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Some vow civil disobedience at City Hall; others plan to leave

Leading activists hope most people will stay and practice nonviolent resistance; getting arrested is a clear goal for some in the camp. The opposite is the case for others.

November 27, 2011|Hector Becerra

Inside his plywood "Temple of the Collective Consciousness," Victor Pantoja said the city's plan to evict Occupy L.A. was just the latest thing to create an ornery mood among some of the counterculture veterans, young leftists and down-and-out campers at City Hall.

Outside his tent, the 21-year-old said, loud arguments often break out -- especially at night. And even when people seem to agree, they sound like they don't.

"There's a lot of craziness around here sometimes," Pantoja said. "People start drama ... yelling at each other."

That's when he and his friends, sitting under a banner of colorful Tibetan prayer flags, break into meditative chants, hoping the "om" will "massage the inner self" of those around them. Sometimes neighboring tents join in. It works, he insisted.

But when the LAPD moves to break up the camp, Pantoja doesn't plan to stick around and chant. Or get arrested. He will pack up and relocate his makeshift temple to good vibes.

"Like they say, 'Run away to fight another day.' I'm not going to get arrested," said the young man with a wispy goatee and long hair, a mellow demeanor and a peace symbol around his neck.

On Saturday, as the 12:01 a.m. Monday deadline to decamp loomed, leading Occupy L.A. activists said they hoped most of the campers would stay behind in an act of nonviolent civil disobedience. They held training sessions in peaceful resistance. They talked about signs that might indicate police were about to shoot tear gas canisters. They brought in a lawyer to hold a "know your rights" meeting.

Getting arrested is a clear goal among many of the occupiers. On a white board on the north side of City Hall, where the impending police action was being discussed, someone wrote: "If we can put all the people in the legal system, we can stop the court system!!"

Clark Davis, an Occupy L.A. activist, said he spent much of the morning walking around informing campers of the deadline and the civil disobedience training. On Saturday evening organizers planned to show a documentary about successful nonviolent protests around the world.

"In the next 24 hours, I think we'll have a better idea of how many people are really committed to ... staying behind and getting arrested," he said.

While many of the campers expressed solidarity, the atmosphere was edgy at times. Some people argued loudly. A lanky man with long blond hair and yellow sunglasses held his middle finger up at another and told him to "put this in your pipe and smoke it!"

As Davis walked through the camp, a man who said his name was Chris Legal followed him, asking whether another of the leading activists had bailed on the movement. An annoyed Davis asked Legal if he had to keep following him.

"I thought this was a free country," Legal said, prompting Davis to say that it was.

"I thought there was open communication. I thought there was no secrets," said Legal.

"There are no secrets," Davis responded. "I'm telling everyone what's going on."

"I'm going down with the ship," Legal vowed moments later, as Davis continued spreading information among campers.

Derek Winslow, a 22-year-old former telescope salesman from the Bay Area who participated in Occupy Oakland, said people generally seemed "a little less radical" in Los Angeles. When police descended on the Oakland encampment, Winslow said, he held on to a shield he had cobbled together before getting arrested.

"I don't think we'll be able to hold it, but that doesn't mean we won't try," Winslow said of the Occupy L.A. camp.

On a walkway along the south side of City Hall, a trio of campers talked about a system they considered corrupt.

"They do everything they can to confuse us from the moment we come out of the womb," a woman said -- to nods of agreement.

Just before noon, a group of officers with the L.A. Department of General Services walked through the camp to pass out fliers noting that regulations call for the area around City Hall to be closed from 10:30 p.m. to 5 a.m. daily. To most, it was a reminder that the camp's days were almost over. Some booed the officers.

"Who are you guys? Who did you make an oath to?" asked one protester wearing a sleeveless shirt and a camouflage cap. "You look like a paid thug, like a cartel."

Other campers chose a more playful tone with the officers. One 34-year-old woman with a gray beret, who identified herself only as Waffles, asked a tall burly officer a question.

"I'm homeless. Can I occupy your house? I cook," she said.

"I don't think my wife will work with that," the officer replied, to laughter.

She then turned to another officer and said, "You guys realize you're not part of the 1%," referring to the wealthiest Americans.

"You guys know that too, right?" the officer responded, to sympathetic smiles.

Waffles said she suspected that a lot of people were going to hold their ground when the eviction happened. But she does not want to get arrested. She has been homeless for two years after losing her children to the county, sometimes sleeping on sidewalks.

"I totally support the movement, but this is also the safest place I've been able to sleep outside at, you know?" she said. "I'm able to have a tent, and there's also enough people so that you almost have a personal security. I feel safer."

--

hector.becerra@latimes.com

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