OccupySF retakes plaza to debate whether to keep it

Organizer David Solnit councils the general assembly on potential civil disobediance strategies.
Yael Chanoff

OccupySF and its supporters defended Justin Herman Plaza last night (Wed/7) in a strong display of nonviolent action, demonstrating a commitment to the movement. But the unfolding events also showed the group is at a crossroads as it debates its next moves, and whether to continue trying to occupy the plaza after the group's tent city was removed by police and city workers.

About 250 gathered for a rally at 5 pm at 101 Market Street, marching the half a block to Justin Herman Plaza an hour later. Since the plaza was cleared out that morning, it had been guarded on all sides by a line of police. But as they approached, improbably, the police line parted, letting protesters through.

The group began to hold a general assembly meeting, but after 20 minutes police issued an order to disperse. About 50 sat down in a show of civil disobedience while a couple hundred more surrounded the outskirts.

Clashes with police in the past have been characterized by tension and angry cries from protesters. This one was more peaceful. Protesters held their ground and refused to leave, but besides a few incidents in which police detained and shoved protesters, most supporters were restrained and calm.

At 8:50 pm, police suddenly began to clear out. Jubilant protesters rushed into the plaza, having won it once again. However, from the meeting that followed, it seemed clear that many are restless to put their energies into actions other than defending the plaza.

The meeting consisted of several announcements concerning upcoming actions, such as taking part in the local march in support of International Human Rights Day on Saturday and Monday’s West Coast port shutdown. Occupy groups from Anchorage to San Diego have pledged to shut down their cities' ports on Dec. 12.

Representatives from Occupy Community College of San Francisco and Occupy SF State University, both of which have now created tent city occupations of their own, were also present. After announcements, the discussion turned to strategy. Many saw a great opportunity to pitch tents and try to take back Justin Herman Plaza. Numbers had dwindled somewhat, but there were at least 150 protesters still present for that discussion. Others argued that OccupySF had successfully shown they could retake the plaza and that they should try and avoid a police clash that night, and instead sleep at and near 101 Market Street, their other recently reclaimed protest site.

Many insisted that OccupySF would be strategically wise to allow their supporters to reserve their energy for upcoming marches and actions; nightly calls to defend camp, said one protester, were wearing many down. In the end it was clear that “OccupySF is a network of autonomous individuals. Some will stay in Justin Herman, some won’t—but we’re all in solidarity.”

All this discussion took place amid reports that police were massing in the garage underneath the nearby Hyatt Hotel and at the police tactical building on 16th and De Haro streets. Many believed that they were staging to come back and make arrests if protesters attempted to re-erect their tent city. During the meeting, protesters put up five tents, but by 11:20 pm, they had voluntarily taken down their tents.

The OccupySF general assembly consented last week to defend Justin Herman Plaza anytime it is threatened. Yet the events of the past few days, as well as the destruction of large Occupy sites throughout the country in the past weeks, many sense that strategy may now be shifting.

Gordon Mar, director of Bay Area Jobs With Justice and OccupySF supporter who risked arrest last night, told us, “There’s a lot of exciting ideas and debate about new directions, including reoccupying JHP, but also moving forward in different ways. Occupy our homes initiatives have taken off recently, as well as occupations on college campuses, different communities and neighborhoods. It’s a really exciting and hopeful moment.”

Shaw San Liu of the Chinese Progressive Alliance issued a public statement saying, “You can raid a camp, but you can’t raid a movement. The movement cannot be stopped. [The occupation] was just the tip of the iceberg.”



more important than the underlying mission. While many sympathize with the indignation against the Banks, most people do not support the unilateral, arbitrary and exclusive possession of public space for political ends.

The movement became self-absorbed and self-indulgent. It started out trying to close down banks but ended up merely trying to uphold and sustain an encampment that was a hotbed of petty crime and public health risks.

Nevius put it well today in the Chron - the Occupy leadership can't even decide what to have for lunch, let alone what it seeks to achieve. It's a movement without a mission, and that's a tragedy. A festival of hope and ideas rather than a coherent and cohesive political movement.

Time for a new strategy - the revolution just got postponed. Again.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 08, 2011 @ 6:11 pm

Have you been down to the encampment? It is not anymore a hotbed for crime and public health hazards than anywhere in the tenderloin or soma, I think. A better lesson to take away than "occupeirs are messy and criminals" would be "including everyone might have side effects".

