“The elements for the perfect storm are falling into place.” – Ron Logan, ECM photographer, following recent arrests, support from labor, and a City Council protest that have fortified resolve in the Occupy San Diego movement
Story and photos by Ron Logan
October 30, 2011 (San Diego) – I've been following the Occupy Wall Street protests since they started – basically through the independent media since the corporate media didn't start covering it for about two weeks. So when Occupy came to San Diego, I was very interested in being there with my camera, shooting the early groundwork of what could be a major revolution—a nonviolent uprising to overthrow the status quo in American politics.
I promised myself early on that I would only be working as a photojournalist for this movement and that I would not be writing anything. What you are reading is the result of a broken promise. One cannot help being affected by attending the protests, feeling empathy with what is going on and the sheer frustration that the 99% feel.
I'm not void of human emotion. I am the 99%.
I've been avoiding writing about the Occupy movement simply because when I write, it is all-consuming. It requires research and interviews and time and energy. I'm short on all those things at this point in my life, but sometimes things happen that will force me to reorder my priorities.
On the first day of protests, now 24 days ago, I was moved by the sheer number of people in attendance at Children's Park at Island and Front in downtown San Diego. My estimate is that somewhere in the neighborhood of 1,500 were in attendance. People were vocal, passionate, and angry at what is happening, angry at feeling left behind while corporations enjoy record profits. The crowd was speckled with Guy Fawkes' masks – an image that has become an important symbol to this movement.
I've been back to the protests about a dozen times since that first day. Sometimes twice in one day. The occupation continues to ebb and flow, with the energy and style changing by the hour. There are days that are very quiet and solemn – like the day a man died by jumping or falling from the parking structure onto the plaza floor just yards away from the main protest area.
There have been days of energetic activism with marches that have affected real change by forcing the closure of Wells Fargo and Bank of America branches in the downtown area.
There have been numerous clashes with the San Diego Police Department, sometimes resulting in more than 50 arrests. Protestors have been pepper sprayed and some were beaten when the police cleared the plaza.
After each clearing the plaza gets repopulated with protestors – some new and some original faces. People have been sent to jail, bailed out, and have returned to the plaza to continue where they left off.
Two days ago, the police cleared the Civic Center Plaza so that the area could be power-washed. I'd heard that it was because the area was becoming a "health hazard."
Maybe it was since there were puddles of blood on the plaza floor where police had beaten protestors with batons. The occupiers had tried to resist as best they could by forming human rings around the puddles of blood which were symbolic of the struggle that is ensuing.
For the most part, however, it has been non-violent. Despite fringe elements among the masses who push a more anarchist view, and despite the few who have confronted the police in a way that begged a response, things have gone pretty well.
The police have been mostly considerate and polite from my experiences there. Even when I had walked behind a police line to get a photo, the response was "Excuse me sir, would you please not stand behind us." I would probably have been fed my lens in NYC.
As the protests continue, there are strategies evolving for compromise between the police and the occupiers.
Last Tuesday the protestors were so boisterous at the City Council meeting that the City Council walked out of their chamber. They adjourned early and didn't return until the afternoon session. Even still, there continued to be a dialogue – and slowly each side learned how better to deal with and respect the other.
One side effect of this process is learning first-hand how difficult compromise can be… and that makes one realize how impossible it must be for the U.S. Congress to get anything accomplished with the current state of division.
The movement gained reinforcement from labor, led by none other than San Diego-Imperial Counties Labor Council Secretary-Treasurer Lorena Gonzalez, who organized an all-night campout Friday night, showing solidarity with the Occupy movement's goals.
Today the plaza was cleared again. This time the perimeter of the plaza was secured and police have begun monitoring ingress and egress from all three points of entry. One officer explained it as the need to control what is being brought into the area and having the ability to educate each person on the restrictions upon entry.
When I was there just hours ago, the place was as quiet as I've seen it in over three weeks. But tomorrow (Monday) is a new day and the protest has been resilient with reoccupying the plaza.
So this brings me to why I'm even writing this.
It is hard not to be conspicuous carrying a camera with a ten-inch lens. Around my neck hangs an SDPD-issued Press Credential. This occupation is a place filled with people who have something to say. So when my media pass is spotted by people they aren't shy to come up and start telling their story.
On the first day, I was approached by two people wanting support for their medical marijuana initiative. I've been asked for spare change by the homeless. I've been told stories about wanting to create a new form of currency for the movement. I've heard about getting funding to start an independent radio station that already has an FCC license. And I've heard stories like the two that follow.
On the day of those City Council meetings I was sitting on the edge of the Civic Center Plaza fountain, enjoying the atmosphere and looking critically at all things to determine if anything was indeed photo-worthy. As I got up to continue my search for intriguing imagery I was approached by a gentleman who asked me for whom I was shooting. He was a middle-aged man, mild mannered and cheerful, soft-spoken, with a sign hanging from his neck that read "Chaplain."
He explained that he became the chaplain for the movement out of mutual need. "I needed them as much as they needed me," he said. His name was easy to remember as it is the same as mine. Ron. We started speaking about photography and graphic design (my other passion).
He too is a photographer and had samples of his work to share. He also had photo collages, which qualified as graphic design in my opinion, from decades ago. He still shoots and does some stock photography as well. He was shooting a Nikon D3 (Nikon's flagship camera) while I continue to push the limits of the very entry level prosumer D90. Ron explained that he had been representing a building of senior citizens to the City Council earlier that day on behalf of OSD.
When he was young, his parents managed a lodge in Yosemite Park. Later in life he became a park ranger, but I don't recall if it was at Yosemite. He was also a chaplain in the military.
Ron shared a story about how as a young man he was shooting photos in Yosemite. A gentleman approached him and asked if he could see the photos he had been taking. As the stranger walked away Ron was told that he had been speaking with Ansel Adams. A person who, at the time, he didn't know about.
Then I spoke with another former military man from east of San Diego. He is unemployed now, but hoping to go to college on his G.I. Bill. He is homeless, but you would never guess it from they way he acts or dresses. He appeared to be in his late 20s or early 30s. He suffered an injury to his spine during basic training which kept him from ever being deployed. He was given a desk job but left the armed forces in search of something else.
"I'd like to go back to college to become a dental hygienist. Or maybe a firefighter. Or even a police officer," he told me. We spoke of how the protests are significant and important – like being a part of history. We also discussed how well behaved and non-violent the crowds have remained. That kind of protest is never easy, but it makes a statement that is bigger than life.
This movement, although not highly focused, is important. There are a lot of people, important people, rich people, influential people, elected people, who are getting nervous about this. The 1% will continue to benefit from the status quo, so when the status quo is being challenged, things start to happen.
As my fiancée pointed out to me, every major revolution began because of the oppression and destruction of the middle class.
A good friend of mine is a professor on the east coast and is an expert on unions and worker rights. She said that this movement was gaining strength in 2001 and that it collapsed after the events of 9/11. After ten years of rebuilding, it is finally gaining traction and has surpassed her expectations. I'd heard that it had spread to over 2000 cities worldwide.
The energy is there. The desire is there. The elements for the perfect storm are falling into place. This very well could be the revolution for which we've all been waiting.
THIS is what democracy looks like.
To see images from the first 24 days of Occupy San Diego, please check out my public galleries on Facebook: