At 11 a.m., dozens gathered in front of the residence where 75-year-old Josephine Tolbert had lived for nearly 40 years. A day earlier, Tolbert had arrived home with three young grandchildren in tow to find her locks changed. Organizers say the evicted resident needs to access the house to retrieve food and medicine.
The crowd — which included neighbors, friends, and members of Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), Service Employees International Union (SEIU), OccupySF, and Occupy the Hood — demanded that Tolbert be let back in. According to Bayview resident and self-proclaimed "foreclosure fighter" Vivian Richardson, "They would not let her in to get food, diapers, or her diabetes medicine."
Tolbert had run a daycare business from her home for 20 years. One of her regular clients, a mother with two young children, arrived during the rally. She was surprised to find that Tolbert was locked out of her home and unable to care for her children that day.
"I want to get in my home so I can resume my business," Tolbert said. "That's my occupation there, I don't have any other way of caring for myself."
The group then headed to the offices of True Compass Loan Services, LLC, the new owners of Tolbert's home. About 20 supporters gathered at the Ocean Ave office, where ACCE organizer Grace Martinez singled out True Compass owner Ashok Gujral, who owns a $2.75 million home and multiple restaurants, according to a press release from a group calling itself the Foreclosure Fighters.
"The man is worth $10 million, and he has a bunch of limited liability companies," said Martinez. "Everyone has been shocked at how this man could do this, he knows she is a senior."
According to Martinez, Gujral personally refused to let Tolbert into her home Nov. 30. He and others from the company "don't want her in there because they say she'll refuse to leave," Martinez added. Calls to Gujral's office were referred to attorney Jak Marques, who did not return Guardian requests for comment.
A True Compass representative informed protesters "there's no one here to talk to you," then swiftly shut the door. But when a few protesters went around through a side entrance and let everyone else in, the group took their protest to the hallway inside.
They remained there for almost an hour, chanting, pounding rhythmically on the walls, and flooding the office on the other side of a locked door with phone calls, demanding Tolbert be allowed to return to her home to retrieve her medicine and belongings.
Five police officers arrived almost immediately as protesters entered company offices. One explained to the protesters that if they didn't leave, they would face arrest for trespassing. A heated but measured back-and-forth ensued, in which protesters insisted that if Tolbert was his mother, the officer would feel differently. The officer, Lieutenant C. Johnson, responded, "If it was my mother — I don't know. I have a house for my mother. But I feel for Josephine, and for the millions of other Americans in the same situation."
Martinez quieted groans from protesters, replying, "You're part of the 99 percent, and we're not going to shoot the messenger."
Organizers conferred and decided to leave the building voluntarily. Sergeant R. Young, who was also at the scene, told the Guardian, "It's heartbreaking to do this. Their freedom of speech is a constitutional right that we take a sworn oath to protect."
THE SEEDS OF A NEW AMERICA?
Does the Occupy movement signify a new beginning for America? Is history repeating itself? Is violence inevitable? These were some of the big questions pondered by a handful of prominent Bay Area writers, thinkers, artists, and activists Dec. 1 during a panel discussion organized by Salon.com.