Time to get political
In Los Angeles, I spent a morning wandering among the tents outside City Hall with Carol, an unemployed nurse. Carol is African American and probably about my age; she wouldn't tell me her last name. I found her rolling her eyes and giggling at a flyer someone had posted on a message board, advertising for a "vegan naturist" house mate. She had come downtown, she said, because she wanted to see with her own eyes and try to understand what the protesters were protesting, exactly. She hoped that they were close to settling on a handful of specific demands that might lead some day to the kind of progress that the civil rights movement had achieved. The flyer did not give her hope. "This is lax," she mumbled. "This is too lax."
Eventually Carol and I made our way to the press tent, where we found Clark Davis, one of the organizers of Occupy LA, hunched over a laptop. Turns out Davis is worried about the same thing Carol is. "We're ready as an organization to get political and start talking about some issues," Davis said, but "right now, all we are is a bunch of people camping, basically."
Davis's immediate concern was dealing with all the homeless people who had joined the protest—a situation not unique to Los Angeles. "The fact that we do have food here," Davis said, "that we do have shelter, that we do have water, we have restrooms—they are coming to us and we welcome them. Although it's creating an external pressure on the movement which is making it difficult for us to focus on the reasons why we're here, which is to create positive change in this country and throughout the world."
Davis was keenly aware that unlike other Occupy cities, where police have clashed with protestors, official Los Angeles has been supportive. The city council passed a resolution in October that states "our economic system can only be called broken," and strongly endorses "the continued peaceful and vibrant exercise in First Amendment Rights carried out by 'Occupy Los Angeles' on the City Hall lawn." But for Davis, on this day, it was starting to feel like a missed opportunity. "They're basically letting us do ourselves in," he said. "It's discouraging."
If Lasn had been with me that day, he would have told Davis and the others to "keep that anger in their guts," appreciate "the incredible thing that they already have done," and not worry too much about where all this is going, not yet. Meanwhile, he says, "I hope that this initial, crazy, weird, nobody-quite-knows-what's-going on phase of the movement goes on for as long as possible. As long as you can keep the world guessing, the more people will be pumping for meaning, and the more mystique this movement will have."
After I left City Hall in Los Angeles, I drove out to Pasadena to have a cup of coffee with the Rev. Ed Bacon, the rector of All Saints Episcopal Church. Bacon has been preaching to his congregation (which includes more than a few one-percenters) about the Occupy movement for weeks, and had visited the camp just the day before. He was still excited by what he had seen.
"This is an opportunity to make the connection that Martin Luther King, I think, was killed for making," Bacon said. "And that is that there are not competing social issues. The war-making system, the banking system, racial prejudice—all of these are interlocking evils. Some people get it in the neck physically from that, but all of us get it in the soul. And our soul, the American soul, and I think the soul of the world is distorted right now. I think the universe is conspiring to help us have a redemptive moment here."