10 Years Ago: Sleeping with the Occupy San Diego Movement

by on October 7, 2021 · 42 comments

in Civil Disobedience, San Diego

Occupy San Diego – Day 1 – Children’s Park, The first night of the Occupation. Photo by Brittany Bailey

Originally posted  October 8, 2011

Having just returned from the Occupy San Diego encampment at Children’s Park with a full 2 hours of sleep under my belt, I wanted to shine a light into the insides of this movement over the last bunch of hours. We counted 65 tents last night pitched on the grass and a whole lot of campers slept out in the open. Which means at least two hundred spent the night in our instant tent city of protest. Luckily, it didn’t get that cold last night and there was hardly any dew this morning.

Upon my arrival at the Park yesterday, Friday around 3, before the big march slated to start at 4pm, I had a huge problem. I didn’t recognize anyone in the crowd of several hundred already assembled. That was amazing. It took me minutes of walking around to find anyone from the dozens who had spent the last week and a half planning this thing.  This is a good problem.

Anonymously, Frank. Photo by Brittany Bailey

Once the march began an hour later, the scene at the Park had completely changed. It had become a huge mass of excited humanity waiting impatiently to hit the streets to get their messages out. Yet the feeling of camaraderie was everywhere – everybody was friendly to everyone else – even to the cops. And it was a clearly enthusiastic crowd that had no qualms of chanting their heads off, as we hit the middle of the street and wound ourselves through downtown San Diego marching slowly and rhythmically to the drums in our heads.

I stayed at the front of the march, next to the huge banner being carried that shouted out “Banks got bailed out. We got sold out!” Couldn’t ever see the end of the line as we pressed our shoulders from curb to curb. Onlookers, tourists and the people who work in the Gaslamp bars and restaurants all came out to view our loud passing, our chants bouncing off the walls of the buildings. “Show me what democracy looks like!” shouted a few through megaphones, and the voices of hundreds returned with “This is what democracy looks like!” – and they meant it.  It was an historic moment in San Diego – several thousand of its citizens were marching to say they’ve had enough.

When we passed Wells Fargo and Bank of America the chants turned to boos.  Yet, the most glorious moment came just seconds later as the front of the march reached the Civic Center Plaza.  Hundreds were already there and they all came out to heartily greet the seething sea of demonstrators. The intersection of 3rd and B lost all identity as the Occupy San Diego movement showed this city how its spark had set off this explosion of anger and frustration with the system.

Once in the Plaza itself, it was simply amazing. Standing on the steps, I watched as the crowd swarmed pass – and they came, and came, and kept on coming. The mass had taken the entire Concourse over. People lined the upper deck, people hung off the fountain. As if in slow motion, thousands  crushed through the concrete cauldron of City Hall and pushed on back to the Park. The crowd was so huge that the back couldn’t see or hear what the front was saying or doing. The rally was soon over, people kept moving on.

Back at the Park, it was literally shoulder to shoulder – you could barely move. A drum circle began, groups of people were chanting, people were coming upon friends and there were lots of hugs.  Everyone knew things had changed. The air and atmosphere were electric.  The intense level of energy and solidarity with one other was something out of the late Sixties and early Seventies, something only found at Grateful Dead concerts or Burning Man desert encampments.  But it was here, in Children’s Park, near the trolley and the convention center and the business hub of a major city.

People began carrying in sleeping bags and laying out their tents.  Children’s Park has all these grassy circles and they provided natural camping arenas.   Some circles lined their tents along the concrete edge, providing an open space for the campers in the middle of the circle.  Other tents were simply thrown up haphazardly, resting almost on top of each other. But no one minded.  It was all good. Neighbors introduced themselves to each other and long political discussions were begun.

A lengthy food line was soon moving as volunteers were beginning to process all the donated foods, eatables from People’s Food in OB, the UCSD Food Co-op, and other local restaurants. Bins for recyclables appeared. A media tent was already going, with laptops lighting up and a generator buzzing.  The medics installed their large tent, preparing for the worst but not having much to do.  An orientation circle was also organized and presented new comers with the hows and wherefores of the occupy process.

Yes, you could finally see and feel it: the occupation had begun. The huge crowd stayed for  along time as human electricity sparkled into the wee hours of the evening.   About a dozen police officers hunkered down at the sidelines, staying in the shadows – they announced that they had arranged for the sprinklers to be turned off.  A small detail organizers had overlooked. There had been no problems really – although one drunk who had been haranguing the crowd got himself arrested.  Small groups of musicians took over the dirt stage and commanded well-deserved attention. Someone set up a video show on a sheet hung from polls.  There would be occasional announcements over a megahorn as late as 11.

And not until the next day was just around the corner did it seem as it if the tent city was on its own.  With the lights blazing all night, a woman took over a tall harp and began strumming and singing to a small gathering of a dozen campers.

Sitting outside the tent that Tim had allowed me to share, it was a surreal scene. You almost felt you were in a campground with a hundred friends, only to look up and see the balcony lights of the condos in a 24 story building just yards away.  Trolleys and trains made their presence known and the laughing and clapping continued into the night as the numbers still awake dwindled. I had been making some rounds, visiting other tents, meeting new people, waiting for the excitement to die down.

I finally stumbled into my sleeping bag around 4. Tim had already been asleep for hours. The ground was hard but I was too tired to care.

It was the first night of Occupy San Diego and there will be many more.  The plan for Saturday is for another march to the Civic Center to take place at 4pm, as the encampment of protest moves from out of its grassy comfort zone of a friendly, but out of the way park into the bright lights of City Hall.

No, we don’t have demands yet. No, we don’t know how many days and nights our occupation will take, but we’re here – we’re here for you and we’re here for ourselves.

Come down and see for yourself this wonderful scene we are creating in the middle of San Diego’s skyscrapers. Come on down and feel for yourself our friendly encampment of protest in the middle of  our corporate city. Something new is happening in the midst of the symbols of the old.  And don’t let the corporate media fool you – there was 3 to 4 thousand San Diegans in the Occupy San Diego action yesterday.

San Diegans are feeling their humanity once again as we try to figure out our next steps.  Come down and help us figure them out. Hey, you got anything better to do than to come down and help us fix this broken system?

{ 42 comments… read them below or add one }

Marisa October 8, 2011 at 1:50 pm

Mexican news is reporting that 26 people were arrested. Anyone know if this is true or not?


Patty Jones October 8, 2011 at 2:04 pm

Marisa, are they saying people were arrested in SD? and if so, when?


Patty Jones October 8, 2011 at 2:19 pm

Frank just spoke to someone on the scene in San Diego and there havn’t been any problems.


Marisa October 10, 2011 at 6:53 am

They were reporting 26 arrest Friday for All of California… I totally heard it wrong… I read Spanish WAY better than I hear it! …in Spanish


Solemn America October 8, 2011 at 2:25 pm

I walked by. I saw homeless people standing outside the park watching. The campers had plenty to eat. I did not see one person offer food to any of the homeless. Mybe it happened out of my sight. I hope it did. This is a failed movement if it didn’t.


Patty Jones October 8, 2011 at 4:21 pm

No one was asked whether they were housed or not in order to be fed. The sign above the food line said “Feed the Hungry.” You only walked by? Then you only saw what you wanted to see. Join in and see what’s different.


Solemn America October 8, 2011 at 6:01 pm

Patty, I think I saw something you didn’t. I do know some of the homeless. I’ve given some gift cards to get stuff they need. They may not feel comfortable for various reasons walking up to your line and getting food. If you all are serious, take a look around and invite them in or take a plate of food to them. Make a point of seeing them. It takes a little more than a sign saying “feed the hungry” to let them know they’re invited to the party too.

As for the activism…….I’ve been speaking out for years and taken a lot of abuse for it. I spoke out against the war before it started in 2003. I’ve turned down well paying jobs because I didn’t agree with the corporation’s values or objected to the products. I live debt free which means I watch my consumerism. I’ve hired ex-cons to thelp them get a new start. I’ve been writing my repsresentatives for years regarding sweatshops and I still look for Made in America labels. New years day, I sat on the cold concrete on a street corner and meditated for 4 hours for world peace. I’ve done so much more than this short list. I’ve studied a lot too. I don’t need to sleep in a park, dear, to walk my talk.

They were citing the elite 1% control the majority of the worlds wealth in the 80’s. No one wanted to hear it. Its nice people are finally listening. The challenge is to keep listening after things work themselves out and people get back on thier feet. Awake now? Stay awake! That is the challenge.


