Occupy San Francisco

Gearing up for war



A tear gas canister explodes as citizens flee from the gun-toting warriors, safely guarded behind their armored vehicles. Dressed in patterned camo and body armor, they form a skirmish line as they fire projectiles into the crowd. Flash bang explosions echo down the city’s streets.

Such clashes between police and protesters have been common in Ferguson, Mo., in the past few weeks since the death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager killed by a police officer. But it’s also a scene familiar to anyone from Occupy Oakland, where Iraq veteran Scott Olsen suffered permanent brain damage after police shot a less-than-lethal weapon into his head, or similar standoffs in other cities.

police embed 1As the country watched Ferguson police mobilize against its citizens while donning military fatigues and body armor and driving in armored vehicles, many began drawing comparisons to soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan — indeed, viral photos featuring side-by-side comparisons made it difficult to distinguish peace officers from wartime soldiers.

So how did law enforcement officers in police departments across the country come to resemble the military? And what impact is that escalation of armaments having on otherwise peaceful demonstrations? Some experts say the militarization of police actually encourages violence.

Since the ’90s, the federal Department of Defense has served as a gun-running Santa Claus for the country’s local police departments. Military surplus left over from wars in the Middle East are now hand-me-downs for local police across the country, including here in the Bay Area.

A grenade launcher, armored command vehicles, camera-mounted SWAT robots, mounted helicopter weapons, and military grade body armor — these are just some of the weapons and equipment obtained by San Francisco law enforcement agencies since the ’90s. They come from two main sources: the Department of Defense Excess Property Program, also known as the 1033 loan program, and a multitude of federal grants used to purchase military equipment and vehicles.

A recent report from the American Civil Liberties Union, “The War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing,” slammed the practice of arming local police with military gear. ACLU spokesperson Will Matthews told us the problem is stark in the Bay Area.

“There was no more profound example of this than [the response to] Occupy,” he told the Guardian. He said that military gear “serves usually only to escalate tensions, where the real goal of police is to de-escalate tension.”

The ACLU, National Lawyers Guild, and others are calling for less provocative weaponry in response to peaceful demonstrations, as well as more data to track the activities of SWAT teams that regularly use weaponry from the military.

The call for change comes as a growing body of research shows the cycle of police violence often begins not with a raised baton, but with the military-style armor and vehicles that police confront their communities with.



What motivation does the federal government have to arm local police? Ex-Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Stephen Downing told the Guardian, “I put this at the feet of the drug war.”

The initial round of funding in the ’90s was spurred by the federal government’s so-called War on Drugs, he said, and the argument that police needed weaponry to match well-armed gangs trafficking in narcotics. That justification was referenced in the ACLU’s report.

After 9/11, the desire to protect against unknown terrorist threats also spurred the militarization of police, providing a rationale for the change, whether or not it was ever justified. But a problem arises when local police start to use the tactics and gear the military uses, Downing told us.

When the LAPD officials first formed military-like SWAT teams, he said, “they always kept uppermost in their mind the police mission versus the military mission. The military has an enemy. A police officer, who is a peace officer, has no enemies.”

“The military aims to kill,” he said, “and the police officer aims to preserve life.”

And when police departments have lots of cool new toys, there is a tendency to want to use them.

When we contacted the SFPD for this story, spokesperson Albie Esparza told us, “Chief [Greg Suhr] will be the only one to speak in regards to this. He is not available for the next week or two. You may try afterwards.”



Local law enforcement agencies looking to gear up have two ways to do it: One is free and the other is low-cost. The first of those methods has been heavily covered by national news outlets following the Ferguson protests: the Department of Defense’s 1033 loan program.

The program permanently loans gear from the federal government, with strings attached. For instance, local police can’t resell any weapons they’re given.

To get the gear, first an agency must apply for it through the national Defense Logistics Agency in Fort Belvoir, Va. In California, the Governor’s Office of Emergency Services is the go-between when local police file grant applications to the DLA.

The bar to apply is low. A New Hampshire law enforcement agency applied for an armored vehicle by citing that community’s Pumpkin Festival as a possible terrorism target, according to the ACLU’s report. But the report shows such gear is more likely to be used against protestors or drug dealers than festival-targeting terrorists.

“It’s like the Craigslist of military equipment, only the people getting this stuff are law enforcement agencies,” Kelly Huston, a spokesperson of OEMS, told the Guardian. “They don’t have to pay for this equipment, they just have to come get it.”

Troublingly, where and why the gear goes to local law enforcement is not tracked in a database at the state level. The Guardian made a public records requests of the SFPD and the OEMS, which have yet to be fulfilled. Huston told us the OEMS is slammed with records requests for this information.

“The majority of the documents we have are paper in boxes,” Huston told us, describing the agency’s problem with a rapid response. “This is not an automated system.”

The Guardian obtained federal grant data through 2011 from the OEMS, but with a caveat: Some of the grants only describe San Francisco County, and not the specific agency that requested equipment.

Some data of police gear requested under the 1033 loan program up to 2011 is available thanks to records requests from California Watch. The New York Times obtained more recent 1033 loan requests for the entire country, but it does not delineate specific agencies, only states.

Available data shows equipment requested by local law enforcement, which gravitates from the benign to the frightening.



An Armament Subsystem is one of the first weapons listed in the 1033 data, ordered by the SFPD in 1996. This can describe mounted machine guns for helicopters (though the SFPD informed us it has since disbanded its aero-unit). From 1995 to 1997, the SFPD ordered over 100 sets of fragmentation body armor valued at $45,000, all obtained for free. In 1996, the SFPD also ordered one grenade launcher, valued at $2,007.

Why would the SFPD need a grenade launcher in an urban setting? Chief Suhr wouldn’t answer that question, but Downing told us it was troubling.

“It’s a pretty serious piece of military hardware,” he said. “I’ll tell you a tiny, quick story. One of the first big deployments of SWAT (in Los Angeles) was the Black Panthers in the ’60s. They were holed up in a building, well armed and we knew they had a lot of weapons in there,” he said. “They barricaded the place with sandbags. Several people were wounded in the shooting, as I recall. The officers with military experience said the only way we’ll breach those sandbags and doors is with a grenade launcher.”

In those days, they didn’t have a grenade launcher at the ready, and had to go through a maze of official channels to get one.

“They had to go through the Governor’s Office to the Pentagon, and then to Camp Pendleton to get the grenade launcher,” Downing told us. “[The acting LAPD chief] said at the time, ‘Let’s go ahead and ask for it.’ It was a tough decision, because it was using military equipment against our citizens.”

But the chief never had to use the grenade launcher, Downing said. “They resolved the situation before needing it, and we said ‘thank god.'”

The grenade launcher was the most extreme of the equipment procured by local law enforcement, but there were also helicopter parts, gun sights, and multitudes of armored vehicles, like those seen in Ferguson.

By contrast, the grants programs are harder to track specifically to the SFPD, but instead encompass funds given to the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, the Sheriff’s Department, and even some schools. That’s because the grants cover not only allow the purchase of military surplus vehicles and riot gear, but also chemical protective suits and disaster-related supplies.

But much of the requested gear and training has more to do with active police work than emergency response.

San Francisco County agencies used federal loans to purchase $113,000 “command vehicles” (which are often armored). In 2010, the SFPD purchased a $5,000 SWAT robot (which often comes equipped with cameras and a remote control), as well as $15,000 in Battle Dress Uniforms, and $48,000 for a Mobile Communications Command Vehicle.

In 2008, the SFPD ordered a Bearcat Military Counterattack Vehicle for $306,000.

The Lenco website, which manufactures Bearcats, says it “may also be equipped with our optional Mechanical Rotating Turret with Cupola (Tub) and Weapon Ready Mounting System, suitable for the M60, 240B and Mark 19 weapons system.”

Its essentially an armored Humvee that can be mounted with rotating gun turrets.

police embed 2

Department of Homeland Security grants were used to purchase Type 2 Mobile Field Training, which Department of Homeland Security documentation describes as involving eight grenadiers, two counter-snipers, two prisoner transportation vans, and 14 patrol vehicles.

All told, the Bay Area’s many agencies were awarded more than $386 million in federal grants between 2008 and 2011, with San Francisco netting $48 million of those rewards. Through the 1033 loan program, San Francisco obtained over $1.4 million in federal surplus gear from 1995 to 2011.

But much of that was received under the radar, and with little oversight.

“Anytime they’re going to file for this equipment, we think the police should hold a public hearing,” Matthews, the ACLU spokesperson, told us.

