The Occupation of Los Angeles - Part 7 - 10/28/2011
Infighting, Pot Smoke & Chemtrails - One Hundred Minutes at Occupy L.A.
Unlike many of the other "Occupations" around the country, the encampment that surrounds Los Angeles City Hall, known as Occupy L.A. has been largely left alone by the authorities. The City Council has even gone so far as to give its blessing to the occupation by unanimously passing a resolution in support of OLA. Most of the time there are no police to be seen in, or even around, the park, leaving the 300 plus revolutionaries living in the camp, not to mention the hundreds and sometimes thousands that visit during the day, especially on the weekends, to do essentially as they please. And when you also consider the mild Southern California weather, Occupy L.A. should represent an ideal microcosm of what the Occupation Movement is and aspires to become.
So with this in mind I arrived at Occupy L.A. just before noon on Friday, the 28th of October to see how the revolution was evolving. The first thing I noticed was that nearly every square inch of the once beautiful green lawn was now dead, much of it reduced to nothing more than dry bare dirt.
On my previous visit to OLA, 13 days earlier, spirits and revolutionary fervor were high as thousands of people descended on the encampment for the "Global Day of Action". But today the vibe was different. There was a definite sense of gloom and anxiety in the air. Many people remained inside of their tents, even though it was a warm sunny day.
Others sat around in small groups smoking marijuana.
Though it was not yet noon, the smell of marijuana smoke was strong as I approached the small plaza in front of the south steps of City Hall. The steps are now used as the main stage from which the "occupiers" give speeches, read poetry and sing protest songs. A small meeting (or "assembly") was taking place on the plaza near a little fountain that the city has turned off to prevent people from bathing in it.
I sat and listened to the discussion for a few minutes. It seems a rift has developed between various factions within the occupation, a rift which apparently exploded into open insurrection at the previous night’s "general assembly". I really didn’t understand exactly what they were talking about until I read this article a couple days later.
Suddenly I heard angry shouting coming from nearby, so I ran over to see what was going on.
A bearded man with a long ponytail had become violently agitated by, among other things, the constant marijuana smoking around his tent. A girl in her mid twenties who was camped near him explained to me later that this guy didn’t understand that marijuana is their "medicine". "Everybody around here has medical marijuana cards" she told me, "We need to smoke it". But apparently this guy was not sympathetic to their medicinal needs. He was in a complete rage as he waved his arms, cursing and calling other protesters "fakes". "I’m about to fuckin’ hurt somebody!" he shouted. A moment later he saw me filming him and came straight for me. Needless to say I ran fast, which is why my video ends so abruptly.
A few minutes later, I went back and recorded him again as he was dismantling his tent. You can see him here telling other campers that he’s leaving. "I’m going to carry guns when I get out of here…the way I used to do", he says.
No sooner did I turn away from this scene before I heard another argument breaking out - this one was on the stage, and much of it was being amplified across the park.
Seems a man who wanted to make a short speech walked up on the empty stage with his own portable P.A. system, but as soon as he began to speak he was quickly surrounded by fellow occupiers who were intent on preventing him. They repeatedly unplugged his microphone. In the picture below you can see the man who wanted to speak in the brown sweater being faced off by a very angry Aztlan-warrior-hippie in a yellow shirt.
Here is video of how it looked as I approached.
A guy in a striped tank-top and flat cap came over to cool things down. He kept saying, "Listen to me, I’m from San Francisco, I know how this works, I’m from San Francisco, listen to me."….Nobody seemed to care that he was from San Francisco. The shouting and shoving continued.
Evidently a moment of silence had been scheduled for noon - just about the exact moment the ruckus began. The "moment of silence" was to be followed by a one hour yoga session on the main stage, accompanied by Indian chanting - the purpose of which was to exorcise the bad energy and heal the rifts between the various factions. As the yogis took the stage, the imbroglio continued. As you can hear in the next video, the man who was being prevented from speaking starts calling for the police to help him…but there were no police around.
