By Vanessa Aranda
Occupy Fresno, a protest that began Oct. 9, 2011, in Courthouse Park, celebrated its seventh month in May. In its seven months, the participants have raised awareness about a number of troubling issues including the unemployment rate; budget cuts to all levels of education; healthcare costs; major banks, including their fees and fraudulent foreclosures; and unconstitutional laws being passed specifically targeting Occupiers because they carry a message that challenges the authority of Big Brother.
In November, arrests began for Occupy Fresno due to outdated county park ordinances. As a few might know, Occupy Fresno decided to take action and their lawyers challenged the ordinances by filing civil suits against Fresno County regarding the ban on passing out handbills, needing a permit for an assembly of nine persons or more and the park closure hours. The U.S. District Court in San Francisco found two of the three regulations unconstitutional and ordered Fresno County to stop enforcing the ban on handbills and requiring a permit for an assembly of nine or more people.
Since early November, there have been 100-plus acts of civil disobedience, resulting in the arrests of protesters. Many Occupiers have been arrested multiple times for the cause, some as many as 6–8 times. A team of 30 attorneys jumped on board, representing the Occupiers, pro bono, when their court trials began on Feb. 1. After months of negotiations and deal offers from both sides—the county and Occupiers—there was finally an agreement. The Board of Supervisors and the District Attorney’s Office decided to drop all charges against Occupiers and have agreed to three 24-hour vigils, meaning overnight camping without the threat of cuffs.
Occupiers feel differently about the deal, which is to be expected as the movement is diverse and comprises people from all walks of life. Some see it as a victory and celebrate the news of being able to have three vigils on nights of their choosing (as long as it’s not a holiday) within a year. Others are unhappy with the deal, still noting the time, place and manner restrictions as being unconstitutional, as proponents of the 1% get to dictate those restrictions.
Not many are aware that Occupy Fresno is the only Occupy in the movement that has managed to maintain a 24-hour presence at its original location. All of the other Occupies were evicted from their camps, and although many of them have returned, none have had a continuous overnight vigil. This is an amazing feat, coming from a small group of people who dedicate their time to a cause they believe in, despite an overwhelming force that had previously not been reckoned with. As you may know, Fresno might be a bit conservative, politically, so it really is phenomenal when commitment, coupled with perseverance, survives on our little red island.
The Occupy movement has done more than raise awareness about pressing matters: It has helped some grow. One occupier, Kaila Igasan, recalled her experiences with the movement, touching upon different issues, ranging from homelessness, to the Fresno Unified School District meetings:
I’ve definitely grown up a lot since being involved with the movement. I’ve learned so much about the things that really do matter in life, and why. I’ve seen things I never thought I’d see—raids on Occupy camps all over the world, Michael Hanson and other school officials “stealing” money from the kids they’re supposed to be helping, people whose homes were taken away (both at the Santa Fe and other homeless encampments and elsewhere in the United States by foreclosures), and even the inside of a Fresno County Jail holding cell.
I’ve learned about the horrors of the NDAA [National Defense Authorization Act], fought for corporations to not be considered people and cheered on people who moved their money from a major bank to a local credit union. I’ve lost a lot of respect for many people I once looked up to (some law enforcement officers, various board members and elected officials, etc.), but I’ve gained respect for so many more people in this city.
I’m so proud of all of the many activists I’ve met out at Occupy. I’ve never met so many amazing people, and I’m so glad to have so many awesome role models to look up to. The experiences I’ve had over the past 7–8 months have shown me that there are issues out there that I care about, and that affect my life, and it feels good to finally stand up for the things that I believe in.
I hope that even if people can’t make it out very often right now, that we can all come together again to celebrate everything we’ve always fought for at the three 24-hour vigils we will soon be allowed. I will continue to Occupy as much as I can, and always remember the people I have met and the things I have learned while being an Occupier.
Another activist, Moises Hernandez, explained why he chose to Occupy:
I came to Occupy to physically demonstrate against the threat of corporate fascism in the United States. I think the 2008 bailout caused all of those who had already been protesting from the discretion of their own confined areas to come together in a public space and demonstrate in defiance that we are not going to leave until the social contract that binds civil government is restored back to its promise of opportunity, pursuit of happiness, and the preservation of liberty and freedom for all.
The Bush presidency became a joke even though some very serious and frightful things happened during his presidency, like the Patriot Act and 9/11 events that affected our freedoms. At the same time, the nature of business in the corporate realm became self-evident. It became seen as an entity that had dominated American culture and politics. Common and safe political rhetoric is to portray the corporation as a symbiotic partner with the government.
I think Occupy can continue to become a symbolic political demonstration against the loss of liberty.
Truthfully, the Occupy movement in sleepy towns like Fresno has died down a bit. Individuals returned to focusing on school or work, etc. There are still a number of dedicated supporters who continue to commit their time to being down at Courthouse Park. Because of the lack of bodies at the camp on a regular basis, it has been hard for Occupy Fresno to plan anything. As of now, nothing is happening in June, but a little innovation could go a long way. Everyone is encouraged to come down, any time or any day, as there is always someone at Courthouse Park, and talk. The General Assemblies (GAs) are Wednesdays and Fridays at 6 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at noon.
One of the most frequently asked questions Occupiers get is “what do you need down here?” A common response to this inquiry is bodies. Because Occupy Fresno runs purely on donations, food, water, poster boards and various other art supplies would be greatly appreciated and put to good use.
Occupy Fresno would not have survived so long without the support and love of the community and thanks to everyone for sticking with them. Further information and details regarding upcoming events can be found on the Facebook page Occupy Fresno Ca, on Twitter @occupyfresno or at the official Web site www.occupyfresnoca.com.
The author is an APOC down with the movement named Vanessa Aranda. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.