Superviors and labor leaders challenge Lee's OccupySF stance

Mayor Lee ducks out of an Oct. 27 press conference after reasserting his opposition to tents at OccupySF
Steven T. Jones

Mayor Ed Lee has put the city and its police force on a collision course with not only OccupySF, but also several members of the Board of Supervisors and top labor leaders who support the movement and want the city to allow its encampment to continue.

They spoke at a special hearing of the City Operations and Neighborhood Services Committee that was convened by Chair John Avalos this morning, supporting a resolution that Avalos created to allow OccupySF to have tents and other infrastructure that Lee opposes. The resolution – which is co-sponsored by Sups. Eric Mar, David Campos, and Jane Kim – was approved by the committee and is set to be considered by the full Board of Supervisors tomorrow (Tues/1).

“It is something I am wholeheartedly supporting because it is an expression of great frustration and concern about the economic system,” Avalos said. “We need to speak with a greater voice about changing our economic system so it works for the many and not just the few,” Avalos said, explaining why he is “wholeheartedly supporting” the OccupySF movement.

But Avalos said he's been frustrated that Lee and the police have raided the camp twice and are threatening more, something that Avalos has been trying to mediate since the first raid on Oct. 5. He also said the city should learn from Oakland that using the police force to stop the movement only makes it stronger.

“If we were to try to stop it from happening, it would just encourage more people to take part in it,” he said, noting that more midnight raids are dangerous for both police and protesters. “We have to figure out as a city how we're going to facilitate, encourage, and accommodate this movement.”

But instead, Avalos said Lee's stand against allowing tents or an kind of encampment, while claiming to support the message OccupySF, has created a tense standoff. “I've seen very mixed messages come out of this administration,” Avalos said, adding that nobody believes police statements that the massing of SFPD cops in riot gear on Oct. 26 was only a training exercise.

Mar said OccupySF deserves tremendous credit for holding the space and being responsive to the health and safety concerns raised by city officials. “I've seen a transformation in the movement in the last three weeks that is truly impressive,” Mar said. “I've also seen, during the General Assemblies, an incredible exercise in democracy.”

He also disputed accusations that the camps are dirty and that the movement is unfocused. “Don't believe the hype from the mainstream media but look at the messages coming out of this movement,” said Mar, who was wearing a “We are the 99 percent” sticker.

“We should allow OccupySF to do what they're doing,” Campos said. “It's good for San Francisco.”

Campos also called out Lee and Oakland Mayor Jean Quan for ordering violent raids on the peaceful encampment, disputing the idea that “somehow it's okay for us to spend the limited resources we have on these kinds of police actions...I hope we don't have Mayors Quan and Lee wasting resources that could be better spent elsewhere.”

During the public comment portion of the hearing, each of the more than two dozen speakers supported the resolution.

“What this resolution does is it calls on the other supervisors and the mayor to decide how they want to deal with OccupySF,” said Gus Feldman of SEIU Local 1021.

Representatives of several labor unions and the San Francisco Labor Council that have voted to endorse OccupySF spoke at the hearing, include Ken Tray with United Educators of San Francisco, who gave a rousing speech in support of the movement.

“The times have changed and the political landscape has shifted,” Tray said, ticking off a long list of reasons for supporting the movement, from San Francisco's long tradition of advocating for progressive change to the fact that “the schoolchildren of San Francisco are being denied resources because the 1 percent refuse to pay their fair share.”

Frank Martin del Campo of the SF Labor Council displayed the bruises on his arm inflicted by police during the raid on the Occupy Oakland, saying “this was an attempt to criminalize dissent...It represents the politicization of the police.”

Labor Council Executive Director Tim Paulson said, “I just want to be clear that we are the 99 percent....We want Occupy San Francisco to be there 24/7.” He and others say the Occupy movement is highlighting deep economic inequities that the labor movement has long been raising as well. “OccupySF has called the question on really important issues we've been struggling with for years,” said Gabriel Haaland of SEIU Local 1021

“Here is a peaceful protest being answered with violence,” said Pilar Schiavo of California Nurses Association, which has been supporting the occupations. This is an important political struggle, she said, and “It's time for the mayor to decide what side he's on.”

Many speakers focused their criticism on Lee, such as Brad Newsham, who said, “Any official who would send in the riot police to deal with this camp does not deserve to be mayor of San Francisco.” He said the city should set an example for the country by formally allowing the encampment to continue, and he turned to the young protesters in the room and said, “Hold your ground and we'll try to get your back.”

Sean Semans, an active member of OccupySF since the beginning, thanked Avalos and the other progressive supervisors for “saving us when nobody would,” and he expressed frustration with the Mayor's Office.

“The mayor still doesn't recognize us, he won't come down and see the work we're doing,” Semans said. “We can do all kinds of work when we're not fighting to protect our First Amendment rights.”

He was part of an OccupySF delegation that met with Lee last week, and Semans said the mayor offered to help get the protesters rooms in SRO hotels or meals from local soup kitchens, showing that he has a fundamental misunderstanding about what this occupation is about.

As Semans said, “It shows what we're dealing with here.”