What I gathered from talking to a few people who were standing nearby is that libertarians, and others, including some of the anarchists and hippies and conspiracy theorists, were angry that the use of the main stage was being controlled by Communists and Left-wing radicals. They claimed that opposing viewpoints were not allowed. One guy with a black bandana tied around his neck told me that "organized groups" were trying to take over OLA. He said this movement should be leaderless. Another girl who looked to me like a hippie, countered that "somebody has to be in charge".
Meanwhile, as flaring tempers and shouting continued on one side of the stage, a woman sat down on the other side with a Hare Krishna-style pump organ and began chanting over the public address system - the system controlled by the "Commies and Leftists". This all made for a very surreal scene.
The shoving and shouting continued for a while longer. Another guy, a big fellow with a beard and a generous belly, also demanded a turn to speak…and he wasn’t joking. I thought someone was going to get punched in the nose.
Eventually three police officers strolled onto the plaza.
It appeared as if most of the people standing below watching the chaos were relieved to see figures of real authority arrive on the scene. The presence of a few cops entering the plaza actually had the effect of defusing the uproar. After nearly half an hour of shoving and yelling and fighting over the right to speak the two men who wanted to address the crowd had ultimately been defeated, their voices silenced.
The Leftists, using thug tactics, had maintained their control over the microphone and the main stage, but not without a cost. Others had watched the entire affair. One woman went up and sat in front of the area where the clamor had just occurred and bowed her head in prayer.
The yoga group rolled out their mats and began to do their thing. A few others sat on the side of the stage meditating in silence.
The police - all three of them - hung around for about 15 minutes.
As soon as they walked away more arguing broke out, this time on the plaza in front of the stage, disrupting the meditative atmosphere.
Just then a man wearing a white face covering and a Jewish prayer shawl, approached the stage and blew loudly on a shofar.
Another fellow blowing on a smaller ram horn followed behind.
The man with the big horn went up on the stage and attempted to blow his shofar along with the yoga chanter, but she was having none of it.
A table was set up on the plaza and a free meal of pasta marinara with tofu was served to anyone who was hungry. A lot of folks lined up.
Soon more infighting broke out. The big fellow with the beard had had enough of the yoga and the chanting. He was determined to address the crowd about the "Communists and Leftists" who were taking over Occupy L.A. and preventing others from speaking. He was immediately surrounded by Communists and Leftists who were determined to stop him from speaking.
All the while a pretty girl in serious need of a shower hula hooped around the plaza…the hula hoop having replaced the hacky sack as the hippie sport of choice.
The endless yoga and chanting was driving some of the crazies even crazier. One guy put a smashed pinata on his head and started dancing on the steps in front of the humorless yoga group.
A young, black flag-waving anarchist who had had enough of all the foolishness, tried to assemble a mob to go yell at a nearby bank. "This is why we’re here!" he shouted.
They circled around the entire block, trying to gather recruits, but of the 200-300 people scattered around the park (many still in their tents), he only mustered up a small band of about 20….And off they marched to go scream at the local Wells Fargo.
On the stage, the chanting and the yoga continued endlessly. So I walked around the park contemplating what will become of all this.
For most of the people camped out in the park, and other occupations around the country, this is not simply a protest, this is a new beginning - a revolution.
It doesn’t matter that they haven’t decided what they stand for, they know what they stand against: "the system"…What to replace it with? That’ll be figured out later, probably by the people who control the microphones.
Many of the speakers I’ve heard here at OLA over the past weeks have compared themselves to the founding fathers of the United States. On Oct 15th, on the same stage that was now hosting the endless yoga session, a young man with long feathers hanging from his ears read Occupy L.A.’s "Declaration of Peace & Freedom". He described it as the new Declaration of Independence for "our generation".
Now, 13 days after the "Declaration" was read the whole thing seems to be collapsing under the weight of its own contradictory philosophies and the utter incoherence that runs to its very core.
As I walked around I couldn’t help but notice the evolution that was occurring naturally in the park while the revolutionaries were busy holding their assemblies and committees.
