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Neon Tommy - Annenberg digital news

Is Occupy L.A. A Self-Directed Mess?

Michelle Toh |
October 5, 2012 | 1:59 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Brian Connelly, Occupy L.A. protester (Michelle Toh)
Brian Connelly, Occupy L.A. protester (Michelle Toh)
Sitting on the steps of Pershing Square with a sign proclaiming “Bankers behind Bars,” Ben Pacheco said that he was skating home from class one day when he “just happened” to pass by the group’s inaugural protest at City Hall. "It was kind of a serendipitous coincidence," said the East Los Angeles native.

“I knew it was for me because there were all these conscious minds that know what’s going on, and that the news isn’t always telling you the truth. There’s something beyond what we’re being told,” he said. 

Since then, Pacheco, a 20-year-old student at East L.A. City College, has decided to dedicate much of his time to the group’s efforts. He's spent three months camped out with fellow activists while continuing to go to class and work various part-time odd jobs. His level of commitment, he said, was partly due to the strong bonds formed within the group.   

A strong sense of community was apparent. “Look around,” another young man said, spreading his arms. A couple steps above him, a diverse group of people sat clustered in a circle laughing and talking, including young men with dreadlocked hair and a woman in a wheelchair clutching a pug dog on her lap. “We’re like a family. That’s how it should be."

ALSO SEE: What's Next For Occupy L.A.?

This group was part of a larger crowd of about 40, gathered in Pershing Square in downtown L.A. for an event advertised as a “general assembly” on their Twitter page. However, the scene resembled an outdoor soup kitchen, with people lining up to collect free stew. 

A strong odor of alcohol, marijuana, and urine filled the air. Some declined to be interviewed on account of being “too high.” 

Despite the distractions, the movement, however vague and seemingly disorganized, continues.

“We’re all the same, we all need to start loving one another and we all need to treat each other equally,” Pacheco said. “It doesn’t matter where you came from, or what shaped your past. There’s a better way of living, as long as you try.” 

His laissez-faire philosophy may sound too idealistic or broad to translate into substantive action. Speaking with other activists, few were able to outline any clear goals or legislative demands.

Similarly, Occupy L.A.’s website links to a “Principles of Solidarity” page endorsed by Occupy Wall Street, affirming, “We are the 99% and we have moved to reclaim our mortgaged future.” Translated into action, though, what does this even mean? 

Ben Pacheco, Occupy L.A. protester (Michelle Toh)
Ben Pacheco, Occupy L.A. protester (Michelle Toh)
“At a certain point, there's a valid criticism in people asking, 'What are you doing here?'" Occupy Wall Street protester Chris Biemer, 23, told the L.A. Times on Day 11 of the Zuccotti Park demonstration.

“What exactly the Occupy movement is about is difficult to discern given its intentionally anarchic and leaderless composition,” Brian Boydston wrote in the Humanist. “The result, unfortunately, appears to be less like orchestrated social change and more like “rebel without a cause.”

ALSO SEE: Occupy L.A. Celebrates One-Year Anniversary

Pacheco acknowledged the cynicism surrounding Occupy L.A. “I know that there are some people that are totally against this because they think we’re just homeless and we don’t have jobs and we don’t do anything, but there’s something for everyone to do,” he said. 

Looking around, this point appears valid enough to have brought in protesters representing a surprising range of diversity, from optimistic USC undergraduates who had taken the bus to the gathering to freelance workers in their forties. However, perhaps the most surprising – and striking – factor was that this event seemed, rather, a non-event. Noticeably missing from the atmosphere was the sense of momentum and drive behind Occupy’s fame, and in comparison to its high-powered beginnings, the activists seemed listless and apathetic. 

“Excuse me!” a young African-American man shouted as he stood up. “We were supposed to be having a general assembly at 6 o’ clock, and now it’s seven… I was just wondering how people feel about that.” Receiving no response, he sat back down.

Brian Connelly, a screenwriter who has been with Occupy L.A. since day 6, spoke about the upcoming presidential election as a contributing factor to the movement’s distraction. “We’re on the edge of an election that symbolizes so much, that it overrides half the conversation,” the New York native said, touting a sign that declared, “IMAGINE FAIRNESS.” 

Connelly is an avid “Occupier” who traveled by train from L.A. to New York City for Occupy Wall Street’s one-year anniversary in September. Having lost his job in August 2008 – “the worst time” – he cited a need for consequences for the “1%” as the primary reason for his activism. “We live in a society where some men are above the law. You can be cynical and say, ‘It’s always like that,’ but no, those are exceptions.” 

“There should be committees in D.C. figuring out what these bankers actually did in the first place, and that never happened. That’s the reason I’m here, and I’m still freaking out about that.”

Find more Neon Tommy coverage on Occupy L.A. here.

Reach Staff Reporter Michelle Toh here.



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