OccupySF awaits police raid after rejecting city ultimatum

Pub date November 30, 2011
WriterYael Chanoff
SectionPolitics Blog

A police raid that could wipe out OccupySF, one of the country’s largest remaining Occupy camps, now seems imminent after the protest group rejected the city’s ultimatum to either voluntarily move to school district property at 1950 Mission Street or face forced eviction.

OccupySF received a written document laying out the terms of this potential agreement yesterday. After a long day of discussion, including a General Assembly meeting last night, OccupySF is refusing to sign the agreement, largely because of concerns about autonomy, as well as visibility and livability at the new site.

This marks the end of almost a week of talks with the city during which no raids were threatened on the camp. Now that OccupySF has rejected the ultimatum, police are expected to enter the camp and attempt to clear it out tonight or tomorrow night. That could destroy the longest continuous large Occupy encampment in the country. Protesters have been sleeping in public spaces in the Financial District under the name OccupySF since Sept. 17, enduring two previous police raids that only increased support for the group.

After last night’s General Assembly, a working group is meeting to form a defense plan in case of a raid, and it’s still unclear how the standoff will unfold.

The rejection of the offer comes after days of debate at the camp, including a session that took place after the city made clear the exact terms of their proposed contract yesterday afternoon. Around 3:30 p.m., OccupySF liaisons to the city handed out photocopies of a document entitled “Facility License Agreement: 1950 Mission Street.”

If signed, the agreement would have allowed the group to use the former school site until May 31, 2012. There were 17 expectations listed, including no animals or pets, no minors, “no sound/noise greater than 45dBA between 10:00pm and 7:00am,” “no panhandling or loitering,” and “no stoves, flammable liquids, wood storage or gases, open flames allowed on the site.”

What the city called an “agreement” and an “offer,” protesters saw as an ultimatum and, for some, a “veiled threat.” Katt Hobin, one of OccupySF’s key organizers, told the group, “We are operating under violent coercion. They are threatening violence if we don’t evacuate this space.”

Under the agreement, the city would have been the tenants, renting the space from the school board for $2500 per month. The space is a lot surrounded by a 15-foot chain link fence and has several portable buildings. Protesters would have had access to toilets, electricity, and indoor space at the site.

At the current camp at Justin Herman Plaza, which they renamed Bradley Manning Plaza, protesters debated how accepting the agreement would affect their branch of the Occupy movement in terms of autonomy, ability to expand and grow, inclusivity, and long-term viability.

Around 4 pm, hundreds paced camp, talking to each other about how to move forward. Some were interested in the possibility of a deal with the city but felt they could not accept the terms, especially prohibitions on minors and animals.

There seemed to be an understanding that the police would attempt to clear out the current camp in the coming days. Yet many seemed assured that the OccupySF network would stick together even after such a raid. One organizer invoked George Washington, saying, “He knew his army didn’t have to win battles, they just had to stick together. They would lose and they would retreat to a new place, but everyone would know that revolutionary army is still out there.”

Others saw the group’s place in revolutionary history differently. One protester reflected, “I think this is history being made right now. We can take the space and do so much with it. There are inside spaces for the sick and the elderly.”

Dozens of protesters had made up their minds to take the space. They waited with their belongings on the Steuart St and Don Chee Way corner of the plaza. “Jerry the Medic” Selness, who had been acting as OccupySF liaison to the city and speaking with Director of Public Works Mohammed Nuru, had relayed the message that DPW trucks would be coming to pick up those who wanted to move to the new site that afternoon.

One protester said that he and about 30 others had signed a symbolic petition stating that they wanted to accept the space. “We don’t need to sign it as OccupySF,” he said. “We’re Occupy Mission.”

Some had been waiting since the early morning. Around 5 pm, Selness got a call that no trucks would be coming that day because the city was awaiting the General Assembly’s response to its offer. About 100 people convened for the daily General Assembly at 6 pm. Around 9 pm, it was clear that OccupySF would not be signing the agreement as it stood.

The assembly did not object to any individuals or autonomous groups who might want to sign the document. They planned to write a response letter detailing their reasons for the rejection, the text of which will be discussed in a General Assembly tonight (Wed/30) at 6 pm.

Many came and went during the General Assembly, including dozens of people who were coming through OccupySF for the first time. Many organizers and supporters who had been there since the beginning but who not attended for days or weeks came back to discuss this issue, which many believed was important “for Occupy movements across the country.” Representatives from Occupy San Rafael, Occupy Santa Rosa, Occupy Berkeley, Occupy Oakland, Occupy USF, and Occupy Gainesville, FL spoke up, expressing solidarity, requesting support, and giving advice.

One homeless woman who had been living in the camp but had never spoken in GA expressed the opinion that to move would be to get out of the public eye and to concede to the city’s attempts to contain the movement, a much-expressed sentiment at the meeting. She cried, “You can’t move and live limited with their rules and regulations. You’re an eyesore, that’s why they want you to move. It’s political.”

Another woman agreed, declaring, “They can’t tell us how to protest or where to protest.”

Others cautioned against accepting the offer for different reasons. One man who spoke up at GA said that he was a teacher at Civic Center Secondary, formerly Phoenix Continuation School, the previous tenants of the offered space. He warned that the school had moved because of instability and health issues surrounding the flow of Mission Creek underground. Another worker familiar with the area recounted a tale of power-washing the sidewalk on the proposed site only to be confronted with “thousands of rats who poured up from the streets”; an OccupySF member who had surveyed the site earlier that day confirmed that the buildings had several holes in the walls, seeming to indicate a rat infestation.

One of the attendees, a young child, expressed the opinion that “we should stay strong and stay here,” amplified by the Peoples Mic. She also helped keep the meeting’s energy high and going in the right direction, showing aggressive “downward twinkle fingers” that signal disagreement at the proposed prohibition of minors on the site, and yelling “there are children present!” when adults used curse words in their impassioned statements.

Many agreed with Diamond Dave Whitaker, local celebrity in the poetry and radical communities and OccupySF organizer, when he stated: “OccupySF is citywide. We’re an autonomous entity as part of a worldwide network. We’re going to see a number of autonomous occupations arising.”

Whitaker mentioned a planned Occupy USF action to take place Dec. 1, as well as the small contingent that is currently “occupying” outside of Wells Fargo at 1 California Street, across from the former occupation site at 101 Market Street. That site is still blocked off by police barricades.

Occupy LA issued a similar rejection letter November 23, which might form the basis of OccupySF’s letter (Link: http://losangelesga.net/2011/11/assembly-authored-city-response/ ). That camp was raided and disbanded last night.

OccupySF plans to put out a formal response to the proposal and explanation of their decisions tonight.