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Occupy Wall Street: Los Angeles Branch

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I spent Sunday afternoon at the Occupy Los Angeles encampment (its second day) on the south lawn of City Hall. There were about 400 demonstrators, mostly young and white (as elsewhere), but with a visible regional smattering of Latinos. People, for the most part, were resting, chatting, meeting in work groups, or sleeping in tents (of which there were a couple of dozen.) Police were at the periphery, looking pretty much at ease in the calm atmosphere of the gathering. There were lots of posters with a range of themes, the majority condemning Wall Street greed. I saw one supporting Ron Paul and another calling for a Communist Revolution. I liked one reading; "I will believe corporations are people, when Texas executes one of them."

A media station was at work doing a live feed and making DVDs. Food (mainly pizza and cookies) and drinks were being passed around. Clusters of people seemed to be unwinding or dealing with organizational business.

I joined a group meeting on police brutality. Diverse opinions came forward. Members of the Security Committee favored cooperating with the police to avoid unnecessary trouble or injury -- and after all, police are part of our 99% and could be won over to the cause. Other speakers wanted the group to take a detached approach since the police could not be trusted. Individual cops may be OK, but when they put on a badge they are an instrument of an oppressive system -- so be wary and don't let them dominate what is done. A third view came from members whose experience in ethnic or action groups convinced them that police brutality was rampant and continuous. These members seemed itching for a confrontation with the police.

The discussion was thoughtful, orderly, and deliberate. I spoke up to say that the announced central goal was to curtail Wall Street excesses and that a lot of emphasis on dealing with the cops might be distracting. To the degree that the actions of the New York police result in a preoccupation with police issues, those cops will have successfully diverted the group from its main aims. After a good bit of additional back and forth, the group simply recommended that workshops be set up to help members know how to interact with the police.

During this discussion, some voiced the usual distrust of leadership that has been seen in other cities. Things should be done by consensus, there should be no domination (no limits on what can be said or done), and we should follow a process that is different from all existing, basically bureaucratic, groups. The purpose is not only to do things differently, but also to use a wholly different way of thinking. I couldn't tell how widely this approach was accepted or how widely it was being used in practice.

For a new and inexperienced group, there was more organizational acumen in evidence than I would have expected. There were committees on food, finances, logistics, civic engagement, outreach, welcoming, art-entertainment-education, and a medical team. Committee meeting times and places were posted around the encampment. Everyone looked serious and focused. There appeared to be a long-term commitment. Some people were evidently acting in a leadership capacity and maintaining a functioning action community. Overall, I came away with a good feeling about how this was coming together and have an optimistic outlook about further developments in this movement. A critical question is whether important elements of the left (unions, progressive political groups, grass roots activists) will join in and propel forward this remarkable but delicate youth-generated revolt -- the sooner the better.