Occupy activists prepare for Rose Parade march

An army of volunteers from across the nation has once again descended upon Pasadena’s Rose Palace, where several floats are being covered with flowers.

Half a mile away in Singer Park, dozens of Occupy activists worked Thursday to prepare for a protest.

The activists, part of a movement whose encampments across the country grabbed headlines for months, are trying to take their message into 2012 with a high-profile foray into the Rose Parade.

While volunteers at the Rose Palace were armed with scissors, thousands of gallons of glue and millions of flower petals, Occupy activists worked with plastic pipe and banners.

FULL COVERAGE: 2012 Tournament of Roses


At the Rose Palace, a few young women perched atop an enormous elephant, gluing flowers to its head. In Singer Park, activists practiced walking with a 70-by-40-foot octopus made of recycled plastic bags.

“This is the real Rose Parade, and the other is the Rose Charade,” said Pete Thottam, 40, an Occupy activist.

Protesters will march the parade route after the floats and marching bands have passed. The group has been working with Pasadena police and Tournament of Roses officials on how not to disrupt the parade.

“Our goal is to put Occupy’s best foot forward,” Thottam said, adding that activists expect more than 1,000 participants. “We recognize that this is a historic, iconic event geared toward middle America and the family.”

The group says the protest will be “G-rated” and will stick to nonviolence in expressing Occupy’s messages against income inequality and corporate power.

Though the Occupy movement is leaderless, it has taken some organization to get ready for Monday’s event.

During the rehearsal Thursday, activists were assigned roles, such as working with an Occupy peacekeeping team or carrying the plastic pipes that will support two large replicas of the preamble to the Constitution. Each replica — one with the words “We the People,” one with “We the Corporations” — requires dozens of people to hold up. Maneuvering the octopus “human float” took some practice in coordination. Protesters spun in circles, moving it through the park. Each tentacle will have several protesters lifting it.

The octopus, said activist Mark Lipman of Los Angeles, represents Wall Street’s stranglehold on political, cultural and social life, with tentacles “that reach into your pocket to get your money and a tentacle to get your house.”

More than 50 people will constitute the protesters’ peacekeeping team, which will seek to make sure no violence or other disruptions occur.

“This is as peaceful as is possible,” said activist Julio Toruno. “We don’t want to disrupt; we just want to be seen.”

Toruno, 57, of Altadena, has black spray paint caked under his fingernails from hours of making vests in his backyard for the peacekeeping team. The work is slow but worth it, he said. For him, Occupy the Rose Parade is a way to boldly state that the movement is strong.

“The Occupy movement is very much alive,” he said. “What will happen after this, I don’t know, but it’s exciting.”

As a Pasadena resident, Hector Aristizabal, 50, has watched the Rose Parade for decades with his children. On Thursday, his children, now teenagers, were with him to help with Occupy’s parade visuals.

“The Rose Parade is a beautiful display, but it’s more of a display of corporate power combined with some beauty,” Aristizabal said as his son and daughter practiced moving the octopus.

“For me, this is … an opportunity to express our desires,” he said. “We don’t need millions of dollars to make a float to express ourselves. We just need our imagination.”

With volunteers meeting over several weeks, Thottam said, the inevitable happened: Occupy the Rose Parade became fun.

“People are enjoying it,” he said. “It started out as 100% mission. It’s become 50% mission, 50% fun. We’ve gotten to know each other.”

Echoed Lipman: “This is a lot of fun. Organizing is great. I could either be doing something fun and important, or I could be at home watching television.”

FULL COVERAGE: 2012 Tournament of Roses