Today I’m thrilled to publish an interview with Matias Viegener, artist, writer, teacher, and member of the collaboration Fallen Fruit. As a critical theorist and long-time activist, Matias feels the historical weight of the Occupy movement in comparison to other moments of solidarity and protest that he has experienced in his lifetime. Through his writing, one feels his struggle to contextualize and make sense of disparate events unfolding with lightning rapidity before his eyes – the result is a complex picture of the movement at this moment in time, enfolding the performative artworks of his colleagues, theoretical and historical precedents, political actions, and personal impact into a compelling narrative.

What are you making/interested in making with regards to Occupy LA & the Occupy movement in general? Why?

MV: Things have been moving so fast that mostly it’s all I can do to keep up with the daily developments, locally and internationally.  I’ve been politically active in various forms all my life, but as I look back on my involvements with the culture wars, ACT UP, abortion clinic defenses, the Gulf War and Iraq and Afghanistan protests, it seems to me I was only ever working on 5 or 10 percent of the problem – on aspects, symptoms and expressions of the problem.  For the first time in my life, I feel like there is a movement that has taken on if not all of the problem, 60, 70 or 80 percent of it.  A movement global in scope that connects war, unemployment, poverty, gender, racism and plutocracy with capital and global, corporate statism.   The implications of this critical matrix, and what it could lead to, has the oligarchy running more scared than I’ve ever seen it.  And for good reason.

What role do you feel you/your work plays in interfacing with the protest? What role would you like it to play?

MV: My work has become increasingly participatory over the years, both with Fallen Fruit and my own practice.  I’ve been working on a group of meditations or visualizations that have grown out of my long history with them.  Despite my cynicism for them (I could kindly say they’re a core New Age “technology”), they helped me greatly during a long hard depression about 15 years ago.  I tried everything from psychiatric drugs to cognitive therapy, psychoanalysis (the luxury option), hypnosis, tarot cards, and self-help books.  What I found was that self-help was often the most populist and certainly the cheapest of all forms of assistance.  I developed great respect for it while holding my so-called aesthetic judgment in abeyance.  I’ve been working on a series of visualizations, one of which is a Fruit Meditation, generated together with my collaborators in Fallen Fruit, David Burns and Austin Young.   Though led by a facilitator, the audience participates in a collective experiment that moves from the body and embodiment (through food in the case of Fallen Fruit) to our connectedness, our interdependence: the way we feed each other.

Frankly, I am quite puzzled as to how to make work about the moment in which we find ourselves.  This feels like nothing else.  The velocity is enormous.  There is far too much information to absorb.  Everything feels immediate and highly mediated; the reaction is often one of intense engagement and also alienation. We need new forms to express this.

I experience most of this historical moment not by being there but through various media.  Perhaps this was always true for people, but it feels especially pronounced now – perhaps because of a shift in social media technology.  I remember watching the Oliver North Iran-Contra hearings in the 80s, over the then-new CNet and CNN.  Suddenly the public was in the courtroom with the camera, unmediated by television news edits.  It was a new level of visibility, no commercials, no editing – just being there.

I’m attaching an example below of the kind of work that interests me: group authored, multi-vocal, and participatory.  Last Thursday (Nov 17, 2011) I was watching the protests in downtown LA at work, on my laptop, over livestream and ustream.  I was so agitated at what I saw I posted my thoughts on Facebook and many people began responding and cross posting.  What happened over that hour is reflected in the document below.  To me it offers a glimpse of both the time we live in and one way to convey it to others.

Many recent actions seem based on performing “scores” – why do you think this is, and how do you think these performances “perform” in the Occupy context?

MV: People at Occupy LA and at all the OWS-related movements around the world understand that they are not the first to organize in an oppositional way.  We’re not the first to recognize the diabolical link between politics and capital, nor the first to make connections between micro and macro, personal and political.

