Living in San Francisco, I have an intimate relationship with bodily fluids. I stencil hunt and give tours down stinky Mission District alleys, and have seen urine, feces, and vomit all over public streets and sidewalks. I have seen mothers hold their children up to public trash cans to urinate into. I have seen drunk women crouch between cars while friends take photographs. My Western Addition neighborhood has a daily dog feces problem, making Harvey Milk turn in his grave. Since I have to look down at, and over to, the sidewalks while riding my bike, in order to discover stencils, I have seen very private matters play out on the streets of this City.
Funny that the SF Health Department decided to give Occupy SF an eviction notice because of urine, feces, and vomit. I haven’t seen any of these bodily fluids during my visits down to Justin Herman Plaza (the recent appearance of Porta-Potties was a pleasant surprise). I even spent some time picking up litter and intimately seeing and touching the ground, but saw no fluids. Yet this is why Mayor Ed Lee’s San Francisco government decided to raid Occupy SF last night. Well, at least he decided.
Ed Lee’s eviction plan ran into problems Wednesday morning. If the Oakland city government spent a week organizing a huge reaction to Occupy Oakland on Tuesday, then Lee and SFPD Chief Suhr had probably spent just as much time on the Wednesday night action. Oakland’s eviction of protesters got messy, so Lee and Suhr probably had a political hot potato to pass around the day after Oakland’s mess.
After the early Tuesday morning eviction in Oakland, eyewitness reports stated that the OPD spent hours threatening the encroaching protesters later that day. For hours, the OPD did nothing to stop them from rushing the barricades. Then, the tear gas, concussion grenades, and plastic bullets flew. Independent media was there taping the overreaction. Scott Olsen, a two-time Iraqi vet, sustained a serious head-wound from a gas canister. The images from the night became iconic reminders of how Oaklanders have little love for a corrupt OPD. In a matter of hours, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan had a mess on her hands, and the whole world was watching.
Wednesday morning, while Oakland’s General Assembly regrouped to take the park back, Occupy SF got a solid tip that the SFPD were going to raid the camp later in the evening. Social media began to work up a call for support by telling Bay Area 99% to bring peace and celebration to the barricades. With the tension, and media attention, on Oakland for most of the day, Occupy SF began to build up a solid show of First Amendment rights, chiefly freedom of assembly and speech. In the midst of San Francisco’s Financial District and tourist zone, the scraggly campers had hundreds of friends and allies.
I showed up to Occupy SF around 8:30 pm with the intent to be there for the long haul. I instantly began to run into friends. We fell into great discussions about what was going on, the politics behind it, and the celebration of our freedoms. Possibly 300 people were peacefully assembled at Justin Herman Plaza, many of whom were participating in civil disobedience exercises. I joined in, linking arms with strangers and discussing our limits to what we’d do if/when the SFPD came to evict the camp.
Volunteers gave us tips, and pretended to be police trying to pull us apart at the human barricade. One of these play-actors, a petite woman, gently put my wrist into a compliance hold. The pain was severe enough for me to ask her to stop. “Imagine what a police officer will do to break you apart!” was her reply. Another volunteer then gave us tips on how to protect wrists and fingers from extremely painful police tactics.
As the night wore on, the crowd swelled into the thousands. It was a diverse bunch of regular people. Cars, trucks, and taxis streamed by and honked in support. Local politicians started showing up, which at one point in the evening swelled to five Supervisors (David Campos, David Chiu, Eric Mar, Jane Kim, and John Avalos), Leland Yee, Aaron Peskin, and Jeff Adachi. At one point, an impromptu assembly gave them permission to give a press conference. Then the assembly decided and asked them to speak to us. And they did with the human mic.
Occupy SF had some folks tailing the riot cops that were swarming around the camp all night. They kept updating the convoy’s status on Twitter and were eventually detained and asked to stop. The police massed in Potrero Hill and then drove to the edge of Justin Herman Plaza. They then went to Treasure Island and drove around some more. This indecision on the SFPD’s part caused many false alarms at the camp.
We assembled human lines to protect the camp at least three times that night, where the adrenalin began to flow and the vibe tensed up. But there was always celebration and peaceful feelings. The politicians stayed most of the night, hoping to talk to the SFPD (who were not talking to anyone but the Mayor’s office…. who weren’t talking to anyone other than the SFPD) so that there wouldn’t be an Oakland-style media disaster.
Why weren’t the SFPD showing up?! No one really knew. Some felt that the amazing events unfolding in Oakland might be a key. Wednesday evening the OPD allowed Occupy Oakland to take back Oscar Grant Plaza in front of City Hall. One eyewitness told me that there were thousands at a General Assembly meeting, and they called for a Day of the Dead General Strike on November 2. This eyewitness also told me that he had been marching with a group of protesters for hours, unheeded by the OPD. At some point BART shut down several downtown Oakland stations in order to rebuff Oakland Occupiers from coming to the aid of Occupy SF.
Maybe Mayor Lee and Chief Suhr were preoccupied with Oakland. Maybe they had SFPD over in the East Bay, pulling expensive overtime, as backup for the OPD. Maybe Ed Lee, running for a full term as mayor, didn’t want a horrible mess of a camp eviction to bloody his hands on November 8. There were thousands of us at Occupy SF, most of whom were ready to go to jail to protect the idea of what the encampment stands for. Maybe Suhr didn’t rally enough riot cops to handle a crowd that large.
So, around 4:30 am, a camper announced via human mic that the SFPD had called off the eviction. He stated that a source within the Police Department had said that there were too many Occupiers and not enough police to handle their arrests! Amidst the chilly morning cold, waves of cheers and hugs were shared all around. Sleeping bags came out and people began to crash for a few hours of sleep while others began to go home. Several politicians were still at the camp, as were a group of local labor leaders, and they began to head back to their jobs and mayoral campaigns.
I came home to see online messages of support. John Stewart and the Daily Show added to Oakland’s blundering embarrassment by running a bit that shamed the OPD for their heavy-handed reaction to citizen protesters. There wasn’t much national news coverage of Occupy SF because there weren’t any police hurting peaceful people. Cop porn gets the ratings and San Francisco ended a tense night with only about 3-6 policemen hanging out to monitor a celebratory situation.
As for urine, feces, and vomit, another Occupy Oakland eyewitness told this story: As the tear gas started to fall Tuesday night, he saw a woman vomiting into a bush due to the noxious fumes. He asked her if she was OK. She said she was, stating that all she had to do was sit down for a minute and rest. In the midst of gas, concussion grenades, and rubber bullets, sitting down in the middle of it was NOT an option for the vomiting woman. So the eyewitness gently told her he was in charge and he helped her safely get away from the police violence.
When strangers reach out to one another in a time of emergency, and when thousands appear en masse to peacefully thwart a potential eviction of an incredible, Constitutionally-protected idea, I know that we are on to something quite inspiring. So, after hours of being prepared, having great conversations, and happily celebrating the idea that is the 99%, I biked home along the sleepy San Francisco streets with more energy than I thought I had. Knowing that all these strangers, as well as friends, have my back, I had the stamina to make it to my place and get some well-deserved sleep.