Commentary: Occupy L.A.’s carnival of the bizarre

Branden del Rio, Editor in Chief
Branden del Rio, Editor in Chief

I turn into a giddy child whenever I get the chance to visit downtown Los Angeles. Even being sick as a dog I was buzzing with excitement, but my last visit was a completely different experience.

On Nov. 23 I ventured into the city with a few friends. As I walked down Spring Street we noticed the now infamous Occupy L.A. camp on the south side of City Hall and decided to pay a visit.

I have followed the Occupy movement since the beginning. Initially I brushed Occupy Wall Street off as a movement full of unorganized idealist hippies. Then when the movement took off nationally, I gave it a lot more credit. When 700 people were arrested on the Brooklyn Bridge, I paid attention. When Occupy Oakland protesters were subjected to police brutality, I paid attention. Those events made me realize that this was a real movement.

After my visit to the camp, my opinion reverted back slightly to believing that they were idealist hippies.

Allow me to be clear: the Occupy movement embodies the spirit of protest and challenges the one percent who owns all of the wealth, which is both great and necessary. The one percent needs to be challenged and change needs to be made. But walking into City Hall Park I felt like I was walking into a sideshow freak carnival.

Several campers looked like they had not showered since they arrived 50 days earlier. The heavy scent of pot married the pungent smell of body odor at the camp. The resulting stench lingered in the air and only worsened when I approached tents.

I spoke with one man about high gas prices, solar panels and the relationships he forged since his arrival at Occupy L.A. and that was the last completely coherent conversation I had with an Occupier.

One woman strutted around the camp in faux-fur jacket with her eyes barely opened and a small bird perched on her shoulder.

Another man, who the campers called Juan, had a long stick with a towel attached to the end. Juan attempted to clean up after the campers by swinging the large towel to and fro all the while shouting profanities. In actuality Juan was just creating clouds of dust.

One man did yoga-like exercises on the stairs of City Hall in what appeared to be only boxer shorts. Other campers gave me flashbacks to high school as they played hacky sack in the middle of the camp.

One of my friends asked if I had seen the movie “Hook.” I had. He asked if I remembered the Lost Boys from the movie. I remembered them. “This is what happens when the Lost Boys grow up,” he said.

However, I did not lose all hope for Occupy L.A. One group provided a sharp contrast to many of the campers who I saw that day. They held a small press conference from the camp and said that they were attempting to get an extension to keep camping on City Hall grounds.

They seemed peaceful, eloquent and intelligent. I felt they embodied what the movement was about, not these people who seemed to be only steps above the regular homeless people of Los Angeles. Of course, the impromptu press conference was interrupted by a bongo-playing Juan marching in front of the camera and a camper shouting “Whoo!” at the top of his lungs.

After a fight nearly broke out between a shirtless Guy Fawkes-wearing masked man and another man we decided to leave the camp altogether.

I can only hope that I went to Occupy L.A. on an off day, because I was disappointed with the campers.

Branden del Rio, a junior journalism major, is editor in chief of the Campus Times. He can be reached by email at branden.delrio@laverne.edu.

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