Saturday, October 29, 2011

Saturday scenes and scenery: a visit to #OccupySF

The subhead on the Chronicle front page story was unexpected.

Peaceful coexistence prevails amid campers, tourists.

1Chron "peaceful coexistence".jpg

I didn't expect the Chron to go all sweetness and light about OccupySF. The Chronicle seldom reports positively on local protests.

Suddenly, there were people who looked more like office workers than hippies strolling among the 50 tents pitched on the concrete and grass. Tourists gave high-fives to the campers. A group resembling yoga instructors set up a huge rug and spent the afternoon meditating.

The calm followed an alarm on Wednesday night when hundreds turned up to meet any effort by the city to remove the encampment.

More than 300 protesters gathered Wednesday night after word swept through the camp that the mayor and police force would make good on warnings to clear the tents out because of what they said were sanitation and illegal camping violations. By midnight, demonstrators had been joined by a phalanx of union leaders and politicians, including two mayoral candidates, Supervisor John Avalos and state Sen. Leland Yee.

Police with batons and helmets gathered near the plaza, and the protesters girded for passive resistance. But the raid never came.

I guess that interim Mayor (and current candidate) Ed Lee didn't want to be the target of the kind of storm of civic condemnation from all sides that Oakland Mayor Wilma Chan Jean Quan is facing.

I had some time on Friday to drop by OccupySF.

2welcome-join us.jpg
Certainly the folks at the encampment appear organized and friendly. With a little initiative, it wouldn't be hard to find a way to get involved.

3we are 99 percent chow line.jpg
Somebody had brought in some wrapped sandwiches. Folks lined up quietly.

4circle on a carpet.jpg
Elsewhere earnest conversations were underway.

5bathrooms are private donations.jpg
This explanatory note was the most concrete expression of animus between Occupiers and the city authorities. The bathrooms are private donations, not help from the city. They were being pumped out as I arrived.

6protest central signs.jpg

Half a block down Market Street in front of the Federal Reserve Bank, a small band reminded passersby why the Occupiers had come to this place.

7how many wars-must die.jpg
Having devoted countless hours to working to end current U.S. wars, it was good to see that turning away from wars is one theme here.

I feel precariousness, a mix of anxiety and hope, when I look in on the Occupiers. For the moment, this is a sort of peaceable kingdom, but for how long? What happens when the Pacific storms blow in? What happens after the mayoral election when the city authorities will likely feel more empowered to roust the encampment? Can an embattled motley community keep the focus on the system's failure to work for the 99 percent or will this devolve into a nasty fight about police brutality?

I wouldn't want to live where these folks are; I do my political agitation in other venues. But they make me glad. I'm glad for the Occupiers because they've found a way to bring their awareness of their own exclusion into full view -- and to make common cause with most all the rest of us. I'm glad for the nation because we're finally talking about what matters: how to make a wealthy economy work for all of us, not just the greediest.


sasha said...

I think you got the Oakland Mayor wrong. It's Jean Quan, not Wilma Chang.

janinsanfran said...

Thanks sasha -- I'm an idiot! Corrected.

Anonymous said...

Jan--It's been hard for me to believe what I've been hearing/reading about the Oakland governmental response to the Occupy movement. Unbelievable!
Cop Car

janinsanfran said...

Hi Cop Car -- the Oakland response is part of a long pattern of unprofessional, sometimes lethal, misconduct by the OPD. This goes back years -- well before recent events, a federal judge was deciding whether they need to be taken over by some outside authority. Excellent description at Colorlines.

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