Farewell to 2011

As has become a tradition here at CatSynth, we present our end-of-year image.


[Click to enlarge.]

It was a bit of a challenge to decide what to put in, as there were so many this time. But I think these are particularly representative. And it’s also significant that it is more colorful than previous end-of-year images.

The first few days of this year were quiet and a bit dark. That changed quickly, with tumultuous events around the world, and new experiences close to home. It’s the year I finally had a photography show, and by the end of the year I had several. There were new surprising types of performances and the costumes to go with them. I deepened my connections back in New York with friends, music, art and the landscape. And I no idea what I would have the chance to participate in something like the Occupy movement . There were many sad moments as well, with the loss of friends.

In all, 2011 has been particularly rich and productive, if sometimes a bit chaotic. If one had told me at the end of 2007 or 2008 (or 2001 for that matter) that this is what life would be like now, I would have been pleasantly surprised. There is a sense, however, that the patterns of this past year are not sustainable. This will have to be part of the plan for 2012, in particular getting organized, staying healthy and trying to make good choices. We will see how that unfolds as the new year progresses…

Happy New Year and thank you for all the support and warmth from those who read these pages!

Occupy Wall Street (Zuccotti Park)

Being in New York in the third month of Occupy Wall Street, I of course had to visit Zuccotti Park, the symbolic and initial geographical center of the movement. And I did visit for a while on Saturday.

This is of course coming a little less than a week after the major raid on Zuccotti Park, so things were a bit sparse, indeed less active than some of the events I have attended in San Francisco. The ban on tents was in full force, with not a single tent in sight. I had also heard about a ban on musical instruments. So here I am playing the Smule Magic Piano on the iPhone in defiance.

Zuccotti park is in fact not much of a park at all. It’s a paved plaza with lights in between some of the stones. A few of the planted trees in the space were festooned with holiday lights. It’s the sort of modern public space one often sees near commercial buildings. If it wasn’t a protest site and rather cold, it would be a perfectly nice spot for lunch. I did of course get to see the “weird red thing”, aka Joie de Vivre by Mark di Suvero.

At the time I arrived, many of the leaflets and signs were in fact not about the core issues of the Occupy movement, such as income inequality and accountability of the financial institutions and their leaders, but rather a mix of 9-11 conspiracy theories (though I should not be surprised as we were just over a block from the World Trade Center site). I was disappointed to see that, as I place very little credence in such conspiracies and think of it as a detraction. But fortunately, a large march of people came back from the direction of the actual Wall Street and seemed to be more on message. I was even able to get from them a copy of the “Occupy Wall Street Journal”:

There was one tense moment when there were rumblings about police entering into the main area of the plaza. A quick look around confirmed this to be the case. As one speaker got up to address the crowd and remind everyone to be civil and not to repeat the mistakes of previous encounters, the police suddenly swooped in on one person, whom the arrested and carried out of the perimeter. It was all over quite quickly, and without any confrontations – there were additional calls to those assembled not to do anything provocative. But there was a lot of confusion, and no one seemed to know exactly why this one person was arrested. But it seemed to be connected to disrupting the putting up of holiday lights by the park’s owners.

Other than that, it was relatively calm and quiet visit to Occupy Wall Street…and a very cold one. The sparseness in comparison to recent west-coast events and the cold further suggests that the movement has to morph into something else beyond camps and marches.

#OccupySF march in San Francisco, November 5

In this article, we follow the #OccupySF march in San Francisco yesterday through some Hipstamatic photos, with nods to some of the city’s architecture and icons that we passed along the way.

We began at the base of Market Street, the main thoroughfare of the city. It runs diagonally and separates two separate street grids that run at 45-degree angles to one another, some thing confuses not only visitors but many locals as well.

An impressive line of police ran parallel to the march. This was primarily to separate the marchers from traffic, which continued on the other side of Market Street. The interactions my group had with the police were quite cordial. One even helped us with info from the announcements at the front of the march which we could barely hear from our position.

For those who criticize the Occupy movement for not having any sort of focus, it should be noted that yesterday’s march and events were squarely focused on the banking industry and the largest banks in particular. It coincided with “Bank Transfer Day” in which large numbers of people moved their accounts from the large banks to either credit unions or community banks. San Francisco remains a large banking center. Wells Fargo still has its headquarters at the corner of Montgomery and California. We had a demonstration in front of the building.

Bank of America used to have its headquarters in San Francisco as well, at 555 California Street. 555 California is the second tallest building in San Francisco, a large imposing structure of brown granite. It is often derided, but I kind of like it as an example of modernism in an architecturally conservative city. It has a large plaza above street level common for commercial buildings from the 1970s. The march stopped here for an extended sit in.

