Occupy brings the noise to the Canadian consulate for Quebec students


Activists with Occupy San Francisco, Occupy Education Northern California and other groups staged a small demonstration outside the building that houses the Canadian consulate to express solidarity with student strikes in Quebec.

Protesters brought pots and pans to the building at 580 California, banging them in tribute to the casserole marches that have characterized the Quebec strikes.

Students in Quebec province have been on strike since February. School has let out for the summer, but the uprising shows no sign of stopping- in a massive demonstration June 22, some reports showed 100,000 marching in the streets of Montreal, and recently teachers have pledged to join students. 

“Last Friday, they had 100,000 people in the streets,” cried Stephan Georgiou, a former CCSF and UC Berkeley student. “The students of Quebec have continued to take to the streets despite Bill 78.”

Bill 78, passed as an emergency measure May 18 by the National Assembly of Quebec, forbids protests on or near school grounds, requires that march organizers submit their route to police in advance of demonstrations, and attempts insure that all classes resume in late summer.

Security guards allowed two protesters into the building and representatives from the consulate came to the lobby to receive a list of demands written by the group, which included the release and dismissal of charges against imprisoned students, the repeal of Bill 78, and “the end of all austerity measures for students, because education is a human right.”

Protests in Quebec began over proposed tuition hikes, and at yesterday’s rally, students from area high school and colleges told stories of their student loan debt during the rally.

“I was a senior in high school in the 2011/2012 school year. I applied to SF State,” said Hannah Stutz, 17. “My parents are currently in debt, so I needed to apply for financial aid.”

With a loan offered by FAFSA, Stutz said, “I was awarded $70 if I take out a $30,000 loan.”

“I’m a single father, I have yet to graduate college, and I’m $60,000 in debt,” said another protester.

Last March, US total student loan debt surpassed $1 trillion.

“It’s approaching the amount of the bank bail outs,” said one protester. “They should have just bailed out all the student debt. The money would have gone to the banks anyway.”

Indeed, activists and polticians have thrown around the idea of widespread student loan debt forgiveness, as well as a debt strike– simply refusing to pay.

“The average debt people graduate with is now $25,000,” said Beezer de Martelly, a graduate student at UC Berkeley, “and we all know how quickly these prices are escalating.”

“On November 9, we were beaten in exchange for trying to keep dept down for future generations,” she said, recalling Occupy Cal protests against tuition hikes during which students were notoriously beaten by police.

“There is a large group of students here in California planning on forming our own student union,” said Georgiou.

After leaving the building’s lobby, satisfied with proof that the consulate had faxed the group’s demands to Canadian Premier Jean Charest, Occupy CCSF organizer Janice Suess thanked the crowd for coming out.

“Not only are we in solidarity with the students in Quebec,” said Suess, “but we’re building our own movement here.”

Occupy Caravan takes off to the National Gathering


This looks familiar!

Jan. 17, we proposed Occupy Nation, an idea that those energized and organized by Occupy come together on July 4, 2012 for a national gathering to get some planning done. We also proposed that the journey across the US be a part of the action, and that people get together in vans for a freedom-ride inspired experience. Well, it’s happening- although, of course, it wasn’t all our idea. But they are using our cover art!

The Occupy Caravan is an ever-expanding crew of people getting together for a two-week journey across the US. There are two starting points, Los Angeles and San Francisco- and the San Francisco caravan is taking off June 11. The caravans will stop at Occupy sites along the way for protests, education and entertainment, before arriving in Philadelphia for the June 30 Occupy National Gathering.

The poster declares, “bring tents!” But according to an Occupy Caravan organizer known as Buddy, sleeping arrangements that won’t risk police meddling are planned at every stop.

“We have a bunch of secure and fun locations- there’s a slumber party at one, a march and then staying at a church at another, a supporter’s camp ground where we can park the RVs,” said Buddy.

“We’re not risking people getting arrested,” he said. “Everything is legal and nonviolent.”

In theory, anyone who wants to can show up, on foot or with a vehicle, and join the caravan. But if you want to secure a spot, according to Buddy, it’s best to sign up online beforehand.

“We’re getting 30 to 50 calls and emails a day about rides,” Buddy told me of the last chaotic week before the trip launches.

The National Gathering isn’t the only nationwide Occupy plan for this summer. It isn’t the only one in Philadelphia either. Or for the July 4 weekend. There’s also the 99 Percent Declaration, billed as a “Continental Congress 2.0”

It looks like these big get-togethers are part of the form Occupy will take this summer. What with a big and chaotic May Day, an even more tumultuous anti-Nato convergence in Chicago, and continuing home defenses, occupations of public spaces, and innumerable local actions across the country, the Occupy movement is in a very different state than it was in the winter when the Gathering and the Caravan were in their beginning planning stages.

“The movement has grown,” Buddy told me. “It’s less than a year old. It was an infant early on, and grew very quickly, but its getting stronger. We’re going back to the simply core message of economic equality and justice.”

After the National Gathering, the caravan will join the Occupy Guitarmy for its “99 Mile March” to New York. The Guitarmy is a travelling group of musicians that bills itself as “the world’s first open source band,” best known for its march on May 1 in New York City, led by Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine.

As we said in the Occupy America proposal: “The important thing is to let this genie out of the bottle, to move Occupy into the next level of politics, to use a convention, rally, and national event to reassert the power of the people to control our political and economic institutions — and to change or abolish them as we see fit.” One thing is clear: Occupy hasn’t given up yet.

A range of rage at Obama visit


Hundreds gathered in the financial district today as President Obama came through San Francisco for a brief visit, consisting of a high-priced fundraising lunch and no public events. A mostly silent crowd waited patiently to watch the president’s motorcade drive by this afternoon, first at 1 Market St and then at 456 California, before he went off to SFO. On the crowd’s sidelines, handfuls of dissenters from various groups held signs and spoke up with a diverse range of reasons for protesting the president.

On Market, the motorcade went past the Occupy SF campsite at 101 Market St, where a dozen protesters had gathered. Their signs and chants focused on the National Defense Authorization Act. Sections 1021 and 1022 of the act, which the president signed Dec. 31 2011, have been interpreted as allowing for indefinite detention of terrorism suspects in the United States without charge or trial.

National groups Code Pink and World Can’t Wait brought attention to what they called Obama’s war crimes. 

“Code Pink is asking Obama to kill the kill list,” said Nancy Mancias, an organizer with the womens’ peace organization, referring to a list of terror suspects targeted for US attacks that Obama personally oversees. “We want more transparency in the CIA drone program, and victim compensation to the families of those who have been killed in drone strikes.”

World Can’t Wait demonstrators emphasized that Guantanamo Bay detention facility is still open and housing almost 200 prisoners, despite President Obama signing an executive order to close it days after taking office.

For demonstrators from the Center for Biological Diversity and Greenpeace, it’s imperative that the president stop oil drilling in the Arctic.

“There are a couple small permits they still need to get, but Shell is ready to drill in the Arctic in July,” said Miyoko Sakashita, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. 

Sakashita said that drilling there could be dangerous for residents of the region, as well as polar bears, walruses and seals. 

“The conditions are terrible for drilling,” said Sakashita, citing low visibility and icy terrain. “If they can’t stop an oil spill in the gulf of Mexico, how will they stop it in the Arctic?” 

If these conditons do indeed lead to a disastrous oil spill, Greenpeace volunteers will be there first hand to witness it, as the group plans to send vessels of their own to monitor the operations.

Tea party protesters and Ron Paul supporters also came out to see the president. 

“It’s an issue of competence,” said Charles Cagnon, a protester who held a sign calling President Obama a “bad hire.”

“A president is our employee, not a king.”

But Cognan wasn’t too pleased with the competition either. 

“I was a Ron Paul kind of guy,” he said, “but I’ll take Romney. He’s level-headed and competent, and he likes arithmetic.”

“Obama doesn’t like arithmetic,” he continued, as evidenced, according to Cagnon, by the senate rejection of Obama’s budget May 16.

“Bush was terrible,” Cagnon added. “Romney is uninspiring.”

Cagnon and his group sported “Nobama” gear, Code Pink protesters came with signature pink clothing and signs, and a Greenpeace volunteer was dressed as “Frostpaw the polar bear.” Focused for the day on a common enemy of sorts, no conflicts arose between the divergent protest groups. For his part, Cagnon added that despite his right leanings, he loves KPFA radio, and that he believes the tea party has a distrust of government in common with Occupy.

“I’m just glad there’s people out there dissenting,” he said. “We need people like that.”

Chevron meets amid angry shareholders, liability, and environmental disasters


About 40 gathered outside Chevron’s San Francisco offices yesterday to mark its annual shareholder meeting. The demonstration was organized by OccupySF’s environmental justice working group, and used art and street theater to criticize Chevron’s involvement in hydraulic fracturing, a natural gas extraction process that may threaten parts of California’s water supply.

The afternoon protest came after a larger group showed up to Chevron’s world headquarters in San Ramon for the shareholder meeting that morning. According to Ginger Cassady of Rainforest Action Network (RAN), who helped organize the protest, it was a “big, colorful demonstration” with “over 100” in attendance.

Groups like the True Cost of Chevron and RAN’s Change Chevron campaign have been pressuring the company for years on a variety of issues. This year, workers and residents in areas where Chevron operates from Ecuador, Brazil, Angola and Nigeria travelled to San Ramon to voice their concerns. These ranged from oil-contaminated land in the Ecuadorian Amazon to an explosion on an oil rig off the shore of Nigeria in January. In that explosion, two workers were killed and more than 100 local people left the city for fear of contamination and other health risks caused by a fire that burned for months before going out on its own, despite Chevron’s efforts to contain the flames.

About 30 activists from around the world entered the meeting with proxy votes, according to Cassady. None interrupted the meeting, instead waiting their turn to speak. There were no arrests.

Some people with proxy votes, however, were not allowed access to the meeting. João Antonio de Moraes, national coordinator of Brazil’s United Federation of Oil Workers (FUP), was not allowed access, along with two representatives from United Steel Workers. Another worker, at the meeting to present in support of a resolution for worker safety, was initially blocked from entering but allowed access after a dispute, but had his presentation notes confiscated.

At the meeting, Chevron CEO John Watson announced “tremendous performance momentum” for the company, with “earnings of $26.9 billion” in the past year, according to a press release.

“Watson reinforced Chevron’s long-standing culture of safety and environmental stewardship, and resulting industry-leading performance,” the press release states. “He also highlighted Chevron’s commitment to partnerships that address health, education and economic development issues in the communities where the company operates, and Chevron’s global social investments of approximately $1 billion over the past six years.”

But Chevron is also suffering financially due to liability following oil spills, explosions, and contamination, a concern protest organizers say Watson failed to address. Representatives from Chevron did not return calls for comment.

The company recently settled with plaintiffs in Ecuador after an appeals court there ordered that they pay $18 billion in fines for spilling and deliberately dumping a total of 345 million gallons of crude oil in the Amazon rainforest of northeastern Ecuador.

Stockholders in attendance voted on eleven proposals, including seven submitted by shareholders, at the meeting. All of the votes went with the recommendation of the Board of Directors- including a proposal to reform the Board of Directors itself. That proposal asked that the Board of Directors find an independent Chair to head it up, as the current Chair is Chevron’s CEO, John Watson. The Board of Directors has the authority to incentivize and, if necessary, fire CEOs.

“We believe this presents a conflict of interest that can result in excessive management influence on the board of weaken the board’s management oversight,” read the proposal.

The proposal, along with several others, mentioned the Ecuador lawsuit, saying “we believe that independent board leadership is key at Chevron, given the questions raised about the oversight by the board of the CEO’s management and disclosure to shareholders of the financial and operational risks to the company from the $18 billion dollar judgment in the Ecuadorian courts in 2011.”

“With all these major legal liabilities that Chevron is facing a lot of people are concerned,” said Cassady.  “Chevron is profitable at the expense of worker safety, the environment, human rights and our economy.”

Other stockholder proposals dealt with safety, transparency, and the environmental impacts of Chevron’s international operations. A proposal asking Chevron to disclose money spent on lobbying received approximately 23 percent of votes, a proposal asking for a report on what the company has done to reduce the risk of accidents like the Niger Delta explosion received only eight percent of the vote, and a proposal that Chevron nominate a new board member with environmental expertise failed as well with 23 percent of votes cast.

Shareholders also voted on a proposal that Chevron release a report on the financial, environmental, and community impacts of hydraulic fracturing, the focus of the afternoon protest in San Francisco. The proposal received about 27 percent of the vote.

Hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is the process of extracting natural gas by injecting dense underground rock formations with a pressurized mixture of water, sand and chemicals. It has been hailed as an environmentally friendly alternative to oil drilling, as natural gas burns cleaner than oil.

But protest movements have coalesced around fracking practices in the Appalachian mountains region and above the Marcellus Shale, as residents report toxic chemicals in their water supplies, endangering drinking water as well as water used for raising livestock and growing food.

The 2010 documentary Gasland included now notorious footage of residents near a Pennsylvania fracking operations whose tap water bursts into flames.

Fracking operations in California are less well known. The protest outside of Chevron’s San Francisco offices yesterday drew attention to this issue- and the extensive list of chemicals present in fracking solution.

“It’s happening in California, but it’s not really talked about” said Ellen Osuna. Osuna now lives in San Francisco, but moved from New York, where she says she worried about her water supply since it comes from aquifers near the Marcellus Shale.

The protest featured an 180-foot banner, painted by artist Ruthie Sakheim. The banner listed more than 70 chemicals found in fracking fluid, in alphabetical order.

“It’s not even halfway through the A’s” said Sakheim.

She also handed out bottles of water oil-colored water labeled “Frackelicious Frackwater Unsustainable Energy Drink.” The label listed some of the more toxic chemicals involved in the process under “ingredients” along with “no preservatives, no artificial flavors, 100 percent poison.”
According to a report released by the Congressional Committee on Energy and Commerce, fracking fluid contains 750 chemicals, which “ranged from generally harmless and common substances, such as salt and citric acid, to extremely toxic substances, such as benzene and lead” as well as many carcinogens, according to the report.

These chemicals, along with gas itself, can enter water supplies when the casing on wells cracks or when wastewater containers spill.

The Safe Drinking Water Act of 2005 specifically exempts hydraulic fracturing, a lack of regulation known as the Halliburton Loophole.

Fracking currently takes place in nine California counties, including Sacramento, Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Monterey.  But the extent of hydraulic fracturing in California isn’t well known, and yesterday, the California Senate rejected SB1054, which would have required energy companies to notify landowners before using hydraulic fracturing on or near their land.

In between chants of  “ban fracking now!” Sakheim told me that she spent several months painting the banner, and plans to continue the project of listing the chemicals involved in fracking in artistic form.

“I have three kids,” said Sakheim. “I really worry about what will happen to them with these corporations having so much control to influence government.”

Who is the brick thrower?



The brick-throwing man whose projectiles hit two protesters at the Occupy San Francisco takeover of a Turk Street building on May Day has helped spark intense internal debates in the movement about the use of violence.

But nobody has heard the alleged hurler’s side of the story.

Jesse Nesbitt, 34, was arrested on the scene, and is accused of felony assault, assault on a police officer, and vandalism. I interviewed Nesbitt in San Francisco County Jail May 3. He spoke of his associations with drug addicts and revolutionaries; his previous stints in jails, prisons and psych wards; and his countless arrests on the streets of San Francisco for illegal lodging.

What emerged was a picture of a homeless Army veteran who suffers from untreated mental illness and substance-abuse issues — someone who found a degree of help and solace in the Occupy movement but has never fully escaped his problems. His story is, unfortunately, not unusual — there are many thousands of vets who the system has utterly failed.

Nesbitt told me he was diagnosed as schizophrenic at 16. “From bad things happening, my mental illness has snowballed since then,” he explained.

Nesbitt said he grew up in the projects outside Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania during the 1980s. “It wasn’t too nice,” he explained. When he was 18, he joined the Army.

“I wanted to join the military all my life. That’s what I wanted to do,” he said. The schizophrenia could have stopped him — but “I lied my way in.”

His tour in Korea was during peace time, but he says he still saw combat. “We were supposed to be at peace with North Korea, in a ceasefire. But whenever they got a chance, they shot at us. And whenever we got a chance, we shot at them.

“It hardened my heart. And it gave me a sense of duty to uphold our Constitution.”

Nesbitt returned from South Korea in 1996. Afterward, “I hitchhiked from coast to coast twice. I got married three times. I have a kid in Pennsylvania. I went to jail in Pennsylvania for — being young and stupid,” he said.

Later in the interview, he expanded on his prison time in Pennsylvania. “I did four years and eight months for aggravated assault, theft, and possession of an instrument of crime,” said Nesbitt. “I also did time in Georgia for assault. And I did time in Alameda County for vandalism and weapons.”

In fact, as he tells it, Nesbitt’s time in Berkeley was spent mainly in jail, before he got involved with Occupy Berkeley.

“I don’t know how much time I did in total in Alameda County. I’d be in jail two, three weeks, get out five, six days, then get arrested again. That was from last April to July,” he says.

On the days when he was free, “I was doing what I normally do,” said Nesbitt. “I’d squat somewhere. In the daytime I’d panhandle, go to the library. I was doing a lot of drinking. Then I started getting arrested a lot when I started doing meth.”

That was his life before joining Occupy. “A friend of mine who was shooting heroin at the time said, let’s go join the revolution. It will help clean you up. It helped pull me out of a drug addiction and keep me healthy,” said Nesbitt.

But that wasn’t the only reason he joined.

“I’ve always had revolutionary beliefs,” he says. He spoke of his friends in Pittsburgh. They wouldn’t let him go the G20 protests in 2009, fearing he would be incited to violence.

“I’ve been involved with anarchists for a long time. They pointed out documentaries I should watch, things I should read,” said Nesbitt.

But the example he gave me isn’t your classic Emma Goldman. Nesbitt remembered “The Esoteric Agenda” — a conspiracy-theory film that connects stories about corporate greed with apocalyptic prophecies.

“The education was getting me ready for something,” he said.

At Occupy Berkeley, even while Nesbitt recovered from his meth addiction, he continued to live in a cycle of violence.

“It was in Berkeley out at the Occupy camp. I got into a fight with somebody, I was in a black out. It took six cops to hogtie 135-pound me, so I was talking shit. While I was hogtied, they dropped me on my head. I went from talking shit to unconscious. I slept for the next two weeks,” Nesbitt told me.

His involvement with Occupy San Francisco increased after the Occupy Berkeley encampment was taken down.

Occupy San Francisco, however, didn’t quite progress the way he had hoped. “When they started raiding us in December, I was hoping the numbers would go up. Instead they dwindled,” said Nesbitt.

He was part of a small group of people continuing the “occupation” tactic outside the Federal Reserve Building at 101 Market St. Back in the fall, that sidewalk was a spot where dozens of people held protest signs and meetings all day and many slept throughout the night. After a series of police raids, and as most of those organizing with Occupy moved on to different tactics and projects, some decided to remain there.

Even when the Justin Herman Plaza camp was in full functional form, it was derided as “nothing but a homeless camp.” There were homeless people there, but many found food and other resources, as well as security from both police and other people they feared on the street, leading many to devote themselves to the goals of the protest movement.

The 101 Market camp that emerged in February was mostly a homeless camp — and, although the people there remained fiercely political in their convictions, they certainly didn’t enjoy the safety that the Justin Herman camp once provided.

Nesbitt was one of those people. “The SFPD not letting us sleep, telling us sitting on cardboard was lodging, sitting under a blanket to stay warm was lodging, you can only take so much of it,” he said. “They slammed my head against the back of a paddy wagon last time they arrested me for sitting underneath a blanket.”

His story is not unusual.

“Veterans continue to lead the nation in homelessness,” explained Colleen Corliss, spokesperson for the veterans-aid nonprofit Swords to Plowshares. “There are a lot of factors at play. Those who go to war have a higher instance of mental illness and substance abuse, which ultimately can lead to a vicious cycle of homelessness,” she said. “Even if you serve during peace time, you can still have really traumatic experiences.”

