After the eviction of Occupy Santa Cruz last week, some questions loom large: Is this the end of the protest? Without the encampment, will there be further action advancing the movement’s ideals? Have they even figured out, specifically, what those ideals are yet?
The protestors gathered on the courthouse steps after the General Assembly on Sunday expressed little doubt that, although it’s suffered a blow, Occupy Santa Cruz will continue on.
“The camp was for the Occupy protestors to have a 24–hour protest,” Andre Llana says. Given that the purpose of activism was largely diluted toward the end of the camp’s existence, as it turned increasingly away from a platform for protest and into a residence for Santa Cruz’s transient and homeless community, the eviction of the camp may even have done the political focus some good. “All the blowout of the camp did was prove who’s really here for the protest and who’s not,” Llana says. “The camp has been cleared out, but we’re still having General Assemblies. We’re just regrouping,” says protestor Isaac Collins.
Occupy Santa Cruz is now in the same position as most of the other Occupy protests around the country. Kalle Lasn, co-founder and editor-in-chief of Adbusters Magazine and a driving force behind the start of the national movement, told Santa Cruz Weekly that he thinks the protest, rather than fizzling out, is now in its second phase. “Phase one of this movement was very monolithic,” he says. “It was one wonderful occupation without demands, without leaders, and it had a certain magic to it that really worked. Now that’s over and no one really knows what will happen.” But, he continues, “I think it’ll fracture into a myriad of projects of different kinds. I don’t think there’s any clarity of what’s going to happen in the future, but I do think this movement will have long legs.”
One question the movement now faces is to what degree it will focus on physical space. In Santa Cruz in the hours and days following the Dec. 8 sweep of San Lorenzo Park, some protesters turned their energy toward an effort to restore a small vacant lot at Spruce and Pacific into a community garden.
Activist Andy Moscowitz, who’s served as the local protest’s spokesperson, says the biggest thing to come out of Occupy Santa Cruz is “a consciousness as to how we use our space.” But, he adds, “I think the concepts that have come out of the Occupy movement are spreading into people’s awareness and now people are running with them in a million different directions. It’s really diffuse through everything right now.”
Last Friday over the hill, Stanford University took an intellectual approach to the diffuse ideas of the Occupy movement during the “Occupy the Future” event, organized by Stanford professors. Some speakers, like Michele Barry, dean of global health, were specific about directions the Occupy movement could take. “The widening gap between health and equity needs to be upfront and center,” Barry said. “We all need to send a message to Congress when the Affordable Care Act is quietly gutted, as it was a few weeks ago when the House of Representatives took out all of the preventative health care services in the act.”
Others, like former Assemblymember Sally Lieber, more generally sought to keep the ethos of the movement alive in spite of the loss of the encampments. “It’s not just about occupying a physical space. It’s about occupying the intellectual space, occupying the spiritual space,” she says. “Occupy whatever you find is juicy to you.”
As far as the issues that Occupy Santa Cruz finds juicy, given the action of taking over the vacant building on River Street and a recent letter from the General Assembly to the County Board of Supervisors, the group seems to be developing a focus on foreclosures and evictions. This is an emphasis that Occupy protestor Jay Cambell thinks is likely to continue. “The foreclosed homes aspect is very important,” he says. “This week we’re going to the supervisors and to city council and we’re going to bring some individuals who have some very rich stories. By showing the human side of the foreclosures, we hope to sway some hearts and minds and at least get the issue of improper foreclosures looked at.”
Ultimately, while splinter groups may now decide to take on a variety of issues and approaches, Kalle thinks there is still a cohesive element to the national, if not international, protests that have been sparked by Occupy Wall Street.
“All the young people know that their future doesn’t compute, that their lives are going to be full of political, economic and ecological crisis—that if they don’t stand up, they won’t have a future,” he says. “That’s what keeps the movement together. We don’t need a park to keep it focused.
“I think the fact that you in Santa Cruz are part of millions of young people around the world fighting for a global future is a very powerful idea.”
Originally published in the Santa Cruz Weekly: