Occupy Wall Street has expanded to Los Angeles where City Hall is surrounded by a sea of tents under a blue sky and warm sun. While the protest is loud and well organized, clear goals have yet to emerge.
Occupy Wall Street was in its eighth day when I visited last Saturday, October 8. The iconic city hall building was surrounded by a sea of tents as the drum circles, food banks, and special interest groups were in full operation. Representatives of the Lyndon Larouche PAC had a table set up at the busy northwest corner of the square and seemed a bit out of place in a crowd of mostly anti-greed, anti Wall Street protestors. The vibe was mostly peaceful and appeared to be geared up for a long occupation. Portable toilets were set near the west steps to the city hall and a food bank was bustling. The police were all smiles. The northwest corner was busy as about a hundred protestors were busy displaying signs and shouting to every car that passed. Most cars honked in support. The occupants of several LAPD squad cars smiled and gave thumbs up signs as they passed.
A lot of people have been asking about the specific mission of the protest that’s spread from Wall Street to every major city on the west coast. I interviewed twenty individuals and while none had a consistent goal, all were united in voicing anger against the disparity of have and have not’s in the country. “We are the 99%” seemed to be the common moniker. Like the protests of the 60’s, the organizers were relying on an age old technique for conveying a message to the bustling, noisy throngs. When a speaker was scheduled to start on the south lawn, an organizer on the north lawn would shout a message in short sentences that everyone repeated in unison. It was a joy to watch the efficiency of the communication.
The participants I observed and interviewed were mostly college students. One man told me he, and several others had gone around town with flyers announcing the protest which brought a large response from nearby campuses that include USC, UCLA, Cal State LA, and Loyola Marymount. The crowd on midday Saturday was around four hundred but people seemed to be arriving in small groups throughout the day. No one I interviewed was aware of any arrests at the city hall site however one individual I spoke with talked about an incident where 11 people were arrested when they entered a local Bank of America Building near the downtown protest.
It’s unclear as to how long the protestors plan on remaining since no clear political objective has yet to emerge. One young man likened the protest to the French Revolution where the poor revolted against the rich, ruling class minority, sending the bourgeois to flight and the king and queen to the guillotine. “This is a populist movement,” said Tony Smith from Brooklyn who described the events taking place. “We don’t know why everyone is out of work, but the stratification between the rich and poor has grown to an alarming level, and people in poverty aren't going to stand for it much longer.”
I was reminded of the Stephen Stills lyric that described events taking place in the 60’s:
There’s somethin happening here, what it is ain’t exactly clear….