A week into Occupy Los Angeles—the grassroots protest formed in solidarity with New York's anti-corporate Occupy Wall Street movement—it's showing no signs of letting up. And students, in part, are to thank for it.
Marches took place Thursday and Friday, and during the former one, 11 protestors were arrested at a Bank of America branch. (A protest is planned for this coming Thursday at .) This weekend, Occupy Los Angeles could gain even more traction. A music festival is scheduled to take place on Saturday at noon at City Hall, and additional actions are expected.
While Occupy Los Angeles continues to increase in size, multiple SMC students were there from day one—in fact, even earlier. After hearing about the inception of Occupy Wall Street three weeks ago, a handful of students, in a show of solidarity, camped out on the lawn at in Santa Monica on Sept. 19.
"Our idea was that we were going to stay up all night, analyze news data [from Occupy Wall Street] and publish our findings about the movement," said Isis Enriquez, who is a member of LA Volta, an activist think tank that includes other SMC students. "But then we realized how much was going on with the movement, so we decided to occupy Santa Monica City Hall.
"Before we even set foot there, we went and talked with and made sure we understood the rules of what we could and could not do," continued Enriquez, who is graduating from SMC in July and majoring in international relations.
Enriquez has visited Occupy Los Angeles a few times and, like the other SMC students who spoke with Santa Monica Patch, plans to return.
"At first it really didn't do it for me," said Kendal Blum, who is majoring in political science and flying to New York to participate in Occupy Wall Street this weekend. "But when we got a general assembly of 300 people governed by consensus, I was like, 'Holy sh--, this is what democracy looks like.' "
Second-semester student Jahnny Lee was at the protest Sunday through Wednesday and participated in a related nationwide student walkout on Wednesday. (Another one is planned for this coming Wednesday.)
"I asked myself the first day, 'What am I getting into?' " he said. "The second I got [to downtown], you get this feeling, 'This is what I'm meant to do. The power of the people draws you in right away."
Each night at 7:30 p.m., Occupy Los Angeles' general assembly gathers near City Hall to vote en masse on proposals the committees developed over the course of the day. Facilitators call on committee leaders to go to the microphone and propose an idea—when and where to march, for example—to the assembly.
Using hand gestures, protesters express approval or disapproval for the proposal. If anyone disagrees, they have to take to the mic and make their case to the assembly—which "eliminates the tyranny of the majority," Blum said. Then, compromises are reached.
Contrary to some media reports, "There's a lot of organization and it's very democratic," said Harrison Wills, who was at Occupy Los Angeles from day one. "People are sitting down and having these discussions ... it's really exciting."
Wills—who is the president of SMC's Associated Students, the college's student government—has been making periodic visits downtown, then returning to SMC to recruit more students. On Monday, he and other students are planning to dumpster-dive for pieces of cardboard, create templates for signs and distribute them. They want students and faculty to write messages on the signs, which would then be posted across campus.
Wills has already gained some surprising recruits, including Parker Jean, an 18-year-old who just started attending SMC and is from a conservative background.
"Being that I'm young ... you really don't have much of a voice," he said. "When you're on the same page as other people, it gives you more leverage."
When he went downtown, he was surprised not just by the size of the gathering but by some of the characters he saw. "There was some pretty crazy costumes. Some dude had just underwear on and an afro."
Occupy Los Angeles has been facing some challenges, no doubt. Initially, protesters had to sleep on sidewalks, due to restrictions at Los Angeles parks.
"It was hard to do that every night and keep chanting and organizing," Blum said.
But then, police decided they wouldn't enforce the 10:30 p.m. closing time and that protesters could sleep on the grass.
"There's been a lot of cooperation with police here," she said.
Also, despite all the congregating happening downtown—not to mention the chatting on Facebook and Twitter—the means of communication are still being established. Occupy Colleges, a new branch of the broader movement that has come to be known as "Occupy Together," recently sprung up, and some of the SMC participants who spoke with Santa Monica Patch were not aware of it.
Many of the aforementioned SMC students are hoping to collaborate with Occupy Colleges. On Thursday night, Lee launched a new Facebook page called "Occupy Santa Monica College."
Regardless of one's perspective about Occupy Los Angeles or the views expressed by its participants, it's clear that they have no shortage of enthusiasm—and even optimism. From all indications, they're in it for the long haul.
"Basically, the goal is that everyone wake up and realize that something is happening in your community that you're not OK with and you just haven't had the voice to say it," Enriquez said. "Now we have that voice."
If you're part of the Santa Monica community and want to share your Occupy Los Angeles photos and/or videos, send them to Kurt.Orzeck@patch.com for consideration.
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