Around 8 p.m. on Wednesday night, the 300 people who have been occupying the lawn of Los Angeles City Hall for the past three weeks split themselves into two hostile camps.
Occupy LA’s decision-making body, the General Assembly, has been responsible for conducting the encampment’s business. As in most other cities, the participating members handle everything from ensuring the nightly meeting take place to doing financial research on Los Angeles-based bankers to cleaning up the trash. But on Wednesday, a large group of dissenters decided to occupy the General Assembly’s usual outdoor meeting space and assert themselves as the new regime. One man, standing at the center of the swirling and increasingly unruly crowd, yelled into a megaphone, “You don’t represent us anymore! We’re taking over! We’re the People’s Forum!” Rumblings of dissent and palpable animosity had been mounting in the camp throughout the afternoon. Informal meetings were held around the clock to hotly debate an issue that had factionalized the camp: weed.
There are two things that strike you when you come upon the Occupy LA encampment. The first is the sheer density of the tents: not a single thatch of grass pokes through; the lawn is bursting with tents and spray painted signs that carry slogans about everything from 99 percent to Wall Street criminals to 9/11 conspiracy theories. The place is packed. The second thing you’re likely to notice is the undeniable thick scent of weed smoke in the air. This is a curious aroma, given that the encampment is lodged between the California state courthouse, the offices of the City Council and LAPD headquarters.
Occupy LA is also three blocks away from Skid Row, the city’s biggest open air drug market and homeless encampment. Some people claim that the drug use in the Occupy camp is a spill-over effect. Those who buy drugs on Skid Row, especially the homeless, can smoke in a safe, free space among the Occupy tents, instead of buying an hourly room in one the crime-riddled slum hotels along 4th Street. Other people in camp claim the drug problem is homegrown. ...