Yael Chanoff

How OccupySF thwarted a police raid


More than 1,000 people amassed at the OccupySF camp last night based on word that police would be raiding the camp. At 4:30 am, there were still 500 gathered in Justin Herman Plaza when OccupySF organizer Ryan Andreola finally announced: “We just got a report from an official police statement that the raid has been called off because there were not enough police for the number of people here,” as the crowd erupted in applause.

It was the end of what was for many protesters a long — and remarkably successful — day. Word began circulating of possible police altercation at 6 a.m. October 26, when police passed through the encampment handing out notices titled “You are subject to arrest,” which claimed that the protest was in violation of several city and state laws and had become a public health hazard.

On Oct 19, city officials had communicated to OccupySF that they would provide portable toilets, but a week later had not followed through; to deal immediately with public health concerns, protesters acquired them on their own.

Around 8:00, having received various tips and seen a document warning nearby businesses of police activity that night, OccupySF put out a call for supporters, saying police raid was confirmed. Justin Herman Plaza officially closes at 10 p.m., so protesters mobilized to be ready for an attack then.
At 9:00, hundreds of people were at the encampment and were meeting about tactics in case the raid occurred. For the next several hours, as hundreds more continued to pour into camp, supporters practiced formations to defend the camp and separate those who were willing to risk arrest from those who weren’t.

At 9:30, photos began circulating social media of scores of police in riot gear waiting with six muni buses near the police operations building in Potrero Hill. Many feared that they were gearing up to descend on Justin Herman Plaza.

Different groups, including a group of clergy, SF Labor Council representatives, a meditation circle and groups practicing blockade formations met throughout the camp. Drum circles continuously pounded, and the Brass Liberation Orchestra jammed throughout the night.

Nurses and medic volunteers distributed materials to protect from and relieve the effects of tear gas, and National Lawyers Guild volunteers scoured the camp making sure protesters had their legal hotline phone number. Talk of the violence and mass arrests at Occupy Oakland that had happened the past few days permeated the group.

The BART stations closest to the OccupySF and Oakland camps were closed last night due to “civil disturbance,” but many supporters still crossed the Bay to swell the OccupySF ranks.

At 10:00, between 500 and 600 people had gathered at the camp. Protesters danced to the constant music and chanted political cries to the beat: “This system has got to die, hella hella occupy!”

Others waited in defense formation around the camp. After spotting Supervisor John Avalos, many began imploring him to sit down in the ranks, which he did.

As the night went on, sightings of police with buses continued. Some protesters joked, “the police are on the way, but they’re taking Muni so it will be a few hours.”

At 12:40, though much of the camp’s kitchen supplies and food had been moved offsite, protesters continued to serve free food. A young man serving up salad and bread gestured to several cases of food, saying “this has all been donated within the last hour.”

At 1 a.m., the group had reached its peak numbers. All sides of Justin Herman Plaza were blocked by masses of people, who also spilled out into the street on Steuart and Market, attracting virtually all passers-by into the crowd. Organizers urged supporters to stay prepared, but as one woman emphasized on a bullhorn “Remember, 99 percent means we are all individuals. It’s your choice how you respond.”

At 1:30, an impromptu speak-out began as protesters, amplified by the Peoples Mic, explained who they were and why they were there that night. Ten minutes later the group decided to allow a makeshift press conference, giving a formal space for five city officials present to speak.

Supervisors John Avalos, Jane Kim, David Campos, David Chiu and Eric Mar, along with state Senator Leland Yee, professed their support for OccupySF and commitment to protecting it from raids. The group was met with mixed responses. Many cheered their support, and one woman said, “I’m from Oakland and I wish Oakland supervisors had done what San Francisco supervisors have done tonight.” Others were less receptive, crying “I don’t trust you!” and “remember, these are the same supervisors that helped pass sit-lie!”

After the politicians finished speaking at 2:00, many supporters left the camp. One man declared, “I’m glad they came, but they do not represent us.”
About 30 minutes later, new reports were coming in that police were massing at Treasure Island. Protesters surveyed their drastically reduced numbers, and voted on what new formations to practice. As the group discussed, drummers punctuated each point, keeping energy high.

Protesters organized new strategies, but by 3:38 there was still no sign of cops. Representatives of labor organizations began a spontaneous rally, speaking to why they supported OccupySF. Mentions of Occupy Oakland’s vote to call for a general strike on Wednesday November 2 circulated, and one labor rep recalled the 1934 general strike.

At 4 a.m., hundreds were still awake and prepared in the camp. Said protester Robert Duddy, “I’m tired. I stayed up last night until 5:30 after getting the notice that we might be evicted. I think they’re trying to wait us out and have our numbers dwindle.” Duddy added that he did not expect the police to show up that night.

Won-Yin Tang wasn’t convinced. “I won’t feel [that we’ve won] until 7 a.m. when they’re not waiting in riot gear anymore. We have to stay focused. When everyone leaves, that’s when they’ll come.”

At 4:30, the long-awaited announcement of victory came. The crowd cheered, and many headed to nearby Muni stations, now open for the morning. Said protester Sam Miller, waiting exhausted in Embarcadero Station, “Tonight was a great triumph of the human sprit. It was the middle class showing we can’t be beaten down anymore. We’re not the zombies that they think we are.”

