Walking through the tent city out front L.A. City Hall last night, spirits were high.
A man in a ragged suit balanced on a fire hydrant, waving a sign with “Join us, don't be scared!” magic-markered in Spanish. Another man, in dreads, lit up some sage on the lawn next to him. Little kids with “99 percent” signs taped to the backs of their shirts formed a drum circle at the sidewalk intersection of Temple and Spring Streets. As the smoggy night air started to thicken with drops of water — a light aftershock to Wednesday's downpour — campers rushed to cover supplies and throw rain flies over tents.
Occupy L.A. has moved into 200 North Spring Street for good; L.A. City Councilmembers wouldn't dare turn them away now. Below, LA Weekly speaks with four of the faces who have joined this hundreds-strong solidarity effort with Occupy Wall Street to fight for the 99 percent.
Esther Kim got in on the ground floor of the Occupy L.A. movement. A friend from L.A. City College brought her to the first organizational meeting at Pershing Square, a couple weeks ago, and she's been attending the protest ever since.
She plans to transfer to UC Berkeley in the spring.
“This is a dream come true for me,” she said. “But I'm not sure how I'm going to afford it.”
Kim, 31, waited a long time to go to college because she was struggling to pay the bills.
Though she's worked a series of jobs, she's never had health insurance.
“A lot of my family members and I, we've never been rich,” she said. “We're afraid of being hurt, or getting sick, or getting check-ups. We can't afford it.”
She plans to bring a tent this weekend to camp out overnight.
— Gene Maddaus
Every movement needs its comedian. That's the role that Steve Gelder has played in Occupy L.A. Instead of carrying an old-fashioned cardboard sign, Gelder brings a dry erase board. That way, he can craft new slogans whenever inspiration strikes. Among his sharpest lines: “I'll Believe Corporations Are People When Texas Executes One,” and “The 99% Need to Kick 100% of the 1%'s Ass.”
Gelder, who lives in North Hollywood, did stand-up for many years. Now he works as an editor, taking jobs on reality shows when he can get them. But he's been unemployed for the last two and a half years, scraping by on whatever freelance work he can find.
“The inequity in the system at this point seems so blatant,” Gelder said. “It feels like it's time for people to stand up and say we're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore.”
Gelder has been working on the Demands and Objectives Committee, which is working toward crafting a policy platform. The process of building a consensus is slow going, but they have time. The protesters may be out there for weeks, or even months.
“These are folks who are skilled at going to Bonnaroo and Burning Man,” Gelder said. “They're holding up fine at City Hall.”
— Gene Maddaus
Before he arrived at City Hall's front steps last week, 20-year-old Paul Murufus had been living at a sober house, recovering from narcotics addiction.
But when his supervisors told him they weren't cool with him being at the occupation instead of NA meetings, he decided to make a permanent move to the Occupy L.A. headquarters.
And he's going strong so far: When Murufus answered our phone call yesterday, he was just finishing up an AA/NA meeting he had set up in a green tent at the encampment. “Show me how to live, breathe, keep coming back,” he recited with the four people present, up from two people yesterday.
Murufus' sober group is just one example of the miniature daily institutions that have been springing up around camp. He's the farthest thing from grim when he says he plans to live there “at least a few more weeks. There are literally so many people who have said, 'As long as it takes.' It could take months. We're building an infrastructure to be here for a long time.”
The young Long Beach native is also a proud member of the finance committee, where he sorts through donations and keeps track of how much everything is costing. For instance, two days ago, at the general assembly meeting, this committee presented a proposal to open an account with a credit union. It passed; now Occupy L.A. can officially accept checks. (Also, fun fact: The single most costly part of the whole operation has been renting and maintaining the camp's six or so porta-potties.)
On top of it all, Murufus says he's a “gonzo journalist” for streetcarnage.com — “up to [his] neck in the occupation and also writing about it.”
It's not a bad life, that of an occupier. According to Murufus, someone donated a 4G wi-fi network, and the camp generator may soon be replaced by solar panels. And “everyone's eating good. All our food is donated … we have too much food.”
Once the community does disperse, though, Murufus says he's hoping to “find work or living situation with other activists.”
“I'm meeting all the movers and shakers here,” he adds, completely stoked.
— Simone Wilson
Rick Matthews is what you might call a veteran protester. He got his start demonstrating against the Vietnam War. Once a week for the past several years, he's stood at the corner of First and Gaffey streets in San Pedro, and protested the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. When he heard about the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, he wondered why it took so long.
“I've been waiting for people to stand up for quite a while,” he said. “It's pretty obvious the distribution of wealth in this country has gotten so bad that it's gotten in the way of the smooth running of the economic system.”
Matthews, a retired high school teacher, said he's impressed with the communal nature of the protest movement. The group has daily General Assembly meetings, and breaks up into committees which are assigned specific tasks.
“They're building a community there the way they would like to see the country and the world,” he said. “I think it has a chance of succeeding. It has a chance of actually getting the ear of the people who are the elites — the ones in charge in the country. Maybe it'll bring enough pressure to change things.”
— Gene Maddaus