By FOX News Radio's Jessica Rosenthal in Los Angeles
The first time I saw an Occupy tent camp, I was rushing into the courts in downtown L.A. to cover the trial of Michael Jackson's Doctor, Conrad Murray. There were a few tents, and some people smiling and waving signs.
The property between the tents was clean. But as the days passed and the number of people living outside City Hall increased, trash began to build and the smell emanating from the camp became more acrid. Walking by the porta-potties set up by the city triggered a gag reflex.
The number of signs was growing too. Wandering through the park one could see probably the most populous and concise sign of the movement. It simply read: "Make Banks Pay." A large banner hung on the north-west corner of city hall that read: "Corporations are not people." Another sign: "Why are there more homeless veterans than wealthy Americans?"
As I talked to the protesters I learned that concerns ranged, from poverty to homelessness, joblessness and foreclosures, corporate tax loopholes and the influence of corporations on politicians. Many people spoke articulately. One woman I met covering an Occupy march in San Francisco explained why she was protesting cuts to college education. She stated that her concerns about cuts to education and rising tuition costs dovetailed perfectly with Occupy concerns; that when the economy collapsed, banks and large financial institutions got so called "bail out" money. But cities and states struggled to fill their coffers as property taxes decreased as did other tax revenue because of unemployment. Suddenly, states and local governments had to make cuts, cuts to education being just one example. And lending institutions that got bail out money weren't exactly lending.
Of course many of the protesters were not articulate about their concerns. One man told me that he didn't know why he was there he just wanted to hang out. In San Francisco and Los Angeles people openly lit up bongs and joints in public. Others simply covered their faces with bandanas and ignored me.
I was mocked by some of the protesters for asking them about the smell of human waste, the homeless population in the camp, the drug arrests in some cities and the mentally ill who sat screaming at each other or the air. Many explained that they represent what America really looks like and how America really is. Others said the media or the police or both were exaggerating reports of crime or sanitation issues.
After nearly two months of occupying city hall, L.A.'s Mayor told them that as of midnight one night, they'd be breaking the law if they stayed in the park. Early that morning, police in riot gear confronted the protesters. As the protesters yelled "Cops. Are. The 99%.", the police backed off and one of the commanders was so relaxed about it all he told his officers "okay, let's go grab breakfast." 48 hours later, police raided the camp effectively ending the occupation of the area. Roughly 300 people were arrested for refusing to leave or resisting arrest. Those who talked to me said they might be evicted, but you could not evict an idea or a movement.
When I arrived during the raid some last holdouts were being handcuffed. The final arrests were of protesters sitting in trees at 3 in the morning. One of the tree protesters wore a gold crown and clutched a dog he told us was named Lucky. He said Lucky was their leader. Below the trees, all around, all you could see were tents torn up or on their sides. Trash was everywhere. It undoubtedly looked worse than it ever had. The first-aid tent was gone, the area set up for kids was probably the structure left most in-tact. Many signs had been trampled, covered with shoe prints. Plastic bottles filled with urine were scattered around.
You could really get a glimpse inside, into how these people were living. It is not the way many of us might choose, and in a way maybe that illustrated the Occupy movement's point better than they ever could.
Listen HERE to FOX News Radio's Jessica Rosenthal reporting from Occupy L.A.: