SAN FRANCISCO — We were still a block away when the first Occupy SF protester approached us. He asked if we were here for the march, then handed us a quarter-page flyer with three solidarity fists at the top. Joe Liesner, 68, wasn’t camping out with the protesters outside the Federal Reserve Building in San Francisco, most of whom were in their 20s and 30s.
Liesner, who works with East Bay Food Not Bombs, had just finished helping set up the kitchen. His organization provided the occupiers with a field stove and propane. He was excited, eager to talk and easily came up with a list of personal demands he wants the movement to accomplish — war coverage from non-military personnel, “real” regulation of the financial sector, even a Constitutional Convention. But he made clear he wasn’t a spokesperson for the movement. The occupiers were still figuring out what they wanted.
Fifty or so protesters milled around the camp, which spans most of the block between Spear and Main streets in San Francisco’s Financial District. Sara Husain, a 23-year-old recent transplant to Oakland, Calif., gave us a tour while a group of protesters discussed plans for that afternoon’s march and others worked on new signs.
For a movement that claims to have no leadership, the camp is incredibly organized. There’s a tent for the finance committee, and a designated kitchen area, where the Kitchen Committee keeps track of food and supply donations. The Media Committee tent is equipped with computers where protesters keep the Facebook page and OccupySF site up to date. The Art committee was busy making signs to replace the ones that didn’t make it through the previous night’s rainstorm.
Husain just moved to the Bay Area one month ago from Ohio and she was recruited at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival over the weekend. Occupiers traveled to the free festival in Golden Gate Park to spread their message and recruit new people. Husain arrived at the camp with just the clothes on her back and her purse. In four short days, the 100-block of Market St. became her home. She’d only been to her apartment once to pick up supplies and shower, but she’s already talking about subletting her room.
Xander — an Arkansas native who wouldn’t give his last name — has big plans for the camp. He was one of the first occupiers who moved in on Sept. 17. He wants to reorganize the tents and create better security and medical facilities.
The occupiers govern by consensus. Every evening at 6 p.m. they have a general meeting to discuss plans, initiatives and outreach. “It’s a hub,” Xander says. “The 99 percent movement is about bringing everybody together who is dissatisfied with a society that has run away from itself.” Everyone we talked to stressed that every person is welcome to join, even if they don’t want to camp out.
Xander (and most of the others) looks the part of a San Francisco protester. He is slim with curly shoulder-length hair dressed in well-worn clothes. He’s passionate about the movement. When I asked how long he plans to stay outside the Fed, he threw his hands into the air and shrugged. The message: as long as it takes.
A police officer walked by us and Xander leapt away to have a friendly chat with him. He’s very concerned with keeping the movement peaceful. “Violence and vandalism is not part of the game,” he insists.
One thing was clear: the movement that started on Wall Street takes on different meanings for each protester in each city. It’s about more than reforming banks and government, it’s about reforming society. “It’s not just a demonstration against corporate influence in government,” Xander says. “We’re people wanting to live openly and honestly.”
Photo credit: Laura Burge