Protester Sean Semans also celebrated. Said Semans, “We won tonight. Now we just have to sure, if we need to, we can do the same thing tomorrow.”
Staying up until 5 a.m. on weeknights is no easy call to action. But it seems thousands throughout the Bay Area are willing to step up to the plate.

Dailies dutifully vomit out the city’s misleading portrait of OccupySF


Both the Examiner and the Chronicle reported this morning that the OccupySF encampment has become a public health hazard, setting the stage for what many believe is an imminent police raid. The newspapers’ only source: a notice that the Department of Public Health handed out to protesters, at their camp in Justin Herman Plaza, at 6am today. I have been reporting eyewitness accounts from OccupySF for several weeks, and if any reporters from these papers had bothered to go there themselves, they would be telling a very different story.

The Department of Public Health states that fecal matter, urine and vomit have been observed in Justin Herman Plaza and on surrounding streets. That’s accurate. Like many streets in San Francisco and in any city, members of the public sometimes relieve themselves on the streets. The difference is that at OccupySF, people from the 300-person community camped out there take it upon themselves to clean up any occurrences of waste as soon as it’s observed. Scheduled cleaning teams coordinated by the camp’s  Sanitation Committee sweep the streets three times per day, and wash when necessary. Late last night, even as protesters focused on plans in case of a police raid, which the city has been threatening everyday for most of the week, protesters went over the camp many times over with brooms.

Perhaps these issues could be resolved if the city were to provide the port-o-potties that Police Chief Greg Suhr and Mayor Ed Lee promised OccupySF last week. At last Wednesday’s Police Commissioner meeting, Suhr said, “We have no future plans to go into the demonstration. We know that it’s for the long haul…I’m actually working with the Mayor’s Office personally to put the port-o-potties and the handwashing stations down there to provide sanitation.”

In an Oct. 20 email to OccupySF, the deputy communications director for Mayor Ed Lee stated that “porta-potties are available by request.” A press release from OccupySF today claimed that “Port-o-potties are currently only available during daytime hours. OccupySF’s repeated requests for 24-hour port-o-potties have not been met.” When we asked mayoral Press Secretary Christine Falvey why the city hasn’t helped mitigate the public health issues they seem to be using as a pretext to break up the camp, she said, “There are porta-potties and hand washing stations at 101 Market Street, as the mayor directed, and are available for demonstrators to use. They are delivered in the morning and removed at night.”

I can confirm that port-o-potties for use at night, when no bathrooms on surrounding blocks are available, are yet to arrive. And police certainly have continued to “go into the demonstration”—making rounds and handing out notices from different city departments every day, “reminders” that protesters are illegally camping in a public park, violating sit/lie ordinances, and are now, apparently, a “public health hazard.” Today, a notice was circulated that cited all of these issues and informed protesters: “You are subject to arrest.” The camp is preparing for a possible police raid tonight.

These issues are not unique to San Francisco. Barbara Ehrenreich reported October 24 that, at Occupy demonstrations throughout the country, “for the individual occupier, one problem often overshadows everything else, including job loss, the destruction of the middle class, and the reign of the 1 percent. And that is the single question: Where am I going to pee?” In her piece in Mother Jones, “Why Homelessness is Becoming an Occupy Wall Street Issue,” Ehrenreich notes that “What the Occupy Wall Streeters are beginning to discover, and homeless people have known all along, is that most ordinary, biologically necessary activities are illegal when performed in American streets—not just peeing, but sitting, lying down, and sleeping.” San Francisco has some of the harshest laws in the country in this regard.

Many cities have accommodated Occupy protesters. Why won’t the city bring port-o-potties? And why are city publications reporting the city’s official statements without any perspective from the encampment itself? The people are speaking: that the powers that be won’t listen is what the Occupy movement is fighting against in the first place.

Mixed messages



In San Francisco — the first major city to launch a midnight police raid to break up an Occupy encampment, which it repeated Oct. 16 — city officials are struggling with contradictions between claims of supporting the movement but opposing its tactic of occupation. Protesters have reacted to those mixed messages by erecting a growing tent city in defiance of Mayor Ed Lee’s public statements on the issue.

The situation remained fluid at Guardian press time, with OccupySF members unsure when and whether to expect another raid. That sort of standoff has repeated itself in cities around the country. But it seems particularly fraught here in the final weeks of a closely contested mayor’s race as Lee’s stated belief that “a balance is possible” is put to the test.

On Oct. 18, when hundreds of OccupySF protesters and their supporters entered City Hall to testify at the Board of Supervisors hearing — where Lee appeared for the monthly question time and was asked by Sup. Jane Kim to “describe the plan that our offices have been developing” to facilitate the OccupySF movement — it became clear there was no plan and that Lee was standing by the city’s ban on overnight camping.

“From the very beginning, I have fully supported the spirit of the Occupy movement…To those who have come today and who come day after day as part of this movement, let me say now that we stand with you in expressing anger and frustration at the so-called too big to fail and the big financial institutions,” Lee said at the hearing.

“Then don’t send the police in to destroy it,” yelled a woman from the crowd.

“Well, we are working with you,” Lee responded as Board President David Chiu banged his gavel at the interruption and said, “excuse me, you are out of order” and the packed hearing room erupted in shouts and applause at calling out the contradiction in the mayor’s position.

“Well, we are working with you. We are working with you to help raise your voice peacefully and will protect and defend your right to protest and your freedom of speech,” Lee continued, eliciting scattered groans from the crowd. “But that’s not the same thing as pitching tents and lighting fires in public places and parks that are meant for use by everyone in our city. But we can make accommodations and we have, and we can do this while not endangering public safety in any way.”

