City Breaks Up Occupy SF Encampment; Video of Last Night’s Protest; Lee, Avalos Statements

Photo: WeMeantDemocracy, Flickr

In the wee small hours this morning, the Occupy SF encampment in the Financial District was dismantled by authorities. OccupySF is the offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street protests that have been going on in New York since mid-September. From the Chronicle:

San Francisco police and Public Works crews dismantled a Financial District encampment early today that had been occupied by activists protesting economic inequality.

About 80 officers wearing riot helmets confronted some 200 campers and their supporters at about 12:45 a.m. at the Occupy SF camp in front of the Federal Reserve Bank’s building at 101 Market St. near Main Street. The officers guarded city workers who removed tents, sleeping bags and other belongings…

The camp was taken down hours after several hundred people marched through the Financial District in an Occupy SF-organized protest.

KQED’s Amy Standen was downtown today and said about 150 protesters are still there. Apparently, the Department of Public Works has told protesters they can have their belongings back.

“It looks pretty organized,” Standen reports. “There’s a big stack of books, bags of food, chairs. There’s a communications system the protesters have set up.”

One protester she talked to said he had been at Occupy LA for two weeks and was in town now to help set up a movement here.

Here are two female protesters, 91 and 81 years old, speaking about the protest. Both are from Berkeley.

Florence Hicks: There’s not apathy. They like to say there’s apathy, but there’s no apathy.

Margo Smith: A lot of the action has been on the internet and I think there’s a realization with the Arab Spring that you have to be there with the body, and not just on the internet.

Hicks: There’s a big march at 3 at the federal building and we’ll be at that.

Smith: It makes us very happy to see the young people out here. we’ve been doing this along time. My friend Florence here is 91 and I’m 81 and we’ve been doing this for a long time and it makes us really really happy to see young people out here doing it.

Hicks: I remember when we said “scholarships not battleships!” (in 1937, during the Spanish civil war, protesting fascism.)

San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr told KQED News intern Kamala Kelkar today that he wants people to exercise their First Amendment rights, but that protesters cannot be safety hazards. “Anything that’s going to pose a hazard to the general public or the demonstrators themselves, we’re going to act upon that to keep everybody safe.”

Supervisor and mayoral candidate John Avalos, who was at the protest last night, is standing with the protesters. Here’s his statement, posted on SFist:

Last night I gathered in solidarity with the protesters Occupying San Francisco. Like many people all over the country, I have been watching this protest gather strength and grow as more and more of us, more of the 99% demand accountability from the corporations and people who are responsible for the destruction of our economy and devastation of our families.

I came to down to observe the protest last night in response to summons from protesters and a notice from the police accusing their encampment of a number of minor infractions, ranging from open flames on a city street or sidewalk to serving food without a permit. I observed and negotiated with police in good faith to keep the peace and allow the encampment to remain, only to hear of a crackdown shortly after I left.

This is not the San Francisco that I know. This is not the San Francisco I love. This City has served as a sanctuary for free speech and assembly for generations, and we must protect that legacy. With our unemployment rate nearing 10%, we have a responsibility to be a sanctuary for the 99%.

Instead, last night we witnessed that 99% being detained, arrested, and intimidated with force.

My vision is of a true sanctuary city – one that protects our right to free speech and assembly, and one that holds real criminals accountable. This should be a city for the rest of us – for the 99%. I stand with Occupy SF.

Update 2:50 p.m. Not to be outdone, Ed Lee has released a statement:

I understand and sympathize with the anxiety and frustration felt by so many in our country caused by a lingering recession and joblessness. That’s why I am doing everything I can to create jobs, get people back to work and make our families stronger here in San Francisco.

I support the spirit of the Occupy Wall Street movement that calls for peacefully assembling to protest and bring national attention to disparity issues in our country.

In San Francisco, protesters are acting within their First Amendment right to free speech and freedom to assemble. While allowing for peaceful protests, we also must ensure that our streets and sidewalks remain safe and accessible for everyone. I will continue to work closely with our Police Chief to ensure San Francisco responds appropriately to these demonstrations.

San Francisco is a city that embraces free speech and freedom to assemble like no other city.

The Federal Reserve sent out an email today to all employees who work in the Federal Reserve building, the center of the protests. An employee of one of the tenants in that building forwarded us the email:

As you are aware, Occupy SF protesters had built an encampment on the public sidewalk outside the Bank’s property along Main, Market and Spear streets. Overnight, the City of San Francisco Police and Public Works departments requested that the protesters dismantle and remove their structures from the public sidewalk and they complied. We understand that the SFPD told the protesters that they could continue to protest on the public sidewalk daily as they wish, but without the encampment.

While we were informed by the San Francisco Police Department of their plans, Bank management deferred to the City’s judgment and knowledge in handling these situations, as we rely on the expertise of the Police in terms of what is legally permitted with respect to such gatherings.

Employee safety is our biggest concern and we will continue to carefully monitor future protests to ensure your safety as well as the integrity of our property and our building. We will continue to keep you informed as the situation warrants, and encourage you to use the back entrance when entering and leaving the building.

So, what’s the protesting about? Here’s Wikipedia’s take:

Perceptions vary as to the specific goals of the movement. According to Adbusters, a primary protest organizer, the central demand of the protest is that President Obama “ordain a Presidential Commission tasked with ending the influence money has over our representatives in Washington”.Liberal commentator Michael Moore had suggested that this is not like any other protest but this protest represents a variety of demands with a common statement about government corruption and the excessive influence of big business and the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans on U.S. laws and policies.

Peripheral demands such as raising taxes on the rich, raising taxes on corporations, ending corporate welfare, support for trade unionism, and protecting Medicare and Social Security in their traditional forms are expressed by some participants. Occupy Maine is asking for an investment in public transportation infrastructure and the return home of Maine National Guardsmen from wars overseas. Some protesters are calling for an audit or the elimination of the Federal Reserve.

Here is footage of the protest from the OccupySF LiveStream channel:

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Jon Brooks

Jon Brooks writes mostly on film for KQED Arts. He is also an online editor and writer for KQED's daily news blog, News Fix. Jon is a playwright whose work has been produced in San Francisco, New York, Italy, and around the U.S.

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