Time is running out for Occupy LA

Occupy LA and the City of Los Angeles’ cordial relationship has soured; they are now on a crash course to confrontation.

Occupy LA seems on track to be evicted as early as November 28, barring a court injunction otherwise [EPA]

Los Angeles, California – Since its negotiated lawn occupation outside of City Hall, Occupy LA’s cordial relationship with the city has been paying dividends for the protesters camped outside of its main government building. Recently, in an attempt to remove the encampment, the City of Los Angeles even offered farmland and office space to its new neighbours in return for its front lawn back.

The Occupy movements in many other cities across the United States have boiled over into violent confrontations and evictions that have cost cities millions of dollars deploying police and defending lawsuits. Occupy Oakland’s second eviction came as seemingly coordinated evictions took place in St Louis, Salt Lake City, Denver, Riverside, Portland, and Wall Street, to name a few.

The situation in Los Angeles is currently a local crisis on a national level, and it appears that City Hall and the Los Angeles Police Department’s patience has run out. The LAPD has promised a 72-hour notice of action, but the protestors are wary. Occupy LA faces a potential eviction date as early as Monday, November 28.

What is Occupy LA?

To say that Occupy LA is heterogeneous is an understatement. One layer of complexity is the static and manifest geographic nature of the camp site itself. The site arose out of a desire to manifest an idea in a real and public space. However, the camp grew beyond its original intent and has become an interesting sociological study unto itself.

In addition to the 31 committees that represent the socio-political consciousness of the movement, there are five separate “tribes” that have settled their own communities attached to the camp, but who do not identify with the movement at large. These elements are made up of individuals that have been shunned by society as a whole, but who have found the Occupy LA camp a resource that provides social services: food, shelter and some semblance of security.

Another layer of complexity has to do with the idea that is the Occupy Wall Street movement, and then the individuals that self-identify as part of that movement. That layer of Occupy LA is in flux.

This is best exemplified by Clark G Davis, a media coordinator and one of the men behind the electrical generators that keep the camp running. He said:

“I have been here since day one, 24/7 since the occupation first began. Any movement that is going to move forward needs people to step up and take initiative, there are people here that are doing that. However, it is also clear that there is an immense amount of deadweight, mainly because who society has deemed ‘undesirables’, that the government and society have been unable to provide for. We welcome them in a sense, but have found ourselves providing social services that these people cannot attain elsewhere and have been distracted from what we really came here to do, which is to change a system that is crumbling around us.”

Mr Davis also indicated that Occupy LA had high-level liaison meetings with the LAPD, the mayor’s office and the City Council.

The relationship with ‘authority’

How has Occupy LA thus far averted the tumultuous, and often acrimonious, relationships faced by other “Occupy” groups?

Initially, City Council President Eric Garcetti and respected City Council members including Richard Alarcron, and Bill Rosendahl voiced their support and even visited the site of the camp in solidarity.  When the camp first appeared, the Los Angeles city unanimously approved a resolution supporting the encampment. “Stay as long as you need, we’re here to support you,” City Council President Eric Garcetti told the campers on LA City Hall’s front lawn at the time.

A spokesperson for Garcetti, deputy chief of staff Yousef Raab, says, “We understand that these are tough times and people are passionate about the need for change, and we welcome that”. He also said Occupy LA represents distressed Americans, and the Council does not want to see the violent confrontations witnessed in other cities across the nation. Mr Yousef concludes that “the relationship is cordial, but we hope that [Occupy LA] understands that the problems they are passionate about were not generated by City Hall”.

The LAPD has taken its cue from City Hall. While officers are maintaining a close watch on the periodic marches and rallies in downtown LA, thus far, they’ve had a fairly “hands-off” policy for the Occupy LA demonstrators. Protestors regularly joke that they appreciate their LAPD “escorts” on the marches, but wish they didn’t carry batons.

Suzanne O’Keeffe, a prominent member of Occupy LA’s Demands Committee, says: “The LAPD has been surprisingly cooperative. But I think we have earned their trust. Just the other day, there was a trouble-maker who ran from the LAPD into the Occupy LA encampment. As the cops were trying to figure out what to do, some members from Occupy LA escorted the man back out, where the police arrested him.”

She is proud of what the movement has accomplished thus far: “We have changed the dialogue in the city and the country. Our presence is directly related to the reintroduction of a resolution to support the change of laws regarding corporate personhood. We are also supporting a ban on corporate lobbying of city officials on public property.”

Their impact has not stopped there. A proposed Responsible Banking Ordinance, which had been tabled by the budget committee for over a year, has found new life with strong backing from Occupy LA members lobbying on its behalf. Reports indicate that hundreds of members of Occupy LA had shown up to City Council meetings to speak on the proposed ordinance’s behalf.

In addition to taking concrete political steps at City Hall, members of the Occupy LA movement have daily peacekeeper security meetings at the encampment, an example of what the movement claims is proof it can police itself and provides no threat to the surrounding area. A tweet from an official Occupy LA twitter account added: “Staying non-violent allows us to expose the provacateurs [sic] and allows the public to sympathise, stay peaceful everyone!”

Additionally, Occupy LA has geography on its side. Located far from residences and large financial and business institutions, Occupy LA says its camp is not in any way a threat to the city. But, as a breakaway group protesting inside a Bank of America branch a month ago found out the hard way, the LAPD is still willing to arrest those who do occupy private property. Eleven arrests were made that day. On the two-month anniversary of the Occupy movement, 23 more were arrested for refusing to disperse after the LAPD declared an unlawful assembly.

Occupy LA: here to stay?

Recently, the signs that the situation will lead to confrontation have proven themselves, and Occupy LA seems on track to be evicted as early as November 28, barring a court injunction otherwise.

It started with Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa stating that the current occupation cannot proceed indefinitely. Then Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck said in a recent interview with the LA Times that negotiations are ongoing for a timeline to end the occupation. Beck said, “We need to find either a different location or a different medium for them to use”. According to sources familiar with the inner workings of City Council, the Central City Association of Los Angeles, a lobbying firm for LA businesses, is supporting a City Council resolution to completely ban encampment on public property. After a recent meeting with city officials Joan Donovan, a prominent member of the Occupy LA Communications Committee, remarked that the fire marshal and the health inspectors were planting the seeds to make a case to remove the encampment. 

Then, the offer of office space and farmland was publicly floated by the city and rescinded within a 48-hour period. The city had been negotiating quietly with some members of Occupy LA for an unknown period of time, without the knowledge of the Occupy LA “General Assembly”, or “GA”. This sparked outrage among some at Occupy LA and the message came loud and clear: “The GA is the ONLY decision making body and any negotiations must happen at GA.” City officials would have to attend the “GA” to make their offer. Negotiations quickly broke down and culminated in lines drawn in the sand.

To the members of Occupy LA, eviction was inevitable. It was just a matter of when. In a previous conversation, Ms Donovan had pragmatically stated, “[The City and LAPD] are only with us until they are against us.” On November 23, Jim Lafferty, director of the National Lawyers Guild of Los Angeles and a negotiator on behalf Occupy LA, walked out of a meeting with representatives from the Mayor’s office and the LAPD. He then announced that the City of LA will soon be closing the area outside of City Hall and evicting those occupying it.

Eddie Saade is a freelance journalist reporting on Middle East and US affairs. He is currently based in Los Angeles.

The views expressed in this article are the authors’ own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.

More from Author
Most Read