Nesbitt’s experience with the city’s mental health facilities wasn’t enough to break this cycle. “I did get 5150-ed,” he said, describing the term for involuntary psychiatric commitment. “I was in the hospital less than 24 hours, they kicked me out.”

Why? “I threatened to kill a doctor,” said Nesbitt.

Nesbitt’s 24-hour stay was in the overburdened, short-staffed psych ward at San Francisco General Hospital. When the psych wards began closing beds in 2007, it was comprised of four units, each with 30 beds; it is now down to one unit, according to Ed Kinchley, a social worker in the medical emergency department at General.

There’s also a floor in the behavioral health center for psychiatric patients with 59 beds, but “they told the staff last week that they’re planning to close 29 of those beds.”

“Since [the beds] are full almost every day, the bar or the standard for who stays there or who goes in-patient is a lot higher than it used to be,” said Kinchley.

Whatever the reason, Nesbitt was not getting treatment the day of the alleged brick-throwing — and he was having problems. “I was getting an episode the day before it all happened,” he said. “I was afraid to go by myself to sleep because I was hearing voices. Normally those voices tell me to hurt people. I try to keep around people I love and trust that wouldn’t let me do anything.”

Mixed with his schizophrenia is a brand of Constitutionalism that’s not common on the left.

“When you join the military or the police department, you take an oath swearing to defend the United States Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic,” Nesbitt said. “Now they’re passing the NDAA, Patriot Act, and other bills I don’t know about. They’re intentionally taking away our constitutional rights. We’re supposed to defend those rights, not lie down and take it.

“I think Abraham Lincoln said, if the government betrays us, we’re supposed to take them out.” Nesbitt insists he’s “not a terrorist. No matter what they might say about me in the Chronicle or whatnot, I’m not a terrorist. What is he, then? “I’m a freedom fighter,” said Nesbitt. “I’m fighting for the freedom of everyone.”

Reflecting on violence at the SF Commune


Occupy San Francisco protesters entered Catholic Church-owned properties at 888 Turk last night. This is the same building that a similar group occupied April 1, in a peaceful action that lasted about 24 hours. 

The successful reentry was a testament to the spread of skills and cultures surrounding building takeovers by groups like Homes Not Jails. The resulting “rebirth of the SF Commune” was a mellow and pleasant event at first, as protesters on a march from the celebratory Peoples Street Festival joined in the commune. Some held back in the street while others entered the building in hopes of building a “community center”—most remained outside the building, enjoying a free meal cooked and served by some of the same Occupy SF kitchen volunteers that once fed hundreds of people daily at Justin Herman Plaza.

The building occupation was meant to affirm a strong belief in the rights of people to gather and organize, or at the very least have a warm place to sleep at night. It was also an assertion from Occupy: we’re still here, your warnings to property owners to board up their vacant buildings and the chain-link fence you put up in front of 888 Turk (which protesters casually removed upon arrival) won’t stop us.

“The Catholic church owns it. They’re supposed to be doing charity, but they’re leaving it vacant until they can get high rent out of it,” said Jazzie Collins that afternoon, an organizer with Senior Action Network who was there to support the May Day actions.

“There’s too many vacant buildings in this city, while people sleep on the streets.”

Collins spoke only for herself, but her take on the situation matched the sentiments of many who questioned the importance of property rights in the light of unused building and homelessness throughout the city. That’s the same reason that the SF Commune had sprung up in the same building, exactly one month earlier.

Police spokesperson Sergeant Michael Andraychak seemed to believe that this repeat occupation would turn out the same way. “We’re putting up some barricades attempting to restrict access to the building,” said Andraychak around 5pm. “We’re opening traffic back up.”

But not half an hour later, when the police put up the final barricades sealing off access to the building, the dozen or so people who got caught inside pushed back at the barricade. Police responded with intimidating and striking a few with batons. Then, a man appeared on the roof.

His face was covered in a black bandanna. He raised his arms, and in each hand, he held a brick. Onlookers began shouting, “don’t throw those!” He did though. He hit one man in the face, a fellow protester who, according to one source, has supported the Occupy SF effort since the camp.  

The mood of the crowd chilled. The brick-thrower held up more bricks, menacingly. 

Police closed the street off to traffic. Soon most protesters, supporters, and interested bystanders were on the other side of Gough or in the park, watching the events. A few spoke to and yelled at police lined up on the corners. Hundreds more police stood ground on Turk in front of the building. A few dozen remained inside, including one who had appeared on the roof, taken the bricks from the assailant, and tossed them off, out of reach.

Police arrested a suspect for the brick throwing as he exited the building out the back. Jesse Nesbitt, 34, is in custody in San Francisco County jail on $150,000 bail. According to sheriff’s department spokesperson Susan Fahey, he has been charged with three penal code violations: felony assault with force likely to cause great bodily injury (245a), assault on a peace officer with force likely to cause great bodily injury (245c), and felony vandalism of more than $400, 594b1.
A dozen or so remained in the building during the stand-off. Some poked their faces out an open window, hung down peace sign painted on a piece of cardboard, and talked into a megaphone. “We are not armed, we are completely peaceful,” one man assured. Meanwhile, police told press that they estimated 200 were inside and were “stockpiling pipes, bricks.”

The stand-off continued for a few hours until, at 7:30pm, police cleared out of the area. Most activists had left- thousands were massing in Oakland. But 40 or so people remained and re-entered the building. Many stayed until police came around 5am, arresting 26. Seven remain in custody, and all have been charged with trespassing. (Indicating that the weapon stockpiling concern turned out to be false. Which, as far as I could tell inside the building, it certainly was).

At that point, I entered the building as well to speak with those that remained. How did they feel about the violence? Did they think it was connected to the previous night’s events, when mysterious protesters destroyed numerous Valencia St businesses and cars in what some Occupy SF protesters suspect was an act of provocateurs?

For a response to come from Occupy SF, it must be consented on at a general assembly, a long process. So all the respondents represent only themselves- though most chose to remain anonymous. This structure can lead to a troubling lack of accountability: if something harmful happens at an action, who can be expected to explain it and help to prevent it in the future if everyone is responsible for only themselves? At the same time, each personal answer is less riddled in spin than a form answer would be, since people speak honestly, and for only themselves.

The Valencia St destruction “was enough that I didn’t come out and do anything today, whether it was Occupy or not,” one woman who had been “pretty involved in camp, back when it was at JHP” told me. “They were there to piggy back off an Occupy event, to use the organization of Occupy to organize themselves,”

The brick incident, however, did not caution her against showing up, as she did later that night. “Incidents like this happen often with mentally ill or violent people, but they get more publicity when they’re at an Occupy event.”

D, a longtime Occupy SF organizer, said wearily that “we were all surprised” at the incident.
“We weren’t expecting any bricks to be thrown,” he said, “and we didn’t want anyone to get hurt.”

But in terms of preventing similar actions in the future, D said, “We can only do so much. Everybody’s an autonomous individual and we can’t control what they do.”

“We can try to clean up everything that could be thrown, we did that last time. This time we focused more on stopping graffiti in the building. There wasn’t any.”

“That’s my friend. When I saw the brick flying at his face, I was hurt. Half our crew is in the hospital with him right now,” said another organizer. “But the real violence is the system putting people on the street, and the cops enforcing that. I’ve seen [Nesbitt] beat up by police.”

“What should we do, just turn our backs on people with mental illnesses?” another piped up.

“This whole occupy thing at this point is so spread out and separated,” said a self-described Occupy SF supporter. “There are parts that are revolutionary and parts that are more reform, and they’re trying to bridge that. I don’t know what it is at this point anymore. But I know I support a movement to articulate the rage at what’s happening in our country right now.”

May Day protests begin with ferry workers strike


[Editor’s Note: We’ll be covering May Day events in San Francisco and Oakland throughout the day, so check back for regular updates.]

May Day activities have begun with a strike by ferry workers and Golden Gate Transit workers, halting parts of the morning commute.

About 100 ferry workers picketed at the Ferry Building in San Francisco, as well as the Larkspur Ferry Terminal. In anticipation of the strike, the Golden Gate Bridge District announced that they would cancel morning ferry service yesterday. Service should resume at 2:15.

Workers from the Golden Gate Bridge Coalition say that they have offered concessions of more than $2 million and are still locked in labor disputes, prompting the strike for the traditional International Workers Day. 

“The last thing that bridge, bus, and ferry workers want to do is to inconvenience passengers, but what other option has management left us?” said Alex Tonisson, co-chair of the Golden Gate Bridge Labor Coalition, in a press release.

The strikes come after a rough start to May Day demonstrations in San Francisco. A plan for workers on the Golden Gate Bridge to strike and shut down traffic on the bridge was called off two days before the planned demonstration. Last night, protesters vandalized store windows, cars, and the Mission Police station in a march along Valencia St. Organizers with Occupy SF and Occupy Oakland were quick to distance themselves and condemn the destruction, both physically at the protest and in subsequent statements. 

We will continue to update as events unfold.

On eve of May Day, Valencia, Mission Police Station vandalized


A group of protesters left a trail of broken glass and paint tonight as they made their way from Dolores Park to Duboce on Valencia. Windows were broken, garbage cans overturned, paint bombs thrown, and messages saying “yuppies go home” as well as anarchist symbols were spray-painted on several restaurants, art galleries and cafes.

The façade of the police station on Mission and 17th was vandalized and broken.

A gathering at Dolores Park was advertised as a “a ruckus street party to counter gentrification, capitalism, and the policing of our communities.” About 200 attended, and chatted about their plans for the following day’s May Day activities while music played.

Shortly after 9pm, the group left the park and began to march on Dolores. Some overturned recycling bins and vandalized the windows at Farina restaurant minutes after turning the corner on 18th St, while others held back.

Dozens flocked to the sidewalk and began yelling, “this is not an Occupy SF action!”  while passers-by looked on, concerned.

The group turned on Valencia, continuing to shrink in size and break windows. Within half an hour there were less than 50 people in the march.

About 40 of police on foot followed the march along Valencia, trailing behind as vandalism continued. SFPD representatives were not immediately available for comment, but based on witness accounts there were no arrests.

