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Occupy LA | Occupied Stories - Part 2

Tag Archive | "occupy LA"

99Solidarity Bus Trip


Editors note: This story originally appeared on Suicide Girls Blog. You can read part two of the story here; part three is here. You can read more #noNATO coverage on Occupied Stories by clicking here.

Los Angles, CA – In the early hours of Wednesday, May 17, SuicideGirls embarked on an epic cross-country journey in solidarity with Occupy and the 99%. Our “occucation” adventure started out at the current home of OccupyLA, in Downtown’s Pershing Square, where we climbed aboard one of a fleet of three buses organized by Occupy affinity group 99% Solidarity and funded by National Nurses United. The buses are taking occupiers – for free – from Los Angeles to Chicago to participate in the various protests, rallies, and gatherings that are planned there to coincide with the NATO and G8 summits.

The Los Angeles to Chicago bus trip is part of a nationwide effort that will be the largest collaboration between the Occupy and union movements to date. Over the next couple of days a total of 17 buses from around 10 cities will converge, bringing approximately 800 occupiers to Chi-Town.

The organizers hope the bridge-building project will unite protesters and union members, who may have different philosophies but ultimately share common goals. They also hope the mass turnout expected over the course of the long weekend will send a strong message to the 1% and those that are supposed to represent ALL of us, that Occupy, despite losing most of its physical encampments, has not lost its way, and is a force to be reckoned with as the American Spring heats up.

***
 

Though the buses were scheduled to set off from Pershing Square at 4 AM, our departure was delayed by two hours to accommodate a contingent who had traveled by Greyhound from Oakland and San Francisco to join us. Once our NoCal comrades arrived, our three buses set out together in convoy.

As we headed up the I15 towards Vegas, the extended incline and the ambient desert temperature took its toll on the first bus in our fleet, which was forced to take a 15 minute ‘time out’ to cool down. This resulted in a very welcome – if unscheduled – refreshment, toilet and smoke break as we waited at a rest area for the ailing bus to catch up. It also provided an unexpected press opportunity, as our stop off and journey through Nevada made the Chicago ABC 7 News.

Our bus, which was at the rear of the convoy, was the designated media bus. It carried livestreamers OccupyFreedomLA, CrossXBones, TRWBS and CodeFrameSF (who was fresh from Occupy The Farm), and a group of passengers who had consented to be filmed 24/7. Those with cameras were dubbed the California Dream Stream Team, and the super-stream-lined vehicle, the Occupy Real World bus.

As we trucked on through Nevada via Arizona to Utah, most of the group took the opportunity to catch up on some Zzzs, our mass cat nap being roused by another minor case of over-heated engine syndrome and a second unscheduled stop. Once back aboard the bus, we watched Kristin Canty’s excellent pro-raw milk / real food documentary Farmageddon. A third necessary stop – this time planned – for a driver exchange, also served as a pizza-grazing opportunity (the highly deliverable dish being the standard issue hot-ish dining option for the revolution).

As we continued our journey along the I70 towards Salt Lake City, the sun began to set behind the rocky hills providing a stunning photo op for the media bus’ highly independent press corp. It made a nice change for the flurry of shutter clicks to be prompted by something of beauty, rather than a case of all too frequent police brutality.

Attention shifted from the stunning view however, when equally stunning news came in that the sun was setting on the most offensive provisions of the NDAA. As CodeFrameSF read a just-in Federal Court ruling, in which a the judge agreed that the unlimited detention without due process allowed by the extremely vague and open to interpretation wording of the NDAA was onerous and ultimately curtailed free speech, a spontaneous cheer erupted aboard the bus. This victory was not only one for reason – and our Bill of Rights – but one for Occupy, since one of the seven co-defendants in the case was Occupy London founder Kai Wargalla (see previous story).

Though the road trip at times has been grueling, news that true justice had prevailed in what had seemingly been a long-shot David vs. Goliath case raised spirits. Let’s hope our trip to Chicago continues to be a cause for celebration rather than confrontation, as the 99Solidarity road trip spreads a message of unity and continues its mission to inspire a critical mass to motivate positive change by way of peaceful protest. After all, as the Occupy saying goes, the people, united, can never be defeated – and we weren’t today!

-Nicole Powers-

To keep tabs on the progress of our 99% Solidarity Chicago Bus trip, subscribe to the 99% Solidarity media Twitter list and check in with us via the following livestreams:

OccupyFreedomLA
CodeFrameSF
TheRevolutionWillBeStreamed
CrossXBones

Full disclosure: Nicole Powers has been assisting with 99% Solidarity’s efforts and is in no way an impartial observer. She is proud of this fact.

Posted in #noNATO, StoriesComments (2)

Joy and Misery in the Valley


Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Ryan Rice’s blog.

“I began revolution with 82 men. If I had to do it again, I’d do it with 10 or 15 and absolute faith. It does not matter how small you are if you have faith and plan of action.” —Fidel Castro

Los Angeles, CA–Occupy Los Angeles began with 50 people in Pershing Square. There are now nearly 50,000 “likes” on the Facebook page, yet it was Castro’s scenario that occupied Bertha Herrera’s backyard in Van Nuys in early January. Fifteen people with absolute faith that knew a part of changing the world was to be found in a two-bedroom house in the valley.

Bertha had been a resident of this cozy slice of home for over thirty-one years. She was blindsided by trouble when she was denied her workers’ compensation and found herself with no alternative except a second mortgage. The cold and indifferent bank floored Bertha with an illegal notice to evict after mishandling her payments.

There will be ten million more cases like Bertha’s this year. According to the Center for Responsible Lending, Latinos make up the majority of loans delinquent or in foreclosure in California. When examining completed foreclosures, African-American and Latino rates in Los Angeles County are double those of whites. The report, titled Lost Ground 2011, states, “Minority borrowers were disproportionately targeted for mortgage products that were inherently more difficult to sustain, which has resulted in higher foreclosure and serious delinquency rates in communities of color.”

It is clear that Bertha’s situation is far from unique. City, state, and federal government programs have failed to offer real relief, characteristically choosing giveaways to banks and empty rhetoric. The L.A. City Council extended protections for renters but ignored homeowners. Bertha paid an advocate $1,500 but was left unrepresented in court and handed a default judgment. The state legislature failed to pass SB 1137, which would have prevented this robbery. Had those in Sacramento truly cared about struggling Americans, they certainly would have passed this bill to require servicers to make contact with borrowers before initiating foreclosure action.

