Today at lunchtime I put on my amateur journalist's hat and dropped by City Hall to check out the campsite set up by Occupy LA right on the grounds of City Hall. I'm not sure what to call Occupy Wall Street and its offshoots. Is this a movement? It seems too small and inchoate, at least so far, to call it that. An organization? It seems to be well-organized but it is not structured like a traditional organization. A protest? Perhaps, but these campers seem quite welcome at City Hall, and there doesn't seem to be anyone around at whom the protest is directed. I learned later that the president of the City Council dropped by and told the demonstrators, "Stay as long as you need. We're here to support you." Remarkable!
So maybe I would call this an awakening, or a stirring. Maybe these demonstrations will peter out and accomplish nothing. Or maybe they will spread and grow into some kind of mass uprising. Maybe they will turn ugly and spur a backlash. (As someone old enough to remember what happened in 1968, that would be my greatest fear.)
But for now, everyone seemed friendly. Everything seemed peaceful. The area is being kept clean and neat. There were a lot of signs, mostly about corporate greed and themes of that nature, but not a lot of anger on display. They have a website, of course. There is a facebook page. It could be, this being LA, that the West Coast occupation is going to be more laid back than its New York inspiration, which has included some confrontations with police and arrests. If so, I would view that as an improvement on the New York model.
One of the campers, who has been living on the City Hall lawn since the "occupation" started four days ago, told me they plan to stay indefinitely. What the demonstration mainly seems to be about, according to this participant, is a way for young people to get involved in political action. Who can argue with that goal? These people say they are not about to get co-opted by any other organization, even though the encampment attracts people with all sorts of causes. They meet every day in a very democratic way to discuss plans, and they seem to be making it all up as they go along. The ideology of this group might not make total sense to me, and I might be fearful that all this energy could lead nowhere or turn negative. But if Occupy LA manages to foster a new kind of protest movement, full of peace and positive energy; if it draws attention to urgent social problems like inequality and political corruption; and if it breeds democracy and citizen involvement, then I say hats off to the campers!
(photos by moi)