In San Francisco, there is a public hearing for the procurement of military weapons, at the Police Commission. But a Guardian analysis of agenda documents from the commission shows these hearings are often held after the equipment has already been ordered.

Squeezed between a “status report” and “routine administrative business,” a March 2010 agenda from the commission shows a request to “retroactively accept and expend a grant in the amount of $1,000,000.00 from the U.S. Department of Justice.”

This is not a new trend. In 2007, the Police Commission retroactively approved three separate grants totaling over $2 million in funding from the federal government through the OEMS, which was then called the Emergency Management Agency.

Police Commission President Anthony Mazzucco did not respond to the Guardian’s emails requesting an interview before our press time, but one thing is clear: The SFPD requests federal grants for military surplus, then sometimes asks the Police Commission to approve the funding after the fact.

Many are already critiquing this call to arms, saying violent gear begets violent behavior.



A UC Berkeley sociologist, with his small but driven team and an army of automatic computer programs, are now combing more than 8,000 news articles on the Occupy movement in search of a pattern: What causes police violence against protesters, and protester violence against police?

Nicholas Adams and his team, Deciding Force, already have a number of findings.

“The police have an incredible ability to set the tone for reactions,” Adams told us. “Showing up in riot gear drastically increases the chances of violence from protesters. The use of skirmish lines also increases chances of violence.”

Adams’s research uses what he calls a “buffet of information” provided by the Occupy movement, allowing him to study over 200 cities’ police responses to protesters. Often, as in Ferguson, protesters were met by police donned in equipment and gear resembling wartime soldiers.

Rachel Lederman is a warrior in her own right. An attorney in San Francisco litigating against police for over 20 years, and now the president of the National Lawyers Guild Bay Area chapter, she’s long waged legal war against police violence.

Lederman is quick to note that the SFPD in recent years has been much less aggressive than the Oakland Police Department, which injured her client, Scott Olsen, in an Occupy protest three years ago.

“If you compare OPD with the San Francisco Police on the other side of the bay,” she told us, “the SFPD do have some impact munitions they bring at demonstrations, but they’ve never used them.”

Much of this is due to the SFPD’s vast experience in ensuring free speech, an SFPD spokesperson told us. San Francisco is a town that knows protests, so the SFPD understands how to peacefully negotiate with different parties beforehand to ensure a minimum of hassle, hence the more peaceful reaction to Occupy San Francisco.

Conversely, in Oakland, the Occupy movement was met by a hellfire of tear gas and flash bang grenades. Protesters vomited into the sidewalk from the fumes as others bled from rubber bullet wounds.

But some protesters the Guardian talked to noted that the night SFPD officers marched on Occupy San Francisco, members of the city’s Board of Supervisors and other prominent allies stood between Occupiers and police, calling for peace. We may never know what tactics the SFPD would have used to oust the protesters without that intervention.

As Lederman pointed out, the SFPD has used reactive tactics in other protests since.

“We’ve had some problems with SFPD recently, so I’m reluctant to totally praise them,” she said, recalling a recent incident where SFPD and City College police pepper-sprayed one student protester, and allegedly broke the wrists and concussed another. Photos of this student, Otto Pippenger, show a black eye and many bruises.

In San Francisco, a city where protesting is as common as the pigeons, that is especially distressing.

“It’s an essential part of democracy for people to be able to demonstrate in the street,” Lederman said. “If police have access to tanks, and tear gas and dogs, it threatens the essential fabric of democracy.”

Happy May Day, San Francisco


Happy May Day, comrades, and what a fine May day it is even if the urgent mayday spirit on this International Workers Day doesn’t seem as strong as some recent years past in the Bay Area.

While Russia seems to be rediscovering its previous practice of massive May Day marches marked by anti-Western propaganda, spurred on by renewed nationalism from the standoff in Ukraine, May Day has never been very big in the US.

The holiday celebrated throughout the world with workers showing their strength and demanding their fair share of our collective wealth marks the anniversary of a labor demonstration that turned violent and triggered a harsh crackdown in Chicago in 1886. While the socialists of the Second International adopted the May Day holiday in 1889, the American holiday of Labor Day was adopted as a bland alternative meant to take the radical edge off of workers movements.

But many leftists in the US retained an affinity for May Day, and it was infused with a renewed spirit and radical energy by supporters of immigration reform and an end to deportations that divide up families, with massive marches in major US cities in 2006 catching the media and political establishment off-guard.

 Then, two years ago, fresh off of the Occupy Wall Street (and Occupy San Francisco, Occupy Oakland, etc.), some young anarchists rampaged through the Mission District, breaking windows, spray painting luxury cars, attacking a police station, and generally targeting what they saw as the forces of wealth and gentrification, albeit in a misguided and widely condemned way.

Today’s big May Day march in San Francisco starts at the 24th Street BART Plaza, again strongly emphasizing the need for immigration reform, but also marrying that cause with the anti-displacement and anti-eviction activism that are roiling San Francisco these days. [The poster for the event even features a photo of a recent Google bus blockade CORRECTION: The photo is actually of immigration activists blocking a deportation bus.]

Meanwhile, in the East Bay, the main May Day march begins at 3:30pm at the Fruitvale BART Street, also with a focus on social justice and immigration reform. So get on out there, comrades, you have nothing to lose but your chains.  

Did the Hayes Valley Farm occupation help or hurt the cause of liberating urban space?


Did the recent activist occupation of a temporary urban farming plot help “liberate the land,” as they claimed, or might it actually make property owners less likely to allow community-based temporary uses on land awaiting development? And did the farmers of this once-fallow land inadvertently provide a new toehold to challenge a proposed housing project?

Promptly after Hayes Valley Farm ended its three-year stint to make way for long-planned housing that would be built on the lot, a group of activists (many from Occupy San Francisco) calling itself Liberate the Land took residency for nearly two weeks, renaming it Gezi Gardens in solidarity with protesters at Gezi Square in Turkey. At 2am on June 13, Gezi Gardens was raided by police and the activists ejected.

The rise and fall of Gezi Gardens has had some people within the San Francisco urban agriculture community questioning whether or not the occupation was helpful in promoting the cause for more green space in the city. For some involved in the urban agriculture community, the end of Hayes Valley Farm reflects a not-so-distant future for other green spaces in the community.

Pastor Megan Rohrer is executive director of Welcome: A Communal Response to Poverty and project coordinator for The Free Farm, a community garden on St. Paulus Lutheran Church’s land on Gough and Eddy Street. That plot, temporarily turned into green space with permission from the landlord, St. Paulus Lutheran Church, is scheduled to end its three-year stint in December to make way for housing construction, much like Hayes Valley Farm.

The Free Farm’s land will sprout a housing project with all low-income housing units, whereas the project being built on the Hayes Valley Farm site will have 40 low-income units out of 180 total condos. Regardless, the possibility of a similar situation to what happened with Hayes Valley Farm has Rhorer on edge.

“I have a nervous feeling that what happened with Hayes Valley Farm may happen with my garden. I just want everything to end smoothly and peacefully,” Rohrer said. “I respect what the Occupy folks are doing in bringing awareness, but feel that what they did was a little disingenuous. Since the start of Hayes Valley Farm, there was an understanding that condos would be built over it. It was going to happen eventually.”

Longtime San Francisco activist Diamond Dave Whitaker was one of the people that occupied Gezi Gardens. He’s not sure if the occupation will be prove helpful to the urban agriculture movement in San Francisco.

“I’m not sure. What I do know is that Gezi Gardens was one of the few wild spaces left here,” Whitaker said. “Not everything has to be done within the law. Time will tell if what happened there helped urban agriculture here.”

Katy Broker-Bullick, a site steward at the 18th and Rhode Island community garden, told us the occupation of Gezi Gardens served to spark a dialogue about green spaces in San Francisco.

“I appreciate what the Occupiers are doing at Hayes Valley Farm in so much as it draws attention to innovative, community-based green spaces in San Francisco, and serves to foster a balanced, open discussion of the function and importance of such sites for community connection and innovation in urban spaces,” Broker-Bullick said.

Assemblymember Phil Ting (D-SF) is also weighing in on the discussion of urban green spaces in the city. Although he does not have a stance on the occupation of Gezi Gardens, he has made strides in trying to make urban agriculture more accessible with San Francisco’s Urban Agriculture Incentive Zones Act, Assembly Bill 551. It calls for property owners to sign a contract that would zone their land strictly for agriculture for 10 years in exchange for decreased property taxes.

Ting doesn’t necessarily support those who occupied Gezi Gardens, but said this: “What I do believe is that we should be doing what we can to keep green spaces in San Francisco.”

