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Matthew Lickona 5 p.m., Dec. 9
If you’ve been following Occupy San Diego at all, you’ll probably recognize Mike Garcia.
The well-dressed and articulate 48-year-old drug-abuse counselor has acted as a prominent media liaison with the group of protesters for “social and economic justice” alongside Ray Lutz (a 54-year-old activist and 2010 Democratic Candidate for Congress in California's 52nd congressional district who was arrested last month for placing a voter registration table on the Civic Center concourse) and John Kenney, who ended his 36-day hunger strike earlier this month.
Part of an explicitly leaderless movement, Garcia explains how he came to be an impromptu spokesperson for the ongoing protest which began on October 7 and to date has seen 139 arrests, 29 of which have resulted in charges.
How did you get involved with Occupy San Diego?
“I guess you could say I’ve always been an armchair liberal. I’m definitely socially liberal and at the same time I’m conservative fiscally and in other areas. I’m definitely anti gun control. There are a lot of areas where I would not agree with a purely liberal point of view, but the point is I’ve always done it from home. I would discuss politics with friends and family, donate money online, argue with coworkers. But it wasn’t until Occupy that I got up off the couch and got involved.
“I think I’m like most people in that economic circumstances got me off the couch. I spent 12 years in the mortgage industry. I was making six figures at one point and, like many Americans, when the bubble burst, I found I was not prepared for it. I gave up many creature comforts and went back to school (City College) in the substance abuse counseling field. I found that there is no more money for school. There is no money for health care. The culmination of all of that got me off the couch to do something about it.
“When I got to Occupy I found so many people who felt the same way and appreciated what I was doing. I never protested before. I’d never written a press release. I’d never held a press conference. Before this I was living a very calm, quiet, anonymous life. And I have to admit there’s a certain rush to it. I’m there. I’m doing it. It’s exciting. I’ve met some of the most fantastic people in the world. It’s truly changed my life in a way I can hardly describe.”
Do you think the ongoing squabbles over municipal code with the San Diego Police Department are distracting from the original goals of the Occupy movement?
“I think that depends on who is looking for and reporting the information. We don’t want to battle with the police. Much of what we do would benefit the police - their pension funds, the kids they’re sending to college, their overall standing as middle-class citizens. The unfortunate thing is that there is a long history with civil disobedience where the people upstairs demand that the police use these tactics. When we talk to police as individuals, they have no interest in doing this. They are ordered to do this. They say: I’ll lose my job if I don’t follow orders, and I can’t afford to do that in this economy.
“There have been a lot of illegal searches and seizures. The police took an Amercian flag from a veteran and issued a citation. They played grinch on Christmas and confiscated a tree. They stopped people from bringing leftover Christmas food to protestors. We had a showdown a couple weeks ago regarding illegal lodging, and we actually got the police to change their tactics. Instead of arresting people and taking them to jail, they began following their own rules and offering people who are asleep a shelter bed. If none are available, people are allowed to sleep until 5 a.m.
“The civil disobedience allows us the forum to get our message out to people who it resonates with. The vast majority of people - be they left, right, or down the middle - agree that our system of government is broken.”
What is your response to the perception that Occupy San Diego has been losing steam since beginning nearly three months ago?
“Obviously the numbers aren’t the same as the beginning of October when we had 100 tents and could draw from 500 to 1500 people for a protest. But we make up for it with the absolute resolve and commitment of the people there. It’s not that we don’t have things to do or families to be with. We have resolve.
“A homeless woman who was arrested at the Civic Center the other day told me that there are many places she could be that are more comfortable where she won’t be harassed by cops. But she wouldn’t be anywhere else. Occupy is where she wants to be. So although numbers are less, the resolve of the people is much stronger, and I think that backbone will serve us very well in the spring time. It’s forging stronger leaders for a leaderless movement.”
Occupy San Diego will be occupying the corners of Genesee and Balboa from noon to 3 p.m. on January 1 as part of a new Occupy Corners action.
“Instead of protesting en mass, we protest on individual coroners of busy intersections,” says Garcia. “We are allowing people to come up to us and ask what’s going on.”
A dozen to twenty protestors will be boarding a bus on January 12 and at least four others will be flying to Washington D.C. to take part in the Occupy Congress and Occupy the Supreme Court actions.
“Our plan is to Livestream at every stop, even its just a few minutes,” Garcia says. “We plan on getting out and protesting on the street. We may even visit a member of congress or city council. Many occupiers will be joining us on the bus along the way."
Donations to the trip can be made here.
Says Garcia: “We’re keeping our focus on the message of Occupy Wall Street, which is: our government is broken, it no longer represents we the people, and it’s up to us to fix it.”