Taking on City Hall and picketing against foreclosures, the Occupy Wall Street movement -- backed by L.A. heavies -- has embraced the Pacific, even if it hasn't exactly embraced the specific.
LOS ANGELES -- For a populist revolution in uneasy times, the right spark can come from anywhere.
On October 5, in a quiet La Puente neighborhood of Los Angeles, it came from Rose Gudiel, a 35-year-old state government employee, who became a figurehead of the Occupy LA movement, an extension of the Occupy Wall Street protests that have spread from Zuccotti Park in Manhattan to the West Coast.
Gudiel set off a massive protest and media frenzy when people got wind of the foreclosure of her home, which Guidel has shared with her disabled mother and other relatives for ten years. A coalition of activists kept a round-the clock vigil outside the Bel-Air mansion of the president of OneWest Bank that had initiated foreclosure proceedings. From there, they moved to the sidewalk outside Fannie Mae's office in Pasadena, after discovering the government-sponsored lender had taken over Gudiel's loan. Another group surrounded Gudiel's house, pledging to risk arrest if sheriff deputies tried to evict the family, including her wheelchair-bound mother.
Police arrested Gudiel and five others when they refused to leave. In the end, Gudiel prevailed, bank executives relented and she remains in her house.
As these kind of protests swept the city, I dropped by Occupy LA's encampment outside City Hall last Thursday and Saturday to survey what has became one of the largest theaters in this national protest movement, second only to its epicenter in New York City. What I saw could only be described as a spectacle of energy and potential. Liberal media heavy weights mixed with young hippie-types. The protesters are loud and angry, but also have a peaceful relationship with the police. What does it all mean? Even at ground level, it's a visceral movement whose goals and next steps aren't always easy to see.
Celebrities are everywhere Los Angeles, even in the growing group of Occupy LA protestors camped out in tents on the lawn outside City Hall. Droves of media show up each morning in downtown and set up their equipment directly across the street from the encampment. They come to capture footage of Janet, Jermaine, LaToya, and other relatives of Michael Jackson as they stream into Foltz Criminal Courthouse to attend the trial of the pop star's personal physician, Conrad Murray.
"What're you 'gonna do?" sighed a resigned protestor. "Nobody can compete with Michael Jackson."
Still, the group's size, support and media attention has grown steadily since its October 2 kick off. At first, there were 10 tents and a single "Information" card table set up on the sidewalk in front of 200 N. Main Street. A week later, the public park around City Hall had been transformed into a bustling urban campground, with 200-odd tents pitched closely together. Nearly 400 sleep-deprived, overnight campers, most of them young students, claim they're not leaving until Wall Street executives responsible for the country's economic crisis are held accountable and economic justice is restored in America.
Tarp-covered makeshift stations devoted to food and medical supplies, legal counseling, security, and even a library, have been set up. Cash donations pay for food, trash collection and rental fees for the six portable toilets standing at one corner of the park. The media center is up and operating, streaming live 24/7 -- thanks to media donations from "three very supportive Hollywood producers who shall remain unnamed," said Occupy LA's Joe Briones, 29, a film student at L.A. City College.
At last count, Occupy protests have sprung up in more than 100 cities around the country, with Occupy LA ranking second to New York in participant turnout. Last weekend, an estimated 1,000 people showed up at City Hall, as the encampment turned into a 1960s throwback festival of open mic political rants, live music--guitarist Tom Morelli of Rage Against The Machine performed on Saturday--a Make Your Own T-shirt section with paints and stencils, wafting incense, lovers kissing, kids napping on blankets in the sun--and lots of dogs. "The Revolution welcomes everyone," added Briones.
Media heavy weights also dropped in. Keith Olbermann, Tavis Smiley and Princeton professor Cornell West addressed the crowd on Sunday--actor Danny Glover came during the week--but the rumor circulating that Anderson Cooper would also show proved to be unfounded.