Have you ever been so angry, you've... "embellished" a few negatives? Let's say someone spills coffee on your favorite shirt. Later, while venting your frustration to someone, you might exaggerate the price of the shirt, or its availability, or sentimental value. Anything to gain sympathy and to help justify your displeasure -- that's how the human brain works. Is this a flaw? Well, if it does serve to effectively garner support, then perhaps it's a tool. But in most cases, the practice of frustrated embellishment only works to perpetuate a fatalist, self-condemning future.
One group that appears both frustrated and prone to embellishment is the Los Angeles City Council, post-Occupy. Perhaps the two most talked-about Occupy topics after the raid were the "30 tons of garbage" the protesters left behind, and the "$2.3m cost of repairs" to the City Hall's lawn. As you can see by these figures, the council is clearly frustrated.
On the night of the raid, most of the tents the Occupiers had been using were left in the park, along with much of their belongings. Clothes, pillows, tarps -- even the pink Himalayan sea salt my boyfriend forgot to rescue -- all fell victim to the knife-sticks of the LAPD's tactical raid unit. (Note: I've encountered many Los Angeles citizens who refuse to believe that the LAPD used knives to tear down the tents. I urge you to go find out for yourself. We couldn't make this up if we wanted to.)
The raid began at 10 PM on Nov 29, and lasted until around 6 AM on Nov 30. During those eight hours when most people sleep, the LAPD took turns slashing tent after tent, along with its contents. When they were almost done, they allowed the press to re-enter the park to snap some Pulitzer-winning news photos. Before the raid, you'd have been hard-pressed to find a single candy wrapper on the ground. We had at least a dozen people on maintenance duty every day, working to keep the park pristine in order to avoid a negative public image. Now, the damage looked like the aftermath of a tornado of katana swords. The press was disgusted. We were disgusted. Even the police were disgusted by the mess they would soon have to clean up -- a job which would result in zero overtime pay. (Instead of paying police overtime, they were instead offered extra vacation days they had already been awarded before.) So, if the LAPD didn't win, and the Occupiers didn't win -- does that mean the city won?
If the city felt like it "won" the night of the Occupy LA raid, they sure do have a funny way of showing it. Repairs to the lawn had been an oft-discussed topic during the occupation, with several groups displaying varying levels of seriousness in their pledge to repair the browning of the lawn for free. But before you think that's not possible, consider who you're dealing with here. If you wanted to repair your lawn, would you entrust the job to the city government, or a professional environmentalist? And it shouldn't surprise you that Occupy LA was absolutely chock-full of real, live, professional environmentalists.
On more than one occasion, I watched Occupiers approach the public mic over the course of several City Council meetings, each presenting ideas to improve the park's lawn. Some offered to present a proposal at the General Assembly to use some of Occupy's donated funds to purchase grass seed and fertilizer. Others more directly offered the services of professional landscapers they knew who supported the movement and would do the job for free. With each reasonable idea for prompt and cost-free lawn repair came more silent nods from members of the City Council (Well, the ones who stayed in the room at least. I once watched 11/14 up and exit right at the start of public comment.) The people were talking, but it now seems very likely that they weren't being heard. Sound familiar?
For well over a month, the park has been completely enclosed by a chain-link fence on either side of the building. Most every day, no one goes in, and no one comes out. Reports from the city's Department of Art and Parks (weird title, right?) estimate that replacing the grass, something that's not native to Southern California, will run about $2.3 million. I imagine this number came from a discussion that went something like this:
Media: "You seem to believe that the protesters have been disrespectful to the park outside of your office. How will this affect your department?
Dpt. of Arts and Parks (DoAP): "I mean, it's just... That grass took us FOREVER to plant. And that's a really rare strain made for City Hall lawns! You can't just walk into Home Depot and expect to find a bag of City Hall Grass Seeds. You have to order these special! From the internet! And don't even BOTHER if you're not gonna order the shipping insurance. And the guy that plants it... he went to a special school for this! He's not exactly cheap labor. I mean, our city's already got a more than $70 million deficit... This guy will cost at LEAST two mill. At LEAST. And the sprinkler system was a GENUINE 1998 Texas Instruments! You think we can just go back in time and get a new one? No! Now we have to go digital! The whole CITY will have to switch to digital sprinkler systems!"
Media: "Wow. We're really sorry this happened to you."
DoAP: "I know. Thanks. I just... I feel like they did it on PURPOSE, you know?"
Media: "We know. We know."
I called City Hall a little more than two weeks ago as a member of the press, wondering if I could get a figure for the cost of repairs to City Hall park. Each person I was transferred to asked me who I write for. When I mentioned a no-name college newspaper, some became helpful, while several others suddenly remembered that the only guy who has this number isn't in right now. No questions were answered, and though I had seen the figure in several newspapers, no reasonable explanation of the figure was mentioned in any of them.
Perhaps there are tiny strands of gold in this City Hall Park Grass. Maybe there will come a time when we use its blades as our national currency. But until a handful of park grass can pay my rent, I'm less inclined to believe in the legitimacy of that multi-million dollar figure. A little reasonable doubt is always healthy. And if you didn't doubt before, then maybe you do now. The city's government may find a way to appropriate $2.3 million of the city's budget to this cause, but I think the lot of us can agree that it won't all be spent on supplies and labor. Government is notoriously horrid at being frugal. And they clearly aren't looking for the lowest cost option, because they haven't answered any of our offers.
Or maybe City Hall is just frustrated, and with this embellishment they can bond with the public against a common enemy: the activists who feel wronged, and refuse to stay home and shut up about it. Remember when that was a sentiment the City Council could really get behind? Sometimes, it pays to doubt.