Some groups in the city may respect what the Liberate the Lands attempts at occupying Gezi Gardens, but the politically active Hayes Valley Neighborhood Association wasn’t one of them.

On June 7, nearly a week before the raid of Gezi Gardens, HVNA President William Bulkley penned a letter to Mayor Ed Lee, pleading to end the occupation of that land: “The HVNA board of directors feels that the current situation on Parcels O and P places a health and safety risk to both the participants and our neighbors. We respectfully request that, as mayor, you direct your staff to take appropriate action in a swift and timely fashion.”

Yet Rohrer also said Occupy activists are a much-needed part of San Francisco’s urban agriculture community. “It’s because of the hard work from people who have been connected to Occupy that spaces, like the Free Farm, are running,”  Rohrer said. “We have a lot of Occupy folk who volunteer that put their hearts and souls into the soil.”

There are efforts to halt building on Gezi Gardens, though many of the people who had occupied the lot have “scattered to the wind,” Whitaker said.

Mona Lisa Wallace, an attorney working with Liberate the Land, is attempting to halt construction based on the grounds that an accurate environmental impact report was not done because the land was found to be exempt from a more current report. Wallace said the last report was done five years ago when Parcels O and P were classified as “disturbed land.” Since then, plants and wildlife have flourished on Hayes Valley Farm.

She said an appeal to the exemption from a current environmental impact report will be filed at the the Board of Supervisor’s office on Friday. “Over the years a habitat has been created for hummingbirds, bees, crows, and quail,” Wallace said. “The exemption from the environmental impact report does not free them from being in compliance with federal and state law.”




Roe v. Wade anniversary inspires flash mob, pro-choice rally, and pro-life march in SF

Remember when a dance revolution broke out in Justin Herman Plaza during Occupy San Francisco? This coming Saturday, the same choreographers behind that flash mob for economic justice plan to reignite the public square, this time with a flash mob organized in collaboration with the Silver Ribbon Campaign to commemorate the 40th Anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

“Roe v. Wade is an invitation to really celebrate women, women’s rights and women’s reproductive rights,” says Magalie Bonneau-Marcil, director of Oakland nonprofit Dancing without Borders, who will direct the Jan. 26 flash mob. She expects between 400 and 500 dancers to descend upon the plaza.

The performance is part of a larger event, Women Life & Liberty, organized to commemorate the landmark Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal in the United States. The Trust Women Silver Ribbon Campaign is organizing the free celebration in tandem with the National Organization for Women and a coalition of more than 20 local partners.

“Our sense was, it’s an opportunity to claim and reclaim, and revive our activism around the issues that this event is about,” Silver Ribbon Campaign Director Ellen Shaffer told the Guardian. The rally is part of a national effort that has also launched an “online march” for reproductive rights.

Birth control champion Sandra Fluke, who became the center of a firestorm after being lambasted by Rush Limbaugh for testifying before Congress on the need for access to birth control, will speak at the rally.  Other speakers will include filmmaker and Webby Awards Founder Tiffany Shlain, and San Francisco Supes Malia Cohen, David Campos, David Chiu and Eric Mar, who joined the board in adopting a December resolution commemorating the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

Meanwhile, an international campaign to end violence against women will also play a role in this weekend’s events. Upon returning to the Bay Area after a dance festival in Europe, Bonneau-Marcil says she saw Eve Ensler’s music video promoting VDay’s 1 Billion Rising Campaign, created to spark a global movement to end violence against women. “I was so moved,” she says.

Inspired, she began making preparations for the Jan. 26 performance and an upcoming Feb. 14 flash mob, to be staged in front of San Francisco City Hall in league with VDay’s global movement.

With recent outrage fueled by the rape and fatal attack in India, the public performances are timely. Bonneau-Marcil describes the public dance gatherings as a way for participants to “share a prayer to create a world free of violence and sexual oppression.” 

But there’s likely to be drama, as the Women Life & Liberty celebration is one of two dueling events. Walk for Life West, essentially the polar opposite of the Trust Women Silver Ribbon Campaign, is being spearheaded by San Francisco pro-lifers Dolores Meehan and Eva Muntean. Now in its ninth year, the annual event will bring hordes of anti-abortion activists to San Francisco, wielding dead fetus photos. They’ll travel from as far away as Nevada, Canada and “all over the Midwest,” according to Muntean. “We have 200 buses coming from all over the West Coast,” she said.

The anti-abortion rally will feature speakers such as Rev. Clenard Childress, who has built a career out of telling right wing Christians that the pro-choice movement is racist. (Seems Childress also spends his spare time penning inflammatory columns suggesting that acceptance of LGBT rights is “a sign of the end times.”)

The pro-life rally will converge at Civic Center Plaza and progress to – where else? – Justin Herman Plaza. There, according to the event page, revelers from the transformative flash mob may still be celebrating. Expect an awkward buzz kill.

This being San Francisco, plans are already being hatched to counter-protest the anti-abortion event. (Muntean emphasized that Walk for Life West should not be interpreted as counter-protest to the Women Life & Liberty event, by the way.)

Stop Patriarchy, made of up activists who are pro-choice, anti-Democratic party, and even anti-pornography since they deem it to be part of the war on women, plans to stage “boisterous and confrontational political protests throughout the week, taking on the Pro-Lifers who will be in San Francisco,” according to a press release. They’ll be there counter-protesting the Walk for Life with banners and signs declaring, “Abortion On Demand and Without Apology!”

Bonneau-Marcil, the flash mob director, says she’s trying to stay out of any back-and-forth that may come from warring factions. “We’re not pointing fingers,” she says. Instead, she’s on a mission to help dancers move in harmony to “access a place where, it’s not about opinions. It’s just about remembering who we are as human beings.”

The Women, Life & Liberty rally will be held at Justin Herman Plaza from 10 a.m. to noon. The Dancing Without Borders flash mob performance will take place at 11:30. Anyone can join the flash mob after attending two rehearsals: more info here. The Walk for Life West rally will converge at 12:30 at Civic Center Plaza and begin the procession to Justin Herman at 1:30. More info here, here and here.

Local censored 2012




In early January, details from the police investigation of then-Sheriff-elect Ross Mirkarimi bruising his wife’s arm during an argument were leaked to the San Francisco Chronicle and other news outlets. The key piece of evidence was a 45-second video that Mirkarimi’s wife, Eliana Lopez, made with her neighbor, Ivory Madison, displaying the bruise and saying she wanted to document the incident in case of a child custody battle. That video convinced many of Mirkarimi’s guilt, and a majority of Ethics Commissioners say they found it to be the main evidence on which Mirkarimi should be removed from office on official misconduct charges (the Board of Supervisors was scheduled to vote on Mirkarimi’s removal on Oct. 9, after Guardian press time).

But that video was only a small part of the overwhelming and expensive case that Mayor Ed Lee brought against Mirkarimi, including the more serious charges of abuse of power, witness dissuasion, and impeding a police investigation, all of which go more directly to a sheriff’s official duties. All of those charges got lots of media coverage and they helped cement the view of many San Franciscans that Mirkarimi engaged in a pattern of inappropriate behavior, rather than making a big momentary mistake. Yet most of the media coverage during the six months of Ethics Commission proceedings ignored the fact that none of the evidence that was being gathered supported those charges. Indeed, all those charges were unanimously rejected by the commission on Aug. 16, a startling rebuke of Lee’s case but one that was not highlighted in many media reports, which focused on the one charge the commission did uphold: the initial arm grab.




In the late 1990s, San Francisco was in a very similar place to where it is now. The first dot-com boom was full bloom, driving the local economy and creating countless young millionaires — but also rapidly gentrifying the city and driving commercial and residential rents through the roof (great for the landlords, bad for everyone else). And then, the bubble popped, instantly erasing billions of dollars in speculative paper wealth and leaving this a changed city. The city’s working and creative classes suffered, but the political backlash gave rise to a decade with a progressive majority on the Board of Supervisors.

The era ended in 2010 when Ed Lee was appointed mayor, and he began ambitious agenda of pumping up a new dot-com bubble using tax breaks, public subsidies, and relentless official boosterism to lure more tech companies to San Francisco. Lee has been successful in his approach, in the process driving up commercial rents and housing prices. By some estimates, about 30 percent of the city’s economy is now driven by technology companies.

Yet there have been few voices in the local media raising questions about this risky, costly, and self-serving economic development strategy. The Bay Citizen did a story about Conway’s self interested advice, the New York Times did a front page story raising these issues, and San Francisco Magazine just last month did a long cover story questioning how much tech is enough. But most local media voices have been silent on the issue, and much of the damage has already been done.