Afterward, as Lee was surrounded by a scrum of journalists asking about the issue, he made his stand even more clear. “We’re going to draw the line with overnight camping and especially structures,” Lee told reporters. Asked why the police raids have taken place in the middle of the night and why San Francisco is banning practices being allowed in other occupied cities, such as tents and kitchens, he offered only nonresponsive answers before being whisked away by his security detail.

Back inside the hearing room, Sup. John Avalos — who has led efforts to mediate the conflict and prevent police raids — called Lee’s comments “very frustrating. I’m alarmed that he is moving toward nightly standoffs with the Occupy movement.” After watching video of the chaotic Oct. 16 raid, at which several protesters were injured by police officers, Avalos called the situation “unsafe for both sides.”

Six of the 11 supervisors voiced support for OccupySF during the meeting, although Kim — who supports OccupySF and Lee’s mayoral campaign and whose District 6 includes the two protest encampments, in Justin Herman Plaza and outside the Federal Reserve — said at the hearing, “We’re all struggling to figure out the best way to accommodate it.”

Indeed, when the Guardian sought details on “the plan” Kim said she was developing with Lee, her staffers told us there was nothing in writing or major tenets they would convey. And mayoral Press Secretary Christine Falvey told us, “There’s not really a plan, per se, because the movement is so fluid,” although she confirmed that the city would not allow tents or other structures: “The tactic of camping overnight, he does not support.”

But OccupySF protesters were defiant as they streamed to the microphone by the dozens during public comment, decrying the city’s crackdown and claiming the right to occupy public spaces and to have the basic infrastructure to do so. As a woman named Magic proclaimed, “This can be a celebration or a battle, but we will not back down.”

The next afternoon, a large group of OccupySF protesters took their complaints about mistreatment by officers to the Police Commission meeting. Previously, Police Chief Greg Suhr had taken the same stance as Lee, with whom he had consulted before ordering the raid, claiming to support OccupySF but oppose overnight camping (see “Crackdown came from the top,” Oct. 11).

“We will surgically and as best as possible and with as much restraint as possible try to deal with the hazards while protecting people’s First Amendment rights,” Suhr had said, reiterating a ban on tents and infrastructure.

But by the end of the long Police Commission hearing — which was peppered by angry denunciations and chants of “SFPD where is your humanity?” — Suhr seemed to soften his position: “We have no future plans to go into the demonstration. We know that it’s for the long haul.”

OccupySF members interpreted Suhr’s remarks, which went on to raise concerns over potential future public health hazards that a growing encampment might present, as a change in the policy Lee had outlined a day earlier, erupting in the cheer, “Now that’s what I’m talking about!”

In the wake of that meeting, more than 40 tents — including a working kitchen and fully stocked medical tent — have been erected in Justin Herman Plaza, although neither the Police Department nor Mayor’s Office have answered Guardian inquiries seeking to clarify what current city policy is regarding OccupySF. But for now, protesters have declared victory over the city and are happy to be turning their full attention back toward powerful banks, corrupt corporations, and the rest of “the 1 percent.”

“I’m really proud of the OccupySF participants who went to the meeting today,” Zoe D’Hauthuille, a 19-year-old protester, told the Guardian after the Oct. 18 meeting. “I feel like they were really honest and super effective at getting people to realize that we need certain things, and that the city is violating our rights.”

SFPD allows OccupySF to grow into a tent city


Photos by Steven T. Jones, who also contributed to this report.

It seems the San Francisco Police Department is laying off the OccupySF encampment, at least for now. After top city officials sent mixed messages to the occupiers during a pair of high-profile hearings in City Hall this week, a full-blown tent city with working kitchen and medical tent has now been erected in Justin Herman Plaza.

During the Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday, Mayor Ed Lee voiced support for the movement’s message, but said that tents, tarps, and cooking in the plaza or in OccupySF’s presence on the sidewalk in front of the Federal Reserve wouldn’t be tolerated.

A string of protesters testified against the policy and the two recent police crackdowns, which was also criticized by John Avalos and other progressive supervisors who are working on a legislative solution to the standoff. But at the Police Commission hearing the next night, Police Chief Greg Suhr seemed to announce that police would stand  down and allow the encampment to continue.

Protesters packed the meeting and disrupted the proceedings with chants of “SFPD where is your humanity” and accusations of police brutality at several recent raids of their camp. Many representatives made public comments condemning police brutality and repression of the protests, and many speakers also connected it with a broader problem of police harassment, notably in Bayview-Hunters Point.

Said OccupySF protester Christopher Ray: “Obama himself does not have the right to come tell us to stop, to tell us to take down our tarps, to tell us we can’t eat, to cook food, to sleep there. Period. You would have change the Constitution of the United States in order to do that. We’re not leaving.”

By the end of the long meeting, Suhr expressed support in what seemed like a promise to OccupySF: “We have no future plans to go into the demonstration. We know that it’s for the long haul. We did work, or, I’m told that we were trying to work all day Sunday to take down the tarps and the structures. We did meet last week and I did provide a written notice that’s been provided wholesale since down there. We realize that this movement could go on indefinitely, and as such, I’m actually working with the Mayor’s Office personally to put the port-o-potties and the handwashing stations down there to provide sanitation. I don’t know that anybody’s doing that. And in other towns where this movement has grown and is very large, they’re already experiencing things like dogs that have bitten people, rats, sanitation issues, the lack of running water so I can assure you that our efforts are to keep it safe and to facilitate the First Amendment demonstration.”

