I wrote a series of reports about Occupy Los Angeles last fall and winter before the camp was broken up. I hope the following report carries on that tradition. Report continues below the fold.
Alma and I had not been to an Occupy Los Angeles (OLA) event in person since the camp at City Hall was busted up at the end of November, 2011. Yesterday, though, to support the ill-named ‘General Strike’ call, we headed back downtown to join the convergence at MacArthur Park and from there to march past Pershing Square, home of the current OLA General Assembly (GA), to Skid Row at 6th and Main.
Organizers of the May 1 General Strike in Los Angeles built the event around ‘Four Winds,’ groups of people from each of the four cardinal directions all converging at Skid Row. Based on where Alma and I live (near Inglewood), we could have gone with either the South Wind or the West Wind. Being a long-time West-sider and a creature of habit, I chose to hook up with the Westside contingent. (The South Wind group started at the historic intersection of Florence and Normandie.)
The West Wind contingent began at the Pacific Ocean (on Wilshire Boulevard) and had several actions planned as they caravanned to MacArthur Park. Due to some scheduling conflicts, however, Alma and I had to skip all the preliminary actions and join the penultimate convergence at the Park. Our trip there was uneventful and we found a reasonably priced parking garage about 1 block from MacArthur Park on Carondolet St.
We got to the Park at around 1:30 p.m. and on the southwest corner many activists had already gathered. I would estimate turnout there was between 1-200 folks. The Los Angeles Police Department was out in force, with cops on foot, on bicycle, on horseback and in the notorious black and whites lined up in the park and on 6th St. I would estimate there were at least 75 cops there, a figure that seems accurate based on media reports that the LAPD called a tactical alert and had as many as 1,000 officers mobilized for the events.
People continued to meet at MacArthur Park for the next 45 minutes or so and then we began a slow march northward on 6th street towards the downtown. By this point, enough folks had gathered that there was not enough room for all of them on the sidewalk and folks organically moved into the traffic lanes of 6th St. The LAPD cars kept blipping their sirens every 5-10 seconds in a most annoying fashion and driving the wrong way down the southbound lanes of 6th St.
The march towards downtown took us through what I think is now a primarily Latino district of small businesses and urban strip malls. The march also took us past another historic edifice, the Ramparts Division headquarters of the Los Angeles Police Department. (More on that below.) As we used the 6th St. bridge over the Pasadena freeway, many activists stopped to hold their signs so that northward bound drivers on the 110 could see them. We received many honks of support from motorists and it was probably a site to see, a human chain stretching the entire length of the bridge.
As we crossed the bridge and entered downtown proper, I noticed the LAPD presence seemed to intensify. Now it seemed at ever intersection there were phalanxes of cops stationed blocking cross street traffic and occasionally blocking us from continuing down 6th street. Eventually though we managed to get to 6th and Main, home of Occupy Skid Row.
“It looks like the drum circle finally won the battle of the wills,” I said to Alma. I was referring to the perpetual annoyance said drummers always posed when we were trying to run General Assembly. The drummers were out in force today and the same circle of latter-day Dionysians were celebrating through dance. Most people, though, were milling about. OLA organizers had set up a Welcome Tent and a Food Tent. As was the practice during the two months of the camp, volunteers were feeding anyone standing in line with no questions asked and no money changing hands. (That is one of my fondest memories of the camp -- the valiant attempts to feed the Occupiers and the hungry in general.)
A couple of my SoCal colleagues from DemocraticUnderground.com showed up (Bob and Mike) and we stood around exchanging anecdotes and discussing what our next plans were. Mike was there as a Legal Observer and taking copious photographs to document interactions between the LAPD and OLA. There were many green-hatted observers from the National Lawyers Guild present and I am eternally grateful to them for the service they provide.
One of the more heart-warming developments is that, while we were assembled at 6th and Main, a large contingent of 2-300 activists for immigrants rights came marching up 5th street heading northward. It was quite a picturesque moment to see this brigade, most of whom carried the same sign.
After we stood around for about an hour, an impromptu march from 6th and Main up through the financial district began. Here is where I know that I am turning into an old activist. The march from MacArthur Park had been about 2 miles and I knew that we were looking at a 2-mile hike back to the car (since I am unfamiliar with how the buses work in the metro area, not having worked there in more than 10 years). As the crowd was walking up Bunker Hill and reaching its peak, the crowd went to veer right past the Wells Fargo headquarters. Alma and I decided to take our leave then and return to the car. We attempted to leave at 4th and Hill and were greeted with yet another phalanx of edgy, muscled-up cops. At first we thought we would not be allowed to leave (as was the case with past encounters with LAPD at Occupy events). Well, the commanding officer asked if we were trying to leave. I said, “Yeah.” “OK,” the commander said, pointing to two LAPD officers, “escort these two down the stairs to 5th Street.” The commander turned back to us. “You can’t congregate here.”
Now were I younger and not already bushed from the 2-mile mark, I might have chosen to take a stand right then and there for the First Amendment right of free speech and assembly. But these police were very edgy. Alma took out her cell phone to snap a picture of the police formation. “Ma’am,” the police commander said, “this is not the time for pictures. You need to leave. NOW!” Very ugly and edgy – he had placed his hand on his baton. So we went down the steps with these two hulking LAPD officers shadowing us behind. Alma was really pissed off and was telling the two cops what bullies they were and how they were tools of the 1%. We reached 5th St. and the two LAPD officers remained standing on the flight of stairs. But I had and have a bad feeling about how things might have gone down had we done a Rosa Parks there. (We found out later that a LAPD officer had been injured by a skateboard, if you believed the media whores on KTLA5, so maybe that was why these cops were so edgy. Of course, KTLA was doing its part to propagate the whore media line, as the reality is that it was Occupiers chanting “We are peaceful” who defused tensions at that intersection.) Very creepy though and the First Amendment is more honored in the breach than in the observance in downtown Los Angeles.
In retrospect, it seemed as if the LAPD was stationing itself to guide the march past those very financial institutions that lay at the heart of OLA’s grievances. Alma and I have scrupulously adhered to the position that the police are members of the working class whose jobs may require them to protect the interests of the 1% at the expense of the 99%. But, after yesterday, my opinion is starting to change and I am now starting to view the police as working class but also as ‘class traitors.’ They are no longer protecting and serving me. They protect and serve the monied interests. So the LAPD and its enablers are hereby put on notice. While I was not ready for my Rosa Parks moment yesterday, its behaviors and attitudes are making inevitable a Rosa Parks moment from me at some point in the future. I had to see this with my own eyes yesterday and have time to think on it but now I will come to future encounters with my eyes opened and a plan in place.
We reached our car on Carondolet and drove home without incident. Later that night I watched a choppy Livestream feed of the night’s General Assembly at Pershing Square. It looked as though there might have been 150-200 people assembled for it. Not bad for a movement that just six months ago appeared on the verge of extinction.
If I had the feeling at times that I was trapped inside a Pirandello script – 1000 Activists in Search of a Cause, if you will – the grievances that animated the Occupy Movement last fall are still there and have not gone away. Notoriously absent from yesterday’s activities were any leaders of the Democratic Party. Good to know that we have all to a large extent been abandoned even by the party that nominally represents working class interests. At least we now know where we stand and that we can expect little help or support from the Democratic Party. It never hurts to know who your friends are (or are not).