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#occupyLA

October 11, 2011

Slightly Mad?

I read on Twitter that Tom Morello played a set at #occupyLA, which strikes me as a very “LA” thing to be happening at a protest. I show up a day later, though, a bright Sunday afternoon when not much of anything is going on. My aim is to see how the protests operate on a day-to-day basis, to see who is here, why, and how they have structured a life around a protest with no end in sight.

Unlike the protests in New York and elsewhere, most of the protestors have set up in tents that dot the lawns on each side of the square plot bordering city hall. There are no celebrities when I arrive, and no press to speak of. I count two cops who stand near the edge of the square observing. The square is bathed in sunlight. Food trucks have parked on one side of the camp selling waffles, pork buns. There are about as many tents as will fit on the lawn of city hall, and no more.

On one side of the square, some sort of Native American dance is taking place. One girl in the middle of the dancers beats a deep drum. Periodically, an elder woman shouts into a megaphone indistinctly about “unity.” On the other side of the building, people take turns at a PA system that has been set up on the steps of the hall. When I first arrive, someone in a tie-dyed t-shirt is singing a song called “everything is beautiful.”

I take a lap around city hall. At various points, unofficial leader types have gathered small crowds who listen to spiels about whatever issue is most important to the speaker. I hear talk of triple-A rated toxic assets and CEO to employee compensation ratios. Amid the typical slogan signs that are propped up against tents (“End wars, not social programs,” “I’ll accept corporations as people when Texas executes one”) there are more detailed posters dedicated to revealing 9/11 conspiracy theories and the terrors of the Illuminati. Everywhere, cogent, practical solutions for various economic injustices are paired side by side with the extreme, the absurd.

The microphone on the steps has been handed over to some pseudo-official sounding speaker. He launches into a summary of recent actions taken by the fed, and here again mishmashes the practical with the extreme; he extolls the virtues of reinstating Glass-Steagall and calls for Bernanke to be tried for treason in the same breath. A small crowd cheers the speaker on. Occasionally someone with a DSLR and a big lens will shoot pictures as they pass through. Two small carts sell what look like hot dogs wrapped in bacon, along with fried green peppers and pungent piles of onions.

It seems hard to categorize the people here. I see relatively few student-types, instead mostly people who look in their 30s and 40s. Young parents tote kids and dogs. There are tents set up for distributing supplies and food, but it feels more like a small festival than a makeshift community. There is none of the ingenuity I see from New York, with charging stations and pop-up libraries, the type of resourcefulness that comes about as a result of having to go without. Someone holds up a sign that says “guided tour,” but I pass.

There are people here one would not hesitate to call “hippies.” There are prim women in hats, greasy, shirtless men, athletic types on bikes, eccentric artists and focused activists. Likewise, the causes represented here are numerous. There are obvious commonalities, however: everyone seems relatively calm, for one. Even those engaged in heated debate are more energetic than they are angry. The mood is of a tempered enthusiasm, of optimism in the effectiveness of their occupation. From the idealistic (“We’re really doing something!”) to the pragmatic, there is a consistent belief in the power of being present. More so than the fulfillment of any particular demands that would instantly allow the protestors to return home, the goal, it seems, is to simply keep the national conversation moving. In this way, the protests have already succeeded. With such a relatively attainable goal, the movement’s greatest strength is simultaneously the same element that may undermine it as time wears on. After all, if the protestors aim to occupy until the country is fixed, they will be the first to admit they are in for a long-haul.

On a corner as I’m leaving, a man points to a wooden box and speaks into a megaphone: “This is a public soapbox. You can use it to say anything you want. You can borrow my megaphone for as long as you like, so please. Come on up and say something. Anything you want.”

Doom Hearts Apathy

What do they think?

Helpful Diagrams

Closed Streets

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