Faces in the crowd: “Occupy L.A.”
The Occupy Los Angeles movement, which began in early October and has all but taken over the grounds of the Los Angeles City Hall building, will continue throughout the Thanksgiving Day holiday, and beyond, and it will be business as usual.
“I plan to be here until we win or until the City of Los Angeles makes us move,” said Russ Johnson, one of the 500-600 individuals who are camped-out on City Hall’s lawn. “Thanksgiving to me is just a turkey dinner and I am sure some Christian woman will bring us turkey dinners on Thanksgiving Day.”
The ‘Occupy’ movement, which has spread from coast to coast, has garnered the attention of the media, elected officials, aspiring office holders, as well as a broad cross-section of ‘tree-huggers, save the whale supporters, environmentalists, the unemployed, the homeless, and others who are simply fed up with circumstances as they are now.
Seeking an answer to the question about what they are fed-up about or what they hope to accomplish or even, why are you here, does not yield a scripted, well thought out, or uniform response.
The movement does not have any identifiable leaders or organizers in the Los Angeles Encampment and there is no written position paper or statement of purpose or objectives that provides a detailed or even vague list of demands or issues. Signs posted alongside the hundreds of tents of all sizes and shapes reveal glimpses of some of the protester’s concerns or issues.
Here are a few examples…”Our system of government is broken”…”Return the U.S. to the gold standard”…”Republicans don’t care and Democrats are not listening”…”We are the 99%”…”Get rid of the Lobbyists”…”Get rid of the politician’s corporate paychecks”…”Corporations get billions and we are homeless, hungry and poorly educated”…Stop sending money abroad and spend it here.”
Joseph Thomas was operating the Food Tent that offered free food, water and juice, provided by private individuals and organizations, to the Occupy Los Angeles protestors. A Black man in his early 40’s, Thomas is an articulate man who is neither a drug nor alcohol abuser, and unlike many of the protestors, he indicated, who have arrived from Skid Row, is not in need of mental health treatment.
“I have been homeless for about five years,” Thomas said. “I became homeless when my grandmother donated the house where I was living to a church in Los Angeles. The church sold the house and I had to move.
After several years on Skid Row and unable to find stable employment, Thomas found himself living under a freeway overpass just before October 6, when he relocated to the grounds of the Los Angeles City Hall.
“I have difficulty working for others and hope to start a business of my own, someday.” He said. “In the meantime, I will be here as long as it takes for the Democratic Party to represent our voice and our concerns in making rules and policies that affect us. The Republicans do not care about us, but they must recognize that most Americans, except for those who are wealthy or brainwashed, are the 99% and we are fed up with a system that is broken.”
Unlike some of the violence that has been reported at Occupy locations in other parts of the nation, sexual assaults, fights and even murder, Los Angeles has been relatively crime-free.
“Today an individual’s bicycle was stolen from the grounds and there are frequent reports of minor thefts of items that are left unattended,” one protester said on Monday. “My advice is to hide anything that would approximate the value of a bottle of wine because there are many here who will take it.”
While the image from vehicles driving past the City Hall building is one of a crowded patchwork of tents and make-shift shelters, inside the encampment one gets the feeling of being in a public campground with a melting pot of campers of all ages, sizes, colors, and backgrounds. There does not appear to be any urgency to do anything in particular and it certainly does not appear that anyone is looking forward to abandoning the encampment for a Thanksgiving meal with their family members.
And, even though the individual answers are different to the question about objectives or purpose, one protestor’s list of demands, posted outside of his tent, seems to capture the broad concerns of many who are committed to remaining until the end.
1. Public funding for elections
2. End corporate greed and political manipulation
3. Eliminate lobbying
4. Tax the 1% more than the 99%
5. End corporate paid politicians
Have a Happy Thanksgiving and, if you feel inclined, drop off a turkey at the Occupy Los Angeles Welcome Center. I am sure Russ Johnson will be delighted and thankful.