His statement was meant with a cry of “Now that’s what I’m talking about!” and thunderous applause from the chamber, and the OccupySF movement has interpreted the remarks as permission for the encampment to continue without further police harassment. Guardian calls to the SFPD Public Affairs Office to clarify the policy have not yet been returned.

By last night, the encampment’s numbers and infrastructure had grown — with a kitchen producing group dinners and new tents being added throughout the evening — and there seemed to be only a cursory police presence. Many protesters were essentially declaring victory, telling the Guardian that the numbers only grew after each police raid, expressing hope that the city has now had a change of heart. 

This comes after a rocky history of SFPD relations with the protest. On October 5, police issued a notice requiring all tents at the encampment to be removed. Protesters complied, but police still moved in, confiscated all the protest’s materials, and ended up making one arrest in the ensuing altercation. Since, OccupySF has mostly refrained from erecting any structures; instead, the growing numbers, now an average of 200 per night, sleep on the sidewalk. When they put up two tarps when weather turned rainy on Sunday the 16th, the result was another nighttime police raid, this time with five arrests and several injuries to demonstrators.

Yet the next morning, protesters had strung up more tarps.  And in the past few days, many have pitched tents. Now, tents number over 40, and the police are yet to raid.

On Thursday, California Nurses Association and the National Nurses Association worked with OccupySF’s medic team to set up a medical tent. The tent has been sorely needed for a while, but it is only recently that supporters of the protest felt safe creating it.

When the tent was put up, police came and circulated a notice that had been issued on Oct. 1 stating, “Tents, overhead tarps, and/or wooden pallets are not to be within the demonstration area unless appropriate permits are obtained because of the potential hazard they present.” But police exited without attempting to enforce this notice, and as of now the medical tent, complete with a cot and a growing stock of supplies, is still in place.

Said Pilar Schiavo, an organizer with CNA who has been working with OccupySF: “We were able to provide treatment to a bunch of occupiers today.” She says there are many at OccupySF with no other access to health care besides the new tent. “It’s just basic first aid so far, but a little goes a long way here. One had a broken finger from Sunday’s raid.”

Schiavo says when they set up the tent early Thursday morning, protesters Tweeted, Facebooked, and otherwise put out calls for needed medical supplies. Shiavo was proud to report that “supplies started showing up an hour later.”

Just a short BART ride away, city officials in Oakland have accommodated Occupy Oakland and it has grown into a large tent city with ever-improving infrastructure and organization. Perhaps OccupySF is now headed down the same path.

SFPD raids OccupySF again, using more force this time (PHOTOS AND VIDEO)


2:10 pm UPDATE: OccupySF plans to march on City Hall today (Mon/17) starting at 5 pm at Justin Herman Plaza.

Police raided the OccupySF encampment for the second time last night. The events were similar to the Oct. 5 incident, where police stood in riot gear while the protesters’ materials were loaded into Department of Public Works trucks, then protesters sat, lay, and stood on the street around the trucks in an attempt to prevent them from leaving. In both cases, a kitchen and medical tent that had been set up by protesters were dismantled.

Police were by many accounts more aggressive than in the previous raid, which was the first direct police attack on an Occupy encampment in a major U.S. city. Last night, protesters were dragged, kicked, and struck by police officers, prompting the dispatch of an ambulance to take an injured protester to the hospital. There were at least five arrests.

Journalist Josh Wolf shot some excellent footage of the raid:

San Francisco Police Department spokespersons didn’t answer calls from the Guardian. Police Chief Greg Suhr told us after the last raid (which was also approved by Mayor Ed Lee) that they were only removing public safety hazards and “we will surgically and as best as possible and with as much restraint as possible try to deal with the hazards while protecting people’s First Amendment rights.” Yet last night’s raid shows the city is actually dealing more harshly with the Occupy movement than most cities. 

Around 10:15 pm, the group received a warning that police planned to enforce 10 pm curfew in Justin Herman Plaza. The camp had moved there on Saturday to accommodate growing numbers. Police informed protesters that they could not sleep in the park and that they would need to take down a few tarps that had been propped up, providing a roof for the kitchen and communications area in camp. They claimed that there would be no trouble if the camp moved back to their previous location at nearby 101 Market Street, on the sidewalk in front of the Federal Reserve Building.

Protester Katt Hobin served as a liaison with police throughout the night. She was skeptical of police claims that 101 Market Street was an “agreed upon spot.” Hobin told us, “We were encouraged to relocate. We were never told we could be at 101, or that we could be here.”

There were about 100 protesters gathered. In response to warnings of arrest for those who stayed at Justin Herman Plaza, about 30 moved to 101 Market Street. Protesters began texting, calling and tweeting supporters to come join, and by 11:30 pm there were about 200 protesters at camp.

At first, when asked, police could not provide any written statement detailing reasons for disturbing the camp or arresting participants. An officer whose nametag read G. Tom said they were there based on grievances from the Recreation and Parks Department, but that he could not name a specific individual who had complained. After some deliberation, police produced a copy of San Francisco Park Code Section 3.13, which prohibits sleeping in public parks during certain hours.

Sup. John Avalos, the mayoral candidate who has been most actively engaged with the OccupySF movement, negotiated with officers and protester representatives on speakerphone. Avalos suggested that the police come back during the day; Officer Tom replied, “It works better for us to do this in the middle of the night.”

After some negotiations, officers warned that if the tarps that had been erected were not taken down, they would have to proceed with the raid.

Around 11:30 pm, protesters met briefly and agreed not to comply with that order. Said one protester, “We took down the tents last time, and they still took our stuff and arrested people. We can’t trust them. We need to stand our ground.”

At 11:47, about 70 police in riot gear marched on to the scene. They surrounded the camp and began dismantling structures. At 11:53, Department of Public Works trucks pulled in and police began loading them with items from the camp. This included food, tarps, signs, and personal and communal items.

One protester had duct taped himself to a poll within the camp structure. Police ripped him off the poll, threw him to the ground and struck him in the head and ribs. When he left by ambulance a few hours later, he appeared to be convulsing or seizing.

As they had on Oct. 5, protesters poured into the street in an attempt to block trucks from leaving with their possessions. But the street next to Justin Herman Plaza, the southbound side of Embarcadero, separated from the northbound side by a large concrete platform, is quite narrow compared to Market Street where a similar confrontation happened last Wednesday.

Protesters were much more successful last night in blocking the trucks from leaving, and it took about an hour before the four DPW trucks were able to exit. Protesters sat, lay, and stood in the way of trucks, chanting “the people united shall never be divided” and “we shall not be moved.”

Between about midnight and 1:30 am, police tactics escalated. At first, they attempted to back the trucks out, but protesters ran to block all paths. Then one truck lurched forward onto the sidewalk dividing area, where protesters ran to block it as well as talk with the driver about why he was participating in confiscating their belongings.

Soon, police began dragging and pulling protesters who were in their way and the way of the trucks, throwing them from the street to the sidewalk. They also arrested four of those sitting in on the street.

Protester Ryan Hadar, 19, told us: “They bent back my thumbs, trying to pry me away from the people I was locking arms with. When I asked if they were trying to break my thumbs [one officer] replied, ‘only if I have to.’ Then they dragged me to the sidewalk by my index finger. I asked if they were trying to break my finger, and this time they replied, ‘Yes.’”

This level of activity continued about an hour. Protesters sprinted and zoomed back and forth on skateboards, blocking trucks from leaving in all directions. Police pushed protesters out of their path as they marched back and forth, trying to maintain hold of the situation.

At 1 am, the last truck successfully left. Police who had been behind the truck, pushing protesters away from it, were suddenly alone in a sea of OccupySF particpants. They quickly formed into a block, batons poised, as protesters encircled them. A tense moment passed before protesters broke out in cries of “the whole world is watching!”

There were reportedly 2,100 people viewing the live video stream of the events.

The altercation ended in a bizarre fashion, as police marched across Justin Herman Plaza, stopped in the tracks, then seemingly changed their minds and marched back towards the Embarcadero. A smaller contingent then reappeared at the corner of Mission and Steuart streets. Protesters formed a line confronting them and demanding that they release those arrested; a man who had been arrested at the previous week’s altercation had been held 10 days before he was released on bail funds raised by OccupySF.

One officer said that police would continue standing there until protesters left; many protesters were determined to stand until the police left. Eventually, around 1:40 am, police did decide to exit first. A chorus burst out, singing “Na na na na, hey hey hey, goodbye” as they left.

Ten minutes after the incident ended, about four tarps had been restrung and the camp had begun to rebuild its food and water supply. Protesters surveyed the aftermath, including loads of fresh vegetables and other food strewn on the ground near the former kitchen. Many picked up brooms and began cleaning, while others got to work compiling media information.

Those arrested were released around 3 am and arrived back at camp at 3:30. Xander, a protester who had been sleeping at the camp since its first night on Sept. 17, was one of those arrested. He recounted, “They hit me a couple of times on my shoulders and put me in the truck. We weren’t able to leave because our brothers and sisters had surrounded the truck. We were singing and banging on the walls.”

Those arrested were charged with resisting arrest and impeding traffic.



Get on the bus: St. James Infirmary’s new sex worker PSAs are


St. James Infirmary has been providing free, non-judgmental medical and social services for sex workers since 1999. This week, it’ll take the next step. The clinic is putting ads up in Muni buses throughout the city this month meant to educate and inspire Muni riders throughout the city.  

But the campaign, entitled “Someone you know is a sex worker,” won’t be seen on a billboard near you. The ads, which feature actual sex workers, were rejected outright by both Clear Channel and CBS Outdoor before transit ad company Titan 360 agreed to the bus campaign.

You can preview the controversial images — as well as mingle with fabulous people who work for the health and safety of Bay Area sex workers every day — at an exhibit and launch party on Sun/16.

Artist Rachel Schreiber — who created the campaign with photographer Barbara DeGenevieve, and whom the Guardian reached by phone yesterday — thinks advertisers may be hesitant to seem aligned with sex workers rights.

“The anti-trafficking community has such a monopoly on the voice of the issue that I think people are afraid to speak out in another way. People are afraid of being perceived as not supporting that position. Anti-trafficking campaigns are really well funded, often overstated and under researched. Of course we are anti-trafficking and one of our big goals is to fight violence against sex workers”

“There are a lot of people who work in the industry by choice,” she continues. “And everyone deserves access to labor rights and health care and shouldn’t be stigmatized.”