This brings us to D.C. and the shortcomings of federal foreclosure protections. A total of $29.9 billion has been set aside from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) to go towards the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP). Of the 1.2 million California homes foreclosed upon in the last three years, only ten percent have seen that funding and help. What is abundantly obvious is that our elected officials care more about the banks’ bottom lines than homes for their “constituents”. It was with this realization that Bertha Herrera reached out to Occupy Los Angeles for help.

This writing was partially complete when the sheriffs cut the dead bolt and cleared Bertha’s house room by room. I was feeling a child-like euphoria over occupying a foreclosed home. The movement was transitioning from the symbolic to the real. We all agreed that housing was a human right as we sat cross-legged in our respective tents at Occupy LA, funky protest music thumping from the South Steps. Now we were doing something about it beyond raising awareness on the issue and “changing the national dialogue”. If occupying City Hall had been boot camp, this was our first mission.

The Joy was written before the police came with their guns, before the realtor measured for remodeling, and before the carpenters scurried in the darkness to board up the home.

The Joy

It was Day 97 of Occupy Los Angeles and Day 111 for Occupy Wall Street. For Bertha in Van Nuys, this was day one of her occupation. Her nephew watched us make signs, erect tents, and talk into the night as her patio became a microcosm of Solidarity Park. We were experts at occupying by now. Tents materialized out of thin air and were arranged in a community-oriented circle. A smoking zone was designated for a far corner of the yard as cell phones and cameras occupied the charging station. We were livestreaming the action, tweeting for pizza, and grinning.

Sitting on her back porch as crickets chirped, I noticed a marked absence of noise at this special occupation. In the silence, I was struck by the differences and similarities between occupying public space as a statement versus a foreclosed ninety-niner’s home as a measurable act. I knew I was part of a revolution when I was at Solidarity Park. The drums, the mic-checks, the sirens, and the honking horns told me so. But this quiet suburb, in all its normalcy, was also now a focal point to this movement.

The goals of a public occupation are attacked as oftentimes oblique. This critique has incessantly confused me. I simply want all the things dismantled. I want health care for all, an end to war, fair and just fiscal policy, free education, immigrant rights, and an end to foreclosures. By the way, I also want to abolish capitalism and radically redefine how we live and what our values are. How does one pragmatically go about this? The raw truth is that I want to take down every facet of the oppressive power structures… and that’s daunting. How does one raze the structures of subjugation?

As it turns out, we start at Bertha’s two bedroom house in Van Nuys. Among the multitude of issues, the foreclosure scam has risen to the top as a primary weapon of the one percent. Our marches and rallies are uplifting and empowering, but what do they do, really? If we’re lucky, a frightened security guard locks the doors as we wail and scream;

Bank of America!

Bad for America!

I sometimes question just what a march accomplishes, other than hindering business for a few dozen annoyed ninety-niners. It doesn’t stop the robo-signing on the twentieth floor, the derivative deals on the ninth floor, the slashing of thirty thousand jobs on the forty-second floor, or the decadent million-dollar bonuses in the board rooms.

Foreclosures, however, can deliver guerrilla victories and win the ‘hearts and minds’ of America. This fight offers that same inspiring message of defiance and People Power. It gives the same opportunity for pitching tents, communal living, and battle with the Vampire Squid. What foreclosures do so uniquely is cause real economic harm to the banks that manipulate capitalism to seize and control. They have spun a wonderfully clever web of public losses and private gains that is now, finally, being exposed.

Occupying a home in danger of foreclosure has a palpable goal, a digestible morsel of triumph. The protest encampment was filled with dreamers, drunkards, and die-hard policy wonks. So it is with Bertha’s home. But now there is a resolute tightening of the jaw on all these activists. Now we’re seeing a grandmother’s home in danger of being stolen from her and sold to the highest bidder. And we’re seeing this elusive idea of resistance spread to a woman who has instructed her two adorable dogs to treat these unwashed and penniless occupiers as family. We’re witnessing someone stand up and say, “NO!” I feel honored to shrug off my pack and call this house my home, too.

The Misery

“Wow. What the fuck happened today?” I asked to no one in particular as I finished a cigarette on the decrepit back stairwell of the “Occupartment”. It was midnight, and I was at a loss for words. Our collective has a painfully clear view of the skyscrapers and banks that make up the Los Angeles skyline. As I exhaled the smoke, I wondered just how much resistance it was going to take to have those behemoths rendered obsolete and seized by the people.

The day began with a conspicuous locksmith’s truck across the street. Bertha had just made me a cup of coffee and we were tip-toeing around the house as occupiers lay sprawled on the floor, the couch, and the yard in the back. I had just finished talking with public radio about foreclosures, general strikes, and the future of the occupy movement. Bertha and I were both nervous that the police would show up. This action had been hastily thrown together and we had not had a chance to discuss the diversity of tactics open to us.

Did she want us to chain ourselves to the fridge?! Blockade the doors?

Or did she want us to pack up and exit, providing court support and raising neighborhood awareness instead?

Before we could form any kind of plan, sheriffs began banging on the door, threatening arrests to anyone inside. Having no instructions from the distraught homeowner, I decided to just sit and put the onus to act on the police officers. They cracked the door and came in with guns drawn. We met them with defiance and our cameras. Once they saw the tents and the camera-phones, they holstered their weapons with an awkward acknowledgment that made clear they knew about the occupy movement. The sheriffs still cuffed all three of the men in the house, prodding and pushing the women out the door as well as they struggled to regain their alpha status in the home.

I was cuffed and as the deputy walked me into the driveway, I could feel his whole body shaking with adrenaline. We were all oddly calm though, resolved to spend more time in jail for… whatever they felt like smearing us with. As only a protester can, I was absentmindedly comparing the weight and feel of these metal cuffs to the cutting plastic zip-ties I’d previously been detained in. This occupation was over before it really began, and I was talking with another cuffed comrade about the lost opportunity.

I had plans to turn the palm tree in front into a totem pole devoted to social justice!

I couldn’t wait to meet the neighbors and hold block party teach-ins as we radicalized the street!

I was ready to set up Occupy Lemonade Stands and neighborhood day care and, and, and…!