Neighborhood residents were angered and confused by the destruction. One man who did not wish to be named said, “They kept doing it while other people in the march were trying to get them to stop. It was childish.”

Occupy Oakland protester Jesse Smith told CBS he was “more than a little shaken” by the events. 

“I know Occupiers,” Smith told CBS. “None of us have any idea who they were.”

A message on the Occupy SF website reads, “The march in the Mission Monday night was not an OccupySF event. OccupySF does not endorse this kind of destruction of the 99%’s property. The individuals involved in this destruction are not known to OccupySF, and we believe they are outside provocateurs sent in to tarnish the image of Occupy prior to the May Day actions.”

What’s going on for Bay Area May Day?


UPDATE: The Golden Gate Labor Coalition has announced a change of plans. Instead of Golden Gate Bridge pickets, the coalition will be supporting a strike of ferry workers, who plan to bring all morning ferry service to a standstill. They have announced that the actions at the Golden Gate Bridge are cancelled, and instead workers will be demonstrating in solidarity with ferry workers in Larkspur- specific locations will be announced later today.

May 1, International Workers Day — May Day — used to strike fear into the hearts of bosses. The first May Day in 1867 was a fight for the eight-hour workday in Chicago (see more history at Citizen Radio at the Occupy Oakland Tribune). Since then, May 1 has remained a day when grievances are aired, when students and workers party in the street, when people strike in ways that shows whose really boss (you can’t have that work that keeps everything running without all those workers.) But mostly in other countries.

In the US, the day has diminished in importance, although it has resurged in recent years focused on immigrants rights. But what with Occupy Wall Street, labor and union organizing ramping up, and student strikes, and all these people working more and more closely together, May Day is coming back to the US.

The Bay Area certainly won’t be left out. Here is a list of May Day events, starting tonight and ending–well, who knows when. If you know of others, write them in the comments: it wouldn’t be a decentralized massive attempt at a full-on general strike without you!


5:30pm, San Francisco:

City workers from SEIU Local 1021 will gather at City Hall in a continued offensive surrounding their ongoing contract negotiations. The program runs until 7:30 pm, but the protest will go on “until they kick us out!”

8pm, San Francisco:

“The strike starts early” with a gathering at Dolores Park. According to a press release, demonstrators will meet “for a ruckus street party to counter gentrification, capitalism, and the policing of our communities.” www.strikemay1st.com/the-strike-starts-early

MAY DAY (Tue/1)

All day:

National Nurses United/California Nurses United is on strike at Sutter Health locations throughout the Bay Area. According to a press release, “some 4,500 RNs will be affected by the planned walk-out.”

ILWU Local 10, which worked in solidarity with Occupy Oakland in two port shutdowns last fall, is planning another one. They say that a work stoppage will halt the Port of Oakland’s operations all day.

7-10am, San Francisco:

The Golden Gate Bridge labor coalition, representing several unions of workers on the bridge, have been without a contract since April 2011. They originally called for a strike and resulting shut down of the bridge- and had massive support behind them. They’re now saying the protest will involve picketing at the bridge instead. So come join a picket, or if you cross the bridge don’t take the workers for granted- the bridge doesn’t work without them. www.occupythebridge.com

7am, San Francisco:

Meet at 16th st and Mission to be a part of the first SF Bike Cavalry of the day, a critical mass that will ride to the Golden Gate Bridge in solidarity with the picket. www.sfbikecavalry.org

8:30am – 12pm, Oakland:

Occupy Oakland will join others protesting, picketing, and generally striking at three (or four?) “action stations.” Meet at Snow Park for a “flying picket” that will “shut down banks and the Chamber of Commerce.” Meet at First and Broadway to “occupy Child Protective Services” in response to a decision they made to de-grant custody of one woman’s children based in part on her involvement in Occupy Oakland. Meet at 22nd and Telegraph to cause mayhem at uptown and downtown business associations. www.strikemay1st.com/119/

10am, San Francisco:

A rally and march for immigrants rights (the people who have been holding down US May Day for years.) Meet at 24th St Mission Bart for a march to 16th St. 

11am, San Francisco:

Janitors and retail workers at Westfield Mall are engaged in an ongoing labor dispute, and they’ll be picketing in solidarity at 5th and Market. 

11am, San Francisco:

A second SF Bike Cavalry will convene at Justin Herman Plaza to support the janitors strike, the immigrants’ rights march, and the Peoples Street Festival

11:30am, Hayward:

The Amalgameted Transit Union Local 192 will protest “substandard conditions” and “institutionalized racism” (according to a press release) at the operators of AC Transit, A-Para Transit Corporation, 22990 Clawiter Rd in Hayward.

12pm, San Francisco:

All the San Francisco students who walk out of school, workers who call in sick, people who usually do all the housework, who, for the day, say screw it, and other “general strike” participants will converge at Montgomery and Market for the People’s Street Festival. Music, performance, art and fun for the whole family. 

Noon-1pm, Oakland:

A mass rally in Oakland, at 14th and Broadway, with food, speakers, music, activities, and generally a lot to do that you can’t if you’re at work. 

1-3pm, Oakland:

According to Occupy Oakland “After the rally, those in attendance have the opportunity to stay downtown or join one of the autonomous actions that will be departing from 14th & Broadway to continue shutting down various capitalist institutions in the downtown area.”

3pm, Oakland:

Meet at Fruitvale Plaza (next to the Fruitvale Bart station) for likely the biggest action of the day. The March for Dignity and Resistance is being called the Bay Area’s regional protest and supporters will be there from all over the area. mayday2012.blogspot.com

6pm, San Francisco:

Celebrate workers rights at a fundraiser for Young Workers United, a self-described “multi-racial and bilingual membership organization dedicated to improving the quality of jobs for young and immigrant workers.” The party is at El Rio, 3158 Mission. www.occupysf.org

On May Day, local groups who have taken to occupying spaces in ways other than public square-camping will be ramping up their efforts. The occupied farm at Gill Tract will push on, and in a message from Occupy San Francisco: “On May Day, the SF Commune will open it’s doors and conduct another Open Occupation in solidarity with the May 1st General Strike.” So if you’re looking for someone to sleep while protesting a complex web of oppressive forces Tuesday night, you may be in luck.

For more information, see www.strikemay1st.com, a clearinghouse for Bay Area May Day plans.

Also see:






Pissed off shareholders, homeowners, and taxpayers converge on Wells Fargo meeting


Wells Fargo managed to hold its shareholder meeting April 24, but not without difficulty. A protest against the bank’s ongoing part in the foreclosure crisis, investments in the private prison industry, and record of tax dodging brought some 2,000 people to the West Coast Wells Fargo headquarters at 465 California St. for the meeting.

A broad coalition, including more than 180 Wells Fargo shareholders, as well as organized labor, students, immigrant rights advocates, and Occupy protesters, swarmed the building. Many entered the building, and others blocked its entrances and set up a stage on California, turning the block between Montgomery and Sansome into a combination alternative “stakeholders meeting” and block party.

Streets surrounding the headquarters were closed for more than four hours, as both protesters and some 200 police in riot gear stood their ground; there were 24 arrests, mostly for trespassing.

Participants hailed from across the country, from students from the University of Minnesota to steel workers from Redding, Penn. Demonstrators were explicitly and enthusiastically “non-violent.” One local organizer from the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) announced, “This is a non-violent direct action,” to an eruption of cheers from the crowd, at a rally preceding the march.

Police say organizers stuck to their tactical intentions. “I think it was a successful event,” said Sgt. Michael Andraychak, a spokesperson for the SFPD. “They have followed through with their stated objective: to have a peaceful protest.”

The organizers were somewhat less successful in a stated objective to get a large number of discontent Wells Fargo shareholders into the meeting to ask tough questions. More than 180 attended a training to prepare for the meeting on the night of April 23, but less than 30 made it inside.

However, the meeting was cut short, and organizers claim that in barring a number of shareholders, Wells Fargo acted illegally and the result of votes from meeting may be invalid.

Many shareholders were particularly incensed about public subsidies that the company took advantage of in 2008. In an amendment to the tax code that lasted only three months before Congress revoked it, the IRS gave tax breaks to healthy banks that acquired banks that were faring more poorly; Wells Fargo acquired Wachovia during the three month window. As a result, the company received $17.96 billion in tax breaks between 2008 and 2012, significantly more than the cost of the Wachovia deal.

Protesters hoped to disrupt the meeting to demand that the bank pay more taxes. Wells Fargo announced record profits this year, as well as a $19.8 million pay package for CEO John Stumpf. Stumpf has earned $60 million in the past three years.

“If they were paying their taxes, we wouldn’t have to do this” said Al Haggett, a retired San 911 worker who trained dispatchers and police.

Ron Colbert, another shareholder and a worker for Sacramento’s school district, also attempted to enter the meeting. “My sisters and brothers are suffering from foreclosure and they are pocketing our money instead of paying their taxes,” said Colbert.

“Tuition keeps going up every year. I have loans like you wouldn’t believe: $15,000, and it’s just my first year. But I pay my taxes, so why can’t they?” said Andrew Contstas, a psychology major at the University of Minnesota who traveled to San Francisco for the protest.

Determined to shut down the meeting, many groups of protesters entered the building at different times.

Around 10:30 am, about 75 were able to get in and sit down in the lobby, refusing to leave. “They said if we dispersed, they would let the shareholders in,” said SEIU Local 1021 organizer Gabriel Haaland, referring to the shareholders who came to protest and air their grievances. “They still didn’t. But they let shareholders in from either side.”

Many non-protester shareholders were able to enter through back entrances, escorted by police.

Workers from several unions who are currently locked in labor disputes, including janitors with SEIU Local 87 and AT&T technicians with local Communication Workers of America chapters, were also present at the protest. A stage set up in front of Wells Fargo turned California into an arena in which worker, student, homeowners, and immigrants told their stories.

Chris Drioane of CWA Local 9410 said that he is fed up after he worked 80-90 hours per week with no days off though the 2011 holiday season. “I worked from Thanksgiving to Valentine’s Day with no days off,” said Drioane.

