Newton: City Hall’s embrace of Occupy L.A.

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What’s a rebel to do? In New York, demonstrators have tussled with police, and in Rome, authorities used tear gas on them. Meanwhile, members of Occupy L.A. pitched their tents, erected their signs and girded for battle with the establishment, only to discover that City Hall has no interest in fighting back.

On what were once the lawns of City Hall sits a squatters community. There are the requisite signs and banners celebrating Che Guevara; condemning police abuse, banks and the corporate media; and demanding that the rich be taxed, the poor educated and the environment protected. Most of the protesters seem to be having a good time, and the encampment is thick with earnestness, though a few of the residents wear bandannas over their faces to show how dangerous they are.

The demonstrators occasionally make their presence known inside the building as well, descending on meetings of the City Council and using the time set aside for public comment to present a diverse, if occasionally incoherent, agenda. Last week, some demonstrators accused council members of being corrupted by campaign contributions, while others, in a dig at the council’s recent approval of the football stadium project being championed by AEG, urged the council to go ahead and build the stadium — on the site of City Hall.


But rather than seeking ways to silence the protesters or evict them from the grounds, a majority of the council has embraced them. Take this statement: “Today corporations hold undue influence and power in our country, and the key to this power is the corporate claim to ‘personhood.’” Or this one: “Americans must resolve some of the divisive economic and social realities facing our nation in a peaceful way to avoid further deterioration of our greatest asset — our human capital.” Those come not from Occupy L.A. but from the City Council’s resolution in support of the protest; the resolution was signed by seven members and adopted by a vote of 11 to 0, with three members absent.

Councilman Bernard C. Parks is used to standing apart from his colleagues, and this time was no exception. “I did not believe we should be constructing motions to people who just show up on our lawn,” he explained last week. Other council members have mingled with the protesters. Not Parks. “I have not been out there, and I won’t go out there,” he said. “They certainly don’t look like anybody who lives in the 8th District.”

Parks is a former police chief, so it’s hardly a surprise that he’s unmoved by the pleas of those engaging in civil disobedience. But the demonstrators’ bigger problem is not who’s against them but who’s with them.

Even as the tents were stirring to life one morning last week, the council was at work making the protest seem rational by comparison. Councilman Dennis Zine introduced a motion to require all city workers to report “waste, fraud and abuse.” What would happen to those who failed to report under the new rule? He hadn’t considered that yet. And what does it mean to report waste? That too was unresolved. The council sent his motion off to the city attorney, presumably hoping his staff could make sense of it.

And then there was Councilman Ed Reyes. More than a year ago, he wrote a resolution calling for an economic boycott of Arizona, which members approved to express their disapproval of that state’s mean-spirited and ill-considered attempt to create its own immigration policy. Last week, Reyes asked the council to exempt itself from it. Why? He and other members wanted to attend a convention of the National League of Cities in Phoenix, and Reyes argued that an exception should be made to the boycott because Phoenix officials opposed the immigration bill. Phoenix, for the record, is in Arizona.

How to help the Phoenix economy without helping Arizona’s was apparently beyond the scope of Reyes’ reasoning. No matter. After first proposing that the council waive its boycott and go to Phoenix, he then withdrew the idea, to the relief of his colleagues. Some might be confused, he conceded. Why would anyone be confused by a councilman advocating a boycott and then moving to violate it? There, Reyes found solidarity with his friends camped outside. He blamed the media.