A Job Well Done? On Progress and Representation at Occupy L.A.

LAPD officers approach city hall to evict Occupy L.A. protesters | Photo by Alex Thompson
LAPD officers approach city hall to evict Occupy L.A. protesters | Photo by Alex Thompson

Only in L.A. Our de-occupation happened anticlimactically in the wee hours of Wednesday morning, carried out with almost eerie efficiency by the historically hard-nosed LAPD. The moment was viewed by many as a triumph of law enforcement process, with the narrative of the larger Occupy movement lost in the glow of admiration (temporarily lost, I hope). And the admiration came from all corners, including some Occupy activists themselves.

I know that our police force behaving well is a big story, though it reminds me of comedian Chris Rock's admonition of certain black folk who all but bragged to him that they weren't in jail--Negro, you're not supposed to be in jail. That is to say: Chief Beck, you're not supposed to be cracking heads. Thanks for the restraint that took three weeks to map out. Officers even brought along clergy to make the point that, as attorney Connie Rice said, this isn't your grandfather's LAPD . I half expected some yoga instructors to show up offering complimentary sessions. Camping out for two months can be stressful.

While I'm glad nobody was hurt or even badly insulted, it's somewhat depressing that restraint got all the headlines. Occupy is about something opposite, finally unleashing frustration and casting off the mass political somnolence that has brought us to this state of crushing inequality. Police not taking certain action is progress, but people taking action to make big-scale change is progress that would be far more inspiring. I look forward to reading headlines like that.

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I have a friend who works in City Hall whose window has a broad view of the Occupy encampment, or it did. On Wednesday she sounded both relieved and stunned that the hundreds of folks she had watched for weeks were gone, leaving her with a view of dead grass and debris being stirred up by strong winds. My friend is a longtime city bureaucrat who had mixed feelings about Occupy--she empathized with the poor and disenfranchised and always has, but was wary of the homeless and drug-addicted who found their way into the encampment. She also didn't like the fact that despite being widely described as being diverse, the Occupy movement s woefully underpopulated by blacks, both in leadership and rank and file. Yet we had plenty of grievances.

But there were the homeless, I reminded her. They're overwhelmingly black. You saw them, right?

She had. And we both realized at the same moment that perhaps no one had more of a right to be the face of Occupy than the homeless, who have fared the worst in the hyper- corporate, pro-individual climate of America. That blacks are a big part of the homeless is a perfect expression of the toxic conflation of race and class that's been evident for years. We were--are--well-represented indeed.

Journalist and op-ed columnist Erin Aubry Kaplan's first-person accounts of politics and identity in Los Angeles, with an eye towards the city's African American community, appear every Thursday on KCET's SoCal Focus blog. Read all her posts here.

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