Coming off a Thursday night where the San Diego City government ordered the eviction of OccupySD protestors from both Children’s Park and the Civic Center, it was no surprise on Friday night that the atmosphere had changed downtown. Fifty one people associated with the ongoing demonstration had been jailed on charges ranging from violating curfew to obstructing a police officer. Some of them were still in jail.
The police presence on Friday was now somehow more threatening. Words that couldn’t be taken back had been exchanged over the previous twenty four hours. Images of brutality were etched in the minds of some, even if they hadn’t actually witnessed them, with tales of miscreant behavior flowing freely though the crowd grapevine. The Us vs Them (Occupiers vs Cops) mentality was prevailing, much to the delight, I suppose, of those itching for a fight and those who would prefer to circumvent the real issues of economic justice at hand.
The cops, for their part, were there to show they meant business. Sleeping bags were confiscated. People trying to use the sidewalk to make protest signs were rousted, lest they be confused with humans trying to sleep on the ground. A group of a dozen or so cops marched into the crowd as I arrived (about 6:45) to arrest an angry bearded man. The crowd responded by yelling “shame’, “shame” and “the whole world is watching” as the police led him off. The vibe was prickly, with the cops amassed at the side waiting for trouble and some Occupiers milling about seemingly waiting for provocation.
The homeless, who have been a real presence earlier at OccupySD, were off to the side, afraid of losing their meager possessions amid the cops who’d made it clear that any sign or potential sign of encampment would be dealt with harshly. The Civic Center square was an excellent opportunity for people watching… Near the entrance were the sign wavers, occasionally getting a response from passing drivers. Off to the side were a small group of Hare Krishna types, chanting away in the night. Away from the maddening crowd were the hippies, seemingly only focused on the aura of the event. (Or maybe they were sneaking a smoke.)
And then there were the hustlers, like the kid who wandered up and asked me to sign a petition that he told me would allow voters a say in setting political boundaries in California. Problem was, the petition he was proffering is the one California Republicans are circulating to overturn the voter-mandated non-partisan redistricting process that started with the 2010 census. It seems that the GOP is upset because they fear losing their two seat margin for blocking legislation that requires a two-thirds majority. So they’d like to return to the smoke-filled room methodology popular in the past. (People, don’t sign any petitions without checking them out online first! And any Republican talking about democracy is only looking to secure less representation for you and more for the 1% who pay the bills.)
Gradually, the crowd started getting bigger (and older) indicating that the grand event of the evening—the labor solidarity rally/sleepover—was about to get started. The labor council’s supporters, so the story goes, were supposed to march over to the Civic Center from Children’s Park. But there was no boost of energy or cheering as if two crowds were meeting, so I guess that was just another one those rumors.
Unlike the freewheeling anarchy of earlier hours, the arrival of the Labor Council folks, headed by Lorena Gonzalez, brought a much more organized and purposeful feel to the event. Instead of milling about, the crowd was chanting. The cops were no longer the focal point. Instead of random songs being played over the public address system, the array of speakers began. The Interfaith Council for Worker’s Justice sent various faith leaders to observe and bless the crowd. Lorena’s fifteen year old daughter proved that’s she’s a chip off the old block. And various union leaders addressed the crowd.
Especially impressive were speeches by Brigette Browning of the hotel workers (Unite Here Local 30) and Joan Raymond, a garbage truck driver representing City employees (AFSCME 127). If the tone and class consciousness represented by those two women characterizes the direction that local union leaderships are heading in, we’re in for a good ride in San Diego.
The speeches were wrapping up—housekeeping announcements and that sort of thing—when a tremendous roar came up from the crowd, starting at the east end of the gathering. As I looked over I could see hundreds of bike headlights headed down B Street, and I was unsure for a moment about what was going on… And then it dawned on me: the Critical Mass Halloween Ride had decided to salute OccupySD by joining with the crowd. It was awesome… one of those heart in throat flashes like I’d get when the “Good Guys” came riding to rescue at the movies when I was a kid.
Of course, life doesn’t work that way, and the 1% are still running the show this morning. But for a moment—just a few seconds—I had the sense that, despite all the frustrations, this was a battle that could be won. Thanks to the Vets for Peace and all the other groups that came out in support of last night’s event.
Video by Patty Jones