But then I saw Bertha. She was being forcibly removed from her home. A bank with zero claim to the house was ordering the police to evict this grandmother of five. They gamed the system to seize yet another property. Disgustingly, a Coldwell Banker real estate agent was on hand to take measurements for remodeling. This was really happening. Our bold new front in the Class War was being squashed. Bertha was now without a home.

The sheriffs eventually calmed themselves down and released us, allowing us to get our occupy gear as we gathered, groggy and tense on the front lawn. We comforted Bertha and held an impromptu assembly to decide what to do. The nearest Coldwell Banker branch was just a short ride away, so it was settled that picketing the real estate company’s role in selling stolen homes would be a solid action in response to the eviction.

The action was a success, with a police presence symbolically guarding the bank, drivers honking and waving, and occupiers marching with a tent and signage. We got some of our spirit back, shouting chants at the employees and the police. It was a kind of therapy for the failure at Bertha’s, a medicine to restore our indignation. The valley hadn’t seen much occupy action so far, and it was a welcome boost to see the bank manager flustered and worried by our presence.

We reconvened at Bertha’s home, where occupiers had helped her draft a letter that they were now distributing throughout the neighborhood. The letter was a cry for help that acknowledged the occupy movement had answered her plea. Behind each door was a friendly face, supportive of Bertha and of the foreclosure work occupiers were doing. It turned out I would not have to wait long to find other foreclosed homes to occupy. Six – SIX – in the neighborhood were facing foreclosure in the near future.

As the sun set, we vowed that the day was not yet over. A political debate was going on, so about half of us went to fill out comment cards to demand what each candidate was going to do about the foreclosure crisis. I stayed behind and witnessed one of the saddest moments to date of this movement. Under the cover of darkness, eight LAPD officers showed up to “keep the peace” as a construction crew came in to board up the house. Bertha’s nephew pleaded in Spanish to the workers, asking them in their native tongue if they had a grandmother, if they had a heart. We stared in disbelief as the front door’s Christmas wreath and “Jesus Loves You” sign were covered by plywood.

Thankfully, Bertha had not stayed around to witness the travesty. But as I stood there, I was granted a healthy dose of perspective. Here I was, traumatized and enraged that we had been evicted from Solidarity Park after a mere sixty days. The Fascist Fence continues to separate me from the public space I used to live in and love. It makes me cringe in anger that the thugs dared to lock up our home. I tear up every so often when I look beyond the fence at that hollow expanse.

This movement is so much bigger than a park. We must desperately defend Bertha and the millions of families that see that same thing happen to their homes! We all knew Occupy LA was a fleeting and temporary beauty, sure to be shut down by the elites and the pigs they order around. However, this is a home of thirty-one years. It isn’t a provocative display of the First Amendment, its a place to be warm, to hang pictures on the fridge, and place inspirational quotes by the coat rack.

To see the home boarded up meant the property values of every house on the street instantly fell by the thousands. To see those plywood sheets nailed across her windows was proof that the corporations and the puppets they control do not give a shit about us. Another American was joining the ranks of the wretched refuse and capitalism marched on. I was miserable. We were all miserable over the blatant pillaging the morally bankrupt oligarchy is doing to the 99%.

Everything For Everyone, And Nothing For Ourselves

The spirited occupiers in Solidarity Park roundly rejected a facade of city support in late 2011. In a series of closed-door ‘negotiations’, City Hall and the Mayor awkwardly offered a small building space, too few beds for the houseless, and an undetermined corner of farming land somewhere (eventually). Instead, we audaciously crafted a response that we felt best supported the ninety-niners in Los Angeles. We didn’t need to be placated with 100 beds when Angelenos need 18,000. It is in this vein that the occupy movement will take the power from the oligarchs.

The above Zapatista slogan, “Para todos todo, para nosotros nada,” has been emblazoned across each of our hearts. However, there is a fascinating muddling between us and the “everyone” we’re helping. In the radio interview that morning, I was questioned about the existence and role of the homeless within Occupy Los Angeles. I answered simply, “You’re talking to a homeless person.”

This is the dichotomy inherent to the movement. I am fighting for a person who was denied health care coverage, drained of her life savings, and kicked out of her home. The fact is, I have no health insurance, am penniless, and houseless. Under most assumptions, a Latina grandmother living in the suburbs would have nothing in common with a young white man floating around the urban sprawl of downtown Los Angeles. This is what class war is, though. The erosion of the middle class and the oppression we’re all facing is blurring the line between occupiers as activists and victims.

So is the Occupy Movement the megaphone or are we the ones needing amplification? Under the umbrella of Money in Politics, we are oftentimes both. An individual’s struggle may be over foreclosures, but it could just as easily be over skyrocketing tuition, a relative lost to the Drug War, a friend killed in wars for profit, or a vaporized retirement plan. Omar Barghouti, a human and Palestinian rights advocate, said connecting the issues “is not a nicety, it is a necessity”. The absurdity of profits over people as standard operating procedure is deplorable. If we are going to stop any one injustice, we must come together to stop them all.

I’m reminded of a few quotes from the inspiring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who said:

“Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can’t ride you unless your back is bent.”

And, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

The point is that we the ninety-niners are facing an existential threat and if we hope to not just survive but thrive, it means occupying every home, boycotting every exploitative corporation, and re-learning to lean on our communities. Like occupiers across the globe, we must take charge of our lives and be incessantly indignant at the oppressions we each face.

Despite being unable to prevent the erection of some fences and boards, the fight is just beginning. One day soon these foreclosures are going to stop and we’ll finally acknowledge housing as a human right. This is because there is no stopping Bertha, my fellow occupiers, or this global movement. We’ve taken the Wall Street bull by the horns and there’s no going back. If anyone falters in their resolve for breaking these heinous chains, they can just look to someone like Bertha Herrera. She thanked us, saying, “I wouldn’t have been able to get through this without you (all). I know I’m not alone in the fight, and that gives me the strength to fight for others who are going through the same troubles.” Let’s give her what she and the rest of the ninety-niners deserve. Each day will continue to be filled with both joy and misery. Yet each day is worth it as we continue to see victories where before there were none.

– Ryan Rice –

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Occupying Over Coffee


Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Ryan Rice’s blog.

