Occupy Los Angeles…the best and worst of times, but lite!

I’ve seen Les Mis a dozen times and read Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities more than once.   I love the story of revolution, so surprisingly while reading this month’s  Smithsonian Magazine coverage of how  potatoes traveled from Peru to Europe I happily stumbled upon an incidental history lesson! Apparently Louis XVI appointed Anne Robert Jacques Turgot as the French interpretation of Minister of Finance. Monsieur Turgot abolished price controls on and established free trade in grain, and it seems he is credited with good intentions faithful to his liberal ideals–in other words, he meant well, but as part of the “best of times, worst of times” a poor grain harvest led to a disproportionate rise in the price of bread, leading to riots in and around Paris–the Flour Wars! He made other unpopular choices before being forced to resign, but at least he kept his head.

My mind went off on a tangent and I never did follow through to see what this has to do with potatoes. But flour does appear prominently in the story of revolution.  Although there is no evidence that Queen Marie Antoinette actually uttered the crass “Let them eat cake”—or brioche, she was known for aristocratic excess and frivolity in mockery of a starving populace. 50,000 people died in the violent 10-year period transitioning the French government from an absolute monarchy to a Constitutional Monarchy—most noble families met the fate of the guillotine.

The French Revolution, as well as the American counterpart, qualify as epic history!  No hyperbole here! Heads did roll…So I’m having a little trouble, discomfort maybe, with the loose references comparing Occupy Wall Street (now OWS in the papers) to “revolution” with the idiom “Let them eat cake” bandied back and forth like a ping pong ball.  Like I said, I do like a good revolt, but I’m not that keen on gross exaggeration.

Still, I was oh-so-curious to see the Occupy L.A. crowd for myself, but where to find the time?   Sometimes opportunity arrives when unexpected.  Coming home from my daughter’s house I hit two significant traffic snarls. Big ones.  Habit is that I sing in the car to keep myself entertained in bumper-to-bumper gridlock, and as I was singing along to the noontime XM Broadway channel, what did I hear? Wait for it… ta da! The soundtrack from Les Mis! My story would be even stronger if the selection had been Do You Hear the People Sing? or One Day More, but in truth it was the bawdy Master of the House.  It didn’t matter, I still decided it was a sign.

I took full advantage of the now or never moment and quickly veered off the 110 freeway honing in on City Hall.  I had to circle the block several times to snap just a few photos.  Street congestion, no parking, strong police presence and the ever-ready news vans made navigation a little trippy, but I persevered unwilling to vacate without fully taking in the scene.

Occupy Los Angeles City Hall

The shirtless guy with the flute doesn't seem ready for the barricades.

I can surely understand the frustrations of the 99%.  I’m at home with the demographic, but I am entirely too strategic in my thinking to relate to this particular crowd. Maybe a leader with some high-level communication skills will still emerge! And maybe if the rhetoric is tweaked just a bit some effective lobbying might eventually find a path to Washington. But currently the occupiers’ larger “corporate greed” issues are a little lost in the hodge-podge of slogans and signs warning against the “conspiracy of flu shots” posted next to “No Borders” placards, and what would any good Los Angeles movement be without at least a few fervent souls campaigning in favor of pro-medical marijuana initiatives– the best of times, worst of times—LITE!

Now I can go back to my Smithsonian and figure out what the potato had to do with the French Revolution.  I may have lost my own focus!  Debra

10 thoughts on “Occupy Los Angeles…the best and worst of times, but lite!

  1. Dear Debra, Thank you for commenting on my moderation posting and for your sharing with me your take–that I’m “quite balanced.” I do think I’m becoming more so, but oh, the struggle all these years.

    Your short blog on the Occupy “revolution” has me thinking. I was very involved in the Civil Rights Movement and in the Vietnam Protest as well as a movement for Animal Rights that began in the early ’90s. Also, back in the ’80s, I was involved in working with men who were HIV positive or had AIDs. So I’ve been part of several protests and my take on them is that often a plethora of concerns are initially expressed. People are angry and then see other angry people and join them–not always with the same concerns, but with overlapping ones. Ultimately this all shakes down and one–what we now call a “sound bite”–slogan emerges, one concern that seems to be foundational to the anger. I read with interest one of the links you gave and find the following words from it to reflect my history with protest and my take on what is happening with the Occupy protest:

    “It would be great if the American people could come together and work to make some positive changes to our system.But right now, it appears that strife, discord and hatred are going to continue to rapidly grow in this country. We have become a very divided nation and we are watching anger and frustration grow to very dangerous levels. All of this is a recipe for mass chaos. Our country is marching toward a date with disaster and right now we show no signs of changing course.”

    When we began to protest the Vietnam war all sorts of “gurus” mocked the protesters and predicted that out of the chaos of college protests would come nothing. HIstory proved them wrong.

    There is chaos arising out of this anger that the blogger above describes so accurately. Earlier in his piece he talks about the “mocking” taking place. I think that non-imaginative people often mock what they do not understand. And many people do not understand differences. They are unable to walk in the shoes of others for they have no imagination and they lack empathy.

    Well I’ve gone on too long here. But I want to thank you for getting me thinking.


    1. Thank you, Dee. And your words, in return, are surely instructive. I really don’t want to downplay the angst of millions nor do I intend to in any way mock those who are truly committed to change. I would hope that leadership would emerge from these still undefinted protests, and that a focus would the encourage true action. I honestly think that beautiful weather conditions and the location of City Hall right next to the swafety of the Police Department has created an optimum camping situation and there is little incentive to provide an organizing platform and move on. There are no discernible action pieces–from Occupy L.A., from what I gather anyway, and to me that diminishes any hope of being taken seriously–regardless of the frustration levels. And I do agree with you that frustration left unchecked is very worrisome.

      You have a history of commitment, and I hope to read more about what both motivates and moves you forward. I do admire commitment to change and action teamed to overturn injustice. Thank you, Dee. See, I was right about you having balance. Balance is a daily choice for peacemakers, isn’t it? Hope you continue to take care of yoruself, and I’ll be listening! Debra

  2. No, I think you kept your focus beautifully through all this revolutionary zeal – fantastic! To see this classic moment in history must have been so interesting – Phil took Felix to our one at St Paul’s. People are getting grumpy with our lot, saying they should go home. Who was it said: bad things happen when good people do nothing? I loved the comparisons of revolutions old and new – beautiful connections. And fancy that Les MIs tune coming on!

    1. It’s wonderful to hear that Felix had an up-close opportunity to be an eye-witness. I’m sure he and his dad had a lot to talk about, and it would be wonderful to hear his impressions. You’ve previously shared some of his insights and I personally really enjoy hearing how he processes–I veer from thanking you for chiming in, but I guess I’d be interested to hear how the “revolutionary zeal” is moving through your parts–and perhaps how your children view it??? Forgive me for giving you writing prompts! Ha! I don’t think you’re short on sharing interesting stories! Thanks, Kate. Debra

  3. Definitive leadership is lacking in the overall group and the NY group has had some squabbles over the $500,000+ they received in donations… I am the 99% but I’d like to see organized management amongst the OWS protesters. The message has been effective in rallying people to the cause globally though. I was curious to see those LA shots. TY! and thanks too for stopping by my blog. 🙂

    1. I’m so glad you stopped by, Elizabeth. I’ve been reading your blog for a while now, and I really enjoy it. Wouldn’t it be something if even with the lack of organization and tremendous need for leadership we are still a witness to history in the making. The ingredients are all there for a positive shift and change, one we need badly, I believe, but it’s just too soon to expect too much. A significant movement will take much more time. Glad we could compare notes!! Debra

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