Though Occupy L.A. has always been firm about its status as a collective, not a group of individuals, some protesters have inevitably achieved more celebrity than the rest.
The first and foremost being Sarah Mason, whose portrait at a Bank of America occupation ended up on the cover of TIME's “Protester of the Year” issue. (Albeit heavily manipulated by controversial street artist/graphic designer Shepard Fairey.)
Another local celebrity of sorts was 22-year-old Alex Weinschenker…
… who ran the “Print Shop,” a staple of the Occupy L.A. encampment. Day in and day out, Weinschenker stenciled and printed Los Angeles' iconic “99%” bandanas — one of which covered the bottom half of Mason's face for TIME.
Weinschenker also printed the design onto shirts, patches, picket signs and anything else he could get his hands on.
At a recent Santa Monica art-gallery opening for an exhibit commemorating the movement (read LA Weekly's review of the show here), Weinschenker set up his Print Shop outside the front doors and ran off 99% bandanas for anyone who asked.
The actual tent Mason slept in at the L.A. City Hall occupation is pitched outside the entrance to the gallery, like a celebrity artifact from MTV Cribs. An occupier named Alex mans the “people's printing press,” a re-creation of the station he set up at the City Hall encampment.
“You know the 99-percent bandana Sarah's wearing in the photo? I printed that,” Alex tells people in line.
In fact, he graciously handed this very reporter the last bandana of the night — light blue, just like Mason's.
Yet shockingly, just a couple months later, Weinschenker's friends say he “fell victim to the disease of addiction and the illegal war on drugs.” He apparently passed away a few days ago. We've contacted the L.A. County Coroner's Office to confirm his time and cause of death.
According to memorial posts on Facebook, Twitter and Tumblr, Weinschenker leaves behind a young son named River.
“Suddenly OccupyLA Silk Screen Art has become even more precious,” writes Los Angeles resident Scott Shuster on the event page for Weinschenker's service this coming Friday. More from Shuster:
“The Print Shop touched tens of thousands of people, producing, giving away, teaching us the skills to make for ourselves the world famous iconic symbols of OccupyLA while at the same time tirelessly welcoming, introducing and educating people to the ways of our new movement.
His tragic death is akin to the passing of one of the great artists. Alex should be martyred in the movement as such -at the same time reminding us of both Janice and spinning cloth.”
A memorial fund for the young artist has already raised $645.
Like Mason, Weinschenker wasn't shy about airing his concerns with the movement. Here's an interview he did with USC student paper Neon Tommy in November:
Some of the long haul protestors saw [the eviction] coming from the beginning. Weinschenker, who operates The Print Shop at Occupy L.A.and has been at the occupation since day one, believes that anyone who came to the occupation thinking this was going to be a permanent base is missing the point of an occupation.
“I don't know any other group besides The Zapatista Army of National Liberation that has been able to stay mobile and militant while holding space,” he said. “We knew from the beginning that we're doing something that the state or the city or whatever you want to call the brutalitarian regime that runs our lives doesn't want us to be here. This isn't our space. That's why it's called an occupation.”
He was a real teacher within the revolution — constantly challenging the outside stereotype that Occupy Wall Street was scatterbrained just because it didn't have a simplistic list of demands or black-and-white politics. And Weinschenker's apparent struggle with drugs reminds us of Mason's struggle with the oppressive American credit-card system — she knew it was wrong, but she had trouble finding her way out, proving firsthand the difficulty of shaking the status quo.