There are homeless people and mental problems at Occupy encampments? No duh, that's the point.

What face is the mass media trying to put on Occupy?

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?


Please sign petition to free Francisco “Pancho” Ramos Stierle. Pancho was arrested while peacefully meditating at Oscar Grant Plaza during the raid on Nov. 14 (his photo went viral on Twitter/ FB, etc.). Oakland PD plans to turn him over to ICE for immediate deportation. You can sign the petition here~

Posted by Lisa on Nov. 16, 2011 @ 2:22 pm

What people choose to focus on says a lot about who their perceptions (who they are). Thanks for writing this.

Posted by Lisa on Nov. 16, 2011 @ 7:12 pm

I am a great-grandmother as well as a housing and social justice activist. I have spent several hours at Occupy SF. I have been there from midnight to 3 AM on one occasion. I mostly see young people, many who graduated college but cannot find a job and still live at home, or the 18 year old woman who ran out of college money after one semester, and is just hoping Starbucks will not think she is too unkempt to be given a job. I told her where to shower.

Sure, there are drugs, an sure there is alcohol, and sure there are troublemakers, (like the Examiner snitch for one!!!) - but this is a snapshot of America folks, whatever you find in any city, you will find here.

And there are many, many others of he 99% who support them but are not always there. Maybe they come occasionally to bring food. Maybe they pop 3 Walgreen's bags full of popcorn to bring down. I never saw anyone in my life so excited to get a block of government cheese that "I was raised on this stuff!" Before I could make one round around the camp, it was cut up into snack size cubes for snacks and devoured!

And the woman who brought gluten free cookies made with almond flour, and warned every person who took one not to if they had a nut allergy! And - please give her feedback on the taste!!

You can basically find whatever you are looking for - one person was looking for "nuts" to sensationalize, and another was warning about nut allergies.

Posted by GrannyGear on Nov. 16, 2011 @ 5:13 pm

Thank you for writing this.

Posted by Gabriel Haaland on Nov. 16, 2011 @ 5:33 pm


Posted by GrannyGear on Nov. 16, 2011 @ 9:59 pm

I have been Occupy SF for two weeks. Nobody tells me what to do, I just do it. Then they through me out for no reasons. What have i done but just work hard to let the man know what the truth is. I have diaria and I have to keep my bucket near me at all times i no it smells but i have to have it. i need oxy to help me threw my day so what if i dont have perscriptions i need it. why the goverment doesn't give what i need so i have to take it mostly from women and the elderly. this has got to end. i need what i need when i need it, not when some fashist tells me i can have it.

Posted by Johnny Thunder on Nov. 16, 2011 @ 6:29 pm

I really do!

Posted by marke on Nov. 16, 2011 @ 8:46 pm

Boater: "Crap! We're 30 miles from shore and there's a huge hole in the boat!"

SFBG: "Well duh! It reminds us of how badly we all need good boats without holes!"

Posted by Juan Eduardo on Nov. 16, 2011 @ 9:33 pm

Good work Caitlan, thank you.
PS. Your 'What the Dickens' post suddenly appeared earlier, enjoyable, but seems to have vanished, nothing comes up when 'searching'. ??

Posted by Patrick Monk. RN on Nov. 16, 2011 @ 10:43 pm

negative comments. That one is a prime example.

Posted by guest on Nov. 16, 2011 @ 11:04 pm

it's right here?

Posted by marke on Nov. 17, 2011 @ 8:15 am

Love those crazies!

Posted by caitlin on Nov. 17, 2011 @ 11:50 am

Thanks marke, still couldn't find it on site, googled and found it, problem solved, hadn't realised it was a year old !! Tempus fugit.

Posted by Patrick Monk. RN on Nov. 17, 2011 @ 12:13 pm

It was just plain dumb. Just antagonized many who would have otherwise been supporters.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 17, 2011 @ 11:24 am

Without the tents and 24/7 occupation of the space as ongoing civil disobedience, nobody would even be paying any attention to the movement.

The legal challenge to control of the space is the whole point of what the occupiers are doing. And the clashes with cities over that public control of that space are the primary factor keeping this struggle in the media.

Posted by Eric Brooks on Nov. 17, 2011 @ 11:44 am

build a home on private land. Protest all you like but the camps just end up being breeding grounds for drug and alcohol abuse, petty crime and public safety and health concerns.

Your constitutional right to a sleepover just got busted.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 17, 2011 @ 11:54 am

Remember legal segregation? Repeatedly ratified by judicial decisions for centuries?

This is exactly the same type of case, and will be challenged either in the courts, and/or simply on the ground, whether the courts and the law like it or not.

And look around you. It is the cutthroat American capitalist system that is the breeding ground for drug and alcohol abuse, petty crime, and public safety and health concerns.

These problems were already rampant under our current oppressive economic system and insanely out-of-control police industrial state. The Occupy encampments are now simply putting a spotlight on these inequities, because people with those problems are rightly and wisely going to the encampments for support.

Support which has been -denied- to them everywhere else...

Posted by Eric Brooks on Nov. 17, 2011 @ 12:12 pm

But you know and I know that the law still applies.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 17, 2011 @ 2:13 pm

Ms Donohue says "[undercover reporter didn't tell anyone his name is] arguably unethical as a journalist in a situation that doesn't explicitly call for it". Pray tell what situation explicitly calls for an undercover reporter.

Just like the tea party: She (as many in this rudderless Occupy movement) hates the media when it doesn't report the way she wants it too.

Posted by DanC on Nov. 17, 2011 @ 12:34 pm

But to answer your prays: I think it's all good to sneak around when you'd be in danger if you said you were a journalist, or (in real limited cases) if you wouldn't get the full story if you said you were a journalist.

Posted by caitlin on Nov. 17, 2011 @ 12:42 pm

Doesn't have much left at this point. Weather and police force can potentially be overcome, but public opinion is the real killer here. I appreciate their intentions and bringing a number of these issues to the national headlines - but it started falling apart when it became more about the protestors themselves and less about the actual issue.


" The poll found that support for the Occupy movement is weakening while opposition to the protesters is gaining momentum. Thirty-three percent of respondent said in a Public Policy Polling poll that they support the protesters’ goals, while 45 percent said they are against them. Last month, 35 percent of voters said they support the Occupiers, while 26 percent said they opposed their movement.

The poll was conducted Nov. 10-13 among 800 voters, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points."

Posted by Longtime Lurker on Nov. 17, 2011 @ 1:08 pm

As it drags out it seems to include more and more catch all leftism. At a certain point it just becomes a policy statement for the 5% of people across the nation who call themselves progressives, and people who dropped out already to rant and rave about how unfair it is to have to live with their life choices.

Posted by Guest on Nov. 17, 2011 @ 1:44 pm

Caitlin: Great stuff! Keep up the nice work and high standards. This "Occupy" national/international phenomenom is fascinating and moving and I loved reading your take. About five weeks ago I was in Boston and heard the mayor on the radio saying something close to "We will tolerate no civil disobedience here." Not an exact quote, and you got to know the mayor to appreciate this sentiment, but wow. It just struck me. I think he was trying to say that Boston would not sit by idly while demonstrators acted out of control, but what a Freudian slip. Even for this mayor.

I look forward to reading more.

Posted by Guest Cousin Billy on Nov. 22, 2011 @ 7:17 am

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