From there we continued up California Street towards Chinatown. Here you can see the marchers passing one of our iconic cable cars.

We then turned north on Grant Avenue, the main street through the center of Chinatown.

Grant Avenue always feels a bit touristy, though it does have some great dive bars hidden away. For good inexpensive Chinese food go one block over to Stockton Street. We did, however, briefly chant in Cantonese, with the majority of us non-speakers responding with the word “Unite!”, which translates to 团结 (tuan jie in Mandarin, but I can’t find a written pronunciation for Cantonese).

At the informal boundary of Chinatown and North Beach, we turned east onto Broadway. Broadway in North Beach is about as close to a traditional red-light district as we have in San Francisco. As Broadway heads down the hill towards the Embarcadero, the neighborhoods feel a bit more ambiguous and nondescript. I have walked in the area countless times, it’s usually quiet with small buildings and lots and the shadows of the financial district and Telegraph Hill to either side.

On reaching the Embarcadero, we headed south along the wide palm-tree lined boulevard.

It is interesting to note that 25 years ago, this location was the underside of a somewhat industrial double-decker freeway, the Embarcadero Freeway, that ran from the Bay Bridge to Broadway. It was torn down after the 1989 earthquake.

And ended up back at the official #OccupySF camp at Justin Herman Plaza. The camp is at the south end of the plaza. The north side is another iconic modernist space that many people in the city love to hate – but I am quite fond of it. It includes the '); (adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({}); }if ( quads_screen_width >= 1024 && quads_screen_width < 1140 ) {document.write(''); (adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({}); }if ( quads_screen_width >= 768 && quads_screen_width < 1024 ) {document.write(''); (adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({}); }if ( quads_screen_width < 768 ) {document.write(''); (adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || []).push({}); }

The sound from the iPhone recording was not that great, so the lower brass instruments are a bit soft. But there was a bass line, and the bass line is key to the disco/funk feel (something I suspect most Tea Party rallies lack).

However, underneath the party-like veneer it was a bit tense. The nearby BART station was shutdown (as were the stations in downtown Oakland), and reports were flying over Twitter of various groups of police massing, most notably in the Potrero Hill area where they were seen to be boarding MUNI busses. This led to all sorts of jokes about the fact that if they were riding MUNI they would probably never make it here. But jokes aside, organizers and participants took the threat of a raid quite seriously. We had frequent drills for those who were going to hold the camp (and thus risk arrest), and those who were going to form a more diffuse perimeter. There were advisories on what to do in the event of tear gas being used. It involved vinegar. It did not sound pleasant at all.

Hours went by, alternating between the festive party-like scene, the drills, and an open mic. No sign of any police activity – a fire truck with horns blaring did pull up near the camp, but that was it. Still, conflicting reports and rumors continued to circulate. There was even talk that people from #OccupyOakland who wanted to come across the bay to support us would attempt to cross the Bay Bridge, which is a busy freeway even at night and has no pedestrian sidewalks of any sort. (It was amusing to follow that from the point of view an anthropomorphized @SFBayBridge). This of course did not actually happen, though a small number of people from Oakland were able to come across by using alternate BART stations or other means and did speak to the assembled crowd, including accounts of what had happened on Tuesday and what people in Oakland were doing that evening, and a moving account of what happened to Scott Olsen.

Several political figures from the city were on hand as well, including several members of the Board of Supervisors (our city council equivalent) and a few mayoral candidates. Current Mayer Ed Lee was not present. However, my own Supervisor, Jane Kim, whose district covers my neighborhood as well as the plaza itself was present – I had actually run into her and (almost literally) earlier in the evening but not recognized her at first. At first, the officials started speaking so a small crowd of media people around 2AM, but after a back and forth with protest representatives, they came to speak to us, using the official “mic check” and call-and-response system:


[video by
josborn25 on YouTube.]

There was one really annoying heckler, even though he seemed to be echoing the immediate and long-term concerns of many in the Occupy Wall Street movement, he was not respecting the mic system, the speakers or the audience, and its not clear to me if we was really an agitator rather than an overly enthusiastic supporter. For example, he was demanding portable bathrooms, even though the city had already provided several that were present and available at the time.

In some ways it was a lonely experience. I did not really have any close friends there. But I did feel connected to a community online on Twitter, with people I know across the bay in Oakland who sent and solicited updates, and with readers beyond who let me know they supported my being there.

I ended up departing around 3AM. It felt like a raid was not likely. And I was happy to see the next morning that it did not happen. It’s not clear if there was a raid in the works that was called off or if it was never really planned. It will also be interesting to see how the movement and the events this week and next week play into local politics (we do have a mayoral election coming up in less than two weeks).