The signs on the freshly planted City Hall south lawn list a long string of don’ts.
“No tents, stakes, camping, open flames or cooking.... No writing/painting/affixing signs, projections or other materials to trees, landscaping or public property.”
The message that the past can’t be repeated comes through loud and clear. It wasn’t missed by the dozen gathered in the shade of a big tree Monday morning to commemorate the first anniversary of when Occupy L.A. set up camp on the site.
Before leaving to mark the moment at a Pershing Square rally, they picked up everything — cigarette butts, plastic water bottles, hand-painted signs and banners.
They were mostly observant of the rules — “No dumping, littering” — but unwilling to bow completely to the man. A pipe was passed. Pot smoke wafted. Half of “No alcohol, no smoking,” was ignored.
Someone got jumpy. “We’ll get a ticket,” he said. But a police officer watching from about a dozen yards away made no move to interfere.
A doe-eyed young man, long hair tamed by a cream-colored bandanna, wore a silver ring through his nasal septum and a T-shirt of the Statue of Liberty in a gas mask. He would only give his first name, Jared, and he divided the country into “two sides.” One, he said, was “the controlling elite,” which includes police and power-brokers and media outlets such as this one. The other was “low-income Americans” left out of the power and wealth.
As he held an upside-down American flag he’d wave on the march, he said people had mischaracterized the movement, depicting protesters as “terrorists” and “incompetent fools mooching off society.”
“Which is not the case at all,” he said. “We’re fighting for society.”
From the beginning, Occupy L.A. had to make its tent huge. Those on the lawn had numerous individual causes.
Alex Leos, 25, originally from Pasadena, wants to untangle society from money dependence, with hemp legal and clothes and food given to those in need. He spoke of not voting as a way to be heard, and of taking over banks to redistribute the wealth.
Nicole Riley, 46, originally from Philadelphia, wants to help the city’s homeless. “I am from a place where people are treated with more respect,” she said. “And I am a woman of color and women of color are not revered here.”
One very tan young man who said he’d been living on the beach warned that everyone spoke for the movement, but not all had earned the right. Sometimes, he said, “it was like the janitor talking for the president.”
At high noon in the heat at Pershing Square, the number of protesters expanded a bit — more than 50, fewer than 100. The number of causes grew too.
People held signs: “Billionaires, Your Time Is Up!” “Occupy L.A., Not Palestine,” “Free Africa and Her Children.” At the corner of 6th and Olive streets, they filled a sidewalk with pastel chalk messages: “Free the Weed,” “Stop Drinking Starbucks!” “FTP, Feed the People,” “Abolish Punditocracy.”
A long, supportive honk came from a city bus wheeling past en route to El Monte.
People walking by on lunch breaks took cellphone photos. A man in a crisp suit and tie lifted his fist in solidarity.
Ron Sanchez, 57, a semiretired electrician, leaned on his bike and took it all in.
“Something like this, it’s pretty neat. They all have their own ideas of what we need, but I love seeing everybody just trying to come together,” he said. “Times are tough. They’re frustrated. Me, I’ve been blessed. I’d like to see them have a piece of the pie.”
This is first of Lelyveld’s City Beat dispatches, which will appear regularly in the newspaper and on latimes.com. You can follow her on Twitter https://twitter.com/LATimescitybeat and on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/latimescitybeat.