The performative aspect of protest has been around since at the least the 1960s.  Martin Luther King was assassinated when I was very young, and one of my earliest memories is of my mother taking us to a protest at which people of all races held hands, wept and sang together.  I didn’t understand what it meant, but I felt the power of the moment.  It was a social ritual, an unauthored performance, but definitely with a kind of script: the spirituals and folk songs everyone sang by heart (or learned on the spot).  It took decades before I felt the social intensity of that moment again, despite the anti-war protests of my childhood and the (South African) Divestiture protests I went to in college and grad school.  ACT UP was galvanizing in part because of the exceptional tactics that it developed, from performance protests to the Stop the Church action at St, Patrick’s Cathedral to the storming of newsrooms reporting on the Gulf War. The Wall Street intervention and shouting down Bush Sr.’s Secretary of Health at the World Aids Conference in 1989 were the peak of this for me.  Perhaps because it was literally gay men’s bodies that were in question, we developed an embodied activism that in a silent, deadly time (the late 80s) that felt more powerful than anything I had experienced before then.

Recently a few artists, spearheaded by Tucker Neel (via AAAAAA), staged a cleaning performance at City Hall.  Inspired by the Maintenance Art of Mierle Laderman Ukeles and an Angeleno feminist collective from 80s, Mother Art, we took soap, water, mops and brooms downtown to clean the contested sites of the Occupy movement.  It was a few days after the eviction of Zucotti Park, and we were thinking of the charges of uncleanliness and sanitation by which Bloomberg justified his decision.  Whose dirt is this, we wonder, especially in the age of reduced city and social services everywhere. The dirt is pervasive.  It’s not so much on us, but all over the system.  Cleaning actual dirt was energizing: doing something that is mostly private in public.  We worked silently for the most part, except when people questioned us.  The silence was important to me, as I hear too much, read too much, and my head often feels as if it’s bursting at the seams.  Three women from Mother Art joined us, and we were able to talk to them afterwards.  The connection with other generations working on similar issues with related strategies was amazing.

The Mic Check is a powerful new tactic, speaking in unison, speaking without or around technology.  But it sometimes makes me nervous, and I know I’m not the only one.  It can feel Orwellian or something, a groupspeak.  Performances like Mathew Timmons’ Credit readings really resonate with and interrogate the idea of the choral and how it both opposes and echoes state capitalism. Credit is Timmons’ 2008 conceptual writing project, collecting all the offers of credit cards and loans he received in mailings, advertisements and letters.  The personal information is blocked out, and the assembled volume of appropriated texts demonstrates both the vocabulary and the urgency with which credit is pushed on us.  It resonates strongly in this era of unemployment, credit default and poverty.  Timmons readings at OLA and other sites are usually choral, with the text spoken and sung by at least two performers, at turns harmonic and dissonant.  The effect is church-like and disruptive, highlighting the spell of credit, how monetized our world is, and how pervasive the tentacles of capitalism.
I see Owen Drigg’s Octupy in a related light.  The octopus is a tangible way of describing corporate power, a useful metaphor, but turning it into a participatory performance re-appropriates it.  Built with garbage, it becomes a public toy; it may be playful, but it’s serious play.  The octopus’s deployment works on multiple levels: the one vs. the many, the controller vs. the controlled, and the opposition between corporate bodies and natural bodies.  This “body” is both natural and artificial, a corporate body (lots of people in there) and a mythical body.  Without making an actual sound, it is both monophonic and polyphonic.

How do you feel the AAAAAA list is operating? What role is it playing? What are the challenges or benefits of this loose grouping?

MV: I’ve been reading and posting to the AAAAAA list since the beginning, through the fiasco of the naming process.  It’s still called “ART BLOC LA (name tbd)” of course, because there was never a final consensus on adapting AAAAAA.  I was both interested in and detached from the naming process.  I understood the desire for a name, and agreed that ART BLOC was not great (“bloc” is hard to swallow; East Bloc, voting bloc, etc) but provisionally adequate.  My desire since Sept 17th (the start of OWS) has been to be a citizen first, and then perhaps an artist.  The political weight of this moment so greatly exceeds the parameters of the art world that I am reluctant to spend time either talking with or critiquing it.  The art world has a lot to answer for, both in its treatment of artists and its complicity with plutocracy (“1% for art,” etc) – but at the moment the art world I inhabit is a local, temporary, often nomadic, artist-organized one, in which remarkable things are happening.

