A few weeks ago I loaded up the camera and spent an afternoon down at the Occupy LA camp at City Hall. Every protest has a personality and I was itching to get a feel for this one and snap some shots to boot.
Everyone seems to have some opinions about the Occupy camps and what they stand for. Personally, I love the idea behind them and their organic nature. They sprouted up out of passion and frustrations that many can identify with, even if they don’t support the camps. I’m a believer in the idea that we need extremes in activism to push moderate ideas along. I enjoy the draw I see them have to people who have never attended a protest or political action…or even voted.
I was fascinated by the amount of good, quality conversations and debate I saw happening among people who had shown up at the camp. It was heartening. Every time I turned around, I would stumble across people learning about and questioning important issues about government in very thoughtful and productive ways. I came prepared for witty slogans and signs and chants. The depth of what was going on was delightfully unexpected.
I share my day, not because I intend to go dust off my drum and pitch a tent (though in my younger days, I’m not sure I’d rule it out). I share it because as time has passed, we have all become so obsessed with their goal, their purpose, their reasons. I’m not going to say those things don’t matter. I would like to see something lasting and substantial grow from the foundation the campers are laying. I’m merely suggesting that they should not be dismissed for their lack of a clear path. When discussing their purpose, one must also take into consideration their value by simply existing.
As I got off the train downtown, I found myself walking to camp with a hipster guy and his two young kids. We talked as we walked about news we had heard coming out of other cities and what sources we were using to get information. Three latino girls around 20 were walking behind us. Hipster guy noticed them and asked if they were also headed to City Hall. Upon hearing that they were, he expressed surprise that they were interested since he thought most young latinos in the area were pretty unaware of politics.
I was stunned at how plainly he had stated the stereotype. I watched the girls to see how they would react. Maybe it was because he was so earnestly curious about their interest, but they didn’t even flinch. Instead one of the girls let him know that they were definitely aware. She told us that they were US citizens but because their skin was brown she never felt that people would hear what she had to say because they would be questioning her right to say it. She was going to City Hall because she felt like at the camp, someone would hear her.
On my way home from the camp I ended up in a train car with an older couple also heading home from the protest. They had brought signs with them, so they stood out. A few stops up, a young guy in a work shirt got on and after a few minutes struck up a conversation about the Occupy movement. He thought it was silly and he told them why. The conversation started to drift to a debate of the issues and the best way to be heard by our elected officials. For 20 minutes I listened to an incredibly reasoned conversation on financial reform, the Glass-Steagall Act, and political accountability between a couple of strangers. It was amazing.
Value. Simply by existing.