It’s been a little while since I participated in an OccupySF event, a combination of my activities, their activities and the weather. But as we enter spring, many groups around the country are stepping up again. In San Francisco, OccupySF staged a march on April 1 with the goal of establishing a stable home in an empty building, an idea that many referred to as the “SF Commune.” Taking over an empty or abandoned building is not new for Occupy movements. Indeed, Occupy Oakland had staged a large demonstration earlier this year in which they were “planning to take over an abandoned building” whose location was being kept secret until the time of the event. It turned out to be the Kaiser Convention Center, the most well-known abandoned building in the city, and of course the attempt to “occupy” it was unsuccessful. I assumed that the building that would be the destination of the April 1 march would be a bit more obscure.
The event began in Union Square, a major commercial center in San Francisco with upscale retail and hotels. I found members of OccupySF sparsely gathered around the square, with a small concentration up near the stage having a party of sorts. I was particularly happy to see the Brass Liberation Orchestra present.
[This is my one and only Hipstamatic picture from the event.]
By coincidence, there was another demonstration happening on Union Square at the same time in support of the opposition in Syria. A sizable group of people were gathered in one corner of the square underneath multiple Syrian opposition flags. Unlike the current Syrian flag, which has two stars, the opposition flags have three stars, and a different color scheme, and are modeled after the flag of the Syrian Republic of the 1930s.
The march itself was quite delayed, as we were waiting were a bus of people from Occupy Oakland to join us and they were stuck in traffic. Why they chose to drive over the Bay Bridge in a bus on a Sunday afternoon instead of taking BART escapes me – everyone here knows the bridge is quite congested at this time. But they did eventually make it, and announcements went out informing us that we were going to be marching to “Occupy SF’s new home.” There were calls to be respectful of the building while making it our own. I was of course quite curious where this building would be and what it would be like. Would it be a modern but vacant office building, or would it be one of the dilapidated apartment buildings in the central Tenderloin district, where the march was initially headed?
And then the march finally began. We streamed out of Union Square, with the Brass Liberation Orchestra launching into that same funky bass rhythm I remembered from the big events last October. It was reminiscent of classic disco bass lines. You can hear a bit of it in this video of our exodus from Union Square, though it is a bit of a challenge to separate from the general din.
We continued the march westward along Geary Street, with the older buildings of the central downtown district to either side of us. (Reports referred to this as Geary Boulevard, which is a common mistake. Geary Boulevard is west of Van Ness Avenue. Here it is still Geary Street.)
This is the major theater district of San Francisco, between Geary and Market. It is also on the upper edge of The Tenderloin, a neighborhood rich in history and culture with bars and clubs, but also a notoriously blighted area with dilapidated apartment buildings and SRO hotels. The city keeps trying to bring businesses here, particularly along “Mid-Market”, with the most recent effort involving Twitter. But there are still lots of abandoned or vacant buildings here, and I had assumed this is where we would end up. But the march continued onward, passing Leavenworth Street and a block where I did some of my most artistic photographs, including one that used a bright red MUNI shelter that we passed.
We came the large intersection of Geary and Van Ness Avenue and then headed south down Van Ness. I was a little unsure at this point where we were going to end up. I thought maybe we would be turning back into the “TL”, but instead we turned westward onto Turk Street. We came to a stop at the corner of Turk and Gough. This is at the edge of the historic Western Addition neighborhood, but also abutting the spreading upscale areas of Nob Hill to the north and Hayes Valley to the south. I wasn’t expecting this location, but here we were, in front of an unassuming low-rise building that looked like a school or public office built in the 1960s.
In the sense that it was a nondescript commercial building, it did fit the profile of an ideal location. The only distinguishing element was the number “888”. This was #888Turk, the new home of OccupySF. Protesters quickly entered into the building, with loud music blaring from the Occupy Oakland bus parked in front on Turk Street.
Soon protesters reached the roof and unfurled banners to cheers on the street and from within the building.
I It turns out that the building, although vacant, is owned by the Archdiocese of San Francisco (i.e., owned by the Catholic church), which explained the rather Christian-sounding banner that some protesters unfurled after taking over the building. It is claimed that this building has been vacant for five years, though the Archdiocese claims it was only vacant for 18 months after housing a school.
