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What the Hell Is a Solidarity Sleepover?

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Electricians Kevin Norton (left) and Gary Parker at Occupy LA. (Photo by Ted Soqui)

What would cause 13 mostly 30- and 40-something electricians to come up with an event like the “Solidarity Sleepover” at Occupy LA? It all started with a text message. Howard Brown, adventurer, electrician and Occupy LA supporter wrote me, “would like 2 c mas union presence.” I had not been down to Occupy LA and before I put my name near it, I needed to do some recon to check it out. I had heard that it was this leaderless movement that really had no strong positions on anything because they could not get a consensus from the group. Being a lifelong Democrat, that sounded vaguely familiar.  So down to City Hall I went with my good friend Gary in tow. I figured I needed some backup in case somebody tried to put a red Che Guevara beret on me when I wasn’t looking.

What Gary and I found instead were really cool, smart kids like I used to meet back in the days when I was involved with the hardcore punk scene. I quickly realized that there were as many reasons for being there as there were people. However, one overriding theme was that the majority of people in this country are watching their hopes and dreams slip away in a tide of bank bailouts and no one seems to be fighting hard enough for them. These are the same kind of reasons that people join unions, write a letter to the editor or wear a revolutionary war hat with Lipton tea bags attached. As a jaded union organizer, I had to admit I was impressed with the passion.

So I thought about how I could support them, and bought a couple cases of water and dropped them off. Next I got them an Occupy LA banner and a frame to hold it. (I’m old school. If you want to be a real movement you need a banner, for Christ’s sake.)

All the while I was texting back and forth with Howard and eventually we met out there. Howard just got back from Burning Man, the dusty desert fest in Nevada. Like 30 percent of workers in the construction industry, he is unemployed. What that meant to me was that he likes to sleep in a tent and is not real happy with the way things are going. That also meant that he would be the anchor at Camp Solidarity.

I couldn’t help but start thinking this was coming together pretty good. I bought a tent and some sleeping bags for our group. Now, I never slept in a tent. I’m not sure I had even spent five minutes in a tent in my life, so why not try my first adventure in downtown LA on a sidewalk? We decided to make it a three-day event called the “Solidarity Sleepover.”  We announced it at a couple of union meetings and got nine people to sign up. Over the next six days we had 13 members sleep over or spend a shift at Occupy LA.

We had a friend, Joel, who was already there and knew the lay of the land. He told us where we could put our tent. After we set up shop, we walked around the encampment and ended up back at the tent swapping stories — like people probably do at a campfire. (What do I know? I’m not exactly John Muir.) We ended up hanging out in the tent and talking until about 4 a.m. After three hours of light sleep, I called it a wrap at 7 a.m.

I have to admit I didn’t get to the General Assembly or some of the other things I have read about since. Mainly, because that’s not really my bag and secondly because I just wanted to support them and I thought they were doing a fine job without my help.

There were two things that have stuck with me from the sleepover. First is how I drive by people every night sleeping in tents downtown and how much that must suck. The other was when a guy driving by us yelled, “Get a job!” — to which Joel replied “Give me a job!”  Some people have called this generation a lost generation because so many of them can’t find jobs. I think the lost generation is the group of people that think we should write off our aspirations so that the one  percent can take all of the wealth that is created in this country and all we get is a big deficit.

I don’t honestly know what will happen with this movement.  I hope that the 99 percent of us figure out that when 400 people in LA have the same amount of money as two million, things are just not working right and just maybe, if we are lucky, somebody in a tent at  200 N. Spring St. might have an idea how to fix it.

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