Occupy L.A. protesters take part in a nightly General Assembly. (Genaro Molina, Los Angeles…)
Last week, on a sun-splashed day at the center of the revolution, I heard a speaker suggest that occupiers begin growing their own food. Another speaker, who once lived in a tree for 71 days to save it from a developer's bulldozer, called for solidarity.
I'm going to go out on a limb myself and predict that the several hundred folks camped out at Los Angeles City Hall aren't going anywhere soon, even as weary city officials and police strategize on how to roll up the welcome mat without using riot gear and tear gas, as cops in Oakland did. Regardless of whether a sister occupation in Van Nuys gathers much support, the City Hall campers are likely to remain firmly rooted.
It's hard to say how this will all play out. But I pitched a tent and spent a night out there a couple of weeks ago with my comrades, and my body ached for a solid week after I crawled out of that sleeping bag. So now I feel entitled to ask a few questions and even make a few suggestions too.
For starters, I'd like to know if there's an end game. By that, I mean, if the demonstrators are forced to leave, are we going to have an ugly clash that does no one any good?
If they're allowed to stay, do they intend to take up permanent residence with the squirrels, or has anyone thought of doing public service such as, I don't know, maybe joining the Peace Corps?
Unfortunately it isn't easy to get straight answers at Occupy L.A., especially if you're a member of the distrusted and despised mainstream media. I asked a woman with a clipboard, who appeared to have some level of responsibility, if there'd been any discussion about how to handle an eviction. She dismissively told me it hadn't really come up at the nightly General Assembly, adding that she had to use the restroom and didn't care to be interviewed.
All right, I get it. They don't like sound bites, neatly packaged agendas or questions from someone wearing Dockers. But I'm just trying to help.
I'm down with the demonstrators' basic notion that things are seriously out of whack in this economy. Why should financial institutions bailed out by taxpayers reap huge profits and executives collect obscene bonuses while common folk lose their homes, their healthcare and their jobs?
But I'm having trouble seeing how a camp-out is going to change anything. Sure, it was great to gather and make the point loud and clear, but now what?
"The beauty of this is that it's a leaderless movement," said John Quigley, the guy who spent more than two months in an oak tree in Santa Clarita. "The challenge is, 'How do you get things done?' "
Quigley said that in New York, occupiers have had a greater focus on an agenda. But each time you set your sights on any one target, Quigley said, you risk creating divisions and diluting a broader message.
Yeah, maybe. But I'm beginning to think the demonstrators are all talk and no action.
I don't think the mayor, City Council or the police should evict them. But I don't understand why protesters are content to stage an endless slumber party when there are so many better ways to illustrate their purpose and develop narratives that advance their cause.
Mario Brito, who's been out there from the beginning, told me to be patient, because some new actions are being planned, including a call to withdraw money from local banks.
"It's a work in progress," said Brito, reminding me that organic decision-making takes time.
Then try some Red Bull.
"It's all about Glass-Steagall," one young man told me, suggesting he'll be out there until meaningful banking reforms are enacted.
I've heard many references to Glass-Steagall, and here's a thought: Why not send occupiers to a different college campus each day and explain why you think reinstatement of the Glass-Steagall or Taft-Hartley acts would restrict shameless profiteering and create jobs?
Bank of America made a staggering $6 billion in third-quarter profits even as it announced a $5 monthly fee for using a debit card, and occupiers are passing doobies in tents while waiting for the next yoga-wellness class on the south lawn of City Hall.
Why don't demonstrators march over to nearby skid row, speak up for those who have lost their homes and then parade from there to the nearest $20-million house in the hills?
While they're on skid row, why not lend a hand to the bomb-rattled soldiers who fought two ill-conceived wars that cost in the trillions?
Why not crank up the silk-screen machine and produce T-shirts with images of the 227 Los Angeles Unified library aides who just got fired in a district with abysmal reading scores?
Why not occupy Anaheim, where employees at Disney resort hotels face a hike in healthcare costs, laundry workers answer to an "electronic whip" that displays their productivity rate on big monitors and the CEO who made $28 million last year just got a raise?
Demonstrators could do all of this and more, rolling out each day to a different site and keeping us all guessing as to what's coming next.
Or they could burrow in under the trees, kill the few remaining grass shoots, continue preaching to the converted and hope it doesn't rain.
Panorama: 360° tour of Occupy L.A. encampment