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Jewish Journal

Occupy L.A. raises more questions than it answers

by Jonah Lowenfeld

November 2, 2011 | 4:19 pm

People demonstrate in front of a Bank of America as Occupy Los Angeles protesters march in the Protest Against Corporate Greed on their International Day of Action in Los Angeles, California October 15, 2011. Occupy LA is part of the Occupy Wall Street movement that began in New York last month with a few people and expanded to protest marches and camps across the US and abroad.  Photo by David McNew/Reuters

People demonstrate in front of a Bank of America as Occupy Los Angeles protesters march in the Protest Against Corporate Greed on their International Day of Action in Los Angeles, California October 15, 2011. Occupy LA is part of the Occupy Wall Street movement that began in New York last month with a few people and expanded to protest marches and camps across the US and abroad. Photo by David McNew/Reuters

From the very beginning of the Occupy Wall Street movement, people wanted to know why.

Why did a group of protesters calling themselves “the 99 percent” take up residence in Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan on Sept. 17?

Why were so many people galvanized by the Occupy Wall Street protest, and why have similar encampments since sprung up in more than 100 cities across the country?

And now that authorities in some cities have begun forcibly removing the protesters, why are the Occupy Los Angeles protesters so determined to hold their ground in the park surrounding Los Angeles City Hall — especially considering that they haven’t yet agreed on what they wish to achieve?

Last week, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa hinted that the end of Occupy L.A. might be near, telling the Los Angeles Times that the protest “cannot continue indefinitely.” But as of press time on Nov. 1, the encampment was still very much in operation.

And even if authorities somehow do clear the park of the hundreds of protesters and their scores of tents, basic questions about this still-evolving movement likely will remain unanswered for many.

Who are these local occupiers? What drove them to take up residence in the tent city downtown? And could the Occupy Wall Street movement really impact the future of the country?

For the perplexed, or the simply curious, here are a few observations.

Occupy L.A., like the Occupy Wall Street movement as a whole, is most clear in its generalized outrage at the inequitable distribution of wealth in the country.

Every evening at 7:30 p.m., Occupy L.A. holds a General Assembly (G.A.) meeting. A recent one began with a call and response:

“Who are we?” a young man asked.

“The 99 percent!” the occupiers responded.

The inchoate frustration of the vast majority of the American population at the current economic troubles is what drives the Occupy movement, and the occupiers — the “99 percenters,” as they call themselves — are united in opposition to the excess gains in wealth of America’s super-elite, the top 1 percent.

These days, statistical evidence of the yawning gap between the super-rich and everyone else is easy to come by. A Congressional Budget Office report released on Oct. 26 showed that over the past 30 years, the incomes of the top 1 percent of Americans grew by 275 percent, while everyone else experienced growth of just 65 percent.

The evidence of economic hardship is also easy to see among the occupiers, many of whom are unemployed. Emilio Arreola, 25, has been involved in Occupy L.A. since its beginning in late September at Pershing Square downtown. Arreola has been unemployed since leaving the Navy two years ago. His tent is his only residence.

“I went out and got all five of my forklift licenses, I’m working on my CDL [Commercial Driver License], and it’s just so horribly hard to get a job,” Arreola said.

Beyond their dissatisfaction with the current economic system, it is hard to discern what the Occupy Wall Street movement is trying to achieve — because the members of this leaderless movement themselves have not yet decided on goals.

Like the protests that swept through the Arab world this spring, the movement proudly proclaims itself a leaderless uprising. But unlike, say, the protests that toppled former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the Occupy Wall Street movement has not yet targeted a single agreed-upon villain or united behind any clear goals.

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