Campaign to ‘occupy’ LA is growing
A movement, similar to the “Occupy Wall Street” demonstration occurring in New York, is building in Los Angeles.
Today, protesters hit the streets of downtown to spread the word of their crusade. Later they joined a rally in front of City Hall with the environmental group 350.org. Approximately 70 activists attended.
Void of any discernible ideology or politics, and comprised mostly of youths, protesters are expressing their displeasure with Wall Street greed, corporate influence in politics and the overbearing power of the super-rich over ordinary Americans.
At the core of the movement is a criticism of the state of American democracy, which some call a plutocracy, or even a “corporatocracy.”
“Corporate interests seem to be controlling both parties,” said Ryan Rice, who attended today’s actions. “The ‘little man,’ the ‘American every man,’ just isn’t getting their voice heard. When you need $35,000 to donate to a campaign to get your voice heard, to have a meeting, that’s not democracy,”
Rice is a student of political science at Chapman University. He recently began working with Peace Action West as a canvasser and, as he says, “getting his hands dirty” with activism.
Despite whatever criticisms people in the movement may have regarding wealth distribution, the financial system or greed, says Rice, he doesn’t see it as an attack on the capitalist paradigm.
“There are elements that are anti-capitalist, because we are so inclusive,” he said. “But I think, given the nature of how we’ve seen capitalism go with these bailouts, I would say we can embrace that a little bit, because we can acknowledge that our capitalist system is broken.”
The “Occupy Wall Street” demonstration is in its seventh day. On its first day, it was estimated that close to a thousand protesters showed up. Since then, according to activists, the number of people joining the action has been growing. Demonstrators have been camping out in Liberty Plaza near Wall Street, as Police stopped them from occupying their intended target.
There have been reports of arrests and police abuse posted on OccupyWallSt.org. One YouTube video shows protesters being herded into a pen and being maced by New York City police.
Since last week’s “U.S. Day of Rage,” which was a nationally-coordinated solidarity demonstration with New York, activists in LA have made attempts to occupy Pershing Square and City Hall’s south lawn. Both attempts have been thwarted by police.
Heidi Sulzdorf, who has been assisting in organizing the Occupy LA actions, says the campaign must be a sustained action, not the typical one-day protest. She says they are currently “testing the waters for occupation,” trying to find a location where law enforcement will leave them alone.
It is the intention of activists, says Sulzdorf, to conduct an occupation legally, but absent of assistance from the city, attempts to occupy will continue.
“There is also an underlying [attitude that] permits are intended to make it so people can’t assemble and can’t exercise their democratic rights,” she said. “If it becomes too complicated, if the bureaucratic process is clearly obstructionist, my temperature of the group is that they will do it anyway. That hasn’t been voted on; that’s just my personal assessment.”
Aside from the heavy youth involvement, Occupy LA actions have also been heavily Internet-driven. Members of Anonymous, an online “hacktivist” group, is involved, and tools such as Google Docs, Twitter and Tiny Chat are utilized to facilitate communication.
Absent from the recent demonstrations are long-established political or social justice organizations. The rally with 350.org, which centered on climate change, was purely fortuitous.
“We are aligned conceptually; our hearts are in the same place,” said Luke Massman-Johnson, who organized the 350.org rally. “Corporations are causing a lot of damage in this country on all fronts. So in that sense, the people I’m railing against about climate change are often times the same people that are causing problems for their campaign.”
Tina Urban, 25, came from Orange County to participate in Occupy LA. She said she came to LA mainly to “see people coming together for what they believe in.”
“The main issue here is the economics, but really it breaks down into a collapse in democracy as it was intended to be, or as we feel it should be,” she said. “We were all so complacent and beaten down in a lot of aspects, that the fact that people are willing to stand up is amazing in and of itself.”
Urban, like the movement she is participating in, doesn’t advocate a particular solution for the problems the United States is facing. She expressed little confidence in the solutions of the past and feels new ones must be tried.
“I don’t think the specific demands are as important as the fact that it’s a group of people standing up for the different things they believe in,” she said. “Because every time you see someone standing up for something they believe in, it makes you more likely to stand up for what you believe in. So, that will spread, and that’s what’s important.”
More Occupy LA demonstrations are expected, but at this time none are confirmed.