October 31, 2011

I've Been Hanging Out With OccupySF


San Francisco, California: I would like to say that I’ve been on a vacation, with tranquil views of turquoise water, plenty of sunshine and wide white sand beaches. Admittedly, San Francisco has lovely beaches, and we’ve been experiencing above-average temperatures with plenty of sunshine over the last few weeks. And you don’t have to travel far in our 49 square mile city by the bay for a glimpse of the Pacific, though our shark infested waters are considerably less inviting than Hapuna Beach, on the big island of Hawaiʻi - which is the place in paradise that calls my name.

I decided that I wanted to show my support for the Occupy Wall Street and OccupySF movement, and figured I could start by going down to visit their camp. After watching the Terrible Tuesday Attack on Occupy Oakland protesters - perpetrated by the Oakland Police Department the night before, where they used violence to attack unarmed non-violent protesters, I felt as though my visit was more than imperative, and that I'd better get down there before something similar happens in San Francisco.

Last Wednesday I hopped on the subway for a three mile underground journey, to express my support in person for the OccupySF movement, and to see the encampment set up at the foot of Market Street, and meet some of the protesters. I’d walked through and around Harry Bridges Plaza countless times over the years, unaware that the space had a name. The 73,000 square foot space where the San Francisco Occupy Wall Street movement has set up camp, is named after labor leader Harry Bridges, who led the 83-day West Coast Waterfront and Longshoremen’s strike that paralyzed San Francisco’s maritime industry in 1934, and produced the first collective bargaining agreement with employers. The strike was marked by extreme violence, and included a general strike that completely shut down San Francisco for days.


My idea of “roughing it” is a reservation at a Holiday Inn Express, so seeing tents and tarps, and people camping and living outside in the concrete jungle, was initially unsettling. I walked the perimeter of the camp before crossing the street for a closer look.

Within 2 minutes of my arrival someone said hello, and welcomed me. The woman who greeted me had a huge warm smile, and a “Minnesota nice” friendliness that was so disarming, that any apprehension I had about visiting the camp quickly dissipated. In less than a minute she pried a donation from the cash hidden in my sock, explained the democratic process that governs the movement and life in the camp, and warned me that the San Francisco Police Department had given notice that those in the camp are “subject to arrest” because of health and safety code violations.

I told the charismatic woman that I was there to express my support, and she asked me if I wanted to camp, or join one of OccupySF’s committees. I politely declined and mentioned my strong aversion to camping. I did say if the movement set up camp in the grand ballroom of the nearby Hyatt, that I’d be there in a heartbeat. I’m sure she saw the terror in my eyes at the mere mention of camping, and she said that you didn’t have to sleep on the concrete, or even be at the waterfront camp every day, to be a committee member. I said I’d think about it - and boy was I relieved!

And then I suddenly wanted to escape! I had consciously “dressed down” when I set off to check out OccupySF, and during my chat with the welcome wagon woman, I was scanning the crowd of occupiers, and I realized that my idea of being “dressed down” wasn’t an idea shared or reflected in the clothing worn by those around me. It made me feel like I was wearing a tux and patent leather slides at a barefoot beach party. I was so self-conscious, and wanted to slink away, because my t-shirt, jeans, tennis shoes, jacket, sunglasses, back-pack, and smart-phone had visible labels that was more “Samantha Jones” than “Gloria Stivic.”

I volunteered to go out and get a case of bottled water for the thirsty protesters, and figured that i could buy and bring back the water, before hopping back on the subway to run home and change my clothes. I found a nearby store where I bought the water and carried it back to the camp. Lots of extremely nice people thanked me as I high-tailed it out of there, and headed toward Embarcadero Station, and a subway home.

A quick stop at Crossroads Trading Company and their hundreds of t-shirts solved my clothing crisis. Then I ran home to change. I didn’t want to wear the Crossroads shirt without throwing it in the wash first, so I threw on a white t-shirt first with the new purchase over it.

No matter how hard I tried - I couldn’t channel the L-Word’s Daniela See, or her Moira or Max! I knew I was being silly, and that what I was wearing was really “gift wrap”, and a “gay” guy’s uniform, and not an outfit that screamed conspicuous consumption. I still thought that appearance counts for something, especially when you’re protesting corporate excess, and Wall Street malfeasance, and I wanted to look the part, as well as fit in

And I was completely wrong - it was much ado about nothing.

It was when I went back to that waterfront camp with an expensive view, that I discovered “gift wrap” doesn’t matter, and this occupy movement comprised of hairdressers, retail clerks and lawyers, architects and receptionists, the employed, under-employed and unemployed, don’t give a shit about designer labels. What they do give a shit about is speaking up, speaking out and showing up. I did that and then some, and I’m proud to say I’m a part of the occupy movement, and I strongly support OccupySF. And I didn’t have to camp one night. Woohoo!

I’ll be writing about my observations and participation in the OccupySF protest movement this past week - throughout the week. Stay tuned!




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