The 27 individuals — sex workers as well as friends and family members of sex workers — who agreed to have their portraits and quotes displayed are taking a risk. It can be dangerous for sex workers to let their identities be known to the public. But Schreiber praised the participants for taking that risk for the good of the sex workers rights movement.

“There are a lot of activists in the community who are willing to go out on a limb…one impressive feature of this community is their support for one another, their willingness to go public to make the topic less secretive and stigmatized,” she says. 

Campaign slogans include “sex work is real work” and “sex workers rights are human rights.” Those are central tenets of the sex worker rights movement, which strives to gain respect and rights for everyone from legal workers like adult film performers and dancers to people who work illegally, including those who exchange sex for survival or sustenance. 

Most sex workers go to great lengths to separate their sex work from the rest of their lives. Schreiber notes a case where a high school teacher in Berkeley was outed, and lost her teaching job as a result. 

“We have a really intense social and cultural taboo against the notion that people trade sex for any kind of money,” says Schreiber. “It’s really deeply ingrained.” She says other, legal occupations, present similar challenges. 

“Agricultural workers, they’re using their bodies and their bodies are in harm’s way. Same with construction workers,” she goes on to say. “Sex work, yes it’s a form of labor that uses the body, but just because it involves sexuality its taboo is blown out of proportion.”


“Someone you know is a sex worker” campaign launch

Sun/16 5-8 p.m., $10 suggested donation

 Intersection for the Arts

925 Mission, SF



OccupySF protesters shut down Wells Fargo HQ


At 7 a.m. this morning (Wed/12), protesters against corporate greed were poised for one of the most impactful actions since OccupySF began.

About 50 people associated with the Foreclose Wall Street coalition were seated in front of all the entrances to the Wells Fargo corporate headquarters on California and Montgomery streets. Back at the site of the OccupySF camp in front of the Federal Reserve Bank on Market Street, protesters gathered. They held a rally there that included a speech from Sup. John Avalos, the only mayoral candidate to actively support the movement.

When the march started off to join those blockading Wells Fargo, there were about 1,000 protesters present, according to estimates of those present. They stopped off at the Hyatt across the street from the Fed to support Unite Here Local 2 hotel workers who are involved in a boycott against the Hyatt before continuing in the march. Protesters chanted, “make banks pay” and “we are the 99 percent.”

The march reached the Wells Fargo building and began rallying there. The sit-ins in front of entrances were still going strong. There, activist and author Naomi Klein addressed the crowd.

When Wells Fargo employees began to arrive at work. According to Max Bell Alper, one of those involved in the blockade, “a number of bankers were trying to get in and yelling at us.” Then they called the police.

When the police arrived, Alper says, “at first, the people from the march were physically blocking them from arresting us.”

Around 8:30 a.m., 11 were arrested. They were brought to the North Beach/Chinatown police station, were they were cited for trespassing, held for about an hour and then released. When I spoke to Alper, he was back from the police station, chanting and marching with the crowd.

He told me that when his parents’ home was foreclosed this year, they moved in with his uncle, whose home was then foreclosed. Currently his grandmother is facing foreclosure. He listed Chase, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America as the banks involved in his family members’ foreclosures.

“Enough is enough. Banks need to recognize that they need to pay,” said Alper.

Protesters continued to block every entrance besides the employee entrance on Leidesdorff Street with sit-ins, as well as march in picket lines, chant “banks got bailed out, we got sold out”, and cheer as organizers spoke. The bank was unable to open until they chose to leave around noon.

SFPD Lt. Troy Dangerfield said that no more arrests were made because Wells Fargo did not request them- apparently, they preferred to wait it out. Said Dangerfield, “It would make it worse if they had to remove them. It doesn’t look good.”

Dangerfield insisted that he “had no stake whatsoever” in what will result from the Occupy movement throughout the country. He has noticed, “it seems like it’s growing nationwide.”

Activist Lucia Kimble sat helping to block the bank’s California entrance from 7:15 to noon. She says protesters voluntarily left at noon because, “We’ve been out here five hours. We successfully shut down the bank. I think our message has been heard.”

Kimble, 27, is a Bay Area resident and housing counselor with Causa Justa :: Just Cause, a group that works to advocate for housing and tenants rights for low income and African American and Latino communities in San Francisco and Oakland. Kimble said that her group was part of the coalition that put on this event “to give a voice to those most affected by our economic crisis.”

Kimble listed the Foreclose Wall Street West coalition’s demands with this action: an immediate moratorium on foreclosures, fixed annual interest rates, an end to Wells Fargo’s financing of high-interest Pay Day Loans, and that they “pay their fair share – pay taxes and give them to the community.”

Shaw San Liu of the Chinese Progressive Association – which just voted to endorse OccupySF and today joined the movement – was an energetic and inspiring speaker throughout the event. Said Liu: “A lot of folks have been saying there’s no diversity in the Occupy movement…In San Francisco it’s becoming clear the diversity of groups that support this movement. Youth, community groups, anti-war, we’re all coming together”

Liu maintained that the problems she was fighting did not start with the financial collapse in 2008. “In my work in Chinese immigrant communities, I know that even before the recession, we were already suffering from unemployment, low wages, and poor housing. I’m excited to see how the country is waking up to oppose a system that allows 1 percent of the people to control 42 percent of the wealth.”

