On a whim, I googled the term "Occupy Riverside". With so much publicity of the "Occupy" protests, I wanted to see if we were at risk of occupation as well.
Much to my surprise, I learned that we had already been "occupied" and that people were still occupying the downtown pedestrian mall. Despite my inexperience in dealing with "occupiers" I grabbed my camera and headed to the occupation zone.
I guess I was a day late. The large protest had occurred on Saturday, with a small contingent of protesters remaining to express displeasure of the current economic system. News reports said that several hundred people had participated on Saturday, there were probably forty or fifty people present when I was there. Not all were protesting, many were performing other functions.
Tending to be somewhat conservative politically, I was curious about what the main focus of the local protest would be. From the signs that I saw and the conversations that I had, it appeared that the main message of the exercise was the uneven distribution of wealth between corporate America and the rest of us.
During my conversations, I gracefully neglected to mention my dependence on corporate profits to keep my 457 plans afloat. I also believe that many of the protesters gracefully neglected to mention a deeper political agenda.
I spoke with a few people, one of whom who told me that the Occupy Riverside event was an offshoot of the Occupy LA protest and that even smaller towns, such as Hemet, CA would be having events as well.
I asked a few participants if there had been any opposition to their presence in downtown Riverside. Their response was that there had been a few incidents of people hurling insults such as "dirty hippies" and "get a job". I must say that all of the people I spoke with were reasonably clean and most claimed to have jobs.
I have to state that these people were ORGANIZED. A schedule, defined areas of responsibility, a logistics chain, even security were planned and provided for. It made me think that whoever put this together had done it before.
Sadly, by the time I arrived, the occupation was one largely of signs. I would have liked to have been there when things were in full swing. The large number of signs present told me that a lot of people had been there earlier holding them.
Another thing that I observed was that most of the signs I saw appeared to be hand made, with only a few appearing to be commercially produced. In my mind this is a sign that a majority of the participants were likely those who are pissed off at the system, made a sign and drove down to the event and are not people who got off buses and were handed signs.
I didn't hear any negative reaction from those who drove by, but did see quite a bit of support.
The later it got, the smaller the occupation became. Several people that I spoke with said that they had to get ready for the following work week and wouldn't be back until the following week-end.
Others seemed prepared for spending another night on the mall. The police had told some of the organizers that staying on the mall overnight would not be allowed, but no one had stopped the protesters from camping out during the previous night. My guess is that as long as things remained under control, the occupy Riverside protest would be allowed to stay on the mall, even overnight.
I drove by the mall on the next day, there were just a few people there, waving signs at the passing cars. It's been a week since I've been there so I don't know whats going on now. Whatever occupation that may or may not be going on isn't intruding on anyone or I would have heard of it.
Why Riverside was chosen as a city to occupy I will never know. Riverside is not normally a hotbed of political activism, except when the cops shoot unconscious people or immigration issues boil to the surface.
I find it odd that there are two distinct groups of people who think the country is headed the wrong way, they just disagree on which way it is headed and which way is the right way. As long as both groups can peacefully state their position and not adversely affect others, I don't have any issues with public protests.
If I had to guess, I would say that the occupy movement is being organized by established, trained social activists, ones with socialist agendas. That they are striking a chord with many disenfranchised people is no surprise - there are a lot of unhappy people out there right now.
I am pretty sure that I disagree with most of the group occupying Riverside when it comes to politics, but I am glad they can go down and protest. Everybody I spoke with was friendly, though we really didn't discuss any controversial topics. I would hope the Tea Partiers would display the same manners if I showed up to shoot one of their events, but again I probably wouldn't discuss areas in which we disagree.
I'm glad I went down there and took a few photos, it was an interesting few hours.
Thanks for reading,