#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.

IK Multimedia iRig MIDI and iRig Cast (Good for OWS?)

IK Multimedia has introduced a few new items in their iRig line. These are appealing for those of us who use “i-Thingies” (i.e., iPhone and iPad).

The iRig Cast is a tiny microphone. You can see the scale compared to the kitty in the above picture. For those who have used the Square card reader for iOS, it’s about the same size and shape. IK Multimedia suggests that this would be a device well suited for voice recordings, podcasting, interviews and such. So I am thinking this would be a useful accessory for those who are doing live streams from Occupy Wall Street protests!

The microphone will join the already available iRig MIDI interface.

The iRig in some ways seems better than a dock for live performance, particularly if one wants to pick up the iPad and move it around (though that is not what was being done in the demos). It is bidirectional and thus will be useful both for use as a controller (the primary direction in the live performance situation) and as a synthesizer receiving control data from DAW (in a studio setting).

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, our local incarnation of the increasingly global Occupy Wall Street movement, has had its ups and downs. I first visited the camp, located in front of the San Francisco Federal Reserve Building at 101 Market Street, a little over a week ago, a few days after a major confrontation with SFPD on October 6.

At that particular moment, the camp and protests were quite small, mostly situated on the sidewalk in front of 101 Market. The Federal Reserve Building itself was blocked off with large fences, and eerily quiet.

There was a large police presence at the front of the gate, but things were quite peaceful and orderly, and seemingly cordial. Inside the camp itself, a relatively relaxed but serious atmosphere also prevailed. But there was a friendly and welcoming atmosphere, and certainly a lot of humor in the protest signs that participants were creating and holding up towards Market Street. This one was by far my favorite:

But I did also like this one with its Sci-Fi mixed metaphors:

I did take a turn at standing in protest with the other participants, holding up a couple of different signs, and enjoying the support from the MUNI operators of streetcars and busses that came by and honked/chimed in support. I also got a chance to participate in the now well-known technique of call-and-response that was used for conveying information and having discussions. Basically, each phrase of a speaker is echoed by the others assembled. It is efficient to amplify words and meaning without using megaphones or electrical equipment, but it also gives the communication a musical quality.

There was also the juxtaposition of the Blue Angels flying around the buildings of the city during Fleet Week. I always find the presence of loud airplanes among downtown buildings extremely disconcerting, but set against the protests it became rather surreal.

Since my visit, the encampment has grown and moved to nearby Justin Herman Plaza (home of the Vaillancourt Fountain of which I am quite fond). There was a large march through the Financial District (which I wished I had been able to attend), and a larger rally this weekend ended at Civic Center Plaza. However, in addition to these positive developments, there was also a raid on the camp late this past Sunday night. I was not there myself, but you can see a bit of what happened in this video by Josh Wolf:

Since then, my own city representative has visited the camp in support. And a march and rally at City Hall occurred today in support of #OccupySF’s right to assemble and protest. This is one of the days my work takes me out of the city, and I don’t yet know how things turned out…