Occupy OC persists in quiet Irvine community

Orange County residents showed their solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement on Saturday, Oct. 15. as approximately 1,300 protesters marched through Irvine’s financial district.

The planned occupation of the Irvine Civic Center’s lawn happened to fall on the same day as the “international day of action” for Occupy Wall Street supporters around the globe. On the same day, 82 countries and over 1,000 cities demonstrated in support of the movement.

In general, the Irvine crowd ranged from college students to grandparents. However, although the march consisted of many different walks of life, white, middle-aged residents appeared to make up the overwhelming majority.

Throughout the march, protesters received support from passing cars honking their horns. One man got out of his car at an intersection and started to high-five the demonstrators as they crossed an intersection in bordering Tustin. A small handful showed opposition as some drivers yelled “Get a life” and “Get a job.”

At the first general assembly meeting, the protesters decided they wanted to work with the police and city to sustain their encampment. At this point, demonstrators were under the impression, after talking to police, that they would be able to move their tents to the sidewalk for the night to continue their encampment legally.

However, at around 9:00 p.m., officers told the demonstrators they would not be allowed to set up their tents after 10:00 p.m. and, in addition, could not lay out in sleeping bags on the sidewalk or lawn. Neither would they be able to sit or stand idle on the sidewalks.

Demonstrators wear tape on their mouth to represent the silencing of occupation due to city ordinances that ban camping. Hand signs show solidarity with the international Occupy movement. Photo by Shalise Leedle.

According to police, the regulation was in accordance with the city municipal code that bans camping from 10:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. In order to be able to stay without citation or arrest, demonstrators would have to walk around periodically. At 6:00 a.m., when the park opens, they could then set up their tents legally on the lawn once again.

Costa Mesa resident Raven Watson was one of the twenty demonstrators left over after 10:00 p.m. She said the group was determined to have a physical presence at the corner of Harvard and Alton Avenues at all times. Watson and other demonstrators lit candles and carried them as they occupied the corner in the quiet early morning hours.

“Our candles are our only voice right now,” she said. “Someone will always be here on the sidewalk claiming our space. We cannot rest, we have to be mobile all night.”

She said officers told the group to refrain from any sort of noise disruption, such as chants, after 10:00 p.m. and discouraged them from encouraging honking from cars passing by. However, Watson said, officers said they were aware the demonstrators cannot control the honking itself.

Volunteers loaded cars down with all equipment from the demonstration at 10:00 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday nights, only to set it back up each day.

Throughout the early morning hours of both Sunday and Monday, about a half dozen demonstrators remained at the corner. Some went to their cars periodically to get some much needed sleep. Others waited until after the 6:00 a.m. to then set up their tents and slumber.

The Irvine Police Department is located at the Civic Center and kept a watchful eye on demonstrators throughout the late weekend nights. Two officers were standing near the lawn from 10:00 p.m. to midnight on Saturday; up to five officers were on stand by from about 10:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m on Sunday.

After those times, patrol cars drove past the encampment multiple times and instructed demonstrators through a bull horn trying to sneak in a little shut-eye to not lay down on the sidewalk. A Mobile Command Unit from the back of the Civic Center gave at least one warning regarding sitting on the sidewalk from their PA system set up in the nearby parking lot.

D’Marie Mulattieri, creator of the group’s Facebook page and one of the main facilitators, said she is determined to gain support from officials for their solidarity action. The group plans on appealing to the Irvine City Council to allow protesters to allow the encampment to continue legally.

“It is our constitutional right to free assembly,” she said. “They told us we could camp on the sidewalk. Then, at the last minute, they changed their minds.”

Greg Diamond, a member of the Executive Board of the Democratic Party of Orange County and the Occupy OC Civic Liaison committee, sent an open letter to the three Democratic city council members, criticizing the Irvine PD’s response to the occupation and requesting the city take action to support the protests.

Occupy Orange County released a statement saying demonstrators standing on the corners cause people to honk due to high visibility. With the occupiers being able to sleep in their tents, the statement contends, the honking wouldn’t be as prevalent. It also claims the city has promised to allow overnight camping in tents on the lawn if the group swells in the hundreds in the evenings.

Another occupation by a separate group in solidarity with Irvine is taking place in Santa Ana this weekend. Organizers are trying to appeal to the Santa Ana City Council to allow protesters to camp out overnight despite an unlawful camping law in the city. The protests will start at noon Saturday, Oct. 22 at the Ronald Reagan Federal Building and U.S. Courthouse near the Santa Ana Civic Center.

Also posted on LA Activist

Amber Stephens