In the middle of Tuesday’s Los Angeles City Council meeting, where the most scintillating item on the agenda was a proposal to increase ticket prices at the L.A. Zoo, a speaker stood up and told lawmakers they were ignoring an obvious fact: “You are surrounded by tents.”
He was referring to the large group of protesters camped a few hundred feet away, on a lawn outside City Hall. The group, which calls itself Occupy LA, has been there since Saturday in a demonstration against economic policies that benefit corporations and the wealthiest Americans. They say they may stay until Christmas.
The speaker, local political gadfly John Walsh, invited the council members to tour the tent city outside. So when the meeting adjourned, several of them did.
“It’s an entourage of peacemakers!” Walsh said giddily as he walked toward the protest with Councilmen Bill Rosendahl, Eric Garcetti, Ed Reyes and Dennis Zine.
“It’s the right thing to do,” said Zine, who until recently was a registered Republican. “We could just drive by them, or we could go talk to them.”
The lawmakers, dressed in dark suits and surrounded by aides, caused a stir when they approached the ragtag collection of tents, tarps and sleeping bags just off Temple Street.
News media and protesters armed with video cameras swarmed as the officials shook hands and introduced themselves. “We are not enemies,” Rosendahl told one woman, saying he empathized with the demonstrators’ complaints about the role of banks in the foreclosure crisis. “The situation we’re in is truly intolerable.”
Another woman thanked Rosendahl for his support and asked for a hug. He obliged.
Unlike their counterparts in New York, who have clashed with police during a two-week sit-in on Wall Street, the protesters outside of City Hall have had a peaceful relationship with police, and they have won a surprising degree of institutional support.
Before leaving Tuesday, Garcetti told the protesters: “Stay as long as you need, we’re here to support you.” A spokeswoman for Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said he plans to visit the encampment Wednesday.
On Wednesday morning, Rosendahl will introduce a City Council resolution supporting the protesters. Many of them plan to attend, although attracting attention to the cause will have to compete with the real City Hall titillation this week: The bustling film set for “Gangster Squad,” a movie being filmed in Villaraigosa’s office whose stars include Ryan Gosling, Nick Nolte and Sean Penn.