PEACEFUL MOVEMENT, VIOLENT GOVERNMENT
Across the country this autumn, people have taken to the streets to celebrate and reinvigorate the Occupy movement by hosting parties and communal meals to call attention to the increasing economic class disparities and the overwhelming number of Americans in poverty. In San Francisco, our last entrenched protesters were arrested and their properly seized. Located at a small campsite in front of the Federal Reserve at 101 Market Street, the campsite had existed for nearly a year since the first Occupy San Francisco actions happened. The police dismantled the camp and arrested 45 protesters, charging them with “illegal lodging,” according to the SF Examiner. Many of those taken to jail were homeless and using the campsite as both a place for expression and a safe place to stay.
Mayor Edwin Lee assured the City that the site was to be maintained as an ongoing expression of free speech. Now, however, he renounces that position and plans to keep the downtown portion of Market Street clear of any areas where homeless people may be camping. The “sit/lie” ordinance is the Mayor’s primary vehicle of enforcement. It aggressively removes protesters, even though the law allows exemptions for protests. Occupy SF asserts that there are strong political, legal, and social precedents supporting the continued existence of the campsite in front of the Federal Reserve. Mayor Lee and SFPD disagree, citing the campsite as illegal. The fact that many of the individuals living at the encampment were homeless is an obvious reason the campsite was raided. Dismantling informal housing sites constructed by individuals with no other means of shelter is a disturbing trend that is becoming standard policy in San Francisco..
The City is engaged with another encampment in the South of Market area where many homeless people have been living for years. The residents of the camp at 5th and King, now regularly targeted by Caltrans and the City for “clean up”, have no social or political agenda. They are not activists or crusaders. Indeed the camp was created for the sole purpose of housing. The City makes clear its unwritten policy that homeless and low-income people can only live in designated neighborhoods in San Francisco. They have to live where they’re told to live or face forced removal and the loss of their personal property
Several weeks before 101 Market was raided, a large group of supporters celebrated the one-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street’s inception. The day started with a rally in the Castro protesting Sterling Bank’s foreclosures in the Bay Area. Afterwards, they marched down Market to the financial district. Performances, speeches, and chants echoed throughout the narrow streets. Most messaging was directed at the inequities inherent in a capitalist economy and the favoritism given to the big banks and other financial institutions and wealthy corporations that occupy most of the surrounding high rises. There were no altercations with SFPD and the atmosphere of festivity was maintained with a large free, communal meal provided to the participants. To finish the night, participants who chose to, viewed a movie documenting the history of the Occupy movement, both the exuberant and the turbulent.
The Occupy movement started on September 17th in New York City when a large group of protesters decided to entrench themselves Zuccotti Park in the heart of Wall Street . This spontaneous expression of disgust for the cronyism and illegal activities dominating the financial sector sparked a worldwide phenomenon. People gathered to protest here in the United States and abroad, Not surprisingly, governments generally responded to peaceful protests with force and blatant disregard for the rights of the protesters, Occupy Oakland, a site of major violent collisions of protesters and police forces, also celebrated their one-year occupation of Oscar Grant Plaza this past week with another free meal for activists and sympathizers alike; another opportunity to shine the spotlight on the fundamental flaws in the American economic system. As they have been all along, this too was a peaceful gathering.