The Women of OccupyLA Speak Out About Hard Times

Democracy is not easy, says Occupy Los Angeles on its website.

It requires work and dedication. Most Americans believe that America is on the wrong track, and, for the most part, our representatives have not been representing us. Dissatisfied Americans might also agree that voting is not enough action to break out of this profound cycle of injustice and world-wide destruction. … Change won’t come unless people demand it.

The group stands in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street, of course, and like those East Coast folks holds a People’s General Assembly every evening (in front of L.A.‘s City Hall). Saturday’s Solidarity March through downtown Los Angeles brought out more women to the streets than have been there before.

One woman actually held a pitchfork, while the huge crowd yelled. “We need a new deal, not another raw deal” and “The banks got bailed out, we got sold out.”  As with sister protests being held in other major cities across the nation, the overall tone was angry, fed up and frustrated. Women have plenty of reason to be frustrated by the current economic situation in the U.S.; here are what some of them at OccupyLA had to say about their personal situations:

Katie Henderson, 28, is an aspiring graphic designer. After graduating from college in 2004, she has yet to hold a job in her field. Thus far, she has never had a job that required more than a GED. Hailing from Pennslyania, she moved to Los Angeles to pursue animation. But currently she works at a McDonald’s in the Glendale area; she’s concerned with paying off her college loans. Saturday was her first day joining OccupyLA. She says she might have come out sooner but her work schedule did not permit it. When asked why she feels compelled to march in the streets, she said,

Is it too much to ask for the standards of living to be a little better? I paid the equivalent of two brand new cars for my education and I work for peanuts. I should be earning $22,000 to $25,000 per year at entry level. But people want to pay minimum wage. They think $10 per hour is too much. I say to them: Do you know how to design and package ads?

Sara Pierce, who is almost 16, held a sign that read “Love Your Neighbor.” From her manner of dress, she might be mistaken for a neo-hippie, but her reason for being at OccupyLA was because of her mother:

“My mom can’t get a job, and she has a college degree. It’s been really hard on us. I don’t know where my future is headed if my mom can’t even get a job.

Catherine Pierce, 51, Sara’s mother, was in the crowd, too, marching alongside her daughter. As a single mother, her concerns lie in the fact that she is raising a teenager alone but hasn’t been able to find a job in over a year.

Being laid off with a 15-year-old was really hard, and I’ve spent a year looking for work. Our standard of living has been cut in half. I have great skills; I built a company. But I’m 51. Interviewers ask me if I am tired. I was a corporate controller for Germfree Laboratories, a manufacturing firm. I created 72 jobs. The people who worked for me were the most important part of my job. But we all got laid off.

Catherine has had 41 interviews and sent out 240 resumes. She moved to L.A. from a small town in Florida, hoping job prospects would be better in a larger city.  She has tangible ideas for what she’d like to see emerge from the Occupy protests:

We need to return to Glass-Steagall. It was enacted in the 1930s to separate the commercial banks from the investment banks. We need to stop the speculation on Wall Street, which includes day trading. We need to encourage short-term capital gains. The banks are the roulette players and the government is the bookie; they allowed this to happen.

V.F., 38, is a lawyer. She graduated from law school in 2007 in Seattle but has not found permanent work since. In the last six months, even temporary work has been scarce. At the top of her list of concerns are her student loans:

The private sector screwed everything up because they weren’t playing by the rules. The rules are there, but no one is enforcing them. I have an enormous amount of debt and I can’t pay it.

Dani Rowan, 31, is an underwriter for an insurance firm. Though she is currently employed, she said, “I don’t believe that corporate greed is right.” She was out marching with her twin three-year-olds Will and Paige, who both carried signs that simply read “Share.” Related to her work, she spoke about insurance coverage and women’s health, noting shrinking benefits’ packages:

I think women’s benefits have been hit harder. They are the first to be cut. That affects women’s issues more quickly—be it birth control or preventative health. … I have seen my mother get laid off. Not sure if that’s because the corporations think that men are more qualified. When you affect women, you affect the core of society. We are the caregivers. I can’t even imagine what my children will go through. Or how I will put them through school.