Patty Jones October 8, 2011 at 6:22 pm

The occupiers have been meeting in children’s park for more than a week, I have talked to homeless people seeking some refuge there and have included and invited them to join us.

Solemn, I praise your activism, as I do many of the people who are involved with the OB Rag. I have no idea who you are so cannot know if you are familiar with the long list of things the people here have been involved in over the decades. If you don’t feel the need to sleep in the park that’s your decision, but please don’t look down your nose at those who do. Many of the young people involved in this movement are new to activism and are learning as they go, just as us older folks did in the past. The challenge is to reach out to them also and share your experiences with them, they are open and eager to learn.


Kris October 8, 2011 at 9:37 pm

Why are we bickering over who is doing it better than others – this is the same attitude that has gotten us in this situation in the first place, if you feel someone needs to be fed, stop you car get out and make a difference – beats throwing stones


Jackie McElveny October 8, 2011 at 11:50 pm

Good point Solemn America. I walked from the CC this evening to go home (hey, I’m in my 60’s, I don’t seek absolution for that…). JUST down the street, actually in the same block, I saw homeless people setting up to camp out for the night. I think outreach would be a VERY good thing, these people are just as much, no — MORE — victims as we are. Truly, I think they should be invited in. Having said that, I’m not on scene and there may be reasons why not. BUT, they are also part of the 99% and are bearing much more of the brunt of the inequities than most of us are. And we have to realize that most of us are just a paycheck (or more lately an unemployment or disability or Workman’s Comp check) away from the street. Outreach is important.


Solemn America October 9, 2011 at 10:23 am

Welcome to the Dance Patty.

What’s being done with the bottles with CRV? I did notice one homeless person going the the trash can while eyeing the garbage bags piling up. He thought about it, looked at the protesters near by and walked off. It would be nice to gather the bottles and leave them near the public trash containers so the homeless could pick them up with out having to encroach on the encampment.


TRICIA October 9, 2011 at 11:30 am

Well said Solemn.Agree 100% with your comments.I have not been down there, but am going today to see for myself.I hope to engage and be inspired.And to project a positive image in a open,friendly,and accepting manner.


Patty Jones October 9, 2011 at 12:54 pm

I’m not sure exactly what the plan is for recyclables but I know it was discussed during the week leading up. They’ve not been in the plaza for 24 hours yet and still trying to get the lay of the land so to speak.

It would be great if the access to CRV items could be used as an icebreaker, a way to help build a bridge. I’ll bring it to the discussion. Thank you for the suggestion.


geeegee October 15, 2011 at 1:54 pm

When I spent the day at occupy san diego there were many homeless being fed as well as seniors from the senior center not far away. Basically everyone was fed whether or not they were taking part.


fstu October 8, 2011 at 3:12 pm

The March was great It looked like the crowd had dwindled around 11AM but am sureit will pick up for the afternoon walk to City hall. The energy was awesome yesterday and it was still pretty strong this morning even with a smaller crowd.
Go San Diego make us proud and strong


jeffery lAUDENSLAGER October 8, 2011 at 4:15 pm

Those in the Gas Lamp cheering: “This is Democracy” ment that the restaurants, bars and revelers who had money to spend because they worked were the Democracy. The bandits that stole our future were elected by us and will never see justice visited upon them.


Allen Lewis October 8, 2011 at 4:36 pm

I think the 26 people that were arrested was in Seattle. I also heard that people have been arrested around the country.


unWASHEdwalmaRtthONG October 8, 2011 at 5:04 pm

Dr. Frank
Good job. Keep the reporting coming, so it can be used it court as evidence once the
heel comes down.


Tom Cairns October 8, 2011 at 6:05 pm

Great Guy Fawkes mask. Humboldt Co.’s Occupation is at HSU, with solidarity rallies in both Eureka and Arcata downtown. Oct. 8th–wasn’t that one of the “Days of Rage” many a year ago?


Frank Gormlie October 8, 2011 at 6:19 pm

Nice, Tom! Are people sleeping out or occupying anywhere up there?


Jason Kalchik October 8, 2011 at 6:13 pm

The San Diego cops were really cool about everything.


