Ask anyone involved in Occupy San Francisco’s camp what the reasons are for the national populist movement and you will hear a common response: “I don’t speak for the group; decisions are made by consensus.”
It’s true. Any important decisions are made at nightly general assembly meetings, where ideas are floated and receive either a thumbs-up or thumbs-down response from participants.
For photos of the tent city protesters profiled in this story, click on the photo to the right.
The reliance on consensus is part of the group’s refusal to be pigeonholed into a singular cause or list of demands. But generally, the demonstrators who have set up shop outside the Federal Reserve Bank on Market Street and at Justin Herman Plaza are disturbed by income disparity in the U.S. and want to lessen the influence of financial institutions and corporations on politics and society — ideals they share with their national brethren.
While the goal of the movement is still taking shape, the personal reasons for individual participation are more specific, so The San Francisco Examiner spent a few hours at the camp to get an informal profile of the occupiers.
They are often faced with criticism that they are nothing more than “professional protesters” — or in less-kind terms, “dirty hippies” and “crusty punks” — but some at the camp said they have mainstream support, with well-dressed downtown workers frequently visiting on their lunch breaks, handing out $20 bills and saying, “Keep it going.”
Occupation: Small-business investor
Reason for joining Occupy SF: The former Army National Guard soldier said he has a loud voice that can help in organizing protest meetings, and he once worked as a security guard and bouncer, so he keeps watch over the camp at night.
Young, who also participated in Occupy Los Angeles, said he takes issue with people who he feels mischaracterize the movement.
“A lot of people were thinking it was a homeless movement,” he said. “But it’s not just people who are used to sleeping on the streets, it’s everyday people.”
Occupation: Taxi driver
Hometown: San Francisco
Reason for joining Occupy SF: On his lunch break from driving his cab — where he keeps a protest sign in the trunk — Newsham said Occupy SF is an “obviously needed movement” and he’s not surprised it happened.
“People talk to me in my cab every day,” he said. “Everybody gets how broken this system is.”
Newsham said the movement should be wary of identifying exactly what it wants.
“We need to maintain with this idea of no leaders,” he said. “If we say exactly what we want, the media will put us in a box and blow us off the streets.”
Reason for joining Occupy SF: A stalwart of San Francisco’s Beat generation, Whitaker said he joined the movement because it’s a ground-up reconfiguration of democracy.
The veteran of social activism scoffed at the notion that it will ultimately lack the fervency and numbers drawn by populist movements of the 1960s.
“These are the very early days of the occupation,” Whitaker said.
Occupation: TV-commercial video editor
Hometown: San Francisco
Reason for joining Occupy SF: Though he doesn’t live at the camp, Truog said he wants to help Occupy SF get its message out via Internet videos.
Truog said he has done well in his advertising career, but wants to find a new voice. Considered liberal among his group of friends, he said Occupy is not unlike the conservative tea party movement.
“This is railing against big business, while the tea party rails against big government,” he said. “We’re starting to come to the realization that the two are the same, in a lot of ways.”
Reason for joining Occupy SF: Stevenson recently moved to The City to eventually attend the Academy of Art University. When she saw Occupy SF growing, she said she “had to be a part of it.”
“I feel like it’s just so right,” Stevenson said.
She said she has seen firsthand how corporations mistreat people, having been terminated from her job because she sought medical leave over a possible case of breast cancer.
“I’m 19, and I’m so sick of money. I wish it didn’t exist. I’ve seen what it does to people,” Stevenson said.