Downtown L.A. becomes a stage for protest and performance art

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Downtown Los Angeles was transformed into a set for political theater over the weekend, with protesters pitching tents in front of City Hall and performance artists dancing on floats meandering through the streets.

Inspired by the anti-corporate Occupy Wall Street protests in New York, several hundred people set up camp in front of Los Angeles City Hall on Saturday and announced that they were there to stay.

Whether that will change when City Hall workers find themselves walking a gantlet of sign-wielding protesters Monday, or when vendors arrive to set up the regularly scheduled Thursday farmers market on the lawn, was unclear.


Photos: Protest and parade in downtown Los Angeles

As protesters were staking out City Hall, the streets of downtown were taken over Sunday afternoon by a cacophonous parade of artists and activists expressing similar sentiments but organized separately.

The sleep-in followed a march and rally Saturday by a loosely organized group of activists called Occupy Los Angeles.

Tents and blankets dotted the lawn in front of City Hall on Sunday. Some people stood on the sidewalk holding signs or, in the case of one protester, playing a bagpipe, while others sprawled on blankets in the shade, painting signs, or circling up for impromptu strategy sessions. Passing cars honked in support. Supporters donated necessities such as pizza and portable toilets.

The movement takes issue with corporate influence on government and the shift of wealth and political clout toward the richest 1% of the population. Many protesters carried signs with variations on the slogan “We are the 99%.”

Many attendees said they had heard about the Occupy Los Angeles protest on Twitter, Tumblr and Reddit.


Blake Digangi, 20, a student at Mt. San Jacinto College in Menifee, said he heard about the Occupy Wall Street protests from friends in New York.

“I started looking at YouTube videos and got really fascinated by it,” Digangi said. Although he said he’s “not really an activist,” Digangi and his cousin, Logan Riley, 23, of Murrieta, said they are frustrated by the lack of jobs and opportunities. The two drove to Los Angeles on Saturday and spent the night in sleeping bags on the sidewalk.

“I always wanted to be around in the ‘60s when this kind of stuff was going on, and even though it is on a smaller scale, it’s still cool to observe,” Digangi said.

Supporters who had not stayed the night stopped by to check out the scene Sunday. One of them, Joshua Wright, 27, a U.S. Army veteran, held a sign that read “4,477=99%” referring to the number of U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq.

“I’m here because I did two tours in Iraq, and I saw a lot of people die,” he said.

“Why? Why did they die? The answer is they died for corporate America, so it’s time to bring a change.”

Protesters who stayed the night said police asked them to move from the grass to the sidewalk at 10:30 p.m. Saturday and from the pavement back to the lawn at 6 a.m. Sunday.


The activists were vague as to how long they plan to stay.

“However long it takes,” said Emily Wilt, 24, who was painting a sign asking for donations to the cause.

Officer Rosario Herrera, an LAPD spokeswoman, said Sunday afternoon that police had not arrested any protesters and that there had been no reports of disturbances. As long as the protesters remain peaceful, police have no plans to oust them, she said.

Elsewhere, the Trespass Parade took marchers through the streets under a bright arch of balloons, following a float that carried a troupe of dancing young women wearing T-shirts with pro-immigration and anti-corporate slogans. The parade was sponsored by the Getty as part of the opening celebration of a regionwide art initiative, Pacific Standard Time: Art in L.A. 1945-1980. Parade organizers invited artists and residents to “engage in art, music, dancing, floats, community activism and performance.”

The parade tied up traffic, closing a long stretch of Broadway and other streets.

Reina Alejandra Prado, a poet and performance artist, marched wearing a “No migra” sign, referring to immigration authorities, affixed to a long red dress with hundreds of slips of paper bearing “love petitions” to Santa Perversa, whom she describes as the patron saint of love and the erotic.

“For me, my participation is about really reclaiming space,” she said.

Photos: Protest and parade in downtown Los Angeles