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The Basics of Occupy LA and How the Media are Reacting

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Hundreds of people marched from Pershing Square to City Hall on Saturday, some with masks, some with bandanas, and many with signs bearing slogans admonishing the government, corporations and the current financial climate. The protesters have been camped out on the City Hall lawn since Saturday, in solidarity with the 3-week strong Occupy Wall Street movement in New York. If America is a democracy, why does 1 percent of the population control 40 percent of the wealth, and take 25 percent of the income, economist and Nobel Laureate Joseph E. Stiglitz asked in the May 2011 issue of Vanity Fair.

By mid-September, a few dozen representatives of the 99 percent mobilized and began an occupation of Liberty Park near Wall Street. The protests doubled and tripled in size, topping the news last Saturday night with some 700 arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge.

Saturday, October 1 was also Day 1 for Occupy LA and in dozens of other cities including Boston and Chicago, the peaceful, anti-establishment protests spread in a manner inspired by the popular uprisings of the Arab Spring. With City Hall Park filled with people of all ages and ethnicities in circles of political conversation, megaphone-led chanting, drums and hacky sacks anyone napping under the numbered trees might have thought they woke up in the '70s.

The L.A. contingency is relatively well organized, having met with City Hall officials and communicated with LAPD in advance of the Saturday march, training dozens of volunteer security to keep protesters on the sidewalk, hosting workshops on how to engage with civic leaders on City Hall's north lawn, and coordinating with unions and progressive leaders. A nightly general assembly (GA) can go as long as three hours as established protesers and newcomers alike consider and vote on policies and tactics by consensus. The few dozen tents on City Hall's south lawn shifted back to the north lawn when requested and the entire operation moves to the sidewalks from 10:30 p.m. to 6 a.m. per LAPD orders.

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On Monday, when a hundred or so marched around the financial district, making stops to protest outside Mellon and Chase Banks, two squad cars followed in tow, protecting the protesters from rush hour traffic. The officers had a begrudged look on their faces but they were doing the jobs.

"It's been a very peaceful demonstration," Los Angeles Police Department Sgt. Mitzi Fierro told the LA Times Sunday. "They're out there exercising their First Amendment right, so we're going to allow them to continue as long it doesn't become an unlawful assembly."

"The Police are Part of the 99%" read another sign at the rally Saturday. Even Warren Buffet agrees that the rich don't pay enough in taxes and with the economy still reeling after the taxpayer-funded $400 billion bailout of the financial industry and automakers, perhaps something's got to give.

So far, there have been no arrests related to Occupy LA, however, the "love" expressed for LAPD in the chat room on the Occupy Los Angeles livestream is often tempered with caution. In New York, JPMorgan Chase recently donated a record $4.6 million to NYPD, leading many Occupy Wall Street protesters to cry that the police are owned by the banksters. And if that's how the system works well the protests have only just begun.

Early cries of a corporate media blackout of Occupy Wall Street were all-but corroborated by NPR, whose Executive editor for news Dick Meyer was quoted in a September 26 blog post from ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos as saying, "The recent protests on Wall Street did not involve large numbers of people, prominent people, a great disruption or an especially clear objective."

In hindsight, Meyer clearly missed the point. "What impresses me about media coverage of #occupywallstreet is how inattentive it is to a sleeping factor: the social media ignition moment," NYU journalism professor Jay Rosen tweeted on September 27, referring to the exponential swelling of movements made possible by sharing across online networks.

Lack of media coverage hasn't been an issue in Los Angeles, and certainly not since the 700 arrests in New York. The movement has issued a lengthy declaration and list of demands. But it seems as though there isn't a clear endgame. Occupy Wall Street leverages the networked culture of the internet era, as Rosen alluded to, in hopes of expanding the conversation beyond right/left talking points and media quick hits. "It is difficult to comprehend a 21st century movement from the perspective of the 20th century politics, media, and economics in which we are still steeped," wrote Douglas Rushkoff on Wednesday.

All is peaceful at City Hall. But today is just Day 5 of Occupy LA and a hundred or so protesters are expected to campout on the sidewalk again. As the Occupy Wall Street movement goes global how big will it grow? How much will the city and the police tolerate?

The Public Note is a media blog, with an eye towards public media, from KCET-TV in Southern California. Andy Sternberg comments weekly on media issues. Follow him on Twitter at @AndySternberg and KCET at @KCET and @KCETNews

Photos via Andy Sternberg's flickr set.

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