Erica Martinez, 18, is a student enrolled at East Los Angeles Community College. She had taken the bus for the past four days from South Central L.A., where she lives, to the downtown site of OccupyLA. She said:

I’m out here because of my education. I can’t pay for school, my financial aid is getting cut. And I can’t find a job. I just feel my opportunities to grow are being taken away. … My mom says I should find a good man and depend on him. But I don’t want to rely on anyone. I don’t want to depend on anyone but myself.

Want to share your personal story about how the recession has affected you? Comment below!

TOP TO BOTTOM: Woman at Occupy LA, photo from Flickr user cdrake2 under Creative Commons 2.0; Occupy LA Participant Katie Henderson, photo by Lori Kozlowski; Occupy LA Participant Sara Pierce, photo by Lori Kozlowski; Occupy LA Participant V.F., photo by Lori Kozlowski; Occupy LA Participants Will and Paige Rowan, photo by Lori Kozlowski; Occupy LA Participant Erica Martinez, photo by Lori Kozlowski


  1. Brenda Lyons says:

    What happened to all the words our guidance counselors told us in high school about “get a college degree! Otherwise you’ll be stuck flipping burgers”? Well guess what – we got those degrees, and we’re flipping burgers anyways. And when we complain, we’re yelled at by people who think we should be thankful to have a job, even if it pays minimum wage. Even if it pays too little to even pay back our student loans.

    How did we get to the point where we thought people should be ‘thankful’ to work at McDonalds? What happened to “get a job you love”? What happened to “don’t settle for a dead-end job, reach for a career you will be proud of”? We’re told to be happy with what we can get, but when we look at our parents’ generation, we see a group of people who were told to follow that (mythological?) “American Dream.” What were the steps of the American Dream? 1) Work Hard. 2) Make and save lots of money. 3) Start a family and have your own home. Well guess what? We’re stuck at Step 1, and can’t get even to Step 2 because the cost of living is too high, and wages are too low.

    Is this our fault? No. When people like Katie Henderson are working at $10 an hour, it’s not possible to save up. Even when you’re eating ketchup packets and walking to work, the bills are too high for the given wages. These are not lazy people, they are people who followed their dreams under the advice of people they looked up to as children (teachers, parents, guidance counselors), and took out student loans to pay for college. For YEARS this has been considered ‘the smart thing to do.’ My own guidance counselor said, “worry about money later – get loans and go to college. It will pay off when you get a good job.” Had I known there would BE no jobs, 6 years later when I graduated with my Masters, I never would have taken that advice.

    People need to wake up and take these Occupy protests seriously. These are the MAJORITY. People who were laid off and can’t find another job, recently-graduated students who cannot find a job and pay off their loans, the underemployed…THESE are the majority people protesting, not lazy rich kids who want to make a mess. These protests are by REAL people for a REAL purpose. As Ms. Henderson said, “Is it too much to ask for the standards of living to be a little better?” And is it too much to ask to not be treated like a lazy, ungrateful slob when we ask for a better job than flipping burgers? Or – dare I ask it – a job that’s even in our field?

  2. Sarah Darcy says:

    I feel total compassion for the young people. Things are equally bad for the older workers. We see our IRA’s shrinking before our eyes. If we’ve lost our jobs, there is almost no chance of being hired at our age. Meanwhile, the media is still running cheerful stories about how to “prepare for retirement.” They tell us to work a few years longer to postpone drawing Social Security. (Where do they suggest we work?) They tell us to save more aggressively. (Save what? We have no income!)They tell us to take money out of our homes. (We lost our home long ago.) Young workers, unable to afford health insurance, are forced to gamble that they won’t get sick. For older adults, that’s a much bigger risk to take. Our kids a trapped in dead-end jobs with high student loans, and there’s nothing we can do to help them. Washington and Wall St. don’t give a damn. Is this the America we were raised to believe in?

  3. Belle of Acadie says:

    Extremely grateful I am Canadian…

    America is darker than it seems.

  4. Aaron Judy says:

    The economy is undoubtedly decrepant and its status should be feared. Women and men are feeling the squeeze. As a 53 year old male with two in college daughters living at home, I am very concerned that they will be stuck during their prime working years in an economy that shrinks and national debt and healthcare costs soar. I am for foriving the student loan debt provided that those that are freed from this moral obligation help their community by using their educational skills to be provided as public service to inner city youth needed mentors, or special needs famililies. Forgiveness means that the person being asked for forgiveness has issued a statement or performed an act of contrition and is seeking repentance. A freebe , hell no, forgiveness, yes.

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