Mike Koozmin/The S.F. ExaminerOccupy SF

Occupy SF at one year: A question of what is next

With expansive outdoor tent villages, commandeered vacant buildings, occasional violence and traffic-snarling marches, Occupy SF’s influence was certainly felt on street level here in The City. Nationwide, Occupy became a household name — a moniker brought up with admiration, admonishment or anything between.

But as the open-ended group and its national counterparts prepare to celebrate the movement’s one-year anniversary tomorrow, its varied membership is contemplating what its impact has been and where Occupy should go from here. While some have declared Occupy a dead-cause-walking, those still camped out in front of the Federal Reserve on Market Street say it’s anything but.

As Mitt Romney and President Barack Obama duke it out on the campaign trail, you’re unlikely to hear the latter even utter the name of the movement, even though he might pay heed to some of its frustration. That’s just fine with Occupy SF’s core membership, who’d like very little to do with any particular political party.

“We have Republican occupiers, Democrat occupiers, Ron Paul occupiers, Green Party occupiers,” said Raul Delarosa, who was distributing literature Thursday outside the Federal Reserve, where the number of tents and campers has modestly grown in recent weeks. “Everyone is welcome here.”

For others, the idea of identifying with any mainstream political group — even as an individual — is simply ludicrous.

“The dominant narrative is that the elections are the most important thing, and I sort of wonder if that’s true,” said Cheryl Meeker, an organizer of some of tomorrow’s actions in the Financial District, where people are being encouraged to publicly burn their debt papers, like mortgages or student loans.

Locally, the Occupy Bernal faction of the movement says it has been successful in preventing upward of 300 foreclosure evictions by lambasting public auctions on the steps of City Hall and negotiating with banks. Occupy Bernal activist Buck Bagot suggested that his group’s priority is ground-level action — not national politics.

“Some of us who are in Occupy, I think will engage in it,” Bagot said. “But I don’t think Occupy itself ever will, and that might not be a bad thing.”

Meeker added that Occupy’s overarching disdain for rising income disparity isn’t directly related to which political party leads the nation. She noted problems with Democratic leadership past and present, including President Bill Clinton’s banking and international trade deregulation policies, such as NAFTA.

“It seems like George Bush was less damaging to the environment than President Obama has been with all this opening of the Arctic to drilling,” she said. “Even if there was a candidate who reflected our views, I’m not sure Occupy would take any time to campaign for that. We believe the system is fundamentally problematic — capitalism, certainly.”

Indeed, Obama has drawn just as much ire from Occupy protestors as the Tea Party during numerous fundraising visits to the Bay Area this year. But local political consultant Jim Ross says the origins of the two populist movements actually share little in common.

“Occupy is an anti-establishment protest and even the Democratic Party is part of the establishment,” Ross said. “The Tea Party is the oddest thing — an establishment protest — a bunch of already empowered people who want to take the country in a certain direction.”

Still, Ross said, the overall air of unrest created by Occupy has not gone completely unnoticed on the national stage.

“I think we’re having a discussion in the country about whether or not we’re going to have a middle class,” he said. “That is, in many ways, because of Occupy.”

dschreiber@sfexaminer.com

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