Two years ago, just after Thanksgiving and the next day’s Black Friday spending spree, I found something in Lompoc to be truly thankful for.
When Occupy Wall Street first set up their tents in New York City, much of the media was left scratching their heads. There were no leaders, there was no single demand. Instead, Occupy united around two principles.
The first was economic justice, or the idea that all people deserve the opportunity to survive, thrive and prosper in a world that fairly rewards work and recognizes basic human dignity.
The second principle was direct democracy. After the economy crashed, governments and corporations were not interested in economic justice. We would have to try to achieve it ourselves.
I knew the Occupy movement had to come to Lompoc, a town where demanding economic justice holds real weight. And I soon heard about a small gathering in Centennial Park to kick off a nascent Occupy Lompoc group.
We didn’t have the time or numbers for a 24-hour tent city like the one in New York, so we decided to Occupy on Saturday afternoons. We chose a location that told the story of Occupy Lompoc perfectly — the former sculpture park on the corner of H and Ocean.
At the bend of Highway 1, that corner should be the heart of our downtown. Instead, it’s been vacant for decades, as private developers and city policy have all failed to build anything there. We decided to shake off the failures of government and private interests, and represent a path to direct community democracy.
A few weeks later, we held the “Really Really Free Market,” and we gave things away. Nearly 100 people showed up with clothes, books, skills, jokes or food to share. Everyone left with a new outfit, a Christmas present or a full turkey dinner. We accomplished all this without money, without bureaucracy, without anybody in charge.
Occupy didn’t last forever, of course. Just as Occupy Wall Street faltered after the police raided Zuccotti Park, Occupy Lompoc had trouble maintaining our momentum after our street corner got a new owner.
However, economic justice and direct democracy are still needed today. Now that the dust from the Great Recession has begun to settle, we are coming to realize the U.S. economy has permanently changed. The era of full employment in America has ended, devaluing labor and destroying the idea that anyone can succeed in this country with hard work alone.
In Lompoc, with our unemployment numbers still high, we know this problem all too well. Occupy had a good run, but we have a long way to go.
I find myself looking back to the lessons I learned in Occupy Lompoc to imagine what more we might accomplish. Occupy Lompoc, as the only citizen group focused on accountability for LHCDC, helped make the grand jury investigation of the doomed nonprofit a reality, and added to the effort of the ouster of our suspicious former county supervisor.
We were also able to show small-town support for big national actions, such as Oakland’s general strike or the ongoing Strike Debt campaign, which has raised $600,000 to forgive $14.7 million in individual debts - mostly medical debts held by ordinary people across the country.
Most importantly, though, we created a new community based on the principals of economic justice and direct democracy. That community gave us something new — the opportunity to talk about important issues as if our views and our experiences mattered, because in that space they did.
Most tangibly, Occupy Lompoc gave us the “Really Really Free Market” and the chance to share food and goods with new friends and complete strangers alike.
Steve Stormoen is a Lompoc resident. The Forward View is a progressive look at local issues that runs on Thursdays. For information, call 736-1897, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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