How OccupySF thwarted a police raid

Protesters gather at Justin Herman Plaza. Photo by Yael Chanoff

More than 1,000 people amassed at the OccupySF camp last night based on word that police would be raiding the camp. At 4:30 am, there were still 500 gathered in Justin Herman Plaza when OccupySF organizer Ryan Andreola finally announced: “We just got a report from an official police statement that the raid has been called off because there were not enough police for the number of people here,” as the crowd erupted in applause.

It was the end of what was for many protesters a long -- and remarkably successful -- day. Word began circulating of possible police altercation at 6 a.m. October 26, when police passed through the encampment handing out notices titled “You are subject to arrest,” which claimed that the protest was in violation of several city and state laws and had become a public health hazard.

On Oct 19, city officials had communicated to OccupySF that they would provide portable toilets, but a week later had not followed through; to deal immediately with public health concerns, protesters acquired them on their own.

Around 8:00, having received various tips and seen a document warning nearby businesses of police activity that night, OccupySF put out a call for supporters, saying police raid was confirmed. Justin Herman Plaza officially closes at 10 p.m., so protesters mobilized to be ready for an attack then.
At 9:00, hundreds of people were at the encampment and were meeting about tactics in case the raid occurred. For the next several hours, as hundreds more continued to pour into camp, supporters practiced formations to defend the camp and separate those who were willing to risk arrest from those who weren’t.

At 9:30, photos began circulating social media of scores of police in riot gear waiting with six muni buses near the police operations building in Potrero Hill. Many feared that they were gearing up to descend on Justin Herman Plaza.

Different groups, including a group of clergy, SF Labor Council representatives, a meditation circle and groups practicing blockade formations met throughout the camp. Drum circles continuously pounded, and the Brass Liberation Orchestra jammed throughout the night.

Nurses and medic volunteers distributed materials to protect from and relieve the effects of tear gas, and National Lawyers Guild volunteers scoured the camp making sure protesters had their legal hotline phone number. Talk of the violence and mass arrests at Occupy Oakland that had happened the past few days permeated the group.

The BART stations closest to the OccupySF and Oakland camps were closed last night due to “civil disturbance,” but many supporters still crossed the Bay to swell the OccupySF ranks.

At 10:00, between 500 and 600 people had gathered at the camp. Protesters danced to the constant music and chanted political cries to the beat: “This system has got to die, hella hella occupy!”

Others waited in defense formation around the camp. After spotting Supervisor John Avalos, many began imploring him to sit down in the ranks, which he did.

As the night went on, sightings of police with buses continued. Some protesters joked, “the police are on the way, but they’re taking Muni so it will be a few hours.”

At 12:40, though much of the camp’s kitchen supplies and food had been moved offsite, protesters continued to serve free food. A young man serving up salad and bread gestured to several cases of food, saying “this has all been donated within the last hour.”

At 1 a.m., the group had reached its peak numbers. All sides of Justin Herman Plaza were blocked by masses of people, who also spilled out into the street on Steuart and Market, attracting virtually all passers-by into the crowd. Organizers urged supporters to stay prepared, but as one woman emphasized on a bullhorn “Remember, 99 percent means we are all individuals. It’s your choice how you respond.”

At 1:30, an impromptu speak-out began as protesters, amplified by the Peoples Mic, explained who they were and why they were there that night. Ten minutes later the group decided to allow a makeshift press conference, giving a formal space for five city officials present to speak.

Supervisors John Avalos, Jane Kim, David Campos, David Chiu and Eric Mar, along with state Senator Leland Yee, professed their support for OccupySF and commitment to protecting it from raids. The group was met with mixed responses. Many cheered their support, and one woman said, “I’m from Oakland and I wish Oakland supervisors had done what San Francisco supervisors have done tonight.” Others were less receptive, crying “I don’t trust you!” and “remember, these are the same supervisors that helped pass sit-lie!”

After the politicians finished speaking at 2:00, many supporters left the camp. One man declared, “I’m glad they came, but they do not represent us.”
About 30 minutes later, new reports were coming in that police were massing at Treasure Island. Protesters surveyed their drastically reduced numbers, and voted on what new formations to practice. As the group discussed, drummers punctuated each point, keeping energy high.

Protesters organized new strategies, but by 3:38 there was still no sign of cops. Representatives of labor organizations began a spontaneous rally, speaking to why they supported OccupySF. Mentions of Occupy Oakland’s vote to call for a general strike on Wednesday November 2 circulated, and one labor rep recalled the 1934 general strike.

At 4 a.m., hundreds were still awake and prepared in the camp. Said protester Robert Duddy, “I’m tired. I stayed up last night until 5:30 after getting the notice that we might be evicted. I think they’re trying to wait us out and have our numbers dwindle.” Duddy added that he did not expect the police to show up that night.

Won-Yin Tang wasn’t convinced. “I won’t feel [that we’ve won] until 7 a.m. when they’re not waiting in riot gear anymore. We have to stay focused. When everyone leaves, that’s when they’ll come.”

At 4:30, the long-awaited announcement of victory came. The crowd cheered, and many headed to nearby Muni stations, now open for the morning. Said protester Sam Miller, waiting exhausted in Embarcadero Station, “Tonight was a great triumph of the human sprit. It was the middle class showing we can’t be beaten down anymore. We’re not the zombies that they think we are.”

Protester Sean Semans also celebrated. Said Semans, “We won tonight. Now we just have to sure, if we need to, we can do the same thing tomorrow.”
Staying up until 5 a.m. on weeknights is no easy call to action. But it seems thousands throughout the Bay Area are willing to step up to the plate.

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