The SFPD made 20 arrests, six for “chaining themselves to an object” and 14 for “some form of trespassing” after Wells Fargo asked them to make the arrests. Four were arrested by the Sheriff’s Department for interfering with an officer.

Ruth Schultz, a shareholder who was arrested inside the meeting, said that those who entered were able to speak. Several stood up and spoke individually before they were escorted out; afterward, the remaining protester-shareholders mic-checked the meeting and expressed their desire that Wells Fargo cease investment in private prisons, give principal reduction to all underwater homeowners, and pay “their fair share” of taxes. Police handcuffed them, and they were cited and released after spending 30 minutes in a room inside the Wells Fargo headquarters.

Schultz says the meeting lasted only 15 minutes after the group was detained, and was “ceremonial at best…They went on about their profits this year, how they’re sitting on the most capital they’ve ever had before.”

She says she was particularly frustrated from one statement made by CEO John Stumpf. “He said, ‘we’re proud of our mortgage business. In fact, I love our mortgage business.’”

A press releases from organizers explained that the protest was part of “99% Power, a national effort to mobilize well over 10,000 people, from all walks of life and representing the diversity of the 99%, to engage in nonviolent direct action at more than three dozen corporate shareholder meetings across the country.”

The national group plans to create similar chaos at a Bank of America shareholder meeting in Charlotte, NC May 6.

Activists demonstrate, spend the night outside Wells Fargo


About 50 gathered for a demonstration April 23 outside the west coast Wells Fargo headquarters on Montgomery and California- and 20 stayed the night- in a plan to “Occupy Wells Fargo” for the bank’s shareholder meeting April 24.

Several organizers from non-profits and community groups aired their complaints about Wells Fargo, including their role in the foreclosure crisis as well as investments in the private prison and coal industries. 

Wells Fargo is a substantial investor in GEO Group, whose “operations include the management and/or ownership of 114 correctional, detention and residential treatment facilities encompassing approximately 80,000 beds,” according to its website. 

Amanda Starbuck of Rainforest Action Network decried Wells Fargo’s investments in the coal industry, especially mountaintop removal mining– a mining technique in which the top of a mountain is blown up, to attain access to coal. Many environmentalists oppose the practice, which leaves mountains flattened and barren, while allowing for the flow of sediment and mining chemicals into rivers and streams. 

“These projects would not be able to happen if banks like Wells Fargo didn’t invest in them,” said Starbuck to the group.

After the events ended around 10pm, protesters remained, serving food to passers-by and preparing for today’s events. One woman projected the word “shame” in glowing letters beneath Wells Fargo’s sign. 

“So John Stumpf [CEO of Wells Fargo] said, that’s a moral hazard to give principal reduction to people who are getting foreclosed on, but it’s not a moral hazard for Fannie Mae to buy up all these crap mortgages from us, and put the taxpayers on the hook,” Jane Smith, a longtime Occupy San Francisco organizer, explained enthusiastically to a small group of other protesters sitting on the sidewalk taking notes. 

Organizers say they expect at least 1,000 people to protest outside the company’s shareholder meeting.

20 remained over night outside the bank, about 16 lined up in sleeping bags. Police stood by throughout the night- there were no conflicts. 

Protesters plan to meet at Justin Herman Plaza at 10am for a march to the shareholder meeting.

Arrests after overnight ‘San Francisco Commune’ occupation


After at least 100 people remained in a building at 888 Turk for almost 24 hours, police ended the occupation at 1:30 pm today, blocking off the street, and arrested more than 70.

According to a press release from OccupySF, the occupation’s purpose was “creating a community center in the spirit of the buildings original intention, to create a center for health and healing.  In a city with ten thousand homeless people and thirty two thousand vacant but habitable units, it is a crime against humanity that people are prevented from sleeping through the night as part of a political protest or as a basic human right.”

A muni bus carrying police in riot gear pulled up in front of the building and officers ran out, issuing no warning to those inside.

The number of occupiers had jumped since noon, when a march of about 40 supporters arrived. A large group was on the second floor when police entered; according to protesters who remained inside, some had barricaded the stairway.

“For a while, we knew they were inside the building and we could hear a sound like a battering ram,” said one protester, who says that she was transported to the jail in the same vehicle as a man who sustained a broken wrist during the raid.

Some who were outside the building when police arrived were allowed to leave out the front door, and others may have exited from different routes.

Independent journalists were among those arrested.

Protesters say that they were occupying the space to demand rights for the homeless and a community center in which to organize.

The occupation was part of a “National Day of Action for the Right to Exist,” organized by the Western Regional Advocacy Project (WRAP) and USA-Canada Alliance of Inhabitants. According to Paul Boden, an organizer with WRAP, demonstrations in conjunction with the day of action took place in 17 cities.

“The government serves the people. If the laws stops working, and there are people who are homeless on the street and they need a place to stay, they should be able to stay there,” said Shannon Mueller, a sophomore environmental studies major at the University of San Francisco. Mueller and others from Occupy USF joined about 50 others who protested outside police lines as the arrests took place.

Most have been charged with misdemeanor trespass.

Neighbors varied in their responses to the occupation on their street. Some from the Parkview Terraces apartment building across the street expressed support and gave donations to occupiers, while others reproached the group or called, “get a job.”

A group of about 50 supporters gathered at Union Square to at 5pm and marched to 850 Bryant where some of those arrested were being released, blasting music, dancing, and chanting “this is what solidarity looks like.”

Inside OccupySF’s ongoing building takeover


UPDATE 1:15 PM: Without warning or an order to disperse, riot police arriving by bus suddenly raided the building moments ago, making more than a dozen arrests so far. More soon as the story develops.

Editor’s Note: Guardian staff writer Yael Chanoff reports from the inside of vacant building that Occupy SF has taken over in hopes of creating a community center.

The inside is mainly filled with people organizing, exchanging ideas, and e-mailing and calling contacts from around the city who may be able to provide assistance for the effort. Many are coordinating for a meeting with the Catholic Archdiocese – which owns this former mental health clinic at 888 Turk Street – that is scheduled to take place this afternoon. A delegation from the Interfaith Council of San Francisco and the National Lawyers Guild are also on their way to building to help plan for the meeting.

A head count last night showed there were about 125 people here. Some have left, but many arrived this morning, leaving about 100 at this point. Various rooms in the building have been organized for different purposes including a welcome desk and information center, sleeping quarters, library, and medical clinic.

Last night, it was a relaxed party atmosphere with groups in every room expressing ideas for the community center and employing strategies for keeping the space. Graffiti art and messages were painted in hallways, a free hot meal was served, and people mostly respected designated composting, recycling, and trash bins. The commune received at least five deliveries of donated pizza.

By 7 am today, occupiers were sweeping, scrubbing and picking up stray trash, as well as painting over most of the message on the walls with white paint. The police are holding a partial line, with barricades blocking the sidewalk on two sides of Gough and Turk streets, and officers are attempting to prevent people from entering the building.

However, they have not blocked off the street and many people have entered by riding up to the entrance in bikes, cars, or simply walking past police. Deliveries of supplies this morning includes breakfast of cereal, milk, coffee and fruit; as well as mattresses and warming clothing.

About 20 people are sitting outside the building in the sun blasting KPOO radio, which made an announcement on air a few minutes ago that it is the soundtrack of the SF Commune. There is a tent set up on the roof, and a group up there doing a coordinated dance number.

There is a general assembly meeting set for 6 pm and most occupiers are hopeful that there won’t be a police raid before then.

Breaking: hundreds with OccupySF ‘occupying’ building


UPDATE: Representatives of the Archdiocese have made clear that they will not make a decision regarding the building occupation until the morning 

OccupySF, along with at least 400 supporters and homeless advocacy groups, have entered a vacant ’building and plan to turn it into a community center. Participants served a free dinner, unrolled sleeping bags and tacked up posters in rooms marked “sleeping quarters” by organizers, and are currently meeting to decide next steps.

“Occupy San Francisco and Occupy Oakland originally were providing food and shelter to those who didn’t have it previously. That’s the plan I think, to provide food, shelter and a space for political organizing,” said protester Samantha Levens, 33, a deckhand on the Alameda-Oakland Ferry. 

The building, 888 Turk, is the former site of Westside Mental Health Center and has been vacant since the closure of that mental health clinic about five years ago. It is owned by the Archdiocese of San Francisco.

It is available for lease through HC&M Commercial Properties.

About 400 marched to the building at 4:30pm, trailed by an former AC Transit decorated and converted to a protest-party vehicle by Occupy Oakland. The march had the air of an April Fools Day Carnival, complete with clowns, jugglers, and a man dressed as Captain America alongside people with bandanas and Guy Fawkes masks. Protesters marched from Union Square on Geary, chanting “homes not jails” and ”housekeys not handcuffs.”

The march followed a rally in Union Square, in which homeless advocates from Berkeley, Oakland and Sacramento spoke to the crowd, and performers including the Mixcoatl Anahuac dance group and the Brass Liberation Orchestra kept the mood festive.

The protest was part of a national day to defend the rights of the homeless with protests in 17 cities. Paul Boden of the Western Regional Advocacy Project, which planned the Union Square protest, spoke speficically about Business Improvement Districts in San Francisco, which he claimed funell property taxes to businesses at the expense of the homeless.

When the march arrived at Turk and Gough, the site of the building, it had already been unlocked from the inside, and protesters on the roof held a sign reading “organize or starve.”

About 40 police officers provided an on-foot escort for the march. Officers as well as several police vehicles are currently standing by the “occupied” site, and declined to provide comment at this time. 

An OccupySF-associated building takeover occurred Jan. 20 just a few blocks away at the former Cathedral Hill Hotel. At the request of the building’s owners, police entered the building, and no occupiers remained the following morning.

“Occupy SF through the OccupySF commune has inhabited a vacant building for the purpose of creating a community center in the spirit of the buildings original intention, to create a center for health and healing,” according to a press release issued by the group.


Teachers, students demand funding for education


People across the Bay Area joined in the National Day of Action to Defend Public Education March 1, with rallies at Berkeley City Hall, UC Berkeley, Oakland City Hall, SF State, and at the State Building on Golden Gate Ave.  Demonstrators at UC Santa Cruz shut down the campus for the day demanding well-funded and quality public education.