The California Nurses Association, one of the many labor organizations that have showed support for OccupySF, was present at the protest. Said Pilar Schiavo, 36, a CNA organizer from Oakland, “I’m fed up with social inequity. I’m tired of corporate America buying politicians and passing laws to benefit the rich.”

“Patients are foregoing treatment and losing their healthcare. The nurses are here fighting for everyone,” she said.

Schiavo’s father, Bill, drove from Sonora to be at the protest today. A 65-year-old retired electrician, he says that the medical benefits he felt fortunate to have after retiring from a secure job have become unaffordable. “My medical benefits went up $300 a month this year. Who can afford that? Does anyone get a $300 raise? But Wall Street has benefits galore.”

Schiavo made his opinion clear about the Wall Street crisis and bailouts: “It was unbridled theft. We’re angry.”


Inside the occupation


Follow the Guardian’s complete Occupy SF coverage here.

Thursday morning, in gray seven o’clock fog, about 100 people asleep in front of the Federal Reserve building began to blink their eyes open. The bustling camp that had been there the day before — a small village of tents, tarps and easy-ups, shelves brimming with books, art supplies, and a display of hundreds of signs — was gone. The kitchen and all their food were missing, too.

“Wake up, everyone’s gotta wake up. Remember, sit/lie kicks in at seven,” urged a few protesters gently, winding their way through the maze of sleeping bags and blankets. No one was in the mood for legal trouble. All the people there, and a few hundred more who had gone home at two and three in the morning, had been a part of OccupySF’s first clash with the police. Someone pushed a cart full of fruit and granola bars. Breakfast. It was the camp’s first food donation since the incident, which had ended only four hours before. In the calm morning air, it was clear: the police could confiscate gear, but they could not stop the protest. It was only the beginning.

To say that OccupySF has grown in the past three weeks does not begin to describe it.

On Wednesday, Oct. 5, the camp was busy, clean, and what organizer Amy O proudly described as “jubilant.” Hundreds exchanged ideas, played music, and made signs and art. Two abundant snack tables providing free food to any and all were only the tip of the iceberg; the kitchen was piled so high that organizers had begun turning away food donations.

This scene contrasted starkly to the demonstration’s first night. Occupy SF started on Sept. 17, the same day as Occupy Wall Street, as one of the solidarity actions now reportedly numbering over 1,000. About 150 people gathered for the protest that first day and only a handful stayed the night. A week later, there was a devoted group of 10 campers. By Oct. 1, a good 40 people were camping and the kitchen and communications sections were set up. When the police showed up late Wednesday night, camp was 200 strong.



Spending time at the camp is addictive. Since my first night, I feel something constantly pulling me back. That night, Oct. 1, the camp was lively and half a block long. A big, hot pot of soup sat on the kitchen stove. Next door, the communications area was populated with organizers busily typing on laptops. The medical tent was next, kept pristine but as of yet untouched—its necessity, nonetheless, was evident after that week’s incident in New York when police pepper sprayed a group of young women.

At that point, the San Francisco Police Department had been courteous with OccupySF. They provided escorts on marches and didn’t bother the camp. Soon after arriving, Russell, a friendly 23-year-old from San Diego who has been camping since the first day, greeted me. He told me that there was a Gardening Committee meeting in a few minutes, and I planned to check it out. Next I saw Lesley Moore, 48, an Oakland resident with unrelenting energy and a knack for mediating misunderstandings at meetings.

She carried a clipboard and was compiling a massive list of food, supplies, and every imaginable resource the group might want. I learned that a flood of supporters, eager to donate, had requested info about what the camp needed. She planned to post the list on occupysf.com later that night.

Fifteen people climbed into a tent for the Gardening Committee meeting, keen to begin growing food for the camp. The donations were rolling in, and if there was a project we wanted to do, well, we probably could. We discussed what could grow in the winter and planting more in the spring. The mood was giddy with possibility but a bit uneasy— could we imagine we’d still be here then?

Many participants are determined to stay put. Jreds, a protester who had come from Chico, looked me in the eye and promised, “I’m staying as long as it takes.”

When asked his occupation, Jreds replied, “This is our occupation.”

After years of foreclosures and unemployment, no wonder so many people are motivated and available to work and sleep at a place like this. Wall Street’s unmitigated power has failed to trickle down into economic opportunities for the rest of us, and in this economy, “why don’t you just get a job” is starting to sound like “let them eat cake.”

As John Reimann, 65, a retired carpenter from Oakland, put it, “I’ve been waiting 10 years for something like this.” He helped start Occupy Oakland last week.

Protester Chris L, who says the community at the camp is the best part about it, also plans to stay indefinitely. Billy Gene Hobbs, a promoter from LA who can often be seen jumping and shouting to keep protest crowds pumped, came to visit San Francisco two weeks ago, found the camp, and hasn’t left. Since the police came through, almost 100 more people have joined.

The camp’s population is a source of ongoing discussion. Complaints of “too many hippies” usually die quickly when someone actually comes to camp, where the people they’re referring to are not the only ones and, moreover, are active and responsible organizers.

Others object that the protest is populated mostly with young people, especially white and male. There is active discussion on how to accommodate people with children as well as people with disabilities.

It seems everyone — including the many people of color, folks of all ages, and disabled people who have been organizers and participants in the movement — shares the view that oppressive institutions work hand in hand with the corporate corruption and power that the movement strives to end.



