Occupy San Diego a gathering of many tribes
Complaining about the messy, discouraging state of our country is easy. Doing something about it through a nonviolent occupation of a chunk of downtown San Diego on less than two weeks’ notice is hard. But as the 1,500 or so people who participated in Friday’s Occupy San Diego protest proved, doing something can mean everything. Even when you’re not entirely sure what it is you’re doing.
Like the Occupy Wall Street protest that set up camp in New York on Sept. 17 and remains there today, Occupy San Diego was formed to draw attention to a massive list of issues, most notably the huge economic gap separating the wealthiest, most powerful Americans from everybody else.
Because the movement is new and the goals are blurrier than a tie-dyed shirt, the questions most often raised about the Occupy troops are “Who are they?” and “What do they want?” And as the local protesters gathered their dogs and their kids and their banners in downtown’s Children’s Park for their march to the Civic Center, the answers boiled down to this:
Who are they? Everybody. What do they want? Everything. Just ask Joie Peringer.
“I’m just an average, regular person,” said Peringer, a MiraCosta College tutor who turns 64 today. “And I’m here because of the umbrella of greed and how it relates to joblessness and homelessness, all the way down to the destruction of the environment.”
When you think about the kind of people who can throw themselves into a movement that didn’t have its first local meeting until last week, you think of young people. Or hippies. Or young hippies.
But the people who turned out for Occupy San Diego came in a variety of ages and demographic categories. There were dreadlocks and John Deere caps. Padres windbreakers and John Lennon T-shirts. There were strollers and tambourines and sleeping bags for the people who are in it for the long haul.
And judging by the protest signs and snippets of conversation, there were as many reasons for gathering as there were people who gathered. Stand in the grassy park long enough and you could hear passionate conversations about everything from health care grievances and sad mortgage stories to generalized fat-cat-related fury and the inevitable JFK conspiracy theories.
“You have a whole social-justice tradition in San Diego,” University of San Diego sociologist Thomas Reifer said, citing all the way back to the 1912 Industrial Workers of the World riots that climaxed with Socialist leader Emma Goldman being booted out of the county by vigilantes.
“One thing people have in common here is that they are economically struggling. This is a region that has been struggling for a while, and the military cuts will make that even more true.”
Which could be why this newbie group that started just a few weeks ago with a Facebook page and a few volunteers grew into an organization that plans to occupy downtown indefinitely. And even when the nightly meetings leading up to the protest got bogged down by the group’s determination to hear every last opinion — no matter how harebrained, off-topic or uninformed — the march happened. People showed up. Banners were carried. A dinner of donated food was served.
And when you ask them how long they plan on occupying the streets, the most common answer is, “As long as it takes.”
“This is my full-time job now,” said 20-year-old Camilla Elizabet, a San Diego Mesa College student who plans on taking the bus to school and sleeping at the Occupy San Diego encampment.
“Even if it turns out that just a couple of people end up staying there, it is paramount that we show everyone that there are people awake and people who care. People need to see that this is not just a hippie movement, it’s for everyone. And until you wake up, we will fight for you.”
According its website, the goal of Occupy San Diego is “to achieve social and economic justice.” What does that mean exactly? No one really knows. What is clear is that for the people behind the chanting and the slogans, the meaning isn’t as important as the doing.
“I know we’re asking for a lot,” 69-year-old Occupy San Diego member Nancy Casady said as she was preparing for the march. “But why not envision the future you want instead of just letting it happen?”
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Occupy San Diego Sounds Off Downtown
San Diego’s Civic Center Plaza and downtown financial district were mobbed with demonstrators late Friday afternoon, as the local incarnation of “Occupy Wall Street” loudly asserted itself.
Police who monitored the event estimated the turnout was about 1500 people during the 12-block march into the heart of downtown from Children’s Park, where many returned to spend the night.
There were no reported arrests or unruly incidents as sign-carrying demonstrators expressed outrage over the state of the economy and chronic high unemployment.
“We were sold out,” went one of many chants aimed at financiers and politicians. “We say, ‘Fight back’!”
And referring to the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans who control 40 percent of the nation’s wealth, there were shouts of “We are the 99 percent!”
Speakers denounced lenders who won’t lend, lawmakers who can be bought, and the erosion of the middle class while the plight of the poor worsens.
But many said they’re determined to see that reason speaks louder than rhetoric.
“If we’re talking about ‘Stop corporate greed’ — which seems to be one point that’s out there — well, what is it?” said Eastlake resident Keith Warrick. “We’ve got to come to the bargaining table and talk about those things. Wall Street corruption, and the positions they’re often times taking.”
“Occupy San Diego” organizers said their focus is on educating the public and reaching a ‘consensus’ on a list of demands to pose to government, banks and corporations.
“We won’t align ourselves with any parties right now, whether it be Democrats, Republicans, the Tea Party,” explained Pacific Beach resident Kali Katt. “We really want to stay away from drawing lines in the sand, and excluding people. We really want to be an inclusive place.”
Others offered concerns about younger generations facing a dim future unless the economy turns a corner and Main Street gets a break from Wall Street and Washington.
“We have kids getting out of college who spend an ungodly amount of money for their education,” said Oceanside resident Rick Channell. “And then you have these professional politicians who came out straight out of college who got law degrees, but never used them.
“They don’t know what it’s like to be out here, to not know if you’re going to have a job, or if you’re going to be able to eat, of if somebody’s going to repossess your car.”