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David Freid

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A Tree Grows in Wall Street

Posted: 10/05/11 02:15 PM ET

"If reality is a cliff, this argument just fell off it."

That was how I began a response to a political email thread that I got pulled into a day before the Occupy LA protests began. I never intended to respond to that thread. I've got good friends on both sides of the political spectrum, and do my best not to get into important conversations with them. But sometimes someone says something so wrong that I pull my head out of the sand just long enough to get my point across.

That must be how "The 99%" in tents and sleeping bags on the lawn of city hall are feeling too. Like something needs to be said.

A few months ago I went to a pillow fight (seriously) in Pershing Square. Attendance was huge, and I got some great photos of the feathery melee. I figured if a pillow fight could draw such a crowd, something ostensibly more important, though admittedly less fun, should have at least comparable numbers. And this could be a good time to have a camera.

Los Angeles didn't disappoint; this was well attended.

All of the obvious LA stereotypes were there. Plenty of good-looking hipsters with small dogs. And of course there were the stoners, dreadlocked bongo players, and daisy-laden idealists. What would a left-wing protest be without them? But what really stood out to me was the diversity beyond that predictable group.

Since I didn't sit down and get to know each one of them intimately, please allow a moment of creative license and book-by-its-cover-style analysis. There were teachers, doctors, and soccer moms -- people who looked like the last of a dwindling American middle class. There were old people, military types, and men non-ironically wearing business suits. There was an equal and opposite response for every person you would expect to see. For every performance art poet, there was a financial analyst. For every vegan chef, a strict meatatarian (creative license, right?). Hell, I think I even spotted a couple of Republicans with what looked like tea strings swinging from their pockets.

This is a good start, but it's only been a couple of days now. The seed was planted on Wall Street, and the demonstrators in New York have been flexing their constitutional muscles for weeks now. In fact, while I was at Occupy LA, a friend showed me a tweet about the Brooklyn Bridge getting shut down by protesters.

Will LA have a Brooklyn Bridge?

The people of New York are occupying under more challenging conditions than we of sunny Southern California. And there's rain on the horizon. I don't mean that metaphorically; there is literally rain in the forecast. This is rare for LA, and if you've ever been in this town during even a minor sprinkling, you know that people lose their minds a little.

"Storm of the century pounds Los Angeles!" is the headline during a mild winter shower. People stay home. And those who brave the roads do so with a screw loose, a malfunctioning internal guidance system, and seemingly nowhere else to be.

Will a little rain be enough to slow what one activist called "the most important movement in history"? Even if that speaker was aware of his hyperbole (Marie Antoinette's head must've rolled in its grave), there was definitely a feeling of importance at this event.

I'm not sure if it was the spirit of the occasion, my own unspoken dissatisfaction with the status quo, or the free pizza one of the activists gave me (never underestimate the power of free pizza), but after a while I felt involved.

Will Los Angeles have the endurance to keep this thing going?

This town always looks so nice after a good rainstorm. The city gets an HD look to it, like someone just took Windex to a dusty TV. I'm looking forward to seeing a large, if not larger crowd next time I turn on that TV. (OK, that last bit was a metaphor.)

A seed that was planted 2,793 miles away is growing into a tree. "This is it" was a common phrase I heard this weekend, as was some universal rhetoric that a generation has come of age.

I wonder if this makes the 1% nervous. Even a little.


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