How I Was Occupied at Occupy

Forward: This post is about an experience I had at the Occupy LA protests yesterday. That said, I promise it's a humorous anecdote and not a political rant, so no need for the apathetic to be scared.

Because Occupy LA's events started so early in order to have solidarity with NYC's activity, I actually awoke at 5am. Without a doubt, that is the hour I am most least likely to be awake normally, with the few exceptions being when I have yet to go to bed. Having only slept a few hours, I had to ask myself if I really was going to go for this, but I decided the cause was too important and I hopped on a train to downtown.

While I stood on the outer circle of a chanting rally, a frantic man approached asking for help. "I need people to hold signs!" "What kind of signs?" I asked. Because there were so many different viewpoints present, I didn't want to hold a sign that I didn't agree with. "Homemade signs!" he said, as if I were expecting one of those professionally made signs the movement is known for. Hesitantly, I followed.

Along with five other strangers who were also too nice to say to no, I found myself in front of six large red signs, each with a different phrase. I didn't understand what it was about until someone pointed out that it rhymed. "Oh, it's a poem!" another woman realized. "It's a Burma-Shave!" the sign creator corrected.

It read:
Hey Bankers: Shared Sacrifice?
Don't You Get It, We Played Nice. [I held this one]
Bailed You Out with $16 TRILLION,
Jobs Are Gone for 24 MILLION.
Stop Our Protest, Are You Nuts?
What We Want is JOBS NOT CUTS!

Here's the thing: Burma-Shave's work great alongside a highway, but they are not practical in a protest setting. Not only were the signs a bit unwieldy to start, but our march is not a parade. It's an unorganized mob of people. Staying close to each other was not only difficult, but as the flow of traffic and the space available in the street fluctuated, it was actually impossible. At some point someone told us we were backwards and told us to reorder ourselves. Since the signs were double-sided, what read forwards one way was then going to be backwards from the other direction, but I only argued this point twice before finally just rearranging myself in the realization that I wasn't getting through to anybody.

The sign creator, or "The Poet" as we sign carriers became referring to him as, ran a tight ship. When one carrier fell a few strides behind, generally due to no fault of his own, The Poet would inform her that she was lagging behind. All we could do was laugh because he was being a bit demanding of people who were kind enough to help him pull off his creative vision. Besides, why wasn't he holding any of these signs? As other protesters shouted, "This is what a democracy looks like!" I whispered to the girl next to me, "This is what a dictatorship looks like!"

At least the sign holders, became chummy with one another through this bizarre shared experience. All six of us were total strangers to each other, but we did have one main things in common: we were pushovers who resigned ourselves to just holding the sign even though we had no particular attachment to the message. We also found The Poet's attempts to point at each of us individually to prompt us to scream out our respective sign's slogan pretty laughable.

A man who was holding the sign to my right seemed legitimately terrified of The Poet. When we reached the intersection we were taking over, he pretty much ran for his life, handing off his sign to a nearby unsuspecting woman with no explanation. Every man for himself, I guess! The new signholder was confused and asked if this meant we wanted her to stand with us. "We don't want you to, but that guy does," I said, pointing to The Poet. She refused, and I admired her ability to say no (people can do that?), and The Poet replaced her with a woman who seemed pretty honored to be a part of the sign holding. In other words, she was as crazy as The Poet.

For the next hour or so, I tried to figure out how to get out of having to hold the sign. At one point, I even contemplated joining some other protesters in civil disobedience by laying in the road... I wouldn't have to hold a sign if I'm getting arrested! Finally, the young girl on the end with dyed blue hair (as opposed to naturally blue hair, I suppose) also made her escape. She just kind of bolted into the crowd, and I don't blame her. When The Poet realized the defaction, he freaked out, and the rest of us agreed to help him locate the missing sign, which we found tossed on the ground not too far away.

Geniusly, one of the fellow sign holders suggested to The Poet that he collect all of his signs so that "nothing would happen to them," and he agreed that that was a good idea. At the end, he gave each of us what one of my comrades called "a sweaty hug and kiss" to show his appreciation for our assistance. From the way we each flinched, I think a simple "thank you" would have been preferable. But at last we were free. In that moment, it felt as significant as toppling the 1%.

No comments: