What’s left unsaid and undone could be a future too. — Les Wade
Last fall, Christian Hawkey invited a number of writers worldwide to participate in an experiment based on Georges Perec’s An Attempt at Exhausting a Place in Paris (trans. Marc Lowenthal, Wakefield Press, 2010, original French publication 1975). Over three days in October 1974, Perec sat in Place Saint-Sulpice, recording “everything” he saw, in an attempt to capture what he called the “infraordinary” — “what happens when nothing happens.” So, over the same three days in October of last year, less than a week before the one-year anniversary of Occupy Oakland, I made four visits to Oscar Grant Plaza, the location of the Occupy Oakland camps, General Assemblies, and many related actions. I was most interested in how one might even begin to describe/document a place (much less “exhaust” it) so laden with history and memory, not just any history, but a very raw and loaded history of violent contestations over the very public space I was now attempting to observe/record, histories increasingly under erasure as the city worked hard to remove any visible traces of Occupy’s presence in the plaza and downtown environs. Needless to say, the challenge to keep my writing aimed towards the “merely” descriptive/objective would be impossible, just as it would be difficult to document the “what’s-no-longer-there” that is still very much present and palpable in the landscape for those of us who experienced so much time, energy, and collective action at Oscar Grant Plaza.
Six months later, I typed up my notes, cut them into groups of 1-2 sentences, & then went back to Oscar Grant Plaza to “(de)compose” this report. During the middle of a “normal” downtown Oakland workday, I used my strap-on lecturn to perform a mobile site-specific “reading” of the fragments, sprinkling them on the lawn in order to re-order them, to disrupt the chronological, to further shuffle the observational notes already cut-through with all that has happened at OGP (& all it continues to represent) & yet is no longer visible to the kind of infraordinary optics Perec’s project attunes us toward. This is not to suggest that the banalities of everyday life & public space are somehow “less so” than the more extraordinary events of Occupy Oakland & its related offshoots & actions, but rather that the absence of the extraordinary — the events deemed worthy of writing about — still infuses the ‘merely’ ordinary with a kind of tangible vibration beyond what the simple practice of focused (“writerly”) attention already adds to the sensorium. In other words, there’s no longer any presence of Occupy to observe/write about at OGP, & yet I can’t not at all times write/think about Occupy at OGP.
Thus perhaps between every line — in the parataxic scissors cut between each sentence — breathes all that remains unsaid, unwritten, erased, yet still alive & potent, & in the same way, perhaps within the infraordinary of as-yet uncontested/unliberated spaces we might begin to see the potential for extraordinary possibilities.
Oakland : June 2013
[transcript of video text]
People continuing to enter Rotunda. Some big event. Somebody yelling across street in front of Rite Aid, seemingly to no one in particular. Two bikes locked up next to BART stairs. But – what kind of task – meaningless? vs. tasks with use value (cleaning dishes, serving food at the BBQs…). On screen is PDF of Perec’s “Approaches to What?” Said “Controlled burns & formally [formerly?] prohibited plant matter” then repeated it louder. One other person sitting on amphitheater steps, looks like B—, there was sound of loud voice speaking, first I thought he was on the phone, then someone further away, then kept looking around, now realize it’s him, talking to himself. Said “Controlled burns & formally [formerly] prohibited plant matter” then repeated it louder. Walk around perimeter of plaza to front steps. More trash than last night. Security car still parked on ‘stage’ but no one in it. What’s needed perhaps is finally to found our own anthropology, one that will speak about us, will look in ourselves for what so long we’ve pillaged from others… Sit on plaza steps, two people come up from BART and get on their bikes, one looks like X— from OO/FTP, he seems to recognize me too, but it’s dark, I say hey, he seems to say hey back or the other way around. Otherwise all quiet in plaza. If I turn 150 degrees to my right I can see the Frank Ogawa bust. Getting up to move locations. 8:30 pm.
Pass another guy in dark recess in front of whatever that building is, going through his things. Over to my right a few signs — tho again I know to look for them since I know they’re there, & curious why none over near where I sit. Another couple approaching, he’s white with shorts, in those awful feet-bootie shoes or whatever, in his hands a pair of what look to be climbing shoes. Black guy with black hoodie pulled tight over his head (to stay warm, it looks like) passes, asks me for a cigarette, then as he turns to walk away says, it’s not safe to have that thing out here (meaning my laptop I assume), then later, you could be the police. ‘Nothing’ going on. “Controlled burns & formally [formerly?] prohibited plant matter.” Black man walking slowly by, large green pack, 4 full plastic bags, backwards cap, sets all his shit down on bench. Guy still talking to himself, smoking cig, turns to look at me, wondering if he’s paranoid about me writing & watching. Almost stepped on dead rat, which I didn’t see til I had to turn around to pull PJ, who’d stopped to sniff it, thus pulling on her leash. Now walking behind me, towards BART. She has red hair & a shoulder bag. It’s like the crosswalk beeping never stops — since one way is always green, perhaps. Security cop texting across lawn. But where is our life? Where is our body? Where is our space? (Not what but where). (Crosswalk light beeps go). Speakers over by ‘the plaza steps’ (of all the steps those are the steps) — Now out of view so I can’t describe. Noticeable difference b/t who walks thru plaza & who hangs out here. The latter seemingly w/ nowhere else to go. I have a subjective experience. Is that the endotic? Feeling this (writing) is boring — & not ‘good boring’ — & not ‘boring enough’ to become something else — What we need to question in bricks, concrete, glass… Describe your street. Describe another street. Compare. Getting colder. 8:58 pm. Late for the reading.
Crosswalk signal beeps green. Passing woman kicks bottle cap & it registers as sound, 20+ yards away. There’s a party horn in the distance, some kids at the bus stop talking shit, bicyclist goes past. BART is closed. Writing on laptop. Rat runs across lawn to oak tree. Security cop’s car was running. Why. So much depends / on the gray / metal fence / alongside the plaza. To my left sitting on lawn steps, black man w/ plaid flannel shirt, blue cap, with black woman, her sliver bag on ground. I take them to be a couple. The oak tree is lit up from beneath. Get to that later. I ask if he wants me to let them run on lawn so he can chase them, earn his $, he sez “I’m at work, not looking for work.” Sitting on bench alongside OGP lawn / facing south / slight breeze, overcast, colder “than usual” (?), wearing two layers & AK hoodie, jeans & boots. Rat scurries beneath my feet. Emji sits down next to me. 12:55 am.
Want to write that she’s ‘non-descript’ but only cuz they’re now out of view so I can’t describe. &/or maybe ‘non-descript’ means just that – once out of view, hard to recall anything to describe — nothing ‘stands out.’ But the endotic… Partly cloudy. Cold breeze rustling leaves on ground. Maple, I think — lightly brown, gives a little taste of autumn tho not much with the min-palms & oaks. Green tea resting on large concrete planter box to my right, strong smell of piss. ‘T-money’ on bench in black markers. Lots (?) of flies nearby, makes me look for garbage/attractions. This time around, red converse hi-tops, black tights rolled up calves (gray under), red shirt, black leather bag w chain or rhinestones, looks to be either side of 18 (?), walks by me a 3rd time & around corner. (But the humanist focus here? why ANTHROpology?). One approaching me, goes under bench. More arriving — most on lawn — some pecking — sod food? grass seed? They all leave in a flurry but one, who lingers then splits after the rest. Dogs stand up, are curious. Someone walking across plaza with slight limp, walking very fast then slows down. Rat runs out from under tree. Can’t tell if flowers still there. No one has features. Sorry this is so uninteresting. 2:48 pm. Unclear what event might be. Flip side of card is ad for “fashion forward show for the community” Oct 28 @ Oak Metro Opera House $40 turn the card back again to see an OO insignia in corner, above the FB & twitter logos. How phone makes for blinders (obvs). There’s an orange cone on its side 15 yds to my left. Writing with pencil that says THIS MACHINE KILLS FASCISTS. No idea where they are parking cars downtown Sat night. Various lights no in surrounding buildings, but most if not all appear empty of people. Clear sky, cold but not freezing. Don’t recall how crowded any of these places got pre-OO around weekday lunch times, but always shut down on weekends. Have seen 3–4 private security cops. Presume they are protecting lawn & not policing behavior/’lifestyle crimes’. Tho I knew this already so perhaps am ‘seeing’ it now as such only for knowing — & knowing that it’s off limits currently — & that the fence only recently came down — Sprinkler on in 3 corners of lawn, of course brings to mind Lake Quan. Across lawn, next to the oak tree, flowers — shrine? — basket, some sort of vase, one plastic cup w flowers, spilled onto side, maybe a candle? Can see lights on inside 6 different CH windows but no evidence of anyone inside. Wondering if Radio is bugged upstairs. At what point do paranoia jokes become possible? White woman with nametag on black jacket walks by behind me. Small prop plane flies overhead. Man goes downstairs into BART station. They’ve each finished the small rawhides I gave them, it’s 5:15 & there are 10 windows open in City Hall, 25% of total, & the crosswalk is beeping go. Immediately fighting off the objective, as well as memory. White pickup goes by, reminding me that R— called earlier, ½ moon up in SE, vertical sign that reads (vertically) “Oakland City Center” — I’ve pissed there during GA, on building next to it a For Lease sign. I thought he was on the phone, then someone further away, then kept looking around, now realize it’s him. Dogs’ ears are up & rotate to follow sounds in multiple directions. I’ve not exhausted this place. 5:30, took 5 min. break on phone.
Tweet from M— about GA/OOFC but not clear what went down. There are 3 ‘floorlights’ shining up onto the bust of Frank Ogawa. Weird effects. 2 boys on bikes. No one has features. Cloud cover thinning so a bit sunlight, find myself squinting — & thus scowling? — w/o sunglasses, which I didn’t pack. Maybe ‘non-descript’ means just that – once out of view, hard to recall anything to describe — nothing ‘stands out.’ Passed woman w pink bike, Polynesian I believe, one shoe off, black sock, pink h2o bottle that looks like a child’s. 4 different sprinklers now on. Too cold to #makenothinghappen. At least not solo, not now. The amphitheater really does amplify sound, even tho it doesn’t look like it would. He’s got black hair, pants, bubble jacket, backpack, glasses, “it’s like watching the grass grow” he sez (to himself?) — (!) Dogs tied to handrail. Woman w pink bike sitting across corner of lawn, 2 women walk by, blues sneakers maroon pants, both w h2o bottles, green shoulder bag, jeans, red back pack, too far gone, that’s it, that’s — them? Mail truck drives by. Buster yawns. They both turn heads when someone drops something. Now 3 guys at gazebo. ‘Hanging out’ & shooting shit outside door. 5:05. Going to stand & move.
The couple continues on, chatting, she’s shorter than him, red shirt, her hair’s up, he’s got a h2o bottle, she says “no” but I can’t make out the rest, someone whistling in the distance, yelling, from where I sit I count 62 lights on in the plaza, plus 4 beneath oak & one turned off/not functioning. I’ve not yet exhausted this place. Kid walking by talking on phone. “Cartoons can take you places.” Man sleeping in same spot as last night, wrapped in blanket, lying flat on back on pavement next to lawn. “Sketchy” is not an objective description. Difference between bodies in public spaces in day and at night. Walk around CH to piss, through sliver of space between City Hall and Clay St parking garage can see sliver of moon. Flowers are still there. Writing as an aid to presence? Seeing? But then — toss the writing if/since it’s just a tool? Walked to amphitheater. Maybe he’s actually white or mixed, salt-n-pepper beard, my phone vibrates in my jacket pocket. PJ’s sniffing the air. 4:55. 2:44. Feel like I’m just getting started but ‘need to’ (‘should’) split.
Next to me on bench is colorful card for “The Sophisticated Hyphy Show.” & look at that — hosted by Shake Anderson. Asian guy returns, turns out he’s the security guy, gets in his car. Then comes over & asks to pet the dogs. Suddenly pigeons, at least 30. One approaching me, goes under bench. Bright Red shirt on kid — not a kid — man in 40s? — w blue backpack & weird mismatching tie, shirt untucked, long arms, brief eye contact — he half-signs? — is this parataxis? It’s now 1:56. “Get Up, Stand Up” on radio now — does not pass my attention that we’re at OGP listening to this — (who’s ‘we’ Are ‘we’ all ‘listening’ — in the same way?). Man sleeping in sleeping bag on pavement 2 feet from lawn. 2 of the security cops just stand, the other walks around, more social. He has white earphone in one ear. Walkie talkie strapped to belt on side hip. And how to describe what’s not here. It’s 2:18. Dude stops & I turn to watch dog roll on its back, as if scratching on the ‘ground’ — cement? plaza-street? — wrong order — I turn to look, man stops — either way, no causality — Security cops have black caps that read SECURITY in big white letters. Yet resistant to categorize. Sound of bus stopping, that burst of expressed air — brakes? Brief eye contact — he half-signs? — is this parataxis?
Wrong order — I turn to look, man stops — either way, no causality. Had been putting off describing woman sitting nearest me — at 90 degree angle, in red, occasionally talking on earpiece (?) phone – mic — ‘handless mic’ (?) but now she’s gone. Black woman w black jacket, gloves, & wool cap jogs up CH steps & goes inside. It’s not just the tents & camp that are gone, but the smell. My fingers hurt from so much writing. Just realized I am sitting about 10 yards from where I was arrested, almost exactly one year ago. For everything I write — SO WHAT? Why does it matter? Security cops have black caps that read SECURITY in big white letters. Large woman on large bike, smiling. Old Asian woman ‘shuffling’ — red rain jacket, with hood pulled tight around face. Breeze picks up, smell of piss stronger. Watching myself (‘watching’?) as I ‘decide’ who is & isn’t likely homeless among folks here — ‘Nothing’ going on. Woman walks by behind me. Single small bike locked up. Woman asks two other passersby for a light. They have one. Now — ‘back to normal’ — ? No pigeons, no tents. And what counts as ‘objective’ description — or, since I obvs don’t believe in ‘objectivity’ — something approximating ‘mere’ description. Sound of crosswalk signal — ok to cross. Using gender for short hand — why not just person — since for sake of ‘record’ doesn’t matter. Want to put pen down & ‘just’ observe, though then I’d likely daydream or check out. Man walks by reading his cellphone. Security guard talking to 2 other guys outside door. Oh, Running Wolf does have his sage stick burning. Want to write ‘hate that shit.’ Am wearing the same thing I wore this afternoon, tho I did bring another layer if it gets colder. Observation & documentation requires some degree of focus & presence but it’s not like I feel more alive. Dude bikes by CH. Have to text myself or I’ll forget —
What is presence. City Hall — no sign of people. I have a flask of bourbon in my backpack. Just noticed there are 5 flags on CH, not 3. So ‘little activity’ today — compared to what? Not sure if I’m ‘present’ but focus on description — even if ‘soft focus’ — does keep my mind off other shit — the shit week, stress of to-do, fatigue, depression — even now, just making a list doesn’t necessarily trigger them — fire truck sirens approaching. Parked in garage & walked down concrete stairs where I’ve pissed during GAs & nearby #OO actions. Couple is back, woman with red shirt now has h2o bottle, she sez “dude I get you” & “I feel so good right now.” They walk across the lawn, both in short sleeves. Noise amplified by reflection of City Hall, ‘amphitheater’ — sounds reverberated somehow. Dude w red bandana, masked up. Why. Observing myself being observed. Not the same as ‘self-consciousness’ — I’m object, just information, data. As if Perec’s model is the model to work from. “After” P — Am I ‘noticing’ anything? Noting? or just ‘jotting notes’. Why write self-reflection now — it’s happening, always, but not ‘part of the project’. There’s not really shadows here. 2:36. Something approximating ‘mere’ description. Cop car on 14th in front of Walgreens — sticks out as til now been ‘ignoring’ traffic. Get to that later. 2 boys, one woman. young. Leader does the talking. Woman trails behind, seems more aware of immediate surroundings. I’m not stoned, so I’m seeing/sensing this way & not that. Doubtful that these descriptions would give any reliable ‘picture’/map. Clock tower bell tolls 12:45. Emji’s standing & taking notes. There’s not really shadows here. But it’s not like I feel more alive. If you’ve not been to OGP, doubtful that these descriptions wd give any reliable ‘picture’/map. But it’s not like I feel more alive. 3 flags on City Hall — US flag, gold/green OAKLAND flag w/ oak tree and 1838 (?) & what looks like CA state flag — not enough wind. So much I’m leaving out — but not conscious of why choosing what — other than cops, bright clothes, loud sounds, pigeons fly by again, movement. Walking back to truck, pass alley where two women in full-length saris are smoking, what appears to be a pipe or joint, but can’t tell. Someone walks in front of City Hall. Man sleeping in same spot as last night, wrapped in blanket, lying flat on back on pavement next to lawn. No pigeons. No tents. 12:25.
Need to think about why avoiding people. So much minor activity / So much to describe / yet why choose what — in what order? Security cop texting across lawn. What is presence. Am I ‘noticing’ anything? Or just ‘jotting notes’. Looks like maybe some chalkupy — going to walk by before I split. Meanwhile crazy guy split — didn’t notice. Warming up (the weather, not me). Bus on 14th heading E, stops in front of Walgreens. Today — compared to what? Something about this weather, location, guy sleeping near me, the lawn. Immediately fighting off the objective, as well as memory. Guy bikes by behind me, trailing what looks to be a ladder about 12-15’ long, resting length-wise on an apparatus w/ wheels, a large ‘ski bag,’ odd silver/metal ‘fans’ hanging off ladder in back. Polly Jean & Buster here w/ me, leashes tied to bench, we’re facing west, sitting on plaza to north of lawn, near steps where we gathered pre-2nd raid and NYE pre/post Bring the Noise/FTP. They all leave in a flurry but one, who lingers then splits after the rest. Now — ‘back to normal’ — ? Private security guy alone in car parked on amphitheater ‘stage’. Have to remember to soften my gaze. Yet resistant to categorize in writing/describing — it’s shorthand — Reflection of passing car lights on glass doors to City Hall make them appear as if opening. Pigeons back. Dog barks behind me. And how to describe what’s not here. Going to stand & move.
Overcast, w dark orange glow. Getting colder. Black guy walking by, rat runs out in front of him, guy stomps foot and laughs “did you see that?” Grass is spotty — mostly green & trimmed/cut, but some lighter almost-yellow. Otherwise all quiet in plaza. Across 14th woman in a high-waisted long skirt, looks by the way she’s walking that she’s in uncomfortable heels. 12:39 — time goes by ‘quickly’ — compared to — ? Cliché but plaza does feel stagey. The security guards look bored. 2:04. Taking break to trade texts w/ J— about X.
I don’t recall rats at the camp but there must have been? Need to think how/why Perec’s ‘isn’t’/ ‘What he leaves out makes the music’. “14th & Bway” will always signify to me in very specific ways. Is that the endotic? My phone sez Berkeley considering ban on homelessness. Double long bus drives down 14 towards Bway, stops in front of Walgreens, another behind it. Still ‘putting off’ describing people. Observing myself being observed. Not the same as ‘self-consciousness’ — I’m object, just information, data. Banner hangs over front door: Oakland Fire Dept / Salutes / Fire Prevention Week. Sorry this is so uninteresting. Brief eye contact — he half-signs? — is this parataxis? OGP only exists as a potent site after the event. The rats are always larger than I think they … ‘should be’ — ? As if life reveals itself only by way of the spectacular… W/o the camp some of the cats ‘back to’ crazy hippies. Sod is fairly new — tho I knew this already so perhaps am ‘seeing’ it now as such only for knowing — & knowing that it’s off limits currently — & that the fence only recently came down — & that it might go up again pre-#O25 — nobody knows tho that’s the word —Hella pigeons, all clustered — maybe guy sitting there just threw them something? Plane overhead. Lone Asian woman now walking other way — ‘back’? — across plaza, white plastic bag swinging from left hand. 2 guys open door to green gazebo. Somebody coughs — a ‘hacking cough.’ Continually comparing this writing to similar models/styles. 8 Asian women walk by, in clusters of 2’s & 4’s — just off work? It’s 4:48. Holding Perec booklet between left forefinger & middle finger, left thumb holding notebook open. Noticed her — or decided of all the people to ‘write about’ (v ‘describe’?) her 1st cuz she strode on grass. Thought for a sec I saw Melvyn. Wanted to go talk w/ him, get a temp check. Black woman w shorts & holding plastic bag talking w/ security cop. Pigeon wings flapping — they’re gone. There’s Running Wolf. No sign of sage. Again, feels like this is uninteresting but it’s something to focus on. Tasks. The sound of my backpack zipper reminds me of camping — opening the tent ‘door’ — very slight breeze — more like the moderate chill in the air is just letting itself be known as such — as the night air around me. Have to text myself or I’ll forget — dogs seem bored — &/or I’m projecting. Kids gone from amphitheater. 2 men exit City H while I’m describing sign & flags but in both cases I miss seeing them ‘actually’ exit. How to describe what’s not here — not just the camp, but ‘everything’ that could be but isn’t. Sadness. Or: saudadé. Still curious why OPD never staged raids from down there. Lots of folks ‘lingering’ — hanging out? On or around ‘main steps’. Person of indeterminate gender walks by, swinging arms. So much minor activity / So much to describe / yet why choose what — in what order? Sound of bird or rat nearby.
Loud car engine draws my attention — then another — it’s a truck on Bway, now a large US Food semi going south on Bway. Asian man sweeping leaves out from of (closed) Rotisserie Deli. Red light flashing slowly on top of building one block or so ‘over’ (14th & Clay?). Taking break to trade texts w/ J— about XX. Unclear what event might be. Trying to figure out how to describe the music now — I think it was the trumpets that drew my attention to it. Then he splits to go on his rounds. Why write self-reflection now — it’s happening, always, but not ‘part of the project’. Now — ‘back to normal’ — ?