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Repression imminent at Occupy Los Angeles

Published Nov 2, 2011 8:41 PM

The number of protesters and tents occupying L.A.’s City Hall grounds has doubled since the occupation began the first weekend in October, and strong support from local unions has strengthened the action.

Meanwhile, police presence has increased. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa told the media on Oct. 27 — the day after the police attack on the Oakland, Calif., encampment — that the Los Angeles occupation would not be able to remain on the lawn. (L.A. Times, Oct. 28)

While there has been no clear decision made in the Occupy L.A. General Assembly on how the movement would react to an attempt to repress the occupation, many are already mobilizing for solidarity actions with the Oakland movement on Nov. 2.

Unions support occupation

Individuals and organizers from many unions were visibly present at Occupy L.A. by the second week. The Teamsters made regular donations to the food tent. The Coalition of Immokalee Workers sent members to spread the word about their campaign against Trader Joe stores.

UNITE-HERE and the Service Employees union had a regular presence in the General Assemblies. UNITE-HERE proposed a picket line in front of one of the downtown hotels where they were organizing. That initiative earned a lot of support on the day of the action.

SEIU also proposed two marches, including a march on the Bank of America that almost left the Occupy L.A. campsite empty as everyone joined in. Demonstrators poured into the bank and overwhelmed the police and security, who began arresting union members who defiantly broke out into civil disobedience and sat in at the bank.

The United Teachers of L.A. organized a march to the Los Angeles United School District offices to fight outrageous cutbacks and plans to privatize many schools in oppressed communities by selling them to charter school corporations. The fired-up teachers set up an encampment at the School Board site and at around 10 p.m. the School Board police moved to evict them. Occupiers quickly mobilized to defend the teachers, who were able to spend the night.

Debate over role of police

Unlike the occupation at Zuccotti Park near the Stock Exchange in New York City, Occupy L.A. was granted a permit following an agreement with L.A. city officials and the LAPD. This agreement misled some within the occupation as to the role of the police. Some even considered them part of the 99 percent.

Early in the occupation, many participants opposed an “End Police Brutality Committee” proposed by some people of color because at that time, it was argued, “there has not been any police brutality at Occupy L.A.” At one point Mejicano activists who argued against the police being considered part of the 99 percent were booed by other, mostly white participants.

As the debate on police brutality grew, however, more and more of the occupiers began to reject the notion that police were friends of Occupy L.A., especially as Boston, Chicago and other city encampments suffered brutal police attacks. This opening cleared the way for the Oct. 12 Coalition Against Police Brutality to march from Occupy L.A. with a good number of supporters.

A big program was held on the Pelican Bay Prison hunger strike. Workers World Party activists participating in the events were able to call for a march in solidarity with the prisoners at the General Assembly, support for which passed by consensus just days before the striker’s demands were met and the strike called off. The WWP members also promoted a film about socialist Cuba, which was shown to all the occupation participants.

WWP members also helped organize another action at local bank offices. When they marched to Wells Fargo Bank just a few blocks away, security quickly scrambled to shut their doors and closed their lobby to the public with barricades. For the protesters, this amounted to a large victory, and they marched through L.A.’s financial district chanting, “Fight the banks, shut them down!”

One marcher waved a large portrait of Lenin at the bankers. It was like waving a cross at a vampire. The next day there was also a Karl Marx portrait that read: “99%ers of the world unite!”