Los Angeles, CA–I recently made a post on Craig’s List calling for an open-ended “Talk to an Occupier” meeting. I wanted to offer a dialogue that was more intimate and accessible than marches of thousands of people or contentious general assemblies. With our peaceful assembly destroyed, we all know we need space to congregate and organize. I had visions of curious bystanders coming out of the woodwork, filling up cafes, bars, and restaurants as they heard eyewitness accounts of one of the most unique movements in human history.

It has yet to reach that fevered pitch, but I have faith that is where it is destined. In what I believe must sweep the world, people are contracting a dose of reality and empowerment. Reality free of the televised sort, filled instead with the stark truths of how we’ve steered the ship aground. Empowerment free of the hollow “you can be anything” mantra, filled instead with the recognition that the power in ‘All Power to the People’ is ours for the taking.

I had a great start with an undergrad colleague I recently met with. We hadn’t seen each other since her graduation in May, and her political science degree was gathering dust. She enjoys her job, but reached out to me simply because she missed talking politics and knew I was involved in the occupation efforts.

And talk politics we did! Whenever I talk about the occupy movement with “outsiders”, I always like to get Socratic and ask them to explain their hot-button issues, finding some way to connect their opinions to the greater theme of oligarchic control and money in politics. Refreshingly, my date was no hesitant bystander walking through Occupy LA on their lunch break. She went out of her way to get to the bottom of occupying, and she peppered me with questions.

She asked about my arrests, admitting it was on her bucket list to get arrested while standing up for justice. I told her of shotguns and tear gas in Oakland. Careful not to romanticize what must have sounded fairly otherworldly, I pulled her into a discussion on the elites’ desires to shut us down, white privilege in jail, class warfare and the prison-industrial complex.

She asked where the movement was going, of the mind that the occupiers had successfully shifted the dialogue and would be tea-partying Congress with real lefties with a progressive agenda in 2012. We ended up talking electoral politics, diversity of tactics, and just how realistic it was to believe that fresh faces in a morally bankrupt system could change anything.

She mainly asked how we would accomplish things, which I thought was significant. Bypassing what was wrong in our society and why it was exploiting the 99%, she was concerned with how we’d fix it. And that’s it. People across the nation and world know who is responsible and why, and they’re fed up. The pressure now lies on those alternative ideologies and perspectives to deliver solutions. By the way, they already have; evidenced in the decisions of Portugal with drugs, Iceland with banks, Sweden with education, Switzerland with health care, and Canada with income equality.

As the afternoon wore on, we talked the physical occupation and peaceful assembly, the effects on the pundit and politician rhetoric, the successes, the reasons behind crackdowns & arrests, and globalized activism. I found myself working through some positions on the fly, but I felt I accomplished what I envisioned occupying coffee would be. I know I made her think deeper about the issues and gave her the space to verbalize what she knew. Which was a lot, as it is with most people on this planet. We all know that our policies and power structures are not really what they should be. We just so often don’t have the time or the appropriate space to find our voices.

Like clockwork, a peaceful assembly between two people in a cafe at Sunset Junction provided that space and time. Rejecting the pressure to politely avoid politics and religion, as we’re so often told to do, proved captivating. She helped an occupier practice defending a radical alternative to the present society. And she helped a house full of penniless activists eat for a few days with her spontaneous $100 gift.

I’d like to think I helped her to dip her toes into activism. It was absolutely amazing that she felt moved to write a check to an unkempt, wretched idealist such as myself. I feel honored that I inspired, but what is needed is today is more than a check. She warmed my heart and her contribution filled stomachs, but we need people continuing to transfer to unions, stop paying student loans, join sit-ins and boycotts, and work to educate their friends and family, too.

It is going to require a Herculean effort to save the world. I had to coax, prod, and painstakingly convince a liberal political science grad that the occupy movement was a legitimate David to the plutocratic Goliath. This is someone who knows the issues, knows the oppressions, and has a grasp on policy-making. I hope I helped her shrug off those chains of apathy, but it gave me some perspective on the scope of outreach necessary in the years to come.

This is going to be an incredibly long fight and we need to build this movement with any and all tools. If we want to be the change as we so often say, then occupying is a 24/7 commitment. I am going to continue the Occupy Coffee series, and encourage you to join in any way you can. Set up an Occupier sign, get together with friends for the express purpose of talking politics, hold documentary screenings of Restrepo, The Union, or Inside Job.Wear “99%” gear and hold eye contact with strangers, make pot-lucks and neighborhood block parties events to talk about local issues instead of who won the game. Go do!

– Ryan Rice –

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Occupy LA to DC: SEIU, Occupy, and a National General Assembly


Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Ryan Rice’s blog.

Washington, DC–The big question on everyone’s mind seems to be, “Did the SEIU try to co-opt the occupy movement?” We all knew the Democratic Machine would attempt this at some point, so was this the first attempt? I think they tried early in the week and got dealt a massive blowback by three hundred occupiers that defiantly marched out of the SEIU camp, held general assemblies to talk out strategy, and aired tons of grievances directly to the organizers.

Obviously I don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes. I assume something dastardly. But I know that the SEIU structure made a noticeable shift in power with our actions. They stopped enforcing wrist bands for food, allowing hungry but unaffiliated people to eat. They worked horizontally with some occupiers to open up two hours of us introducing the concept of a general assembly, consensus, the history of the movement, and all the spirit finger stuff.

We then posed a question to the audience of rank-and-file and participants. I recognized the three organizers in the audience that had been introduced from the meeting the previous day. So, everyone was in attendance, along with an estimated thirty occupiers in a crowd of about one hundred and fifty people. “What ways can the Occupy Movement and Labor further their similar goals?”

Excerpt:

  1. Beef up “direct” journalism
  2. Mass actions at the capitals of each state combining the spontaneous and organic nature of the Occupy movement with the resources and existing networks of the trade unions, especially the membership
  3. Overcome barriers to communication between the two movements; create direct and transparent lines of communication
  4. Labor and unions are top-down, bureaucratically-structured organizations while the Occupy movement is horizontal and “leaderless”
  5. National Labor Committee for National GA
  6. Further outreach to local community members through Local Labor Committees for local Occupy locations
  7. Get to know each other better, more dialogue, better planning

We lost a little bit of attendance and ended up taking the most interested parties (the three organizers were not among them) and moving to the international tent. We now had a split group of about fifteen occupiers and fifteen union members. I believe there was a writer for Truthout present and a Mother Jones writer who came in late. Either way, Gia shot video and recorded the discussion.

