Allison Kilkenny / The Nation / April 3, 2012
Once the last major Occupy camps had been razed by police forces, pundits began to crow that the movement was finished. Of course, once it became clear that thesis was not grounded in reality, the professional ponderers went on to wonder aloud (and in print) if occupations would still be a major part of the group’s agenda. In other words: could Occupy still be Occupy without ongoing occupations?
An Occupy Wall Street action in San Francisco of between 100 and 300 activists achieved what New York Magazine calls “one of the first real occupations of 2012” when they took over a building belonging to the city Archdiocese. (photo via @OCongress)
Police in riot gear stormed the two-story building Monday afternoon after breaking through a barricade the activists had built and arrested nearly eighty Occupiers.
Activists said they chose to take over the building because they believed it has been vacant for five years and should be used as a center for health services and education instead of standing empty.
George Wesolek, a spokesman for the archdiocese, said the activists were wrong about the building’s vacant status. The building was used for regular music classes until as recently as 18 months ago, Wesolek said. The archdiocese was also considering leasing out the building and using the revenue to help with financial aid for low-income Sacred Heart students, he said.
“This is definitely not a vacant building,” Wesolek said. “It’s not forgotten. It has a purpose.”
As the details of the raid trickle out, the usual sprawling chasm between print claims and the facts on the ground has already began to emerge.
Police reported no one was injured during the arrests, a claim countered by independent journalist Susie Cagle who tweeted a protester named Nick had his hand injured before he was cited for trespassing. (photo by @tigerbeat)
It’s difficult to track something like protest injuries because press rarely waits the twenty to seventy hours to do follow-ups with activists once they’ve been released from jail. Then there’s the problem of protesters not wanting to speak with press because of past bad experiences, or the inherent danger of having their names appear in print, especially if they have prior records.
Unless reporters see protesters gushing blood from their heads (few injuries are so visible and immediately apparent) in the brief window they’re observing events unfold, it’s very likely they’ll miss injuries and will certainly miss anything that happens on the way to jail or in the holding cells.
In the meantime, police release a helpful pre-canned statement that “no one was hurt,” and the press runs with that version because, you know, deadlines.
It may have been the rush to print that accounts for the sparse coverage of photojournalist Steve Rhodes’s arrest. I actually only found out about his detention because Rhodes tweeted the details himself. Upon his release, Rhodes returned to the occupation site and continued taking photos. (photo by @JoshuaHol)
Individuals familiar with the area also contradict the claim by the archdiocese that the building was not vacant and being used.
“In my two years working next door and living in neighborhood, I haven’t seem them used but once,” tweeted @revscript.
“The long-abandoned apartments on adjacent lot are also owned by the church, kept empty while people sleep in their doorway,” @akerfoot tweeted.
Meanwhile, it seems as though Occupy can’t win. On the one hand, its dangerously radicalized hooliganism—occupying a rarely used building!—is too extreme to go on without state intervention. I mean, just look at the Al Qaeda-like plotting that went down at 888 Turk Street pre-raid:
On the other hand, have you heard everything Occupy is up to is totally vanilla and boring and not Game of Thrones?
“Yesterday’s actions may have won the Occupy Wall Street vanguard a few more headlines, including this one, but if they wish to recapture the national conversation they will have to surprise and shock us again—tent cities and bank boycotts may not cut it anymore,” NY Mag yawns.
But that’s the trouble of being an activist group in America. Those big, headline-stealing events like major occupations are also the ones that guarantee the biggest police responses, which in turn drives movements underground to regroup for longer periods of time.
Now that police forces nationwide know Occupy’s legacy, they will not permit an occupation like the one that existed at Zuccotti Park to gain momentum, grow and thrive. Though it was the “first real occupation” of 2012, the San Francisco occupation was quickly squashed, as was the recent effort to set up a second camp in New York City at Union Square.
This time around, the police expected Occupy.