Report, #OccupySF: General Assembly
I attended the Occupy SF General Assembly this weekend in Union Square. The General Assembly there was full of thoughtful people discussing how to best protest the increasingly dire economic/political situation in the United States. There were approximately 40 to 50 people gathered. I arrived relatively late in the day and by then the police had asked them to take down their tents. What follows is my impressions of the situation on the ground.
Some very dedicated and hard working people took notes about the day, and you can see some of those notes on the Google Group here: http://groups.google.com/group/occupyfds...
There are also some donation requests, which you can see here:
Union Square is in the heart of the high end retail district of San Francisco. You will find Louis Vuitton, Christian Dior and Neiman Marcus all within close proximity to the square.
San Francisco on Saturday was full of marchers and protesters, as there was also a climate change/green energy march downtown also. I saw the marchers when I was making my way towards Union Square, and guess that there were at least a a few hundred people, if not more. Generally the mood was positive-- I heard lots of honking and cheering along the way, and also notice that employees in stores along the route also were pulling out their phones and shooting quick videos. Union Square itself was mostly shoppers, and there were plenty of people eating in the cafe right across from the General Assembly.
At the General Assembly, there was a group of people of all ages and ethnicities, although the group biased mostly towards people under 30, with a smattering of gray haired folks. The General Assembly broke into smaller discussion groups around various activities such as graphic design/art, communications/media outreach, outreach/education, logistics and technology. One thing that was really great was how people came together in groups and talked over various ideas to advance the particular tasks of the various discussion groups. I have read a lot of web commentary that the General Assemblies have to immediately come out with "unified" messaging, which is really top down thinking. What I saw today was an assembly of people who, among ourselves trying to come up with messaging, why we're protesting and what logistical tasks have to take place to keep the people occupying, fed. A unified message, when it comes, will be the result of inputs from the people who show up at the General Assemblies. We can think of the General Assemblies as the birthplaces of a new culture, of opposition to the financialization of America and in support of a new way of doing things that benefits the 99% of America that today is ruthlessly exploited by our financial system.
As is the case with the birth of any new culture, it is natural that in the beginning the message will not be so clear.
Regarding attracting the undecided: There was some interest from pedestrian traffic, which picked up when the General Assembly reconvened and we had speakers using a bullhorn. There was a police presence there, but I did not detect any hostility from them.
I understand that the plan is for a General Assembly to convene each week in Union Square, while the occupiers move their occupation to various spots in San Francisco. From what I could see, the people occupying Union Square (now moved to Justin Herman plaza, I think) were a relatively young group, with a few exceptions. Yes, a bunch of them had long hair, beards and tattoos. But I think it's a normal thing, that in the beginning of a protest/occupation the first people out there will be people who don't quite fit in with mainstream society. The occupiers aren't sitting out there in suits and ties ready to take a meeting on the 44th floor of a downtown skyscraper. That's kind of the point.
Democracy in action involves a lot of people talking and negotiation. Overall the General Assembly was a respectful, thoughtful discussion, and I look forward to seeing what types of things come out of each week's meeting.