Occupy San Diego Holds Freedom Plaza

by on October 29, 2011 · 18 comments

in Civil Disobedience, Civil Rights, San Diego

The General Assembly decides to hold the Plaza. All photos by Rocky Neptun

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.

OccupySD confronts police officers across from 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.

Lorena Gozalez rests after a successful night of mediation

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.

The reason Occupy San Diego was cleared out of the Plaza.

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.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

herb folks October 29, 2011 at 11:15 am

Once again we are surprised at the level of commitment of our citizens. Brute force did not prevail, it just pissed off our folks. The unions are joining us too, it ain’t about young disenfranchised kids anymore. It ain’t just about students-without-a-future. Its all of us. I & I. We will never be subjugated again, peace lovers. Shut down the War Machine with us, please!


Amanda October 29, 2011 at 11:39 am

If it makes you feel better, San Diego police have the worst pay/benefits in the state and are severely understaffed as a result. Also they have provided numerous warnings that it is legal to assemble, but not legal to set up lodgings.


David October 29, 2011 at 2:57 pm

Maybe if they [the police] stopped endorsing Republicans, they would be paid better/be better staffed. Then again, they might be out there demonstrating themselves as those Republicans attempt to take away their benefits, pensions too and privatize the force.


Steve Ruiz October 30, 2011 at 7:50 am

The blame game is your easy excuse, with no positive solution ,party against party ! Really original, with lacking knowledge of the truth. How sad!


No Gods October 29, 2011 at 6:48 pm

It does make me feel a little better that the SD police are paid so poorly related to other PD in the State. It makes me sad, however, that they continue to serve so blindly against their own best interests to Protect and Serve.


Frank Gormlie October 29, 2011 at 12:29 pm

Great report, Rocky. Thanks for hanging in there and staying at the Plaza all night. A couple of things: I think the crowd at its height was well over 400 – and more like a thousand; when Critical Mass bicyclists arrived – the vigil was at its height.

Also the first guy arrested last night had allegedly thrown a plastic object at the police line which hit an officer. The other man arrested was actually a sleep when friends and occupiers attempted to get him up – but he did not get up and was arrested – with the crowd following the officers nearly to the waiting paddy wagon.


dave rice October 29, 2011 at 7:54 pm

I’ve only been active in following protests for a couple years, so I have a hard time estimating crowds that span into the triple digits, but I’ve got to say that there were easily 500 on foot in the plaza. Add Critical Mass during their 20 minute stopover and I’d have a hard time being convinced that peak numbers were anything less than 1000…


BonnieDaMantis October 29, 2011 at 1:28 pm

Well written Rocky, thank you for your perspective.

I believe there were http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2oL3BHgMVg8“>three arrests last night,this one at 6:45pm who was a veteran that did not move out of the way of approaching thuggish SDPD officers, and then the two mentioned in this article.


Brian October 29, 2011 at 1:38 pm

Good article except for the comment about “right wing fundamentalists.” AAFCJ is described in Wikipedia as a Oneness Pentecostal Church that is one of the largest Spanish-speaking denominations. While they are clearly fundamentalist, what’s the reason for calling them “right wing?”


Lauren October 29, 2011 at 12:38 pm

I want to say that I was there and the crowd was at least 1,000 and looked more like 1500. The beautiful critical mass individuals on bikes were at least a few hundred in themselves.

Thanks for your coverage.



Julie October 29, 2011 at 2:17 pm

When I took a nap there last night, I awoke to officers surrounding me and people yelling. My offense? Lying down. Officers later rushed in to surround me when I was sitting up on the supposedly public space cement steps. My new offense? Sitting on my folded sleeping bag. I was told it was legal to hold it on my lap, but illegal to sit on it. I’m 55 years old. My hemorrhoids are killing me, but I will persevere. How free are we if we can be arrested for sitting on a folded sleeping bag? One of these nights, I am going to hold a public demonstration of my arrest for sitting on a folded blanket in our public space. Right now I just need rest. Maybe with 1000 people watching, and national media present, whenI’m arrested for sitting on a blanket, people will realize how much of our freedom is already gone.


Frank Gormlie October 29, 2011 at 2:52 pm

You are so absolutely right. I’m with you – but first get some rest.


Rocky Neptun October 29, 2011 at 4:27 pm

1). In my estimate I didn’t include the Critical Mass folks, although their brief apperaence was excitng and colorful, nor the homeless who were milling about – however, the estimate could very well have been around 500-600 as I was at the Quaker Meeting for first part of the evening.

2.As far as the evanglicals, the one’s I spoke with as they entered the convention Saturday morning were decidely right-wing; however, their views would have just added weight to the reportage of the night’s victory by OccupySD.

3). Thank you all for the clarifications and corrections about arrests.None of us can see or know all that goes on at an event and we, of course, see it through our own perspective. For this 64-year-old man who had worked all day Friday at my business (landscaping) and then stood on my feet for 12 hours into Saturday morning, to support and protect and to record Occupy San Diego, before crashing, I did the best I could.


dave rice October 29, 2011 at 8:07 pm

Thanks for your perspective, Rocky. The hundreds of us out there last night all experienced something a little different than the others, and I appreciate the chance to consume as many viewpoints of the same picture as possible.


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