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Occupy LA grows in size, gains media exposure

Elise Whittiker, 21, and Mario Brito, 38, sit outside Elise’s tent, on the north lawn of LA City Hall.
Elise Whittiker, 21, and Mario Brito, 38, sit outside Elise’s tent, on the north lawn of LA City Hall.
Steve Proffitt

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Occupy LA protesters remain camped out on the lawn at city hall. The demonstrators are acting in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement and are planning to broaden their protest this Saturday with an event they are calling the “International Day of Action.”

They hope to attract hundreds of people for a march and rally from L.A. City Hall to the financial district.

Back in New York the protests are entering their fourth week. In L.A. the movement appears to have similar staying potential: Scores of tents are lined up, packed together tightly and the group continues to grow in size and organization.

Occupy LA outreach committee member PJ Davenport says organizers predict their movement will gain momentum across the country and beyond.

“We realize that we are a global community and we’re going to stand together against these austerity measures and for peace. We are very peaceful people and that needs be known, that needs to be said on an international level,” he said.

Protester Mario Brito, 38, has been an activist most of his adult life. He said that Occupy LA is a continuation of ideals created by Martin Luther King, Jr.

"We tell our kids 'go to school, get a good job,' — they're doing that," Brito said, but there's still no job opportunities for them.

Elise Whittiker, 21, has been working as a freelancer in the film industry. She started reading about Occupy Wall Street online when she decided to join the rally downtown. Whittiker's biggest concerns are also employment, for herself and for her future children.

Whittiker said she posted a notice on Facebook about moving down to Occupy LA but none of her friends volunteered to go with her. So knowing no one, Whittiker packed up supplies and headed down to city hall.

Social media along with traditional forms of media have played a pivotal role in shaping this movement, as they often do in situations like these.

James Rainey, columnist for the Los Angeles Times, said the type of coverage the Occupy protests have gotten varies in different mediums and news agencies. While print and online coverage tends to supply a fair account of what's going on, cable TV news often distorts the protests.

"I think it's just oversimplified and they want to have heroes and villains — it's just better TV," Rainey said.

Rainey drew comparisons between the media's coverage of the Occupy movements and the political Tea Party, citing both groups' potential for creating "entertaining" television. TV news often seeks out the most extreme or radical cases in a movement to embody the entire cause, Rainey said.

"Then you can pigeonhole the group," he said.

For Occupy LA, this distorted presentation of reality may come from one network's decision to interview an anarchist instead of a middle-of-the-road protester, Rainey said; for the Tea Party, it may have been a network's excessive previewing of a protest, verging into support for the cause by rallying viewers to attend.

No news agency provides perfect news coverage though, Rainey said.

Rainey said that he received letters from readers who were questioning why the Times didn't immediately cover the protests in New York when they began three weeks ago. Getting a handle on the numbers and influence of a protest like is challenging, Rainey said.

"I think it's very hard for media organizations to get a handle on this completely because it's an evolving situation," he said.

As Occupy LA grows and an increasing number of Occupy movements spring up in cities and towns across the U.S., organizers will have to continue to redefine their cause and organize their demands, Rainey said.

- Hayley Fox, Corey Moore, Steve Proffitt & Madeleine Brand