We'd estimate that roughly 2,000 people marched through Downtown on Friday, Oct. 7, as part of Occupy San Diego, the local expression of solidarity with Occupy Wall Street, the movement that's sparked public demonstrations throughout the United States and around the world, protesting the large concentration of wealth among the top 1 percent of earners. We were thrilled. It looked like something meaningful.
But as early as that evening, we started to worry. There were groups shouting things like "Free Palestine!" that were tangential at best and detrimental at worst. In the days that followed, a core group made a home of the San Diego Civic Center, and things, from our view at least, began to deteriorate. By mid-week, Occupy San Diego was already starting to split into factions. By Thursday, the police were demanding that the tents and tables that had been erected be removed. Some in the fledgling movement wanted to cooperate with the police; others were spoiling for a fight.
By then, the scene at the Civic Center appeared at odds with a movement that endeavored to grow. It was unappealing to much of the 99 percent of the population that it professed to be fighting for. It looked like the 1 percent—the bottom 1 percent.
The bottom 99 percent, by definition, is nearly all of us, everyone but the richest of the rich. That includes the destitute, the disenfranchised and the disaffected, certainly, but a far larger portion suits up for work every day. They're service workers, office workers, factory workers, small business owners, the self-employed, educators, innovators, artists—all struggling to keep pace as incomes stagnate and costs rise. This didn't look like most of them, and it didn't look inviting to most of them. It looked chaotic and lost.
But once the confrontation with police had passed, the infant movement began to coalesce again. Committees covering such topics as media, logistics, education and safety got back to work. We witnessed a media-committee meeting Monday night (new media, that is) that showed all the signs of a group finding its footing. There was frustration and lots of process talk, but there was total commitment. These are largely young people who've never done anything like this before, and it was heartening.
Most encouraging of all, the education committee has begun to develop a series of teach-ins. Sunday saw a session on income disparity. Monday's session was on foreclosures. Tuesday was an intro to political theory. Scheduled for Wednesday was a history lesson on civil disobedience. We want more of this, and while weekday sessions are fine, we'd like to see large-scale, multi-topic teach-ins on Saturdays and Sundays delivered by university professors and other experts, interspersed with fiery speeches by activists about getting involved and fighting back.
We'd also love to see imaginative, disruptive actions that target the institutions that represent the 1 percent. The group UK Uncut in Britain (profiled in last Sunday's Los Angeles Times), for instance, replaces traditional protest marches with tactics like flash mobs and other types of political theater that, if done with the right mix of humor and smarts, can capture the imagination of the press.
The Occupy movement has been slow to develop a list of demands, goals or solutions because such specifics will inevitably splinter and alienate when the most pressing need is to amass large numbers of people who share a common enemy—greed. For now, fostering education and building awareness is the order of the day. Once the movement is big enough and laser-focused on the problems, it can begin to target for ouster the politicians who maintain the status quo by appointing judges who say corporations are people, filling regulatory agencies with industry representatives and generally taking orders from the lobbyists of large campaign funders. It ain't gonna happen overnight.
Despite the growing pains during the past two weeks, we've got nothing but mad respect for you, the small group of people who started Occupy San Diego, and you who are devoted to keeping it going—and, yes, even you gutter punks and street people who've maintained a physical presence at the Civic Center and are perhaps becoming politically active for the first time. For those of you who're down with the cause but haven't gotten involved, grab your coat and join a committee (around 5 p.m. daily) and sit in on a General Assembly (7 p.m.). We'll do our part by continuing to spotlight socioeconomic injustice.