Jackie McElveny October 8, 2011 at 11:54 pm

Yes! They were and I think they felt affiliation with this. They are probably also struggling financially. Hell, anyone who isn’t rich is struggling! There was talk pre-day one of liaison with the police. I wonder if that was done. I thought it was a GREAT idea.


politicky October 9, 2011 at 11:07 am

I hope so, because San Diego cops are very poorly paid. I’m in the middle of this book and boy is it eye- opening:

Paradise Plundered ,Fiscal Crisis and Governance Failures in San Diego
Steven P. Erie, Vladimir Kogan, and Scott A. MacKenzie


jettyboy October 10, 2011 at 9:03 am

Wait until the establishment thinks they have had enough of this, and see how nice the po-po’s are then.


Jeff October 8, 2011 at 7:03 pm

Occupy North Park!

Tuesday, October 11 · 1:00pm – 4:00pm

Who- You! and anyone who doesn’t want to camp out downtown, doesn’t like large crowds, can’t afford a bus pass, but still wants to do their part to save America!

What- Occupy North Park- help talk BofA victims into switching to a non-profit credit union.

Why- To Defeat the Evil Power!

Where- the public sidewalk in front of the Bank of America at 31st and University Ave. in North Park.

When- ’till Victory!


Jackie McElveny October 8, 2011 at 11:58 pm

Oh, B of A, what cruds. Yes, yes, yes, move your money. Actually I advocate completely that everyone re-register as independents and put their money in credit unions. SCREW the banks! And if everyone is independent, how can the politicians know what base to lie to…….


judi curry October 8, 2011 at 8:40 pm

As a student at Berkeley in 1995, at the beginning of the “Free Speech Movement”, your article reminded me of the electricity charging through the participants at our first rally. Your descriptive images come through beautifully. Thanks for caring enough to be there. It is a long time coming.


fstu October 8, 2011 at 11:21 pm

You must me 1965. It was the same way in Boston in 1967. That was the kind of energy I felt at the marc yesterday.


Doug October 8, 2011 at 10:31 pm

Frank! excellent updates. I’m keeping a photo set from Ocuppy SD at flickr

and I’m happy to do any multimedia work the OB Rag might be interested in. I’ll speak with you the next time I see you @ the civic center.



christina rice October 8, 2011 at 11:40 pm

Frank & Patty,

Let me start by saying that I am truly lucky to have met both of you (thru my husband, Dave). It is so wonderful to see so many different people join together for one great cause. I think you really nailed it with your descriptions, Frank, everyone is so friendly and accepting. And Patty, after our conversation earlier, I have to say that I agree with what you said. I think we welcome everyone to join, but its up to them to be a part of it if they want. I saw many homeless people entering the area, setting up camp, joining in discussions (even taking the mic and speaking to the masses), eating the food being provided, and finding their own reasons to protest along side everyone else. The homeless are the prime example of who this movement is for. I actually had a few conversations with some of them, so I know that they know they’re welcome in, all they have to do is read the signs as the entrance, walk up, or listen when people say “come join us.”


PJ October 9, 2011 at 12:12 am

It’s time to get Money Out of Politics.

If you agree, sign the petition at:


mr.rick October 9, 2011 at 6:46 am

Way back when we were trying to stop a jetty,not to mention a war,we were pretty much anti-establishment. As far as I’ve seen from out here in alternate world OB,Ows isn’t so much. And I get it. When alot of us tuned in and dropped out.It was pretty much a life altering decision. It just seems different this time. Maybe it was because they were trying to kill us in SE Asia or trying to beat us down at home.Also,there was no such issue as student debt.That doesn’t mean OWS is any less dedicated. Like Cheech said in “Up in Smoke” recession,repression,jt the same thing. Any thing that puts pressure on a crowd will cause a reaction.So try to hold your mud when the police start upping the pressure and keep it on the peaceful side.


unWASHEdwalmaRtthONG October 10, 2011 at 11:49 am

Is the main body of people congregated at the civic center? If not, then where are they? I could visit as soon as I paint my Guy Fawkes mask; have to wait until the paper mache dries.


Frank Gormlie October 10, 2011 at 11:57 am

Of course, they’re at the Civic Center Plaza. The San Diego Labor Council is stopping by either right now or very soon with pizza for everyone.


unWASHEdwalmaRtthONG October 10, 2011 at 11:50 am

Remember Remember the 5th of November


Diana Gribble October 14, 2011 at 4:57 pm

We are on our way down, I have a Homelessness Picnic/Fundraiser to attend in the morning with The Girls Think Tank, in Balboa Park. I number of my friends and myself will be there to support this AWESOME stand for our rights!


