Saturday, October 29, 2011

Labor Rallies in Support of Occupy San Diego

Despite Pre-Dawn Police Raid, the Occupation Continues


Copyright © 2011 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved

 Defying the police on signmaking

 Faith Leaders for Peace
"I've been to Iraq … "

More signmaking



"Police, stop abusing power"

"We are the 99 percent"

"When injustice becomes law … "

“We had planned a solidarity sleepover for tonight, and we made the mistake of announcing on Twitter and Facebook that we were planning a solidarity sleepover for tonight,” said San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council CEO and secretary-treasurer Lorena Gonzalez at the Occupy San Diego (OSD) site in the Civic Center Plaza the night of Friday, October 28. “But the police chief, whom we’ve worked with successfully in the past, and the mayor, with whom we haven’t worked as successfully in the past, decided to try to drive us out of the park. Now, I believe in coincidence” — slyly suggesting that the police had raided OSD when they did to try to stop the labor support rally from happening without actually saying so — “but we are here anyway.”
October 28 was a key day in the three-week history of Occupy San Diego. At 2:45 a.m. — just 15 minutes before the 3 a.m. time psychologist Ivan Pavlov recommended to the Soviet secret police in the 1920’s as the most disorienting time for the victim of a political arrest — San Diego police officers raided both the main Occupy campground at the Civic Center plaza and the satellite encampment at Children’s Park across from the Convention Center the OSD people had planned to use as a backup. Over 40 people were arrested, and some were still in custody during the evening rally. An empty water-cooler bottle was passed around for people to donate to the bail fund.
The police also gathered up all the tents, canopies and other structures the occupiers had set up, and all the occupiers’ personal possessions, and simply threw them away instead of returning or formally confiscating them. As one occupier noted in a sign she carried to the evening rally, the police treated the occupiers the way they routinely treat homeless people when they break up their encampments. Though the police pretty much left the Civic Center occupiers alone that evening, they were there in force and they made sure OSD couldn’t leave the plaza to march through the Gaslamp Quarter after the rally, as they had planned.
Police exercised their authority in other seemingly arbitrary ways as well. At one point, when occupiers had laid cardboard on the surface on the plaza and were writing signs on it, an officer told an OSD activist that they would be allowed to make signs but only if they held the cardboard in their hands rather than laying it on the ground. Shortly after that, an officer confiscated a blanket whose owner had left it on the ground, and a woman with OSD quickly grabbed up other blankets that were lying there, distributed them to occupiers who planned to spend the night, and warned them to keep the blankets on their person instead of dropping them.
After the labor rally, which lasted about half an hour, OSD opened the mike and gave some of the people who’d been arrested that morning a chance to describe their experiences. “My face was bounced off the pavement by a law enforcement officer,” said Kevin. “You can arrest me, you can take my belongings, but you can’t arrest an idea. This is my country. We will not back down.”
“They kicked me when I was down,” Manny said. “They must have been Mexican cops from Tijuana,” he added facetiously. “I can’t imagine this happening in San Diego. We’ve had great revolutionary leaders: Che Guevara, Emiliano Zapata, Pancho Villa, Cesar Chavez. I never trusted the cops in Mexico and now I don’t trust the cops in San Diego, either.”
“It’s very important that we respect the police, who are just following orders from the mayor on down, and have a political protest,” Gonzalez said at the start of her rally. “The media want to talk about confrontations, tents and sanitary conditions. We want to talk about the 99 percent and the economic crisis. They want you to believe the economic crisis was caused by the trash truck driver who’ll retire on $23,000 a year, and by your third-grade teachers and city workers. They don’t want to talk about the big banks who sold bad mortgages and are now throwing working people out of their homes.”
Along with Gonzalez, who MC’d, the speakers included local union leaders and ministers in various denominations. “People say there’s no clarity [to the Occupy movement], but everyone here has moral clarity,” said Rabbi Laurie Coskey, executive director of the Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice. “We have come to offer words of support and remind you that we are all created, not 90 percent, not 99 percent, but 100 percent in the image of God.” She then brought on five other faith leaders, ranging from Unitarian-Universalists to Muslims, to offer prayers for the occupiers.
