Last weekend, along with thousands of other cyclists, I clambered off my bicycle at the intersection of 1st and Main, and joined the crowds surging through the Occupy Los Angeles campsite in a public park off City Hall.
Occupy L.A. was just one stop on the CicLAvia route, so demonstrators, perhaps in a bid to court prospective campers, or even pique the interest of the few young people who haven't heard of the movement yet, toted out a dazzling array of signs.
Born as a petulant provocation in the pages of Adbusters, the Occupy Wall Street movement, in under a month, has become one of the most visible grassroots movement in the history of digital America. As a platonic ideal of democracy, it's heartening, but on the ground, the Los Angeles chapter looks something like the muddy sprawl of England's Glastonbury festival -- messy, vulgar, littered with tents and signs. Or as Cornel West put it, "like an audience for Lupe Fiasco, or Carole King and James Taylor, or for Prince!"
We bring you six signs from some of the protest's savviest sign designers:
6. Telling it like it is
Alan, 29, of Los Angeles, and Haig, 43, of Pasadena, protest corporate meddling in utilities. "I think the sign is self-explanatory," says Alan, on the left.
Ue Daniels, 21, of Los Angeles, holds a stretched canvas covered in slogans. Daniels and his girlfriend have been living on the north lawn since Friday, bringing with them a tent and his canvas, which he carried over his head from his apartment a few blocks away. He encourages visitors to sign and list their demands. On the top right corner, someone stapled a court order, accusing Sony Pictures of plagiarism. "It's all about power to the people," says Daniels.
4. Bringing in the comic book characters
Carlos Etcheverry, 32, of Los Angeles, watched Cameron Rath of the bike group FMLY rile up the crowd from the steps of City Hall. Etchevarry has been camping here since Thursday, and used communal markers and pens to create a series of political cartoons. Here, he poses with a drawing of Dr. Doom, the Fantastic Four nemesis who controls the fictional Eastern European dictatorship of Latveria. On his left, he depicts a Sentinel from The X-Men, destroying the home of an immigrant family like it's a prop house on a nuclear test site.
Political hegemony, he explains, is built upon blind support. He motions to another panel on the back of his tent. "Scrooge McDuck was a lovable villain," he chuckles. "But if you know what's up, you can tell he's no good."
Among the most durable forms of political protest.
2. Pumpkin as sculpture
Signage doesn't have to be on craft paper or be held up with an oversize popsicle stick. Simone Missirian, 40, of Monrovia, holds a pumpkin effigy of former White House economist and Harvard University president Larry Summers. "I'm a female scientist," she says, "and he can bite me." Summers' plump face sits next to other "perpetrators of the recession," including Timothy Geithner and Hank Paulsen.
Missirian and her husband, Joebutoh Sculptour, have camped outside City Hall since Thursday. "It's important for people to put faces and names to this mess," she said. "Effigy is part of political protest. It's empowering when you're able to ridicule."
Like Etcheverry, Ricky Romero, 26, who traveled to Occupy Los Angeles from Missouri, made his signs using cardboard scraps and pens borrowed from the Occupy headquarters. He talked to a reporter with a his pink marker in the front pocket of his cargo pants. So far, his plea hasn't panned out. "I saw this sign in Berkeley, and thought I'd use it down here," he laughed. "There's still time for someone to come by."
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Anything else he wanted to say about the art of Occupy LA?
"Yeah," he said, echoing a familiar refrain. "We are the 99 percent!"
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