There was a frenzy of activity, participation and resentment around the naming process, so in essence it remains without a name.  This is symptomatic of Occupy overall, its trouble with names (the echo of “occupation”), leaders, and the formulation of a fixed agenda.  Jen Hofer and Rob Ray, who worked hard to organize the group and come up with a name (and more than a name but not actually a platform), were so battered by the experience they seem to have withdrawn from the conversation.  Things like this are lamentable.  While at the start I saw what seemed like parochialism in our conversations, things have broadened out a lot.  I’m on AAAAAA every day and it’s a primary source for me, along with Martha Rosler, McKenzie Wark and Jodie Dean on Facebook.  My ambivalence toward Facebook has evaporated for now: I’d never be able to find and filter this information alone, and I suddenly find the argument on the role of social media in new forms of activism more plausible.

There has been criticism of the Occupy movements and the horizontalism of the General Assembly – a polyphony of voices and lack of clarity in message or goal. What are your thoughts on this critique?

MV: I haven’t been to many General Assemblies, and few for their entire duration.  I find them hard, in part because I’m too cynical.  I’ve been through these processes before, most intensely with ACT UP.  Consensus and radical democracy are exhilarating because they differ so greatly from our failed system of representational politics.  They’re especially electrifying now because we’ve reached a threshold of dissatisfaction.  I went through consensus-based activism in my 20s and haven’t yet found a way to engage actively with the Occupy GAs or the committees.  So I just witness passively, and with love when I can.  Everyone needs to learn first-hand how hard it is to organize and to create truly democratic structures.  Active listening is probably the hardest thing of all, and I think that’s what makes organizing hard for artists and intellectuals.  We think we understand what’s being said before it’s finished, or that we could state it more succinctly, with more efficacy.  It doesn’t matter if we can.  In fact it’s often not productive for us to do so.  This is why I appreciate Vera Brunner-Sung, Elana Mann, Kristen Smiarowski, and Juliana Snapper’s collective ARLA, which has been so active at OLA.  They utilize the listening strategies developed by composer Pauline Oliveros along with Jungian psychology; they wear large papier-mâché ears and their sonic performances are followed by discussions of listening and silence – all aspects to active listening, manifesting presence and connectedness.  Adam Overton (with Signify, Sanctify, Believe and the Experimental Meditation Center) and his collaborative work with numerous artists embodies a different strain of the social practice I’m so compelled by.  From a background in experimental sound practices and energetic work, Adam’s projects articulate new collective modalities.  His work is gentle and immersive and more than anything, heterotopic.

Utopian leftist movements mostly speak in terms of homogeneity (who are we and what are our demands, what is the platform?), while I am interested in heterogeneity, contradiction and what Foucault calls heterotopia: where a single space swells up to contain contradictory and unlocatable possibilities, as in a city park that becomes a cruising zone for gay men at night.  I see Occupy as an accumulation of differences, a site of condensed difference.  This interaction of unionists, anarchists, the homeless, artists and grass-roots activists creates proximate density: a form of intelligence.   There’s a frenzy of transformative systematic thinking, a liveliness and almost delirium – what Lefebvre describes as Dionysian Marxism.  A sort of carnival in which things are turned topsy-turvy and beggars speak to burghers.   I’m still observing more than I’m responding, and as I said above, I’m wondering if this new historical moment, this heterotopic moment, requires us as artists to create new forms and new modalities, participatory, performative and expressive modalities, not just to represent the moment but just to keep up with it.   It feels to me like history is moving faster than we are.

What are your own hopes for the Occupy movement?

MV: I’ve been lucky enough to be in New York, Amsterdam and London in the last two months, and visit the Occupy sites there.  Since Sept 17th every spare moment has been devoted to visiting, reading on and thinking about the movement.  It infuses my teaching.  I think this is the great political moment of our time, and probably of our lives.  For a long time the determining historical event of this century seemed to be 9/11, and the decade that followed it was a terrible, fearful time, a deceitful decade.  With our fear-mongering politicians, a stunned electorate bounced between the center and the far right, with barely a flash of activism.  The power of the Occupy movement comes from its pioneering tactics and innovations in form – its amoebic shape – a refusal to be pigeonholed into one thing, and its resistance to speaking in terms the media insists on (an agenda of issues, a clear list of demands, a designated leader).  It posseses an organic form, a bottom-up structure, and an appropriate contempt for our governmental, political and legal institutions.  Most vitally, it has thrust the issue of wealth inequality onto an international stage.   This gives me hope that another world is possible.

