Jeered by some and cheered by others, Occupy the Rose Parade goes off without a hitch … or a bang
By Kevin Uhrich 01/05/2012
The idea was to use the tail end of Monday’s Rose Parade — seen live by hundreds of thousands and on TV by millions more around the world — as a global platform to promote the ostensibly noble but still largely disorganized principles of the Occupy movement. To that end, hundreds of protesters followed the annual floral bacchanalia down Colorado Boulevard in opposition to the increasing corporate influence over America’s political institutions and everyday lives.
But gauging by the refusal of some media outlets to train their cameras on the protest, and the overwhelming presence of force exhibited by Pasadena police and combat-outfitted sheriff’s deputies rolling directly behind Occupy the Rose Parade protesters in military personnel carriers immediately after the parade, there seemed to be little hope of that happening.
After all, this was the proverbial lion’s den. And those opposed to this overreaching corporate influence demonstrated their discontent during the multimillion-dollar extravaganza. The parade, as Occupiers see it, is practically designed to celebrate corporate and military influence over society, as evidenced by a flyover by a B2 Bomber, a presentation by a horseback Marine Corps honor guard, celebrities and cultural iconic characters, Mayor Bill Bogaard and his wife Claire riding in the ceremony and other cities entering gigantic floats at a cost of hundreds of thousands of dollars each. Wells Fargo Bank and a host of other corporations, including the Los Angeles Times (owned by the Tribune Co., which also owns KTLA TV, official broadcasters of the parade) buy into the event.
How cheery a reception could the Occupy movement have expected?
“Come on, join us,” yelled 44-year-old Chris McKay of San Diego as parade fans — all still sitting in bleacher seats constructed next to a Wells Fargo Branch on West Colorado Boulevard — applauded each blast of the sirens sheriff’s officers used to keep the Occupy protesters moving along as parade-goers hurriedly left the scene.
Despite the lack of public support and the intimidating police presence, authorities estimate Occupiers participated in the low hundreds. They convened in a rally at Singer Park at 7 a.m., an hour before the parade, and later at City Hall, about two miles into the 5.5-mile parade route, where a number of Occupiers split off from the parade and set up a separate protest that was also closely monitored by heavily armed law enforcement officials.
Reporters who were there, however, set the actual number of protest participants at anywhere between 1,000 and 5,000 people, the LA Weekly reported online Monday night. The Pasadena Star-News Monday online edition reported there were 3,000 Occupy demonstrators. An on-site observation at the beginning of the protest — which came at the end of the parade — indicated at least 1,000 occupy protesters walking with signs or operating “alternative” parade art.
To its credit, in its Tuesday edition, the Times ran a front page photo of an Occupy protester but devoted little space to the protest itself in its written coverage inside.
For the record, Pasadena police estimate some 400 people participated in the event after the Rose Parade and another 350 — later reduced to 75 — attended the related protest at City Hall, according to Pasadena police Lt. Phlunte Riddle.
“They rallied for a little while and people went on about their business,” Riddle said.
Overall, Riddle said that other than the Occupy the Rose Parade controversy, there were a total of 10 arrests at the parade and another 29 arrests at the Rose Bowl Game later that day, most of them for public intoxication and none involving Occupy protesters. A demonstrator was arrested Sunday night for allegedly carrying a small knife, the Star-News reported.
Among some of this post-Rose Parade’s alternative “floats” were a 70-foot human octopus made up entirely of recycled plastic bags, an “Octupy,” intended to demonstrate the pervasive reach that corporations have in every walk of life.
Other parade art ignored by KTLA included two large scrolls written in the script of the preamble to the US Constitution, one saying “We the People,” the other proclaiming a bill of rules for businesses with the headline “We the Corporations.” Other art included cardboard houses tagged with foreclosure notices and signs that read “The Best Government Money Can Buy,” “We’ll Occupy Until U Do the Bidding of the Many, Not the Few,” “Money for Schools, Not War,” “End Corp Greed,” and “We are the 99%.”
On hand at the end of the Rose Parade was former Pasadena Mayor Rick Cole, now the city manager in Ventura. In the early 1990s, Cole pushed for racial and gender inclusion in the Tournament of Roses Association, criticisms that eventually led to full blown protests against the organization — much more targeted against the Tournament but, in many ways, similar to Monday’s protests — and ultimately changes to its membership. For his part, Cole rode in the Rose Parade in 1992 as mayor, and at one point lifted his shirt to the crowd to reveal a T-shirt that said “Tournament of Racism.”
“I think it’s great for them to do this, I really do,” Cole said as he and a reporter ducked to avoid being swallowed up by the gigantic Octupy as it wriggled westward along Colorado Boulevard. “It’s clearly an indication that they don’t want to have business as usual. It’s impressive.”
The Occupy the Rose Parade demonstration was not supported by either Occupy Los Angeles or Occupy Pasadena. However, according to Occupy the Rose Parade spokesman Peter Thottam, the group did win backing from Occupy Venice (Thottam’s hometown), Occupy Long Beach, Occupy San Fernando Valley and Occupy Denver. Nearly every participant in Monday’s action was from an Occupy movement, and one-third of the group was from Pasadena, Thottam said.
“Most importantly, it was 100 percent peaceful,” Thottam said. “It went off flawlessly I don’t think it could have been any better.”
One of the major criticisms of Thottam has been about his taking charge of the group, largely because Occupy prides itself on not having any formal leadership. He was also blasted for working with city officials and law enforcement throughout December to ensure a peaceful showing Monday.
Thottam said he was disappointed in KTLA for not covering the Occupy the Rose Parade but was thankful for the work done by city and police officials to ensure the event went smoothly.
“To see the hundreds of thousands of faces watching us and looking at our signs, glued to our signs, was priceless. It’s something I’ll never forget. It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life,” Thottam said.
“The Pasadena Police Department did an outstanding job,” he continued. Police, he said, spent many hours ensuring there would be no problems, and the effort paid off.
“I think we put on a very family-friendly event. Altogether, Pasadena was fantastic,” he said.
Anita Frankel of Silver Lake helped carry the “We the Corporations” display. “This is an incredible movement, very self-directed. Sometimes it needs some leadership, sometimes we don’t,” Frankel said. “This seems to be well-organized, and I’m grateful for that.”
Nancy Berlin of Echo Park said she got involved because “I have friends who are losing their homes, and my daughter just graduated from college and is working a minimum-wage job.
“The country needs to change for a better generation after us,” Berlin said. “I want people to have the same opportunities that my parents had and that I had, and as a member of the 99 percent we can get that message across to everyone else.”
“We weren’t here to cause a problem,” said protester Chris Garcia. “We just wanted to express our dissatisfaction with the way the 1 percent treat the 99 percent and with millions of people watching, this was the best way to do it.”
One person was more frightened than she was impressed.
“I’ve been coming to the parade for 40 years, and this is the first time I’ve ever seen armed guards with their fingers on their triggers, which means they suspect anything can happen. This is unusual,” she said.