The conversation was really productive, in my opinion. These workers said the same types of things that people say on their first day visiting an occupation. Most of them were just as radical and excited about the “systemic change” needed. I said something about Occupy co-opting the unions and giving them their teeth back. I said I thought a great marriage would be using the direct and radical action that occupations have spearheaded and inspired with the numbers the unions can mobilize.

 

And Liz, who facilitated in OWS and helped us in our first days here in Occupy LA, made great points about questioning all of the privileges a capitalist society creates. Check that privilege! And stop policing our comrades that take the streets! I’m excited to see the media our people shot.

We exchanged contact info and agreed it would be helpful to continue organizing actions together in a transparent, local-level way. OccupyLA hopped into a ‘SEAL’ action [covert and risque] where we went to protest Speaker of the House John Boehner’s Christmas Party at the Chamber of Commerce. Great target, and it was a combination of clever renditions of Christmas caroling and angry boos when attendees arrived and had to walk around a “99% Carpet” with protesters prostrate underneath. It was a great photo-op, as union events tend to be.

I talked with a few occupiers about the week’s events, and no one could recall a protest against a Democrat. There was a “find your representative” action, but it was fairly neutral in messaging and more educational.

I spent the next hour at a sandwich shop with Occupies Boston, LA, Portland, and travelling occupiers. Strategy, shared meals, and a breakout spoken word session. Reminded me of just how protective we must be of this movement. Of course we will not be co-opted, even though they try. We are all too beautiful and brave to allow that. We all clearly march to the beat of our own autonomous drums, and poetry by fiery revolutionaries reassures me of that.

We walked on over to the Washington Monument for the second ‘national general assembly’ of occupiers and whomever else wanted to attend. There were 19 occupations and 5 organizations (unions, businesses, etc.) It worked more like a giant working group, where facilitation posed 2 questions:

  1. What does Phase 2 look like?
  2. How do we increase solidarity and cooperation between the occupations?

We shared contact info, and just like how OccupyLA started, we took down emails for a google group. Funny how organic processes can repeat themselves. Nevertheless, just like the first general assembly, it was like a family reunion. We were more determined to talk strategy, and I think the notes show that.

Personally, I feel like the initial backlash to the situation at the National Mall was real, collective, and necessary. And with the events and awareness that happened throughout the rest of the week, I’ll submit that the Occupy Movement passed with flying colors. We were all transparent in our gripes with unions and yet were still open to talking issues and vision of whatever it was that brought each occupier to the streets.

-Ryan Rice-


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Occupy LA: You Can’t Arrest an Idea


Los Angeles, CA–I arrived to Occupy Los Angeles at 5:20PM on November 28th. By 5:23PM, while taking in the scenery and wondering where to explore first, a guy stumbled over and was the first person to talk to me. “Hey, dude, is that a joint in your mouth? Do you have any pot?” After I informed him that it was a pen and that he shouldn’t smoke – especially in public – he told me to keep my opinions to myself. This, ironically, was funny, as he is part of the 99%; a movement in America that appears to be one of the most iconic forms of public expression and activism in recent years.

I laughed, grabbed my notepad and started to walk around. This man is the poster child for which is often portrayed to the general public by media outlets; a disheveled, inarticulate guy on a quest for drugs and alcohol. This is not the movement and sadly, this aspect of portrayal is what people eat up, which makes it easier for folks to brush these protests aside.

When I arrived, the occupation had been in occurrence for 58 days. Many hours before, at 12:00AM, an eviction order deadline was given by Los Angeles Mayor Villaraigosa. The reason for said eviction was: “It is time to close the park and repair the grounds so that we can restore public access to the park.” Restore public access? Although I am new to Los Angeles, it didn’t take an expert to understand this was probably the largest and widespread use of the park in the history of the city.

In all honestly, the park did smell like urine, pot, and body order – but any recent college graduate has probably smelled worse at an off campus house party. It does not matter what the park smelled like, or the type of people that were there, because at the root of it, beyond the shenanigans of the “tag-a-longers,” also known as, the people who are occupying for the hell of it, there is a core movement that was started well beyond the recent recession. And many people at Occupy Los Angeles believe so.

“The LAPD hate the mayor; they fucking hate him. Well, most of them,” he said. “They are part of the movement, every last one of them. They are underpaid, overworked, and at 3AM, when there are no camera crews around and it’s just us and them, we talk.” Among the people I spoke with, one of the best-versed, intelligent, and articulate was David Pierce, 33, a Santa Barbara native who was laid off from IMB, known as one of the most influential companies in the world, just six months earlier. He came to Los Angeles to use his college degree, past work experience, and determination in order to find another job. Instead, he found Occupy Los Angeles.

Pierce expanded and said he believes if the LAPD are given the order to make arrests in the future, most will lay down their badge and return home to spend time with their families. He added that, “just because they are not here with us, camped out in front of City Hall, does not mean they don’t agree with us.”

I told David Pierce about my website and the how it is catered to Generation Y. We spoke about how, quite possibly, our generation has the upper hand on a lot of things, particularly when it comes to social movements, activism, and freedom of expression.

“You are all hackers. Well, most of you,” he said. “And not hackers in the general sense. You guys know your way around things. If the cops are flashing lights in your eyes, you’re not only going to find a way to escape it, but to reflect it back onto them. If you can’t get in the front door or the window or even the sewer, you’ll find another way. Your generation, or more so, our generation, has that unique ability that many other generations don’t possess – and it’s going to be an awesome tool for activism and change.”

After our half hour talk, I realized that I probably picked the best person I could have at Occupy Los Angeles. Slightly older than the Generation Y demographic, he is one that is able to look upon are age group with hope and inspiration; David knows, and can see, the awesome tools that we take for granted.

“When it comes down to it,” said David, “they can arrest us tonight and we’ll be back tomorrow. They can arrest us the next day and we’ll be back and so on. I don’t think people realize that.”

As I left, I realized that the first step of any movement is standing your ground, even if you are knocked, dragged or pulled away. And quite honestly, the saying is true: you can arrest a person, but you can’t arrest an idea.

– Jeffrey Hartinger –

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Two Arrests for the Resistance: Padding My Resume


Editor’s note: This post originally appeared on Ryan Rice’s blog.