More than a decade ago, then-Mayor Willie Brown and Chinatown power broker Rose Pak worked together to empower big business, corrupt local politics, and clear the path for rampant development — an approach that progressives on the Board of Supervisors repudiated and slowed from 2000-2010. But Brown, Pak, and a new generation of their allies have returned in power in City Hall, and it’s as bad as it ever was.

Many San Franciscans know of their high-profile role appointing Lee to office in early 2011. But their influence and tentacles have extended far beyond what we read in the papers and watch on television, starting in 2010 when their main political operatives David Ho and Enrique Pearce ran Jane Kim’s supervisorial campaign, beating Debra Walker, a veteran of the fights against Brown’s remaking of the city.

Now, this crew has the run of City Hall, meeting regularly with Mayor Lee and twisting the arms of supervisors on key votes. Pearce and Ho persuaded longtime progressive Christina Olague to co-chair the scandal-plagued Run Ed Run campaign last year, she was rewarded this year with Lee appointing her to the Board of Supervisors. Pearce has been her close adviser, and most of her campaign cash has been raised by Brown and Pak. Even progressive Sup. Eric Mar admits that Pak in raising money for him, a troubling sign of things to come.



The Occupy San Francisco camp that was cleared by police last week may have been mostly homeless people. And major news media outlets from the start reported that Occupy was dangerous, filthy, and a civic eyesore.

But last fall, the camps were comprised of a huge variety of people that chose to live part or full time on the streets. Students, people with 9-5 jobs, people with service jobs, and the unemployed were all represented. Wealthy people who lived in the financial districts where camps popped up mixed with working-class people who came from suburbs and small towns. Families came out, welcomed in the “child spaces” set up in many Occupy camps throughout the country. Most camps also boasted libraries, free classes, kitchens, food distribution, and medical tents.

As news media focused on gross-out stories of pee on the streets and graphic descriptions of drunk occupiers, they managed to ignore the complex systems that were built in the camps. Nor did anyone mention that homeless people have the right to protest, too.

Where is Occupy SF now?


On the anniversary of Occupy Wall Street, Occupy San Francisco also celebrated its birthday.

Demonstrations throughout the day Sept. 17, focusing on a variety of topics, converged at 5pm at 555 California, Bank of America’s west coast headquarters. A lively march of about 600 became a street festival down the block. There, protesters stopped for a circus of birthday activities. In one corner, people saddled by debt wrote their debt information on pieces of paper, explained their situations to the crowd, and dropped the papers into a trash can for a symbolic burning. One person also burned cash. “Hell no, we won’t pay,” the crowd chanted.

A few feet over, protesters painted the street with a bright yellow sun declaring “democracy not debt.” Volunteers then fed a free meal to the hundreds in attendance and wheeled in a video screen to watch some recaps of the year’s best moments. Around 8pm, the group left as peacefully as they had come.

In the darkness, a few hundred headed east on Market. When they arrived in Justin Herman Plaza– or Bradley Manning Plaza, as Occupy SF has christened it, in honor of the whistle blowing soldier- a few police stood guard around the perimeter. Undeterred, protesters walked in, and shouts of “happy birthday” gave way to “welcome home.”

The birthday party continued with a night of music. Five tents were pitched, sleeping bags were brought out. Police vehicles carrying truckloads of barricades drove by, but police told protesters they would have to leave the park by 6am, the hour the park opens.

30 or 40 spent the night. In the morning police came back. As ukelele and drums continued to play, tents were dutifully broken down. A few went back to sleep.

Video by Eric Louie

Last fall, Occupy SF could basically be found here. The camp was at Justin Herman Plaza. The ever-expanding list of working groups sometimes met somewhere else, but Occupy was at camp. But after a series of police raids, from Oct. 5 to the raid that finally brought the camp down in December, this camp was no more.

Now, Occupy SF is found all over the place.

As longtime Occupy SF activist Vi Huynh said while celebrating the anniversary: “I think it’s good to honor these milestones because, unlike the mainstream media would have us believe, we haven’t gone away. We’re not dying either. They’re writing our obituaries, but we’re very much alive. And we’re doing things every day.”

Here’s an uncomprehensive list of active groups from Occupy in San Francisco.

101 Market. This is the old camp of Occupy, “re-occupied” in February in response to a national call. At least 30 sleep there every night, and the camp is a veritable fortress of furniture and belongings. They’re mere existence is a refusal to humor the concept of private property. General Assembly meetings occur at 101 Market Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7pm.

Action Council. Action Council is a forum meant to connect Occupy with unions, non-profits, and community groups. They played a big role in planning demonstrations like the Jan. 20 shutdown of the financial district and the May Day solidarity demonstrations. Action Council meets weekly, Sundays at 2pm at Unite Here headquarters, 215 Golden Gate Ave.

All Streets Yoga. Since last winter, All Streets Yoga, formerly known as Decolonize Yoga, has been transforming part of the sidewalk at the 16th and Mission BART station into a yoga studio free for all. Volunteer yoga teachers lay out rugs and lead personalized yoga sessions for anyone who chooses to join. They transform space and creating calm in the busy city landscape. Join them Fridays 5-7pm.

Community Not Commodity. Also known as Bay Occupride, this group formed to protest commercialization of the Pride Parade. On the Sept. 17 anniversary they did a march on the Castro banks and a sit-in to protest sit-lie at Harvey Milk Plaza. CNC describes itself as “a collective assembly of queer/trans-focused community groups with established reputations in the Bay Area that have come together to strengthen and unify our diverse communities. We have come together to confront the 1% within our movement. We work for complete liberation of queer and trans people!” They meet Sundays at noon at Muddy Waters Café, 521 Valencia. See more at www.bayoccupride.com.

Direct Action working group. Direct action is a central tenant of Occupy. It means taking action to prevent something bad or create something good without permission or help of those with political power. In a 1912 essay titled Direct Action, Voltairine de Cleyre cited the Boston Tea Party as an example and wrote that “Every person who ever had a plan to do anything, and went and did it, or who laid his plan before others, and won their co-operation to do it with him, without going to external authorities to please do the thing for them, was a direct actionist. All co-operative experiments are essentially direct action.” The direct action working group meets Wednesdays, 6pm, at the Redstone Building at 2940 16th Street.

Environmental Justice working group. The environmental justice working group keeps the pressure on the corporations that exploit the planet. They’ve protested hydraulic fracturing and the nuclear industry. They meet Tuesdays at 4pm at 101 Market.

Food bank of America. Occupy SF set up the first Food Bank of America to feed thousands of hungry protesters and passers-by on Jan. 20. A Market Street Bank of America branch locked its doors when volunteers set up a food table and passed out hot meals. Now, Food Bank of America continues in front of the mega-bank’s 23rd and Mission branch, where volunteers pass out produce, mostly donated from farmers’ markets, along with literature on switching to credit unions. They’re usually there Thursdays 5-6pm.

Ideological Liberation working group. This working group has produced pamphlets explaining Occupy, trading cards of especially greedy bankers, and postcards summarizing issues like the foreclosure crisis and the National Defense Authorization Act. They also created the Occupy SF Declaration. Brainstorm and write with them on Tuesdays, 7:30-9pm, at the decidedly ideologically un-liberated meeting spot of the Starbucks at 27 Drumm.

Occupy Bay Area United. Occupy Bay Area United spent the night outside 555 California on the eve of the Occupy SF anniversary, an occupation complete with tents and signs. They are “committed to non-violent direct action.” They meet on Sundays, 5-7pm, and post meeting locations on their website, www.obau.org.

Occupy Bernal. This neighborhood-based group is largely considered one of the most effective and desperately needed parts of the Occupy movement in San Francisco. Occupy Bernal is in the business of stopping foreclosures and evictions. “Since January no one we worked with has had an auction. People we work with who already had auctions, we’re stopping their evictions. We’ve stopped six of them so far. So we’re almost done with all the evictions, and we can go back to just stopping the auctions. We have 60 people in line to get loan modifications from Wells,” said Occupy Bernal organizer Buck Bagot. On the anniversary, Occupy Bernal hosted a rally highlighting the disproportionate effects of the foreclosure crisis and veterans and elderly and disabled people. “There were about 100 of us at the protest and five people, all over 80, veterans who are all at risk of losing their homes because they don’t have very much income,” said Bagot. Occupy Bernal meets 7-9pm on the second and fourth Thursday of each month at the Bernal Heights Neighborhood Center at 515 Cortland Ave. See www.occupybernal.org for more information.

