my late teens.”
This is how one activist, who goes by Wildcat, remembers the initial months of Occupy Santa Cruz (OSC). A former resident of the OSC encampment in San Lorenzo Park, Wildcat stayed until it was cleared out by Santa Cruz Police on Dec. 8 of last year.
Along with other OSC members, Wildcat helped to organize SubRosa café’s “One Year Later” Occupy-themed open mic night on Thursday, Oct. 4. In conjunction with a potluck and general assembly at Laurel Park on Friday Oct. 5, the event celebrated the one year anniversary of OSC and provided its members the opportunity to share memories, stories, and strategies.
Attended by roughly 30 people ranging in age from 19 to 60, the open mic included musical performances, poetry, personal stories and informational presentations.
One attendant, who wished to be identified simply as “an anarchist,” listed a series of best practices to observe when protesting or engaging in other acts of civil disobedience.
“People go down for things as small as a mark on their shoe, a hole in their sweatshirt, a sliver of a tattoo showing. You’ll go to jail for years. You have to plan ahead,” the anarchist said.
Another attendant expressed concern over the personal privacy implications of the National Security Agency’s “Utah Data Center,” a two billion dollar, one million square foot data storage facility slated to come online in 2013.
After the event, participants filtered out into SubRosa’s courtyard to reminisce and share their OSC experiences with one another over coffee and cigarettes.
“For me it was a cleansing,” said Isaac “Lyrical I” Collins, an OSC member and poet. “When I came to Occupy I was working a job, I had a place to live. I walked away from everything to join it. On a personal level everything in my life didn’t make sense, but after I joined, it made much more sense. This movement changed me.”
Collins was the only person arrested at last year’s unsanctioned “420” event in Porter Meadow located at UC Santa Cruz, in which hundreds of students and locals gather to celebrate the cannabis-themed holiday by smoking marijuana. He is charged with a felony for possession of marijuana with intent to sell.
Several OSC members have joined together to raise awareness about Collins and his felony charge, asserting that he was targeted because he is black and was prominently displaying an Occupy sign at the time of his arrest.
Wildcat is one subject of a similar awareness-raising campaign OSC has undertaken. A member of the “Santa Cruz 11,” a group of 11 individuals who participated in the occupation of a vacant Wells Fargo on Dec. 1, 2011, Wildcat and the others have each been charged with two felonies and two misdemeanors. Four of them have since been acquitted, and the trials for the remaining seven are ongoing.
“This is handicapping my life,” Wildcat said. “I’m terrified of cops, I’m terrified of doing anything that might be perceived as illegal, because I know a cop can get me in trouble for anything if they want to.”
Becky Johnson is also a member of the Santa Cruz 11. She said she did not enter the bank but faces the same charges as Wildcat.
“I lost my housing, and I’m unable to work,” Johnson said. “I was planning on working as a teacher in September but I’m unable to do that with felony charges hanging over me.”
Three Santa Cruz Police officers watched from across the street as tables, signs and banners were set up at Laurel Park on Friday for the potluck and general assembly. Roughly 40 people assembled to chat and report on what OSC has planned for the future.
Joy Hinz, a member of the OSC Foreclosure Working Group (FWG) told the gathering about the two complaints the FWG filed with the Grand Jury of Santa Cruz County regarding foreclosure fraud. The Grand Jury informed her that the complaints had been forwarded to “the appropriate investigative committee.”
The FWG has also been working with other Occupy groups around California and former real estate broker turned activist C.J. Holmes to sponsor a series of town hall meetings to discuss various solutions to the wave of foreclosures that hit California in the wake of the financial crisis of 2008.
“One of those solutions that we’re pretty excited about is eminent domain, which is currently spreading like wildfire across the country,” Hinz said.
That approach involves activists petitioning cities and counties to use their powers of eminent domain to seize mortgages from banks and then renegotiate them with homeowners.
Roxanne Evans, who spearheads the Food Justice Working Group (FJWG) informed those present about the group’s recent creation of an “edible vertical garden” the FJWG constructed on an outside wall of India Joze restaurant on Front Street.
Evans said the FJWG also has plans to sponsor several events during the winter where they will distribute free hot meals to Santa Cruz’s homeless population.
The general assembly also agreed to reestablish a visible presence in front of the county courthouse, the site of the previous OSC encampment.
As darkness fell, a projector was set up to screen “What Are You Doing Here? Inside Occupy Santa Cruz,” a documentary about OSC, while its members reflected on what the camp and movement had meant to them.
“Right now we don’t have an encampment, but it’s still affected me dramatically, on a personal level,” said Freedom, who declined to give a last name. “Since the movement has started I have rejected my car, cellphone, laptop, rent, even money. I stopped using money altogether because I believe in this movement so strongly.”
Nevertheless, Freedom plans to remain an active member of the group.
“We’re at a definite lull after all the police oppression we’ve been facing, but there’s no instant gratification in any movement,” Freedom said. “We just have to continue the struggle and keep working and organizing together.”