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Occupy LA: Meet Southern California's protesters

By Kari Huus and Jim Seida

Msnbc.com visited the Occupy LA protest in downtown Los Angeles this week. Here are some of the people we met.

Jim Seida / msnbc.com

Whitney Cranley, 21, of Lake Forest, Calif., eats a pomegranate outside City Hall in downtown Los Angeles during the Occupy LA protest.

Whitney Cranley, 21, of Lake Forest, California

When did you come out to Occupy LA and why?
We came as observers. We drove up from Orange County on Friday night on a whim to see what was going on, and we stayed.

I’m not a person who knows a lot about politics. But I think there’s definitely a lot of corruption… I’m also against all these wars. I’m for moving toward taking care of the people we have—our community first—but the government is taking all our tax money and putting it into killing people. We’re just digging ourselves into a hole. It’s just really sad.

Was there anything that made you feel discouraged or put off by Occupy LA?
At the General Assembly meeting last night, a kid went up and voiced his opinion on something related to the unions… He made a good point, but other people ate him alive. I felt it might make others might consent (to create consensus) because they were intimidated, and I said so. There was a lot of bickering.

Will you be involved in the future?
I’m going back to school today (at Saddleback Community College in Forest Lake, Calif.)
But I definitely want to be more involved… I want to have a voice. I’m definitely not going to go back home and forget about everything.
 

What will come of the movement?
There is a lot of muscle building up. A lot of people who feel they’ve been wronged and young people with ideas without a lot of direction yet.

 

Jim Seida / msnbc.com

Chad Knutsen, 22, from Los Angeles stands in front of City Hall in downtown Los Angeles.

Chad Knutsen, 22, from Los Angeles. 

Why are you here?
"If I had to put it into one word, it would be sovereignty, or opportunity.  Right now we have an incredible opportunity to take back our sovereignty as a sovereign people in a democratic republic.  We have an opportunity right now to do some very big things."
 

How long have you been here?
"Since day one, since the first of October.  I've had to leave for work a couple times.  It's almost weird, when you leave you miss it…the energy."
 

If you have one specific grievance, what is it?
"It's that all the power in this country has been taken from the people and given to the powers that be.  What our country needs right now is a complete fresh start and a constitution of redemption.  We put together this document, the Declaration of Freedom and Peace, it's a statement of purpose for the American people.  If we can get 34 governors to take the document and call for a constitutional convention and call for an immediate return to the American Constitution, and if we get 38 states to ratify it, then it passes and we can pass any legislation that we need to pass through that."
 

What would you say to critics of this movement?
"The only way that you can criticize this movement is if you don't understand what's happening in this country.  John Lennon said it's easy with your eyes closed.  It's just like playing football - football's easy to play from the sidelines, but when people get down here and learn what it's all about and learn that we have a chance to do something about this pickle we put ourselves in, or allowed ourselves to be put in, then changes can be made."
 

What would be mission accomplished?
"Mission accomplished would be calling a constitutional convention and there being an open forum where the people can be represented by their representatives instead of the representatives representing the representatives, and a return to our sovereign status as American citizens."

Jim Seida / msnbc.com

Sharief Zakher, 26, of Los Angeles, "flies" a june bug that he had tied to the end of a string during the Occupy LA protest at City Hall in Los Angeles.

Sharief Zakher, 26,  of Los Angeles

Sherief Zakhar, who works at a concert production company, was among the first residents of Occupy LA at City Hall. Most days, he gets a ride home from his boss. Recently, his boss has been asking, “Home or tent?” And each night for the last week, Zakhar has said, “Tent.”

What is the main issue that brought you to Occupy LA?
"What brought me here is that you can trade stock in prisons. Prisons are privately owned, so people profit from prison overcrowding."

Zakhar recently spent a week in prison for the first time in his life. He was released, he says, after corrections officials located paperwork proving that he had completed community service sentence for an infraction eight years earlier. Seeing the inside of the prison system opened his eyes, he says.

"I was in a dormitory with 120 inmates and we were treated like s---. It’s the most humiliating thing you will ever go through in life."

What needs to happen?
He says he’s not moving from his post at City Hall. “I plan to stay until the end… whenever our objectives are met.”

 What Zakhar wants to see is a major announcement signaling a shift in values. "I want to see that the government is actually working for the people—and putting people over profits."

Jim Seida / msnbc.com

Michelle Watson, 40, of Los Angeles, runs the food tent at the Occupy LA protest at City Hall in Los Angeles.

 

Michelle Watson, 40, of Los Angeles

Watson, who came to Occupy LA eight days ago, was among the founders of the tent city at Los Angeles City Hall. She was named head of the food tent -- handling food donations and ensuring safety and sanitation around food distribution, and doing so fastidiously because if the food tent doesn’t pass health inspections, the colony will be shut down, she says.

Watson’s saga is complicated. She feels that she is being treated unfairly by the corrections system and the health system. As a result, she says, she is now homeless and in danger of losing timely access to treatment for ovarian cancer.

Why did you come out to Occupy LA?
"I’m tired of 99 percent of us suffering. My family has served in the Marines, but my dad died penniless... I worked for the state of California (but left when cancer treatments and a serious digestive disorder made it difficult to continue.) Now I’m disabled and struggling to get treatment." (She gets about $240 from the state each month, she says.)

"The founding fathers said everyone is created equal. What happened? There’s not even a middle class anymore."

What needs to happen?
"People need to stop making money off the sick and needy. Prisons shouldn’t make money off inmates…I’ll stay here until it ends, until it changes."

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