Occupy Forum. Occupy Forum started up in early June in the Women’s Building, and has since moved to Justin Herman Plaza. The well-attended forums, usually around 70 people, are a time to discuss issues that concern people in Occupy. From the beginning Occupy has been said to have “no focus”– maybe that’s because those involved saw that everything from greedy banks to income inequality to homelessness to discrimination in loans to healthcare to racism to wars were all connected. The forum is a chance to focus in on a different topic every week. Check them out Mondays at 6pm at Justin Herman Plaza, at Market and Embarcadero.

Occupy the Richmond. A philosophical Occupy. If you’ve ever gotten sick of decrying problems in society and yearned to discuss creative solutions, Occupy the Richmond may be your cup of tea. A philosophical Occupy. Saturdays at 4pm, Occupy the Richmond gets together at 11th Ave. in Mountain Lake Park “to talk about what kind of society we want to organize together,” according to Occupy the Richmond participant Alex Zane. “Occupy opens up the possibility for talking about that. Otherwise, people would be stuck behind their screens freaking out about what kind of society we should organize. We should get together and talk with real, living people about how we’re supposed to reorganize our society,” said Zane.

Outreach working group. A group that spreads the word about Occupy and speaks with people and community organizations about working together. They meet Wednesdays at 7pm at One Rincon Center, also known as 121 Spear.

This article has been corrected. Bradley Manning served as a soldier in the Army, not a marine

Happy Birthday Occupy


Occupy celebrates its one-year anniversary Monday, and many of the groups who have gotten involved over the past year will be going all out. These groups’ goals–  including ending unjust foreclosures,  fighting displacement of queer people and homeless people, and taking back power from banks and the one percent– are a lot to achieve in one year. But they’ve made great stride. They’ll celebrate, and commit to another year of action, on Monday. 

Occupy Bernal, Occupy Noe and Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment will put the pressure on banks that continue to foreclose on San Franciscans despite widespread evidence of fraud and a city resolution calling for a moratorium on foreclosures. At noon, they will hold a rally highlighting the ways that the foreclosure crisis disproportionately affects seniors, veterans and disabled people- find them at 401 Van Ness. At 3pm they will rally One Market Plaza, the officers of Fortress Investment Group board co-chair Peter Briger, infamous amongst the “foreclosure fighters” for his role in selling off distressed home mortgage debt.  

In the Castro, Community Not Commodity, the coalition that formed around an Occupride march protesting the corporate takeover of the Gay Pride Parade and continues to fight “increased rent, foreclosures and evictions, and the displacement of queer and homeless youth.”  They will meet up at 2pm at 18th and Castro for a speak-out, followed by a march on the banks at 3 and a sit-in protesting sit-lie at Harvey Milk Plaza. 

Also at 2pm, Occupy Oakland is throwing a street party. They’ll converge at Embarcadero and Market at Justin Herman Plaza (renamed Bradley Manning Plaza by the people from Occupy San Francisco, whose encampment stood there for three months last fall.) Organizers advise: stay tuned for Oct. 10, the one-year anniversary of Occupy Oakland. 

But Occupy San Francisco didn’t start at Justin Herman Plaza. It started Sept. 17, 2011 at 555 California, outside the building that houses the Bank of America west coast headquarters along with Goldman Sachs offices. It’s there that everyone will converge at 5pm for a raucous casserole-style march with the Brass Liberation Orchestra, followed by guerilla movie screenings, food to share, and a debt burning: “bring dept papers (BYOD) to burn symbolically,” say organizers.

Can’t wait for tomorrow? Occupy SF hosts a day of poetry and speakers at Justin Herman Plaza today. The Human Be In, the unpermitted music and skillshare festival that brought hundreds to play music, teach workshops, and “transform space” in a dusty spot near Ocean Beach yesterday continues through tonight.  Occupy Bay Area United is also throwing a rally and teach–in focused on corporate greed starting outside 555 California at 7pm. 

Occupy is dead! Long live Occupy!

Saving City College



CAREERS AND ED City College of San Francisco (CCSF) is fighting for its life, and that struggle has turned old enemies into new allies. Suddenly, past differences seem less important than the need to work together, bringing a new sense of unity and purpose to the troubled community college.

In June the school was sanctioned and ordered to “show cause” from the Accrediting Commission of Community and Junior Colleges, putting it on the brink of losing its accreditation — certification necessary for the college’s degrees to be worth anything and for the school to secure federal aid (see “City College fights back,” July 17).

Twelve workgroups comprised of faculty, staff, administrators, students, and college board members are working feverishly to prove by October that the school is making major progress. Otherwise, it could face dire consequences.

While few people with any education or political background believe the school will actually close, there are serious consequences if its accreditation is revoked. A special trustee assigned by the state chancellor’s office could assume the powers of the college’s board or the school could be merged with another community college district.

The only college in California to ever suffer both of those fates was Compton Community College in 2006. Though the two colleges serve wildly different communities, many speak of their fates in the same breath. Its shadow hangs over City College like a ghost of what is to come.


The newfound sense of common purpose was displayed on Aug. 1 in CCSF conference rooms, where once-battling special interest groups and employees gathered to tackle problems that have plagued the school for years.

The feuds aren’t just of interest to political geeks and college insiders. Infighting and a dysfunctional governance structure had stalled the school from tackling urgent issues, according to the accrediting commission.

“During interviews, criticism regarding the efficiency of the institutional governance process was revealed. The criticism centered on the length of time to reach a recommendation. It was also noted that there may be misunderstanding regarding the role of a recommending body versus a decision-making body,” according to the commission’s report.

That snippet of the 66-page critical report represents years of strife at the school, not only among the school’s elected trustees but also between the board and other college groups on issues ranging from placement testing to school site closures.

The 12 newly formed workgroups — constituted by the Chancellor’s Office and comprised mostly of faculty, administrators, and trustees — met to discuss issues and make recommendations to the system’s decision-making authorities: the Chancellor’s Office and Board of Trustees. One of the workgroups is in charge of evaluating that very decision-making system, with 14 people from different college constituencies hashing out a new style of democracy for the school.

At their first meeting, the members brought in stacks of papers to hand out — research on best practices and policies in college governments around the state and the nation. This particular workgroup discussed how an ideal student government should run, and how to enact those changes at City College.

The workgroups are brainstorming sessions, and each one has a different task ahead of it, including how to measure student learning, leveraging technology to streamline the school, facilities planning, and fiscal planning. Each workgroup acts independently, although some themes and members overlap.

The Board of Trustees is scheduled to meet and report on the progress of the workgroups on August 14 — the day before fall semester classes begin.

A final, preliminary report based on the findings of the dozen workgroups is expected to be completed before the accrediting commission’s October 15 deadline. With everything on the table, from staff layoffs to campus closures, CCSF is an anxious institution facing an uncertain future.


In Compton, faculty and staff lived in constant fear of losing their jobs between 2002 and 2006, while the school was at risk of losing accreditation. Its path offers some lessons for CCSF.

“From three or four years prior to the accreditation being revoked, every March everybody got a pink slip and then you found out, you know, whether or not you actually had a job to come back to the next year,” Ann Garten, the community relations director of El Camino Community College District, told the Guardian in a phone interview.

El Camino swooped in to save Compton from total closure when its accreditation was revoked in 2006. The fate of employees at City College is a mystery for now, but based on Compton’s experience, part-time faculty are most at risk.

During spring semester, City College had nearly 1,700 instructors, approximately half of which were part-timers, according to college payroll documents. The school’s faculty are represented by the American Federation of Teachers Local 2121.

Classified workers — those who perform services such as administrative support, technology services, and grounds maintenance — could also be at risk. Their numbers exceeded 800 during the last fiscal year, according to the school’s assistant director of research, Steve Spurling.

They are represented by the Service Employees International Union Local 1021, a large and active union that also represents most city workers. In recent years, both unions have already taken pay cuts and freezes on raises and accepted furlough days to help plug the college’s fiscal holes.

If a special trustee were to take over, these workers would become even more vulnerable. But even without a special trustee, will there be layoffs?

Though there is no definitive answer yet, “everything needs to be on the table,” Trustee Steve Ngo told us. Yet most indications are that part-timers are at the most risk.

“I’m not convinced [full time faculty] pay cuts are what is called for. Our part time is the highest paid in the country,” CCSF Chancellor Pamila Fisher told the Associated Student Presidents, made up of elected leaders from CCSF’s eight main campuses. “We pay them health care. That’s unheard of” and could be re-evaluated, she said.

Yet it’s also possible that more creative and aggressive fundraising could save the part-timers and other college functions. Alisa Messer, president of AFT local 2121, said statewide categorical funds exist expressly to help fund part time faculty health care costs, she said, although not all colleges follow through.

