Wet Paint and the San Francisco Model at Occupy SF

I didn’t go down to Justin Herman Plaza today because Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine was planning on performing. I went down because I realized that my Tuesday visit wasn’t really at Occupy SF. Tuesday evening, I biked down Market Street and stopped at the Federal Reserve building. There, I saw infrastructure for the Occupy folks, but only about four crusty people on site. I was embarrassed and left a bit disillusioned. Last night, I chatted with my friend Al about this, and he was confused. He’d been down there over the weekend and saw a huge crowd… at Justin Herman Plaza.

So, with my weekend schedule full, I made a window of about three hours to go down again and try to plug in. Their website said that they needed a “warehouse.” I happen to be connected to a warehouse so hoped to find someone to talk to about what they needed. When I got there, I found the seasonal ice skating rink under construction. I found the vendors selling tourist schlock, and I found Occupy SF over by the bocci ball courts (when did those show up?!). On the Eastern side of the Plaza, a line of tents and tarps made an encampment for those who were spending the night. A dozen people sat in a circle and met on the grass, a radio station was set up on the corner at Market, and a piece of yellow canvas was on a 40-foot long table.

I wandered around and shot some photographs of stenciled signs. I didn’t really walk into the encampment because I wasn’t quite sure how private it all was. Walking around the Embarcadero side of Occupy SF, I saw that it was mostly full of street kids, complete with Grateful Dead patches, dreads, and pet dogs. A food station was set up in the middle of the tents and tarps. A medical tent was set up at the end. All of the tarps and tents had messages written on them. Some of them made no sense. Others were hard to read. Most were clearly written and well thought out. All in all, the encampment had a rainbow gathering vibe to it.

Don’t get me wrong. There were other folks at Occupy SF too. I ran into mad-photographer Steve Rotman, super-campaigner Andy Blue (who was constantly amazed at the sight of the occupation) and the gentleman’s activist David Solnit. David was responsible for the yellow canvas on the long table. He was in the process of making a huge banner for Occupy SF to hang in Justin Herman. I walked around some more and found a contact board. I did not see anyone on there that was in charge of donations (I guess that’s who I’d talk to about wanting a warehouse).

Drawn to David’s project, I wandered back over and offered my services. I helped David rule out the canvas, and he passed me some paint and a brush to begin to paint out the letters that he traced with a pencil. As soon as I put paint on canvas, volunteers stepped up to help too. Within minutes, there were three of us. Then, six, possibly eight of us.

As we knocked out the letter painting in record time, I spoke to strangers inspired by the Occupy movement. I spoke to some folks I knew. Tom Morello showed up and, instead of playing some music, gave a canned speech and then offered 100 tickets to the first 100 folks who showed up to his handler. He hung around for maybe 15 minutes, and some of the hippie kids stepped in to play some guitar music. Soon after that, a union choir showed up and sang about six classic union protest songs. A large hacky sack circle broke out. Tourists continued to stop by and snap photos. MUNI bus drivers on break looked on with a curious intensity. David seemed to know lots of folks and helped others get organized.

I took a break from the sign project and wondered over to the food tent. Earlier, I saw a Specialty’s sandwich shop worker deliver sandwiches. I missed those, as well as a rice dish. I only ate a few pieces of bread and some dried fruit. Then the volunteers cracked open some cans of Spam. I passed on that free dish but the kids were all over it!

With the letters painted out, David began to rig the edges of the banner. Some of the paint was on too thick so I went around and fanned out the thicker bits. Then, around 6:00 the General Assembly meeting began over on the corner of the bocci ball court. The kids that were camping didn’t come over. The facilitators showed us the hand motions to use for certain ways to communicate during the meeting. I think there were about 10 hand motions. I got lost after about six of them and then my graphic designer brain kicked in. “Wouldn’t it be nice to have a poster of all the hand signs?”

They started off with announcements, the most important one being a letter from the City Government. The person giving this announcement asked the campers to come over. Maybe a dozen of them did. From my recollection, SFFD doesn’t like the battery power and it must go by Monday. Health Officials gave a list of seven things that campers must do to remain on site. These demands all revolve around being clean. No signs of food, human waste, animal waste, etc at all in the area! A federal animal agency was going to inspect the animals on site but wouldn’t “rat anyone” out.

Then there were announcements in support of the Occupy SF encampment. A union was trying to set up WiFi for the camp. There was a 24 hour bathroom somewhere being offered. Recology had offered recycle and compost bins and they needed to be put on the curb by 10am for pick up. An engineer was trying to figure out how to power the camp without batteries, but needed $1,500 to do so. A private donor had offered to treat all the animals on site.

So I left the GA meeting excited about the banner and the general turn out for the day. There were at least 100 people at the meeting when I left. Being a realist, I am concerned that the kids who ware camping will not be able to keep things clean. Though things felt fun and jubilant, I do not think that they are focused enough to meet the City’s demands.

Word was out down there that the Oakland government has threatened to raid Occupy Oakland. I began tell people that Oakland was going to apply the “San Francisco Model” to clear out their park. In one of the announcements, San Francisco asked Occupy SF to leave the plaza so they could pressure-wash. Occupy SF declined. Twice now, SFPD has raided the encampment and taken their bedding, tents, and tarps. I am sure that cities around the country are working on models to do similar actions against their Occupy encampments. Oakland appears to be in the later stages of their first raid, based upon the San Francisco Model.

The San Francisco Model appears straightforward: inspect the camp, give the campers demands, assume they haven’t met the demands, warn the campers, and then raid the camp late at night when not many people are watching. Make sure all communication is in writing, on paper, so that any future litigation will have a paper trail to prove/refute facts. And, most importantly for San Francisco, have a mayor who doesn’t seem to be concerned about any political repercussions after the raids.

I hate to end this post on a down note, but I always get hard feelings after leaving actions and protests. While about 200 people sat in on Occupy SF, I biked down Market Street and saw thousands of Americans on Powell Street. Mostly unaware of what was happening in Justin Herman Plaza, these folks went about their weekend like they always do. Every time I leave a protest, in a few blocks, people are oblivious to the serious attempt to make the world a better place. Tonight, I wondered why the 99% of the 99% were shopping, dining, going to movies, and drinking while a sliver of the 1% of the 99% spent their time in a GA meeting, painting signs, and protesting the inequalities of the current state of our nation.

The population swells over the weekend, but when 2,000 out of 800,000 march, I always wonder how those numbers can flip. It has done so in Argentina (earlier in this decade), and most recently in Greece and Spain. But I can’t figure out how to make this happen in the USA. I’ve seen it once, just before Bush invaded Iraq, but it wasn’t sustained.

I guess that hope must be involved for any future growth in this inspiring Occupy movement. So, instead of ending this post on a down note, I have hope that the 99% will represent itself in the near future. I hope that they take their money out of the huge banks and put them into local institutions. Local is the key word! I have hope in local mutual aid and support.

Let’s see what happens….