By Arturo R. García
As it entered its’ second week, the San Diego arm of the Occupy Wall Street movement has taken at least one crucial step: forging alliances. The group’s Oct. 15 rally and march to downtown San Diego highlighted speakers from different organizations, and a greater acknowledgment of struggles in both various communities of color and the LGBT community.
This wasn’t always the case: though OSD had developed quickly after launching successfully on Oct. 7 – organizers said around 3,000 people attended its’ opening-night occupation of Children’s Park downtown – matters of race took a backseat opening weekend, as the group attempted to get its’ house in order. One protester addressing POC-specific issues that first weekend was a U.S. servicewoman carrying a sign opposing the recent anti-immigration laws in Alabama and Arizona:
Otherwise, the bulk of OSD’s Oct. 9 General Assembly dealt with a fundamental issue: the matter of consensus – settling issues by unanimous approval, a core tenet of the OWS movement. But as San Diego CityBeat’s Peter Holsin observed, reaching a consensus about consensus wasn’t easy:
The debate came to a head at Sunday’s General Assembly meeting. ISO comrade Cecile Veillard argued that consensus will slow the group down and make it harder to build, but full-time occupier Abel Thomas pointed out that the entire camp so far had been built using consensus. Soon, the group started proposing modified forms of consensus. Amir Shoja, a graduate student at SDSU, introduced a motion for a simple majority vote for “insubstantial” issues and a consensus vote for “substantial” ones, but then he withdrew it when people asked whether they’d need to vote on which issues were insubstantial and which substantial. Later, Veillard introduced a motion to change the group’s process to a 90-percent majority vote, but instead of sticking around for a discussion when people voted against it, she walked away to join a separate meeting in front of the ISO tent.
Almost two hours into the meeting, one of the organizers stood up to announce an update from Occupy Houston: “They just passed a proposal and action for a de-investment campaign. What are we doing with our GA? Let’s get back on track, guys.”
The meeting eventually fell apart, but there was a slight glimmer of hope. Throughout, people mostly followed bureaucratic procedure. They used hand signals to voice their opinions, waving their hands in big arcs to express agreement and putting their arms in “X”s to disagree. They raised their hands to be added to the “stack”—the list of people slated to speak—and made a triangle shape to make factual and procedural clarifications. For a group that could barely follow procedure the night before, that alone seemed like a step forward.
The week that followed was hit by both tragedy and adversity: on Oct. 10, a man unconnected to the group fell to his death near its’ campsite at the Civic Center downtown; later in the week, most of the occupiers removed their tents and supplies after warnings from local police. However, some stayed behind, leading to this encounter with authorities Oct. 14 (Trigger alert):
The SDPD asked the occupiers to vacate Civic Center because the area had been reserved by a dance event over the weekend. But it could hardly be called a coincidence that OSD was asked to leave the premises around the same time as others such as Denver, Dallas and the original NYC protest a day before the Oct. 15 occupation rallies and marches around the world.
With its’ supplies relocated to Balboa Park near downtown, OSD’s rally featured speakers from the Islamic Labor Caucus, a local LGBT activist; several statements of solidarity from speakers about the immigrant and Native American communities; the news that the California Federation of Teachers was endorsing the occupation; and the emergence of the San Diego Coalition for Peace and Justice as a possible ally:
That same day, I also spoke with two Latino protesters, who mentioned that the group had celebrated Oct. 10 as Indigenous Rights’ Day, before having to deal with the relocation issue, and discussed how the occupations can reach out to POC communities – and vice-versa.