Last Saturday, I spent some time at the Occupy L.A. branch of the Occupy Wall Street movement.
What struck me first was the disorganization. While it was obvious that the protesters were disgruntled, while many had good intentions, it also seemed that every protester had his or her own agenda. I saw T-shirts supporting Asian immigrant labor, supporting renewable energy, and supporting anarchy (which, in hindsight, seems ironic). I even saw a couple of people wearing suits with their faces painted like zombies, stumbling around in a state of “rigor-mortgage” moaning something about brains and sub-prime loans.
The undisputed winner of the unofficial costume contest was a Beetlejuice-esque man in his mid-20s dressed as a banker (complete with a pocket watch, devil’s tail, and facepaint) calling himself the CEO of a “corpse-per-action” (corporation, I’m guessing?) and talking about his love for money while “screwing” everyone in sight by handing out 3/8 inch wood screws. That, children, is clever.
As the faux CEO demonstrated, there certainly were individuals who had well thought-out opinions and ideas about the Occupy protests, what they see happening in this country, and what should be done.
However, as Newton’s third law teaches us, for every clever, eloquent, or poignant commentary, there must be a frustratingly juvenile attack on an easy target. At one point, someone grabbed the microphone and shouted something about how we need to stop supporting Starbucks. I have no problem with anticorporatism; I do, however, believe that there are ways of expressing your point without using English’s most versatile word so much. And to be honest, I started to feel bad for the couple next to me holding venti orange macchiatos, slowly realizing they were in the wrong place.
Apart from the irony, what I found most interesting about Occupy L.A. is that it didn’t feel like a protest. It didn’t feel like anything revolutionary, dangerous, or even novel. Pot smoke drifted through the crowd, and Tom Morello (of Rage Against the Machine) covered Woody Guthrie on the PA system.
I realized that this was more Woodstock than Tahrir Square—this was more of a countercultural social scene than a populist revolt.
It was largely this countercultural feel that made me realize that Occupy L.A. lacked the quiet dignity of the civil rights movement, the violent fervor of the Arab Spring, and even the rapidly spreading disenfranchisement of worldwide Occupy movements. It seemed, rather, that protesters were simply pissed off and had found their soapbox.
I certainly hope that this has changed since I visited, or that it will change in the future. I hope that Occupy L.A. will grow to become not just the face of pissed off Angelinos, but the face of change.
I do believe that Occupy L.A.—and the Occupy movements across the globe—can and will bring attention to the problems that the 99 percent faces. I believe that the general population believes that making corporate gains privatized while losses are socialized is politically, philosophically, and morally wrong. I believe that the movement can be taken seriously, as Occupy Wall Street is. However, I believe that Occupy L.A. must mature first.