#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…

Fun with Highways: Madison, Wisconsin

Between Facebook stats and popular uprisings, there is a lot of “fun with highways” to be had. And who knew that the next Middle Eastern country to face large-scale protests would be Wisconsin?

We begin in the eastern section of the capital, Madison, where no fewer than three major interstate highways converge, I-90, I-94 and I-39. Appropriately, the interchange is called the “Badger Interchange”. It also includes state highway 30, a short freeway that connects into downtown Madison.

Highway 30 ends at US 151, which traverses the isthmus that holds downtown Madison and separates lakes Mendota and Monona. I don’t know of too many other cities concentrated on an isthmus like that. Certainly, the location between the two lakes makes for interesting views and architectural opportunities. Consider this view from Lake Monona featuring the State Capitol building book-ended symmetrically by large buildings and standing behind Frank Lloyd Wright’s Monona Terrace.

[Photo by Emery on Wikimedia Commons.]

The area is anchored by the State Capitol complex and the University of Wisconsin. The area between the two along State Street seems a bit like familiar streets in Berkeley or sections of northern Oakland – or maybe more like Austin, TX. In addition to numerous restaurants, bars, cafes, galleries and places to hear live music, it too has a reputation as a liberal/progressive center. It also might be a place to play if and when I ever do an upper-midwest tour.

Of course, it is currently also the sight of large-scale protests against the current governor’s plan to strip most collective bargaining rights from state workers. Thousands of protesters have been camping out in the state capitol building and out filling the streets. Here are some images:

[Photos by Lost Albatross (Emily Mills) on flickr.  Shared under Creative Commons license.]

One thing to remember about Wisconsin in February is that it is cold. Even colder than the really irritating freezing cold rain we have been having in San Francisco over the past few days. It makes the protests all the more impressive (and in fairness, the counter-protesters in support of governor also have to brave the cold weather).

Worthless Kitty Backfill: Salman Rushdie knighthood protests

Here is a small sample of calm and well-thought-out reactions to the recent knighting of British author Salman Rushdie:

The Senate of Pakistan expresses its strong condemnation on blatant disregard for the sensitivity of the Muslims of the World shown by the British Government by awarding a Knighthood to Salman Rushdie, who committed blasphemy against a pillar of Islam, the persona of Holy Prophet,” said the resolution moved by the leader of the [Pakistani parliament] Wasim Sajjad and supported by all opposition groups. [Times of India].

We will give 10 million rupees (165,000 dollars) to anyone who beheads Rushdie,” Islamabad traders' association leader Ajmal Baluch told around 200 people in one of the Pakistani capital's main bazaars.[AFP]

Not to mention this heart-warming photograph:

(AP Photo/Khalid Tanveer)

C'mon, “Biggest Evil of the World”? Did you guys forget about the whole invasion and occupation of Iraq, a (mostly) Muslim country, where lots of people are actually dying? And you wonder why you guys have such a bad rep…

The ironies of course are that The Satanic Verses didn't seem all that blasphemous when I read it years ago – it was mostly about a snooty anglophile from Bombay, with occasional interludes – and that Salman Rushdie has written many other works. One of my favorites was Haroun and the Sea of Stories, a childrens book. We did a children's theatre play based on the book while I was at Yale, for which I composed several original works – everyone's favorite was the disco soundtrack for the chase scene. It was a fun exercise in how to make a children's tale something dry and off-beat while keeping it suitable for a young audience.

I think this lolcat is particularly apropos: