We arrived at about 9PM after spending five hours feverishly monitoring the video streams and Twitter coming out of SF and Oakland. We couldn’t decide where to go. I called in to work, letting them know I wouldn’t be there, and received a surprisingly supportive response from my boss.
The SF camp received a notice of non-compliance on Tuesday and were expecting a raid, a suspicion that was backed up by rumor, “friends on the force”, sightings of police staging, and some claims of independent confirmation. But Oakland had 2000+ protesters last night, and they wanted back into their park. On aerial cams we could already see people pulling down the barricades and getting in. Cops were almost nonexistent. We held our breaths waiting for the cops to move on one camp or the other, because our presence at one would mean missing the other, and we wanted to go where we were needed. By about 8pm, Oakland had gotten back into Oscar Grant Plaza and was staying there en masse, holding a very organized GA, and the cops were still doing nothing. After last night’s siege, we didn’t know if they’d be holding back due to bad press, or letting rip because hey, one good turn deserves another.
After about an hour watching the Oakland GA go on uninterrupted, and listening to more and more frantic Twitter chatter about the incoming raid on SF, we decided to go to SF.
We arrived to about 500 people getting stoked to do some real life Civil Disobedience, but it was immediately clear that no one in SF knew what the hell they were up against. Their “plan” was to form two lines of human shields on either end of the park to face down the police. Lots of sitting and smiling and playing of drums and music. We checked in with the medic tent, which was busy tearing up and distributing towels soaked in vinegar. I gave out all the ziplock baggies I had brought, to keep the vinegar from evaporating (apparently everyone assumed it would just stay wet until it was needed). Despite SF reporting that they had “plenty of LAW and vinegar; don’t bring any more” via twitter, they had immediately run out and were scrambling to split up what they had. I put out the call for supplies on Twitter, but didn’t know the area well enough to go on a supplies run.
Across the street in the Bayside Cuisines building, cops had set up a ludicrously obvious observation room in one of the darkened offices. Campers were shining flashlights and lasers into it by the end of the night. There was an undercover on the corner of Market. I can’t help but wonder if these poorly-concealed officers are just red herrings. There was also private security, looking nervous outside their own buildings.
The medics were most concerned about “the DEA destroying the tent during the crackdown”, and recruited about 20 people to human shield it. We were singled out by the de facto ‘head’ medic, an old boomer dude with a beard, for patronizing instructions to the effect of “medics in this camp don’t participate in action” and that if we wanted to do anything but sit on the ground with our arms linked, singing kumbaya, we had to “take off our red crosses” because blah blah blah “symbol of” etc etc and also, he said, the red cross would prevent the police from attacking us because “we were non-combatants” and we just shook our heads and told him about Scott Olson’s medics and the conversation fell apart from there because he’s a well meaning liberal who’s never been gassed. A lot of the SF camp is the same; and if the cops ever had shown up last night, it likely would have been a massacre.
After that, the “medics” sat down in a circle, assumed the lotus position, closed their eyes, and meditated.
The cops didn’t show. We waited until 4AM, but they didn’t show.
We knew they were staging. We got a rumor that they were clumped up on Treasure Island, cops from different cities including Oakland, ready to descend on us in buses as soon as our VIPs left: John Avalos and Leland Yee, mayoral candidates who came to the camp to kiss babies, and a set of five city supervisors, whose names I don’t remember. It was plainly obvious that the police were holding back because tear gassing the future mayor is good way to get your budget on the chopping block. I put the call out on twitter to “encourage” the VIPs to stay put.
Reports came in of the entirety of the Oakland BART system being shut down. Then, we heard the Oakland protesters were going to march the Bay Bridge on foot. This was denied, then restated, then denied again. It was a beautiful rumor but it was never true. Rumors of station shutdowns in SF continued; they closed 12th and 19th; Montgomery stayed open. The cavalry from Oakland never arrived, though we had a few Oaklanders scattered here and there, preparing for the worst and nervous about the carebear SF campers.
I got word via Twitter of an undercover across the street and pointed him out to someone with a radio. We were given a walkie of our own, and stayed on it the rest of the night. The chatter from these sleep-deprived, jittery, anarchist crustpunks was hilarious.
Following up on that rumor about staging on Treasure Island, campers including @SFSlim (who may have been in a Fawkes, not sure if that was him or not), set out in a car and a motorcycle to scout Treasure Island. Sure enough, they found a whole mess of cops, city buses to transport them, and lots of motorcycles. They took pictures and sent them to Twitter, and asked the cops what they were doing there. “Training exercise” was the reply. Some of them were napping in their cars, others were chilling out on the rocks.
When the cops loaded up and rolled out, they were followed by our scouts. We got word via Twitter and put it on the walkies. I cut off the marching band and made a few mic checks, then reported cops inbound, and instructed campers to lock their smartphones and make sure they had the NLG hotline written on their bodies. Another camper jumped in and demanded we start “drilling”. I walked over to Avalos, grabbed his arm, looked him right in the face, and told him he needed to STAY. That the cops were coming and they wouldn’t touch us if he was here. He seemed startled, and tried to sort of qualify or brush off his importance but I just told him we were grateful and that he cold keep us from getting gassed, and moved on. Human shield lines formed. When we walked past the medic tent about ten minutes later, they were having a “tear gas drill” which consisted of walking quietly in a single file line to a sidewalk twenty feet away.
SFSlim made a Foursquare location out of the cop caravan and checked in from it. A few more check-ins and he would have been mayor!
We received reports that the police had exited at SF, then abruptly turned around and went back the way they came. Either it was a bluff to fuck with us, they got orders to stand down, or this was a test to see what the camp response would be to threat.
Of course, Slim and the other tail were quickly, and illegally, detained by the police.
- We are no longer following, having been illegally detained by two motorcycle officers who blocked our vehicle w/their motorcycles.
- Us: “Are we free to go?” Officer 294, his motorcycle (stopped, engine off) blocking in our vehicle: “Yes.” [NOT MOVING]
After that, they found the caravan again at De Haro/Mariposa, but it was unclear what the cops were doing, if anything. SFSlim was under the impression that they were powering down for the night. We had scattered reports of police activity, but mostly lost track of them. The supervisors took off, Yee took off, but Avalos stayed until about 4AM, trying to sleep in his truck with his handlers. That may have saved us.
Nothing much happened for the rest of the night. Lots of false starts, reports over the walkie of possible undercovers and possible command vehicles. DPW trucks did drivebys all night. The press would leave, do a lap around a nearby block, and come back. It was stops and starts the whole night. The human shield lines faltered after about half an hour and clumped up at at the southeast end of the park, dancing with the band, giving impassioned speech, and playing a game of freeze tag. It got very cold. We walked past the undercovers a lot. They eyed us warily.
At 4:30AM, it became clear that the hammer wasn’t going to fall. They wouldn’t have been able to clear the gas cloud by the time commuters showed up, so we called it: we won the standoff, probably due to our VIP shields. We started walking back to the car, giving our walkie to the radical medic in a black balaclava who called himself Gypsy.
“We called their bluff,” I said. “We won this one.”
“Yeah,” Gypsy replied, “But now we’re ‘the camp who cried wolf’.”