Oct 31, 2011

A Brief Tactical Analysis of #OccupySF's First Confrontation with SFPD

Recently, I received a call of solidarity and to action via social media around midnight. The OccupySF encampment was facing eviction by police. Comrades were in trouble so I raced to downtown San Francisco to show the members of the encampment, many of whom are from out of town, some real SF solidarity and how we handle the cops. Bay of Rage had this fantastic account of what went down, posted in less than 4 hours, which was impressive.
On the night of October 6th San Francisco Police attacked the Occupy SF encampment at the Federal Building on Market and Drum. After a day in which 800 people marched through downtown San Francisco in solidarity with the occupation of Wall Street in New York and elsewhere around the country, hundreds gathered at the site of the occupation. However by evening the police had administered an eviction notice to the occupiers claiming that the police would move in at midnight alongside the Department of Public Works to clear the plaza. Roughly around 10pm the police began to gather a block away from the occupation. Word circulated quickly and as both the occupiers and the police prepared roughly 150 people assembled at the occupation. After a few hours of waiting, debate, and nervous conversations within the occupation the police finally made their first move. Marching down the street, adorned with helmets and batons, the police escorted a line of Department of Public Works Vehicles. Standing between the occupiers and the living spaces that had been created since the occupations’ beginning, Department of Public Works workers were then forced to begin eradicating the space of any materials related to the occupation. The trucks were quickly filled with the same rapidity as the mood in the air began to intensify.

Almost spontaneously a large wooden pallet that the vehicles had not yet managed to collect was brought in front of one of the trucks. Immediately others began to follow bringing bodies and all material left behind in the encampment and surrounded the police and Department of Public Works vehicles. People grabbed anything they could find – garbage cans, street signs, cones and even the police’s own metal barricades to prevent the trucks from leaving as well as corner the police. While the police had tried to encircle and intimidate the occupation those there quickly used the opportunity to encircle and intimidate the police. As the SFPD closed in on the trucks standing off with what was now hundreds of people on market street and beautifully constructed barricades, they began to make way for the vehicles to leave. This created a series of small scuffles. Eventually the vehicles left and the barricades stood proudly on market street between the starry twilight of 2:30am and the confused fright of the SFPD.
 Having bore witness to these events, I wanted to share my tactical assessment the confrontation between the police and the occupiers.

The first thing that stands out in my mind is how quickly things escalated. At first I stood in disgust as people literally sat down, chanted ohm, and sang "We Shall Overcome" while the police were robbing their entire encampment. But soon people started to talk about blocking the trucks from leaving and encouraging others to do so. People, myself included hesitated but then one by one we all took to the street to block the DPW trucks.

Soon after, one person began to drag pallets out into the streets, then dozens followed his lead. I can not emphasize enough the spontaneity of the moment, these were not local anarchists who had marched together in the past, TOTAL STRANGERS were organically acting in unison to completely encircle the police and city trucks. The pallets soon formed a solid barrier; a comrade had the great ideas of lashing the elements of the barricade together with rope and bungee cords.

The cops, despite their best efforts at encirclement faced multiple rings of resistance, first people laying and sitting in the streets immediately in front of the police, then the barricades, then all the other protesters. They clearly were not expecting this level of resistance and only deployed one battalion (40 cops) and back up was a long time coming; in other words the police were outnumbered by protesters, almost 5:1. The protesters controlled the front line and had complete operational freedom in the other 300 degrees of the intersection, which allowed people to gather debris from up to a block away and deposit it in the street without fear of arrest. Because of the late/early hour, there were no pedestrians or business owners to get in the way or further complicate things, which further added to our tactical advantage.

It was an inspiring and beautiful moment to be a part of.

Stay tuned for more analysis of #occupysf's clashes with police and other frontline analysis from the San Francisco bay area.

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