With its general assemblies, People's Mic, and chants of 'We are the 99 percent,' OccupySF gains momentum despite a police crackdown
Many participants are determined to stay put. Jreds, a protester who had come from Chico, looked me in the eye and promised, "I'm staying as long as it takes."
When asked his occupation, Jreds replied, "This is our occupation."
After years of foreclosures and unemployment, no wonder so many people are motivated and available to work and sleep at a place like this. Wall Street's unmitigated power has failed to trickle down into economic opportunities for the rest of us, and in this economy, "why don't you just get a job" is starting to sound like "let them eat cake."
As John Reimann, 65, a retired carpenter from Oakland, put it, "I've been waiting 10 years for something like this." He helped start Occupy Oakland last week.
Protester Chris L, who says the community at the camp is the best part about it, also plans to stay indefinitely. Billy Gene Hobbs, a promoter from LA who can often be seen jumping and shouting to keep protest crowds pumped, came to visit San Francisco two weeks ago, found the camp, and hasn't left. Since the police came through, almost 100 more people have joined.
The camp's population is a source of ongoing discussion. Complaints of "too many hippies" usually die quickly when someone actually comes to camp, where the people they're referring to are not the only ones and, moreover, are active and responsible organizers.
Others object that the protest is populated mostly with young people, especially white and male. There is active discussion on how to accommodate people with children as well as people with disabilities.
It seems everyone — including the many people of color, folks of all ages, and disabled people who have been organizers and participants in the movement — shares the view that oppressive institutions work hand in hand with the corporate corruption and power that the movement strives to end.
THE PEOPLE'S MIC
Camp life is dotted with calls for the People's Mic, a tool developed at Occupy Wall Street, where using bullhorn or speakers is illegal. When someone yells "Mic check!" the crowd echoes in response. The person speaks his piece, sentence by sentence, as the crowd repeats. If a few people nearby can hear him, everyone can. For better or for worse, it tends not to amplify ideas people don't have much taste for; at a recent meeting, when someone insisted that people who had been foreclosed on were greedy and foolish, the People's Mic's volume faded fast.
The People's Mic requires no electricity, discourages rambling, a brilliant improvisation. But the central feature of Occupations throughout the country is the General Assembly. OccupySF has been holding General Assemblies every day at camp at 6 p.m. and on Saturdays at noon in Union Square. In the past week they have consistently boasted a couple hundred participants daily, but continue to practice consensus-based decision-making and participatory democracy. They're long and often frustrating, but for many, as a standard rallying cry insists, "This is what democracy looks like!"
Many have stepped up at meetings to say that too many men, too many white people, or simply too many of the same voices are being heard. Solidarity efforts like Occupy the Hood, which declares the vital need that people of color make decisions and organize in and along with the occupations, have surfaced nationally.
On Oct. 5, after about 700 people marched on the Financial District with OccupySF, the General Assembly was particularly well attended. It was peppered with invitations and expressions of solidarity, conveyed by representatives of groups from throughout the Bay Area.
The week's schedule slowly filled: Thursday's anti-war march, the next day's teach-in with activist Miguel Robles, a 7 am "Wake Up Action" with Unite-HERE Local 2 on Oct. 10, and plans to coordinate with the LGBT rights group Get Equal for a National Coming Out Day action the next day.