Hollywood Uprising

Hlwd Protest Art Call

The last couple of weeks have been intense. Protests throughout the nation sparked by the killing of George Floyd. The National Guard being deployed in major cities. Viral videos exploding across social media. Politicians scrambling like mad to try and cover themselves. It’s been a wild time.

And it’s been pretty wild here in Hollywood. I have not personally been involved in any protests. I’ve been mostly hanging out in my apartment, scanning the news for the latest developments and listening to the sirens wailing outside. And even without having been in the thick of the crowds, it’s been an emotional rollercoaster. Horror over the death of George Floyd. Excitement about the growing protests. Anger over the looting. Depression at seeing the National Guard on LA’s streets. Again.

And then today, I actually feel kind of happy and kind of hopeful. Let me tell you how I got here….

Like I said, I haven’t been to any of the protests, but I was following the news reports of the massive gathering last Tuesday in Hollywood. The next morning I was out on Hollywood Blvd., and here’s some of what I saw.

Hlwd Blvd After Protest 200603 Boards

Boarded-up storefront on Hollywood Blvd..

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National Guard troops inside a parked vehicle.

Hlwd Blvd After Protest 200603 H&V LAPD

LAPD action at Hollywood and Vine.

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Photographer at Hollywood and Vine with her camera trained on the LAPD.

Hlwd Blvd After Protest 200603 Sign

Discarded sign lying on the sidewalk.

It was definitely depressing to see the boarded up windows and the National Guard vehicles parked on the boulevard. I have vivid memories of the unrest that rocked LA back in 1992. Walking down the street on Wednesday morning it was hard not to draw parallels.

On Saturday afternoon I needed some groceries and when I walked down to the market I caught the tail end of another gathering. A few hundred protesters were blocking the intersection at Hollywood and Vine. Lots of car horns honking. It was hard to tell whether the drivers were mad at the delay or glad to see people taking to the streets.

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Protesters at Hollywood and Vine.

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Some protesters were sitting on top of cars parked in the street.

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Protesters are demanding that funding for the police be cut.

And at the same time that I’m trying to follow what’s happening locally, the national news media is feverishly trying to document the protests, chase down the politicians, and keep up with the seemingly neverending stream of daily controversies. Elected officials across the country are trying to demonstrate their empathy and understanding, with wildly varying degrees of success. A lot of promises have been made, but we’ll see what those promises mean six months or a year from now.

I wish I could say I was completely enthusiastic about this massive uprising, but actually I had a lot of doubts about where this is all heading. First, I don’t have much faith in politicians, and I’m pretty certain that for the most part the carefully thought-out statements they’ve been feeding the press over the last week or so will quickly be forgotten. Second, while I think the protests are a great way to start a movement, making real change happen means taking things a lot farther. It’s exciting to see so many young people take to the streets to demand justice, but the only way to ensure that justice is delivered is to stay on top of elected officials, show up at city council meetings and go to the polls on election day. In other words, it takes years of difficult, sustained work to guarantee progress. Sure, I’m glad to see thousands of people marching for justice, but I wonder if these same people will still be on board for the less exciting and more challenging job of re-writing our laws and re-thinking our budgets.

But today all my pessimism magically disappeared. Not to say all my doubts are gone forever, but this afternoon they were pushed way into the background, at least for a while. As I walked along Hollywood Blvd., I saw that artists had transformed all the boarded-up windows into canvasses bursting with color. These are the images that greeted me when I walked out of the Red Line station at Hollywood and Vine.

Hlwd Protest Art Be the Change

Be the Change You Want to See

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Artists at work transforming the streetscape.

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Another artist covering drab boards with vibrant color.

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George Floyd

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A splash of psychedelia.

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Maya Angelou

Like I said, it’s not as though I’ve buried all my doubts, but I forgot about them for a little while. Walking down Hollywood Blvd. today, looking at all this amazing art, I felt happy. I felt hopeful.

Hlwd Protest Art Heart

Where Are We Heading?

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Screenshot from video posted on LA Times web site.

Last night there were protests in Downtown over the killing of George Floyd, with violent clashes between police and protesters. The unrest continued today. The Mayor of LA has imposed a curfew. West Hollywood and Beverly Hills are doing the same. And I just read the National Guard is on its way.

The scary thing is, all of this seems familiar. I was on the phone earlier with a friend in New York. She’s from Los Angeles, and was one of the journalists who covered the 1992 unrest for the LA Times. We both agreed that all this feels very much like the days of chaos that followed the verdict in the Rodney King beating.

In a way I feel like we’re back in the same place. That nothing has changed. But actually, the more I think about it, the more I feel like things have actually gotten much worse. For the last several years Los Angeles has been sliding closer and closer to the edge. There are over 36,000 homeless people in the City of LA and 59,000 countywide. People are struggling to pay rent and bills in a gig economy that offers zero stability. We’ve spent many millions on new transit infrastructure, and now Metro is getting ready to spend millions more because contractors botched the job the first time around. And we’re learning more and more about the pay-to-play culture at LA City Hall, with four guilty pleas so far in the ongoing corruption investigation, and more on the way.

There are major problems across LA County, but the City of LA is the poster child for dysfunction. Most of our leaders are crooked, and the ones that aren’t don’t have the backbone to challenge the status quo. Our Mayor tells us that building luxury skyscrapers will help solve the housing crisis, and even the City Councilmembers who know better cast their votes to approve the latest high-end high-rise. Our Mayor tells us we’re getting people out of cars and onto trains, while traffic gets worse and transit ridership continues to plunge. Our Mayor tells us we’re creating a sustainable LA, while our urban forest is dying and the majority of our recyclables still get dumped in landfills.

But, of course, it’s not just LA. California is in trouble. The US is in trouble. George Floyd’s killing may have sparked the protests, but people have been frustrated and angry for a long time. I wish I could say I think things will get better, but I don’t. At least not any time soon.

I can still hear the sirens screaming by out in the streets. As of Saturday night, here’s what’s going on in LA.

L.A. Police Face More Mass Demonstrations After Friday’s Violence from LA Sentinel

National Guard deploying to L.A. as looting, vandalism, violence worsens from LA Times

“El momento más pesado”: alcalde de Los Ángeles extiende toque de queda a toda la ciudad from La Opinion

And here’s a view of the larger picture.

George Floyd: protests and unrest coast to coast as US cities impose curfews from The Guardian