Occupy San Diego: A Year Later

by on October 9, 2012 · 0 comments

in American Empire, Civil Disobedience, Civil Rights, History, Military, Politics, San Diego, Veterans, War and Peace

Occupy San Diego marchers reach foot of Broadway. (All photos by Tom and Nadine Abbott.)

Occupy San Diego reached an important milestone this weekend. Occupy San Diego is now one year old, and like all children, it has learned a lot this year, but also achieved quite a bit.

The weekend saw a series of events, some low key, some going back to it’s roots in the streets, celebrating the fact that OSD is still here. The first event was at Balboa Park on Saturday afternoon.

When I reached the Park I was no longer surprised to see San Diego Police coming in to talk to an Occupier. Well, so what is new? Same old, same old – right? This time, the officers had cause. No, not the usual we saw over the course of last year. They had a call, from another occupier, reporting what can best be described as a domestic dispute. Given the Occupier in question wore a Guy Fawkes costume with knives (which I could not tell at a distance were plastic either), the cops showed up in force. This is standard.

Moreover, while the Police kept an eye on Occupy, like they do on every demonstration that happens in this town, they also kept their actual contact to a minimum, and kept their distance.

Later in the weekend I did learn that while Occupiers are right to be weary of the police, the police feel they went overboard early on. This came from an unnamed source, and I must add, it was a tad surprising. Just like Occupy, San Diego Police has learned some lessons. The truth is, the people who witnessed the behavior of the police will not trust the police ever again, so that is a loss for the Department in their community relations. We can all hope that this becomes part of the institutional memory, and next time, if there will be one, when faced with people in the streets, SDPD will show a lot more restraint.

That said, there were a couple incidents that could be seen as intimidation. For example a Park Ranger asked an Occupier about putting his cigarette off on the park, and the Ranger did not understand it was a medical Nebulizer, and the two officers with her were a little aggressive. But that is life in the streets in some ways. There was another incident on Sunday morning where officers wanted to make sure a model drone did not have anything hard in it’s core, and the Occupier got a little aggressive with the officers. Per usual, Occupiers are now filming all interactions with the police.

The food at the park on Saturday was a good spread, but this went beyond the food. Occupiers held conversations on matters that are important, and I sat down on the one dealing with misogyny. It was a long conversation on the nature of it, where it comes from, and whether it has a lot or a little to do with the other “isms we see in our society.

Due to some of the issues over the last year that have led to what some observe as the splintering of the Occupy movement, one issue that came up was conflict resolution, and the idea of a hand signal for when misogyny comes up. These internal battles were not dealt with right, according to many of the members of the group. We observers did see Occupy go into an internal war. Given the rifts that continue to open even at the one year anniversary, one has to wonder if Occupy will finally find a way to deal with internal division.


I arrived at Civic Center (dubbed by Occupiers Freedom Plaza) at ten in the morning. Now, you know it is a bad sign when the press and the police are there, but there is no Occupier in site. I joked with Captain Jones of SDPD about this thing called “Occupy time” while we cooled our heels and had a friendly conversation.

Thankfully a few minutes later the marchers started to trickle in. The police approached a few of the leaders and asked what time they were set to march, which was to be at eleven thirty, which was convenient since the plaza needed to start setting for an event at that time.

While we waited I talked with Mitchell Sterling, one of the core activists about the successes of OSD this year. He said that one of the most important accomplishments was “to spread the word of Occupy in San Diego.”  This was an important step that later on led to “City Council adopting an ordinance ordering banks to maintain foreclosed property.” This will help to reduce urban blight.

A harpist set up near Children’s Park.

Locally Occupy has adopted the Madrid Model, which means they have spread into the neighborhoods and have joined the work of many local community activists. Therefore, OSD and ancillary groups, such as Women Occupy and Occupy the Hood, have become deeply involved in projects such as the San Onofre Nuclear plant, raising awareness of it’s problems.

The General Assembly reached consensus on the involvement of OSD in the “Yes on 37” campaign, and they have been very active on it. This also leads to work on food justice issues. As Sterling put it, “phase two is in the neighborhoods.”

