Occupy San Francisco gets down to business

After a brief hibernation, a refocused movement takes aim at corporate America

Topics: Occupy Wall Street, Goldman Sachs, ,

Occupy San Francisco gets down to businessWarren Langley: from stock exchange chief to occupier

SAN FRANCISCO–Act II of the Occupy Wall Street movement, San Francisco version, kicked off on a rainy, blustery Friday in the heart of the city’s financial district. Targeting specific corporations like Wells Fargo and Bank of America and emphasizing real, tangible issues like home foreclosures, affordable health care and education as well as broader ones like the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, several hundred protesters – the exact number was impossible to estimate – fanned out across the city, snarling traffic, getting arrested, holding sidewalk teach-ins, and generally serving notice that after its brief winter hibernation, the Occupy movement was back and kicking.

Occupy’s first act, the Tent Phase, ended in early December, when city authorities raided its urban camp at Justin Herman Plaza near the Ferry Building. But even before the tents were removed, it had become clear that the movement needed both to develop new tactics and deepen its strategic vision.

“After the raid, when our attention was no longer focused on [the encampment], people turned back to their neighborhoods and their campuses,” said David Solnit, who is part of a direct action working group associated with Occupy SF. “We started Occupy Bernal Heights [a multi-ethnic, mixed-income neighborhood on the edge of the Mission District], and we had 65 people at the first meeting. We went door to door meeting folks facing foreclosures. We got meetings with mid-level people at Wells Fargo Bank.”

Solnit – who is the brother of San Francisco writer Rebecca Solnit – said that OccupySF Housing, a housing-related spinoff of the movement, had held marches in four neighborhoods and succeeded in saving four homes from foreclosure.

“We’re more diversified now, but more powerful than when all our eggs were in one basket,” Solnit said. “Gene Sharp came up with 198 different methods of nonviolent action. Camping out is one tactic. We still have 197 more tactics to go through, and another 500 to create.”



At 6:20 a.m., in pitch darkness, with a miserable rain pelting down in front of the enormous 52-story monolith of 555 California, it seemed like a good idea for Occupy to come up with a new tactic immediately. The schedule on the Occupy Wall St. West web site  had announced that there would be a wacky 6 a.m. protest against Goldman Sachs, featuring a squid fry (“bring your own frying pan”) and protesters dressed as squids. (The squid theme derived from Rolling Stone writer Matt Taibbi’s famous description of Goldman Sachs as “a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity.”) But no one seemed to be giving out fried calamari – not that anyone could have digested it at that ungodly hour — and there were only four protesters standing near the entrance. They were dwarfed by a phalanx of waiting police and TV journalists.

The last person you would expect to find standing in a bedraggled squid costume in front of a financial district skyscraper at six in the morning would be a 69-year-old retired psychology professor. But the Occupy movement is full of surprises. The human squid, Eleanor Levine, said, “I’m out here to bring attention to the irresponsible financial practices of Goldman Sachs. I also want to bring attention to the concept of corporate personhood [which was behind the Supreme Court ruling in Citizens United]. Corporations are not people. This company played a role in bringing not just the country but the world to financial ruin. People have to face up to what Goldman Sachs has done. Their CEO made $28 million.” Asked if the dreadful weather had prevented more people from joining the protest, Levine said calmly, “Yes, the rain put a damper on the turnout, but more will come.” Her pink tentacles waving, she walked cheerfully off.

I approached a mustachioed man in a yellow poncho inscribed with the words “Money 4 Housing and Education, not 4 Banks and Corporations.” Alex Carlson, 34, was a paramedic who said the biggest reason he came out was to protest America’s lack of educational opportunities. “I couldn’t get into school just to get an EMI license. I had to beg a teacher to let me into his class. Nursing was my real goal, but there’s no money for nursing schools. It’s crazy because there’s a nursing shortage and there’s going to be a crisis of care when the bay boomers die off.”

Carlson said he had come out at the crack of dawn in the rain because he felt he had to.

“Like everyone else I’m just trying to carve out a little life for myself, but my knife is getting shorter and shorter,” he said. “I’m not a crazy activist person. I have a wife and a young son. Camping out isn’t an option for me. But I was able to come out today, so I did. And I’m proud.”

I walked down a block to a building housing Wells Fargo, where people protesting the bank’s role in the national foreclosure crisis had chained themselves in front of the entrances on all four sides. In one of the entrances, about eight people were squeezed in, their arms inside big yellow PVC pipes that were connected together. A policeman came up and politely informed them they were creating a public health risk and would be arrested if they didn’t leave. Dozens of police waited on the corner.

A woman with a bullhorn shouted slogans. A wildly energetic street band, three saxes, a trumpet, a big bass drum and a snare, played surreally cheerful Kurt Weill-like tunes, their vaguely Weimar sound oddly appropriate.