Tents were getting bigger as like minded people joined their domes together.
Mini-neighborhoods were developing. There was a litter strewn ghetto in one part of the park.
And suburbs in another.
There was a tidy gated community up on the hill beside the stage where the people who "control the microphone" live.
There was a church along the main pathway.
There was even a City Hall.
The entire scene was reminiscent of the William Golding novel "Lord of the Flies", about a group of school boys trapped on a deserted island attempting to govern themselves…needless to say, it doesn’t end well.
And like the novel, I have little doubt Occupy L.A. will also end in a similar fashion. As the rift widens between incompatible ideologies and incoherent philosophies, cognitive dissonance, frustration and plain old craziness will eventually bust this whole revolution wide open…But don’t expect that to be the end of it. There are too many true believers in the Occupy movement to think that these people will simply pack it up and go home. At some point they will have to be forced out.
I went back to the plaza in front of the stage where the yoga and the chanting were still going strong after more than an hour. I stood for a moment watching a young man wearing baggy pants that hung below his ass angrily accusing a shirtless man of stealing his "shit". Then I noticed a number people around the camp pointing at the sky.
An airplane had just flown overhead leaving a white trail across the blue sky. There were also similar trails in the distance - chemtrails! Within seconds a distraught young man ran up onto the stage, grabbed the microphone away from the woman who was chanting and tried to warn everyone of the danger. Before he could finish, the mic was quickly plucked from his hand. Some in the crowd yelled "Let him speak". You can watch the video which begins just as the young man grabs the mic.
As you can see the endless chanting, which was supposed to calm tension in the camp was actually driving everyone to the brink. Soon a man wearing a yellow hardhat and holding a megaphone came out onto the plaza and began to explain to the crowd how they could protect themselves from the chemtrails, while the other fellow became more and more hysterical by the minute.
Eventually he was sobbing, tears pouring down his face.
Finally he fell to the ground pointing at the sky.
With the chanting, and the yoga, and the chemtrails, and the pot smoke, and the megaphones, it was like a crazy nightmare. And while all this was going on, the big, bearded guy who had been trying for an hour to give his speech about the communists controlling the address system on the main stage, had walked up the steps and was standing in front of the yoga holding his arms crossed over his head with clenched fists. In the new sign language of the occupation movement, this gesture means "unacceptable".
He demanded an immediate end to the yoga, and the chanting. Many people in the crowd clapped in approval, others booed. Some chanted "Let Him Speak!" …Then suddenly the chanting stopped and the yogis rolled up their mats and left the stage. At the same time the man in the yellow hardhat had come up on the stage and offered the bearded fellow use of his megaphone so that he could finally have his chance to address the people. But before he could say more than a few words he was accosted by the Aztlan-warrior-hippie, who yelled into his face, "My ancestors shed blood, MOTHER FUCKER!!!…You FUCKIN’ WHITE MAN!!!"…Watch the video below. Eventually the Aztlan-hippie comes running out with a giant painting of Martin Luther King Jr. and an Indian, and chases the big bearded guy off the stage.
Unfortunately my little video camera ran out of memory just as he comes out swinging the painting around.
Eventually Aztlan-hippieman, screaming about genocide and forcing the painting into his anti-commieman’s face, chased him right off the plaza.
I looked at my watch, it was 1:30pm…I had only been at the Occupy LA camp for about 100 minutes, and I already felt like my head was going to explode from the lunacy. I can’t even imagine what it must feel like to live in this environment 24 hours a day - seven days a week. Occupy L.A. is a nuthouse.
I walked back to the subway and took the first train back to reality.
Here are a few dozen bonus pictures for your edification and viewing pleasure. They were all taken on 10/28/2011.
Because of infighting, many of the occupiers had chosen to stay zipped up in their tents well into the afternoon, so most of these pictures are of the signs leaning against the tents.
They even have a ‘theater company’, unfortunately there were no performances while I was there.
As I was leaving, I spotted a used condom on the sidewalk directly if front of the main entrance to City Hall.