Camp life is dotted with calls for the People’s Mic, a tool developed at Occupy Wall Street, where using bullhorn or speakers is illegal. When someone yells “Mic check!” the crowd echoes in response. The person speaks his piece, sentence by sentence, as the crowd repeats. If a few people nearby can hear him, everyone can. For better or for worse, it tends not to amplify ideas people don’t have much taste for; at a recent meeting, when someone insisted that people who had been foreclosed on were greedy and foolish, the People’s Mic’s volume faded fast.

The People’s Mic requires no electricity, discourages rambling, a brilliant improvisation. But the central feature of Occupations throughout the country is the General Assembly. OccupySF has been holding General Assemblies every day at camp at 6 p.m. and on Saturdays at noon in Union Square. In the past week they have consistently boasted a couple hundred participants daily, but continue to practice consensus-based decision-making and participatory democracy. They’re long and often frustrating, but for many, as a standard rallying cry insists, “This is what democracy looks like!”

Many have stepped up at meetings to say that too many men, too many white people, or simply too many of the same voices are being heard. Solidarity efforts like Occupy the Hood, which declares the vital need that people of color make decisions and organize in and along with the occupations, have surfaced nationally.

On Oct. 5, after about 700 people marched on the Financial District with OccupySF, the General Assembly was particularly well attended. It was peppered with invitations and expressions of solidarity, conveyed by representatives of groups from throughout the Bay Area.

The week’s schedule slowly filled: Thursday’s anti-war march, the next day’s teach-in with activist Miguel Robles, a 7 am “Wake Up Action” with Unite-HERE Local 2 on Oct. 10, and plans to coordinate with the LGBT rights group Get Equal for a National Coming Out Day action the next day.

Carolyn DeRoo, a brightly charismatic BART station agent, reveled in the whoops and cheers when she announced that Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1555, the union that represents BART workers, had just voted to endorse Occupy SF. “I got an hour off work today so I could be in the march,” said DeRoo.

She expressed concern over the lack of coherent messaging, hoping it wouldn’t hurt the movement. “I was about to get on a plane to New York because of how badly I wanted to be a part of it,” she said. “I’m so glad it has started in SF.”



But on that fateful night, Oct. 5, meeting ideals were strained. High-tension and often angry debate filled the hours between being warned of police action and its onset, making consensus difficult. Some wanted to take down the camp, unable to risk arrest. There were campers from all walks of life present, including some homeless folks and travelers who would risk losing all or most of their possessions if the police confiscated them. Others didn’t want to see the camp’s growth stunted due to police intimidation.

Dierdre Anglin, 40, an Oakland resident who works in the nonprofit sector, was particularly calm amongst the chaos. “I think the energy got a little high,” she said, as protesters ran around taking down tents and preparing for the imminent police confrontation. “But we have decided to take the stance and to stay here.”

She added, “I personally feel that they are not going to do anything because it would make the police look quite bad. There’s a lot of support for us.” Anglin’s prediction about the cops’ actions, if not their public relations consequences, was mistaken. Police marched in around 1 am, and Department of Public Works employees began to fill their trucks with camp materials.

Billy Gene, ever energetic, raced to lie down on the street in front of trucks and was dragged away, yelling “Don’t be mean!” at police. Many sat and stood in front of trucks. Others could be seen shaking their heads at colleagues’ verbal attacks and murmuring, “that isn’t nonviolent.”

There was no property damage or physical violence on the part of the protesters, although one man was arrested for allegedly punching an officer in the face, which both sides cast as an aberration that didn’t reflect the tenor of the standoff.

At 3 am, protesters surveyed the damage. An organizer addressed the group: “We’re still here, and it’s time to rebuild.” The camp received a donation of blankets and sleeping bags at four o’clock that morning. At five, a small jam session and dance party broke out.

Police have since provided information on how to retrieve confiscated materials, and Police Chief Greg Suhr told us they’ve been actively trying to facilitate getting people their stuff back and allowing the occupation to continue (see accompanying article for more from Suhr).

In the days since, the mood has again turned jubilant. On Thursday afternoon, Oct. 6, about 120 people were gathered at the camp. Signs ranged from “student loan debt is slavery” to “grannies against war.” The next night, the mass of people had increased, and with it the group’s creativity. Protesters could be seen pedaling a stationary bike connected to a battery, powering laptops.

As the sun set Friday, 300 people at camp looked west. They erupted in cheers as a 500-person anti-war demonstration marched onto the site. Market between Main and Embarcadero was shut down as protesters rallied and then held General Assembly. A dozen police lined up near the sidewalk; one told me they were separating OccupySF from the march. The next second, the “march” erupted in chants of “We are the 99 percent,” the Occupy movement’s signature rallying cry. Attempts to divide were futile.

That the movement has no “one message” has in many ways worked to their advantage. It seems hundreds of thousands of people with varying issues and concerns can all agree that an elite class, embodied by Wall Street, has far too much power and money, and that the people must unite against the sorry state of this system. As I looked in the officers’ eyes, I wondered how long even their disconnect from the protesters will last. Most are, after all, the 99 percent too.

After the General Assembly held the street for an hour, police requested that they please move to the sidewalk. A consensus vote decided to oblige. An assembly member proclaimed, words booming with the roar of the People’s Mic, “Let us remember that we took this street, and we could have held it if we wanted to.”

This is the kind of power many haven’t felt in a long time. And I get the feeling that no one intends to relinquish it any time soon.