“People are being arrested.”
This is a transcript from Nov 17, 2011 of an hour-long conversation on Facebook during the Occupy protest in downtown LA. I was watching the protest over livestream and ustream, live video feeds (on the ground, so to speak), while sitting in my windowless office at CalArts. Posting my impressions and reactions on Facebook turned into a remarkable public conversation of 40 to 50 people, including various students, artists, poets, political activists, journalists, former students, academics, friends from college, friends from New York, my brother, and acquaintances from Mexico, Brazil, Switzerland and Sweden. It runs chronologically backward in time, with the last things first, and the first things last. It reads in either direction. Something is captured here better than in any other form I can think of.


Matias Viegener In cafeteria there’s a mob too. Faces I know, all more or less the same age. Hard to talk. Stirfry or salad? My head is bursting at the seams. People are on the streets.
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Matias Viegener “Camera quality is shit at night.”
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Matias Viegener Both cameras are offline. One channel has a commercial. I’m going to get food. I thank you all, interlocutors and friends. People are being arrested.
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Millie Wilson, Steven Reigns and Alex Forman like this.

Matjames Metson what link are you watching? 11 minutes ago · Like

Matias Viegener www.livestream.com/owslosangeles and www.ustream.tv/channel/occupy-los-angeles-live. they are back online. · 10 minutes ago · Like · Comment

Matjames Metson thank you sir 8 minutes ago · Like
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Matias Viegener The being there and not being there at the same time. It’s like 9/11 but not so extreme. Watching but feeling as if you’re there. Knowing you’re not there. Knowing others are there. Others like you. And like me.
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Française Maischic, Chris Sollars, Harold Abramowitz and Jonathan Skinner like this.

Jonathan Skinner I particularly liked watching (here in solitary Ithaca) the live helicopter feed from NYC with the soundtrack of the LA feed, that crossover, its making perfect sense 14 minutes ago · Like · Comment 1

Matias Viegener Jonathan, sense now is different from sense then isn’t it? 13 minutes ago · Like

Jonathan Skinner making perfect senses (plural) 11 minutes ago · Like

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Matias Viegener “Our street.” “Whose street?” “Our street.”
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Kim Holleman Art and Sara Wintz like this.

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Matias Viegener The aesthete in me loves the blurred camera. Streaks of light. Chanting “from New York to LA, occupy the USA.” Rattling of the equipment.
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Stephen van Dyck, Marc Allen Herbst, Dont Rhine, Catalina Fog, Dizaster Royale, Anita Marie, Billy Hamilton, Millie Wilson, Harold Abramowitz and Alexandra Wagman like this.

Matias Viegener aesthetes, everywhere 9 minutes ago · Like · Comment 1

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Matias Viegener So we’re watching this together.
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Cara Baldwin it’s more than watching. 21 minutes ago · Like

Cara Baldwin but carry on. 21 minutes ago · Like

Matias Viegener more than watching, yes. but not being present. being other and being there at the same time. 18 minutes ago · Like · Comment 1

Anita Marie Thanks for the play by play. I’m stuck at work and dying to know what’s going on! 14 minutes ago · Like

Matias Viegener So many conversations. Cameras. Social media. How do you rally a crowd? No words to describe what I’m feeling. Connected and disconnected at the same time.

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Millie Wilson, Cara Baldwin and John Sevigny like this.

