Occupy L.A.: This is What Civics Look Like

There's a boiling point in California and currently it's expressed in the 253 tents surrounding Los Angeles City Hall


LOS ANGELES -- I had just taken the hour-long tour for those new to Occupy LA, a solidarity demonstration sparked by Occupy Wall Street in New York. My husband had been visiting the encampment, centered on the lawns around Los Angeles City Hall, in solidarity with me, snooping around the mini-gatherings that pepper the building's grounds.

"You have no idea what's going on here!" he declared after finding me on the corner of Spring and Temple Streets listening to an elderly Hispanic man standing on a box telling a captive audience how the bank took his home.

"Civics," I answered.

"Then you do know what's going on here," he said.

Well first off: there's a tour. There's nothing more inviting and informative than that. It's given primarily by Cheryl Aichele, a medical cannabis advocate who looks like the person you'd seek out at any event for answers; she's non-threatening, sincere and most importantly knowledgeable. When I first meet her she's in a large tent with a production company logo on it (this is how we roll in LA). It's like a reception area for a community center. There's a whiteboard with the schedule of a dozen or so committee meetings that day. They use words like "outreach" and "liaison" and combinations thereof for their committees (and sub-committees). There's an "objective and demands" box that a middle-aged man stuffs a letter into. A woman next to me is inquiring about the AA meetings. She's immediately paired up with a fellow 12-stepper within earshot. There are flyers and maps and notices. It's Day Seven of the encampment -- they have AA meetings.

"All of the problems we are facing are legal. They're laws. We need to pass the right laws," says my tour guide Aichele.

These are terrible anarchists.

A few days ago some LAPD officers came by to donate bags of clothes; they're made available to anyone who needs them. The Occupiers offer free food, also provided by donors. There's a lending library and a first aid tent. I'm told the health department came the day before. They told everyone to wash their hands and not to eat melon, but Occupy LA generally passed inspection.

"In LA, disasters tend to bring us together."

"In LA, disasters tend to bring us together," explains Professor Wendel Eckford, a historian with Los Angeles City College who's been coming down to the Occupation everyday after class.

And it is a disaster: One of out of every five U.S. foreclosures this year was in California. The unemployment rate in Los Angeles is 13 percent. State budget crisis after city budget crisis has taken its toll.

There's a boiling point and currently it's expressed in the 253 tents surrounding City Hall. Its part Peoples Park, part low-budget film set and part civics crash course.

Due to a city ordinance they can't sleep in the park surrounding City Hall. So every night all the tents move to the sidewalk and every morning they move back. They also recycle and have signs reading "Zero waste station" on all four corners of the park. I see a guy scrubbing a graffiti tag off of the wall of the landmark marble building. The group has a non-violence policy which includes graffiti. But their big concern: wheelchair access. It's a new goal to make the whole occupation accessible to those with disabilities.

"We'd like to be an example for other cites," says tour guide Aichele.

And by "cities" she means Occupations. Which are growing in number everyday.

Los Angeles City Council members make frequent visits to the tent city encompassing the building where they work. City Council President -- and soon-to-be mayoral candidate -- Eric Garcetti, who holds an annual Government 101 seminar at City Hall to help citizens make better use of the system, has been down at Occupy LA recruiting participants for next year's tutorial. Councilmembers Dennis Zine and Bill Rosendahl also are staunch supporters of the Occupation.

But it was Councilmember Richard Alarcon who was approached by one of his constituents, a member of the City Liaison Committee for Occupy LA, Mario Brito, to support this demonstration. Alarcon tells The Atlantic, "[Occupy LA] is exhibiting the frustration of people throughout America."

Alarcon's resulting City Council resolution in support of the demonstrators reads like an Occupy Wall Street manifesto: "WHEREAS, the causes and consequences of the economic crisis are eroding the very social contract upon which the Constitution that the United States of America was founded; namely, the ability of Americans to come together and form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense of, promote the general welfare of, and secure the blessings of liberty for all, allowing every American to strive for and share in the prosperity of our nation through cooperation and hard work;." It's a three-page resolution mentioning Citizens United, foreclosures, wealth inequality, Egypt and corporate personhood.

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Tina Dupuy is a syndicated op-ed columnist at Cagle Cartoons.

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