I departed sometime in the early evening. But the occupation of 888 Turk continued overnight and into the next morning, but during the day on Monday the building was raided by the police, with about 75 people arrested and then later released. You can read an account (with illustrations) in this article by Susie Cagle at Truthouth. It is hard to say whether this is a success or not But it is one of the more dramatic events to occur so far this spring, and it has been picked up in the press and by other groups around the country. So perhaps it will come to something.
As has become a tradition here at CatSynth, we present our end-of-year image.
It was a bit of a challenge to decide what to put in, as there were so many this time. But I think these are particularly representative. And it’s also significant that it is more colorful than previous end-of-year images.
The first few days of this year were quiet and a bit dark. That changed quickly, with tumultuous events around the world, and new experiences close to home. It’s the year I finally had a photography show, and by the end of the year I had several. There were new surprising types of performances and the costumes to go with them. I deepened my connections back in New York with friends, music, art and the landscape. And I no idea what I would have the chance to participate in something like the Occupy movement . There were many sad moments as well, with the loss of friends.
In all, 2011 has been particularly rich and productive, if sometimes a bit chaotic. If one had told me at the end of 2007 or 2008 (or 2001 for that matter) that this is what life would be like now, I would have been pleasantly surprised. There is a sense, however, that the patterns of this past year are not sustainable. This will have to be part of the plan for 2012, in particular getting organized, staying healthy and trying to make good choices. We will see how that unfolds as the new year progresses…
Happy New Year and thank you for all the support and warmth from those who read these pages!
In this article, we follow the #OccupySF march in San Francisco yesterday through some Hipstamatic photos, with nods to some of the city’s architecture and icons that we passed along the way.
We began at the base of Market Street, the main thoroughfare of the city. It runs diagonally and separates two separate street grids that run at 45-degree angles to one another, some thing confuses not only visitors but many locals as well.
An impressive line of police ran parallel to the march. This was primarily to separate the marchers from traffic, which continued on the other side of Market Street. The interactions my group had with the police were quite cordial. One even helped us with info from the announcements at the front of the march which we could barely hear from our position.
For those who criticize the Occupy movement for not having any sort of focus, it should be noted that yesterday’s march and events were squarely focused on the banking industry and the largest banks in particular. It coincided with “Bank Transfer Day” in which large numbers of people moved their accounts from the large banks to either credit unions or community banks. San Francisco remains a large banking center. Wells Fargo still has its headquarters at the corner of Montgomery and California. We had a demonstration in front of the building.
Bank of America used to have its headquarters in San Francisco as well, at 555 California Street. 555 California is the second tallest building in San Francisco, a large imposing structure of brown granite. It is often derided, but I kind of like it as an example of modernism in an architecturally conservative city. It has a large plaza above street level common for commercial buildings from the 1970s. The march stopped here for an extended sit in.
From there we continued up California Street towards Chinatown. Here you can see the marchers passing one of our iconic cable cars.
We then turned north on Grant Avenue, the main street through the center of Chinatown.
Grant Avenue always feels a bit touristy, though it does have some great dive bars hidden away. For good inexpensive Chinese food go one block over to Stockton Street. We did, however, briefly chant in Cantonese, with the majority of us non-speakers responding with the word “Unite!”, which translates to 团结 (tuan jie in Mandarin, but I can’t find a written pronunciation for Cantonese).
At the informal boundary of Chinatown and North Beach, we turned east onto Broadway. Broadway in North Beach is about as close to a traditional red-light district as we have in San Francisco. As Broadway heads down the hill towards the Embarcadero, the neighborhoods feel a bit more ambiguous and nondescript. I have walked in the area countless times, it’s usually quiet with small buildings and lots and the shadows of the financial district and Telegraph Hill to either side.
On reaching the Embarcadero, we headed south along the wide palm-tree lined boulevard.
It is interesting to note that 25 years ago, this location was the underside of a somewhat industrial double-decker freeway, the Embarcadero Freeway, that ran from the Bay Bridge to Broadway. It was torn down after the 1989 earthquake.
And ended up back at the official #OccupySF camp at Justin Herman Plaza. The camp is at the south end of the plaza. The north side is another iconic modernist space that many people in the city love to hate – but I am quite fond of it. It includes the
I found this photo on Facebook yesterday while following events at the General Strike in Oakland.
More people protesting a little later….the freeway is full on their way to the Port of Oakland during the #GeneralStrike. People can’t drive….10,000 people are marching.