At the State building, about 100 engaged in civil disobedience, entering the building’s large lobby for a teach-in on the importance of public education. Speakers included teachers and students from several local schools, including City College of San Francisco, San Francisco State University, and Mission High School.

Around 4 p.m, most left the building to go two blocks down the street to Civic Center Plaza, where about 400 converged to share stories of hardship in affording education and voice demands.

Students from local elementary schools express their concerns at the Civic Center rally to defend public education. Video by Carol Harvey

The day of action was supported and shaped in part by Occupy groups throughout the country, including, here in the city, Occupy SF, Occupy SF State and Occupy CCSF. But unlike most occupy-affiliated demonstrations, speakers March. 1 urged the crowd to support specific policies; initiatives that may go to the ballot in November.

Specifically, the group expressed support for the Millionaire’s Tax measure. If the measure passes, California residents earning $1 million per year would pay an additional three percent in income taxes; those making $2 million or make per year would add five percent. 60 percent of funds raised would go towards education.

There are several competing ballot initiatives to fund education, including one proposed by Governor Jerry Brown. According to a recent Field Poll, the Millionaire’s Tax polls the highest, with 63 percent support.

Some protesters also expressed support for the Tax Oil to Fund Education Initiative.

Support for both measures was one of the demands on a demand letter distributed throughout the events. Activists began the protest with lobbying at the offices of state legislators, and convinced four aides to fax the demand letter to their representatives, including Leland Yee, Mark Leno, Fiona Ma, and Tom Ammiano.

However, some protesters at the State Building teach-in emphasized that legislation would not solve the whole problem.

“This issue is bigger than just taxes. The same power structure that is causing the destruction of our educational system is also destroying the face of the planet that we live on. It’s destroying our personal relationships with one another and all of our brothers and sisters around the world,” said Ivy Anderson, a 2011 SF State graduate and organizer with the environmental group Deep Green Resistance.

The event was peaceful and lasted only a few hours. When the state building closed at 6 p.m., 14 remained inside, continuing to “occupy.” Police issued a dispersal order shortly after six o’ clock, and by 6:40, 13 had been cited on-site and released, according to SF occupier Joshua.

At that point, several raced to board buses down the block, joining about 100 others who began a march to Sacramento. Known as the “99 Mile March for Education,” protesters plan to walk about 20 miles a day until arriving in Sacramento March 5 to take their demands for accessible education to the governor.

According to Joshua, the conflict-free day was a success.

“We had a great rally, and I thought it was an excellent lead-up to Sacramento,” said Joshua.

“But the capitol is obviously going to be a bigger fish.”

Occupy and Castlewood Workers to join up for “perhaps the biggest and most vibrant march Pleasanton has ever seen”


Organizers hope for a big turnout Feb. 25 for the latest protest in a two-year saga to demand a better contract.

Food service workers at Castlewood Country Club were put on lockout on Feb. 25, 2010 when they refused the terms of a contract with the club. The contract stipulated that workers pay $849 per month for health care, a change from the free health care the contract had previously provided.

Lockouts, when employers refuse to let employees come back to work until they agree to contract terms, are a rare but powerful tool used against unions.

“A lockout is the opposite of a strike,” said Sarah Norr, organizer with UNITE HERE local 2850, which represents the Castlewood workers.

Since the lockout began, the club has hired non-union replacement workers and most of the union workers have taken other jobs. But, in order to end the lockout legally, the company must resolve the contract issues.

According to Norr, “It’s illegal to permanently replace locked out workers.”

Workers brought the case to the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB), which filed a complaint against Castlewood August 30, 2010. The complaint states that the club “has been interfering with, restraining, and coercing employees in the exercise of the rights guaranteed in Section 7 of the [National Labor Relations] Act” and “has been failing and refusing to bargaining [sic] collectively and in good faith with the exclusive bargaining representative of its employees.”

An ongoing NLRB hearing on the case is expected to conclude on March 1.

Meanwhile, workers have been picketing daily since the lockout began two years ago. This has sometimes resulted in dramatic clashes with the club members.

One of the workers’ protests last June. Golfers’ reponses, complete with property desctruction, begin around 1:35

“Members of the club harass them on a daily basis. Hitting golf balls at them, throwing racial slurs at them. Some of them are really supportive but some are not so nice,” said Norr.

But workers persevere, and tomorrow they hope for a larch march on the club, joined by OccupySF and Occupy Oakland.

Said Norr, “It’s going to be a big, vibrant march, perhaps biggest and most vibrant march Pleasanton has ever seen. There will be a babies’ and children’s brigade.”

For Occupy organizers, joining up with the protest makes perfect sense.

“Many of Castlewood’s member-owners spent $25,000 for their memberships,” said Ann Worth, a longtime union member and participant in Occupy Oakland, in a press release. “They can justify spending that kind of money to play golf, but they still think it’s okay to squeeze more out of the people who work for them for $10 or $12 an hour. They expect workers to subsidize their expensive game by giving up affordable health care for their kids. It’s a perfect example of what’s been going wrong in this country: the rich are getting richer by denying everyone else their share in the American Dream.”





Police graft

This event, part of the Shaping SF Public Talk series, will focus on the 1937 Atherton Report that blew the lid off San Francisco police corruption in that era. Speakers Hank Chapot and Chris Agee will address their research, on the report and on SF policing and crime in the 1950s, respectively.

7:30pm, free


1310 Mission, SF



Eviction community forum

A panel discussion and chance to access resources for those affected by and interested in the epidemic of foreclosures and evictions in our neighborhoods. Hear from community organizers, foreclosure lawyers, and affected homeowners and tenants. This is organized by Occupy Bernal and will feature Spanish translation and childcare.

7pm, free

Bernal Heights Community Center

515 Cortland, SF



Garden for the environment

Enjoy live music, food from Haight Street Market, a raffle, and a celebration of urban permaculture at the fundraiser. The Haight Ashbury Neighborhood Center celebrates the achievements of Garden for the Environment, a group that maintains a one-acre garden in the Sunset demonstrating the educational, environmental and food-security possibilities of permaculture.

6pm, $5

111 Minna, SF




History of porn

Join author Sam Benjamin and golden age porn star Richard Pacheco for a lively presentation chronicling how porn emerged in its present form by looking back over past decades. The presentation will use non-explicit clips but promises to be funny and informative. Benjamin is the author of American Gangbang: A Love Story.

8pm, $10-30 suggested donation

Center for Sex and Culture

1349 Mission, SF



Foreclose on Wells Fargo CEO

A demonstration, complete with street theater and education, as activists attempt to foreclose on and evict Wells Fargo CEO John Stumpf. According to Occupy Bernal, this fun community event will feature “street theater to foreclose, auction home, and evict the CEO, music, Pride at Work dance mob, and special surprise bidders.”

1pm, free

1090 Chestnut, SF



Deep Green Resistance

Have you ever felt that to continue to live on the planet, people must actively dismantle industrial systems which are destroying the earth, perhaps by any means necessary? If so, you should hear author Aric McBay speak about his book Deep Green Resistance: Strategy to Save the Planet. In the book, also by Derrick Jensen and Lierre Keith, the authors discuss the philosophies, tactics and implications of this brand of radical environmental activism.

7:30pm, free

Unite HERE Local 2

209 Golden Gate, SF


Valentine’s Day dump the banks rally: If only all break-ups involved this much singing (VIDEO)


Protesters across the country participated in “break up with your bank” day on Feb. 14. Several protesters happened throughout the Bay Area, including a demonstration organized by Causa Justa :: Just Cause, Occupy Bernal, Occupy SF Housing, and the San Francisco Tenants Union.

In past months those organizations have variously stopped evictions and foreclosures, prevented homes from being auctioned off, and organized mass protests. They’ve created trouble shutting down bank branches, sometimes for hours, on dozens of occasions.

For Valentine’s Day, protesters decided to have a little fun.

“Our intention is not to shut down the banks,” insisted Causa Justa organizer Maria Zamudio. “Just to break up with them.”

About 60 marched through the financial district Feb. 14, presenting large red broken hearts and “dump the banks” banners decorated with pink balloons.


Security guards at the banks that the group approached locked their doors. Protesters, amused, began chanting “the banks shut themselves down.”

Bank of America building locked their doors when they saw the protest approaching. At the Wells Fargo west coast headquarters around the corner, a representative who identified himself as David accepted the card.

Afterwards, a dozen members of the group headed to City Hall for a Board of Supervisors meeting in support of a resolution brought by Supervisor John Avalos and co-sponsored by Supervisor Eric Mar. The resolution supports the city treasurer’s office in its recent efforts to include social responsibility and community reinvestment in its evaluation criteria as it searches for new banks in which to invest San Francisco’s money. The resolution passed.

“It’s not a victory, but a great step in the right direction,” said Zamudio. She hopes that the social responsibility assessment will look at a bank’s history with predatory loans, investment in small businesses, and refinancing mortgages.

The Obama budget, beyond the politics


Man, the way the president’s talking it sounds as if he’s appointed the General Assembly of OccupySF to write his budget plans. He’s going to make everyone pay a fair share of taxes. He’s going to invest in affordable higher education. He’s going to spend $350 billion on jobs programs. Just about everyone in the news media is calling it a “populist budget.

I love the politics. It’s the year Occupy will dominate the national political debate, and for Obama to decide that he wants to hitch his wagon to the tax-the-rich star can only be a positive development. Washington is listening, and is starting to talk. We’re making progress.

But we haven’t made that much. Because the actual Obama budget isn’t such a radical departure from what he and his predecessors have been doing for years: Spending far too much on the military, cutting tax rates for high incomes and leaving largely intact the class divide.

There’s a good NYT analysis here but you have to go through it carefully. Here’s what our populist leader wants to do:

1. He’s going to spend $613.9 billion on the military, more than most other departments combined. When you add in the $64 billion we’re spending to clean up the human costs of former wars (which isn’t enough) and the $40 billion we’re spending on Homeland Security, that’s a big, big number. Yeah, it’s about 2 percent less than last year. It’s still far too large, dwarfing all other federal spending. And we’re supposed to be winding down wars.

