Eviction pushes Occupy protesters in new directions
Activists in L.A. and around the country weigh new strategies to continue momentum after the loss of City Hall and other sites, and a possible end to using camps as a primary tactic.
Occupy L.A. members gather near the fence erected around Los Angeles City Hall as they march along Spring Street toward the north steps of City Hall during a protest Wednesday night. (Jay Clendenin / Los Angeles Times / November 30, 2011)
"City Hall and the occupation of City Hall was a potent and powerful symbol," said Mario Brito, an Occupy protester who was among the plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed Monday in an attempt to stop the city's action. But "our movement is not just made of symbols."
The end of the Los Angeles camp — and the Occupy Philadelphia site, which was dismantled the same night — could signal the end of public encampments as the Occupy movement's primary tactic.
PHOTOS: Occupy Los Angeles
But organizers and their supporters from labor, religious and immigrant rights groups said closing the camps won't stop the movement's momentum. And an end to the camps might even give the movement a boost, said Brayden King, an assistant professor of management at Northwestern University who studies how social movements affect corporate governance.
"It might give them a chance to refocus on the issues themselves rather than on a tactic," he said. King said that controversy over the encampments had threatened to overshadow the protesters' economic agenda. Health issues and battles over police practices were beginning to eclipse their demands for income equality, he said.
Some protesters acknowledged that maintaining the camp had taken a toll.
"The camp did draw a lot of our energy, just managing the security and the food," said protester Magda Freedom Rod, 42. Like Brito, Rod insisted that Occupy Los Angeles is far from dead.
In the major cities where Occupy camps have already been disbanded, including the original Occupy Wall Street camp in New York, the movement has continued in different forms.
Since the camp in New York's Zuccotti Park was ousted Nov. 15, protesters have turned up periodically — and strategically — to speak out on various issues.
They spent a day blocking the street in front of the mayor's house; they showed up en masse at a meeting of bankers; they joined students protesting a tuition increase at the public university system. On Thanksgiving, they distributed 3,000 wrapped turkey dinners for what was described as an "open feast."
"Occupy Wall Street has sent a jolt through the system and given off a really loud outcry about economic conditions in this country," said Bill Dobbs, an Occupy Wall Street spokesman. "Now people are learning to organize themselves, take an issue they care about, and fight ferociously."
In Seattle, many of the protesters who were evicted from the city center at Westlake Park decamped to Seattle Central Community College, on the outskirts of downtown. Others have taken up occupation of an empty, foreclosed house. Private donors, unions and others have lent support, allowing protesters to go in chartered buses to the state Capitol recently to mount a protest against the prospect of a new half-cent sales tax.
The protest groups have also planned national and regional coordinated actions, including a Dec. 6 day of action to "liberate" vacant foreclosed buildings and a Dec. 12 shutdown of West Coast ports.
But the loss of a campsite as a central location has meant the attrition of many supporters. In Oakland, the nightly General Assembly meetings that once drew hundreds are smaller now that the encampment is gone. Fewer than 100 people turned out for Sunday's gathering, falling short of the number needed to bring proposals to a vote.
A core group of activists remains active. City officials this week granted a three-day permit for demonstrators to erect a symbolic tepee in the plaza where hundreds of tents once stood — as long as no one camps or cooks in it and it is taken down nightly at 10 p.m.
Across the bay in San Francisco, about 150 tents still pack a plaza near the city's picturesque Ferry Building, but their days may be numbered because the city public works director has said unequivocally that the city wants its park back before Christmas.
As for Occupy Los Angeles, the protesters who were not still jailed assembled for rallies and candlelight vigils Wednesday afternoon and marched on City Hall to hold their General Assembly meeting on the west steps.
Brito said the protesters will focus on a national moratorium on foreclosures, and added that more short-lived encampments might spring up at various locations, including city neighborhoods, banks or the homes of bank executives, or even golf courses and country clubs.
"Occupy L.A. will not die. We will live, we will move forward, and Occupy L.A. will only become stronger," he said.
FULL COVERAGE: Occupy Los Angeles
Times staff writers Geraldine Baum and Kim Murphy contributed to this report.