A fresh-faced young woman with glasses was sitting among the crowd in the entrance, with a sign that said “Give us our homes back.” I asked her why she was there. “My parents had their home in Southern California foreclosed,” she said. Her said her name was Sarah Lombardo and she was 28 years old. “They couldn’t make their payments because of medical costs. My mom had breast cancer and my dad had a stroke. They were told to leave in two weeks and our house was auctioned off. Now they’re living in an apartment, but their credit was destroyed so they had to pay three times the normal deposit.”

Lombardo said her mom was a purchasing agent and her dad was a factory worker. “I’m the first one in my family to go to college.” She said she came out because she wanted “to put a face to the statistics.” It was a face that looked like it belonged to the girl next door, or to your daughter.

She said that now that she had finished college, it made it possible for her to be arrested. “It’s for a good cause.”

I asked her if she had ever been arrested before. “No.” Was she afraid? “No, I’m not scared.”

Later, behind a cordon of police, I watched as protesters on the north side of the building were arrested, frisked and loaded into a paddy wagon. I rode off on my bike to cover some more actions. When I came back, Lombardo and the rest of the group of people in the doorway had been arrested.

Back up at 555 California, beyond the big turd-in-a-plaza artwork jokingly called the “banker’s heart,” I came upon an older man in a suit, carrying a sign that said “Give Us Our City Back.” I was intrigued: he was definitely not the usual Occupy protester. But when I asked him who he was, he turned out to be even more unusual than I could have expected. He was Warren Langley, the 69-year-old former head of the Pacific Stock Exchange.

What brought a man with his background out to protest?

“I was in the industry. I worked for an option trading firm that was sold to Goldman Sachs. So I played the game on the other side. But I have two grandkids and two daughters, and I became increasingly concerned that their future wouldn’t offer them the same opportunities that I had as a young man. The income inequities in our society are a huge problem.”

Langley said he first heard about the Occupy movement from his pal Ben Cohen, of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream. “He was scooping ice cream for them in New York. And he told me, ‘These are the real deal.’ So one day I was eating lunch at the Ferry Building, and I walked across the street to the camp and started talking to these young people. And they were the real deal. They’re folks who lost their jobs, or are just out of school and can’t get a job. I could bring my credibility to the movement, so I decided to get involved.”

Langley decried the deregulation of the financial industry, in particular the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act that eroded the wall between banks and investment houses and gave birth to the wild, insanely profitable speculation

that ultimately dealt the world’s economy a devastating blow. “They bet our money and then we paid off the bookmaker.”

I asked Langley what his former colleagues in high finance thought about the Occupy Movement.

“Well, there are some who say, ‘They’re a bunch of whiners and need to get a job.’ But those are the ones who haven’t actually talked to the people in the movement. There are others who are more open-minded. I know one guy, very wealthy, who told me, ‘What’s their plan? I’m ready to give them $250,000 if they have a plan.’ And I told him, ‘It’s not their job to give you a plan. They’re hurting.’ So whether it’s job opportunities, or better health care, or fairer taxes, we need through the political system to come up with a plan. It isn’t their job. He didn’t get it. But his kids, who are also very wealthy, were more sympathetic. It’s a generational thing.”

Langley went on to say that Occupy was sharpening its ideas. “It’s moving to get a more specific message across, from ‘We’re hurting’ to “This is what’s hurting us.’ He said he didn’t see the Occupy movement ever aligning with any political party. “Chuck Schumer does as much damage as John Boehner. In the end, it’s about occupying people’s minds, so people who aren’t down here will see that the system is not fair.

There was also a nurse-led protest across town against the big medical group California Pacific Medical Center, which RN Jane Sandoval said is shifting resources away from poorer patients. Another nurse, Eileen Prendiville, said CMPC is emblematic of America’s broken, for-profit health care system, even though it is nominally a non-profit.

If the new Occupy is meatier and more substantive, it still thrives on spectacle and encounters with authority– and the latter can be a double-edged sword. After one nasty encounter outside 555 California when a young guy who engaged in a scuffle with the cops when they rushed forward was arrested, quite a few people in the crowd began shouting “fuck you, pigs!”, “you slaves!”, “pigs go home!” and “your warrant is to serve your corporate masters” to the police, probably not winning any hearts and minds in the process. No one told them to can the Black Panther rhetoric. At the same time, in one of those weird juxtapositions that Occupy specializes in, across the street stood two gentle souls holding a big black banner that read, “Buddhist Peace and Justice League: May All Beings Be Happy and Secure.”

Based on Friday’s actions – which I only saw part of — Occupy’s new approach seems to have three components.

First, it has become more of a big-tent movement, welcoming outside groups like labor unions. Second, it is taking deliberate, loud, public aim at specific corporate targets, like Goldman Sachs and Bank of America. Perhaps most important, as David Solnit pointed out, it is reinventing itself as a grass roots organization – reaching out to ordinary people who may not know much about the Occupy movement, but whose lives have been devastated by anonymous corporate decisions.

It’s an ambitious, multi-faceted reset, and there’s no way of knowing how effective it will be. Simply camping out and saying “We are the 99 percent” has the downside of being vague, but for that very reason it has an abstract, jarring purity. More specific, targeted protests are more substantive and show the movement is serious, but also make it more conventional. Still, as long as the movement attracts followers as committed, intelligent and impressive as the people I talked to, it will remain a force to be reckoned with. It seems certain to play a role in the national discourse not just during this election season, but for a long time.

