Occupy SF less effective in city of coherent protests

Standing together: The City’s Occupy protest is smaller than many

Standing together: The City’s Occupy protest is smaller than many

As a general rule in the history of marches and movements, you’re not in a good place when people are talking more about sanitation than social justice.

And it doesn’t help that when you need a charge, your “organizers” send out a plea for a 16-volt battery.

So it’s easy to see why general onlookers of the ongoing Occupy San Francisco demonstration have homed in on a similar observation. And that is, here in the land of a thousand protests, why hasn’t Occupy SF turned into a larger occupation?

Don’t get me wrong, it’s had its moments. Some weekend days when people are off work and have more time, nearly a thousand have joined to march down Market Street or to City Hall. But as an overall “movement,” at least on the local level, San Francisco’s version of the national protest against Wall Street wrongdoing, corporate greed, and wage and job inequity has fallen way short of the norm. And don’t expect its ranks to swell.

Still, the relatively small outpouring is kind of surprising considering that most citizens here probably agree with the overall sentiment of the occupiers, given that the financial watchdogs of the free market failed so miserably that people’s mortgages and pensions and retirement plans have been pushed to the precipice.

It’s just that like me, they’re sending out their show of camaraderie from their homes and offices and Facebook pages because they can’t really afford to do anything else.

That shouldn’t really knock them from the 1 percent, but the people camped out at Justin Herman Plaza might have some issues. Yet it does point to the larger question of why San Francisco’s stand has turned out so relatively small — an outpouring even some of the occupiers will admit to if prodded (but only rhetorically, mind you).

Clearly protesters in San Francisco are just spread too thin. President Barack Obama, who counted more than 80 percent support here without trying just three years ago, found his visit here this week a site of demonstrations from groups including Code Pink, World Can’t Wait, Axis of Love, the Patient Advocacy Network and those from Occupy SF willing to temporarily give up their space at Justin Herman Plaza.

Even Michele Bachmann’s visit didn’t incite such a gathering. That should tell you something.

Longtime activists say Occupy SF has been hurt by the lack of professional organizers — you know, the ones that are currently making a lot of money working as political consultants in this year’s election.

But I think the biggest problem may be the lack of a singular, coherent message. Anger over corporate greed has been around as long as Wall Street, and unlike New York, where the protest has attracted thousands, San Francisco doesn’t even have a Wall Street. At first, Occupy SF targeted the Federal Reserve Bank as the best address to gather, but then the point was brought home that even most post-doctoral students don’t know what the Federal Reserve does.

Yet I must be too mainstream, because I recently read in a online activist blog that Occupy protesters should resist the idea of coming up with a shared message because that would go against the very nature of populist uprisings. Still, with a dozen other groups ready to protest everything from pot club raids to pet store sales, it’s hard to synthesize such a general concept as anger over executive larceny.

As many politicians have learned over the years, it’s hard to stay on message when you have 30 or 40. A lot of the people marching outside Obama’s luncheon at the W Hotel on Tuesday were the very ones who helped elect him.

That’s what you call movement.

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