Commander Andy Smith reported for duty at 8pm on the eve of the anticipated LAPD eviction of the Occupy LA encampment from LA’s City Hall lawn. As he stood in front of the LAPD headquarters and looked across the street at City Hall, he did what any self-respecting Angeleno would do, he hopped in his vehicle and began the commute across the street.
He didn’t make it.
One of the first LAPD crowd control demands was directed at the media who had turned out in such numbers that they literally blocked the street, making it impossible for occupiers to occupy and police officers to police.
"Members of the media,” came the announcement from the LAPD command vehicle stuck in the traffic, “you will be arrested if you are in the street."
This amplified announcement drew protesters like a salt lick draws deer, prompting Smith to turn the threat of arrest from the media to the pedestrians.
Smith made it into the middle of the intersection of 1st and Main before he lost the battle to gridlock, this time caused by streets overflowing with pedestrians, many who came to watch the spectacle.
The mass of people in the street numbered thousands, many from the Occupy LA movement and many who came to witness the showdown between the Mayor and Occupy LA.
At one point the LAPD shut down surrounding streets and established a perimeter of LAPD presence including squad cars lined up in formation and skirmish lines of riot police in full costume, including helmets, masks, batons, and shotguns.
Riot Police in formation jogged up 1st street only to find themselves outnumbered by photographers who jogged alongside in an effort to capture a photo of “the moment of reckoning.”
It never came.
Mayor Villaraigosa and Chief of Police Charlie Beck had previously announced [link] that City Hall Park would be closed at 12:01 am on the morning of November 28, 2001 (Sunday night/Monday morning) and that any Occupy LA occupants would be subject to eviction.
As it turned out, 12:01 am was the moment when the Mayor, the City Council, the LAPD, the community as a whole and the Occupy LA movement all missed their cue.
It was the squandered opportunity.
As the world watched, the Mayor failed to show up and to embrace the high ground as common ground by establishing that the demands of the Occupy LA movement are of greater importance than a debate over turf lawn and the sustainability of the occupation.
Villaraigosa missed the opportunity to grapple with the issues and to demonstrate unique leadership by declaring “We’re all part of the 99%!” and then moving the dialogue forward by championing the issues and demonstrating his ability to think big picture while addressing local needs.
Missing from the debate was the City Council who entered the fray early in the occupation but quickly exited when it became apparent that it might require taking a position on issues a little heavier than dog licenses and curb cuts.
The exception was Bill Rosendahl who showed up 12 hours in advance of “the moment of reckoning” to declare the Occupy LA movement “Democracy at its finest” before he urged the occupiers to “respect the law and leave peacefully.” The crowd responded vehemently with chants of “No way!”
Commander Andy Smith’s “Command Vehicle” approach to crossing the street demonstrated a complete failure to embrace Beck’s Community Policing approach to building relationships, one that left the occupiers in the dark as to the identities of LAPD leadership.
After two months of City Hall Park occupation, one would expect that the occupiers would be on a first name basis with the LAPD leadership and that the LAPD would know where to find the leaders of the “leaderless” occupation.
Four million Angelenos definitely have a vested interest in issues that include the collapsing economy, home foreclosures, corporate personhood, campaign reform, homelessness, collapsing infrastructure, unemployment, dwindling city services, and yet the response to Occupy LA has ranged from approval to contempt to the worst of all, apathy and indifference.
The Occupy LA movement definitely turned the national and local dialogue to the issues of the occupation but those most greatly impacted failed to seize the opportunity to move the power from the lawn and into neighborhood councils, through City Hall, up to Sacramento, and all the way to Washington.
As the world watched, the Occupy LA movement had its closeup, one that included live helicopter coverage of surrounding streets and the LAPD deployment activities as well as the crowds in the street, the Mobile DJ who pulled up to entertain, the Media trucks that competed with the LAPD for prime parking spaces, and the spectators who were separated by LAPD skirmish lines.
The Occupy LA movement Tweeted updates with such volume that the #OccupyLA feed was difficult to follow. UStream broadcast more than a dozen live video feeds from different vantage points within City Hall Park. Chat room chatter on the Occupy LA website allowed people from around the world to participate in real time.Facebook conversations were fueled by updates from occupiers and spectators.
In stark contrast, the LAPD’s Nixle.com notification system was silent.
The Occupy LA movement owned the moment and when it came time to present “the message” it fumbled, failing to seize the closeup moment by stepping to the spotlight and delivering a well rehearsed, tightly crafted list of demands and a passionate call to action.
The Occupy LA movement will move forward when it is willing to let go of the lawn and move to the high ground by establishing common ground with the people of LA, reaching out to those who embrace the same desires for a new system and establishing relationships that are focused on change.
The Occupy LA movement has earned bragging rights for its enviable accomplishments at City Hall, including the creation of a “complete” community that includes health services, a library, a university, childcare, a theatre, a zero waste strategy, food service, and public works.
But creating an alternative universe in the shadow of City Hall was never the objective, it was always simply a tactic for changing a system that has been failing the people of this country for too long.
The Occupy LA movement will wither on the dusty and dead lawn of LA’s City Hall if it does not return its focus to establishing common ground by returning its focus to the systemic issues that resonate through the City of Los Angeles, the State of California and the United States as a whole.