"We have a cakewalk compared to New York," said Allen Eaton, 33, who spent 20 days at the original anti-Wall Street protest in Zuccotti Park before coming west to help kick-off Occupy LA. For starters, there's the weather, sunny and warm, except for steady rain on Day 5 that turned the manicured lawn into a muddy mess. Rarely does the city's entrenched car culture have a beneficial aspect, except in situations like this. A steady stream of harried drivers are able to show their support by simply pulling to the curb in front of City Hall, their engines idling, as they drop off boxes of food, blankets, water and other supplies.
LA protesters are allowed to pitch and sleep in tents overnight--a luxury not afforded to their counterparts in privately owned Zuccotti Park. For the first week, the LAPD forced campers to move their tents onto the sidewalk by 10 each night to comply with a city code that makes it illegal to sleep in city parks. In the morning, they moved back to the lawn, but logistics soon became unmanageable and as of this Tuesday, the city council passed a resolution that allows them to stay on the grass 24/7.
Another stark bi-coastal contrast: L.A protesters have a mostly peaceful relationship with the police and support of the mayor and city council. "Stay as long as you need, we're here to support you," Eric Garcetti, president of the city council, announced to the protestors, who are grateful yet wary of politicians who may try and to align disaffected protestors with their political parties.
It's easy to find fault with the operation. Committee meetings are coordinated, but little else is. The daily bog of scheduled events and planned demonstrations is unreliable. Trash containers overflow and last Sunday, a few of the toilets nearly did too.
Yet a sense of excitement that something really big could actually be underway overshadows every glitch. Occupy protestors are aware of the media's criticism that they have yet to come up with specific plans of how to implement the economic and social justice reforms they seek, yet the group won't be rushed or pressured.
"The media has dismissed us, ridiculed us, but now they're taking us seriously," said organizer Patrick Moore. Protestors take pride in being a "leaderless" group, convening every night at 7 for a general assembly discussion of issues, an exercise that sometimes drones on until nearly midnight. "We are a leaderless movement and for us it's all about reaching a consensus, which takes time," explained Mark Medina, a regular assembly speaker. "It gets heated and messy sometimes but we always come to the right decision. We're building a new society and believe that not having a leader is a strength."
Their long-range goal is "to reinvigorate democracy around the world, but for the time being, they have accomplished their first goal of creating a national narrative. "More Americans are aware and talking about the issues that are ruining our country," added Medina, "and that's what we want, a national dialogue." Or as KPFK radio host Margaret Prescott puts it: "Americans are speaking up--finally."
Occupy LA's biggest accomplishments have been realized by teaming up with organized groups of homeowners facing eviction and California labor unions that for months have been carrying out demonstrations and civil disobedience targeted mostly at banks.
Where do things go from here? Occupy protesters in LA and around the country know that it's a numbers game. The media will only continue to follow the story, and politicians will only take the protests seriously if the number of supporters and targeted demonstrations keeps growing. Organizers of Occupy LA also recognize the power that celebrity support could bring to the movement, and they are reaching out to Hollywood and entertainment heavyweights--Jay Z for one--but they won't mention other high-profile prospects for fear of jinxing their efforts.
Nationally, Occupy Congress and Occupy the Pentagon are reportedly in the works, as is an international coalition of millions of activists who plan to swarm the city of Cannes in November where the G-20 heads of government will discuss financial markets and the world economy. At Occupy LA, excitement mounts. "Stayed tuned," said Joe Briones, "because important things are about to happen."