OH, THE FICKLE HEARTS of elected officials. Like hummingbirds, only not pretty. To call a mayor or a city councilman slippery is to insult every smooth, wet stone that has ever graced a streambed. To call them faithless is an offense to all adulterers. To call them liars is, well, too banal. Would you scold an anteater for eating all the ants? Better to trust the wind. Which, at the moment, stings of tear gas and pepper spray drifting south from Oakland and Davis and west from Denver, New York, Rome, Athens, Cairo, Qalandiya, Hama, and Sanaa.
Los Angeles, though, was different. No tear gas here: our elected representatives wanted us to be comfortable. That was the idea, anyway. It was a bit frustrating for those of us who felt that if it meant anything at all, "occupying" would have to entail some degree of actual confrontation, would mean taking things the authorities would never freely give, would mean placing oneself openly at odds with a system bent on destroying or selling off everything we value about ourselves and one another. ("We are not protesting," wrote Egyptian activists in an October 24 letter of solidarity to the American movement. "Who is there to protest to? What could we ask them for that they could grant?") The local authorities made this difficult. They wanted so badly to be our friends! They provided port-a-potties and ponchos. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa's smile was bright enough to light 1,000 General Assembly meetings, even if they dragged past midnight every night.
Let it be remembered that early in October, in the springtime of L.A.'s occupation, City Council President Eric Garcetti toured the encampment, telling the occupiers, "This is your City Hall ... Stay as long as you need." (In recent days, he has made himself scarce.) Councilman Bill Rosendahl was out there hugging activists. The full council unanimously approved a resolution asserting that "our economic system can only be called broken," went on to lay out the gory and vicious details of that brokenness in more than a dozen paragraphs, and concluded by declaring that "the City of Los Angeles hereby stands in SUPPORT for the continuation of the peaceful and vibrant exercise in First Amendment Rights carried out by 'Occupy Los Angeles.'" Even Councilwoman Jan Perry, who has for a decade been working to shove the homeless off of downtown streets, signed on.
If the politicians here were as nice as nice can be, L.A.'s occupiers were — from a law enforcement standpoint, at least — model citizens. From the beginning, activists discussed the terms of their very presence with the city and the police. When an LAPD commander told them they could pitch tents during the day but would have to move to the sidewalk at night, they rolled up their sleeping bags each night and obeyed. When a few days later the mayor's office told them not to bother anymore, that they could stay in the park at night, they stayed. In a blog post, a dissenting occupier writing under the name Federica Lorca called it "an occupation by permission."
Even arrests were coordinated with the police. Remember the occupiers who were arrested on November 17 after setting up tents in the so-called "Bank of America Plaza" downtown? That was a breakaway group, acting on their own, bless them, in an act of symbolic resistance that had the advantage of proximity to a symbol: a bank. The official, General Assembly-approved a...