#OccupySF march on April 1

It’s been a little while since I participated in an OccupySF event, a combination of my activities, their activities and the weather. But as we enter spring, many groups around the country are stepping up again. In San Francisco, OccupySF staged a march on April 1 with the goal of establishing a stable home in an empty building, an idea that many referred to as the “SF Commune.” Taking over an empty or abandoned building is not new for Occupy movements. Indeed, Occupy Oakland had staged a large demonstration earlier this year in which they were “planning to take over an abandoned building” whose location was being kept secret until the time of the event. It turned out to be the Kaiser Convention Center, the most well-known abandoned building in the city, and of course the attempt to “occupy” it was unsuccessful. I assumed that the building that would be the destination of the April 1 march would be a bit more obscure.

The event began in Union Square, a major commercial center in San Francisco with upscale retail and hotels. I found members of OccupySF sparsely gathered around the square, with a small concentration up near the stage having a party of sorts. I was particularly happy to see the Brass Liberation Orchestra present.

[This is my one and only Hipstamatic picture from the event.]

By coincidence, there was another demonstration happening on Union Square at the same time in support of the opposition in Syria. A sizable group of people were gathered in one corner of the square underneath multiple Syrian opposition flags. Unlike the current Syrian flag, which has two stars, the opposition flags have three stars, and a different color scheme, and are modeled after the flag of the Syrian Republic of the 1930s.

The march itself was quite delayed, as we were waiting were a bus of people from Occupy Oakland to join us and they were stuck in traffic. Why they chose to drive over the Bay Bridge in a bus on a Sunday afternoon instead of taking BART escapes me – everyone here knows the bridge is quite congested at this time. But they did eventually make it, and announcements went out informing us that we were going to be marching to “Occupy SF’s new home.” There were calls to be respectful of the building while making it our own. I was of course quite curious where this building would be and what it would be like. Would it be a modern but vacant office building, or would it be one of the dilapidated apartment buildings in the central Tenderloin district, where the march was initially headed?

And then the march finally began. We streamed out of Union Square, with the Brass Liberation Orchestra launching into that same funky bass rhythm I remembered from the big events last October. It was reminiscent of classic disco bass lines. You can hear a bit of it in this video of our exodus from Union Square, though it is a bit of a challenge to separate from the general din.

We continued the march westward along Geary Street, with the older buildings of the central downtown district to either side of us. (Reports referred to this as Geary Boulevard, which is a common mistake. Geary Boulevard is west of Van Ness Avenue. Here it is still Geary Street.)

This is the major theater district of San Francisco, between Geary and Market. It is also on the upper edge of The Tenderloin, a neighborhood rich in history and culture with bars and clubs, but also a notoriously blighted area with dilapidated apartment buildings and SRO hotels. The city keeps trying to bring businesses here, particularly along “Mid-Market”, with the most recent effort involving Twitter. But there are still lots of abandoned or vacant buildings here, and I had assumed this is where we would end up. But the march continued onward, passing Leavenworth Street and a block where I did some of my most artistic photographs, including one that used a bright red MUNI shelter that we passed.

We came the large intersection of Geary and Van Ness Avenue and then headed south down Van Ness. I was a little unsure at this point where we were going to end up. I thought maybe we would be turning back into the “TL”, but instead we turned westward onto Turk Street. We came to a stop at the corner of Turk and Gough. This is at the edge of the historic Western Addition neighborhood, but also abutting the spreading upscale areas of Nob Hill to the north and Hayes Valley to the south. I wasn’t expecting this location, but here we were, in front of an unassuming low-rise building that looked like a school or public office built in the 1960s.

In the sense that it was a nondescript commercial building, it did fit the profile of an ideal location. The only distinguishing element was the number “888”. This was #888Turk, the new home of OccupySF. Protesters quickly entered into the building, with loud music blaring from the Occupy Oakland bus parked in front on Turk Street.

Soon protesters reached the roof and unfurled banners to cheers on the street and from within the building.

I It turns out that the building, although vacant, is owned by the Archdiocese of San Francisco (i.e., owned by the Catholic church), which explained the rather Christian-sounding banner that some protesters unfurled after taking over the building. It is claimed that this building has been vacant for five years, though the Archdiocese claims it was only vacant for 18 months after housing a school.

I departed sometime in the early evening. But the occupation of 888 Turk continued overnight and into the next morning, but during the day on Monday the building was raided by the police, with about 75 people arrested and then later released. You can read an account (with illustrations) in this article by Susie Cagle at Truthouth. It is hard to say whether this is a success or not But it is one of the more dramatic events to occur so far this spring, and it has been picked up in the press and by other groups around the country. So perhaps it will come to something.