Occupying Los Angeles for Economic Justice

Occupy Los Angeles. Photo: Neon Tommy/Flickr
Occupy Los Angeles. Photo: Neon Tommy/Flickr
Sitting in a wheel chair outside City Hall, 78-year-old Anastasia Stewart pumped her handmade sign in the air: ‘Yes To All People. No To Corporations and Wars.’ The Eagle Rock, California resident had driven to downtown Los Angeles – as had thousands of other locals – looking for change.

“We have to do something,” she said. “I’ve seen our country deteriorate too much.”

Mrs. Stewart echoed many of the frustrations voiced at the Occupy Wall Street rallies across the United States: a deep-seated distrust of corporations, frustration at protracted military conflicts and anger at the attacks on Medicare, education and Social Security.

Mrs. Stewart added: “We’ve become ‘of the corporations, by the corporations and for the corporations,’ instead of ‘of the people, for the people, by the people.’”

As the Occupy Wall Street protests intensified in New York City last month, protesters began congregating at City Hall in Downtown Los Angeles. Many came in solidarity with the demonstrations back East, others went simply to air their own concerns over the economy. Using social media such as Facebook and Twitter, organizers set October 1st as the official anniversary of Occupy Los Angeles.  Thousands massed downtown and marched through the streets of Los Angeles to protest the economic situation, corporate malfeasance and social justice.

Angered by the way lobbyists influence government, 20 year old Noel Pedraza found out about the Occupy LA movement through his Facebook news feed. He took the subway downtown after work at a Hollywood burger joint.

“Our voting rights don’t mean anything,” he opined. “I feel like corporations have more say over us than we do.” Asked what he hoped could be accomplished through the Occupy LA movement, he responded: “I’m just very happy that people are paying attention to what’s going on. I hope it’ll increase awareness.”

Now in its third week, the protests in Los Angeles have grown. A tent city sprung up on the lawns surrounding City Hall. Volunteers man a canteen that serves hot meals and snacks. Portable bathrooms, recycling, trash and composting bins are all available and maintained. A library loans everything from screenplays to Marx. And true to Southern California form, an organic juice bar provides refreshments, free of charge.

On Saturday, October 15th, thousands peacefully walked from Pershing Square to City Hall in a World Solidarity March. Citizens in major Asian and European cities started their own Occupy Wall Street camps in solidarity with those in the United States.

In addition to protesting at traffic lights, residents of the tent city in Los Angeles take turns on the soapbox. Anyone is allowed to share their two cents and it is not uncommon to hear everything from Ron Paul supporters shouting to end the Federal Reserve to hobos singing protest songs. Organizers insist that the Occupy LA Movement does not endorse or support any political party or candidates.

Manny Ipapo, a 33 year old from Northeast Los Angeles, took the microphone and told the crowd that he was inspired by their show of solidarity.

“I think it’s a personal change for me to take action,” he explained later. “To stop complaining and do something.”

Mr. Ipapo, who said he was chronically underemployed for four years, now has a fulltime career.

“Funny enough, I have a corporate job,” he added, declining to give the company’s name for fear of running afoul of management. “But corporations need to be accountable and treat workers fairly.”

Celebrities have begun appearing at Occupy Los Angeles. Guitarist Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine played. Longtime human rights activist and actor Danny Glover made an appearance, as did Dr. Cornel West and progressive radio host Tavis Smiley.

“I’ve been waiting for this day my whole life,” explained Mark Lipman of the Occupy LA Media Team. “I’ve been an activist for 20 years and things have finally reached a boiling point.” Mr. Lipman, who quit his day job as an homeless rights organizer to volunteer fulltime at the protest, admits that a diversity of issues concern the protestors. “But the thing that holds us together is economic justice. We’re all victims of a system that propels 1% of the populations on the backs of the rest of us.”

Indeed, activists shout the slogan, ‘We are the 99%’ in reference to the top 1% of the United States population who control 42% of the wealth.

Demonstrators published a list of reforms. The manifesto calls for banking, tax, immigration, campaign finance and healthcare reforms as well as the ending of wars and poverty. Additionally, protestors want a bailing out of the poor and a return of the TARP money used to bail out major banks.

Yet even with all the bonhomie, according to some participants, the Occupy LA movement has a long way to go.

“It can be very unorganized,” explained Tara Verrette, a 24 year old aspiring actress who lives in East Hollywood. “That doesn’t sit well with me.”

Ms. Verrette, who until the protests started claimed to know, “almost nothing about what was going on in the US” has since attended Occupy LA everyday. She even went so far as to start her own committee called the General Support Division, whose main goal is to help out wherever an extra hand is needed. She concluded: “We want to especially help with getting the message to the media.”

Sammy Loren is a writer and fimmaker based in Los Angeles. For more info, visit his website: www.sammyloren.com