Matt Dunnerstick The voices are calling out my name, asking me to Occupy Vapor Street. 26 minutes ago · Like · Comment 1

Cara Baldwin I’ve wanted to find a new word, at least an adequate word for this feeling for some time. 24 minutes ago · UnLike · Comment 1
Matias Viegener an intensity. eerie. an event formation. uncanny. dialogic. disembodied. 23 minutes ago · Like

Cara Baldwin i have a handwritten list to my right. a third set of terms to describe our present condition. it begins with embodiment/durational performance/poesis 21 minutes ago · Like

Matias Viegener no, it begins with handwriting! 20 minutes ago · Like · Comment 2

David Weiner What’s the URL? 17 minutes ago · Like

Matias Viegener www.livestream.com/owslosangeles and www.ustream.tv/channel/occupy-los-angeles-live 15 minutes ago · Like · Comment 2 ·

David Weiner Thx 12 minutes ago · Like

Matias Viegener People are being arrested. Police put up a tent so no one can see. It’s peaceful they say (the camera people). All you see onscreen is lit office buildings. Streaks. White t-shirts.
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Matt Dunnerstick And there is a face on the screen. But it yet has no shape. The camera is too close and shaky for discernible edges. 27 minutes ago · Like

Matias Viegener I hear voices but no bodies. City has declared where the cameraman is standing “closed.” Move or get arrested. 26 minutes ago · Like

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Matias Viegener Helicopters. Chanting “you are the 99%.” So many people talking to me here, online, right now. Colin. Kim. Matt. Linda. Doug. We’re all here, aren’t we?
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Millie Wilson, Edeevardian Ear, Rose Kernochan, Kim Holleman Art, Jonathan Skinner, Alex Forman and Doug Rice like this.

Kim Conner When it is up, you can see NY on http://www.ustream.tv/theother99 The Other 99 on Ustream.TV: -Twitter- @TheOther99 @Iwilloccupy This channel i…See More 31 minutes ago · Like · Comment

Matt Dunnerstick I’m here it’s true. 30 minutes ago · UnLike · Comment 1

Colin Dickey Here here! 29 minutes ago · UnLike · Comment 2

Matias Viegener There is no there here. 27 minutes ago · Like · Comment 2

Linda Pollack present! 26 minutes ago · UnLike · Comment 2

David Reed I, yes, me too. 21 minutes ago · UnLike · Comment 1

Matias Viegener yes, you too. and you. and. 21 minutes ago · Like

Matias Viegener Chanting again. “We are the 99%.” Camera on the move. Very blurry. Thanks to the viewers. (me). (you).
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Millie Wilson likes this.

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Matias Viegener Is this the way it ends?
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Shoghig Halajian likes this.

Kim Conner not with a bang? 36 minutes ago · Like

Matias Viegener just with blurred cameras 36 minutes ago · Like

Colin Dickey Not with a bang, but a whimper. 35 minutes ago · Like
Matias Viegener and the dying of the light 34 minutes ago · Like
Matias Viegener (couldn’t resist a line of poetry) 34 minutes ago · Like
Kim Conner (me neither) 32 minutes ago · Like

Kim Conner (either) 32 minutes ago · Like

Kim Conner (or) 31 minutes ago · Like

Jonathan Jackson Poe … 27 minutes ago · Like

Colin Dickey At least it wasn’t The Doors. 26 minutes ago · Like 1
Matias Viegener it’s not the End either 25 minutes ago · Like 2

Ovsei Tender Berkman that is how it begins. 21 minutes ago · Like 2

Luiz Ricardo It’s the beginning. Re-evolution. 12 minutes ago · Like · Comment 1

Denise Knee-Sea Li Yes, and now it’s time to do some bardo-travelling and rebirthing into the next life… 7 minutes ago · Like

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Matias Viegener Much quieter. Camera has backed away, camera people are talking. Legal observers in green hats. A rabbi. People are being arrested. It’s not very climactic.
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Matt Dunnerstick I mistook this for an inventory of dreams 41 minutes ago · Like

Matias Viegener It is like dreaming. I’m here, they’re there. You’re somewhere else. 40 minutes ago · Like · Comment 1

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Matias Viegener “How many officers here are reserves” the camera man asks. “How many officers here really want to be here” an invisible bystander says. “They’re doing their job.” “At least they have jobs” another one says.
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Valentin Viegener, Susannah Copi, Tiffani Snow, Colin Dickey, Kim Conner, and Doug Rice like this.

