Having just returned from the Occupy San Diego encampment at Children’s Park with a full 2 hours of sleep under my belt, I wanted to shine a light into the insides of this movement over the last bunch of hours. We counted 65 tents last night pitched on the grass and a whole lot of campers slept out in the open. Which means at least two hundred spent the night in our instant tent city of protest. Luckily, it didn’t get that cold last night and there was hardly any dew this morning.
Upon my arrival at the Park yesterday, Friday around 3, before the big march slated to start at 4pm, I had a huge problem. I didn’t recognize anyone in the crowd of several hundred already assembled. That was amazing. It took me minutes of walking around to find anyone from the dozens who had spent the last week and a half planning this thing. This is a good problem.
Once the march began an hour later, the scene at the Park had completely changed. It had become a huge mass of excited humanity waiting impatiently to hit the streets to get their messages out. Yet the feeling of camaraderie was everywhere – everybody was friendly to everyone else – even to the cops. And it was a clearly enthusiastic crowd that had no qualms of chanting their heads off, as we hit the middle of the street and wound ourselves through downtown San Diego marching slowly and rhythmically to the drums in our heads.
I stayed at the front of the march, next to the huge banner being carried that shouted out “Banks got bailed out. We got sold out!” Couldn’t ever see the end of the line as we pressed our shoulders from curb to curb. Onlookers, tourists and the people who work in the Gaslamp bars and restaurants all came out to view our loud passing, our chants bouncing off the walls of the buildings. “Show me what democracy looks like!” shouted a few through megaphones, and the voices of hundreds returned with “This is what democracy looks like!” – and they meant it. It was an historic moment in San Diego – several thousand of its citizens were marching to say they’ve had enough.
When we passed Wells Fargo and Bank of America the chants turned to boos. Yet, the most glorious moment came just seconds later as the front of the march reached the Civic Center Plaza. Hundreds were already there and they all came out to heartily greet the seething sea of demonstrators. The intersection of 3rd and B lost all identity as the Occupy San Diego movement showed this city how its spark had set off this explosion of anger and frustration with the system.
Once in the Plaza itself, it was simply amazing. Standing on the steps, I watched as the crowd swarmed pass – and they came, and came, and kept on coming. The mass had taken the entire Concourse over. People lined the upper deck, people hung off the fountain. As if in slow motion, thousands crushed through the concrete cauldron of City Hall and pushed on back to the Park. The crowd was so huge that the back couldn’t see or hear what the front was saying or doing. The rally was soon over, people kept moving on.
Back at the Park, it was literally shoulder to shoulder – you could barely move. A drum circle began, groups of people were chanting, people were coming upon friends and there were lots of hugs. Everyone knew things had changed. The air and atmosphere were electric. The intense level of energy and solidarity with one other was something out of the late Sixties and early Seventies, something only found at Grateful Dead concerts or Burning Man desert encampments. But it was here, in Children’s Park, near the trolley and the convention center and the business hub of a major city.
People began carrying in sleeping bags and laying out their tents. Children’s Park has all these grassy circles and they provided natural camping arenas. Some circles lined their tents along the concrete edge, providing an open space for the campers in the middle of the circle. Other tents were simply thrown up haphazardly, resting almost on top of each other. But no one minded. It was all good. Neighbors introduced themselves to each other and long political discussions were begun.
A lengthy food line was soon moving as volunteers were beginning to process all the donated foods, eatables from People’s Food in OB, the UCSD Food Co-op, and other local restaurants. Bins for recyclables appeared. A media tent was already going, with laptops lighting up and a generator buzzing. The medics installed their large tent, preparing for the worst but not having much to do. An orientation circle was also organized and presented new comers with the hows and wherefores of the occupy process.
Yes, you could finally see and feel it: the occupation had begun. The huge crowd stayed for along time as human electricity sparkled into the wee hours of the evening. About a dozen police officers hunkered down at the sidelines, staying in the shadows – they announced that they had arranged for the sprinklers to be turned off. A small detail organizers had overlooked. There had been no problems really – although one drunk who had been haranguing the crowd got himself arrested. Small groups of musicians took over the dirt stage and commanded well-deserved attention. Someone set up a video show on a sheet hung from polls. There would be occasional announcements over a megahorn as late as 11.
And not until the next day was just around the corner did it seem as it if the tent city was on its own. With the lights blazing all night, a woman took over a tall harp and began strumming and singing to a small gathering of a dozen campers.
Sitting outside the tent that Tim had allowed me to share, it was a surreal scene. You almost felt you were in a campground with a hundred friends, only to look up and see the balcony lights of the condos in a 24 story building just yards away. Trolleys and trains made their presence known and the laughing and clapping continued into the night as the numbers still awake dwindled. I had been making some rounds, visiting other tents, meeting new people, waiting for the excitement to die down.
It was the first night of Occupy San Diego and there will be many more. The plan for Saturday is for another march to the Civic Center to take place at 4pm, as the encampment of protest moves from out of its grassy comfort zone of a friendly, but out of the way park into the bright lights of City Hall.
No, we don’t have demands yet. No, we don’t know how many days and nights our occupation will take, but we’re here – we’re here for you and we’re here for ourselves.
Come down and see for yourself this wonderful scene we are creating in the middle of San Diego’s skyscrapers. Come on down and feel for yourself our friendly encampment of protest in the middle of our corporate city. Something new is happening in the midst of the symbols of the old. And don’t let the corporate media fool you – there was 3 to 4 thousand San Diegans in the Occupy San Diego action yesterday.
San Diegans are feeling their humanity once again as we try to figure out our next steps. Come down and help us figure them out. Hey, you got anything better to do than to come down and help us fix this broken system?