Gary Kamiya is a Salon contributing writer.

More Related Stories

Featured Slide Shows

  • Share on Twitter
  • Share on Facebook
  • 1 of 14
  • Close
  • Fullscreen
  • Thumbnails

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Pilot"

    One of our first exposures to uncomfortable “Girls” sex comes early, in the pilot episode, when Hannah and Adam “get feisty” (a phrase Hannah hates) on the couch. The pair is about to go at it doggy-style when Adam nearly inserts his penis in “the wrong hole,” and after Hannah corrects him, she awkwardly explains her lack of desire to have anal sex in too many words. “Hey, let’s play the quiet game,” Adam says, thrusting. And so the romance begins.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Elijah, "It's About Time"

    In an act of “betrayal” that messes up each of their relationships with Hannah, Marnie and Elijah open Season 2 with some more couch sex, which is almost unbearable to watch. Elijah, who is trying to explore the “hetero side” of his bisexuality, can’t maintain his erection, and the entire affair ends in very uncomfortable silence.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Charlie, "Vagina Panic"

    Poor Charlie. While he and Marnie have their fair share of uncomfortable sex over the course of their relationship, one of the saddest moments (aside from Marnie breaking up with him during intercourse) is when Marnie encourages him to penetrate her from behind so she doesn’t have to look at him. “This feels so good,” Charlie says. “We have to go slow.” Poor sucker.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and camp friend Matt, "Hannah's Diary"

    We’d be remiss not to mention Shoshanna’s effort to lose her virginity to an old camp friend, who tells her how “weird” it is that he “loves to eat pussy” moments before she admits she’s never “done it” before. At least it paves the way for the uncomfortable sex we later get to watch her have with Ray?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Hard Being Easy"

    On the heels of trying (unsuccessfully) to determine the status of her early relationship with Adam, Hannah walks by her future boyfriend’s bedroom to find him masturbating alone, in one of the strangest scenes of the first season. As Adam jerks off and refuses to let Hannah participate beyond telling him how much she likes watching, we see some serious (and odd) character development ... which ends with Hannah taking a hundred-dollar bill from Adam’s wallet, for cab fare and pizza (as well as her services).

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Booth Jonathan, "Bad Friend"

    Oh, Booth Jonathan -- the little man who “knows how to do things.” After he turns Marnie on enough to make her masturbate in the bathroom at the gallery where she works, Booth finally seals the deal in a mortifying and nearly painful to watch sex scene that tells us pretty much everything we need to know about how much Marnie is willing to fake it.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Tad and Loreen, "The Return"

    The only sex scene in the series not to feature one of the main characters, Hannah’s parents’ showertime anniversary celebration is easily one of the most cringe-worthy moments of the show’s first season. Even Hannah’s mother, Loreen, observes how embarrassing the situation is, which ends with her husband, Tad, slipping out of the shower and falling naked and unconscious on the bathroom floor.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and the pharmacist, "The Return"

    Tad and Loreen aren’t the only ones to get some during Hannah’s first season trip home to Michigan. The show’s protagonist finds herself in bed with a former high school classmate, who doesn’t exactly enjoy it when Hannah puts one of her fingers near his anus. “I’m tight like a baby, right?” Hannah asks at one point. Time to press pause.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Role-Play"

    While it’s not quite a full-on, all-out sex scene, Hannah and Adam’s attempt at role play in Season 3 is certainly an intimate encounter to behold (or not). Hannah dons a blond wig and gets a little too into her role, giving a melodramatic performance that ends with a passerby punching Adam in the face. So there’s that.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Shoshanna and Ray, "Together"

    As Shoshanna and Ray near the end of their relationship, we can see their sexual chemistry getting worse and worse. It’s no more evident than when Ray is penetrating a clothed and visibly horrified Shoshanna from behind, who ends the encounter by asking if her partner will just “get out of me.”

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Frank, "Video Games"

    Hannah, Jessa’s 19-year-old stepbrother, a graveyard and too much chatting. Need we say more about how uncomfortable this sex is to watch?

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Marnie and Desi, "Iowa"

    Who gets her butt motorboated? Is this a real thing? Aside from the questionable logistics and reality of Marnie and Desi’s analingus scene, there’s also the awkward moment when Marnie confuses her partner’s declaration of love for licking her butthole with love for her. Oh, Marnie.

    13 of "Girls'" most cringeworthy sex scenes

    Hannah and Adam, "Vagina Panic"

    There is too much in this scene to dissect: fantasies of an 11-year-old girl with a Cabbage Patch lunchbox, excessive references to that little girl as a “slut” and Adam ripping off a condom to ejaculate on Hannah’s chest. No wonder it ends with Hannah saying she almost came.

  • Recent Slide Shows

Comments

0 Comments

Comment Preview

Your name will appear as username ( settings | log out )

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href=""> <b> <em> <strong> <i> <blockquote>