Occupy LA: Protest Profiles
The political protest that began as Occupy Wall Street has quickly spread across the country, and as union leaders and other public figures embraced the movement, it has received an increased amount of coverage and notoriety.
Los Angeles’ version is currently taking place on the park encircling City Hall, home to a well-equipped small tent encampment maintaining the round-the-clock presence of the protestors.
I visited City Hall Friday and spoke to several participants in the movement. Here are two of their stories:
Velasquez, who admitted, unprompted, to attending school only through the ninth grade, was preaching about the need to educate children with truth so they do not spread lies to our society. Surrounded by a semicircle of captivated observers and backed by sign-wielding supporters, he almost looked like a political candidate giving a most organic stump speech.
This symbolism struck me because Velasquez did not express the deep distrust in the institutions of government common to populist broadly anti-corporate and anti-bureaucratic movements. His despair at the current state of political and economic affairs manifested itself in profound disappointment rather than fatalistic cynicism. He still has hope, as someone who is let down by failure has a certain expectation for some level of success.
“They get their just powers from the consent of the governed,” said Velasquez about the United States government, “I’m here to withdraw my consent.”
Velasquez said that he understood that “there are reasons we must do things we don’t like” and is not expecting a utopia, but that he has now become extremely frustrated with the lack of progress for most Americans.
Velasquez voted for President Obama in the 2008 election and said that while he used to be a liberal, now he’s a “Democrat and Republican, and neither at the same time.” Quick to mention his great friends on both sides, he lamented the fact that he could not support either party because they both have problems with the truth.
Velasquez credited Obama with having the right intentions at first and even helping to “kick this off” but felt that the president has, in a sense, lost his way. He wanted Obama to self-identify with the “99 percent” and worried that he would support the “1 percent” even though, in Velasquez’s mind, Obama is not one of them at heart.
Despite a level of discontent that has brought him to the heart of this protest movement, Velasquez has not given up all hope. He claimed that his 2008 vote for Obama was the last vote he will ever cast “until they get it right.”
Benjamin Ahdoot is a restaurant owner who came to the protest with a very specific target for his discontent.
Ahdoot was not the only person I encountered with this opinion; there was even an “End the Fed” chant that popped up sporadically but with great enthusiasm on the north steps of City Hall, orchestrated by a group of about eight to 10 men with handmade signs.
Ahdoot voted for Ron Paul in 2008 and still supports him because “his message is the answer for the country.” Paul is known for his criticisms of the institutions of central banking and the isolationist lean in his foreign policy. Ahdoot was wearing an “antiwar.com” decal on his T-shirt and repeatedly spoke about the banking system financing wars, admirably staying on message.
I was interested to speak to Ahdoot as a businessman at what has been portrayed as an essentially anti-business protest movement. He was not against capitalism at all, just what he felt was a manipulative central banking system that issued paper currency not backed by gold or another item of material value, but merely “an empty promise.”
If central bankers were to be forced to issue money tied to something of value, Ahdoot argued, it would stop their “counterfeit operation” to “finance wars.”
“They’re the cause of the boom and bust cycle,” he said, “they’re the cause of the unemployment.”
When I asked Ahdoot what he would tell Obama if given the chance, he said simply that he would tell him to read the Austrian school of economics classic, "Human Action" by Ludwig von Mises.
This seemed ironic coming from a participant in a protest movement that began as an expression of anger against Wall Street greed and the president’s perceived acceptance of it, but also very telling in how difficult it is to unify even highly passionate, motivated people around a vague and nebulous set of goals.
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