Ethnic minorities that form majority absent from the ‘99%’ that marched against corporate greed
| by Hassina Leelarathna
(October 17, Los Angeles, Sri Lanka Guardian) Thousands of ‘Occupy Los Angeles’ demonstrators marched through the city’s financial district on Saturday to show solidarity with similar protests taking place throughout the world, noisily denouncing Wall Street greed and calling for an end to corporate dominance. Occupy LA is a companion movement to Occupy Wall Street launched in New York in September and that has spread to cities worldwide.
Conspicuously missing from the ‘99%,’as the occupiers call themselves, were the Hispanics, African-Americans, and Asians who account for the majority of the population of Los Angeles city.
While featuring a large banner that said ‘Somos El 99%,’ yesterday’s march, with over 5000 participants, had just a sprinkling of colored faces, making this a demographic contrast to LA’s occasional pro-immigration and annual May Day rallies that draw their ‘99%’ largely from the working class Hispanic communities.
While the Occupy movement in general has been seen as a protest against a mish-mash of grievances and societal ills, Occupy LA appears to have narrowed its focus, becoming conspicuously a white middle class fight against the loss of what was once theirs: an assured path along the corporate ladder to nice suburban homes, private schools for their kids, and a Lexus or BMW in the driveway.
At Pershing Square where the protesters first rallied, Arthur Klein, a yoga teacher by profession who appeared to be one of the Occupy LA organizers, invoked Gandhi and Martin Luther King and called on the marchers to exercise restraint and remain peaceful. He urged them to ‘smile at the police,’ saying the LAPD was supportive of the movement, was part of the 99% and that ‘they want this change too.’ As the crowd cheered, he added:
“We’re growing like the oceans filled with waves. We are powerful not because we are one wave but because we are waves together, and like the colors of the great oceans. We are going to change it all.”
After the brief meeting at Pershing Square, the crowd slowly wound its way to Los Angeles City Hall where occupiers have been camping in tents on the lawns since October 1. Along the way, they chanted ‘Banks got bailed out, we got sold out,’ and ‘From New York to LA, Occupy the USA’ and stopped from time to time to listen to brief speeches by the organizers or anyone stepping forward to relate personal stories of how bank rip-offs and corporate greed had impacted their lives.
Like the young woman who identified herself as a California resident:
“I did what the 1% said I should do. I went to school… I joined a corporation and they fired me. The corporations make you believe that if you join them you can be in the 1%. That is not true, that is a lie. Corporations are a monarchy.”
The morning’s highlight was the stop at the Bank of America which, like other big banks such as Wells Fargo and Chase, has become a symbol of the corporate greed that led to the financial meltdown that caused many to lose their jobs as well as their homes. As the demonstrators surrounded the bank building, the only official resistance — two LAPD officers on motorcycles on guard at the entrance – gave in and rode off. The crowd let out a loud cheering roar and moved to the entrance of the closed building where several speakers denounced Wall Street, corporate greed, wealth discrepancy, and other financial ills. After some intense chanting outside the bank, the demonstrators moved on, making their way to the encampment outside City Hall where peaceful activities such as painting and crafts were in swing and a band was already gearing up to provide entertainment.
While the LA protest went off without incident, in other cities the ‘international day of solidarity’ campaigns were not as peaceful. In Boston, occupiers accused police of ‘brutal attacks’ and mass arrests. In New York, police arrested more than 90 people over the weekend. In Italy, the day turned violent with protesters damaging buildings and police firing tear gas.
Occupy LA is unique in that the group has received overwhelming support from City Hall, to the extent of a resolution being introduced to provide support to the protesters. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa reportedly even distributed ponchos to those camped on the streets during a rainstorm.
Perhaps such acts of official kindness have made Occupy LA tame and subdued in contrast to other groups such as its sister movement 400 miles up north in San Francisco where (as I witnessed) there was palpable anti-establishment rage and many have been arrested. Some of the posters displayed in Los Angeles did have some angry and portentous messages: ‘Revolution Starts Now,’ ‘This is an uprising’ and ‘We’re mad as hell.’
But the words seemed to just stay there and got diluted in the cheerful and somewhat carnival-like atmosphere where the organizers were in ‘be nice’ mode.
At the Bank of America, for example, a worried Occupy ‘official’ kept urging some of us who were perched on a sidewalk granite planter taking photographs to step down. “That’s bank property. Please get down,” he begged, at one point with his hands clasped together.
How does a group take over an entire city when it worries about occupying a 4’ x 4’ sidewalk container that belongs to a ‘greedy corporation?’( Photos by Hassina )
In a town with close proximity to Hollywood where the thin line between reality and reality shows is often blurred, it’s hard to tell.