Occupy SF Turns The City Into A Theme Park Of Protest
Friday, Jan 20th was a day of national Occupy Protests named Occupy The Courts. These demonstrations were in protest of corporate personhood, and took place at Federal courthouses in about 80 cities, including Oakland and San Francisco. In San Francisco, an event of larger scope also transpired, one that involved dozens of actions led by many affinity groups, targeting many things.
Occupy Wall St. West and Occupy SF called for a daylong nonviolent occupation of the SF Financial District “to demand that banks end predatory evictions and foreclosures and that corporations lose the rights of personhood”. Thursday night I printed out the list of planned actions; there were 32 of them throughout the day. As I looked at the map I smiled, thinking of it as a Disneyland of Protest, and I wondered how many events I could make it to.
I started the day at 8 AM at the Federal Courthouse in Oakland, where a small group was outside demonstrating. There were many senior citizens in the crowd, which I would find throughout the day. A singing group named Occupella was singing protest songs. There was an information booth set up, and the organizers had gotten the proper permits for that. It was extremely peaceful, and a nice way to get started.
I took Bart across the bay. As I got off at 9:23 I received a text message police were getting ready to arrest people at the Wells Fargo on Montgomery Street. I ran there and by the time I arrived police had arrested 7 protestors, and things had calmed down.
Sargent Daryl Fong told me “ it was a public safety issue because the demonstrators had essentially locked down the exits surrounding the buildings”. The protestors were arrested and cited for trespassing. I met one of them later in the day, a man who was probably about 70, and he told me they had been cited and released.
At 2 other entrances to the bank protestors chained themselves to the doors. One of them was Ntanya Lee (pictured above) and I asked her why she had done this. “I haven't been involved in Occupy at all, but I have had enough. I can't sit still anymore. Corporations like Wells Fargo got bailed out, our communities, people on my block are still getting foreclosed, losing their jobs, schools are getting shut down, and they're making record profits. It's not right and we need to let people know that we shut down business as usual as long as this is happening.”
A block away, people had chained themselves to the Bank Of America. I asked Kathleen Densmore (on left above) what motivated her to do this: “I've been working with Occupy lately and this is a major action and I like it. The focus is on the big banks, the focus is on the big corporations and how they're totally concerned about profits and not about what communities need, what individuals need. They're not responsible to us at all. They just take the money and run. I like Occupy because there seems to be space for everybody including older people like me. We're trying to get mobilized, organized to find a way to say we've got to turn this around. We've got to have another way of living together and not allow the 1 percent to control the rest of us.”
All the chained protestors I spoke with said they were prepared to be arrested. Some of them, like Kathleen, had chained themselves to other people with a large steel pipe around their hands and chains. It looked heavy, and Kathleen looked tired later in the day. I admire these people's strength of convictions and their determination.
It can be argued that shutting down a bank hurts workers, costs them money, and those workers are part of the 99%. I have sympathy for the workers, but think it's time everyone in this country started to take responsibility for their actions, for how we all lead our lives. I know it's hard to find a job these days, and many people have to settle for jobs they would rather not do. I understand that, but if you choose to work for a large bank, you choose to work for an industry that brought our country, and most of the world to a very tenuous place. The behavior of the large banks has been unethical and immoral, and if that's where your paycheck comes from, you are helping perpetuate a continuing assault on your fellow citizens. Just as most of us wouldn't work for organized crime, I think most of us should start thinking if it's really any better to work for Wells Fargo.
I am strongly for peaceful civil disobedience, and I was sure to thank each of these people I spoke with for their efforts.
Around 1 PM I walked up to city hall for a protest over a foreclosure auction, an action planned by the affinity group Occupy Bernal. Many of us were standing across the street from city hall, not sure where to go. A sheriff came up and started asking if we needed to use the restroom before things got going, and where we all wanted to be. He recommended the steps on the other side of the building as that was where the foreclosure auction would be taking place.
He was very nice, but I kept thinking, maybe he's spying on us. It's a trap, he's going to herd us to where it would be easier to arrest us. I guess I've spent too much time in Oakland, because I was very wrong. He met us on the other side, kept checking to see how people were, letting us know what was happening.
More gathered and it peaked at about 100 people. A woman named Maria Davila arrived, and it was announced that the auction on the building she is a renter in was taken off the schedule for the day. She looked happy at the news.
Then people noticed the rest of the auction was starting on the other side of the steps. Some protestors went over, and of course, they protested. The auctioneer went inside to see if he could continue the auction in the hall. The auctions are conducted by a private party, and are not permitted inside City Hall. The auctioneer called his company to see what to do, and the auction was called off.
When one of the Occupy Bernal people announced that the auction was stopped, he gave a lot of credit to the officer, Senior Deputy Novak of the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department. The applause and cheering for this man was really loud, and really well deserved. I asked him if he could come over and give the Oakland Police some pointers on how to interact with citizens, and thanked him for being so nice. He gets my nomination for cop of the month, and it makes me happy to write about a good law enforcement person. For once, someone representing the government was working with Occupiers and treating them with respect. And he got respect back, and things worked out well and peacefully.
After that, I was pretty tired. I took a break, had a late lunch, got some much needed rest. Later I went to Justin Herman Plaza to end the day with a march at 5PM.
That night a group of protestors Occupied a vacant hotel. About 15 protestors were pepper sprayed, and police entered the building . Some protestors were arrested. I didn't attend that action as I'm not sure about building occupations.
There were a few small isolated incidents of vandalism by a very few people. I wish they hadn't happened, but they don't detract from the peaceful actions of so many people that day.
From what I've been observing, some of Occupy has been sectioning off, and becoming many diverse things, with many diverse tactics. There were 50 affinity groups involved with Friday's actions.
Other things I saw through the day:
Occupy Oakland's Carnival Of Resistance.
A street theater group of veterans arresting Occupiers. Scott Olsen was following behind the actors/veterans.
A flash mob.
A booth set up with messages written by people to be posted on a website called stories of the 99%.
Many great signs. And wonderful, smiling protestors.
I had a great day, wandering around in the rain and meeting people. I walked away feeling that much needed change is possible. It's going to be a messy thing to achieve, and there is no perfect way to do it. But for a long time, if anything has been changing, it's been changing for the worse. It's about time that direction reversed, and we get this country, this world on track to the thing we need to become, as opposed to the thing we almost are.
all content by me. i don't believe in copyright. thanks to so many awesome people i met throughout the day for talking to me and sharing their thoughts and stories.