Daniel Cooper October 14, 2011 at 5:38 pm


SBX211 Retro Active Immunity given to California judges for openly taking bribes. Judges are employees of the state they receive their pay and benefits from the state. The Los Angeles Superior court judges are currently receiving an additional $57.688,00 from the county of Los Angeles. there is no bigger user of the court than L.A. County.(A party to the case and has a financial interest in most cases in the courts) Those payments were found to be unconstitutional / illegal in Sturgeon vs L.A. County. after that decision the judges paid a lobbyist to pass SBX211 ( RETRO ACTIVE IMMUNITY )

SBX211 does not restore due process
SBX211 violates Article 1 section 9
SBX211 violates the 14th amendment (no equal protections)
SBX211 violate checks and balances between legislative and Judicial powers
Judges do not disclose the county payments at the onset of any trial where the county is either a party to the case or has a financial interest. (Judges violate Judicial codes of ethics)
Judges refuse to recuse themselves when requested under CCP170
Judges find themselves unbiased and then file an order striking statement.

In the year of 2010 alone $57,688.00 per year per judge X 460 judges = $26,709.544.00 paid to judges from L.A. County from tax payer money to only have the judges rule against the tax payer in favor of L.A. County or the County’s interest. THE BRIBES WORK.
1. given for unconstitutional use of torture
2. given for illegal merger of banks (we can see the effects of that now)
3. given to telecom company for illegal wire taps. (Fisa bill that led to the patriot act)
4. SBX211 given to Judges for taking bribes.

SBX211 is evidence of conspiracy of the California legislative branch of government to cover up the multiple felony’s committed by the Judicial branch of government. By an act of Legislation, California’s judicial branch has admitted to be corrupt.

This bill would provide that no governmental entity, or officer or employee of a governmental entity, shall incur any liability or be subject to prosecution or disciplinary action because of benefits provided to a judge under the official action of a governmental entity prior to the effective date of this bill on the ground that those benefits were not authorized under law.


triggerfinger October 11, 2021 at 12:15 pm

It was fun while it lasted, but its fate was doomed from the start. People who don’t want to work have no motivation to see anything else through either. I wonder how many of them were truly committed to “sticking it to the man” and are now living in a van down by the river, in charge of their own top ramen diet. The others went back to work for the man, and if they persevere, some day maybe they’ll be “the man.”

Sort of reminds me how Bernie stopped complaining about “millionaires and billionaires” when he became a millionaire. Now he only blames the billionaires.


Frank Gormlie October 11, 2021 at 2:47 pm

Ouch! Awfully cynical, trigger. Many of those involved stayed active on different levels on other issues, many went back to their jobs (are you “the man”? or you must be working for the man). Oh, and now you’re staying swipes at Bernie for being a millionaire while a US Senator – wow! Last I looked, US Senators make a whopping $174K a year. And now, let’s talk about the huge support the Occupy movement enjoyed from the public and then let’s talk about the police repression the movement suffered.


triggerfinger October 11, 2021 at 5:51 pm

I’m definitely not the man, don’t want to be the man, I prefer to be an employee. And right now I’m still at work… for the man. You know as well as I do the money is in kickbacks and book deals and paid speeches. More power to Bernie for finding his calling and making a good living out of it, while still winning over the have-nots. It was not a knock on Bernie so much as a dose of reality that these occupy deadbeats may never achieve. Anyways Bernie’s numbers are small in comparison to many of the blowhards in congress with less name recognition than him.

Thanks for not censoring my comment.


Frank Gormlie October 12, 2021 at 7:48 am

Don’t know where you learned your manners, but to call the Occupy activists who lived outdoors for weeks to bring to light the economic disparities in our society “deadbeats” is just wrong, rude and fucked up. And you know what, I don’t recall ever seeing you there. So STFU on this. Glad you do appreciate Bernie – still have no idea where you get your numbers. How many millions voted for Bernie for prez -twice?


kh October 12, 2021 at 4:27 pm

I was referring to Bernie’s income being less than others in congress, making him less of a hypocrite than the average politician.

Let’s face it nobody with a decent job quit to live in a tent downtown for 2 weeks. Most working people don’t have the convenience of protesting, they have to put food on the table.


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