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Occupy L.A.: Cute, then not so much

by Ryan Torok

December 1, 2011 | 2:51 am

At Spring St. and Temple St. on Wed., Nov. 30, an Occupy L.A. stands in anticipation of the LAPD shut-down of the encampment. Later that night, protestors will yell "The whole world is watching, the whole world is watching," while LAPD storms the site.

It was shortly after midnight on Wednesday morning when it happened. Occupy L.A. was shut down. Given that L.A. was one of the last active occupations in a major city, the Occupy movement – at least in encampment form – seems to be dying down.

Despite the string of Occupier evictions in multiple major cities, conversation about Occupy continues.

That’s because everybody has an opinion about the Occupy movements. It’s just one of those things. A co-worker, following an office birthday party, said that she believed in what the Occupiers were doing.

Another co-worker said he was bothered by what happened at UC Davis, where, in mid-November, a police officer used an obscene amount of pepper spray on college students who were demonstrating peacefully in solidarity with the nationwide Occupy movements.

My doctor said a couple of weeks ago that Occupy was by far the most exciting thing happening in this country.

An employee at 24 Hour Fitness told me she thought that the Occupiers weren’t accomplishing anything and needed to find jobs.

My favorite – and I don’t mean that sarcastically – commentary was from writer Matt Taibbi, who wrote in Rolling Stone that he didn’t understand the Occupy movement at first, but he eventually realized that the people camping out were showing that it’s possible to drop out of society for a little bit.

Dropping out of society – if only for a little bit. Reminds me of the 1985 Albert Brooks film, “Lost in America,” in which Brooks plays an advertising guy who is overlooked for a promotion he feels he deserves and decides to drop out of society – if only for a little bit. He convinces his wife it’s a good idea, and they take off in a camper across the country. The idea’s cute, only until it isn’t. Their first stop is Vegas, where Brooks’ wife loses all their money in a blackjack game.

There are probably plenty of people who believe - Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa apparently one of them -  that the Occupy Los Angeles movement was a good thing when it first sprang up at the beginning of October, starting with a march that took off from Pershing Square. The protestors’ ideals, slogans– “We are the 99%” being the most famous – were catchy and spoke to the hearts of people making up the 99%—everybody except the uber-wealthy in this country. Los Angeles City Council passed a resolution, in fact, in support of the Occupy L.A. movement, and Villaraigosa was quoted in support of it. That’s why Occupy L.A. supporters have filed a lawsuit against the city, claiming it’s their right to be there, following the mayor’s announcement that the site must be cleared. On Wednesday, LAPD evicted all of the L.A. Occupiers, making 200 to 300 arrests, a few hours after police in Philadelphia shut down the encampment there. (The Occupy camps in New York, Oakland, Detroit and St. Louis were also recently shut down, according to the New York Times.)

What changed? Why did city officials suddenly decide they didn’t want Occupy L.A. around? Why did the movement’s idea of dropping out seem sweet at the beginning and become tiresome to city officials as it continued on for eight weeks?

According to the Los Angeles Times, the mayor decided to close the camp when learning there were children sleeping there; the Times also reported that the camp’s method of reaching decisions – by unanimous agreement – made it impossible to negotiate with them.

The police showed restraint during an early morning raid on Monday, Nov. 28, but Ben Zandpour, a spiky-haired and friendly Occupy L.A. participant, said it was only because the mayor has post-mayoral political ambitions.

Maybe the trajectory of the city’s response - first love, then hate – was calculated.

On Nov. 9, I went to a rally at Occupy and had the fortune of meeting Sam Slovick, who has written for the L.A. Weekly and lived at Occupy L.A. for weeks, writing about it at samslovick.com). Slovick said that LAPD’s initial “love-fest” were a “tactic” and they would eventually turn on the activists.

It looks like Slovick’s prediction - nearly three weeks before the shut-down - was dead-on. Why exactly it happened this way, I don’t have the answer—but the way it went down reinforced what Brooks’ character learned: dropping out ain’t easy.

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