IT TOOK LOS ANGELES EXACTLY 15 days to spawn a solidarity protest after New Yorkers began camping out in Zuccotti Park in mid-September. Within a month, Occupy L.A. quadrupled its presence on the grassy lawns surrounding City Hall. Despite complaints about damaged grass and expenditures on police presence, there is no end in sight to Occupy L.A. A sea of hundreds of colorful tents has transformed downtown Los Angeles into a local epicenter of the economic discontent being replicated in the remotest corners of the nation. However, the occupation in L.A. has a character and life of its own.
On the one hand, the movement uses the same methods of participatory democracy and decision-making adopted in New York, and decries the same general state of affairs affecting 99% of Americans. Yet unlike New York, Oakland, and many other Occupy sites, L.A. thus far has had little friction with city police or local elected officials. The movement here faces other challenges: The encampment's proximity to Skid Row has brought a relatively unique set of problems for the protesters. Also, a minority of "partiers" threatens to derail the revolutionary spirit the majority of these protestors share.
Angelenos have plenty of reasons to protest. Rampant unemployment and the foreclosure epidemic have hit Los Angeles worse than much of the country. Nearly 20% of the city's residents live below the poverty line, compared with 14% statewide and 15% nationwide. The poverty rate among children is a whopping 28%. Single mothers head nearly half of impoverished Angeleno families. This September, the unemployment rate in L.A. County hit a high of 12% compared to 9% nationwide. On any given night, there are 82,000 homeless people in L.A. County. The September 2011 home foreclosure rate in Los Angeles was nearly 2.5 times greater than the national rate. Additionally, blacks and Latinos among LA's highly diverse population are three times more likely to be exposed to foreclosure than whites.
Occupy L.A. is a manifestation of this rampant inequality and suffering in the heart of the city's business district. Bankers and corporate executives are forced daily to walk past signs like "We Work, They Profit" and "Hungry? Eat a Banker." Mark Lippman, a veteran activist in L.A., told me, "What we're here for is not to support any party or candidate. It's to get real, meaningful change that's going to affect our lives because these are our lives we're talking about here." Similarly, for 21-year-old Elise Whitaker, one of many first-time activists, this movement has provided an outlet for youth like her who feel their futures have been betrayed. "I realized very quickly that this is the movement of our generation," she said.
As the tent city grows, a community has sprouted, igniting human interaction in ways that are often anathema to Los Angeles's sprawl. Occupy L.A. supports a "Kids Village," a "Welcome Center" with an "Activities Board," at least two medic stations, daily meals, and even a supply center where people can take and leave clothes, blankets, and more. The atmosphere has been mainly peaceful, although there were some incidents in early November that derailed the calm. One camper reportedly set someone's clothes on fire, while another allegedly hit someone with a tent pole. A third person was caught dumping paint on ...read more