My Visit to Occupy Orange County

7 Nov

I went to Occupy Orange County on Saturday. I’ve been feeling far removed from social change activism since moving. When I lived in Oakland, my job, my social circle, my volunteer activities were all tied to social justice work. My new OC life includes a lot of enjoyable activities and many people I love, but things have felt pretty apolitical these days.

I’ve been following Occupy Oakland from afar, mostly through Facebook to be honest – the beautiful coming together of community, the historic general strike, critiques around the Occupy movements being mostly white, analysis around what it means to “occupy” land that was stolen from Native peoples and has been gentrified, repeated patterns of police brutality. I’ve been trying to watch all of it. When I saw protesters being attacked in a place I call home, my heart ached. When I saw people be strong and courageous, my heart soared. But it’s not the same as being there.

I find myself struggling over how to relate my new life to activism. I visited Occupy LA during a lunch break with a friend (another Bay Area activist who moved back home to SoCal), and while I enjoyed seeing it, I don’t think either of us felt compelled to stay. I’ve been occasionally checking up on Occupy OC online, but the unfamiliarity of the people didn’t compel me to actually go to their events. I’ve been feeling guilty about my Wells Fargo bank account for years and finally decided to move the rest of my money out…but I didn’t know where to move it to and no one in Orange County seemed able to help me. I can’t even vote tomorrow because I changed my registration too late.

I’m feeling really lost without my community.

I went to a conference recently where DREAMer and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas spoke. He cited that famous quote by Martin Luther King, Jr.: “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamor of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.” I don’t want to be a silent good person, but in a place where even recycling takes effort, I’m finding it hard to find battles here worth fighting.

So, in an effort to shake myself out of this silence, I visited Occupy OC. Before becoming the sixth most populous county in the United States, it used to be orange groves and agriculture, cattle ranching and oil extraction. Before that, it was part of Mexico. And before that, the land belonged to three main tribes, the Tongva, Acjachemen, and the Payomkowishum. Today, according to Wikipedia, the Tongva have no federal recognition, the Acjachemen are seeking federal recognition, and the Payomkowishum are part of a federally recognized tribe. Their struggles continue.

Based on the needs list on Occupy OC’s website, I brought batteries, plastic bags, and hot pizza. It was 8pm, about 50 people were gathered for their general assembly meeting, mostly white and a wide range in age. We heard reports on the successful bank protests they led in Irvine. A UCI student asked folks to attend an upcoming protest on campus against student tuition and fee hikes, making the link between the struggles. They just launched a think tank committee to take the statement issued by Occupy Wall Street and create well-researched arguments for each demand for talking points. It was good and nice and I was happy to see it. But I didn’t feel connected.

I know that I shouldn’t have to find other progressive, politically active, Generation X, people of color who live in Orange County but work in Los Angeles at non-activist jobs to break my silence. But I still want that.

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2 Responses to “My Visit to Occupy Orange County”

  1. bonnie November 7, 2011 at 7:52 pm #

    Thanks for sharing this, Priscilla. I imagine it’s hard to find your activism bearings when you don’t quite feel a sense of community from which to draw inspiration and grounding. I know you’ll get there, a bit at a time. In the meantime, I’m glad to hear your impressions of Occupy OC and glad that you’re writing.

    • cil1977 November 10, 2011 at 6:02 pm #

      Thanks for reading, Bonnie! And thanks for the encouraging words. I’m hoping I will. Love your photos on your website, by the way.

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