I’ve mentioned before in this space that I am a strong proponent of political activism being fun. But this should not be taken as a denial or diminishment of the importance or seriousness of the activism. Quite the contrary: the reason for my participation is always the protest, not the fun. I just do not hold these things to be mutually exclusive, and in fact feel strongly that a powerful synergy can and often does occur whenever the two forces combine. In addition to fun activism being, you know, fun, it also provides the tremendously underrated benefit of driving one’s opposition — usually CPD cases — completely out of their minds. While you happily march, dance, and chant along at, say, SlutWalk, these particular primates tend to view that smile on your face as deliberately mocking everything that is Good and Godly and Right in the U. S. of A., and therefore an egregious affront to them, personally. So as you can see, there is really no downside. (See here for a textbook example of this principle in action. It’s fucking beautiful.)
Yesterday’s post focused almost exclusively on the giddier aspects of my experience at the Occupy San Francisco encampment. But as you have probably guessed, there are some very serious issues facing these occupiers. Depending upon your sources of information, however, you might never know it. For example, I caught a few featured stories on local TV news about Occupy L.A., but I heard not a peep about OSF. My hotel graciously provides me with a complimentary copy of The San Francisco Chronicle every morning; it’s the only local paper they offer and, well, frankly I’m a little tired of The New York Times. Yesterday, there wasn’t a single reference to the OSF encampment in my complimentary Chronicle. I mentioned this to Robert Garrett at the plaza last night: he said that the local mainstream press coverage had been consistently unflattering, or nonexistent. I asked if there were any alt-weeklies or other publications covering it, and Robert recommended I check out The San Francisco Bay Guardian, a sort of Village Voice equivalent. After spending some time on the site today, I am so far finding its coverage of OSF informative, thorough and fair.
But I want to get back to my complimentary Chronicle. In today’s issue I counted three mentions of Occupy San Francisco. However, I would hesitate to characterize this state of affairs as an improvement over nothing. On the front page there is a story about Micah White, the senior editor at Adbusters who helped spark the Occupy movement. Apropos of absolutely nothing, the first sentence of this article describes White as the formerly insulted and intimidated founder of his high school’s atheist club. While I find this aspect of his personal history admirable, it is simply a fact that I am in the minority with that sentiment, and it serves absolutely no purpose in this context to even mention it — except, possibly, as an attempt to further demonize and dehumanize the Occupy movement by associating it with bully-worthy, unrepentant, godless heathens like Micah White. In roughly equal parts, the rest of the article consists of marginalizing White as an eccentric weirdo no one pays attention to any more, and regurgitating other parts of this New Yorker piece from a week ago.
As it turns out, OSF is expecting a major police raid at any moment, which I learned by talking to some of the occupiers and their supporters last night. They said that a few nights ago, a number of news vans and reporters gathered at the site, followed by a very large police presence. The press eventually left disappointed, however: except for an altercation over some barricades the police had set up that resulted in one arrest, there were no evictions. The city has offered relocate the encampment to an abandoned school building at 1950 Mission Street: some occupiers want to go, and some are determined to stay right where they are. As discussed at a recent General Assembly, the reasons given for each option vary widely among the protesters. And while I find arguments on both sides compelling, if it were me I think this would weigh pretty heavily in my deliberations:
One man who spoke up at GA said that he was a teacher at Civic Center Secondary, formerly Phoenix Continuation School, the previous tenants of the offered space. He warned that the school had moved because of instability and health issues surrounding the flow of Mission Creek underground. Another worker familiar with the area recounted a tale of power-washing the sidewalk on the proposed site only to be confronted with “thousands of rats who poured up from the streets”; an OccupySF member who had surveyed the site earlier that day confirmed that the buildings had several holes in the walls, seeming to indicate a rat infestation.
Of course, none of this was mentioned in the front page Chronicle story today. I dug around their website: the Chronicle did report on it last Friday, but their take on it was a far cry from the Guardian’s, in terms of the detail and depth of the reporting and in the Chronicle’s case, the barely-contained disgust at the very existence of the protesters.
