There are homeless people and mental problems at Occupy encampments? No duh, that's the point.
The SF Examiner reporter that embedded at the Occupy SF camp just brought back a titillating story of pants-off rowdies, pot smoking, and screaming. This is how it starts (I swear):
The third major fight at the Occupy SF encampment was supposed to be the last of it Monday night after about 100 protesters banished “Jimmy the Instigator.”
Most protesters believed he was responsible for about half the brawls that broke out there in recent days. Once he was gone, tensions eased, and a heartwarming singalong forecast a peaceful night.
Then Nick took off his pants, the drugs and alcohol took their toll and the violence returned.
Examiner staff writer Mike Aldax spent 24 hours at the encampment undercover. He didn't tell anyone he was a reporter or his real name, which I can tell you is A) arguably unethical as a journalist in a situation that doesn't explicitly call for it and B) a great way to ensure that you don't have any honest conversations with any of the people you're reporting on.
It's fine if you're just there to find ways to belittle protesters though! Like this gem:
The east side now resembles a scene from “Pirates of the Caribbean.” Drunk people are fighting and yelling incessantly as someone sings a folk song in a low, bluesy voice.
I mean, that verbal imagery is hilarious but then, making fun of addicts is kind of like shooting fish in the bucket. Ahem, homeless fish that have run into all the injustices and inequities in life that the Occupy movement has sprung up in reaction to.
Aldax differentiates the troublemakers from “responsible protesters” and tells tales of people with mental illness, not to mention someone who asks him for money, hugs him, and asks him for more, and of course, an incident in which he is told to turn his camera off. Of course, he's undercover so the person that asks him to do so calls him by his psuedonym, which is Mickey (which I consider a fake name with flair, btw, begrudging props).
I was also at the encampment the other day interviewing occupiers to get a deeper understanding of the society that's sprung up in Justin Herman Plaza. Only I told the occupiers my real name. Even though I am a member of the media, I am of the belief that even if you are homeless you still merit the basic standards of human interaction.
A photographer and I were at the Occupy SF info table when Nate Paluga (by the way Examiner, the occupiers have last names), came up and pointed to a cardboard sign that read “equality and justice” amid the brochures and fliers. “I did that,” he told me. “I'm kind of the camp philosopher. This movement means something different to different people, but I haven't found anyone that disagrees with those being some core values.”
It turned out he was a bike mechanic who left his apartment in Nob Hill to come live at the camp. He also was one of the camp peacekeepers, and knew a fair amount about the “addicts, opportunists, and people suffering from mental illness” profiled in the Examiner post.
Here's the thing, Paluga told me – there's a reason why people are like that.
“They're coming from places where there wasn't a lot of equality and justice and they're bringing that with them. You gotta step in and tell them 'you're gonna be okay.'”
That's the role he fills on camp, but he says that kind of intervention also serves to reinforce the camp's core values.
At Occupy SF, there's a 70-year-old woman who is nuts. She screams a lot, occupiers told me. But she's also a barometer for them: when people freak out on her, the craziest one there, others know that that person needs to be spoken with, and reminded of why OccupySF is there in the first place. Because we're all crazy in our own way. There's homeless people with mental problems at Occupy because there are homeless people with mental problems everywhere -- it's just that at the Occupy encampments they're not precluded from being heard because of it.
Paluga wasn't denying that disruptions or evictions happen at Occupy – but also he was acknowledging that the movement has the responsibility to deal with trodden-upon people in a different way than the castigation techniques of our legal and social system. “You'll see it,” Paluga told me. “People will step in.”
This line kills me in the Examiner article. In it, Aldax considers the failure of Occupy if the "good" and "bad" protesters are forced to co-exist:
As long as these two communities live side by side, it’s hard to see how the movement’s message will ever transcend the storyline being scripted by the troublemakers.
But what about the storyline being scripted by the mass media?