“AFT 2121 has been a leader in this state, and in fact in the nation, on increasing parity for part-time/contingent faculty,” Messer said. “We will not allow this crisis to be an excuse to roll back significant progress that has been made on the rights of our most vulnerable faculty.”

The commission’s June report dinged the school for spending higher than average levels on salaries and benefits, 92 percent of their funds to be exact, while other community colleges in the Bay Area have figures in the low to mid 80s.

Yet many of CCSF’s defenders say that comparison isn’t fair or accurate, noting San Francisco’s higher cost of living and the fact that the district provides health coverage to part-time faculty, which most other community colleges in the state do not provide.


As the college unites, many conflicts that remain boil down to the question of open access. CCSF currently operates with what it sees as a true community college ethos, where the varied needs of a diverse student population are balanced.

Recent high school graduates preparing for transfer mingle with adult students continuing their education, while English as Second Language (ESL) learners work towards proficiency and others seek new technical skills or transition to a new career.

Many students also take so-called “personal enrichment” courses — one time classes in the arts or languages, for example — that state government has de-prioritized as the budget hole has gotten deeper.

“I think we have to spend money better,” Ngo said, concerning “non-credit” courses, which are primarily classes for adult learners. He pointed to the fact that ESL classes are a full semester long, despite a unique “hop in, hop out” structure to the lessons, which gives students flexibility in their attendance over the course of the semester.

Reducing the number of weeks in a semester that those classes meet could be one possible strategy for saving money, he said. He emphasized that the college needs to work with hard data, and that calculations from what could be saved by such moves aren’t finished.

The number of campuses within the district is also being re-evaluated. “Yes, one of things we’re looking at is whether we should have nine sites. Centers may be combined. We don’t know if that will pay out yet,” Chancellor Fisher told the student presidents, referring to complex funding formulas that could actually prevent CCSF from saving money by closing campuses.

Fisher said officials are researching the possibility of combining campuses in close proximity, which drew a mixed reaction from the presidents. Bouchra Simmons, the Downtown Campus student president, said that combining the Civic Center and Downtown campuses would be disastrous.

“[Downtown Campus] is already pushed to capacity in terms of class size,” Simmons said. And the reverse, moving Downtown Campus students into Civic Center, would make it difficult for her to drop her daughter off at child care and still be able to make it to school on time.

Emanuel Andreas, Southeast Campus president, disagreed when it came to his constituents. “We understand what is happening, and everything needs to be on the table,” he said.

The threat of campus closures and a reduction in non-credit classes are all part of the attack on open access, as some students have said. To combat that, they’ve formed a new student group aimed at educating the city about what they stand to lose.

Project Unity is comprised of Occupy CCSF students, former student trustee Jeffrey Fang, student body President Shanell Williams, and other students, led by the newly elected student Trustee William Walker. They’ve rallied for their school at City Hall, where Supervisors Eric Mar and John Avalos have sponsored a resolution to support City College.

Project Unity met at the Mission Campus shortly after supporting the resolution, and started to plan a grassroots campaign to educate the city and its residents about open access.

Bob Gorringe, a member of Occupy San Francisco, was on hand to help the fledgling group strategize. “[Trustee] Anita Grier came out to the Occupy action council, and she was very open,” Gorringe told the group on July 31, referring to the longtime board member who is not exactly known for her radical tendencies.

Students taking such a vested interest in their college should come as no surprise, considering what happened to Compton before it folded into El Camino.

Although Compton never actually closed, it hemorrhaged students as public fears of the college closing grew larger, and the student body dropped to around 2,000 when El Camino took over, Garten told the Guardian.

Some students went elsewhere, but many appear to have just abandoned the education system.

“We looked at two or three colleges around Compton and none of us had a significant increase in students from the Compton district” enrolling, Garten said.

In other words, it looked like many disillusioned students had simply dropped out, something that nobody wants to see in San Francisco.


Just over two months remain for CCSF and its supporters to hash out a preliminary plan. Aiding them is a team of experts that will create a detailed report on everything related to the college’s financial woes — possibly the most critical problem area.

The Fiscal Crisis and Management Assistance Team, or FCMAT, explained their process to the college on August 3.

Without revealing any specific details, Michelle Plumbtree, the chief management analyst of FCMAT, warned an audience of a couple dozen interested people that its report would seem negative, but only because that’s exactly what the report is supposed to be: a critical review of problem areas.

“You guys are doing incredible things…But that’s not what we talk about [in our reports],” Plumbtree said.

Mike Hill, another FCMAT team member, succinctly layed out the biggest obstacles to City College’s fiscal future. “This is not a one year problem…We’re looking at three years. What makes that complicated is the governor’s tax, and the parcel tax,” Hill said, referring to Prop. 30 and the San Francisco ballot measure City College sponsored. “There are four scenarios… It’s not predictable.” Prop. 30, the tax measure placed on the ballot by Governor Jerry Brown, wouldn’t raise new revenue for community colleges. If it passes, they simply break even, staving off more drastic cuts. But the parcel tax offers more hope for CCSF, if city voters approve it. It would free up $14 million in revenue for this fiscal year, restoring some of what was lost and prevent the deep cuts and scaled back mission that the school’s support most fear.

Activists rally for alleged victim of illegal foreclosure


A few dozen rallied in front of the building that houses a branch of PNC bank July 26, demanding that the bank not foreclose on Yin Wong, an elderly Bayview resident who says the bank is foreclosing on her illegally.

Wong says she never missed a mortgage payment on the home that she and her family have lived in since 2001. She was paying through electronic transfer, where payments were automatically transferred from her bank account monthly. She says that in October 2009, she discovered the bank had rejected her previous two payments. The next month, she received a foreclosure notice for non-payment. 

“I never said I cannot pay,” Wong says. She says after she was tracked for foreclosure, all efforts to pay were refused, even though she had the money.

“If it happened to another person, I wouldn’t believe it. But it happened to me,” Wong said, adding that “In other countries all over the world this wouldn’t happen…just America, of freedom and democracy.”

Protesters chanted in support of Wong and blocked the main entrance to 575 California, where PNC has offices. A security guard said the building hadn’t seen that kind of demonstration since it housed Chevron.

Activists compare Wong’s case to that of the Cruz family, who also had their electronic transfer payments to PNC rejected without explanation, resulting in being tracked for foreclosure and eviction from their Minnesota home. Their case galvanized national support and made headines when they travelled with supporters to PNC’s Pittsburgh headquarters last week.

Wong has received support from the Eviction Defense Collaborative (EDC), and two attorneys from the group were at the rally protesting on her behalf. One EDC lawyer, Deepa Varma, said that even with fairly obvious illegal foreclosures such as Wong’s, homeowners usually lose in the courts. The EDC would often warn clients that fighting against banks in these cases was a largely unwinnable uphill battle.

But she said the recent push to fight back against foreclosures, fueled largely by various Occupy efforts, has changed all that.  

“A year before Occupy, the position in our office was to say, you’ll just have to move,” said Varma. “It would have felt impossible”

But now, Varma said, “there’s more of us, and people have actually made it happen. The turning point for me was seeing Josephine get back in her house,” she said. Josephine Tolbert, 76, was locked out of her home was little warning last fall. After pressure from activists, including Occupy the Hood SF, Occupy San Francisco, and Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), Tolbert has now received a loan modification and is back in her home.

“After that I was like, anything is possible so long as they realize we’re not going to keep quiet outside the courts,” Varma said.

Wong has been working with the EDC since she was served her first eviction notice three years ago. 

California is a non-judicial foreclosure state, meaning local governments automatically enforce foreclosures that lenders call for. Foreclosure cases are generally not reviewed unless a homeowner challenges a lender legally. Then, according to Varma, lenders need only prove that they filed appropriate eviction paperwork to prove their case—not that the foreclosure itself has legal merit.

Wong wanted to go to trial to prove her case, Varma said. “She said, I did everything right. I have nothing to hide.” But PNC wanted to settle the case through a series of motions of summary judgment. “They filed motion after motion,” recounts Varma, saying that courts almost always decide in favor of lenders in these types of motion. But Wong’s case was unusual– “we kept beating them.”

After three years, PNC finally beat Wong at a bench trial last month when a judge ruled against her. Their win was only based on being able to prove to the judge that they had record of the appropriate paperwork in Wong’s foreclosure preceedings, not that Wong had missed payments, meriting the foreclosure in the first place, according to EDC attorney Josh Schieber. 

Scheiber said that while he’s been working on Wong’s case, she has consistently tried to submit her payments and on the occasions offered to pay the whole mortgage. The bank doesn’t seem interested.

But Wong refuses to give up, and she hopes that the confrontation yesterday might have reopened those lines of communication.

Wong and an interpreter from Occupy Bernal waited in the building’s lobby about 45 minutes while supporters chanted “keep Yin in her home.” 

“They want to make me become homeless, but they still don’t want to talk to me,” Wong said as she waited, guessing “they’re scared because they know they did the wrong thing.”

PNC sent down a representative to meet with Wong who assured her that he would fax the documents that she had brought with her, evidence of the unlawful foreclosure, to corporate headquarters

Wong and her family are scheduled for eviction Wednesday.

“I hope they postpone it so we can keep talking,” Varma said.

Best of the Bay 2012: Local Heroes


2012 Local Heroes

Alex Tom and Shaw San Liu

Alex Tom and Shaw San Liu — the executive director and lead organizer for the Chinese Progressive Association, which celebrates its 40th anniversary on Aug. 4 — have laid the groundwork for a progressive resurgence in San Francisco by organizing Chinese immigrants and actively building close and mutually supportive relationships with working-class allies throughout the city.

The two have been involved in just about every recent effort to counter the pro-corporate neoliberalism that has come to dominate City Hall these days. They have seized space with Occupy San Francisco and they have supported labor unions and helped to create the Progressive Workers Alliance. They have fought foreclosures and pushed for affordable housing reforms, and they have protected vulnerable immigrant workers from wage theft by unscrupulous employers.

“Shaw San and Alex are incredibly talented organizers and movement builders who are managing to do the nearly impossible,” said N’Tanya Lee, who worked closely with the pair as the director of Coleman Advocates for Children and Youth. “They have built an authentic base of working-class Chinese immigrants who are interested in fighting for change in their community, and are creating a grassroots organization at the forefront of building multi-racial alliances to combat the divide-and-conquer strategies that are confronting us.”

Liu, who joined CPA six years ago, said she’s always inspired to see the old photographs on the walls of CPA’s office, and to read the history of CPA’s organizing and advocacy on behalf of working people. She said the organization has always understood the need to forge alliances with labor unions and other progressive interests.

“The organization itself has been, since its inception, playing a critical role in bridging the needs of Chinese interests with other communities,” Liu said. “I’ve always seen my role as bridge building.”

Today — with stagnant real wages, a deteriorating social safety net, and growing power by corporations that enjoy unprecedented political clout thanks to Citizens United and other court rulings — the need to organize people across cultural lines is more important than ever, even if that begins by addressing the individual needs of each community.

“Always at our core, it’s about empowering our folks to be able to voice their own struggles and visions,” Liu said.

Working to build that capacity within the Chinese immigrant community is hard and important work, Liu said, but it’s equally important to connect with the struggles of working class people from other communities, uniting to effectively counter the political dominance of employers and property owners.

Lui framed the struggle as: “How do we build unity and not have that be lip service?”

Tom and Liu have demonstrated that they know how to do just that, despite the diversity of sometimes-conflicting interests on the left and in a working class squeezed by recession and feelings of economic uncertainty.

“The issue that will unify people is good jobs that are accessible to everyone,” Liu said.

Yet she also said that working class organizing is needed to counter the simplistic “jobs” rhetoric coming from City Hall, which politicians are using to advocate for tax cuts to big corporations.

“More and more, it exposes itself as a total lie,” Liu said of the argument that the city should be facilitating private sector job creation with business tax cuts. “So much points to the fact that the US economic system doesn’t benefit everyone … When we talk about jobs, we talk about what kinds of jobs we want and for whom.”


2012 Local Heroes

Stardust and Ross Rhodes

Ross Rhodes and Stardust, like all of the people involved in Occupy Bernal, are neighbors. But until Stardust helped found the group — a local take on Occupy focused on stopping unjust foreclosures and evictions — they didn’t know each other.

Now they do, and if it wasn’t for Occupy Bernal, Rhodes is sure he would no longer have the house that his parents bought in 1964.

A former college football star, Rhodes injured his knees and back playing. He lives on disability payments, volunteering at the 100 Percent College Prep Club, and bringing home-cooked meals to seniors in his area. He also coached kids in the Junior 49ers program until it became too hard on his injuries.

Stardust, an ESL teacher and oboe player in the Bay Area Rainbow Symphony and the SF Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band, has been working for LGBT rights, women’s rights, and online civil rights for years. When Occupy took off, he gravitated toward the neighborhood fights against foreclosures.

Like people all over the US, Rhodes and his wife were fooled several years ago by a pick-a-payment loan plan. At the time, World Savings was peddling the deals through neighborhoods, promising potential borrowers that they could send their kids to college, buy a car, take vacations — and modify their loans after a year.

But when Rhodes started to apply for loan modifications, he was denied. He kept receiving letters asking for more information, often the same information he had already given — a common story that led to part of the Homeowners Bill of Rights that will guarantee a single point of contact from the bank. He was stumped when he was told he needed more income — the bank said it wouldn’t accept payments that were more than 30 percent of a borrower’s income, and Rhodes was getting a fixed disability check.

He found another income source as a homecare provider, but after all the time that the bank wouldn’t accept his payments, Rhodes was marked as someone who wasn’t making payments, and was tracked for foreclosure.

Meanwhile, Occupy Bernal was working on more than 100 similar cases in its neighborhood. The organizers hadn’t quite convinced Mayor Ed Lee to help at that point, but Rep. Pelosi’s staffers were on their side, getting banks to prioritize the cases of those working with Occupy Bernal. They worked with other community groups like Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) to do physical occupations of homes. But for those who had received a notice of default and a notice of sale — two steps in the foreclosure process that precede the auction of a property — Stardust was there with another tactic.

He spearheaded Occupy the Auctions. He shows up at City Hall at 1:30 every day and tries to disrupt foreclosure auctions. He’s been there continuously since April 27, 2012, and has stopped dozens of home sales. When fighting the eviction of a neighbor, he is sometimes backed by more than 100 people. But many days it’s just Stardust.

Now, Rhodes is in a loan modification process. Rather than conflicting and confusing machine-generated paper work, he gets regular calls about the status of his modification from a point person in Wells Fargo’s executive complaint office. He testified in Sacramento in favor of the Homeowners Bill of Rights, which passed July 2. He’s also become an Occupy Bernal organizer on top of his other volunteer pursuits.

Stardust battles mega-banks and the city’s wealthiest in his work. But he says the biggest challenge is helping people to get over the shame they feel when they realize they are facing foreclosure. “It’s not their fault,” he says. “It’s the system.”

Friends of Ethics

In the summer of 2011, at the behest of the Ethics Commission, the Board of Supervisors put on the ballot a measure that would have loosened some of the rules for campaign consultant reporting, and would have allowed further changes in the city’s landmark ethics laws without a vote of the people. It had unanimous support on the board — and frankly, technical changes in campaign laws are not the kind of sexy stuff that gets the public angry.

But a small group, led in part by five former ethics commissioners, took on the task of defeating the measure. The activists also took on the challenge of defeating Prop. E, which would have allowed the supervisors to amend future measures passed by the voters.

Despite being outspent by tens of thousands of dollars, Friends of Ethics — a small grassroots operation — prevailed. Both measures were defeated (32 percent to 67 percent in the case of Prop. E, the worst loss of all the local measures on the ballot).

The group is great at forming coalitions: in the case of the No on E and F campaign, Friends of Ethics reached out to some 30 organizations that formally joined in opposing the measures after hearing presentations.

The members of FOE are a fractious group of organizers and shit-disturbers who don’t always get along or agree on other issues. But they’ve come together to do something nobody else does: make protecting and expanding political reform laws a front-line priority.

And the battle goes on. Not long after the November 2011 election, Supervisor Scott Wiener introduced legislation that would have led to less disclosure of political contributions before an election, and would have made it easier to conceal who was making contributions and paying for campaign mailers. The Wiener bill would weaken campaign contribution limit, giving the wealthiest donors greater power in elections.

When the amendments were heard at a well-attended Rules Committee in June (with plenty of public comment from Friends of Ethics), the supervisors sent the amendments back to the Ethics Commission to be rewritten.

The next step for the Friends of Ethics is to work with interested supervisors to push for changes to the city’s campaign laws that will actually benefit the public, such as increased transparency in election contributions and expanded campaign restrictions for those receiving contracts and other benefits from the city.

In an era defined by the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United case and a nationwide assault on fair elections, it’s critical work.

