On Tuesday night, we stayed up late monitoring many media streams–radio, television, live videographers, blogs, tweets, even the security cameras mounted on the L.A. Times building–documentary material which together formed a complex and evolving real-time portrait of the eviction of the Occupy LA protest camp outside City Hall. The access to raw data was overwhelming, and stirred a hunger for “more” which was hard to sate. Watching history happen to other people, one feels at once omnipotent and powerless.
In the end, the event defies easy categorization. We’re told it “ended peacefully” — although some protesters say they were chased for blocks, then beaten by police. It was widely reported, but journalism was hobbled by a quickly imposed LAPD “media pool” which subjected any reporter not on the official list to the threat of arrest simply for doing their job. It happened relatively quickly, yet all signs suggest that Occupy LA is not done for. Whatever side of the political fence you reside on, it’s a deeply interesting moment in this city’s history, and a great spark for further conversation and inquiry.
On Wednesday evening, we found ourselves in Pershing Square, that hideous concrete expanse which represents all the urban design failings of the late 20th century. This important public place — formerly called Central Park and for many decades truly central to the cultural life of the city — has been subject to a series of radical redesigns, each more soul-destroying than the last. For decades its shade trees and fountain were a beacon for labor unionists and communists, sexual radicals and spiritual visionaries, but no more. Today it sports uncomfortable benches, confusing vistas, dividing walls, a mildewed fountain, baffling artwork and a pathetic section devoted to dog waste and clots of historic sculptures. It is impossible to see into the park from street level, there is nothing to eat, and a seasonal ice rink blocks easy passage through the space.
And yet, as dusk fell and the fog settled over downtown, something extraordinary happened. The northeast corner of the park filled with boisterous, friendly people. They were mostly young, but some were old. They were of all races. Most were dressed in jeans, but some were in suits. Many carried signs. They clustered together in loose circles and talked about why they had come to the park, and what they hoped to see the Occupy movement accomplish. Everyone had a different reason, and each one was so idealistic as to almost make you blush to hear it said out loud. But why should it be embarrassing to hear an Angeleno state that they’d like to live in a fair, safe and equitable world? Don’t we all want that? After an hour, these folks lit candles, tucked them into styrofoam cups, and marched off towards a barricaded, heavily-policed City Hall to sing Woody Guthrie songs and brainstorm about what comes next.
Something is happening in this city. People who would not normally have reason to even say hello are standing in groups on street corners, debating complex economic theories, strategizing media campaigns and connecting in unexpected ways. In the face of hard challenges, hope is sprouting. And this thing that is happening is powerful enough to bring alive a public space seemingly designed to make such a thing impossible. And that, friends, is worth taking note of. And so we have.