NEW YORK | Sunday, November 27th, 2011 8:48am EDT
By Katerina Sazonova
Despite a fast-approaching deadline set by the mayor and police chief, very few of the anti-Wall Street protesters from Occupy Los Angeles had begun breaking down their tents Saturday on the City Hall lawn – and most said they didn’t intend to.
The City Hall park where Occupy Los Angeles 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. Photo: Greg Lilly/Flickr
Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced Friday that despite his sympathy for the protesters’ cause, it was time for the camp of nearly 500 tents to leave for the sake of public health and safety.
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.”
The mayor said the movement is at a “crossroads,” and it must “move from holding a particular patch of park to spreading the message of economic justice.”
The mayor said officials here had done things differently by negotiating with protesters. “From the start, we’ve talked with one another and we’ve listened to each other,” he said, before being interrupted by a protester who had found his way into the news conference and shouted: “You haven’t listened!”
But police might not immediately begin removing protesters who linger, the mayor said at a news conference Friday with Police Chief Charlie Beck.
He added that officials hope in the coming days to help protesters move their belongings and to find beds in homeless shelters for those at the camp who need them.
Villaraigosa expressed pride that Los Angeles has lacked the tension, confrontation and violence seen at similar protests in other cities. But that peace was likely to get its biggest test on Monday.
Police gave few specifics about what tactics they would use for those who had no intention of leaving.
Chief Charlie Beck said at Friday’s news conference that officers would definitely not be sweeping through the camp and arresting everyone just after midnight.
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 in an interview with the Los Angeles Times on Sunday, Beck said that despite the lack of confrontations in the camp’s two-month run, he was realistic about what must happen.
“I have no illusions that everybody is going to leave,” Beck said in an interview with the Times. “We anticipate that we will have to make arrests.” But he added, “We certainly will not be the first ones to apply force.”
On Thursday, Occupy L.A. 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 by several hundred protesters and was approved with 100% consensus during Wednesday’s general assembly meeting. In it, protesters said they would cease further negotiations with officials until 10 grievances were addressed.
Will Picard, who sat Saturday in a tent amid his artwork with a “notice of eviction” sign posted outside, said the main organizers and most occupiers he knows intend to stay.
“Their plan is to resist the closure of this encampment and if that means getting arrested so be it,” Picard said. “I think they just want to make the police tear it down rather than tear it down themselves.”
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 City Hall: “Solidarity Park.”
Some Occupy protesters say they won’t willingly leave the City Hall park and have called on supporters to join them. It remains to be seen whether labor unions will play a role if and when police move in to evict protesters. [via Huff Post, Los Angeles Times and Fox News]