I’m still thinking about going to the Occupy LA venture last weekend with my friend Mindy Moffat. After a long drive down from the mountains, we parked at the North Hollywood subway station, and seven or eight stops later we got off near Los Angeles City Hall.
On the subway were other riders heading to City Hall as well. A native American in full regalia chatted in the corner with a surfer dude carrying a skate board. Wearing a bandana that read 99% over curly white hair, a chatty old guy my age said he was stopping off to meet friends and continue down. A Nordic-looking blonde struck up conversation with Mindy who was inking in my sign. One side read Political Deadlock Allows Corporate Greed: The other side read Paying Taxes is a Patriotic Duty.
I realize not paying any taxes whatsoever is the popular view, and I got a few sniffs from passersby as we left the station and followed the crowd. Just as we stood at a corner waiting to cross, a march filed up the street towards us and we joined in. I wish now I could remember the chants.
The old wedding-cake City Hall building with the central spire loomed over what felt like a big party until we got close enough to read the signs and hear the chants and the drums. At City Hall the encampment of brightly-colored tents came into view–hundreds of them. It came to me suddenly that people were living here. Living a little better than the homeless on the street, but not much.
We were swept along by the crowd towards a wiry, young black man wearing a beret and a red and black T-shirt. Remember that photo of Che Guevera? The chant went on and on. But nobody got up to sustain his momentum by making a fiery speech. The crowd drifted away.
Behind me was a young family, the bearded father carrying a little girl on his shoulders, mama with a toddler by the hand. All kinds of people: two young girls with a lot of chest and belly showing danced with hula hoops spinning around them. There was a lot of beautiful young flesh showing. I went looking as mainstream as I could wearing scarves and big garden hat. Then it turned out there were a lot of people who looked like me, but the crowd was mostly young people.
There were so many tents of all colors erected in the sizeable block around City Hall that there was little walking space between them. My friend and I wandered through, past earnest little circles like college seminars discussing globalization, capitalism and other weighty topics. Past a lending library, donation booth, and lists to sign up for sanitation detail, food, clean up. This part was organized and the PortaPotties were clean. Later there was a mike set up on the steps of City Hall and one after another speakers and musicians came forward. No program. Just people getting some outrage off their chest. The loosey-goosey organization, which probably belies fervent debate behind the scenes, wants it to look formless for now. Hard to understand that though.
People smiled at each other with good will for no good reason at all. The only violence was being jostled in the crowd or poked in the back by a sign. It took me back to long-ago protests: tie-dye, headbands, the smell of patchouli. Outrage demonstrated peacefully.
Occupy LA seems to have struck a deal with the left-leaning mayor to be left alone. We’ll see. The protest grows every day and how long can this last? The police chatted with protestors and lounged around patrol cars and motorcycles. They’ve been hit in the pocketbook too.
Granted there were some hard-eyed cops among them that might have liked to bust heads.