A crowd gathers at the Occupy LA protestors’ camp outside of Los Angeles City Hall in Los Angeles on Sunday, Nov. 27, 2011. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa announced Friday the campsite will be dismantled beginning at 12:01 a.m. Monday. (AP Photo/Phil McCarten)
LOS ANGELES (AP) — Hundreds of Occupy Los Angeles protesters showed no sign they planned to move Sunday ahead of a city-imposed midnight deadline to abandon their encampment, saying they would instead hold an “eviction block party.”
Although city officials have told demonstrators they must leave the weeks-old protest site and take their nearly 500 tents with them by 12:01 a.m. Monday, just a handful were seen packing up Sunday.
Instead, some passed out fliers containing the city seal and the words: “By order of Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, this notice terminates your tenancy and requires you to attend the Occupy L.A. Eviction Block Party.”
“The best way to keep a non-violent movement non-violent is to throw a party, and keep it festive and atmospheric,” said Brian Masterson as he helped a friend break down her tent. “And I’m going to be doing as much as I can to stop violence.”
He said he had turned his own tent into a “non-violent booby trap” by filling it with sandbags to make it tough to tear down.
“We can’t beat the LAPD, but we can make it difficult for them to do their job, and have fun while we’re doing it,” Masterson said.
Villaraigosa issued a statement a few hours before the deadline Sunday night, outlining the city’s plan and his hopes for a “spirit of cooperation.”
He said that even after the park’s official closure police “will allow campers ample time to remove their belongings peacefully and without disruption.”
Villaraigosa said police and social workers will walk through the park handing out information on the closure and services available.
The mayor did not say what tactics authorities would use for those who refuse to leave — or when they will begin using them.
The atmosphere was already festive Sunday afternoon. A punk-pop band played protest songs on one of the lawns. The protest’s artists were out in great numbers showing their work, and twice the usual number of news trucks surrounded the tent city.
Conservative blogger Andrew Breitbart drew a crowd as he stood on the City Hall steps and argued with protesters on topics like Bank of America and Warren Buffett.
Some campers packed up their tents and belongings Sunday to avoid police trouble, but said they intended to return without them in support of their fellow protesters.
“I would prefer not to take the tent down,” said Tiffany Wallace as she packed up her campsite. “But we need to be strategic for this movement to last. This is not just for the occupation of this particular location. This is for mobilizing working class people nationally and internationally.”
Digital fliers were being posted on Facebook and Twitter encouraging people to go to City Hall at midnight in solidarity with occupiers.
City Councilman Bill Rosendahl appeared on the City Hall lawn to issue a late plea for protesters to leave.
Occupy organizers said thanks, but no thanks.
“Until the grievances of the 99 percent are addressed to end corporate control of the system, the government and the media, Occupy LA will be here exercising our 1st Amendment rights,” Julie Levine, one of several Occupy spokespeople, told the Los Angeles Times.
Police, for their part, have said little about what tactic they would take if protesters ignore the deadline.
Chief Charlie Beck has told reporters that officers would not be sweeping through the camp and arresting everyone the minute the clock ticks past midnight.
But in an interview with the Los Angeles Times that was published Sunday, Beck indicated he expects that arrests will become inevitable at some point.
“I have no illusions that everybody is going to leave,” Beck said. “We anticipate that we will have to make arrests.”
When it comes to that, he said, police officers “will not be the first ones to apply force.”
Meanwhile, local clergy and labor leaders implored both sides to ensure that the 2-month-old demonstration remain peaceful.
“We are grateful to the Occupy movement for refocusing the country to the issue of income inequality,” Maria Elena Durazo, executive secretary and treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, said in a statement issued Sunday.
“We call for nonviolence in all acts of civil disobedience by Occupy LA and in professional procedures by the LAPD. We are committed to a long-term movement from the 99 percent to hold Wall Street and the banks accountable for devastating our economy,” Durazo added.
Villaraigosa has expressed admiration that, at least so far, the Occupy Los Angeles movement has remained peaceful, unlike those in some other cities around the country.
But while the mayor, a former labor organizer himself, has said he sympathizes with the movement, he added it’s time to close the encampment of some 500 tents that dot the lawn in front of City Hall for the sake of public health and safety.
The 2-month-old movement is also at a crossroads, Villaraigosa said, and must “move from holding a particular patch of park to spreading the message of economic justice.”