Now that the current phase of the Occupation movement—one that involved camping out in public places—is drawing to a close, thoughts turn to other, even more effective venues and exploits. Occupying the front lawns of mansions owned by the 1% would certainly send a message, although a very brief one, since trespassing happens to be illegal.
And then it hit me: it just so happens that the 1% own, roughly speaking, 99% of the really desirable beachfront properties, while the 99% have to make do with the 1% or so of the coastline that is reserved for public use. The 1%ers really like that “million-dollar view,” and the seaside mansion is one of their ultimate status symbols. Try to approach them from land, and you will quickly get spotted by vigilant local police and private security and won’t make it very far—well shy of making any sort of statement, or even getting on the 1%er’s radar.
But it just so happens that, according to US Federal law, they can only own property down to the low water line. In absence of specific regulations (marine sanctuary, public beach, municipal harbor, shipping lane, military reservation and so on) everything below the low water line is considered public anchorage. (It is everything below the high water line in Canada, which means that you can even occupy the beach at low tide and still not be trespassing.) Any vessel can anchor within a few meters of the 1%ers property, entirely spoiling their precious view with gigantic protest signs hanging from the mast, but if the boat is manned and is legal, then there is not a thing that they can do about it. On a calm evening, you can sail up, anchor, raft up, put up a big sail to use as a screen, and project a movie onto it. Eat the Rich, anyone? Then film their reaction, and project that next, with subtitles.
You might think that getting a sailboat flotilla together takes a lot of money. The boats that 1%ers such as Senator John Kerry prefer certainly are super-pricy, but then there are also many boats that can be had for free or for $1 (provided you agree to sail it away), or for a very small sum. For most people, sailboats are luxury items, and in these hard times many owners can’t afford to keep them. They would like to get what they think their boats are worth, but since they can’t, and since the boats are costing them money they don’t have just sitting there, they are often willing to part with them for very little money. The trick is to make a ridiculously low offer sound non-insulting.
If a sailboat is engineless or has an outboard engine of 9.9 horsepower or less (which doesn’t count as a real engine) then it is automatically grandfathered in and doesn’t even need to be registered: just paint a name and a port of call on the transom, and it is legal. If it has an inboard diesel that runs, pull it out and sell it, and use the proceeds to finance the purchase of the boat itself, sometimes with money left to spare.
Would you like a more permanent occupation? Rotate vessels through the anchorage, going on an overnight cruise to nowhere every fortnight or so, keep all of the boats occupied at all times, and you are still legal. To establish a permanent base of operations that doesn’t move, buy a mooring (a stationary mushroom anchor with a buoy chained to it) and use it to park a habitable but non-seaworthy vessel such as a houseboat.
There are some safety requirements, but they are minimal: life jackets and life preservers, sanitation (a composting toilet works well), functioning navigation lights, fire extinguishers and flares (unexpired ones), and an anchor. Land cops can’t touch you. It helps to have a marine VHF radio. When hailed, you have to know radio protocol and marine terminology, and use it. If boarded, you have to cooperate. Some things are stricter than on land: get caught with any drugs, and the vessel gets arrested (as well as you). Neglect boat maintenance in a serious way, and it will be declared “manifestly unsafe” and scuttled, and you will be set ashore. But the water is generally free of riffraff as well as police brutality. Everyone tends to be polite, safety-conscious and just does their job.
You might have some issues with private security, who might not be particularly interested in following the law. But then sailors in pirate-infested waters have found a neat trick that really works: shooting skeet. It’s quite challenging to hit a clay pigeon from a boat, so you will need to bring plenty of shotgun shells. It is good sport, and also a peaceful yet effective show of force that works on pirates, and will certainly make the private Mickey Mouse cops think twice about challenging you further.
For something more to do, why not join a yacht race? Yacht races are organized for and by some of the wealthiest 1%ers, who like to show off before each other. Join them just for the downwind leg (their fancy racing sloops are all about tacking upwind and actually don’t do that well downwind) and unfurl a gigantic square sail with a protest sign painted on it. You might even win (that leg).
And so I hope that come next summer there will be Occupy flotillas floating up to crash swank exclusive seaside gatherings by planting themselves directly in the middle of the million dollar view and doing what Occupy already does very well: trolling the 1%ers really, really hard, 100% legally, and giving the 99%ers a chance to start thinking about getting out of that tired old pantomime sheep costume and into something a bit more fashionable.