International Human Rights Day was on December 10, 2011. In recognition, I participated in an event organized by the direct action working group of the #occupysf movement. This is one protest march in a series the group does every Saturday at 3pm. Human rights day happened to fall on such a Saturday, making it easy to be the theme.
Making my way through the easy-ups of the outside market, I spotted the gathering in the circular steps behind the crowded ice-skating rink. This was just off the main path to the left, where I saw some signs being waved about. If I’d stayed on the main path, it would’ve swept me in to the farmer’s market with everybody else hurrying to get over the Embarcadero. It seemed ironic to see all the easy-ups while police surrounded a blank spot to the right of the main path. Amongst all the tents and crowds, they were not allowing anybody in to the one area where a week before the occupysf encampment had been.
I’ve read the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, and it seems to make sense to me. I guess all the countries who adopted it felt that way, too. Then again, I now check “Other, Human race” for ethnicity questions, if I bother to answer at all. I picked that up while listening to the story of some anthropologist on NPR, while driving around in our Civic Hybrid.
By now you might have decided to classify me as a liberal. Or, if you’re a conservative idealist, the only reason you’re still reading this, is that you’re slightly stunned from thinking about the intricate connections of groups, people and actions associated with what I just described. You might be unable to move, frozen in disgust. If it helps bring you back, I looked for the cheapest hybrid I could find which had the HOV sticker, which let me in the carpool lanes during rush hour. Around here, that thing is a premium!
The point is, that we all build up our own judgements and reactions to the world around us. While I hope you don’t totally pre-judge me, I tried to approach others at the event with that same attitude. And like you it was difficult for me to cast aside judgment. Then again, I can be a harsh critic. Ask those that I’ve worked with, lived with, dated, or my wife. So of course I have my own critiques, and include some here.
Some folks have objections to part of the declaration itself. They state that it feels colonialist, or western-biased. I personally wonder about the language around marriage and family, which seems to support only the most traditional of definitions. But I do like that the basis of authority for the government comes from the will of the people. I feel this ties in to what I like about occupy, and this particular march has drawn me in. In the beginning I dive right in to the crowd, and then back off to get a wider view. Pretty soon the talks end and Families for the Occupation lead us off slowly, with the children in front.
During the talks I noticed a group with a concern around circumcision. They have one of the biggest, and most professional looking, signs in the parade. And no matter what, they seem to be right around me where I think that someone watching might infer a connection, when there is none. I catch up to an older gentleman holding a sign listing the Declaration on one side, and on the other side a list of things which deprives people of those rights. Walking next to him and his friend, I take a picture and remark how much I like is sign. “Which side”? he asks. “The front”, I reply.
A reporter from USF takes another picture of the guy, and that’s when I notice the tent being lofted by four guys, who look to be perhaps in their twenties. It is my favorite “sign”. Stenciled on one side it reads, “Shelter is a Human Right”. They are surrounded by folks in Christmas hats, who probably dropped by on their way from santacon. The brightly regaled Santas and friends on a pub crawl, as you can imagine, drew more participation and affected more people.
Our parade was currently blocking a part of Market Street from cars being able to drive on it. The parade might not have been as long as an escort for a wedding, or a funeral. Given how insane that part of town can be, and how more so this time of year, I was personally very happy to have that police escort holding up traffic as we walked through intersections.
We turned off Market Street at Powell St. This area is where a trolley turns around, and stops for the BART and Muni are there. Many groups pull pranks and have flash mobs there. This is where I enjoyed my favorite moment, and share it with you now:
We made it to Union Square, and it was time for more talks. A lot of time, for a lot of talks. During the Free Tibet discussion someone handed to me a flyer denouncing the Dalai Lama and commending the Chinese revolution. Even before being handed the flyer, I was thinking about Penn and Teller’s viewpoint on the Dalai.
Some of the organizers were pointing out that people were discarding their signs and leaving, and that the talks were dragging. The older man tried to shout something at the crowd and was met with a, “thank you, passionate human rights guy”.
What was left of the group finally started back to the plaza, and on the route I noticed one of the tent-holders get in a tussle with a couple of other guys. The tent holder’s costume appeared to be anarchist, while the other two men seemed to be sporting the day-shopper, capris-and-polo look. Mostly the group just carried on, diverting around the ensuing action. The chants seemed to reflect more the position of occupy, rather than of human rights.
Almost back at the start, the group paused at the Bank of America, for another woman to tell her story. This is where I put down my sign, and headed to the Muni. I understand the tent made its way in to the zone protected by the police, which took some guts.
One of the things I like about the General Assembly is it’s ability to come to consensus and where the evangelizing and instruction are minimal. In a day of protest I can support having folks speak and like Amnesty International did, kept brief and to the point.
My impression is that the turnout was low because people like to have fun and celebrate, especially this time of year. Besides that, it was a routine protest with low press, and occupy was putting most of the effort in to getting ready to shut down the ports. While I understand some of the justifications, that is not an action I support.
For one thing the tag line is, “The Occupy Strikes Back” and while I know there’s a myth that those cranes are Lucas’s inspiration for the AT-ATs, it’s associating with the evil Empire! It’s one episode too early, and should be titled, “Return of the Occupy”. It even fits in with the recent raids on encampments.
While funny, “Strikes Back” even speaks to the violence Occupy Oakland condones. Some of the police actions have shown that violence by the movement will not be tolerated. Even peaceful protesters practicing civil disobedience are treated roughly. The power a president has in our nuclear age might not be enough to rule a galaxy with a Death Star, but the authority of our commander-in-chief is more than enough to destroy our planet.
I support that all peoples deserve human rights, while corporations do not. So I took the train to join the action and you know what? That two dollars I spent on the fare was more than what half the planet has to live on per day. Demanding the same rights for all humans and having folks honk, wave, cheer and even join the walk was enough for me to enjoy the day. Thinking how this movement has helped me get involved in the things I care about has me judging it successful. I am ready to do more and have taken a first step, getting off the sidewalk and in to the street.