My Experience at Occupy San Diego the Day After the Cop Riot

another person with a camera

i am posting this a bit late, but...

San Diego is approaching the hundredth anniversary of the The Free Speech Fight (1 | 2), where the Industrial Workers of the World challenged the elites' limitations on labor organizing by attempting to speak on the streets standing on a soapbox. The growing geographical separation between the elites and the workers, the privatizing of public space, the locked gates, the destruction of community, the atomization of daily life, the corporate media's parroting of the elite viewpoint, and the private security goon squads have all made temporary soapboxes insufficient for anything meaningfully approaching free speech. The modern day occupation movement has incorporated this realization, whether consciously or not, into its strategy of creating permanent occupations close to concentrations of power and privilege.

I am not a member of the occupy movement nor a member of Occupy San Diego, but i have a lot of respect for folks challenging the dominant power structures and confronting thugs in blue or brown uniforms. In solidarity with the occupanistas after the pigs brutally attacked their encampment, arrested about 50 people and stole their gear, I went downtown the following evening to participate in and document a solidarity rally.

I rode my bike to the announced location of a march to the Civic Center, Children's Park, but no one was there except a few cops chatting and smirking. I leaned my bike against a very expensive looking stone wall and texted my friend to find out what was up. Out of the corner of my eye i noticed a security guard for the fancy wall complex behind what I assume is bullet-proof glass staring at me and calling for backup. My friend texted that everyone was at the Civic Center, so I hopped on my bike and pedaled up 1st Ave.

The concrete Civic Center Plaza is shaded from sun by the surrounding buildings for much of these autumn days, creating a chilly feel to the physical environment. The social environment at Occupy San Diego can also be chilly. When I entered the plaza, a small group of people were attempting to create a party-like atmosphere by dancing to music, but that felt fakey, and folks were mostly engaged in conversations in small groups, avoiding eye contact with outsiders. I didn't actually process these experiences until I saw some friends, at which point I felt instantly feeling warm, happy and welcome.

I and others I know have had similar experiences on prior visits to Occupy San Diego, including being blown off on several occasions when trying to volunteer. Balancing security concerns, an endless sequence of tasks to be accomplished and creating a welcoming environment for new volunteers is tricky, especially given the pressure Occupy San Diego has been under recently.

The San Diego Labor council had organized a solidarity sleepover on Friday night, but after the cop riot, it seemed to have turned into more of a rally. Speakers referenced the various ways that workers are getting shafted - which pretty much everyone who would come to an Occupy San Diego rally is intimately familiar with, so apparently they were addressing the corporate media cameras. I was shaking my limbs one after another to keep myself from falling asleep on my feet and happily was rescued by the arrival of Critical Mass.

Hundreds of cyclists streamed into the plaza, bringing the number of people to well over one thousand and sending the excitement index off the charts.

What did the labor leaders who were running the rally do in response to this amazing infusion of energy? Call for a march into the gaslamp? Call for direct action directed at the surrounding structures of power?

No. They sang. They sang some fucking patriotic songs!

Oh My Dog! After Occupy SD and many other occupations had been brutally removed by the power structures of this country? I was like 'WTF?' The energy of the assembled folks was substantially dissipated and Critical Mass left.

No wonder the workers are getting screwed!

I started walking around looking for something interesting going on and thinking about grabbing my bike and catching up with Critical Mass, with, I think, some shitful nationalist song celebrating the genocide of Native Americans being sung in the background, but happily bumped into some friends and had my motivational levels recharged.

I heard someone near the 3rd Street entrance to the plaza yell that the pigs were barricading the entrance and ran over in case documentation was needed. The view of my dumb camera was blocked by perhaps hundreds of smart phones, but as the phones were waving back and forth I could see a line of cops with their arms folded across their chests and the head of the labor council standing with arms outstretched and back to the cops, seemingly protecting them from the angry occupanistas, yelling that the police are here to protect us, they are just doing their jobs. I guess this is what in these Orwellian times is called mediating. It perhaps should not have been surprising, but after the brutal eviction the previous night, I have to admit it did momentarily take my breath away. Happily, the growing crowd loudly booed this accommodationist nonsense.

Of course, the pigs were merely trying to stage an incident for the corporate media. Having gotten the head of the labor council to more or less brand the crowd as an unruly mob, they then made their move, grabbed a dude, dragged him and pushed him into the bushes to make it look like he was resisting, and there you have it, quite a nice lead story for the eleven o'clock news. Refusing to follow the script, the occupanistas surrounded the cops and followed them across the street, looking for a chance to free their compañero.

I went on one of the several marches around the gas lamp that evening. It was fun shouting to the drunken tourists 'out of the bars, into the streets' but i have seen those same drunken smirks along this same route too many times.

It was nice to see the National Lawyers Guild legal observers out in full force. For many years, activists in San Diego couldn't get them on the phone much less get them to attend an event or help with legal observing, advice or representation. So I hope that they will be assisting with the numerous struggles in working class immigrant communities across the region, and not just the events that attract corporate media attention.

Late in the evening, an organizer announced the good news that only seven folks were still in jail - the required bail funds had been collected, but the seven all needed co-signers before they could be released.