By Ashley Barros
I climb on top of several friends’ shoulders, crawl over an awning and tight-rope walk for 50 feet. I am high above the unforgiving pavement of San Jose’s City Hall plaza. I am here to see Shaun O’Kelly.
Better known as Cracker, O’Kelly is 27 years old. He has been sleeping on top of a wall at City Hall for a week straight as part of the Occupy San Jose protest. Police have left him alone for fear that removing him would be too dangerous.
I’m only here to talk to Cracker. I’ve also brought him a mixtape.
When Cracker sees me, he leaps up from his post. “I have to insist you leave. I’m sorry,” he says. “They’re going to arrest me if anyone gets hurt, and they’ll arrest you as soon as you get down.”
Cracker starts tearing up and pulls me into a power hug.
“I’m sorry. I haven’t cried in such a long time,” he says. “I’m just realizing ... I’m so happy. This is the most important thing I’ve ever done. I’m inspiring people.”
The whole world is keeping tabs on anti-Wall Street protests. On Saturday, the San Francisco occupation marched against police brutality. Four days prior, police arrested more than 100 people in Oakland for camping at City Hall. The militant response by police to protesters angered many, and the iconic takeaway was pictures and video of protester and Iraqi war veteran Scott Olsen lying bloody and dazed, his skull fractured by a tear-gas canister fired by police.
This all happened after San Jose police raided the camp at San Jose’s City Hall plaza on Sunday, Oct. 23, arresting eight occupiers. In response, O’Kelly climbed atop the plaza structure in the dark of night. He now camps on a 5-foot-wide ledge.
While the Bay Area occupations persist, finding continuity between the three movements is difficult.
“I don’t even really understand what it’s about,” says Ben Reha, a San Jose State University photography major who is at San Jose’s protest on Sunday. “I mean, it seems as if they want the country to be run by the people. Is occupying the best thing to do to accomplish that?”
Each regional occupation is self-governed. Infrastructures are patterned after the original Wall Street camp in Manhattan via Twitter, Facebook, blogs and cell phones. Most occupations have formed a communal lifestyle that is uploaded and shared instantly.
Oakland is the current Occupy Wall Street epicenter. San Francisco has been consistently hectic, if less militant from the start. And yet San Jose’s occupation, consisting of five tents and a man on a ledge, continues to lag by comparison.
“It’s not hard for places like San Francisco and Manhattan to organize massive protests like that,” says Frank Door, owner of Element 151 Productions on First Street in San Jose. “Those places have those kind of people. The flaw in regional protests like this—San Jose isn’t exactly booming with activism. They’ll all go to San Francisco. And what they need to be doing is storming the field and occupying the fucking World Series or something. They’re just all on a camping trip. If you don’t have an agenda, it’s a vacation.”
Cracker’s camp in the sky sits alone, outfitted with a blue pup-tent, some pens and a notebook. He has nothing to play my mixtape.
“Some of the people up in Oakland are bringing me a laptop soon, so I can Skype and everything,” he says. “I’ll listen then.” This was Sunday.
Reports suggest Cracker has since renounced the Occupy San Jose movement. But the remaining few who keep their tents at City Hall by day and across the street by night to avoid arrest appear loyal to him and the litany of occupation causes.
Standing next to Cracker on a Sunday afternoon, I can’t tell if he is trapped or liberated—or both—above the occupation at City Hall. But just before addressing fellow occupiers by megaphone at the noon general assembly, he grabs ahold of me and says, “I’m just realizing I’ve never done anything meaningful before.”