Field Trip: Occupy SF

#OccupySF stands in solidarity with the Occupy movement started with Occupy Wall Street.

We are a leaderless movement with people of many colors, genders and political persuasions. The one thing we all have in common is that We Are The 99 percent. We are getting kicked out of our homes. We are forced to choose between groceries and rent. We are denied quality medical care. We are suffering from environmental pollution.

We are working long hours for little pay and no rights, if we're working at all. We are getting nothing while the other 1 percent is getting everything. We are the 99 percent. We will no longer tolerate the greed and corruption of the 1%.

--occupysf.com

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Wednesday morning I sat in a sun-filled, quiet living room in Oakland, California, with ten other writers. We critiqued each other's work, gave each other encouragement, and exchanged ideas. Meanwhile a few miles away, near Oakland's Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, Occupy protestors began a general strike.

According to news reports, protestors peacefully but forcefully linked arms across the entrances of major banks in downtown Oakland. Customers couldn't get in. The financial institutions locked their doors and shut down for the day. Masked anarchists infiltrated the movement, spray painting walls and smashing windows. Whole Foods, one of the businesses that's actually been hiring workers in Oakland, was hit. By nightfall, thousands of protestors (estimates ranged from 3,000 to 7,000) filled the streets and marched toward the Port of Oakland. They erected chain link fencing and shut down all port operations. By day's end, damage to businesses reached into the millions dollars, hundreds of protestors had been arrested. Over a dozen law enforcement officers sustained injuries.

There's such uncertainty in America right now. High unemployment, a stagnant economy, inconceivable national debt. When my kids were little, they would hold their breath whenever we drove through a tunnel. Sometimes it feels as if the country is stuck in a tunnel. We are all holding our breath, waiting to see what will happen.

That said, I must admit I'm still unclear what the Occupy movement is really about. Is it a grassroots effort, a genuine outgrowth of the frustrations of normally hardworking citizens whose blue collar / middle class jobs have been lost due to the offshoring of American manufacturing? Or is it a political movement orchestrated by those who would use the current recession (and questionable bank bailouts) to undermine our capitalist, free enterprise system, incrementally edging it toward socialism or communism? And this confusion, this anarchy, this fear of fringe elements makes me think, yet again, of former Intel guru Andrew Grove's July, 2010, warning. Remember? In case you've forgotten:

You could say, as many do, that shipping jobs overseas is no big deal because the high-value work—and much of the profits—remain in the U.S. That may well be so. But what kind of a society are we going to have if it consists of highly paid people doing high-value-added work—and masses of unemployed?

...I fled Hungary as a young man in 1956 to come to the U.S. Growing up in the Soviet bloc, I witnessed first-hand the perils of both government overreach and a stratified population. Most Americans probably aren't aware that there was a time in this country when tanks and cavalry were massed on Pennsylvania Avenue to chase away the unemployed. It was 1932; thousands of jobless veterans were demonstrating outside the White House. Soldiers with fixed bayonets and live ammunition moved in on them, and herded them away from the White House. In America! Unemployment is corrosive. If what I'm suggesting sounds protectionist, so be it.

If Andrew Grove would show up at an Occupy protest to pressure multinationals--especially the Silicon Valley computer industry he knows so well--to make their products here again, I'd take some comfort in that. But Occupy is called a "leaderless movement." How does a leaderless movement function? Maybe it's a good time for me to find out.

Today I bought a white sweatshirt, made in Honduras for Russell Athletics. I'm sad about where it was made, and hated to buy it, but needed it right away and couldn't find one locally that had been manufactured here. I took it to a screen printer and gave him instructions. When I explained where I'd be wearing the sweatshirt, he smiled. "I'll have it for you by closing today." On the sweatshirt's front in small-ish, discreet black letters, it says: China Ate My Jeans. com. It says the same thing on the back, in not-so-discreet huge black letters. I also had a white t-shirt (yes, Made in the U.S.A.) printed for Don, who is brave enough to do this with me, bless him.

If all goes as planned, tomorrow we will head into San Francisco to Justin Herman Plaza to mingle with Occupy protestors. We'll wear our CAMJ gear. I'm debating whether to make a sign that says "Make It Here!" or "Save American Jobs: Just Say No to Imports!" Or I may not bring a sign at all. Either way, it's kind of scary leaving my private cocoon here and heading out into public. Gulp.

Coincidentally, tomorrow (Saturday) is Occupy's "National Bank Transfer Day." In San Francisco at 2 p.m. there will be a general march to the Federal Reserve Bank on Market Street. I say coincidentally because Dad would've loved to participate in that one. He was always ranting on about the hidden, unfair power of the Federal Reserve Board. But I can only handle one of Dad's causes at a time, so for now it's restoring America's manufacturing and jobs. Or at least blogging about it.

As I left the screen printing shop, Stuart the owner said, "Be careful. If you see anyone in riot gear, get outta there." No worries, Stuart. Will do.

More to come.