“I’m so glad other people feel my outrage here tonight,” said Bridget Browning of the hotel workers’ union. Like Gonzalez, Browning said she was particularly outraged at the Democrats on the San Diego City Council like Todd Gloria and David Alvarez, who, though elected with labor’s support, have routinely joined in unanimous votes to support projects like the latest bid to expand the Convention Center that will enrich San Diego’s already wealthy people and offer only minimum-wage jobs, if they hire anybody at all. “Do you think expanding the Convention Center is going to make your lives better?” Browning said. “I’m sick of walking precincts to get these people elected, and then, when they get in office, they vote with everyone who’s against our values.”
“I’m 15 years old and I am the 99 percent,” said Tierra Gonzalez, Lorena Gonzalez’s daughter. “Don’t blame my teacher, my counselor or my bus driver for the economic crisis. Blame Wall Street and the bankers that caused it.”
“I’m a city of San Diego garbage truck driver and proud of it,” said union leader Joan Raymond. “I am the 99 percent. I know police chief [William] Lansdowne and I’ve worked with him, but I’m disappointed. Workers in our union repair the police cars, and if it weren’t for them, the police wouldn’t be able to get to the scene of this protest” — which prompted some of the occupiers to yell, “Strike! Strike!”
Raymond said that, contrary to the corporate media propaganda that has blamed San Diego’s financial woes on the supposedly “generous” pensions given to city workers, she will retire on only $23,000 per year — and as a city worker she won’t get Social Security. (In the 1970’s city workers voted to take themselves off Social Security in exchange for a promise of guaranteed health care for life — which, needless to say, the city has reneged on since.) “So don’t lay the blame for the greatest recession since the 1930’s on your garbage truck drivers, nurses, mechanics and other workers trying to make a living. You don’t have to go to Wall Street to find your villains; just go to the 10th and 11th floors of City Hall” (where the mayor and city councilmembers have their offices).
“I just want to say it was a great honor working in your medical tent — until the police tore it down,” said Lisa Rusk of the California Nurses’ Association. “As nurses, we’ve seen too many people without health insurance delaying needed care until they just get sicker and sicker. Health care should be a right, not a privilege. Tax Wall Street and get us health care!”
After Rusk finished her brief remarks, a legal observer began reading the names of occupiers arrested in the morning who were still in custody — though she was wrong about one of them: no sooner had she read his name than he identified himself and announced he had been bailed out. Her reading was interrupted by a loud shout from the crowd as members of Critical Mass, a group of bicycle riders who stage actions challenging the dominance of cars on public streets, rode their bikes into the plaza and joined the rally.
After that a man who identified himself as “Chaplain Ron” called up any veterans in the audience to the impromptu stage on the Civic Center Plaza steps and asked them to lead the crowd in a singalong. They sang patriotic songs like “The Star-Spangled Banner” and “My Country, ’Tis of Thee” — surprising choices for a progressive rally but ones that put out the message that they weren’t going to let the Right monopolize the symbols of American patriotism — as well as a verse of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.”
“I’m a 20-year-old mother, college student and Girl Scout troop leader,” said Melissa. “I worked full-time until 2009, when I was laid off. I work in construction, and when I was laid off I lost my health care for myself and my daughter, I lost my savings and I lost my 401(k). Everyone should have reasonable access to health care.” Melissa was starting to talk about her daughter’s best friend, who was recently diagnosed with diabetic ketoacidosis — a disease “associated with lower family income, health coverage and parental education” — when she was interrupted by another occupier making an announcement that the police had arrived with tear gas.
There was a controversy over whether to announce that to the crowd at all. Some occupiers didn’t want to interrupt Melissa’s speech for a report that might panic the crowd. Eventually things calmed down and former Congressional candidate Ray Lutz, OSD’s media liaison, told occupiers to come to the San Diego City Council on Tuesday, November 1, 10 a.m., to demand that the Council pass a resolution endorsing the occupation and instructing the police and other city departments to leave the occupiers alone. The Los Angeles City Council has passed a similar resolution and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors is considering one, but so far no San Diego City Councilmember has come forward and asked that it be put on the agenda.
After it became clear that the police were not going to allow the occupiers to march through the Gaslamp Quarter as originally planned, the occupiers changed plans and instead convened a General Assembly (GA) in the plaza to discuss future strategies, including how to deal with the police if they try to shut down the occupation again.

FOR THE RECORD: An earlier version of this post attributed an obscene word to Tierra Gonzalez. She did not in fact use such a word. Zenger’s apologizes for the error.