LOS ANGELES – The City Hall park where Occupy LA protesters are camped will be closed at 12:01 a.m. Monday, according to Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, triggering what officials hope will be an end to the nation’s largest remaining Occupy camp.
But police may not immediately begin removing protesters who linger, the mayor said at a news conference on Friday with Los Angeles Police Chief Charlie Beck. He said officials hope in the coming days to help protesters move their belongings, and to find beds in homeless shelters for those protesters who need them.
They would not say whether police were prepared to use tear gas or rubber bullets to clear protesters who refuse to leave, tactics officers in other cities have turned to while clearing Occupy encampments. “The goal is to do this as peacefully as possible,” Beck said.
When Occupy protesters set up camp on the City Hall lawn seven weeks ago, officials went out of their way to welcome them. The City Council passed a resolution in support of the demonstration, and Council President Eric Garcetti invited protesters to “stay as long as you need to.” On a wet morning in October, aides to Villaraigosa handed out rain slickers.
But the political tide inside City Hall has turned against those camped outside – a shift driven by concerns about damage to the lawn and public health and safety risks.
Speaking before cameras on Friday, Villaraigosa read from a letter addressed to Occupy Los Angeles. The mayor, himself a former labor union and community organizer, praised the protesters for shifting the national dialogue to issues of social justice and economic equality.
“In seven short weeks, you have awakened the country’s conscience,” he said. “You have given voice to those who have not been heard.”
But he said the movement is now at a crossroads, with a choice of “spreading the message of economic equality” or defending “a particular patch of earth.”
The mayor said officials here had done things differently by negotiating with protesters. “From the start, we’ve talked to each other and we’ve listened,” he said, before being interrupted by a protester who had found his way into the news conference and shouted: “You haven’t listened!”
City officials have held regular meetings with several Occupy protesters, including a representative from the National Lawyers Guild. But other protesters have complained that those representatives don’t speak for everyone, and have dismissed the meetings as going against the demonstration’s democratic principles and its “horizontal” organizing structure.
On Thursday Occupy LA released its first official statement to the city, vowing to stay camped out on the lawn.
According to protester Ruth Fowler, the statement was written collaboratively by several hundred protesters and was approved with 100 percent consensus during Wednesday’s general assembly meeting. In it, protesters said they would cease further negotiations with officials until 10 grievances were addressed.
Some demands on the list are specific, like a call for a moratorium on all home foreclosures in Los Angeles, as well as a call for the city to divest from all major banks. Others, such as a call for “money to be removed from politics,” are less so.
The protesters also want a new name for the 1.7 acres of lawn surrounding the building – “Solidarity Park.”