Occupy the Social

The Invisible Work of Networked Movements

Sean Penn Acts on Behalf of #OccupyLA

When rumors become reality, you know you must be living in the occupation zone. Many had accused Mayor Villaraigosa of raiding the Occupy LA camp on City Hall lawn to make room for the Hollywood movie, Gangster Squad. Back in early October, this film began shooting at City Hall and curious occupiers were greeted warmly by the film crew. Occupy LA, still a fledging, remained out of sight on the north lawn. As the camp grew, Occupy LA took over the entire space of City Hall park and remained there for two months. Relations between Occupy LA and the city fell on hard times in recent weeks due to concerns about health and safety regulations. Instead of sending in support to help Occupy LA remedy these issues, the Mayor chose other means (1400 of them in riot gear as a matter of fact). All told though, the raid was inevitable with or without a pending movie shoot.

On Sunday morning, some trouble started on the west steps. While, the Mayor had deemed the west steps a free speech zone for Occupy LA to continue their meetings and hold the nightly General Assembly (GA), the Women’s Circle of Occupy LA was told by LAPD that there was a permit to film there and that they should move “anywhere else.” The women chose to stay and ignore the orders of the Commanding Officer. In fact, the women even pitched a tent for the children attending the meeting. As Sunday wore on, Occupy LA conducted more meetings and the GA without much ado on the west steps.

However, Monday was a different story. The LAPD were enforcing the filming permit and telling occupiers that the “free speech zone” was moved to the east steps for the day and night. While it is fine for the LAPD to make such a decree, Occupy LA works on consensus, so the GA was unable to move without discussing it first. As the start of GA approached, some of the occupiers sat down on the sidewalk in protest, while others held strong against a police line that blocked entry on to the west steps. Tensions were running high and several were ready to risk arrest for free speech.

…And then my phone rings. A scruffy voice says, “Hello Joan?” and I reply, “Yes.”

He responds, “This is Sean Penn. Where are you? What is happening?”

I explain to Sean that “the film crew is across the street, but is using the west side of City Hall as a back drop. Occupy LA is being told that we can not meet here because our shadows are ruining the shot.”

Sean asks if I am willing to go over and meet with the director of the film to help resolve the issue, “Go alone and tell them you are my friend and that you need to speak to Ruben Fleischer.” Moreover, he says that he is willing to pay for digital editing to remove people and shadows from the shots of City Hall. He tells me that he supports Occupy and did not know that the film was doing these re-shoots in the same place that the Mayor set aside for free speech activities.

I rush over to the entrance to the movie shoot and ask for the director. Believe me, I know I sound nuts when I’m saying this, “Sean Penn just called me and wants to know what is going on? He said I should ask for Ruben Fleischer and that he is texting him right now. Sean says, he’ll pay to have people edited out, but that Occupy LA should be allowed to meet on the west steps.” While I sound crazy telling this to security, I do get the attention of a DA and a lighting guy who say they will ask the director to check his messages.

Moments later my phone rings again and it is the Director’s Assistant, Alan, who is on his way over to meet me. We walk back to the west steps of City Hall, where Occupy LA is chanting and standing up to several dozen cops. Alan speaks to the lighting crew and reports back that they will cut several shots from the movie and it will be done by 8:30pm. The Occupy LA GA sits down on the sidewalk and agrees to conduct some of their business there until such time that the steps are opened.

A curious thing happens in the meantime though, one of the LAPD officers decides to address Occupy LA using the people’s mic. He clarifies that the Mayor will always leave open either the west or the east steps for free speech, but that Occupy LA can not expect to always meet on the west side. Moreover, he would like to refrain from “taking a different course of action.” The GA asks for further dialogue, but the officer does not oblige.

Last night, an important exchange was shared by Occupy LA, the film crew, and the LAPD on the harried streets of downtown LA. In the end, the Occupy LA GA was delayed one hour and the film crew made some crucial edits for the sake of time. Sean Penn supported Occupy LA not by throwing money around, but by acting on his principles. This is the mark of someone who respects the occupy movement and understands the nature of our consensus process. In the future, direct all inquires about Occupy Hollywood to Sean Penn as he seems to be the first member. 

—-thanks to tony for cutting the video together so quickly—-

—-and to GLOBAL GRIND for picking up the story—-

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