Dozens of Occupy Los Angeles demonstrators filled city hall on Thursday afternoon and hundreds more awaited updates outside, as the City Council voted in favor of a motion to officially support the protest movement.
The unanimous vote came after nearly an hour-and-a-half of public comments, which were almost unanimously in favor of the grassroots protest modeled after the anti-corporate Occupy Wall Street campaign
"These people are speaking up for true and meaningful change," said Councilmember Paul Koretz. "We need to be thankful to them for putting these kinds of issues before us."
Cheryl Aichele, a Los Feliz resident who participates in several committees created by the demonstrators, said the city council's support has provided legitimacy to the protests.
"This is the first time a governmental body has shown support for an occupation," she said. "It means we can get international media attention. We can be an example to other occupations to work with their cities and get more resolutions passed, so we can work toward solving those problems that affect our daily lives.
The demonstrators have described themselves are representing the 99-percent of the population who felt unfairly subject to the economic decisions of the wealthiest one-percent.
Josh Bowman, who has been involved in the movement since it started in online chat rooms and message boards, said that the city council's support for Occupy L.A. was a show of support for the entire occupation movement.
"It helps the entire movement," he said. "By putting their support behind Occupy L.A. the city council is putting their support behind the entire Occupy movement."
The protesters were dealt a small dose of disappointment, though, as the city council failed to speed along a vote for Council member Richard Alacorn's responsible banking ordinance. The ordinance would require banks hoping to do business with the city to report on their lending and investment activity to the city treasurer's office.
Alacorn's motion had initially called for the ordinance to be taken up for a vote no later than Oct. 28. However, after hearing arguments from Councilmember Bernard Parks that the issue was too complex to be taken up so soon, Alacorn agreed to a friendly amendment that delayed a discussion on the ordinance until it was vetted by the budget and finance committee on Nov. 21.
If passed, institutions would be graded on their investment and lending practices and community reinvestment goals, allowing the city council to choose to do business with the highest scoring institutions. Lower scoring institutions, according to a fact sheet distributed by Alacorn's office, would face the risk of divestment.
Several members of the banking and business community who attended the meeting said that, if passed, the ordinance would tie up banks and municipal employees in additional red tape, while not encouraging any real reform.
"The banks in this community are not the problem. The banks invest in the community," said Doug Arseneault of the Valley Industry and Commerce Association. "The legislation would overwork the city treasurer's office but bring no real reform."
Arseneault encouraged the city council to separate the responsible banking motion from the Occupy L.A. issue.
The Los Angeles Police Department earned a round of applause from demonstrators after a friendly amendment was added to Alacorn's motion to recognize the department's efforts in overseeing the non-violent protests. Unlike protesters in Boston and New York, L.A.'s occupiers have lived in relative harmony with their municipal police force.
"That has been able to happen because we came to a consensus that we would work with the city before we occupied," Aichele said. "We told them what we were going to do. We didn't ask for permission, but we told them what we were going to do. Two Fridays ago, we spoke in front of the Los Angeles City Council during public comment, and Councilman Alacorn sent a letter to the chief of police, city attorney's office, city services director and a couple other department heads saying 'if they are peaceful, if they are exercising their First Amendment rights, let's work with them. That's why we have had no police brutality or no police issues at all."
Defining the Protests
Many of the demonstrators who spoke during the public comment session of the city council meeting expressed their anger over media reports depicting them as unfocused, uninformed and lazy.
Aichele admitted that, given the size of the protests, the education level of the participants varied. She said that classrooms had been established to bring newer members up to speed on the economic issues that sparked the Occupy movements.
"For me, precisely, I'm out here to address the economic inequalities, the corporate greed and its influence on the political process," she said. "I'm out here to educate and empower my fellow concerned citizens and occupiers so we can start to take more of a role in the processes that effect our lives."
"We are doing democracy out here," she added. "It's a messy process."