(This is the feature story version.)
Elise Whitaker, a member of the Occupy LA actions committee, spent Tuesday morning preparing for the first of the day’s protest marches as she often does, walking through the sprawling encampment surrounding City Hall trying to rouse participants - some of whom were enjoying yet another drum circle until 3 a.m. - out of their tents and onto the streets.
It didn’t go well.
Over and again reactions to Whitaker’s upbeat pitch describing OLA’s first flash mob-style action ranged from mute nods, to quasi-sincere thumbs-ups, to bleary-eyed blank stares. One man glanced up from tamping down a small pipe and promised to round up “energy” to send toward the effort.
“You should help me find the people,” Whitaker said, carefully stepping through a gnarl of tent ropes as she targets another clump of slumbering tents. The man nodded serenely in her general direction.
“Yeah,” she said. “They’re not going to show up.”
There’s an alchemy to putting together an action, and more importantly, finding people to participate. For the flash mob, OLA, joined by members of the “Justice for Janitors” effort guided by the SEIU, planned to march from City Hall to the Los Angeles Times, which has been in a pitched two-year battle with the union over janitorial layoffs. From there, the group would march to the Bank of America at 7th and Figueroa streets. At both locations they planned to pitch a tent and people laying in sleeping bags for a symbolic occupation.
“It changes from time to time what people will turn out for,” Whitaker said. “Early on people shied away from direct civil disobedience, but now they’re itching for it. At the same time there’s still some push-back. I mean, you have to show up.”
Launching a bank action so soon after the nationwide “Bank Transfer Day” was a way to build on the momentum of that effort, Whitaker said.
“City Hall can’t give us a whole lot, but the banks can,” she said. “You can get a symbolic message out there by occupying a bank.”
That symbolism was strong enough to bring Eric Baran to downtown Los Angeles from his home many miles away when he saw the flash mob announcement pop up on the Occupy LA website. Married with three children ranging in age from nine- to 13-years-old, he said wanted to participate in part of of concern about the economic future of his children. An employee of a major grocery chain, he recently “came through brutal contract negotiations” where new employees will “take forever to qualify for healthcare. What does that say about the future for workers?”
Baran said he showed up to be counted as one of the 99-percent, and to directly support the efforts of City Hall’s occupiers.
“Through my own senses I can see this is an honest group of people who are trying to find a solution, even if they don’t have an exact list of what the problems are,” he said. “They’re trying.”
Baran was joined by many members of OLA drummed up by Whitaker’s ultimately successful efforts, who formed a cheering “Soul Train”-style welcome line for the SEIU when they arrived. About 100 strong, the group set off for an afternoon of targeted rabble-rousing. Their message: demand fair dealings for janitors and accountability by the bank.
“We stand together with you, in front of you, behind you, fighting the greed that has overcome America,” said Mike Garcia, SEIU president, during an impromptu speech at the Bank of America stop. “We will not stop.”
The marchers, joined by several types of LAPD escorts, made their way through downtown’s streets crowded with workers, dwellers and people just passing through. More seemed bemused by it all than indifferent.
The Rev. Tara Little, of the Unitarian Universalist Church, and Rabbi Joshua Grater of the Pasadena Jewish Temple & Center, each delivered words of encouragement from the faith community during the rally at Bank of America.
“People of faith are on the streets with you,” Little said. “We pray in our churches and houses that the 99-percent becomes the 100-percent.”
Words by me. Photos by Mr. M’s cellphone.