With all of the police raids and arguments over messages and demands and tactics, it’s easy to forget that the Occupy Wall Street movement has a clear political point -- and it’s right.
The movement is about the devastating and unsustainable direction of the American economy, about the fact that a tiny elite controls much of the nation’s wealth, that virtually all of the income growth over the past 20 years has gone to the very top, about the collapse of the middle class and the rise of economic inequality that would have been unthinkable a generation ago. Those are the central issues facing the United States, the state of California and the cities of San Francisco and Oakland today -- and instead of trying to crack down on the protests, city officials ought to be endorsing the occupy movement and talking about cracking down on the financial institutions and the wealthy.
A few things worth noting:
1. The protesters are almost entirely nonviolent. Although there have been a few isolated incidents in Oakland and SF, the overwhelming majority of the thousands of people at Justin Herman Plaza and Frank Ogawa Plaza are actively promoting and insisting on nonviolence. This is not a crowd that is a threat to anyone.
2. The city of San Francisco’s citations -- reported without question in the daily newspapers -- about health and sanitation problems are way overblown. The OccupySF protesters are making extraordinary efforts to keep the place clean. When the city failed to live up to its promise to provide portable toilets, the protesters ordered (and paid for) their own. As state Sen. Leland Yee (not known as a crazy radical) noted after a visit Oct. 26: “While hundreds gathered, there was not one incident of violence. If the interim mayor thinks there are health issues, I certainly didn’t see them.”
3. The SF Mayor’s Office and the police have made no serious effort to work with or negotiate with the protesters. Even the five supervisors who arrived Oct. 26 (and good for them) when there were rumors of a police action, had no idea what the cops were up to -- and Police Chief Greg Suhr wasn’t responding to their phone calls. It’s the equivalent of psychological warfare; protesters have to be on edge at all times for fear of a crackdown that may or may not come.
4. Mayor Jean Quan made a bad mistake sending in the cops to roust Occupy Oakland. Nothing good at all can come of any further police eviction action.
Frankly, we don’t see why the protesters -- who are well-behaved, represent no threat to anyone, and are doing a huge civic and national service by bringing attention to an issue that the powers that be in Washington, Sacramento and (sadly) San Francisco have largely ignored -- can’t stay where they are. If there are health issues, let the Department of Public Health work with the occupiers. If there’s a problem with a portable kitchen, let the Fire Department show the protesters how to run it safely and legally (there are portable cooking devices at every street fair, in dozens of food trucks and in probably 100 other places around town).
The people at OccupySF and Occupy Oakland have done an amazing job of building a safe, respectful and inclusive community. They are the political heros of 2011. If there’s anyplace in America where the movement ought to be allowed to grow and thrive, it’s here in the Bay Area.