With its general assemblies, People's Mic, and chants of 'We are the 99 percent,' OccupySF gains momentum despite a police crackdown
Carolyn DeRoo, a brightly charismatic BART station agent, reveled in the whoops and cheers when she announced that Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, the union that represents BART workers, had just voted to endorse Occupy SF. "I got an hour off work today so I could be in the march," said DeRoo.
She expressed concern over the lack of coherent messaging, hoping it wouldn't hurt the movement. "I was about to get on a plane to New York because of how badly I wanted to be a part of it," she said. "I'm so glad it has started in SF."
THE COPS ARRIVE
But on that fateful night, Oct. 5, meeting ideals were strained. High-tension and often angry debate filled the hours between being warned of police action and its onset, making consensus difficult. Some wanted to take down the camp, unable to risk arrest. There were campers from all walks of life present, including some homeless folks and travelers who would risk losing all or most of their possessions if the police confiscated them. Others didn't want to see the camp's growth stunted due to police intimidation.
Dierdre Anglin, 40, an Oakland resident who works in the nonprofit sector, was particularly calm amongst the chaos. "I think the energy got a little high," she said, as protesters ran around taking down tents and preparing for the imminent police confrontation. "But we have decided to take the stance and to stay here."
She added, "I personally feel that they are not going to do anything because it would make the police look quite bad. There's a lot of support for us." Anglin's prediction about the cops' actions, if not their public relations consequences, was mistaken. Police marched in around 1 am, and Department of Public Works employees began to fill their trucks with camp materials.
Billy Gene, ever energetic, raced to lie down on the street in front of trucks and was dragged away, yelling "Don't be mean!" at police. Many sat and stood in front of trucks. Others could be seen shaking their heads at colleagues' verbal attacks and murmuring, "that isn't nonviolent."
There was no property damage or physical violence on the part of the protesters, although one man was arrested for allegedly punching an officer in the face, which both sides cast as an aberration that didn't reflect the tenor of the standoff.
At 3 am, protesters surveyed the damage. An organizer addressed the group: "We're still here, and it's time to rebuild." The camp received a donation of blankets and sleeping bags at four o'clock that morning. At five, a small jam session and dance party broke out.
Police have since provided information on how to retrieve confiscated materials, and Police Chief Greg Suhr told us they've been actively trying to facilitate getting people their stuff back and allowing the occupation to continue (see accompanying article for more from Suhr).
In the days since, the mood has again turned jubilant. On Thursday afternoon, Oct. 6, about 120 people were gathered at the camp. Signs ranged from "student loan debt is slavery" to "grannies against war." The next night, the mass of people had increased, and with it the group's creativity. Protesters could be seen pedaling a stationary bike connected to a battery, powering laptops.
As the sun set Friday, 300 people at camp looked west. They erupted in cheers as a 500-person anti-war demonstration marched onto the site. Market between Main and Embarcadero was shut down as protesters rallied and then held General Assembly. A dozen police lined up near the sidewalk; one told me they were separating OccupySF from the march. The next second, the "march" erupted in chants of "We are the 99 percent," the Occupy movement's signature rallying cry. Attempts to divide were futile.