“Mic check! MIC CHECK!”
The now-familiar chant of Occupy Los Angeles protesters unable to hear the speaker wafts through the crisp night air outside City Hall's south steps on Nov. 17. Among the hundreds gathered are youngsters with Maori-sized ear plates, a sprinkling of suits clutching briefcases, nonchic hippie girls and a homeless man who famously asked a question of Robert Reich — an Occupy sympathizer who was President Clinton's Labor secretary — while sporting a banana peel on his head.
“We sent a strong message to the city of L.A. today,” a speaker named Alejandra tells the throngs.
Earlier in the day, 46 people were arrested after participating in four “actions,” the most notable being a very short-lived “occupation” of Bank of America Plaza. “I walked by a restaurant,” she adds, “and 30 people were watching it on the screens.”
Compared to New York, Portland, Ore., Oakland, Boston and even Seattle, where an 84-year-old activist who grew up in Nazi Germany was pepper-sprayed, Occupy L.A. has been a cakewalk through Disneyland. The sparkling weather adds a touch of surrealism not found in Boise or D.C., just as the mirage of Hollywood is never far off. This is political protest, L.A.-style: News vans nestled nearby on the eve of Occupy L.A.'s march to City Hall were actually there to cover Conrad Murray's trial.
And while star Ryan Gosling, filming at City Hall snubbed the protest, plenty of celebs have brought the noise — Chuck D, Shepard Fairey, Danny Glover. Dr. Cornel West spoke; Tom Morello performed “This Land Is Your Land.”
While a militant-looking man leads the crowd in a chant — “I AM READY FOR A BEAUTIFUL DAY” — a media committee member explains the arrests: “They were doing civil disobedience. They wouldn't move when the cops told them to move. A few people pitched their tents, and when the cops told them to move, they didn't.”
In another action, also earlier today, three Occupiers were cuffed after being surrounded by riot cops as they made their way down Broadway, marching in solidarity with Good Jobs L.A. “They were bullshit arrests,” the committee man declares.
Eight weeks ago, people were more likely to “occupy” a restroom than one of their hometown's financial arteries. But as the days drag on (Nov. 17 was day 48 for Occupy L.A.) and the media can't help but cover the movement, there is a growing sense of possibility among protesters. Yes, at an Occupy L.A. assembly you may be serenaded by a skinny, white guy clad in a Guatemalan pullover, puffing on a pan flute. But you also might run into your old sociology professor.
“We've got every kind of ideologist, from Marxists to tea partyers, here,” says Dan, who describes himself as an out-of-work carpenter. Naturally, that makes for difficulty reaching a “democratic consensus.”
On the first day at City Hall, 9/11 truthers had a presence. Eight days later, a screen on the lawn projected the horrors of factory farming; a table was set up to promote “the Zeitgeist Movement.” Some feared the focus was being lost before it had been found.
There are still those with ancillary goals, some folded into the Occupy L.A. agenda (indigenous peoples' rights, Dump the Federal Reserve, unemployment, labor unions, Unite to Stop Foreclosures) and others that are a bit of a stretch (No Nukes, “Occupy the Rose Parade,” STOP GMOs!).
But the Occupiers' ideologies appear to be homogenizing: Divergent groups with divergent pet issues are finding out what other atrocities they have to be righteously pissed off about.
“People are beginning to be of one mind. They're starting to synch up,” explains a fellow who made his way from D.C. “We're starting to understand the total message. Ultimately we want more attention. We're like babies here. We're yelling because we want the world to recognize that there is a lot of shit wrong — the world, not just California or Los Angeles, and we're going to continue, until we are all either locked up or we get our way.”
In early weeks, much hand-wringing took place at the group's nightly general assemblies. But individuals at the helm then — Heidi from Michigan; a Venice-by-way-of–San-Francisco–looking lady secretly nicknamed Rebel Spice by some fellow occupiers — are nowhere to be seen six weeks later. There's no one in charge, and perhaps, to the powers that be, that's the scariest part of the Occupy movement: There's no figurehead to assassinate, either by flesh wound or by character.
Still, a rugged man complains about cliques to his friend. “John Lennon had a song about that,” the friend says.
Surprisingly, tonight, there is no sense that today's arrests hold ominous portent, although one woman complains about the money being used to bail out the arrested.
“No, the cops are scared … they've always had bad press, and so they don't want to do anything unless they absolutely have to, like if we're blatantly not following the law, like today,” someone notes.
More actions are planned; this evening, the general strike committee proposes an Occupy the Courts Day, A Day Without Goldman Sachs, perhaps even a rumble at the Port of Los Angeles. There is no intention of baiting the officers, at least not one stated overtly. There is only a cry for more attention — and a plan to keep fighting.