Occupy San Francisco took place ten years ago on the pétanque court at the end of Market Street on the Embarcadero overlooking the Bay Bridge. It was also, conveniently, a block from the San Francisco branch of the Federal Reserve Bank, the perfect symbol of capitalism.
These wonderful Occupy Weeks, held across the United States, forever changed the discourse on wealth and the status of working people. At the very least, he has devoted the concept of the “99%” to defining the difference between the workers and the Walmarts and Jeff Bezos and Elon Musks of the world who exist entirely for the merging of wealth, without any desire to think of the many Americans. who struggle every day to make a living, to pay rent, food, transportation and health care, the necessities of a healthy life.
We are the 99 percent. A real class distinction.
Occupy was probably the least organized movement that ever existed. It did not have leaders or an organizational structure. The closest thing to discipline was a clapping of the hands. Floppy-disk squirming in outstretched arms for good shit and bam-bam downward gestures for a respectful boo. “Mic check, Mic check” has become the norm to be recognized in a democratic queue to speak.
And anyone could speak. As long as they wanted. Whether it’s an established leader or someone who wanted to talk for an hour about how beach sandbags should be the new currency of choice, one bag for lettuce, eight bags for buy a bus, six for….
The media went wild because it was a takeover. Zuccoti Park in Manhattan, Grant Park in Chicago, etc. But there was no structure except the wonderfully arbitrary new slogans that popped up spontaneously almost every day. The 99 percent.
As chairman of the Labor Council, I decided to embrace Occupy and that excitement from the start. There was some grumbling against my participation in rallies and marches, but other unions started to follow. Some even used their weight to add resources to this gathering. (Unions are the only self-employed rights organizations in America. Workers choose to join their union and expect their leaders to fight for them.)
Amid the dispersal of constituencies, squatters and activists who “occupied” the pétanque pitch, some of our unions established a visible support and presence. Nurses set up a 24-hour tent for health care needs. Teammates provided a large flatbed truck and a sound system for rallies, porta pots, water crates and other emergency supplies. I have ensured that the Labor Council informs our affiliates and allies on a daily basis of rallies, marches and various events. I have also strengthened our media team to promote union support for this phenomenon. It was a fun part of my crazy job.
None of us will forget the steps and the seats and the constant presence on the Embarcadero.
A historical illustration of the enthusiasm is that the mayor’s office called me and asked me to “help”.
“Tim, can you come to town hall?”
“I’ll only come if I can bring an Occupy organizer, okay?” “
The mayor’s office offered the Labor Council an abandoned school and playground in the mission with working toilets. Wow! We would only have to pay $ 1,000 per month for liability insurance. Sounds good to me. But that was not Occupy’s goal. Occupy was not going to be co-opted at all costs.
Eventually the momentum slowed down. There was no plan for a permanent structure. The Bernie Sanders and Black Lives Matter affair and the Social Democrats would later use the problems engendered by Occupy to create more continuous “structures”, but the Occupy times and weeks have changed and radicalized many new organizers who sought a spark to stay engaged.
The pétanque court remained crowded and vital, but health conditions began to deteriorate. The non-political homeless people who were part of our movement in finding a safe home still had to pee, and the Occupy base began to trump the porta pots. Even the health and safety volunteers had their hands tied. The town hall was looking for a way out.
But they played our game when my gratitude informed me that the police had been ordered to dismantle the camp on a specific date. I was encouraged to negotiate, a position I did not have the power to do because no one would ever agree to disband. The night the order was given to come down, I heard that 200 cops were being trained on Treasure Island. So I organized half of the supervisory board and many union leaders to come to Occupy to resist.
I was told they were all in uniform and with batons and shields like they were going to defend the fucking Edmond Pettis bridge.
I engaged all the media, which gladly flocked to this “dead end”. The occupiers’ organizers had a blast and drove us crazy moving us from place to place on the pétanque court for the best position “to fight the police”.
Finally, looking towards the Bay Bridge, I noticed that the lights were getting brighter and, of course, brightly lit black trucks and wagons were marching towards San Francisco.
It was midnight and all the TV cameras were on as I arranged for us to sit at the (finally decided) entrance to the park.
We all chanted “99, 99!” Occupy, Occupy!
Eventually my phone rang and I was told the police had turned around. We got up to celebrate. People gave quotes to the media. We have declared Victory.
Zucotti Park and San Francisco were the longest and most publicized Occupy protests. It was quite inspiring. Game change.
Two days later, Park and Rec and Public Works released the last of the homeless stranglers, and the older Italians were able to start rolling their pétanque balls again.
Tim Paulson was an executive director of the San Francisco Labor Council.