3 Protests from L.A. History That Got the Public's Attention

Anti-war protesters marching through Century City in 1967 as President Johnson hosts a political fundraiser inside the Century Plaza Hotel. Courtesy of the Herald-Examiner Collection, Los Angeles Public Library.

Since October 1, hundreds of protesters have occupied the lawn in front of Los Angeles City Hall. Capturing the attention of the public and the news media, these protesters have joined a long, yet sometimes seemingly hidden, tradition of activists who have advocated publicly in Los Angeles for their vision of social justice.

When it eventually decamps from the City Hall lawn, Occupy L.A. will become a part of Los Angeles history--its record living on in archives, libraries, and museums. Already the Smithsonian has begun collecting some of the protest's creative posters, placards, and handbills for preservation at the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C. Here in Los Angeles, the Center for the Study of Political Graphics recently welcomed its first Occupy L.A. placard into its collection of more than 75,000 political posters from Southern California, the nation, and around the world.

L.A. as Subject recently honored the center's founder and executive director, Carol Wells, with the Avery Clayton Spirit Award in recognition of her "spirit of dedication, enthusiasm, energy, curiosity and generosity in working to identify, preserve, and make accessible the sources for the history of the Los Angeles region."

Selected posters from the center's collections, along with images from the photographic archives of the Los Angeles Public Library and UCLA's Young Research Library, tell the story of three seminal public protests that captured Southern California's attention.

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Century City, 1967

President Lyndon B. Johnson transfers from helicopter to limousine in Century City, hours before march would nearly lead to his emergency evacuation. Courtesy of the Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive, Young Research Library, UCLA.

Protesters sit in front of the Century Plaza Hotel in defiance of police orders. Courtesy of the Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive, Young Research Library, UCLA.

Melee outside the Century Plaza Hotel. Courtesy of the Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive, Young Research Library, UCLA.

Melee outside the Century Plaza Hotel. Courtesy of the Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive, Young Research Library, UCLA.

1967 poster titled 'Bring Them Home Alive!  Stop the War Now!' by the Student Mobilization Committee to End the War in Vietnam. Courtesy of the Center for the Study of Political Graphics.On June 23, 1967, President Lyndon B. Johnson came to Century City to raise funds for the Democratic Party and his re-election campaign. Less than a year later, events partly set into motion that day would divide the nation and force Johnson out of the presidential race.

As Johnson hosted a $1,000-per-plate fundraising dinner inside the Century Plaza Hotel, outside an estimated 10,000 Angelenos marched against the Vietnam War. The size of the protest surprised the police dispatched to monitor the march; Los Angeles was not a city known for mass public demonstrations, and the march took place at a time when public unease with the war was still young. In June 1967, in fact, 40% of Americans supported sending more troops to Vietnam.

The plan as described in the march's parade permit was to file north on the Avenue of the Stars past the hotel and onto Santa Monica Boulevard. But as the protesters neared the hotel, located just north of Olympic Boulevard, some sat down on the street, halting the march. Some in the crowd (agents provocateurs, according to protest organizers) inflamed the protester's passions and urged them to storm the building and accost the president. Inside, fearing that the security perimeter would be breached, Johnson's Secret Service bodyguards nearly executed a plan to evacuate the president via helicopter.

The police outside the hotel ordered the protesters to disperse. When they refused, the peaceful protest turned into a violent confrontation with police. In the end, 51 protesters were arrested and many more injured.

The Century City protest helped dispel L.A.'s reputation as a city shy about public protests. It also foreshadowed the larger and more violent demonstrations to come in Chicago, Kent State, and across the country.

Democratic National Convention, 2000

Protesters outside the 2000 Democratic National Convention in downtown Los Angeles. The black and white photos on Hotel Figueroa in the background are part of an Apple Computer 'Think Different' ad. Photo by Tom LaBonge, courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photograph Collection.

Then-Vice President Al Gore after he accepted the Democratic presidential nomination. Photo by Tom LaBonge, courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photograph Collection.

2000 placard titled 'Human Need Not Corporate Greed' by Favianna Giannoni Rodriguez of ten12.com. Courtesy of the Center for the Study of Political Graphics.In 2000, Los Angeles hosted a major national party convention for the first time since 1960, when Democrats met at the Los Angeles Sports Arena to choose John F. Kennedy as their presidential candidate.

On August 14, 2000, as Democrats convened inside the Staples Center downtown to formally nominate Al Gore and Joseph Lieberman as their standard-bearers, protestors outside voiced their frustration with the two-party system.

Protest organizers had gone to court to challenge a security plan that would have confined them to a distant protest zone. They were successful, but their new protest area was still separated from the Staples Center by concrete barricades and a twelve-foot-high chain link fence.

As President Bill Clinton gave the day's keynote address inside the arena, outside the band Rage Against the Machine performed a free concert for the protesters.

Shortly after the band left the stage, violence broke out. According to police, some of the protesters threw rocks and chemical irritants at their lines. Police in riot gear promptly declared an unlawful assembly, broke up the crowd, and arrested five protestors. Several demonstrators--as well as bystanders--were injured, and the ACLU later condemned the L.A.P.D.'s tactics.

The poster above, which expresses sentiments resembling those of the Occupy L.A. movement, promoted a related event held earlier in the day in Pershing Square.

Immigration Rights Protests, 2006

Immigrants marching in downtown Los Angeles on May 1, 2006 against H.R. 4437. Photo by Stone Ishimaru, courtesy of the Los Angeles Public Library Photograph Collection

2006 placard titled 'Hoy Marchamos Mañana Votamos' by the Mexican American Political Association (MAPA), Hermanidad Mexicana Latinoamericana. Courtesy of the Center for the Study of Political Graphics.On March 25, 2006, 500,000 Latino immigrants marched through the streets of downtown Los Angeles, chanting "Si se puede!"

They marched in protest of H.R. 4437, an immigration reform bill passed the previous December by the U.S. House of Representatives. The legislation would have made undocumented immigration a felony, imposed stiffer penalties on employers of illegal immigrants, and required churches to check the immigration status of parishioners before providing them with aid.

Already one of the largest protests in Los Angeles history, the March 25 event inspired organizers to stage an even bigger march just weeks later. On May Day, as Latino immigrants across the country boycotted the U.S. economy to demonstrate their collective economic clout, an estimated one to two million immigrants marched from down Wilshire Boulevard. This "Day Without an Immigrant" was the largest public demonstration in California history.

H.R. 4437 eventually died after the U.S. Senate declined to pass it. The poster above, used as a placard for the May Day march, features a photograph from the earlier protest on March 25.

Many of the archives who contributed the above images are members of L.A. as Subject, an association of more than 230 libraries, museums, official archives, personal collections, and other institutions. Hosted by the USC Libraries, L.A. as Subject is dedicated to preserving and telling the sometimes-hidden stories and histories of the Los Angeles region. Our posts here will provide a view into the archives of individuals and cultural institutions whose collections inform the great narrative—in all its complex facets—of Southern California.

About the Author

A writer specializing in Los Angeles history, Nathan Masters serves as manager of academic events and programming communications for the USC Libraries, the host institution for L.A. as Subject.
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