Therefore we have seen the rise of Occupy Ocean Beach, Occupy City Heights, and other issues such as the student debt crisis. Occupy activists have helped to energize a lot of other community groups, including Canvas for a Cause.

OSD was also very active during the Transpacific Trade Negations, not just protesting it, but holding a parallel conference explaining the effects of the TPP on Americans. After all,  as was said then”the TTP is under the radar. It will offshore jobs. It is NAFTA on steroids.”

Raising awareness is one of the strengths of OSD. But chiefly, what OSD achieved was to “change the dialogue locally with the politicians, the media and the public.”  He finished, “we are standing with the homeless, against foreclosures, and the concept of the 99%. The people now understand the 1% and the commodities market.”

As people came they got ready for the march. There were about fifty marchers, getting ready with banners held high. As the march started another twenty-five OSD members, with two puppets, joined them. The first introduced at the Yes on 37 march, the second symbolizing the peaceful protestor, who wore a shirt that looked bloody. James explained later that this was in support of the Canadian students who won their battle against their government. Absent, or I did not see it, was any sign of solidarity with the “Yo Soy 132” movement in Mexico.

Going down Broadway, some familiar chants were heard, “who’s streets, our streets,” Others involved the Muslim community, who would be accepted by the marchers, no questions asked. Yet another was “we do not want your war.”

Down Broadway we went, with people honking in support and with SDPD motor officers making sure the march remained safe.

Congressman Bob Filner: “It’s a sad anniversary.”

Once we reached the Midway Aircraft Carrier area we walked into an area with a small glen, where headstones with the names of every casualty of the war from this region was placed. It was a small memorial, with flags in front of each one of them. There, one of our Occupiers, Chaplain Ron, knelt to say a prayer, among the “headstones.”

Anoki Casey, one of the members of Occupy San Diego, and one of the two puppeteers, told me: “The process is not doing what it is meant to do.” He even added “Politicians were relevant in age of horse and buggy, but that today we should do things by consensus.”

Casey gave me the example of Balboa Park. The people want one thing but City Council is doing whatever they want. We spoke a little about Councilmember Todd Gloria, who represents the district that includes the park. Casey said that his opinion of Gloria depended on what he did. “Todd Gloria made a verbal promise to save the World Beat Center, to give them the twenty five year lease. This is one of the few multicultural institutions.” In Casey’s mind his opinion of Gloria depends on the Council Member keeping that promise.

Later, and before the rally proper started, I asked Congressman Bob Filner, and current candidate for Mayor of San Diego, what was his view of this anniversary of the war in Afghanistan. He told me that it was “a sad anniversary. We should not be there. Casualties are not being reported. It is time to bring the troops home.”

We had a minute to talk about the five-dollar fee to come to Balboa Park. Congressman Filner said that he was opposed to it. He also feels very confident about the coming election.

Then the Congressman was introduced to the rally attendants. He was once a civil rights marcher. As he climbed the stage and took the microphone he repeated what he told me, that this was a sad anniversary. He also told the audience “one million vets have shown up to the VA from this war”there is a deliberate attempt to mislead the people” as to the true cost of the war.

Filner was also emphatic, “as a historian if Alexander the Great could not do it, the Soviets could not do it, the British could not do it, how can we do it?”

Filner ended by telling the crowd, “I support the troops, bring them home.”

Dave Paterson from Veterans for Peace spoke of the rallies they have every Thursday in front of General Atomics in Poway. He addressed an issue that has troubled me for a while. “People are beginning to think that sending their sons to war is not okay, but maybe it is by remote control.”

He added, “they think it is great, not to send their sons to war and who the hell cares who gets killed. Less than 2% are known terrorists.” This has troubled me for some time. War is becoming too easy, because nobody on our side is at risk.

Perhaps, as Paterson went on, the fact that the FAA is getting pressured to open US Skies to drones, that might bring the point home. It is not okay. He invited the audience to join them every Thursday at Poway.

Retired Colonel David Gapp took the stage next. He reminisced that his father was killed in Vietnam when he was young. His father left behind kids who were between four and twelve years of age.  This war also is seeing an average in the dead that is low. For example Kamela Sleed was 31, and she was a resident of the City of San Diego.

