As Occupy SF enters its second month, participants got a shot in the arm Wednesday evening from a man who has been on the other side of the aisle.
Economist and activist Robert Reich showed up at Occupy SF’s Justin Herman Plaza camp to give the troops a pep talk, saying they are part of a movement that will change American society.
The former secretary of labor under the Clinton administration and current professor at UC Berkeley encouraged demonstrators to stay the course of patient and peaceful protesting, comparing Occupy to the seeds of public dissent that led to the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s.
“I really do believe we are on the cusp of a fundamental change,” Reich said.
The Occupy movement has a broad cause – mainly for a more economically just society – but that concept cannot be boiled down into a list of specific demands, Reich said, adding that the message will become more refined as the protests spread and encompass more people.
Grace Severtson, 65, agreed with Reich’s assessment.
“It’s an organic process. It’s evolving. It takes time,” Severtson said, who recalled participating in anti-Vietnam War marches in San Francisco and said she came to the plaza camp to be a part of the current movement.
Reich said if protesters are able to maintain their efforts, despite the coming winter and any other deterrents, the Occupy movement will send a message to the government.
“Make so much of a ruckus – nonviolently – that Washington can’t help but pay attention,” he said.
Reich’s appearance was inspiring to individuals who have taken up the cause, including Chuck Witthaus, who said he is a representative of Occupy St. Louis.
Witthaus said he other protesters from Occupy St. Louis have been making the rounds to camps across the country. Prior to San Francisco, Witthaus stopped by Occupy Chicago.
“It’s important to know it’s not an isolated thing,” said Witthaus, 39. “The sentiment [Reich] was getting at here is all over the country.”
Occupy SF started its movement in The City on Sept. 17 and it gained steam in early October. Participants have had several run-ins with police since then and there have been at least 18 arrests related to protests and marches.
Maintaining the gathering area has been difficult, too, as it is illegal to camp in public in San Francisco, and the camp recently moved to Justin Herman Plaza. Participants have sought a more permanent place to stay, but have made no headway with city officials.
Demonstrators showed up at Tuesday’s mayoral question time at the Board of Supervisors meeting to heckle Mayor Ed Lee and Occupy SF took its message directly to the police Wednesday evening when a group of demonstrators attended the San Francisco Police Commission meeting.