Since Occupy Wall Street began, I have been arrested in both Oakland and in Los Angeles. Across this nation we have seen protesters being beaten, pepper-sprayed, tear-gassed, and shot with rubber bullets and bean-bag projectiles. As of Sunday morning, there are a total of 4,619 arrests across the country. You read that correctly. The United States of America has arrested nearly five thousand people made up of nonviolent students, citizens, seniors, activists, journalists, and legal observers. I hope my arrests may highlight the permeating cancer we’re fighting. I hope my arrests may illuminate the overt attempts by the oligarchs to inhibit freedom, incarcerate the dissenters, and further the continued destruction of this great experiment known as America.

Occupy Oakland

I was in Oakland for their November 2nd General Strike, and was part of the 103 arrests in the nighttime raid of Alameda County Sheriff’s department on Occupy Oakland. I spent 16 hours in a cold, dirty holding cell in Oakland with other comrades bent on the devilish desire of restoring democracy to this country. The police took every opportunity to intimidate us, letting us languish in the jails with tight zip-tied cuffs for hours as many of us suffered bruises and wounds from the attacks at Occupy Oakland.

Those arrested were the ones within an arbitrary “no-zone” around the tent city. We were the ones who came to investigate in the dead of night the hundreds of shock troops assembled around a community encampment. We were the ones that raised a peace sign and held our ground. Those that fled the state’s power were spared. They who submitted to the fears of the helicopters, guns, paddy wagons, and tear gas were out of danger. Yet the First Amendment was the only permit we needed! The occupy movement is a 24/7 protest on public space because of the immediate and dire need to change the course of this nation. But still the raised shotguns fired and flash-bang grenades exploded.

I hope you have all seen the video of Ranger veteran Kayvan Sabeghi being beaten mercilessly by shock troops for standing up against injustice. I witnessed first-hand as his internal injuries grew worse and he screamed from the floor of the jail hallway for medical assistance. I observed the smirks on the guards’ faces as they did nothing until hour fifteen.

I was treated personally with mostly dignity. They saw my white skin, they heard me speaking policy, politics, and law, and they saw me look them in the eyes with a righteous indignation that I would wager they do not often receive. The National Lawyers Guild assured us of our timely release and the legal action they would be taking in our defense, so it turned into a waiting game.

The worst feeling of the ordeal was the utter powerlessness I felt when trapped unjustly. Here I was, witnessing wrongs that I was incapable to stop. In all honesty, it made me very angry. For me, Oakland was a transition of sorts. As a white, educated, heterosexual male from suburbia, I had never experienced many of the problems I was now standing up against. Hell, I was pulled for speeding and the officer happened to be my lifeguard at the country club I attended. He told me to run along and slow it down. That’s it. Meanwhile, my brothers and sisters have their Fourth Amendment rights violated at every corner in lower socioeconomic neighborhoods.

So my transition was one from vicarious experience to truth. What was a sad or maddening article of injustice in the New York Times suddenly became a reality check. I was no longer discussing the problems of the prison-industrial complex in a campus coffee shop. I was talking about the War on Drugs with a disaffected young black man hauled in for possession with intent to sell as we sat chained to the wall.

Once out of jail, cited and released for “Remaining at the scene: riot, etc,” I strapped on my gas mask, tied up my boots, and made a beeline for the occupation. Along the way, we passed a local black-and-white that rolled down their windows in a surprisingly friendly manner.

“You guys headed back? Be good!” they exclaimed with hot coffees in hand and ready for their beat. My revolutionary brother raised his shirt and displayed the perpendicular 18” bruise along the middle of his back. The officers immediately expressed a kind of dumb-founded shock. These were not the black-clad thugs from the previous night.

“Who did that to you? That could not have been us; we’re not trained that way. You can paralyze someone with a hit like that,” said the driver, disregarding a green light to further gawk at the police brutality.

My comrade’s back was bruised when he was peacefully meditating between the state gangsters and the youth barricading them from the violence to come. Seated in the lotus position, the first blow directed at him was parried by a Real Life Superhero’s shield. After he was beaten unconscious, they turned back to the danger-to-society pacifist and cracked him across the back.

On our return to Occupy Oakland, we were greeted with cheers, hugs, slices of cold pizza and freedom. We were back home.

Occupy Los Angeles

I spent a further 14 hours in a cold, dirty holding cell in Los Angeles with forty-six other freedom fighters. Ranging from ninety-three to nineteen, the wide collection of protesters served to show the LAPD how diverse this group was. This was the first mass arrest for this haven of a city. Since Occupy Los Angeles’ inception, the LAPD, City Council, and Mayor have all worked to facilitate a nonviolent protest around City Hall.  This has also made Occupy LA toothless and my goal for November 17th was to raise awareness of the scope and seriousness of these protests.

We had several actions throughout the day that were unpermitted, which set the course for the LAPD to grudgingly show their truer colors. The beat cops in their blues disappeared and the riot cops in tactical gear and missing badge numbers took their place. What had been a relatively passive occupation on the lawns of City Hall was gaining steam. Members of the occupation wanted to toe the line of what this whole thing was about: money in politics.

So we marched to the plaza at Bank of America and set up a flash occupation on the grounds owned by Brookfield Properties – the same corporation that owns Zuccotti Park and a property that was smack dab in the middle of the hallowed halls of Los Angeles commerce.

I joined other comrades in a fast that day, in order to recognize that we are all responsible for the woes we were raising our fists against. I was not a part of Occupy LA in order to protest a specific rich CEO or attack a single corrupt politician. If I was in a position of power, I just may abuse it as our leaders have. So for me, a fast was a symbolic gesture that in absolving this system of oppression we must also absolve those selfish ideals within ourselves if we have any hope of succeeding.

Just like my personal transition in Oakland, Angelinos were feeling the reality of what the Occupy Movement is fighting as they witnessed hundreds of police assemble in riot gear around a tiny patch of symbolic grass. Deemed a ‘private persons arrest’ for trespassing by “Citizen Thompson,” the police moved in on 47 people at 4:30 pm that afternoon. They were blatantly taking orders from the 1% to move in and squash political action by the 99%. How threatening that rag-tag group of activists locking arms around a medical tent must have been.

As we were processed, I immediately saw a chasm between the treatments in LA versus Oakland. We were, as an officer told us, “being treated with kid gloves.” I did not thank her for that, as unfortunately some of my fellow arrestees did. Why should I thank an officer for doing her job and upholding the presumption of innocence and satisfactory levels of human decency?