Friends of Ethics can be reached at sfethicsfriend@gmail.com

2012 Local Heroes

The Occupy movement

When Adbusters magazine called for people to show up on September 17, 2011, in New York City to protest the way Wall Street was holding the country hostage, no one could have predicted what would emerge.

It was the start of a movement, and San Francisco heeded the call. About 100 people gathered in the city’s Financial District. They started camping. And the effort exploded.

In the first few weeks, camps sprung up across the country. In Chicago and Los Angeles, in Bethel, Alaska and Tuscaloosa, Alabama, people were drawn together. But, unlike most protests, they stayed together. Night after night.

Along the way, a certain prevailing narrative from outside observers never quite got it right. First the camps were dismissed as nothing but bratty college students and hippies. Then they were called dirty and filled with homeless people. (Occupy challenged the whole idea of a monolithic homeless population. Once they had a home in the Occupy tent cities, homeless people were just — shocker — people.)

By December, when most of the campers had been kicked out, the narrative shifted. Occupy was resting, hibernating, many declared. Some snickered at the fair-weather activists who would only come out in the sunshine.

But in the Bay Area, at least, that hibernation story was simply false. On December 12, Occupy Oakland brought out thousands for its second port shutdown, in solidarity with port workers. On January 20, downtown banks were forced to close for the day and people in the streets celebrated Occupy San Francisco’s shutdown of the financial district. A week later, 400 were arrested when thousands tried to turn a vacant Oakland building into a community center. This was no hibernation.

Actions in some way inspired or fueled by Occupy have continued into the spring and summer. On March 1, Occupy, with a focus on student debt and accessible education, formed the 99 Mile March. Dozens marched from the Bay Area to Sacramento to join thousands of students and supporters in calling for an end to cuts to education; hundreds then occupied the Capitol building. On April 22, Occupy, with a focus on food justice, formed the Gill Tract Occupy the Farm action. Hundreds took a UC Berkeley-stewarded tract of land slated for a baseball diamond and a Whole Foods and planted it, turning it into a farm with rows of crops, a kids space, and a permaculture garden. On June 15, Occupy formed the Lakeview sit-in and Peoples School for Public Education, which taught day camp to children and refused to leave a beloved Oakland elementary school, one of five slated for closure.

Police eventually won the many-months battle with most Occupy groups in the Bay Area. The camps are mostly gone, though a tenacious group keeps its 24-hour protest in front of the Federal Reserve.

But because of Occupy — and its accompanying burst in resistance, creativity, and the belief that we really can, and must, come together to do something — dozens of Bay Area residents remain in homes that were facing foreclosure. Hundreds of people who felt forgotten and abandoned have found community. Thousands have been inspired to start their own projects and work with others.

When Adbusters called Occupy Wall Street to action, it was under the banner of “democracy not corporatocracy.” That ain’t an easy project. But it has already made the world a better and more hopeful place. 

Killing of suspect with box cutter may have been legal. But was it necessary?


Police officers have dangerous jobs, and when confronted with subjects who may threaten their lives, they have to think fast under stress. When a subject has something classified as a “deadly weapon,” police are justified by law in shooting to stop the threat.

As SFPD spokesperson Carlos Manfredi explained to me for an article in this week’s paper, the official policy isn’t “shoot to kill.” But subjects are often killed, since officers are trained at the police academy to aim for the body’s center mass and to shoot until any threat to their life is neutralized.

It seems many tools and common items can fall under the “deadly weapon” category. The SFPD’s third fatal officer-involved shooting this year occurred July 18 when Pralith Pralourng apparently lunged at an officer. His deadly weapon? A box cutter.
In January 2011, Raheim Brown Jr. was shot by Oakland School Police. He was allegedly wielding a screw driver. Last July, Charles Hill was shot by BART police. He was drunk, lying on the ground, and hurled a pocketknife at police, missing them by 10 feet.

When used just right, a box cutter, a screwdriver, or a pocket knife can certainly be deadly weapons. But when a subject is exhibiting likely mental disability, drunk and lying on the ground, or 20 years old and in a car, isn’t there any other type of combat police could use to neutralize the threat?

At a press conference today Police Chief Greg Suhr said that police do take defensive tactical training, which trains officers in using less than lethal weapons. But the July 18 situation warranted the use of lethal weapons, Suhr said.

“The officer was facing a life or death situation. She had to do what she could to protect herself.,” Suhr said.

Suhr explained that the officer had been on the force 20 years, during which time she had received multiple trainings in crisis intervention training, which he called the “most progressive in the country.”

That training deals with psychology and teaches how to deescalate situations in which a subject is a “danger to himself,” Suhr said. But, since the subject had already allegedly attacked a co-worker, the the officer’s life was considered in danger.

Meanwhile, Occupy San Francisco activists who still protest and sleep outside the Federal Reserve on Market Street attained video and audio of people who claim to be witnesses who contradict the police story. One says that “he was on his back, then [paramedics from] the ambulance turned him facing downwards…they but a bag over his body and his head. Next thing, when everybody started looking at they got nervous and they started acting like they were doing CPR even though the guy was gone. It took the ambulance 20 minutes to get there.”

In a video that has been viewed more than 17,000 times on youtube, another man who claims to be a witness says “they had him in cuffs, and they shot him.” In another video shot by the same man, Robert Benson, another man says “he was in handcuffs and they shot him twice in the chest…I saw it.”

The Bay Guardian has not been able to confirm these accounts.

Pralourng’s death was likely legal. He could likely have injured an officer with the six-inch box cutter he carried, although it may have been difficult to kill her. But his crime did not merit the death penalty, and he now joins the ranks of Hill, Brown and others who’s small blades and screwdriver were considered weapons deadly enough to justify their deaths by the SFPD, BART Police, Oakland School Police respectively. It’s hard not to ask—did Pralourng have to die?

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.”

OccuPride remembers



QUEER ISSUE “First of all, the parade wouldn’t have barricades, because that immediately creates an us versus them divide, and then you see the parade as just the groups and companies that can afford the fee, which is like $450. Anyone who wanted to march could march, regardless of what the sheriff or Fire Department says. There would be tents for connections to services that people desperately need. I’m not opposed to having companies there, but they shouldn’t be the be-all, end-all of Pride. And there should be more about the history, because people don’t know it. In the Holocaust, anywhere from 10,000 to 100,000 gays were worked to death in Dachau and other work camps. That’s where the pink triangle comes from. But people think Harvey Milk pulled it out of his ass or something.”

That’s what Scott Rossi, one of the organizers of San Francisco’s OccuPride march, told me when I asked him what his ideal SF Pride Parade would look like. The protest’s rallying cry is Community Not Commodity, and the group hopes to bring some rebellious spirit to the parade, which they say has become too watered down with corporate sponsors and assimiliation-lovin’ politics.

Some of the action’s organizers are from Occupy San Francisco and Occupy Oakland, but the majority are a coalition of radical queer groups like HAVOQ, Pride at Work, Act Up, and QUIT (Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism).

Honestly, it would be weird if there wasn’t a group with an anti-capitalist critique of the parade disrupting Pride this year. It’s been a tradition since 1992 when Act Up members joined the parade and staged intermittent Die-Ins, collapsing every seven minutes, the frequency that people were dying from AIDS that year.

Act Up and related groups staged similar demonstrations practically every year. A decade later, two Gay Shame protesters were arrested when they attempted to enter the parade. That year’s parade was sponsored by Budweiser, and Gay Shame had created a seven-foot-tall cardboard Budweiser can that read “Vomit Out Budweiser Pride and the Selling of Queer Identities,” and other props to confront “the consumerism, blind patriotism and assimilationist agenda of the Pride Parade.”

And radical queers show no sign of stopping. Veteran gay rights warrior Tommi Mecca was at basically all of these disruptions, and he won’t be missing out on this year’s events. Mecca was 21 when he helped organize the first Pride March in Philadelphia in 1972.

“Pride used to be a protest,” Mecca recalls. “It was very free. There were no barricades on the street, there were very few rules. We didn’t have contingents, people just gathered, and at some point there were speeches, usually by activists…I don’t know when it started getting corporate sponsors.”

But the glitz! The glamour! The music enhanced by electricity! Today, Pride is a giant, televised affair — this year, sponsored by Wells Fargo.

“Don’t people in Pride realize how much we’re being used by Wells Fargo?” Mecca said. “It just reeks.”

So if you go to the parade, smell the sweet smell of protesters promoting “pride not profit, a movement not a market, and community not commodity.” After all, if it wasn’t for queer radicals in the ’70s, there wouldn’t be a Pride at all.

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: