Only a scientist could explain the dynamic of what is happening at the Occupy Los Angeles encampment.
There are two things that strike you when you come upon the Occupy LA encampment. The first is the sheer density of the tents: not a single thatch of grass pokes through; the lawn is bursting with tents and spray painted signs that carry slogans about everything from 99 percent to Wall Street criminals to 9/11 conspiracy theories. The place is packed. The second thing you're likely to notice is the undeniable thick scent of weed smoke in the air. This is a curious aroma, given that the encampment is lodged between the California state courthouse, the offices of the City Council and LAPD headquarters.
Occupy LA is also three blocks away from Skid Row, the city's biggest open air drug market and homeless encampment. Some people claim that the drug use in the Occupy camp is a spill-over effect. Those who buy drugs on Skid Row, especially the homeless, can smoke in a safe, free space among the Occupy tents, instead of buying an hourly room in one the crime-riddled slum hotels along 4th Street. Other people in camp claim the drug problem is homegrown.
Drug use has been a key conservative talking point used to undermine the various Occupy camps around the country. In Occupy Los Angeles, though, smoking weed has become a wedge issue dividing the camp into increasingly entrenched groups.
As one original organizer of Occupy LA described it, "on one side there's the hardcore Politicos-Get-S**t-Done process freaks and on the other are people who think they are starting a new society."
Smoking weed cuts to one of the main dilemmas within a leaderless, horizontal, movement like Occupy Los Angeles: who makes the rules? Who enforces the rules? Going even further: should there even be rules? Is this a narrowly focused social movement bent on economic reform through massive but nonviolent participation? Is it a petri dish of something new?¹ There is a wing of the Occupy LA that sees their encampment as a radical new mode of living; one that not only rejects income inequality, but any sort of action that enables one group to represses any other. This means contempt for anything like a parliamentary up or down vote, or adopting the same drug laws as 'the outside.' When someone lights up, especially during daylight hours, there is an instant sense of polarization between those who are willing to behave and those who aren't. Finally those differences exploded.
The druggy anarchists ended up "occupying" the space used by the less insane protestors for their "General Assembly." One of the anarchists screamed into a megaphone, "You don't represent us anymore! We're taking over! We're the People's Forum!"
Can't we all just get along?
I'd love to see what an anthropologist would make of all this.