LOS ANGELES – As the midnight deadline for the Occupy L.A. camp to clear out came and went, the general consensus among both protestors and police seemed to be one of resigned, if weary, determination.
As the sun began to rise on First Street, following a prolonged night of markedly civil confrontation, the only discernable movement was the police line, which managed to carve out a space for Monday morning traffic after the long Thanksgiving weekend. Protestors generally heeded police calls to remain on the sidewalks.
Hours earlier, overnight campers strummed guitars as the clock struck midnight, expecting to be evicted by the growing numbers of local law enforcement officers gathering nearby. Some donned gas masks or goggles, expecting the worst. What they got, instead, was an announcement from L.A. Police Chief Charlie Beck, who said the midnight deadline marked the point at which the camp, now entering into its eighth week, became illegal. It was not, he said, a call to action for police to begin kicking folks out.
Looking to avoid the kind of scenes that came out of clashes with police in Oakland earlier this month, which garnered headlines nationwide and have become a major liability for Mayor Jean Quan, L.A. Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa assured reporters Monday that while the deadline would eventually be enforced, it would be “as peaceful a departure as possible.”
And if nothing else, the morning showdown between police and protestors was a shining example of order. Just before 4:00 am, officers began to shut down streets surrounding City Hall, later forming a line up and down the main corridor on First Street. After several tense minutes, protestors began to move onto the sidewalks.
LAPD Commander Andy Smith later commended protestors for their willingness to abide by police efforts to clear the streets. “We had to open up traffic so folks could get to their jobs downtown,’’ said Smith to a group of journalists who had spent the night with the Occupy camp.
As the morning approached, vehicles began to roll past protesters, many of whom were retreating to their tents to catch up on sleep.
“Even though we are aware that we will be arrested if we don’t move out, most of us down here plan to stay and resist,” said Joe Ortiga, 25, who has been with the camp for two weeks.
Unemployed for the better part of a year, Ortiga said he joined the camp because he believes the government has “failed the people.”
A lingering uncertainty about goals and demands has continued to shadow the nationwide movement since it began in July, with many of the protestors here in Los Angeles unable to articulate clearly stated positions.
Leaders spring up here and there with spontaneous calls for a “mike check,” as speakers’ words ripple through the crowd. Most say they are compelled to join in the movement out of frustration with leaders unable to fulfill their obligation to deliver “social justice.”
“The government has only taken care of the banks and big corporations, but has forgotten the people,’’ said Julie Baker, a 35-year- old woman that came to the park three weeks ago, after her boyfriend lost his job. She noted that many of the people occupying the lawns around City Hall had been in school or otherwise employed. “Now we have nothing. Not even hope,” she said.
As police lines cleared the streets, many protesters remained huddled inside their tents. After a brief standoff, some said they planned to file a federal injunction seeking to stop police from forcing them to evict the encampment.
Others began setting up their camps in the surrounding trees.
Still, for many there is a growing sense that the clock is ticking for the camp. As for the movement, they are quick to point out, “the protest will go on.”
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