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99Rise Activists Attempt To Bridge Gap With Occupy L.A.

Michael Juliani |
October 23, 2012 | 1:32 p.m. PDT

Assistant News Editor

Nick Wagner was arrested at this protest in September at Bank of America.  (Michael Juliani / Neon Tommy)
Nick Wagner was arrested at this protest in September at Bank of America. (Michael Juliani / Neon Tommy)

Nick Wagner showed up on time to Pershing Square for the Occupy L.A. General Assembly, which meant that he got there too early.

Occupy L.A. cannot be trusted to "keep the trains running on time," as the expression goes. 

Meetings usually convene at least half an hour after the advertised time, and there are no stop times--you can stay there talking all night if you'd like, because somebody will always be there.

Wagner trekked in from Riverside with his girlfriend Krystal in hopes that this particular October night would draw a decent crowd of activists.

The 32-year-old planned to address the General Assembly with information regarding the new movement he'd joined called 99Rise, an Occupy offshoot that focuses on nonviolence and issues relating to the intersection of corporate money and politics. 

Wagner and his girlfriend have been consistent activists since the start of Occupy L.A. in fall 2011.

MORE: 99Rise Policies Highlight Occupy L.A. Flaws

They showed up to Pershing Square a little before 7:30, the designated start time for the General Assembly.

Krystal carried an iced coffee from Starbucks, one of the protest movement's corporate targets.

Nobody said anything to her about it, and neither she nor Wagner seemed to notice their own transgression.

While waiting for more activists or neighborhood folk to trickle in to the square, Wagner loaded a YouTube clip on his iPhone--which just barely got reception inside the square—that Krystal shot of him getting thrown to the ground and arrested on the steps of the Supreme Court in Washington earlier in the year.

They were protesting to overturn the Supreme Court decision on the case that's become known simply as "Citizens United," the 2010 decision that set up the "corporations as people" paradigm that's become associated with Occupy's main message.

Wagner described seeing a police officer manhandling one of his fellow protesters, and how it enraged him to the point of yelling obscenities at the police.

The next thing he knew, he was thrown to the ground and had officers' knees pressed down on his neck and back.

After that experience, Wagner realized that the only way to entice change is through nonviolence.

Around that time, a group of Occidental College students and alumni were organizing 99Rise, which spoke directly to Wagner's ideals about nonviolence and the overturning of Citizens United.

MORE: 99Rise Bank Of America Protest Launches New Movement

He quickly gravitated towards the group's bank protests and its three-day trainings, where it teaches its participants how to be nonviolent and what to do if arrested for civil disobedience.

Now, showing back up at a GA meeting, wearing a backwards black hat with white graffiti scrawl that says "Occupy," Wagner said he was nervous.

"I don't know how they're going to feel about it.  I might get some flak," Wagner said, wondering how the 20 or so Occupiers who showed up would take his 99Rise pitch.

So far, Wagner is an anomaly at 99Rise, since he's older than most of the Oxy students and from a neighborhood where he said he grew up looking over his shoulder to see if he was being followed by vindictive cops.

Wagner works as an actor, landing some TV commercials and is a finalist to be on a reality show devoted to Occupy called "How the Other Half Lives."

He hoped to bridge the gap between Occupy and its offshoot movements, especially those that don't immediately fit the bill of anarchy and grunge that Occupy is used to.

One of his fellow 99Risers showed up to Pershing Square to give him support.

Lewis Preston, a 22-year-old Oxy alum who works as a tutor at Jordan High School in Watts, seems so calm that he even chews his gum slowly. 

He came to give Wagner backup if he faced harassment from the Occupiers, who may not exactly dig the all-white, all-bourgeois facade of the nonviolent 99Rise.

After walking around to the several individual clusters of people milling about the square, pitching the basis of 99Rise, Wagner said that only one man had said he'd give the offshoot movement a try--but only if he could lead some of the trainings, since he had a Ph.D in something.

Wagner and Preston considered waiting for the next meeting night to try to pitch to a larger crowd, but eventually Wagner decided to do a "mic check" to get the crowd's attention.

Slowly at first, the group of 20 Occupiers crowded around to listen.

His girlfriend Krystal filmed it on her iPhone with the flash spraying out over the crowd.

"My name is Nick.  I'm an Occupier and I haven't been here in awhile…I just wanted to share with you a new movement I found," he said, talking with his hands atop three steps.

One woman kept saying "Oh ok, ok" throughout his pitch, which he'd written down on index cards.

"I'm just here reaching out on their behalf," Wagner said, "and showing some solidarity."

After Wagner finished, the group of older professorial types, homeless people and community organizers grumbled slightly and thanked him.

An older man with gray hair and a gray beard approached Wagner at the steps.

"99Rides--sounds like the name of a motorcycle club," he said.

"No, no…99Rise," Wagner corrected.

The man, Tuck Taylor, a climate change activist, went on to talk with Wagner and Preston about the beauty behind the metaphor of the name "rise."

"The spiritual element of Occupy must be there for leverage," he said, "like in the image of 'rising.'"

The three of them talked intensely for 20 minutes or so, then Wagner asked Preston and Krystal, "How did I do?  Was that good?"


Read more of Neon Tommy's coverage of Occupy L.A. here.

Reach Assistant News Editor Michael Juliani here.

Follow him on Twitter here.



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