M20 Westwood Protest
According to the LA Times Online, "At least 500 demonstrators chanted antiwar slogans and blocked traffic by lying down on Wilshire Boulevard in front of the federal building for a few seconds before hopping back up out of the way."
I was in the intersection of Wilshire at Veteran between 5:30-5:45PM. The Times version of events is inaccurate.
Eastbound traffic was blocked by a group of protesters in the crosswalk stretching across Wilshire at Veteran. Westbound traffic continued. Police (mostly LA Sheriff's Dept.) let everyone stand their ground until reinforcements arrived. Then officers gripping batons moved in like a wall to push protesters back to the sidewalk.
I was in the crosswalk taking photos when the police started moving in. I've never been that close to police riot shields, tear gas, and rubber bullet guns. My heart was pounding. I heard, "Sit down. Sit down." Surrounded by bodies, there really wasn't anywhere else to go. I sat in the street. In that simple act, I felt calmer, supported by everyone sticking together.
The night before I'd read a handful of articles on LA Indy Media Center's website on what to wear to a demonstration, the effects of tear gas and pepper spray, tips for hurling back gas canisters, etc. But none of that happened. I was prepared to be arrested without resisting, but after at least an hour, we still held our patch of crosswalk. The group of us decided, if the officers started shoving in earnest, we'd rather retreat to the sidewalk than get shot with rubber bullets. When officers moved in, the only body in the crosswalk was a thumb-sized cockroach, scrambling for peace.
But by that time, there was no eastbound traffic. Protesters had flooded Wilshire just west of Veteran. Traffic seemed to be blocked off at Westwood Boulevard to my right, and Sepulveda (or further west) to my left. Again, the Sheriff's Dept. was mostly respectful (once we were contained west of Veteran). There were hundreds more protesters, but they stuck to sidewalks, while I went back to the street. Some protesters taunted officers, then took photos of police reactions. But tons of people with cameras, still and video, helped keep acts of violence in check.
A woman with a bullhorn called for dispersal around 8-8:30PM and people started disbanding to ready for the next day's work and protest actions. I lingered for 30 minutes, then walked back toward Santa Monica in search of a restroom. A small group of people remained seated or lying in the street.
My recommendation for people heading into the streets is wear pants and long sleeves, bring a camera, read or talk to others so you know what to expect regarding pepper spray attacks and getting arrested, and stay clear-headed. An angry violent person will have trouble spreading peace, love, and understanding. And that's what we want, right? Peace.
* Un abrazo to those in the Bay Area, leaving work to fill the streets with less structured protests.