Because of the kid gloves, I seethed from the injustice. Where were the dozens of detectives that were arresting and booking the white collar criminals that are destroying our planet? Where with the black-clad SWAT teams that were zip-tying the war-profiteers for making billions as millions of people died because of their purchased policies?

Just like in Oakland, my appearance, demeanor, and speech made room for officers to try the classic “divide and conquer” strategy. I was festooned with compliments and calls for me to “forget about the partiers and homeless just there to party.” I was advised by plainclothes detectives to get serious, leave the “South side” (of City Hall… where most of the divisive language about the “partiers” resides) to them, and work on getting into politics myself.

I met those suggestions with flat out rejection. I told several of the officers that strategy of throwing out the poor, wretched refuse is what helped fill their jails. Rejecting and discarding whatever he took a “partier” to mean was exactly what this movement was not. For one, I am wholly and totally against the wars on drugs and poverty that have imprisoned and oppressed millions. Why would I ever want to continue a policy that destroys lives?

Secondly, I have witnessed the disaffected and unserious become empowered and solemn about the issues that caused camps to spring up across the globe. How dare this elitist tool of the plutocrats work to divide a people’s movement. It is even silly to think that his tactics could work when I have seen social progress at occupations that is far and away more substantial than a strategy of throwing people who share a bottle of wine or smoke a joint together in the cold night under the bus.

The Future – More Arrests?

I do not know what the future holds. Two months ago, I could have never predicted that I would have had a shotgun in my face in Oakland, protested the President as he drove by in West Hollywood, helped galvanize Occupy Long Beach in the face of police psych-warfare and sleep deprivation, or been surrounded by goons in black protecting ATM machines as curious passersby looked on.

Here’s what I do know: Standing up is an action that a lot of Americans have forgotten or left in the dust out of disgust. For decades, dissent and empowerment has been attacked on all fronts. Provocateurs infiltrate, groups splinter, and our education system falls short of honest dialogue on political and economic systems. Voting rights are attacked, gerrymandering is pervasive, and money in politics ensures any progress for the people is undermined.

But I must resist. I am compelled to get on the frontlines and lock arms with Truth on my left and Justice on my right. Perhaps it is because of my youth that I have the nerve to imagine an alternative. However, that is who has always been the vanguard for change. Those that are naïve enough to think that people should be treated fairly are the ones that must Stand Up. Right now. See you out there.

– Ryan Rice –

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The Occupation of Los Angeles


Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared at  Vegas Seven.

Los Angeles, CA–What were we supposed to do, march on the Hollywood sign?

With no great metaphor for what’s plaguing our nation readily available, somewhere between 1,000 and 4,000 protesters, depending on which news source you prefer, assembled on Saturday, Oct. 1, at Pershing Square in Los Angeles (not exactly a brand-name landmark) and marched a mile or so to City Hall. This was part of the nationwide wave of Occupy Wall Street Protests, except we had no place like Wall Street to occupy. Our City Hall building is a lovely beaux arts/classical mash-up on Spring Street, right across from the equally magnificent Los Angeles Times building, whose denizens, not surprisingly, took little notice of what was going on under their noses.

Grand as it is, City Hall is a symbol of, well, nothing much, though it did stand in for The Daily Planetheadquarters in the old Superman series. In Los Angeles, the office of the weak mayor and inept City Council is usually among the least interesting places to be on any given day.

That’s changed, for now, thanks to the angry (but typically congenial) Angelenos now camping out on its lawns. These days, it’s a better photo op than Hollywood Boulevard, the Capitol Records building, or the truncated sign that once advertised the ill-fated Hollywoodland development.

Coincidently, and weirdly, the Occupy Los Angeles movement started the same weekend as the Pacific Standard Time exhibit opened at the Getty Center and other museums and galleries across the city. The exhibit is an ambitious attempt to stake Los Angeles’ rightful claim to a leading place in the postwar U.S. art boom. Whether it’s because New York owns the means of cultural dissemination (for now) or because Los Angeles is too inchoate of an idea to keep its own history, our local legacy in the arts is too often shorthanded into a single word: Hollywood. “Hey,” PST seems to be saying, “Don’t forget Baldessari, Hockney, Ruscha, Eames and all the modernist architects who made hay here, not to mention Andy Warhol, who got his big break at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles in 1962!” Where but L.A. would take soup cans seriously?

But for a change, Hollywood, which may be the last union shop in the country, a place where my girlfriend can make a living wage costuming a TV talent show, isn’t the symbol of our present ills: Wall Street is. Sunday’s march here began as a show of solidarity with the brave folks in New York facing down pepper-spraying and net-wielding police to protest the corporations and politicians hastening our demise. (This just in: Like the Harlem Globetrotters and the Washington Generals, they’re in it together). And like the protesters in Manhattan and across the nation, the L.A. marchers called themselves “the 99 percent”—in other words, everyone except the wealthiest one percent for whom the system’s been rigged.

• • •

Despite all the action, it was in many ways, as Randy Newman sang, “another sunny day.” For me, it began with running into local legend, and old friend, Vaginal Cream Davis, at a greasy spoon diner on the Silver Lake/Echo Park border—ground zero for the eastside creative class, or, if you prefer, Brooklyn Heights expats.

I hadn’t seen Davis in years, since we both worked at the LA Weekly back when a journalist and a 6-foot-6, cross-dressing performance artist could still find work in this town. Davis has since moved to Berlin, where the public votes for the arts with its tax dollars. I’ve joined the new economy, where I spend my savings to ply the trade I once got paid to do.

Davis was carb-loading before taking a leading role in the Trespass Parade a celebration of art and activism that was part of Pacific Standard Time’s opening ceremonies. It began at L.A. Mart and wound up Broadway before finishing at the Museum of Contemporary Art, where a new director, New York’s Jeffrey Deitch, is earnestly scrambling to fathom this stubbornly unfathomable city. New York is easy by contrast—wealth is the primary cultural currency. Here, it’s something more elusive—imagination, charisma, beauty, style, science … the future. After all, L.A. happily gave birth to both The Hangoverand Jet Propulsion Laboratory. We have the Emmys and the Nobel Prize factory, CalTech.

