January 20 2012, a day of occupation of the financial district in San Francisco. Occupy Oakland calls a Reclaim the Streets Carnival of Resistance with puppets, signs, banners, music on a reclaimed Alameda County Transit bus, food, and DJ’s. Returning from my volunteer stint at my kid’s old middle school mid-morning, I hear a radio report from an early morning shut down of Wells Fargo Corporate Headquarters. A Bank of America branch has also been blocked by a human chain since 8AM. I take a Bay Area Rapid Transit train under the bay to San Francisco. I am joined by several others boarding in downtown Oakland from an Occupy the Courts protest of Federal courthouses across the country against "Citizens United v Federal Election Commission," the Supreme Court ruling that gives corporations the right of unlimited donations to politicians. Tell me the logic in this decision. The newly-boarded riders tell us about the street theater and leafleting they did to spread the word about the proposed 28th Amendment to the Constitution, which would overturn the ruling.
Exiting from the BART station, I hear chanting, a brass band, and a rhythmic thump thump of bass. A woman on stilts working a hoola hoop looms over a group of about two hundred walking in the street. A jester winds through financial district sidewalk traffic. Someone carrying a gong periodically bangs in punctuation. The reclaimed transit-now-music bus brings up the rear moving in slo mo. It is 11:30 in the morning and demonstrations on this cold and wet day began at 6AM and include the Federal Reserve Building and Goldman Sachs, where giant squids sucked money. I cross Market Street, the main artery for San Francisco’s downtown, with Oakland’s Carnival of Resistance.
“Are you from Occupy Oakland?” a woman on the curb exclaims. “When Occupy Oakland arrives, things really happen!” She turns to face a young man who I recognize from a conversation we shared in October while seated side-by-side on an Oakland city plaza bench. “You guys are not afraid of anything,” the woman continues. “I’m not with Occupy Oakland,” the man says while confirming the woman’s impressions. “Yeah, it’s confrontational.” I wonder if this man is wary of affiliating with Occupy Oakland with police targeting protestors for arrest. As the Carnival of Resistance moves down Market Street I notice lunch in red thermal carriers wheeled on carts arriving at the doors of a Wells Fargo and a Bank of America branch. Our group makes a turn left as San Francisco police on light-weight motocross cycles line up alongside. The caravan makes a shift to an adjacent merging street. I am impressed that the music bus is so nimble. The police are not so. They scramble with the change of direction, three jumping the curb and winding between unsuspecting sidewalk pedestrians in suits. One man stops abruptly in his thoughts and pace and blinks as a cycling cop speeds by.
We pass an underground parking garage with its gate in mid-descent. Two wide-chested security officers guardedly watch marchers pass while employees in office windows wave down to us. A business man in a suit, briefcase wedged at his feet, takes pictures. I stop with my pizza box sign “Human Need not Corporate Greed” then swing it around to “Compassion is in our genes Human need NOT corporate greed.” The man carefully frames a shot of both sides and thanks me.
The Caravan backtracks to Market, where police once again hop the sidewalk to gain ground. A solidly-built woman security guard holds up her hands to slow the motocross cops. This is clearly her territory. I ask her how she’s doing. She says she’s fine. When I ask who she works for, she points behind her. “The bank,” she says to me with slight incredulousness. I look behind me and up, up, maybe twenty-five stories until I get to the top of the skyscraper, where the bank’s name is displayed in large capital letters. I ask her what she thinks of what’s going on here. “I think it’s a good thing, especially now that they’re focusing on the 1% instead of fighting over space.” She laughs tenderly, “And they’ve got that raggedy old bus . . . I just want it to stay peaceful.” We part, wishing each other well.
As I cross Market Street I see a large security officer inside a Citibank branch, firmly holding the inside bar on the entry door. He has a crisp white shirt and a large, yellow, shiny star-shaped badge. Outside the door is another security guard, dressed in all-weather gear. I focus my cell phone camera at the squared-off inside guard, so perfectly framed in the entranceway. The guard turns away. I wait, with my cell phone held up. The guard stays turned sideways, turning his head away from the door. Is this a crack in the armor? I say to the outside guard: “He doesn’t want his picture taken!” The outside guard keeps his face expressionless.
Across the intersection demonstrators are setting up a People’s Food Bank of America in front of a BofA ATM. Soon the smell of warm rice and beans wafts my way. I see a crowd of about seventy, including the jester and someone carrying a prayer flag-decorated UC Davis umbrella moving toward the BofA Regional Headquarters. In front of the Hyatt entrance a Mercedes sedan moves against the red light to sit blocking the crosswalk I am in. Hyatt is run by the Pritzker family, eleven of whom are on the Forbes 400 list of America’s richest individuals, while for 2 ½ years Hyatt workers have been in contract negotiations. I walk in front of the car holding my sign and point back and forth horizontally at the crosswalk under the car, wait for the green light, and proceed.
Gathered at the Bank of America entrance is a rally of five to six hundred people. We hear the story of one family’s house foreclosure after an admitted BofA error that the now-mortgage-holder Fannie Mae will not reconcile. Lost homes in San Francisco neighborhoods are enumerated, including 979 in the Bernal Heights area, 1022 in Portola and Visitation Valley, 465 family homes in the Bayview, 1918 including the Excelsior District, and an additional 9976 family homes in other areas of the city. Clergy and religious leaders blow horns of Jericho as the rally cries “We raise up human need. We bring down Wall Street greed.”
En mass we move to Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). On the way we pass Iraq Veterans Against the War on their way to their own street theatre detaining fellow protestors per the recently passed National Defense Authorization Act, which includes a provision permitting the arrest and indefinite detention of US citizens anywhere in the world, including the US. ICE uses detention and deportation to break up immigrant families and communities under the guise of national security and is intimately linked to big bank’s investment in for-profit criminalization. A street theatre performance and teach-in makes this point abundantly clear.
The seven people blockading the Bank of America branch since eight o’clock this morning need their own blockade between them and an impeding arrival of riot police. Several hundred from the ICE protest rally work our way through Chinatown as residents wave from storefronts and windows above. As we pass by the Wells Fargo headquarters I see wooden barriers going up in front of the building effectively self-blockading access to ATMs and the building entrances. Way to go, Wells Fargo! Others also converge at the BofA blockaded branch and the riot police disperse. On the sidewalk across the street I hold my sign. People in business attire walk past. Some look straight ahead. But some read my sign, and look at me for the briefest of moments. This recognition happens more consistently than I expect. I see a twitch in one man’s eye as he catches my gaze. A slight raise of an eyebrow in a woman. A light nod by another. The eye-twitcher walks by a second time. It is 3:00 and raining quite hard now. By six o’clock, those seven people had stayed chained together for ten hours to successfully shut down this bank. These seven in a human chain, the jester weaving amongst the business crowd, the sidewalk security woman, the shiny yellow-badged security officer, the office workers gazing from their windows, the Iraq Veterans, the Chinatown residents, the people who took a moment to recognize the words on my sign, the Mercedes sedan driver, and the two to three thousand of whom spent a cold, extremely wet day in thirty four separate actions registered that the 99% demand change. For an 11 minute audio of voices from today’s J20 action, go to: http://redroom.com/member/jane-p-perry/media/audio/owsw-j20-action