In actuality, it is not a freeway. But it does appear to be the point in West Oakland where Adeline Street crosses over the train tracks and becomes Middle Harbor Road, which would be en route to the port where demonstrators successfully and peacefully shut down operations for the remainder of the night. That is quite an impressive feat.
I unfortunately was not able to join in the events in Oakland yesterday because of health reasons, but I am planning to be out again with a group in San Francisco on Saturday. In the meantime, here is a first-hand account from fellow Bay Area new musician Myles Boisen. He plays a mean blues guitar.
Shut Down! – Occupy Oakland 11/03/11 Vol. 7
Vol. 7 in a series by Myles Boisen
Port of Oakland SHUT DOWN
Wells Fargo SHUT DOWN
Bank of America SHUT DOWN
CitiBank SHUT DOWN
Comerica Bank SHUT DOWN
Chase Bank SHUT DOWN
Union Bank SHUT DOWN
Bank of the West SHUT DOWN
Nara Bank SHUT DOWN
T-Mobile SHUT DOWN
Burger King SHUT DOWN
Walgreen’s SHUT DOWN
Highlights of the Oakland general strike:
10 a.m. As I start reading news feeds I see Angela Davis is addressing the early morning crowd at 14th and Broadway. Unconfirmed rumors come and go that the Port of Oakland is already closed, with possible wildcat strike action and trucks unable to get through.
12 p.m. I arrive at Oscar Grant Plaza. On the way over radio coverage on KPFA-FM says that Wells Fargo bank is already shut down. People are streaming continuously toward downtown on foot and on bicycles. The crowd at 14th and Broadway is estimated at 5,000 or more. With friends I tour the area, photographing banks and corporate businesses that have shut their doors due to the strike. The crowd is made up of elders, working people, union representatives, teachers, religious leaders, and schoolchildren present with their parents.
By the BART station we meet Ethel, a senior citizen who is gathering signatures on a petition to end the death penalty in California. One member of our party – Phil, a well-read anarcho-syndicalist – has recently moved to Alameda County, and Ethel suggests that he can go to City Hall to get the requisite voter registration papers. Could City Hall possibly be open today? We go on a mission to find out.
After finding a side door that is open, we are ushered into an eerie calm of City Hall by a private security guard. There is practically no one inside. Entering the Office of the City Clerk, there is once again no one around, though there is a small hotel bell at the counter. After ringing the bell for a few minutes, this Kafkaesque scenario is resolved when a woman emerges and directs Phil to the proper documents. I ask her “How’s it going today?” She gives me “the look” and replies “ask me after 5.”
1:30 p.m. Our group wanders about, taking in dance performances, rappers, signage, the bustling kitchen, the music stage, and more. We run into two stilt walkers that I am acquainted with, as well as my friend Victor Lewis who is immediately recognized by someone as being the guy from the film The Color of Fear. Victor gets that a lot.
2:30 p.m. I return to my car to find a parking ticket – my first one of the year. Damn! A bite of lunch, and I fall in with a group of musicians associated with Mills College. From there it’s off to move my car and survey downtown on my own, again taking photos of shuttered banks. There are broken windows at the Chase Bank downtown, with reports of additional vandalism at the Whole Foods grocery by Lake Merritt.
5:00 p.m. I return to Oscar Grant Plaza to try and meet a friend when I notice the march to the port is moving out. People walk briskly, excitedly, and despite my best efforts I can’t catch up to the beginning of the procession stretching many blocks in front of and behind me. We wind through industrial West Oakland with minimal police presence.
6:00 p.m. The final approach to the Port of Oakland (the fifth-largest port in the US) is by way of an overpass that sweeps gracefully over once-bustling trainyards. The top of this overpass affords a stunning vista with the iconic cranes to the west, a maze of train tracks to the north, and Oakland’s office buildings to the east. Sunset yields a golden light with its own rich photo ops. Then darkness finds most of the crowd on the move again, back to Oscar Grant Plaza, BART, or homes and family. After a final visit to OGP I see broken windows and anarchist graffiti at the Wells Fargo Bank, then return home to write and work on photos. Arriving home I read that a frustrated driver ran into two marchers in downtown Oakland, sending both to the hospital and then being allowed to go home himself after filing a report with the OPD.
