by Carol Harvey
[dropcap]O[/dropcap]n Thursday, Sept. 29, the ripples from the Occupy Wall Street protests already had traveled across the continent and triggered a sympathy protest in the San Francisco financial district. Occupy SF was formed in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street and it carried out a creative demonstration in the heart of San Francisco’s bank district.
But let’s first backtrack 3,000 miles and go back in time two weeks ago, when the anti-Wall Street actions began. The Canadian culture-jamming magazine, Adbusters, sent word to on-the-ground Manhattan organizers that, starting Saturday, Sept. 17, 2011, for several months, thousands of people should set up camp and occupy Wall Street.
Organizers receiving the message wanted to use a federal court ruling in 2000 confirming the legality of sleeping on the sidewalk as a means of social expression. This legal test was the unanticipated spark that sent the spontaneous Occupy Wall Street action flashing across America, where it continues touching off sympathy occupations in cities nationwide.
Manhattan protesters marched on Wall Street, occupying New York’s financial district. They self-identified as the “99 Percent” who came to call a halt to bank theft and corporate corruption perpetrated by the One Percent: The 400 families hoarding U.S. wealth, the fat cat bankers and corporate CEOs receiving enormous bonuses while the poor, unemployed, and unhoused starve.
Ryan, an Occupy Wall Street participant, was excited by this massive protest, organized by consensus decision-making. He drove cross country to the Occupy San Francisco sister protest.
He said, “On the morning of September 19, the first Monday after the action started, we actually had a moving picket in front of Wall Street that slowed people from getting to their jobs by the opening bell, and the Stock Market took a hit that morning.”
Soon, the New York police brutalized the marchers and moved them two blocks away to Zuccotti Park, where they get free food and medical care and are building a highly committed social movement.
Their strategy of holding the area night and day has been very successful. Crowds grow daily. Notables have visited and spoken, encouraging the occupiers. Roseanne Barr, Susan Sarandon, Michael Moore and Cornell West appeared in the park and on live stream videos posted by occupiers on their daily blog.
According to Michael Moore, speaking on “Countdown with Keith Olbermann,” “Mayor Blumberg said last week, if we don’t provide jobs right away, there are going to be riots. This is Mayor Blumberg, the billionaire, talking. This is not Michael Moore saying this. The smart rich know they can only build the gates so high, and sooner or later history proves that people — when they’ve had enough — aren’t going to take it anymore.”
The Occupy Wall Street blog posted a video of Professor Cornel West talking to the crowd. As he spoke, the crowd used the “people’s microphone” by repeating each phrase of his speech to all around them. West said, “There is a sweet spirit in this place — everyday people, who take a stand with great courage and compassion because we oppose the greed of Wall Street oligarchs and corporate plutocrats who squeeze the democratic juices out of this country and other places around the world.”
“A similar story happened in San Francisco,” observed Ryan. On Saturday, Sept. 17, “people tried to occupy the Federal Building and 555 California Bank of America.” The police moved them out to Justin Herman Plaza for their nightly 6 p.m. meetings, then two blocks down to a park where homeless people regularly sleep.
The growing band of occupiers became honored participants at a “Make Banks Pay” rally that marched down Market Street on Thursday, Sept. 29, stopping to protest at banks along the way.
Milling around 555 California Plaza waiting for the gathered group to march, a balding blue-collar worker jokingly said, “I am a broke, unemployed ‘drone’ with Occupy San Francisco, a grassroots movement.” He spent his last dollar buying a plane ticket to attend the Oct. 6, 2011, protest in Washington, D.C.
Pat Gray, a retired teacher, handed out flyers. “I am so upset with the political system,” she said. “Congress is 100 percent corrupt. Our Congressional members listen to their contributors, not their constituents.”
She announced that from 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. on October 6, at the 7th and Mission Federal Building in San Francisco, a group named “The 99% Coalition,” who can’t afford to go to Washington on Oct. 6, will speak “loud and clear, and tell them what we want.”
Supervisor John Avalos helped launch the protest, nodding toward the Bank of America skyscraper. “This building is a symbol of the incredible greed and wealth accumulated into fewer and fewer hands in our country,” he said. The Bank of America received a $230-million bailout.
“They are firing 30,000 workers across the nation,” said Avalos. “Our economy’s in shambles. (We have) joblessness and homelessness in San Francisco. You strong, union, community, and small-business people fighting back give me hope.”
Avalos reported that the Bank of America and Wells Fargo each hold $3 billion of San Francisco’s $6.8 billion budget. “If we pooled our money from Bank of America and Wells Fargo, and created our own bank, we would have control of our own tax dollars,” he said. “We could leverage that to build our local economy,” support small businesses and property owners, create more services, and build more houses.
To resounding cheers, Avalos called, “Can we create our own municipal bank in San Francisco? Yes we can!”
The rally participants chanted, “Who bailed the banks out? We bailed the banks out!” “Make Them Pay!”
Marchers stormed Market Street banks, massing before police lines outside Charles Schwab and Citibank doors. Protesters who got inside were arrested, notably a Vietnam veteran’s widow, Brenda. Brenda said her mortgage was sliced and diced, then Citibank tried to evict her. She vowed to the crowd that the bank would never get her home.
Unemployed Tom Komita trudged down Market Street. “I currently can’t find work,” he said. “My situation is part of this larger situation, so I’m here in support of everybody.”
Paul Larudie, a shirt-sleeved, graying, business type, yelled, “All banks are responsible for the home foreclosures. We’re the ones that kept them in business. They need to renegotiate in good faith, reduce the principal, and make payments affordable to people who lost incomes.”
Charles Schwab employees stood behind protective glass on the upper floors and scoffed at protesters below. One protester remarked, “Before her head rolled, Marie Antoinette said, ‘Let them eat cake.’”
Chris Tully walked past, saying, “They played a shell game and brought down the economy. We’ve been robbed. We’ve still got the collapse of the dollar coming. Let’s come out, be aggressively nonviolent, and make our point.” He marched to the Occupy SF meeting at 6 p.m. at Justin Herman Plaza.
Erica, a woman who came from Ukiah, now camps with Occupy SF in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street, she said, “so the One Percent (won’t) hold onto all the money of the 99 Percent anymore. If we join together little by little, the One Percent will have to pay attention to the 99 Percent. We are the people, and we are that 99 Percent.”
Erica reported that San Francisco occupiers have been gathering for regular 6 p.m. meetings in Justin Herman Plaza. “The City likes to hose the park down,” she said, “so we can’t sleep there.” The group peacefully complies with requests to move.
On this beautiful Thursday evening across from the Embarcadero waterfront, a group of about 50 people at the 6 p.m. General Assembly sat in a circle on the concrete, passing a microphone to each speaker. New attendees funneled in from the march, fleshing out the numbers, which 13 days ago had been only six to eight attendees.
Ryan speculated that the General Assembly would discuss, and hopefully come to consensus, on “whether we’re going to move our occupation to an actual place like the Bank of America or the Federal Reserve,” make a stronger statement, and make something bigger happen. This move would be inevitable in an ever-evolving occupation in San Francisco.