Occupy San Diego has been living at the Civic Center Plaza for more than a month.
The economic-justice movement that looks like a social experiment— camping Downtown, governing itself with a structured committee and consensus-style system—has experienced mass arrests, cold rain, an influx of politically disinterested homeless and as much media attention as the Tea Parties of 2009.
The local Occupy movement may still be without a distinct, singular message or leader, but it's making progress even as its encampment has been pushed from the concourse to the slim stretch of grass on the east side of the complex. Of the 877 emails and phone calls regarding Occupy received by the Mayor's office, 90 percent have supported the movement. Protesters marched on Bank Transfer Day, spoke before the City Council and are staging regular teach-ins (a schedule's online at osdedu.com). The occupation's committees (such as safety, media and the newest 24-7 committee, dedicated to building an infrastructure for around-the-clock occupation through the winter) are crafting budgets to spend the donations coming in.
Say what you will about their smell, their clothes and their acoustic guitars—Occupy San Diego is still going, and that in itself is impressive. Here are a few updates:
After the arrests: According to the City attorney's office, of the more than 50 activists arrested, three have appeared in court, with the rest scheduled for December. Of the three, one has pleaded guilty. Vernon Harris, who was charged with crimes related to confrontations on Oct. 13 and 29, admitted to vandalism, resisting / obstructing a police officer and disturbing the peace. He was sentenced to probation, a one-year-driver's-license suspension, five days of public service and anger-management training, plus fines.
The largest number of arrests came early in the morning on Oct. 29, when 37 men and 14 women were taken into custody. In interviews with CityBeat, arrestees describe being held for between four and eight hours on a San Diego County Sheriff's bus (men) and van (women) without access to restrooms. Both male and female detainees say deputies told them to relieve themselves in the bus, which they did, with one woman defecating. At least one activist also reports she was the victim of physical violence at the county jail. The Sheriff's Department did not respond to inquiries.
The National Lawyers Guild, through local attorneys Julia Yoo, Mary Prevost and Gerald Singleton, have agreed to provide legal services in brutality cases, but are so far holding off filing suit until they see how the criminal cases play out. The city attorney has one year to bring charges.
Enforcing the code: San Diego Police are accused of selectively enforcing San Diego Municipal Code 54.0110—which bars people from setting up stuff on public property. On Tuesday, lawyers for some Occupy San Diego activists announced they were filing for an injunction and temporary restraining order against the police. Medical-marijuana activist Eugene Davidovich of Americans for Safe Access will be the only named plaintiff in the suit to be filed Friday, specifically citing threats from the police that he'd be arrested if he set a tomato plant down on the steps of the plaza.
CityBeat witnessed a double standard on Monday night, when six officers swarmed on an occupier who attempted to affix an American flag to a stair railing. Less than an hour later, officers failed to prevent talk-radio host Mike Slater and his crew from KFMB 760-AM from setting up a table in the concourse to mock occupiers with jobopening notifications printed off the internet (including, cheekily, a radio-host opening at competing station KOGO 600-AM).
Asked whether setting up a table was illegal, police officers on the scene said yes. Asked why they were not shutting down Slater's booth—which was pretending to support Occupy—an officer said, “Ask Councilmember DeMaio.” (DeMaio was holding a fund-raiser at a nearby restaurant.)
Slater's producer, Anna Good, said they didn't get permission to set up the table. She said she had emailed DeMaio but received no response.
The move wound up good for occupiers, who temporarily set up a table 10 feet away, successfully gambling that the police would have to allow both to remain. Occupiers took all of Slater's job notices, mostly because they needed the paper.
DeMaio's donations: DeMaio's fund-raiser was for two concourse businesses—Brooklyn Hot Dogs and Centre City Coffee—that claim they had to shut down due to the negative impact of Occupy San Diego.
As CityBeat reported, in emails to the city, Centre City Coffee owner Linda Jenson described rampant drug use, sex out in the open, pit bulls, an abundance of knives, rats and bug infestations and “people lying in their own filth.” While organizers agree that some of her claims about sanitation issues, while exaggerated, aren't wholly off base, Jenson's issues with concourse goings-on precede Occupy.
In April 2008, she wrote a letter, published in CityBeat, expressing similar fear and disgust when it comes to the homeless hanging around the plaza.
DeMaio's fund-raiser, at Downtown Johnny Brown's, where Occupy San Diego organizers often meet, quickly became a spectacle as a cramped room filled up with TV cameras and Occupy protestors (who also kicked in money for the cause). By press time, De- Maio hadn't released the amount raised, though CityBeat has filed a public-records request for the list of donors.
When an elected official requests donations, the fund-raising is regulated as “behested payments” under state and local laws, according to San Diego Ethics Commission Executive Director Stacey Fulhorst. However, DeMaio, who's running for mayor, is not required to report donors who don't contribute at least $5,000 to causes on his behalf in a single year.