I disagree that we cannot decide anything. While our process for decision making is challenging and different than other systems, it has brought us this far. Furthermore, not every decision needs to be made in this way, as individuals can make their own choices for their own actions, as also stated in the article: autonomy.

We do not have leadership. I wish I had a quarter for every time an article mentioned Occupy's leader or leadership.

The camp is important because 1. some occupiers do not have anywhere else to live because they come from abroad 2. it allows us to show an example of the ideals we believe in and 3. it allows for a common public space for individuals to speak about important issues.

It is not a private space. I have never seen anyone denied entry to occupy accept corrupt police and a few violent drunks. If someone wanted to enter and have a picnic or play crochet, I doubt they would be turned away. Besides, we have tons of parks in this city, and no "commons" spaces for the community to gather.

I encourage you to come out and experience it yourself. Join us!

Posted by Guest on Dec. 08, 2011 @ 7:51 pm

As Arundhati Roy stated, "I don't think the whole protest is only about occupying physical territory, but about reigniting a new political imagination."

However, I do believe that the people have an absolute right to inhabit a public space~

"In response to the Occupy Wall Street movement the state backed by capitalist class power makes an astonishing claim: that they and only they have the exclusive right to regulate and dispose of public space. The public has no common right to public space! By what right do mayors, police chiefs, military officers and state officials tell we the people that they have the right to determine what is public about “our” public space and who may occupy that space when? When did they presume to evict us, the people, from any space we the people decide collectively and peacefully to occupy? They claim they are taking action in the public interest (and cite laws to prove it) but it is we who are the public! Where is “our interest” in all of this? And, by the way, is it not “our” money that the banks and financiers so blatantly use to accumulate “their” bonuses?"


Posted by Lisa on Dec. 08, 2011 @ 6:25 pm

but worshiped by the American left.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 08, 2011 @ 7:06 pm

Ignorant "Guest" on SFBG - irrelevent [sic] everywhere.

Posted by Ignorant "Guest" on SFBG on Dec. 09, 2011 @ 10:40 pm

Well spoken! Totally agree.

There were 150+ people using the plaza before. After the eviction there were 0, because it was closed to everyone. The city wants to spend money to "renovate" the park, but we don't need to spend money if we just let the people who already like it the most keep using it.

Posted by Alex Regenerate on Dec. 08, 2011 @ 7:55 pm

"Since the plaza was cleared out that morning, it had been guarded on all sides by a line of police. But as they approached, improbably, the police line parted, letting protesters through."

Endless overtime revenue streams for the police, who are being paid to do nothing.

The Doughnut-Eating Brigade is the real winner in the Occupy SF telenovela.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 09, 2011 @ 8:29 am

If the 1% versus 99% mindset can be established, and voters begin heavily supporting the political party or parties that publicly actually do favor the 99% over the 1%, then real change would be effected, even without any specific mission statements, strategic or tactical plans, national spokespersons, etc.

The thing to be careful of is any really negative feeling toward Occupy. My guess is that those who control the 1% will try to infiltrate Occupy with their own people who will then commit atrocious actions to attempt to discredit the movement from within.

Posted by Guest Jayson Clark on Dec. 11, 2011 @ 8:18 am

It's the institutions that caused the mortgage mess and not individuals, even wealthy ones. And those institutions are mostly owned by other institutions including the ones that the "99%" invest in e.g. mutual funds, IRA's, 401K's etc.

So the Occupy movement needs to decide who it hates. Is it the banks? Or is it indivuals like Bill Gates or Warren Buffett? Or the government that tolerated their actions and baield them out?

The more Occupy attacks everyone, the more it attacks the 99%. Which means it is Occupy that is the true 1%.

Posted by Guest on Dec. 11, 2011 @ 10:10 am

I really think the discussion should be on moving the 49%ers (the takers) into the 51%er group (the payers). The 49%ers are a drag on society. Not only do they not pay taxes, but many of them receive cash payments. Unless something is done to train and educate these people, it’s only going to get worse.

All of this silly talk about whether or not the 1% should pay more taxes obfucates the real issues for this country: increase our manufactoring base, decrease business regulations and taxes, incentivise businesses to bring back manufactoring to the U.S. and the large increase in uneducated minorities who have no real job prospects.

Posted by Nickcaeb on Dec. 11, 2011 @ 4:35 pm

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