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Matias Viegener Is it 400 protesters? Can’t see them all. Lots of cops. 300 for sure. Now the cop on the bullhorn is joking to the protestors. A moment of levity.
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Matias Viegener Black uniforms, but the protesters are in every color. It’s a stand-off. It’s not a riot. Why are the cops wearing riot gear? Their helmets look like lolly pops.
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Dizaster Royale and Elizabeth Treadwell Jackson like this.

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Matias Viegener Protestors hold hand-held cameras. Shaky pics, look like there are thousands of police and it’s hard to see how many protesters (would it be inverted if we saw police cameras?) Protesters chanting “the whole world is watching.”
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Matias Viegener Protesters chanting “the whole world is watching.” I’m watching on my laptop, in my office, at work. It feels like just me watching them. This can’t be the case. Alone and together at the same time.
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Tiffani Snow, Millie Wilson, Stephanie Taylor, Linda Pollack, Anita Marie and Stephen Krcmar like this.

Linda Pollack I’m watching on MY laptop in my studio in the garment district, on the 11th floor facing north, direction of the plaza- I can hear the helicopters, watch the live stream and read other’s comments. Surround sound / surround experience. 56 minutes ago · Like

Matias Viegener At CalArts, deep underground. I think my desk faces NY though. 56 minutes ago · Like

Brian Bauman the personal is political, but the personal is electronic because i keep my blog online, i upload my video diary, i find my sex in chat rooms and now i get my revolution on ustream. 21 minutes ago · Like

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Gino De Young Frequently inside the building being occupied, conflicted.
53 minutes ago · Like

Matias Viegener Gino, that’s another kind of intensity. All of this is so new. And fast. 53 minutes ago · Like

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Matias Viegener 300 police, green guns with rubber bullets, batons, riot helmets, guns cocked. 400 protestors chanting “this is what a police state looks like.”
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Cara Baldwin, Jacquelyn Davis, Jacob Wren, Floriaat Bleuin, Allison Carter, Harold Abramowitz, Millie Wilson, Joe Bussell, Amarnath Ravva, Edeevardian Ear, Francesca Penzani, Nicholas Grider, Ryan Majestic, Kim Holleman Art, Hamish Danks Brown, Rob Ray, Robert Frashure, Marcus Ewert, Christopher Hershey-Van Horn, William Dinan, Gretchen Frazier, Dizaster Royale, Chola Con Cello, Luiz Ricardo, Steven Nelson and Franck Perry like this.

Amy Tofte Wow. Be careful. 1 hour ago · Like

Matias Viegener I’m watching all this online. Scary too, tho in a very different way. 59 minutes ago · Like · Comment 1

Française Maischic in other news, the Brooklyn Bridge right now http://twitpic.com/7fk5ss The scene at the Brooklyn Bridge right now: on Twitpic 59 minutes ago · Like · Comment

Matias Viegener intense but I am staying with/in LA right now 59 minutes ago · Like · Comment 1

Matias Viegener (a New Yorker finally lets go of NY) 58 minutes ago · Like · Comment 2

Bruce Christopher Carr don’t let go!!! 52 minutes ago · UnLike · Comment 2

Susannah Copi sounds eerily like Tompkins Square Park in 1988. 10 minutes ago · Like

Anna Joy Springer Talk about good art. 2 minutes ago · Like

Matias Viegener Agonizing, and energizing, to watch people I know, half recognize, don’t recognize, getting hassled, arrested, resisting and persisting RIGHT NOW in downtown LA
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Anna Joy Springer, Sara Wintz, Elizabeth Treadwell Jackson, Doug Rice, Millie Wilson, Harold Abramowitz, Ruben Verdu, Luiz Ricardo and Ed Giardina like this.

Ruben Verdu keep it on!!! about an hour ago · UnLike · Comment 1

Doug Rice to break on through to the other side. the only real hope. 57 minutes ago · Like

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Matias Viegener Watching OLA protesters – people I know, half recognize, coming & going – being arrested, hassled, and trying to keep moving RIGHT NOW in downtown LA www.livestream.com Occupy Wall Street Los Angeles brings you live stream coverage and and pre-recorded video coverage from independent journalists on the ground at nonviolent protests around the world. The team is made of local supporters who are inspired by the movement by NY…
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Millie Wilson and Ryan Majestic like this.