The second and third mentions of Occupy San Francisco that I found in today’s complimentary Chronicle are both letters to the editor. One purports to lament the discord among the occupiers with respect to moving the encampment, and posits their predicament as equivalent to squabbling legislators who can never agree on anything. I suppose this perception is entirely understandable — that is, if the writer’s only knowledge of the situation comes from the Chronicle’s hyberbolic, cartoonish, and curiously shallow coverage of the occupiers’ present dilemma. But to draw the analogy between these protesters and well-paid, deeply corrupt elected representatives, all of whom are in constant competition with each other for exactly the same things — power, money and influence — is so ridiculous that I cannot even muster up a condescending snort.
The other letter to the editor is so cluelessly insipid, so absolutely perfect a specimen of privileged arrogance that it truly must be read to be believed. I could not find it online, so apparently I have to type it all out for you myself. [*snort*]
My husband and I spent the week in San Francisco last week, as we have for the last five years.
Our favorite site is the Ferry Building. We look forward to visiting it on Saturday so we can enjoy the Farmers Market in addition to the wonderful shops inside.
This year, we were especially happy we’d be visiting it on “Small Business Saturday.” This place may have the highest concentration of small businesses in the country.
So imagine our shock and confusion at having to pass the Occupy encampment just across from the building. Additionally, we encountered many “Occupiers” using the Ferry Building restrooms as their personal bathrooms.
Can anyone tell me why these folks are “occupying” the Ferry Building?
This experience left us disgusted. We won’t be returning.
-Anne Contratto, Chillicothe, Ill.
Since I went through all that trouble, I’m going to post it again. With commentary.
My husband and I spent the week in San Francisco last week, as we have for the last five years. [Huh? -Ed.] Our favorite site is the Ferry Building. [In all of San Francisco? Seriously? -Ed.] We look forward to visiting it on Saturday so we can enjoy the Farmers Market in addition to the wonderful shops inside.
This year, we were especially happy we’d be visiting it on “Small Business Saturday.” This place may have the highest concentration of small businesses in the country. [What? You really don’t get out much, do you. -Ed.]
So imagine our shock and confusion at having to pass the Occupy encampment just across from the building. [Strangely enough, I can imagine neither the shock nor the confusion: the Ferry Building is separated from the Occupy encampment by The Embarcadero, a tremendously wide, multi-lane, two-way street, with enough room for CalTrain tracks and stations, parks, and plazas big enough to hold impromptu dance parties right in the middle of it. (See Figure 1.) But even if the encampment were right next to the Ferry Building, like it is to my hotel, the reaction is… shock and confusion? Really? -Ed.]
Additionally, we encountered many “Occupiers” using the Ferry Building restrooms as their personal bathrooms. [And our correspondent knows this to be true because…she was using the Ferry Building restroom as her personal bathroom. -Ed.] Can anyone tell me why these folks are “occupying” the Ferry Building? [Because they are living in tents across the street. Why are you? -Ed.]
This experience left us disgusted. We won’t be returning.
-Anne Contratto, Chillicothe, Ill.
[And with that, the denizens of the farmers market, the tenants of the Ferry Building, and everybody else that I saw there on Saturday rejoiced, as they had all received a beautiful gift today, one for which they could truly be thankful. -Ed]
You know the occupiers are really onto something when the Anne Contrattos of the world are writing letters like this one. It says a lot about her, of course, and none of it is good. That the Chronicle chose to run it says a lot about them, too. And none of it is good, either.
Figure 1. Satellite photo depicting the shocking and confusing distance across the Embarcadero from the current site of the Occupy San Francisco encampment to Ms. Contratto’s much beloved “Ferry Building.”
I count three traffic lanes plus a parking lane for each direction, wide walkways on both sides of the road, a line of large trees, several train tracks in the median, as well as a sizable plaza large enough to host a serious dance party between OSF and the farmers market. It’s all just so shocking. Also: confusing.