Reflections on Occupy LA October 20th

Published online 21 October 2011.

2:26pm I have been here for an hour or so.  The Catholic Worker people showed up here with some lentils; I added some black bean soup. Things are quite sedate.  I am alking to Teri in the Green Tent, who is trying to figure out the permit process for compost toilets.  When I got to the tent, I was told by one fellow that the class was over, it started at 11am.  So I guess you have to live here to know the real schedule, or something like that.

Apparently the permit process is connected to “camping,” as compost toilets are regarded as a camping accessory.  We are not permitted to camp on City Hall, except that the City Council itself put out a special dispensation for us to camp here.  Teri told me when I got here that the student groups who were building the compost toilets would be building them here on Monday.  So Teri is with Power of Green Los Angeles, which is a larger nonprofit handling the Occupy’s alternative energy stuff, incl. the solar power grid and the proposed ecovillage.  I am sitting here watching Teri work.

Everything here is unstructured, and there are no firm times.  Somebody came by with a proposed party from 2 to 10pm on Sunday, but no confirmed time.  Teri calls “Joe,” who is a specialist in the permit process, and leaves a message.  “We’re building power and toilets,” she tells the man with the drum and guitar.  Tomorrow Teri will be able to get everything cheaper — she’ll be able to get secondhand timber from timber companies.

Meanwhile another soup line forms.  Teri is soliciting donations of charge controllers.  For parts, Teri tells me, we have found everything in a driving distance of a few hours.  dNow for soar panels.  By tomorrow night I will have a kit — I’m in touch with every Occupy in the United States — to provide biodiesel (even in the dead of winter) for $500… I’m a solar engineer and I”m doing this for free.  I will tell Finance that Teri needs two tables.

At around 4pm I am corralled by peace voter and marcy winograd, who has arranged a meeting with officials of the Los Angeles City Employees Retirement System (LACERS).  Marcy and Peace voter go round the block trying to recruit people to go with her.  We then march to this office in a posh office building in Little Tokyo where we are greeted by officialdom.  As we file into the boardroom we are told “sorry, no cameras or press.”  We ask pointed questions about the ethicality of their investments.  Among the top fifty investments of LACERS is stock in such evil corporations as Chevron, Exxon Mobil, JP Morgan, Chase, Goldman Sachs, Wells Fargo, and General Electric.  Your pension fund may vary, but probably not by much.

 Just before they told us “no cameras.”

They give us a list of their top 100 holdings (they have a small pension fund ,  $9 billion, as opposed to Calstrs, $147 billion) and a copy of the letter from the city claiming that they would have to layoff people if they were to reduce their profit rate expectations.  I ask them a question about the toxic debts upon which some of the invested firms are sitting.  They claim that they have a specialist who is looking into it.  We then march back to the Occupy campsite where I get a short audience with Marcy.  As Marcy and Peace voter leave, a rock band is playing full steam in the background.  It’s 5:30.

What remains, after a chat with an old friend who has seen me for the first time in years, is the Finance Committee meeting.  Claire wants to convene the meeting, and for this meeting we are to split up into two groups and discuss the 501 (c) 4 proposal.  My group wants to hurry up and make it happen.  Apparently having a nonprofit status will allow Occupy LA to accept online donations, fend off attacks from courts requesting bail money, and deal more successfully with what the Health Department wants the Food Tent to do.

Concluding reflections: The problem in the Finance Department is apparently a matter of too few people doing too much.  They are all getting exasperated and the great masses of people are not being enlightened about finance because they are not participating enough.  We need to resolve the imbalance.  Case in point: the Finance Committee spent some time toward the end of the meeting debating whether or not to discuss (in front of the General Assembly) paying the $150 that would be needed to feed everyone (courtesy of a local restauranteur) Sunday breakfast.  The question at hand was one of whether or not the General Assembly would be able to handle this news.  As the debate raged on, someone handed the Finance Committee the $150 necessary to pay off the restauranteur and serve everyone breakfast.


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