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Los Angeles lawmakers cheer on protesters outside City Hall

October 4, 2011 |  3:40 pm

Los Angeles City Council President Eric Garcetti visits the Occupy LA campsite outside Los Angeles City Hall on October 4, 2011. The group has been camped out on the city hall grounds since last week-end. (Gary Friedman/Los Angeles Times)
During Tuesday’s Los Angeles City Council meeting, where the most scintillating item on the agenda was a proposal to increase ticket prices at the L.A. Zoo, a speaker stood up and told lawmakers they were ignoring an obvious fact: “You are surrounded by tents.”

He was referring to the large group of protesters camped a few hundred feet away, on a grassy lawn outside City Hall. The group, which calls itself Occupy L.A., has been there since Saturday in a demonstration against economic policies that benefit corporations and the wealthiest Americans.

The speaker, a well-known political gadfly named John Walsh, invited the council members to tour the tent city outside. So when the meeting adjourned, several of them did.

PHOTOS: Occupy L.A. protest

“It’s an entourage of peace makers!” Walsh said giddily as he walked toward the protest with Councilmen Bill Rosendahl, Eric Garcetti, Ed Reyes and Dennis Zine.

“It’s the right thing to do,” said Zine, who until recently was a registered Republican. “We could just drive by them, or we could go talk to them.”

The lawmakers, dressed in dark suits and surrounded by aides, caused  a stir when they approached the rag-tag collection of tents, tarps and sleeping bags just off of Temple Street. News media and protesters armed with video cameras swarmed as the officials shook hands and introduced themselves.

Rosendahl told one woman that he empathized with the demonstrators, especially with their complaints about the role of banks in the foreclosure crisis.

“We are not enemies with the people here,” Rosendahl said. “Many of us totally agree with you that the situation we’re in is truly intolerable.”

Another woman, a 21-year-old protester named Katherine Knox-Davis, thanked Rosendahl for his support and asked for a hug. He obliged.

In the weeks leading up to the demonstration, which began Saturday with a march from Pershing Square, protesters devised a loose governing structure that in some ways resembles the City Council.

At Occupy L.A., every protester is a member of what is known as the “General Assembly," and many sit on one of several committees (Security, Print Media).

It is customary that any time someone has news to share, the entire group echoes the words of the speaker, to make sure everyone hears. So when a man shouted out, "We’ve got two guests today who want to talk to the General Assembly,” the whole crowd repeated him.

“Do I hear any objections?” he asked. There were none.

Rosendahl and Garcetti, the two council members who remained, called for equality in fiery speeches. When Garcetti shouted, “This is your City Hall!” the crowd repeated, "This is our City Hall!"

“Stay as long as you need," Garcetti told them. "We’re here to support you.”

Rosendahl said he hopes to introduce a resolution supporting the demonstrators during Wednesday's City Council meeting.

Many of those camped outside are expected to attend. It should be an interesting scene. Inside City Hall, the protesters will encounter not only politicians and city bureaucrats but also a bustling film set: The office of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa has been temporarily taken over by the cast and crew of "Gangster Squad," a movie set in the 1950s and starring Ryan Gosling, Nick Nolte and Sean Penn.  


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Photo: Los Angeles City Council President Eric Garcetti visits the Occupy L.A. campsite outside Los Angeles City Hall on Tuesday. Credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times