I started my Street Retreat with walking - first to my favorite soup kitchen - Martin de Porres’ - and then out 16th St. to the Bay. I stopped for a nap on a bench in front of a building boasting “Corporate Headquarters,” in hopes of attracting a renter looking for such a property. I can’t help but think, in the face of vacant buildings, of who among those without shelter could be occupying such space?
I continued along the Embarcadero past the baseball stadium, hosting a Cal football game this day, and on to the Occupy San Francisco camp. It was impressive in its size, and less obtrusive than I had imagined - not in the large expanse I think of when I hear “Justin Herman Plaza,” but rather a space to the south I have never seen get real use. I was surprised to find myself a bit put off by my first encounter: I saw a handful of occupiers and thought “they are more hard-core than me” - they reminded me of the transient youth I associate with Haight Street (perhaps just a by-product of time spent camping in an urban environment?).
I quickly caught up with the “Bank Transfer Day” march, clearly led by the Occupy Movement, as they travelled from Chase to Wells Fargo to Bank of America. The crowd was instructed to sit in front of each as they listened to speakers relating the institution’s particular sins as they “foreclosed” on the banks. I felt some frustration with the leaders’ clear cooperation with the police, who shepherded us from bank to bank while keeping some traffic lanes open on the streets we walked. I believe part of what our protest movements need is a recognition of the power of the people, who will care for the police and treat them civilly, but not look for government approval for our actions.
I left the protest at the Bank of America to join my fellow retreatants in reflection. We sat in a circle outside the Asian Art Museum across from City Hall and shared our stories. As we sat, a police truck - the kind used to confiscate goods from people on the streets - pulled up and an officer got out. He turned to us and said “you can’t sit down there,” as he climbed the stairs to issue citations to two men huddled in the museum’s doorway to escape the rain.
I had forgotten that it is illegal to sit on the sidewalk in San Francisco before 11pm. This left me questioning my apparent privilege, as someone issued a warning without the documentation that could lead to a later citation under the new “Sit Lie” law. It also gave me a new respect for a civil disobedience I had not noticed in the sitting bank protesters, and raised questions about the lack of enforcement in that context, too....
What holds us separate, what keeps us separate? What still connects us?