It’s been about a year now since the big Occupy camps were all shut down. I remember the feelings of anger and impotence when the mayors began to say “Okay, you’ve exercised your First Amendment rights long enough; it’s time to go now.” But I also remember the energy and camaraderie that permeated Occupy LA the day I visited. I took many pictures, but I didn’t write about it at the time. I do now.
It was a special day when they were encouraging people to visit; they had a stage (second photo) and a street closed off. It was sort of like a music festival with a couple hundred tents.
While it wasn’t very well-organized, it was very chill, clean, and safe-feeling. There was laundry service (16th photo), a first aid tent, and plenty of port-a-potties. There were a few baskets of free toiletries and snacks; take what you need, leave what you can. Some people were doing a yoga group. There were four or five cops, I think, but they were just hanging around and not hassling anyone. Within a few weeks they would be moving in at midnight and arresting everyone, but right then, things were calm. Villaraigosa said that if people needed to camp outside City Hall to exercise their First Amendment rights, then they could. (He changed his mind.)
One guy was silk screening red and blue “99%” onto clothes for free. He had a pile of thrift store clothes but he would also do any clothes you gave him; guys were just taking off their shirts and handing them to him. I got a brown T-shirt and gave him two gold dollars as a donation. (If you ever do this, go home and iron the shirt right away or else it’ll just fade out.)
Being a true grassroots movement, it had a homemade feel. Aside from the shirts, there was an area where people were making their own signs and stickers, mostly out of recycled materials. People were painting over old pieces of cardboard, many of them signs from previous protests, with light brown paint and then adding new messages (11th photo). I made myself a 99% sticker to put on my shirt. There were buckets of chalk and all available surfaces were getting chalked; I added a bit of my own (last photo, with my husband standing nearby).
Though the core message–economic injustice–was omnipresent, it was a big group of probably a thousand people or so and there were many other messages. There were anti-war protesters, immigration reform protesters, and a Filipino band talking about something in the Philippines that I couldn’t hear (9th photo). Anonymous was there (3rd photo). A guy with a video camera interviewed me for his news blog. He asked me about the common media narrative that Occupy protesters don’t know what they want. I told him that I knew why I was there and what Occupy was about and I thought just about everyone else knew, too. There’s a guy with a “Reinstate Glass-Steagall” sign (13th photo); how much more specific can they get? I didn’t note the name of the reporter’s blog, though, so I don’t know if I was on it.
The funny thing about the Occupy movement was that neither the movement nor the message was what vaulted it to prominence. It was the police brutality. If the cops in Wall Street and Oakland could have behaved as well as the cops in LA were at that time, the message of economic justice might never have spread as far as it did.