OccupySF appeals to City Hall, but the standoff continues

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Frustrated by repeated late-night police raids on their encampments and empty statements of support by top city officials, hundreds of protesters with OccupySF entered City Hall today – under the watchful eyes of a large police presence with riot gear at the ready – to testify at today’s Board of Supervisors meeting.

The meeting began with the scripted monthly question time session with Mayor Ed Lee, who was asked by Sup. Jane Kim – whose District 6 includes the OccupySF encampment, which she visited for a couple hours last night – to “describe the plan that our offices have been developing” to facilitate the OccupySF movement.

But in Lee’s response and in exchanges with journalists after the meeting, as well as Guardian interviews with people in both offices, it doesn’t seem city officials have a coherent plan for carrying out Lee’s contradictory goals of supporting the Occupy movement and keeping sidewalks and parks clear of encampments.

Kim seemed to acknowledge as much later in the meeting when she said voiced support for OccupySF and for city officials who object to tents, kitchens, and other basic infrastructure that the month-old movement needs to continue. “We’re all struggling to figure out the best way to accommodate it,” she said.

Lee’s message was even more muddled, saying he supported the movement and agreed with its economic justice message. “From the very beginning, I have fully supported the spirit of the OccupySF movement,” Lee told the crowd, transitioning into reciting a litany of economic development efforts with little relevance to the demands of the movement.

“Then don’t send the police in to destroy it,” a protester shouted from the audience, which was filled to capacity and had a line out front and an overflow room. “We are working with you,” Lee responded, but then went on to complain about the lack of consistent contacts in the leaderless movement and emphasizing his bottom line that any kind of encampment with infrastructure is an impermissible violation of city codes.

“I need to make sure our public spaces are open to be used by anyone,” he said. Later, his Press Secretary Christine Falvey clarified the mayor’s stance by saying he supports the message but not the movement: “The tactic of camping overnight, he does not support.”  

Afterward, talking to reporters, Lee couldn’t really explain why the police needed to do their raids in the middle of the night, why San Francisco is cracking down on conditions that are being allowed in many other Occupy cities, or how the movement might be able to avoid future crackdowns if it continues, ignoring questions about where OccupySF might be able to go to avoid police raids.

Sup. John Avalos, who has been working to try to mediate the dispute between OccupySF and the city, responded to Lee’s speech by calling it “very frustrating. I’m alarmed that he is moving toward nightly standoffs with the Occupy movement.” Avalos says he supports protesters’ right to peacefully occupy public spaces and acknowledges their need for basic supplies to do so, calling the current standoff, “unsafe for both sides.”

“I’m proud to say that we are the 99 percent,” Sup. Eric Mar said, echoing the movement’s mantra and saying he would defer to Avalos’ leadership to create a “resolution strongly holding the police accountable for the crackdowns.”

Avalos had invited OccupySF participants to raise their concerns during the public comment portion of the meeting, and he said that he plans to use their input to form a resolution or plan for how the city should accommodate a movement that six of the 11 supervisors professed to support at the meeting.

When the long line of OccupySF protesters finally took to the microphone for public comment, they made it clear that the issue wasn’t as complicated as some city officials were trying to make it.
“It is outrageous and inhumane to see our camp raided in the middle of the night by San Francisco Police,” Magic, a middle-aged woman and lifelong activist, told the supervisors, closing with, “This can be a celebration or a battle, but we will not back down.”

Several speakers were dismissive of city claims to be protecting public health and safety, noting how dangerous the midnight confrontations have been, saying food and shelter are basic human needs, and noting how peaceful and cooperative OccupySF has been with the escalating series of city demands as the protest’s numbers have grown.

Michael Goldman said police have asked them to return to the sidewalk in front of the Federal Reserve, where they are densely packed in what he called unsafe conditions. “We have too many people to fit in front of 101 Market,” he said.

That was what prompted the move to nearby Justin Herman Plaza, where police cracked down Sunday night, citing a violation of the park’s 10 pm curfew. Another protester who works at the Ferry Building angrily noted that even before OccupySF began, he regularly watched city crews chase the homeless away from the site at 3 am with water trucks.

“We are a peaceful and nonviolent people and we do not deserve to be treated this way by our city and our country,” he said.  

“They were waiting to be talked to and not just run over by the police,” said iconic San Francisco activist Father Louie Vitale, who gestured to the waiting protesters and said, “We’re very proud of these people, very proud.”

It was a point echoed by others like local resident Andy Blue, who said, “They are doing a great service to this city and the world.”

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