2:07 a.m. As I am finishing up this post I get a call from Cherie. Police have moved into downtown and tear gas is being used at 16th and Telegraph. My heart sinks into my stomach, and yet somehow I find the energy to drive back downtown to see what is going on. Many streets are blocked off by lines of police. At 16th and Telegraph there are three dumpsters turned over in the middle of the intersection, contents spilled and a burnt trash smell. I hear that the camp is surrounded, with no one getting in or out. Walking seven blocks around the perimeter of the police-occupied area I find this is not true.
14th street is open, and there is lots of graffiti with anarchy A’s that was not there this afternoon. Windows are broken, including the Tully’s coffeeshop at 14th and Broadway which overlooks Oscar Grant Plaza. A double line of police spans the broad intersection of 15th and Broadway. Asking around, I learn from an eyewitness that “anarchist kids” had set the dumpster fires using M-80s or road flares, and that a fire was also set around an abandoned building that had been occupied. One young man named Chris had been tear gassed earlier, and was concerned about his friend who had been missing since then. I gave him the NLG hotline number, wished him luck, and returned home to write.
5 a.m. Bedtime for citizen journalists.
The presence of violence and a destructive element in our midst is deeply troubling. And I am really saddened that such a powerful, peaceful and successful strike involving so many has been stained by the anger of a few. These actions present a new challenge for a movement which is committed to non-violence. Just yesterday I wrote this: When the police turn violent, the Occupation thrives. But if Occupy turns violent (or is perceived as being violent) that will be the one thing that will bring it down. The vandalism is not widespread – just broken glass and spray paint as far as I know now – and it should be cleaned up in a couple of days. But it will now be a long struggle for the movement to effectively distance itself from a violent minority, and somehow deal with similar incidents in the future.
The phrase on everyone’s lips after the strike is “what next?” Well, what do YOU want to happen next? Get down to the Oakland GA (7 p.m. every night in Oscar Grant Plaza) and make a proposal. I can’t be at the GA on Thursday, but I know there will be a lot to talk about.
On Thursday Nov. 3 5:30 P.M. (today!) a City Council special meeting will address the police actions of 10/25/11. Council chambers of Oakland city hall.
On Wednesday, I returned home to San Francisco around 9PM and was greeted by the sounds of helicopters overhead. I went outside to the patio and saw a helicopter flying closer to CatSynth HQ and lower to the ground than I had ever seen. We had all seen what had happened across the bay in Oakland the day before, with tragic results. Twitter was alight with concerns and rumors that a raid of #OccupySF was possible, and the official protest feed exhorted followers to “come join us”. So I did.
There was a fairly large crowd when I arrived at Justin Herman Plaza, and a rather festive atmosphere. In the center of the plaza, north of the camp, there was a large circular procession like a picket line. A small brass and drum band was playing a funky riff. Indeed with the bass line, pentatonic scale and four-on-the-floor rhythm it had a bit of an old disco feel! You can hear a bit in this video:
The sound from the iPhone recording was not that great, so the lower brass instruments are a bit soft. But there was a bass line, and the bass line is key to the disco/funk feel (something I suspect most Tea Party rallies lack).
However, underneath the party-like veneer it was a bit tense. The nearby BART station was shutdown (as were the stations in downtown Oakland), and reports were flying over Twitter of various groups of police massing, most notably in the Potrero Hill area where they were seen to be boarding MUNI busses. This led to all sorts of jokes about the fact that if they were riding MUNI they would probably never make it here. But jokes aside, organizers and participants took the threat of a raid quite seriously. We had frequent drills for those who were going to hold the camp (and thus risk arrest), and those who were going to form a more diffuse perimeter. There were advisories on what to do in the event of tear gas being used. It involved vinegar. It did not sound pleasant at all.
Hours went by, alternating between the festive party-like scene, the drills, and an open mic. No sign of any police activity – a fire truck with horns blaring did pull up near the camp, but that was it. Still, conflicting reports and rumors continued to circulate. There was even talk that people from #OccupyOakland who wanted to come across the bay to support us would attempt to cross the Bay Bridge, which is a busy freeway even at night and has no pedestrian sidewalks of any sort. (It was amusing to follow that from the point of view an anthropomorphized @SFBayBridge). This of course did not actually happen, though a small number of people from Oakland were able to come across by using alternate BART stations or other means and did speak to the assembled crowd, including accounts of what had happened on Tuesday and what people in Oakland were doing that evening, and a moving account of what happened to Scott Olsen.
Several political figures from the city were on hand as well, including several members of the Board of Supervisors (our city council equivalent) and a few mayoral candidates. Current Mayer Ed Lee was not present. However, my own Supervisor, Jane Kim, whose district covers my neighborhood as well as the plaza itself was present – I had actually run into her and (almost literally) earlier in the evening but not recognized her at first. At first, the officials started speaking so a small crowd of media people around 2AM, but after a back and forth with protest representatives, they came to speak to us, using the official “mic check” and call-and-response system:
[video by josborn25 on YouTube.]
There was one really annoying heckler, even though he seemed to be echoing the immediate and long-term concerns of many in the Occupy Wall Street movement, he was not respecting the mic system, the speakers or the audience, and its not clear to me if we was really an agitator rather than an overly enthusiastic supporter. For example, he was demanding portable bathrooms, even though the city had already provided several that were present and available at the time.
In some ways it was a lonely experience. I did not really have any close friends there. But I did feel connected to a community online on Twitter, with people I know across the bay in Oakland who sent and solicited updates, and with readers beyond who let me know they supported my being there.
I ended up departing around 3AM. It felt like a raid was not likely. And I was happy to see the next morning that it did not happen. It’s not clear if there was a raid in the works that was called off or if it was never really planned. It will also be interesting to see how the movement and the events this week and next week play into local politics (we do have a mayoral election coming up in less than two weeks).
Last week I returned to #OccupySF, specifically to hear Robert Reich, former Labor Secretary and current U.C. Berkeley Professor.
It was a somewhat cold and windy afternoon, not unusual for San Francisco, but there was a decently sized crowd for a weekday afternoon. I did attempt to video part of the speech on my iPhone. It came out terribly. But fortunately pixplz on Twitter made a full-length and high-quality recording of the “teach in”. I recommend checking it out.
I have listened to many of his commentaries on radio and read his editorial pieces, and usually find him to sound quite reasonable. Indeed, I have been curious why we was not invited to be part of the economic team in 2009 to address our crisis. He was quite detailed in responding to some of the more articulate questions, and very patient with the “other” questions. There is always going to be some of both.
#OccupySF, our local incarnation of the increasingly global Occupy Wall Street movement, has had its ups and downs. I first visited the camp, located in front of the San Francisco Federal Reserve Building at 101 Market Street, a little over a week ago, a few days after a major confrontation with SFPD on October 6.
At that particular moment, the camp and protests were quite small, mostly situated on the sidewalk in front of 101 Market. The Federal Reserve Building itself was blocked off with large fences, and eerily quiet.
There was a large police presence at the front of the gate, but things were quite peaceful and orderly, and seemingly cordial. Inside the camp itself, a relatively relaxed but serious atmosphere also prevailed. But there was a friendly and welcoming atmosphere, and certainly a lot of humor in the protest signs that participants were creating and holding up towards Market Street. This one was by far my favorite:
But I did also like this one with its Sci-Fi mixed metaphors:
I did take a turn at standing in protest with the other participants, holding up a couple of different signs, and enjoying the support from the MUNI operators of streetcars and busses that came by and honked/chimed in support. I also got a chance to participate in the now well-known technique of call-and-response that was used for conveying information and having discussions. Basically, each phrase of a speaker is echoed by the others assembled. It is efficient to amplify words and meaning without using megaphones or electrical equipment, but it also gives the communication a musical quality.
There was also the juxtaposition of the Blue Angels flying around the buildings of the city during Fleet Week. I always find the presence of loud airplanes among downtown buildings extremely disconcerting, but set against the protests it became rather surreal.
Since my visit, the encampment has grown and moved to nearby Justin Herman Plaza (home of the Vaillancourt Fountain of which I am quite fond). There was a large march through the Financial District (which I wished I had been able to attend), and a larger rally this weekend ended at Civic Center Plaza. However, in addition to these positive developments, there was also a raid on the camp late this past Sunday night. I was not there myself, but you can see a bit of what happened in this video by Josh Wolf:
Since then, my own city representative has visited the camp in support. And a march and rally at City Hall occurred today in support of #OccupySF’s right to assemble and protest. This is one of the days my work takes me out of the city, and I don’t yet know how things turned out…