2. He’s not going to raise the marginal tax rate on the rich. In fact, he’s talking about lowering it. That’s crazy, that’s criminal, that’s a recipe for continued deficits and increased wealth disparity. All he’s proposing is to raise the tax rate on stock dividends — yeah, that’s something that mostly benefits the wealthy (although also some middle-class retired people), but it’s a tiny fraction of the money that would be available if the top bracket was raised just a little bit. His goal for new taxes? About $20 billion a year. Peanuts.

3. He’s not investing heavily in critical transportation priorities like high-speed rail. The funding for the transpo system of the nation’s future: $47 billion over six years. That’s less than $8 billion a year, which won’t build much track. His annual commitment to a project that would create tens of thousands of jobs and go a long way to end fossil-fuel reliance? About what the Pentagon will spend every four days. Whoopee.

So while I get the rhetoric, and it demonstrates that he’s going to make a few nods to the left during the campaign, I wouldn’t get too excited about this budget. It’s really business as usual.



Can SF follow Berkeley in dumping the big banks?


The City of Berkeley is considering dropping its contract with Wells Fargo and moving the city’s money to a credit union or a smaller community bank. That makes perfect sense — the Move Your Money Project has been urging individuals to do that, and there’s no reason why cities (which are huge customers of banking services) can’t do the same.

In fact, San Francisco ought to be next on the list.

This city puts all of its short-term money in Bank of America. It’s a lot of cash — if the city spends more than $6 billion a year, much of that at some point goes into a city account and most of the checks the city issues are paid on that account. We’re talking a plum deal for a big bank — particularly since the city’s checks aren’t going to bounce and the money comes in steadily.

Why B of A? Because the contract is put out to bid, and B of A was able to offer the best deal. But the bidding process didn’t consider the issues that Occupy has brought up — nor did it consider the number of local jobs that could be generated if the city put its money in a local bank that actually makes local loans to small businesses and homeowners instead of foreclosing on people and shipping the profits back to North Carolina every night.

I don’t know if there’s a local credit union or community bank big enough to handle the business of a client the size of San Francisco — but there’s no reason the entire contract has to go to one bank.

Besides, we could always create our own.

What are people?


Protesters from the Occupy movement and beyond gathered in front of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco on Jan. 20, calling for the adoption of a 28th amendment to the U.S. Constitution aimed at refuting the idea that corporations should have the same rights as people, a legal doctrine know as corporate personhood.

The event was part of a day of action at courthouses around the country, seeking to raise public awareness about the unfettered influence of corporate money in U.S. elections and draw attention to the second anniversary of the landmark corporate personhood decision by U.S. Supreme Court, Citizens United vs the Federal Elections Commission.

“We are here not to protest, not to petition, and not to plead, but to proclaim a truth that should be self evident, even to the Supreme Court: Corporations are not people; money is not speech,” said Abraham Entin, of North Bay Move To Amend, addressing a crowd gathered at the courthouse. “Corporations work very hard to convince us that we cannot do without them and the products they produce. They tell us they are too big to fail, and that our survival is dependent on their survival … Occupy has changed all that.”

In a contentious 5-4 ruling handed down on Jan. 21, 2010, the Citizens United case solidified the legal framework that bequeaths corporations the same rights under the Constitution as real, living, breathing, U.S. citizens, and by merit of their First Amendment rights as citizens bars any restrictions placed on a corporation’s ability to spend money to influence elections.

When Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney famously said on the campaign trail that “corporations are people, my friend, because corporations have people inside them,” he is reflecting the logic of the majority opinion in the Citizens United case. The court’s majority asserted that corporations are essentially an association of people and thus enjoy the same rights as individuals.

The court also claimed that it is impossible to distinguish between the corporate media outlets and other corporate speech, so all corporations should enjoy the free speech rights saved for the press. Furthermore, because journalists often have to spend money to achieve speech, money spent on messaging by all corporations represents protected speech.

Corporations, a relatively modern invention, aren’t actually discussed in the Constitution. But the notion of corporation personhood began around 1886 in the case of Santa Clara County v. Southern Pacific Railroad. What Citizens United did was equate corporate money spent to influence elections with protected political speech, upending attempts at election reforms and gutting the McCain-Feingold Act of 2002 that regulated federal election campaigns.

That corporations act to corrupt our democratic systems for their own profit is not conspiracy, it’s simply a byproduct of what they are. Corporations are legally obligated to act to maximize their profits for the benefit of their shareholders, otherwise their board and corporate officers are considered negligent of their obligations to their shareholders’ financial interests. Unlike journalists, whose professional credo calls for fairness and acting in the public interest, corporations are designed to act in their own interests.

As Justice John Paul Stevens wrote for the dissenting judges in Citizens United, “Corporations have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires. Corporations help structure and facilitate the activities of human beings, to be sure, and their ‘personhood’ often serves as a useful legal fiction. But they are not themselves members of ‘We the People’ by whom and for whom our Constitution was established.”

The resulting flood of corporate money into election campaigns since the court’s ruling is delivered through an aqueduct known as the Super PAC (political action committee). In the wake of Citizens United, election spending by Super PACs in the 2010 midterm elections exceeded $300 million dollars, more spending than the overall spending in the previous five midterm elections combined.

Unlike donations to campaigns, which so far remain regulated, Super PAC money is spent directly by the Super PAC, and can be spent attacking as well as supporting candidates, leading to fears that corporations can exert influence on incumbents before a re-election campaigns by threatening to spend money attacking them in the upcoming election cycle.

“Corporations are human creations, state creations, legal entities … There is no reason we cannot limit their spending,” said Carlos Villarreal, executive director of the National Lawyers Guild’s Bay Area chapter. “Nonprofit organizations are limited in their political spending. Churches and charitable organizations are also limited in their spending. So why not for-profit corporations?”

Perhaps no group knows more about government limits to free speech than participants of the Occupy movement. Elastic restrictions on individual free speech and freedom of association rights spelled out in the First Amendment, resting on alleged risks to health and public safety, have led to Occupy encampments across the nation being restricted and evicted, at times enforced by brutal police crackdowns.

The right of the government to restrict individual and group speech that officials believe represents a clear and present danger was established by the Supreme Court in the 1919 Schenck v United States case — the famous “don’t yell fire in a crowded theater” case. What is not widely known is that this case was a re-examination of the famous 1917 Espionage Act. The “crowded theater” was our nation’s entry into World War I, and those being jailed for “yelling fire” were labor organizers and pacifists expressing their opposition to our entry into the war.

Relying on Schenck, courts have consistently defended restrictions on individual free speech when there is a compelling interest to public safety, the so-called “clear and present danger” standard. Villarreal and the crowd gathered before the Ninth Circuit asserted that corporate influence in our democratic processes represents a clear and present danger to society. “There is no more compelling interest than protecting democracy,” said Villarreal.

Despite the apparent double standard, legal experts say the courts action in the Citizens United case leaves a constitutional amendment as the only avenue left for regulating corporate money in elections and ending corporate personhood, but the movement to take on that Herculean task has already begun.

U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) and Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) have introduced legislation proposing a 28th Amendment to the Constitution. While the language differs from another amendment presented by the group Move to Amend, it also takes aim at ending corporate personhood.

“Two years ago, the United States Supreme Court betrayed our Constitution and those who fought to ensure that its protections are enjoyed equally by all persons regardless of religion, race or gender, by engaging in an unabashed power-grab on behalf of corporate America,” Sanders wrote in a Jan. 20 Guardian(UK) column.

In Sanders’ home state of Vermont, the state Senate is also considering a resolution calling for a constitutional amendment against corporate personhood. A similar resolution, authored by Alix Rosenthal, was adopted by the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee during a special meeting on Jan. 21. There was just one dissenting vote, and DCCC members say they plan to push for the state party organization to also adopt the stance.

The hurdles set forth to amend the U.S. Constitution, outlined in Article V, are substantial. In order for an amendment to even be considered, a super majority of both houses of Congress must initiate the process, or two-thirds of states must call for the amendment. Proposed amendments passing this threshold are then adopted only after three-quarters of state legislatures ratify the proposed amendment. But that difficult road is one the protesters said they are ready to travel. “We are here on a rainy day with warm hearts and wet feet. We are the 100 percent, the humans. No corporation has every experienced the thrill of wet feet,” said Gangs of America author Ted Nace. “We are the fools who go out on a wet day to fix a broken world. Eighty percent of the public want to fix this. That means we are halfway to our goal. What remains is organization, mobilization.”

Occupy is back — with horns and glitter



On Jan. 20, hundreds of activists converged on the Financial District in a day that showed a reinvigorated and energized Occupy movement.

The day of action was deemed “Occupy Wall Street West.” Despite pouring rain, the numbers swelled to 1,200 by early evening.

Critics have said that the Occupy movement is disorganized and lacks a clear message. Some have decried its supposed lack of unity. Others have even declared it dead.

But the broad coalition of community organizations that came together to send a message focused on the abuses of housing rights by corporations and the 1 percent sent a clear message:

The movement is very much alive.



Protesters packed the day with an impressive line-up of marches, pickets, flash mobs, blockades, and everything in between.

The action began at 6:30 a.m., when dozens chained and locked themselves together, blocking every entrance to Wells Fargo’s West Coast headquarters at 420 Montgomery Street. The bank didn’t open for business that morning.

Another group of protesters did the same thing at the Bank of America Building around the corner. A dozen blockaded one of the bank’s entrances from 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m., preventing its opening. A group organized by Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER) closed down the Bank of America branch at Powell and Market for several hours.

The Bank of America branch at Market and Main was also closed when activists turned it into “the Food Bank of America.” Several chained themselves for the door, while others set up a table serving donated food to hundreds of people.

Meanwhile, activists with the SF Housing Rights Coalition and Tenants Union occupied the offices of Fortress Investments, a hedge fund that has overseen the destruction of thousands of rent controlled apartments at Parkmerced. Direct actions also took place at the offices of Bechtel, Goldman Sachs, and Citicorp.

Hundreds picketed the Grand Hyatt at Union Square in solidarity with UNITE HERE Local 2 hotel workers.

