Occupy retakes streets, reaffirms mission

Gil Riego Jr./Special to the S.F. ExaminerComeback: Occupy participants march up Kearny Street on Monday. The march snarled traffic along Market Street and culminated in a California Street rally.

As if to defy the notion that their movement is irrelevant just one year after its inception, more than 200 Occupy San Francisco demonstrators snarled traffic in The City’s Financial District on Monday.

The march — which noticeably lacked major organized support from labor unions — paled in comparison to earlier citywide activism that included sweeping urban encampments and dramatic takeovers of vacant buildings. But Monday’s hardcore group of protesters, including some of the several dozen people who first camped last year outside the former Bank of America headquarters on California Street, chanted “all day, all year, Occupy is still here.”

The crowd grew as the day wore on, and by evening, a gathering of about 350 people materialized in a large circle at the group’s California Street origin. They played brass-band music and ceremonially burned debt papers from mortgages and student loans.

A group calling itself Occupy Bay Area United declared the location a “24-hour” occupation site, which will complement a continuously held Occupy area on the sidewalk outside the Federal Reserve Bank on Market Street.

The latter is a small part of what remains from the group’s height last November, when tents covered the entirety of The City’s posh waterfront Justin Herman Plaza. As winter set in, hundreds of illegal campers were evicted in a series of dramatic and moderately violent police raids.

Organizers said the new space aims to spark a sense of cohesion for Occupy, which has been criticized for having too many disparate ideas, among other public censure. A sign on the latest Occupy booth says, “This is a protest, not a party.”

“I think every issue has been Occupy-related, but some of it is simply focused on the symptoms, and they’re all symptoms of increasing wealth in the hands of the banks,” said Beth Seligman, an Occupier. “If you don’t connect the symptoms to the disease, there can be problems.”

Advocates of the group distanced the movement from a bevy of anarchists who smashed the windows of several small boutique businesses and art galleries in the Mission district in April. The vandalism was marked by several graffiti references to “yuppies” who have gentrified and displaced the neighborhood’s traditionally Latino population.

Theories about that incident — the single most destructive event for the local group in terms of public opinion — have ranged from angry teenage vandals to CIA operatives planting destructive protesters to discredit Occupy’s nonviolent image.

“We don’t consider ourselves pacifists, but we are nonviolent,” said Occupier and teachers union advocate Allan Brill.

As of press time Monday, police had reported no arrests as a result of Occupy’s citywide activities.

dschreiber@sfexaminer.com

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