Yesterday, I attended and participated in the #OccupySF protests (also: www.OccupySF.com and @OccupySF,) one of the many that has branched off from the #OccupyWallStreet movement. I brought my camera with me and decided to start documenting my time there, this my second day. I spoke with many people that did the same thing I did, show up once to “check it out,” choosing to participate more having had a feel for what was happening. I think it is important that everyone show up at least once in their respective cities. Check it out. Talk with people. Put down your mobile device for an hour and get to know fellow citizens. These are your neighbors, strangers on the train, all experiencing the same emotions and thoughts much of the country has about the current economic and political environment. The OCCUPY protests are a great way to experience, in old-school person-to-person observation, who we are as a country. My guess is that you, too, will join the movement after experiencing what I have.
October 7th was also the tenth-anniversary of the War in Afghanistan, and a march and die-in was planned for the day, sponsored in-part by Answer Coalition. The marching protesters had organized to, at a specific moment, “die” on the street, laying down en masse, a symbolic action representing the ever-growing death count caused by our occupations in the Middle East. The San Francisco Police Department provided escort and kept the crowd to one side of the street. As is the case with every protest in our city, MUNI buses ended up bottlenecked and parked, much of the street system disabled on our tip of the peninsula. Eventually the march reached the centralized #OccupySF group and the protest continued in unison.
The overall mood of the day never reached a moment of tense or violent crescendo as we have seen at other times or in other cities. Riot police were present, shielded helmets and large batons in hand, plastic zip-tie handcuffs hanging like garland from their holsters. But, there were few of them at the scene (throughout the downtown area there were many pockets of waiting police force in groupings of marked and unmarked cars,) and they left, without incident.
The occupation is primarily headquartered in front of the San Francisco Federal Reserve Building at 101 Market Street (for those wishing to attend from out of the area, this is located directly above the Embarcadero underground MUNI/BART stop, at street level.) The police department has chained barriers to the supporting piers of the front entrance canopy, creating a large 40ft deep, 200ft wide buffer zone between the sidewalk and the Fed. At any given time, 10 to 40 police officers are standing around, some providing color (often stereotyped or crass) commentary to the happenings of the audience. Of course, their ignorant, elitist behavior just demonstrates how the problems #OccupySF are addressing have infiltrated their way into the halls of public service.
There was much protesting. Sidewalk chalk writings would be placed down, walked over, erased as such and then recreated. One girl began to chalk around the feet of standing police until she was reprimanded. Many sign-holders flanking both sides of Market Street cajoled passers-by to “HONK IF YOU’RE THE 99%.” Truckers, delivery vans, and an assortment of private vehicles from shitbox Hondas to motorcyclists all slowed down and laid down the noise. MUNI buses were especially fervent as were antique trolley operators, loudly ringing their warning bells for a two-block stretch without pause.
Protestors are angry, fed-up, expressing sentiments of long-building fear and frustration. They are tired, of fighting the big machine, of losing more of what they have created. Yes, there are many burnt-out participants that the mainstream media like to focus on and show off. They are your usual selection of transients and drifters, but I can’t think of anywhere else where these citizens are more needed, representing themselves. The disparity between lobbied interests like corporate bailouts and defense spending, and the declining line-items of education, social services for the vulnerable class, and veterans’ care has grown too wide. Transients, drifters and the average working-class family are all feeling the effects of this imbalance with reduced qualities-of-life and constant struggle to hold on to their remaining strands of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.
More importantly, the #OccupySF protest is assembled from all walks of life: every race, every age, suits-and-tie to patchwork skirts are here, next to each other, protesting the heavy-handed, gilded fist of control that has seen its day in the sun, now being demanded, mandated to release its grip. The one thing that is clear about #OccupySF is that nobody in the 99% is going anywhere. We will not be led into the dark corners where the wealthy wish to sequester us.
We no longer have time for hope. Now, we are the change.