October 1, 2011, two-days after my 25th birthday, I stepped foot onto Pershing Square in Downtown Los Angeles and joined a movement that would unexpectedly change my life. I had been an activist for ten years, and although I was experienced, I was still young and had a lot to learn. Present was the usual liberal/progressive crowd, people with antiwar signs, 9-11 truthers, vegan activists, marijuana legalization advocates, police brutality activists, etc. With this diverse group of activists also came the personal variations- people from different social classes, people with different skin colors, sexual orientations, religions, political philosophies and more. But we were all united to collectively take a stand against corporatism, something that affected each and every one of the causes that fell under the umbrella of economic injustice.
Words & Photos by Griff Fuller Jr.
Critics said that we were unorganized; all of the progressive issues and causes represented at camp traced back to the roots of money and power. Whether it was police brutality or marijuana legalization, we were essentially fighting for the same thing. Finding a way to translate that message to the American public was the challenge; it wasn’t always clear and cohesive. People also criticized us for not seeing monumental results in the aftermath of our arrival to the global stage. People are far too dependent on politicians for solving all of their problems in life. Occupy Wall St. isn’t going to magically cure the woes of America overnight. It’s an organic grassroots movement, a revolution in its infancy. The impact we will have on American society and the world is still to be determined. Even within a year, look at the influence Occupy Wall St. has had on the conversations and issues that dominate the mainstream political platform.
Occupy Los Angeles, abbreviated amongst Occupy activists as OLA, provided a city within the city in Downtown Los Angeles. What was seen in the camp was a reflection of our society at large. Yes, there were gang members, homeless people, the mentally ill, and drug users at our camp- but they were a part of us too. Occupy challenged our privileges and made us look differently at people that society usually fears. Homeless people were no longer the “litter” on the sidewalk that bourgeois Angelinos stepped over and walked pass every day. They were real people with real issues who we shared food with and slept next to every day. They became our friends, our comrades. The lines of class that divided activists prior to October 1 were beginning to be erased. Critics stereotyped us as dirty hippies and bums demanding hand-outs, when we had people with wealth living at the camp and participating at the camp every day. People forget that we are Los Angeles, the capital of the entertainment industry in the U.S. A lot of rich people live in this city and not all of them think the same. Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine visited Occupy Wall St. so much that he practically became an honorary Occupier. Russell Simmons led yoga sessions down at Occupy Wall St. New York regularly and recently called out Jay-Z on his criticism of the movement.
OLA lead protests and actions around the city for two months until we were evicted from City Hall Park, which we renamed Solidarity Park. A fascist fence was erected around the park afterwards; some protesters arrested during raid night were legally prevented from returning for a certain period of time. We moved on to phase two, life after eviction. Our general assemblies moved to the publicly open West Steps of City Hall on Spring St. and were eventually reduced to four nights a week. As expected, with the eviction came a drop-off in participating members. The GA was then moved to Pershing Square earlier this year, the initial meeting location for activists planning Occupy LA before our first official day. On the first of May, we participated in a global general strike and marched in the streets of LA by a couple thousand. Later in the month, a group of us traveled to Chicago for the anti-Nato/G8 demonstrations. It provided an opportunity for Occupiers from all around the country to meet up, connect and protest together as a national representation of Occupy Wall St. Chicago was turned into a police-state, law enforcement from federal to local to out-of-state were everywhere. The police brutality was the worst I’d ever seen in Occupy. I remember one night, while at the ground-zero location for Occupiers that weekend, I saw people come down the stairs one by one on crutches or wrapped in bandages or with blood stains all over them. They had returned from a war zone. The cops had mercilessly beat the shit out of blac bloc volunteers and other protesters, and for what? For protesting? For exercising free speech? For daring to buck the system? Around the holidays, the Obama administration secretly passed the National Defense Authorization Act- legislation that was blatantly being used as a tool against Occupy Wall St. The anti-N.D.A.A. campaign launched by the movement was a turning point; it was a moment that confirmed for us that the Democrat Party is anything but on our side. Both political parties are loyal to corporatism and do not want the radical progressive change that the movement demands.
As we saw comrades framed and accused of terrorism and dealt more with undercover cops showing up at marches, it became evident that the movement was in a different place. The more violent and confrontational it got, the more the general public distanced itself from us, but not without the help of a blackout by the corporate-owned mainstream media. The major news networks’ sponsors were not going to allow them to muckrake them, not even MSNBC and its liberal darlings. The next part of the movement also saw its internal divides and tensions. Anarchists called out reformists who criticized autonomous actions and “Fuck The Police” (abbreviated as FTP) politics. ‘Reformist’ became a dirty word as the movement’s more radical caucus rose to prominence. The lack of empathy and understanding went both ways; political identities boosted egos. In Occupy LA, a slew of internal fights and personal attacks occurred. Some saw it as the local movement disintegrating; I saw it as a symptom of human nature. Even with the negative aspects there we kept on keeping on. I’ve seen people dedicate hours and hours of their life to film, organize, and contribute to this movement. I too have dedicated hours to meetings, volunteering to help with media, and organizing. This often goes unnoticed, not only to the people calling us dirty hippies, but sometimes even among each other.
Occupy LA has very passionate dedicated people committed to making this world better. The issue of public perception is a challenging one. Occupy Los Angeles City College even saw road blocks when the administration got nervous, based off of faulty bias news reports. The club was accused of putting up unrelated violent posters threatening cops and was suspended after protesting through the halls of the campus. And despite the visible presence of a prevalent African-American faculty and administration, their treatment of the local movement wasn’t any more progressive than our corporate targets.
June 2012, I was arrested for protesting against the Central City Association for their efforts to gentrify downtown and erase the homeless from the area. I went to jail for standing up for the rights of the homeless, and while there shared a cell with a homeless man who was arrested for shoplifting hygiene products. The LAPD transferred me 70 blocks away from the location of my arrest and intentionally lied about the amount of my bail. What was my crime? It was “vandalizing” the city’s walls and sidewalk with sidewalk chalk. One of my messages was “As long as there are homeless people in the world, you should feel uncomfortable.”
A makeshift camp established in May is still present nightly in front of 626 Wilshire Blvd (the CCA’s address) in the financial district of Downtown LA. July 13, the LAPD interrupted an OLA demonstration during artwalk raising awareness about the CCA, chalking arrests, and being targeted by the LAPD. A crowd formed after cops attacked a woman chalking and a standoff ensued. For the first time really in OLA, the general community of Los Angeles stood with the local movement and faced-off with the cops. Understandably so, many people in LA have been wronged by the cops. Some artwalk patrons started throwing things at the police as they shot rubber bullets into the crowd, randomly striking innocent people in the face and abdomen. The local press blamed OLA for the incident, although none of our members threw anything. We were scattered and integrated into a larger crowd, the other half of Occupiers was at a benefit at Jaliscos, a supportive Latin gay bar in downtown that has taken us under their wing. We were not at fault. The LAPD initiated the violence, perpetuated it, blocked traffic, and refused to leave. Their paramilitary theatrics is responsible for what happened that night. Shortly afterwards, the community of Anaheim and fellow supporters lead a multi-day uprising against law enforcement after they murdered Manuel Diaz, who was handcuffed, by shooting him in the head.
Occupy Los Angeles is also making an effort to evolve our everyday language and how we view and treat one another. We challenge patriarchy, sexism, racism, homophobia, male privilege, and white privilege. We want to make sure that our words don’t disempower anyone or imply privilege or superiority. I‘ve personally never seen so many white people call out other white people on their inherent white privilege, and their failure to thoroughly empathize with people of color. In LA, we wanted to make it very clear that people who are traditionally marginalized will have a voice. However, there are few in the movement who disagree with calling out white privilege. The debate on that issue continues until this day.
Our radicalism and militancy is necessary; complacency enables oppression. We have always fiercely advocated social justice, alongside economic equality and the challenge to capitalism. When people’s houses were getting foreclosed on in Southern California, we occupied it to make sure they kept it. At this moment, as I type, there are people occupying a private home in Van Nuys, CA named Fort Hernandez. Bank of America attempted to foreclose on the home and Occupy LA extended its help. The Hernandez family is now an important part of OLA history, along with the others who reached out to us for help. The fence of oppression around Solidarity Park was removed shortly before our one year anniversary. Our legacy is yet to be seen, but we don’t do what we do for press, accolades, or praise. We do what we do because we feel there is no other choice.
The political process is ineffective. As long as corporations are considered people (due to Citizen’s United 2010 landmark court case), and big-business buys out our politicians (and legislation), we will forever be at the mercy of the elite. Occupy Wall St. is direct democracy. Apathy is a cancer in this country; our job isn’t done until authentic democratic control is restored to the people for the benefit of the people, and oppressive power structures can no longer reign supreme. A year later, I am wiser politically and connected to the global protest movement for the people’s struggle. Occupy Wall St. was initiated by Adbusters, inspired by the Arab Spring uprisings (some also credit the 2010 University of California protests in California as inspiration); it bloomed from Zuccoti Park in New York and now has representation on every continent on this planet. We are still here.