by MARK GABRISH CONLAN
Copyright © 2012 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved
PHOTOS: Occupy San Diego march January 7
The occupation is dead but Occupy San Diego lives on. That was the message in the streets of downtown San Diego on January 7 as members and supporters of Occupy San Diego staged a march from Children’s Park on the Embarcadero to Civic Center Plaza. The march was called to commemorate the three-month anniversary of the original occupation — and was advertised with a similar-looking leaflet — but it took a considerably more circuitous route, going out to the entrance of Seaport Village (where police formed a human barrier to keep marchers from going in), then turning and walking along the Embarcadero to the Broadway Pier and going up Broadway and into the Gaslamp Quarter.
That was also the message of John Kenney, who in a movement that prides itself on being “leaderless” nonetheless emerged into prominence when he staged a 36-day hunger strike to protest the San Diego City Council’s refusal even to vote on, much less approve, a resolution supporting the occupation as the city governments of San Francisco and Los Angeles had.
“Clearly, Phase One is over,” Kenney told Zenger’s in an exclusive interview January 16. “We are no longer occupying spaces like Civic Center Plaza across the nation. We’re more into occupying the mind, occupying places like banks, places like foreclosures. We don’t want the focus to be on occupying that space — which we can’t do right now — or the daily rugby match with the police here. This isn’t about fighting the police. We really have a bigger movement and a lot more things to say.”
The day before the January 7 march, Kenney had an article in La Prensa, a long-existing bilingual San Diego publication targeting the Latino community, describing what Occupy San Diego and an allied organization called Ocupemos el Barrio/Occupy the Hood are doing to reach out and address the concerns of people of color in general, and African-Americans and Latinos in particular. Kenney quoted Carlos Pelayo, president of the San Diego/Imperial Counties Chapter Labor Council for Latin-American Advancement, as saying, “This foreclosure crisis was a wake-up call for many in my community … [Foreclosures] really are making people aware of their 99 percent consciousness, and making them wake up to the actions of the 1 percent. This crisis will serve to get our communities together and activated to fight this travesty.”
The Occupy movement is also moving away from its initial decision not to present actual demands to the political system. Occupy San Diego and its sibling organizations have scheduled an “Occupy San Diego County Strategic Summit” Saturday, February 4, noon to 6 p.m., at the Centro Cultural de la Raza, 2004 Park Boulevard in Balboa Park. “We’re trying to call anyone who’s been involved with the Occupy movement since its inception to this date,” Kenney explained, “as well as outreach to various communities of color. The [San Diego/Imperial Counties] Labor Council is working on it in a big way. They have a representative who comes to all our meetings. [We’re doing] outreach to many women’s groups, LGBT [Queer] groups. The Radical Feminist Committee is working with us.”
Along with a moratorium on foreclosures, Kenney said, other specific demands the Occupy groups are coalescing around include a call for local governments to “divest from huge financial institutions and allow modifications on credible debtors for 80 percent of the current value, not the inflated prices they bought their homes for” during the boom. In addition, Kenney explained, “We are for Move to Amend, which is the campaign to amend the U.S. Constitution to eliminate corporate personhood. We are against the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) and the PATRIOT Act, and we want money out of politics. So we have four different resolutions sitting in front of our City Council.”
Kenney doesn’t have much hope that the San Diego City Council will endorse any of the Occupy positions. After all, they had shown themselves perfectly willing to let him starve himself to death rather than so much as consider a resolution allowing the occupation of Civic Center Plaza. (Kenney said he ended his hunger strike at 36 days because that was “as long as César Chávez did.”) “We expect almost the same deal as we got out of them the first time,” he explained. “We presented Move to Amend to our City Council on December 6, the very day the Los Angeles City Council passed the resolution. Our guys won’t even look at it. Surprise, surprise.”
One week after the Strategic Summit, on February 11 or 12, at a location to be announced later, Occupy San Diego is planning to host an “Occupy Southern California Conference” in San Diego as a follow-up to one in Long Beach January 14 and 15. The Conference is also targeting the California Democratic Party convention scheduled to take place in San Diego the same weekend. “We’ll try to formulate some direct actions, like a march, maybe a mic check or something like that, while the Dems are in town, as well as outreach. A lot of our issues are the same as theirs. We both have big umbrellas. We hope some of the Democrats come and join us. That being said, we have disparate elements in our Occupy movement, including some anarchists who want nothing to do with representative government. But we’re dealing with that.”
Four activists with Occupy San Diego — Mike Garcia, Tahra Ludwig, Tito and Chris McKay — are facing felony charges of conspiracy to disturb the peace when they disrupted Mayor Jerry Sanders’ state-of-the-city address January 11 with a “mic check.” “That was just absurd,” Kenney said. “They’re charging them with ‘conspiracy’ for expressing their right to speak under the First Amendment. This is what they [the San Diego city government and police department] have done straight from the get-go. They have clearly targeted us. We have a federal suit in. Not only that, they have deliberately ratcheted up the charges so we would have even higher bail bonds” — according to the Occupy San Diego Web site, bail was set at $10,000 for each defendant — “so it would drain our resources as well.”
According to Kenney, the San Diego city attorney’s office doesn’t have to present the charges immediately. They have one whole year to decide whether to go to court with the original charges, reduce them or drop them altogether — and, Kenney said, they’re using that to put Occupiers in “legal purgatory” for a year. “They can press those charges against you any time for a year, so basically you’re in legal limbo,” Kenney explained. “So it’s very difficult to carry a civil suit. They’re clearly targeting us. We’re almost going to have to wait a year out to press a civil suit against them.”
Kenney called the disruption of the Mayor’s speech “a spontaneous direct action of those individuals, not of our entire movement,” but added, “We stand behind the fact that they shouldn’t have been arrested on those trumped-up charges. It’s just indicative of what they’ve been doing from the get-go.”
EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the form in which the above article appears in the February 2012 print edition of Zenger’s Newsmagazine. Since then, Zenger’s has been informed by Occupy San Diego member William Johnson that the February 4 and 11 events mentioned by John Kenney had not been “consensed to” — i.e., approved — by a general assembly of Occupy San Diego, and therefore they should be regarded as John Kenney’s personal projects rather than official Occupy San Diego events.