Davis handed me a route map for the parade, but I had a prior engagement to visit the East Hollywood studio of a friend picked as one of the up-and-coming artists to be featured on a citywide art map duringPacific Standard Time’s opening weekend. After that, I decided to ride my bike down to the demonstration to get my fair share of abuse.

As I rode across the city—Hollywood through Koreatown, Historic Filipinotown, skirting the southern fringe of Angelino Heights, through the Second Street Tunnel, and then downtown to City Hall, the city unfurled as it really is: a dream factory, perhaps, but not made of tinsel. These neighborhoods have little to do with Hollywood. They’re working-class, scrappy and filled with people who came here for the better life America promised to the world, and in many cases, for the better life Los Angeles promised to America. And despite these hard times, it wasn’t all in tatters. Fruit still fell from the trees, the sun shined as generously as ever, and the clusters of strip malls, bodegas, modest restaurants, grand art-deco apartment buildings and overstuffed, one-bedroom garden villas climbing up hillsides stubbornly held their ground. For the day at least.

I started thinking about the tenuousness of this present, already dissolving into a rickety future, and wondered how much more it can take. I thought about the differences between old-world, hierarchical New York and sprawling, horizontal Los Angeles. For the past decades, New York—as symbolized by Wall Street, which itself is just a symbol—has been in the taking business. Siphoning money out of workaday streets like the ones I was peddling over, and sucking it up into the executive suites of Wall Street skyscrapers.

That destructive process went into overdrive in the mid-1980s. I lived in New York then, among the future masters of the universe, many of whom I went to school with, and even then they could never really explain what it was they actually did. There were no real words for it, so they invented complicated ones like LBOs, derivatives, subprime mortgages and debt trading. What they meant was simple enough: scheming, bilking. Riding through L.A. toward Pershing Square, I couldn’t help but think these are the last gasps of the wobbly Wall Street paradigm.

• • •

I’ve always been impressed with Los Angeles’ empathy. After the 9/11 attacks, a friend and I took a large sheet down to the local supermarket and started writing messages of solidarity with New Yorkers on it. In a few hours, the sheet was filled with hundreds of L.A. love letters to New York. Another friend flew the banner back East and put it up in Union Square. I think we Angelenos sometimes feel like we’re out here on our own, for better or worse, and we want the rest of the country to know, despite your incessant cheap shots at our expense, that we’re thinking of you, and often fondly. After all, most of usare you. We just walked a little farther into the horizon.

But it wasn’t only solidarity with the resistance leaders in New York that motived folks to come to City Hall. Unemployment in Los Angles is around 13 percent, compared with New York’s 9 percent. People here, like everywhere these days (there are 160 Occupy cities at this writing, and they are as disparate as Santa Barbara and Binghamton, N.Y.), don’t see a way out of the mess we’re in unless the Kabuki theater of American politics changes significantly. And as much as the lazy observer would like to pigeonhole the movement as some radical fringe, plenty of L.A.’s occupiers didn’t fill the bill.

• • •

I parked my bike, walked south along Spring Street, and met Mark, an elderly gent with an Irish brogue that’s survived his 50 years in America. A former special-education teacher (“I tried regular education, but I’m not that tough,” he jokes), Mark took the bus from Santa Monica to join in the demonstration. “I think it’s good that lots of people came here,” he told me, smiling as he looked around. “People are taking back the country. I think people are very aware that they’re being ripped off. We have to wake up to the truth that everybody on this planet is brother and sister, and the competition with each other we’ve been seduced into is the illusion.”

A few yards away, Samantha, 29, and Rosa, 30, were standing together on the sidewalk holding signs. Samantha’s sign informed passers-by that she has a master’s degree, has been unemployed for two years and can’t pay off her student loan. Rosa’s sign said she was a struggling student, and that education should not be a luxury. They both came in from Fullerton, a middle-class suburb in Orange County, and had covered their faces with bandanas.

“Why the bandanas?” I asked.

“This is about the cause, not about us,” Samantha said.

“Maybe if I cover up my face,” Rosa said, “people will relate more. We’re just everybody. Also, I get sunburned.”

I got the sense the two were mostly concerned their families might recognize them on TV.

Samantha has been looking for work as a teacher at the community college level since getting her master’s degree two years ago. She told me there are thousands of applicants for every job she goes for, and that rather than fill those positions with experienced or highly trained applicants, community colleges facing budget cuts are hiring low-paid interns.

Rosa has also been trying to find work for two years. “I apply for jobs all day and get no callbacks,” she said. Her mother came to California after the 1972 Nicaraguan earthquake that killed 5,000 people and left 250,000 homeless; she was looking for a better life. Forty years later, Rosa’s still looking for it.

“I’ve done everything to become a productive member of society, but I keep getting rejected,” she told me. “I just want a job.”

A few minutes later, I met a gainfully employed 32-year-old boy-next-door named Tom Pharo. Tom moved here five years ago from South Jersey and works 40 hours a week at a supermarket, “just to be broke.” “Corporations don’t want to pay us, and they’re making millions,” he said. “We’re sick of the rich getting richer and everyone else getting squashed.” He looked around at the marchers, the signs, the theater of protest. “We have to do this to have the freedom our founding fathers guaranteed us.”

Tom grew up around New York. He says that while he has common cause with Occupy Wall Street, he’s glad to be out of that city’s shadow. “It feels like a more loving community here. I felt that as soon as I got here. New York is just a money drain.” A few yards from Tom, I met Clea, a single mother whose house is being foreclosed on while she faces a 50 percent salary cut at her job as a social worker. She told me she was just looking for a reason to believe.

“I have a 10-year-old. I can’t just curl up and die, but I don’t have a lot of optimism. There has to be some energy from somewhere. When I see others doing this, it gives me something. It resonates with me.”

After a few hours, I peddled up César Chavez Avenue toward my home in Echo Park. I felt lighter and stronger despite hours of sun and little to drink. For the first time in a while, a bit of hope pushed me along. People were out doing things, protesting, parading, carrying signs and, yes, cross-dressing. Later that night, there were PST art openings and events to go to, but I found myself back down on the steps of City Hall, soaking in the assembly as a bright quarter moon hung over the Times building. I wasn’t all that concerned with what people had to say about Los Angeles’ place in the art world. After all, we know who we are. We’re the 99 percent.

– Joe Donnelly –

Photo by Ted Soqui

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