Gapp also reminded the audience that while the war in Iraq is over, we still have one hundred thousand contractors still in country. He added that so far for Afghanistan we have lost 4, 485 casualties (not just American, this is the total for the coalition). Among them was David Emmanuel Hickman who was 24 and died on November 14, 2001. He was the first casualty of the war.

“Before Obama took over, 650 were killed, now 2115 dead.” He spoke of the surge as well, as the estimated Afghan casualties, that right now are around twelve thousand, with over one million internally displaced.

Maurice Martin is a veteran of another silent war. He was in the US Army, and in the 1970s he spent some time in El Salvador, before the Central American Wars fully exploded.  He is also the organizer of the City College Chapter of Veterans against the war. Martin thanked Occupy, and reminded the crowd that this the 100th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement. “And still today Occupy cannot stand in front of the Civic Center.”

Martin emphasized that these days, “They need more tax cuts for the rich. Really? Promote war, but not pay for it?”

Martin reminded the crowd, that the suicide rates among returning veterans is very high. This year alone one hundred thousand vets have committed suicide. He added, that we “have a million homeless veterans.” The VA tries but they don’t have the resources.

He closed, with “El pueblo vive, la lucha sigue.” “The people live, the struggle continues.”

Dave Conway came to the stage to remind the crowd about Bradley Manning. He told the crowd that the system “had deployed a devastating weapon of mass distraction.” That be the elections and the debates.  It was a way to try to keep people believing that they still lived in democracy. This is an illusion.

What Manning did, according to Conway, was tell the people what the government was doing in their name. For that he has been subjugated to cruel and inhumane treatment, that even the UN calls torture. It is the equivalent of the Pentagon Papers, and Daniel Ellsberg.

The truth is that “a free society needs information to make decisions.” And for releasing this needed information Manning faces life in prison. He added that this President has waged a war on whistle blowers.

Melissa Berens.

The last official speaker before the open mike was Melissa Berens. She is the grand daughter of a Marine, one of the Marines at the Chosin Reservoir during the Korean war. She has never personally gone to war. But she has lived around people who have.

Her grandfather instilled in her values that if need be you die for. Among them were honor, integrity and truth. She also knew that she would have to fight someday. “This is why I occupy.”

Barrens said “powers have risen that have taken our liberty away.” We have allowed this to happen, but now we are starting to fight back.

She also used to believe that freedom of assembly was a right, but after last year, she has learned she was wrong. We know we have the duty to “balance all.” We have a duty to recover our rights, and to keep the back of those we send to war. We need to make sure that we do that from now on.

“The disease in this country is apathy.” But we are finally going back to doing our duty, and “we need to resist oppression.”  Barrens ended by reminding the audience “America is becoming a more corporate controlled fascist state before our very eyes.”

On my way out I met a veteran of the first forgotten war. We started to talk on how this war, like his war, that is Korea, has already been forgotten. The sad difference is that at least Korea was forgotten after the shooting stopped. This one, we still have troops in the field, but the war is a distant memory to most Americans.

Return to Children’s Park

Around six thirty Occupiers came full circle, where the movement first took its first halting steps, to Children’s Park.

There Pat Herron told me that “It’s been great. I’ve met wonderful people here trying to make the world a better place.” She added, we have now reached to other groups.

First year cake.

“We have accomplished a lot, moving money out of big banks, yes on 37 and keeping Walmart out.” (This is the Walmart in Sherman Heights in the end the Judge allowed Walmart to continue building where the Farmer’s Market is.)   She especially relished the week of action to stop the TPP, this includes the week of teach ins that ran parallel to it.

Herron asked a very relevant question, why is the TTP secret? “Anything that is that secret can’t be good for the people of this country.”

After that, they sang happy birthday to OSD and Melissa Kelsea Rae sang a composition she wrote for OSD, accompanied by her harp. As they say, there was no dry eye in the house.

Unlike many observers in the media, I do not think Occupy is over. I believe, from interacting with them on and off during the year, that Occupy is evolving and will continue to be relevant. It will not just be in the streets for the most part. Occupy is a social justice movement, and like many others before it, it will wax and wane, but will not go away. Those who claim it is dead need to pay attention. Many of our future community leaders will indeed come from its ranks.

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