In spite of the 51 arrests early Friday morning, Occupy San Diego managed to hold the Civic Center Plaza, what some young people are calling ‘Freedom Plaza,” through the night and into Saturday morning. After a tense standoff with about 30 police officers over one of the two arrests during the night and a noisy march through downtown, occupiers meeting at their nightly General Assembly split evenly over whether to continue to occupy the plaza, but since there was not a single block on the action, about 75 OccupySD folks stayed.
Taking turns sleeping,while others stood and sat guard, the shifts of sleepers were alerted when the dozen or so officers who stood sentry during the night waded into the encampment to try and arrest occupiers for camping. Standing between police and protesters, mediating, all night was Lorena Gonzales, head of the San Diego Labor Federation. Gonzales and other labor leaders had brought several hundred union members to rally with the Occupy people around 7 p.m. The United Nurses Association brought a contingent of around 50 nurses and other community groups, like Activist San Diego and Veterans for Peace, turned out lots of their members. San Diego Quakers also held a “Meeting for Worship in Support of Occupy San Diego.” By 8:30 p.m. there were over 400 people in the plaza.
It was during the labor rally, amid speeches, that police swept into the crowd and arrested one young man who refused to get off his sleeping bag. Demonstrators chased the arresting officers across Third Street, to their Ace Parking Lot staging area, and only a solid line of police officers with billy clubs in hand and riot helmets stopped the crowd from freeing the young man. A tense stand off ensued for about 10 minutes as the mostly young officers, fear in their eyes, their hands twitching in nervousness, were prevented from returning to the plaza because of the screaming crowd amassed on Third Avenue. They had to wait for reinforcements.
Occupiers were clearly angry with the lies and false promises of police, who had said first, for almost a week, that tents were not permissible but those with sleeping bags could stay; then, they not only arrested those 8 or 10 people who had set up tents Friday morning but the most active members of the occupy collective as well. They also confiscated all of the personal belongings of most protesters. During the two shift changes of police Friday night into Saturday morning their demands became more bizarre. First it was no one could sleep on or in sleeping bags or blankets; then, it was no one could sit on these comforts from the cold concrete. But for most of the night, until the 7 a.m. shift change occupiers curled and slept as labor leaders, nurses, Quakers and members of the National Lawyers Guild stood between the well-paid officers, with fantastic benefits and retirement, and the crowd of unemployed, under-employed, poor, homeless and students without a future except as wage slaves to enormous school debt.
The basic human need of sleep had become an act of civil disobedience, an expression of free speech, and many young people began to understand that the police were not there to protect them or guarantee their Constitutional rights; that their high salaries were, mostly, to guarantee that the San Diego Oligarchy is not challenged, that wealth and power rule our city and that there is no effective alternative except radical civil disobedience.
Slightly after 7:00 a.m. the order was given that all sleepers are up in 25 minutes or be arrested. A convention of right-wing fundamentalists at Golden Hall was scheduled to begin and police were given the order to make way for the convention goers. Occupiers began serving breakfast and vowed to be back Saturday night, hold their General Assembly at 7 p.m. and stay into Sunday morning.