A group of about 600 left from Justin Herman Plaza at noon and marched to offices of Fannie Mae, Wells Fargo, and the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency (ICE) in a protest meant to draw attention to housing and immigrant-rights issues.

“It’s not just a corporate problem. The government has been complicit in these abuses as well,” said Diana Masaca, one of the protest’s organizers.

More than 100 activists from People Organized to Win Employment Rights (POWER) and the Progressive Workers Alliance “occupied Muni,” riding Muni buses on Market Street with signs and chants demanding free transit for youth in San Francisco.

Another 200 participated in an “Occupy the Courts” action at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in protest of the Citizens United Supreme Court decision and corporate personhood.



Exhausted, soaked protesters managed to keep a festive spirit throughout the day, with colorful costumes, loud music, and glitter — lots of glitter.

The Horizontal Alliance of Very Organized Queers (HAVOQ) and Pride at Work brought the sparkly stuff, along with streamers and brightly colored umbrellas, to several different actions. Many painted protest slogans onto their umbrellas, proclaiming such sentiments as “I’ll show you trickle down” and “Not gay as in happy, queer as in fuck capitalism.”

According to protester Beja Alisheva, “HAVOQ is about bringing fabulosity to the movement with glitter, queerness, and pride. All day we’ve been showing solidarity between a lot of different types of oppression.”

There was also the Occupy Oakland party bus — a decked-out former AC transit bus — and carnival, a roving party that shut down intersections and bank entrances in its path while providing passengers a temporary respite from rain.

The Brass Liberation Orchestra, a radical marching band that has been energizing Bay Area protests for a decade, showed up in full force with trumpets, drums, trombones, and a weathered sousaphone.

The Interfaith Allies of Occupy also used horns to declare their message. About 30 participated in a mobile service, sounding traditional rams’ horns and declaring the need to “lift up human need and bring down corporate greed.”

Said Rabbi David J. Cooper of Kehela Community Synagogue in Oakland: “Leviticus 19 says, do not stand idly by in the face of your neighbor’s suffering. Well, we’re all neighbors here. Ninety-nine percent of us are suffering in some way, economically or spiritually. And maybe that number is 100 percent.”



A coalition called Occupy SF Housing called for and organized the day of action, but the messages ranged from environmental to anti-war to immigrant rights.

Many groups did focus in on housing-related issues — and a takeover of a vacant hotel building stressed the urgency and need to house homeless San Francisco residents.

Housing protests included an anti wage-theft occupation led by the Filipino Community Center and the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns at the offices of CitiApartments, an action at the offices of Fortress Investments to demand a halt to predatory equity, and an “Occupy the Auction” demonstration in which protesters with Occupy Bernal stopped the day’s housing auction (at which foreclosed homes are sold) at City Hall.

“A lot of the displacement in this city is happening because of banks and because of things that are out of peoples’ control,” said Amitai Heller, a counselor with the San Francisco Tenants Union. “People will live in a rent controlled apartment for 20 years thinking that they have their retirement planned. A lot of the critiques of the movement are, if you couldn’t afford it you should move. But these people moved here knowing they could afford it because of our rent controls.”



Most of the early protests drew a few hundred people. But when the 5 p.m. convergence time rolled around, many people got off work and joined the march. A rally at Justin Herman Plaza brought about 600; by the time the march joined up with others at Bank of America on Montgomery and California, the numbers had doubled.

The evening’s demonstration, deemed “liberate the commons,” was also more radical than other tactics throughout the day; organizers hoped to break into and hold a vacant building, the 600-unit former Cathedral Hill Hotel at 1101 Van Ness.

When protesters arrived at the site, police were waiting for them. Wearing riot gear and reinforced by barricades, the cops successfully blocked the Geary entrance to the former hotel.

The darkness, rain, and uncertainty created a chaotic environment as protesters decided how to proceed. Some attempted to remove barricades; others chanted anti-police slogans.

Soon, cries of “Medic! We need a medic!” pierced the air. A dozen or so protesters had been pepper sprayed.

Police Information Officer Carlos Manfredi later claimed that the pepper spray was in response to “rocks, bottles and bricks” thrown by protesters. He also claimed that one officer was struck in the chest by a brick, and another “may have broken his hand.”

But I witnessed the entire incident, and I can say that no rocks, bottles or bricks were thrown at police.

When protesters opted to march down Van Ness, apparently towards City hall, several broke windows at a Bentley dealership at 999 Van Ness.

The march then turned around and headed back up Franklin, ending at the former hotel’s back entrance. There, it became clear that some protesters had successfully entered the building; they unfurled a banner from the roof reading “liberate the commons.”

Soon, many other protesters streamed into the building. They held it, with no police interference, for several hours.

Around 9:30, police entered the building and arrested three protesters for trespassing. About 15 others remained in the building, but left voluntarily by midnight.

This building has been a target of protest campaigns in San Francisco since it was purchased by California Pacific Medical Center, which closed the hotel in 2009. There are plans underway for a hospital to open at the site in 2015.

The project has been met with opposition from unions such as SEIU United Healthcare Workers West and UNITE HERE Local 2. The California Nurses Association (CNA) has also come out against the hospital proposal. In fact, it was the target of a CNA protest earlier in the day Jan. 20, when protesters created a “human billboard” reading “CPMC for the 1 percent.”

At a Jan.18 press conference, CNA member Pilar Schiavo said that at the former Cathedral Hill Hotel site, “A huge hospital is being planned with is being likened by Sutter to a five-star hotel. At the same time, Sutter is gutting St. Lukes Hospital, which is essential to providing healthcare for residents in the Mission, the Excelsior and Bayview- Hunter’s Point.”

Homes Not Jails, a group that finds housing for the homeless, often without regard to property rights, was crucial to planning the “Liberate the Commons’ protest. The group insists that the 30,000 vacant housing units in San Francisco should be used to shelter the city’s homeless, which they estimate at 10,000.



Wet and cold conditions were not what Occupy SF Housing Coalition organizers had in mind they spent weeks planning Occupy Wall Street West, which was billed as the reemergence of the Occupy Movement in San Francisco for 2012.

Yet for many, the day was still a success.

“The rain’s a downer. But I think it speaks to the power of the movement, the fact that all these people are still out getting soaked,” said Heller on Jan. 20.

Perhaps hundreds of “fair-whether activists” did forgo the day’s events to stay out of the cold. If that’s the case, then occupy protesters with big plans for the spring should be pleased.

At this rate, it seems that Occupy will survive the winter- and emerge with renewed energy in 2012.


This article has been to corrected. We originally reported that a demonstration at the offices of Citi Apartments was led by the Chinese Progressive Association (CPA). In fact, it was led by the Filipino Community Center and the National Alliance for Filipino Concerns, and supported by a number of organizations including the Progressive Workers Alliance, of which CPA is a member organization. We regret the error.

Will Obama bring the populist fire in tonight’s speech?


President Barack Obama has a choice for how he uses his State of the Union speech this evening. He could follow the advice of Blue Dog Democrats like Mark Penn, who wrote in The Hill today that Obama should avoid “rhetoric that could be interpreted as class warfare.” Or he can find his inner populist and give the speech that the 99 percent needs to hear by announcing that the rich and the Right have already declared that war, and now he intends to win it on behalf of the people.

I’m rooting for the latter, but fearful that Obama is no William Jennings Bryant – or either of the Presidents Roosevelt – and that he is just not up for seizing this moment and going to war with the powerful plutocrats who are ruining this country.

But there are signs that Obama is at least prepared to “double down on taxing the rich,” as the Christian Science Monitor put it today. Certainly, all signs indicate that he will at least raise the economic inequity issue again tonight, and it’s a positive sign that the invited audience will include Debbie Bosanek, the secretary to billionaire investor Warren Buffet that he famously complained shouldn’t be paying his same tax rate. Certainly, Obama intends to push for his “Buffet rule” that would tax investment returns as income rather than at lower capital gains rates.

But those sorts of reasonable arguments aren’t enough. Obama has been calling for higher taxes on the rich throughout his presidency, albeit never as forcefully as he did on the presidential campaign trail in 2008. And since then, he’s repeatedly betrayed that pledge in cutting deals with Republicans in Congress, exacerbating historically high concentrations of wealth and betraying his own stated principles.

The Occupy movement and most of the left – and even segments of the Tea Party right that complain about the economic elites – no longer trust Obama and the Democrats to fight for the interests of the commoner. We’ve become cynical about putting any hopes in a president poised to shatter campaign fundraising records this year.

Yet as Obama prepares to run for reelection against either a vulture capitalist or hypocritical moralist – both of whom will be openly shilling for the 1 percent – he should realize that it’s both good policy and good politics to capitalize on the opportunity that the Occupy movement has opened up, join the class war, and help us finally win it and seize the resources we need to deal with this country’s myriad problems.

Today’s Chronicle includes a front page story about Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s hopes that Democrats will pick up the 25 seats needed to retake the House of Representatives this year – along with analysts poo-pooing that possibility. The only hope they offered for Pelosi’s plan is a meltdown by the Republican presidential nominee.

But that sort of clear contrast between Democrats and Republicans won’t simply happen on its own, it is something that Obama and the Democrats will need to force by finally relying more on populist ire than using campaign contributions from the wealthy to tarnish their opponents. Simply winning the presidential election won’t help Obama break this country’s political gridlock, he needs to make this race about the undue power of the rich and the Right and win it on those terms.

Pelosi acknowledged that her best hopes for gaining a substantial number of Congressional seats are in California, but they don’t seem to realize that the real potential here is with changing the political dialogue and tapping the 58 percent of California voters who said in a November Field Poll that they agree with the economic critiques that sparked the Occupy movement (and even higher percentages have supported taxing millionaires). Even those who didn’t join the Occupy movement agree with its basic analysis that the few are exploiting the many.

There is a simmering populist discontent that will play out in unpredictable ways this year. And it’s possible that many of the left will never trust Obama until his deeds finally match his words. But there is no larger mainstream political podium in this country than the State of the Union speech, and if Obama misses this opportunity to declare his allegiance with the 99 percent – and his willingness to fight for us – then we may all just be in for the nastiest yet most meaningless presidential election in modern history.