Occupy San Francisco Takes the Fight to Local Banks in Ambitious Next Step for Movement
Photo Credit: lilyrhoads via Flickr
Stay up to date with the latest headlines via email.
This story originally appeared at Salon.
Act II of the Occupy Wall Street movement, San Francisco version, kicked off on a rainy, blustery Friday in the heart of the city’s financial district. Targeting specific corporations like Wells Fargo and Bank of America and emphasizing real, tangible issues like home foreclosures, affordable health care and education as well as broader ones like the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, several hundred protesters – the exact number was impossible to estimate – fanned out across the city, snarling traffic, getting arrested, holding sidewalk teach-ins, and generally serving notice that after its brief winter hibernation, the Occupy movement was back and kicking.
Occupy’s first act, the Tent Phase, ended in early December, when city authorities raided its urban camp at Justin Herman Plaza near the Ferry Building. But even before the tents were removed, it had become clear that the movement needed both to develop new tactics and deepen its strategic vision.
“After the raid, when our attention was no longer focused on [the encampment], people turned back to their neighborhoods and their campuses,” said David Solnit, who is part of a direct action working group associated with Occupy SF. “We started Occupy Bernal Heights [a multi-ethnic, mixed-income neighborhood on the edge of the Mission District], and we had 65 people at the first meeting. We went door to door meeting folks facing foreclosures. We got meetings with mid-level people at Wells Fargo Bank.”
Solnit – who is the brother of San Francisco writer Rebecca Solnit – said that OccupySF Housing, a housing-related spinoff of the movement, had held marches in four neighborhoods and succeeded in saving four homes from foreclosure.
“We’re more diversified now, but more powerful than when all our eggs were in one basket,” Solnit said. “ Gene Sharp came up with 198 different methods of nonviolent action. Camping out is one tactic. We still have 197 more tactics to go through, and another 500 to create.”
At 6:20 a.m., in pitch darkness, with a miserable rain pelting down in front of the enormous 52-story monolith of 555 California, it seemed like a good idea for Occupy to come up with a new tactic immediately. The schedule on the Occupy Wall St. West web site had announced that there would be a wacky 6 a.m. protest against Goldman Sachs, featuring a squid fry (“bring your own frying pan”) and protesters dressed as squids. (The squid theme derived from Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi’s famous description of Goldman Sachs as “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity.”) But no one seemed to be giving out fried calamari – not that anyone could have digested it at that ungodly hour — and there were only four protesters standing near the entrance. They were dwarfed by a phalanx of waiting police and TV journalists.
The last person you would expect to find standing in a bedraggled squid costume in front of a financial district skyscraper at six in the morning would be a 69-year-old retired psychology professor. But the Occupy movement is full of surprises. The human squid, Eleanor Levine, said, “I’m out here to bring attention to the irresponsible financial practices of Goldman Sachs. I also want to bring attention to the concept of corporate personhood [which was behind the Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United]. Corporations are not people. This company played a role in bringing not just the country but the world to financial ruin. People have to face up to what Goldman Sachs has done. Their CEO made $28 million.” Asked if the dreadful weather had prevented more people from joining the protest, Levine said calmly, “Yes, the rain put a damper on the turnout, but more will come.” Her pink tentacles waving, she walked cheerfully off.