The Occupy Movement Comes to San Diego

The occupy movement fluxed in size in downtown San Diego throughout the fall.

The Occupy San Diego Movement has been thriving for six weeks. Although San Diego’s movement has not generated the same level of national attention that some other Occupy movements have, Occupy San Diego has actively produced marches, rallies, a camp providing food and medical aid, hunger strikes, two different lawsuits against the city and the police, and multiple arrests. Yet the news continues to focus on other Occupy protests. So who is this San Diego group that has been flying under the radar?
Occupy San Diego is an offspring of the founders of the Occupy Wall Street movement. On September 17, 2011, Adbusters, a Canadian-based anti-consumerist organization, initiated a protest in New York City’s Zuccoti Park, located in the Wall Street Financial District. Over 1,000 protestors marched throughout the streets, and up to 200 spent the night in cardboard boxes. This would mark the beginning of the Occupy Movement, a series of demonstrations throughout the country where protestors occupy public space in order to draw attention to the nation’s economic inequality, unemployment and business corruption. Despite hundreds of arrests and criticism, the Occupy movement continues to gain momentum.
The original Wall Street Occupiers and the subsequent Occupiers throughout the nation are composed of individuals from a wide range of political outlooks, including socialists, anarchists, libertarians, and others in between. Occupiers include people from all races, backgrounds and religious beliefs. The group even includes some of America’s rich and privileged; according to MSNBC, Farhad A. Ebrahimi, a wealthy protestor, wears a t-shirt that reads, “Tax me, I’m good for it.” Despite the diversity of group’s members, all Occupiers have come together to rally under the slogan: “We are the 99 percent.” This slogan represents the growing difference in wealth between the wealthiest one percent and the rest of the United States. The Occupy Party is also referring to itself as the “Tea Party of the Left.”
Occupy San Diego was born on October 7, 2011, when 1,500 people marched down San Diego’s streets in protest. Rallying under the national Occupy slogan, “We are the 99 percent.” San Diego Occupiers protested national greed, undue corporate influence and economic inequality. The protestors set up camp at Civic Plaza, naming it “The Village.” There, Occupiers provided food and medical assistance to anyone who felt inspired to join the movement, regardless of their housing status.
However, some San Diegans were not thrilled about the movement’s expansion to our city. Surrounding businesses started to complain that “The Village” was generating human waste, litter and drug use. Many small businesses claimed the movement was hurting business as well. Police saw the movement—as practiced in San Diego—as a violation of various city codes and state laws by camping in the Civil Plaza. Consequently, three weeks after the movement began, on October 29, 2011, at 2:30 a.m., the San Diego police arrived at the camp in riot gear, ordering protestors to clear out. The 51 Occupiers who refused to leave were subsequently arrested. Those who were arrested will face charges of illegal lodging, unlawful assembly, resisting police and encroachment on public property. The protestors objected and screamed at the officers, reminding them that they too were part of the 99 percent. Protestors maintain that they received no warning of the late-night ouster, and many felt it constituted police brutality. Allegedly, the police tried to negotiate with the protestors before the ouster, but due to the group’s lack of leadership, police efforts at negotiations were unsuccessful.
In response to the 51 arrests, Occupy San Diego filed their first lawsuit against the San Diego Police Department. Occupiers were enraged that the October 29 arrestees were held in police vans for up to eight hours with no access to bathrooms, and were consequently forced to relieve themselves on the bus. The San Diego Sheriff’s Department has promised to conduct an internal review regarding this matter.
Protestors were eventually let back into the camping area but were not allowed to bring their tents. Police placed barricades around the Civic Center Plaza and informed protestors that San Diego Municipal Code section 54.01.10 makes it illegal to place any object on public property in the plaza. Consequently, it is illegal to have tents in Civic Center Plaza. But, in practice, the San Diego police have enforced this ordinance inconsistently. Ultimately, even though the tents were removed, tents slowly started creeping up again in the Civic Plaza area.
On November 5—National Bank Transfer Day, and one month since the movement’s genesis—Occupy San Diego teamed up with MoveOn Council and endorsed a Big Banks Funeral March from the Civic Center to Petco Park to a Bank of America branch. Occupiers organized this march to protest the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) bailouts, illegal foreclosures, and government bribery, believing that these practices have contributed to—and worsened—the national economic recession. The march generated 200 demonstrators dressed in black, carrying cardboard coffins inscribed with bank names. The demonstrators also wanted to encourage people to shift their money from large banks to credit unions, hoping this will help reinvest capital back into the local community.
On November 7, Occupier John Kenney organized a hunger strike with a handful of other protestors. Occupiers have drafted a specific proposal for the city that would allow occupiers to keep up tents and set up tables in the plaza. Kenney organized the strike because he wants the city to at least consider the proposal, but council members have failed to provide the requisite signatures to simply get the proposal on the ballot for consideration. According to the San Diego Reader, Kenney said, “The proposal is very specific […] but nobody will talk to us so that’s just sitting there. We originally asked for 300 tents. That was our first joust, but they haven’t jousted back. Instead of listening to us, they’re ramping up police brutality and spending more time and money. They’re treating us like 9-11 terrorists when all we want is social and economic liberty and justice.”
On November 15, three plaintiffs from Occupy San Diego filed a preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order against San Diego Police and the City of San Diego from enforcing the Municipal Code section 54.01.10, claiming it is restraining their First Amendment rights for free speech. Plaintiffs argue that the law is unnecessarily broad, arbitrarily enforced, invades an area of protected freedoms, chills First Amendment speech, and is being used by the police as an intimidation tactic.
On that same day, 300 demonstrators marched to the San Diego Police Department headquarters, protesting early morning police sweep that happened earlier that day in Zuccotti Park in New York against Occupy Wall Street.
Around 2:00 a.m. the next morning, the police executed a second clear out of the plaza. An estimated 100 police entered the Occupy campsite in riot gear, ordering the sleeping protestors out of the camp. Ten protestors were arrested in the raid. Assistant Police Chief Boyd Long explained that two of the arrests came after the crowd was ordered to remove its personal property. Another seven were arrested for resisting, delaying or obstructing a police officer. By late morning, about 75 protesters had returned with signs reading, “Occupy Still,” and “Guess Who’s Back!!”
The next day, several hundred protestors rallied at the Clairemont Bridge Blockade, temporarily blocking Clairemont Drive Bridge that runs over the I-5. Part of the bridge was blocked for an hour and a half. Protestors aimed to increase awareness to local infrastructure needs and declare that Congress does nothing to create jobs.
Since the birth of the Occupy Movement, America has watched the movement with mixed reviews. Many Americans share Occupiers’ frustrations of our times. Others criticize the movement for its ambiguous social goals and lack of leadership. However, over the past few months, Occupy San Diego has demonstrated its commitment for justice and continues to show San Diego and the nation that – despite midnight ousters, increasing arrests and arbitrary municipal codes — its voice will not be silenced.
For more information on National Occupy Movement visit www.occupytogether.org
For more information on Occupy San Diego visit wwww.occupysandiego.org
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