75 Hours in #75River

December 11, 2011 at 2:16 am (Building Occupations, Squatting) ()

From Surf City Revolt:

“Hopefully this group isn’t representative of a new aggressive movement.” —Zach Friend, SCPD Spokesman

The march was called only a few days before, billed on fliers as a march to picket banks and then to occupy a building (in some places it was a “foreclosed home”, in other it was merely a “vacant property’). The day of the march, November 30th, people began gathering at 2pm near the Occupy Santa Cruz camp. By 2:45, when the march left, about 75 people had assembled. A mobile sound system arrived, playing among other things, a lot of Lady Gaga. The march left towards Chase bank on Water and Ocean for a brief picket and speeches. The picket felt a bit tense, with a strong sense of anticipation for the announced occupation.

After the picket, the group moved back down Water, past the Occupy camp, and over the Water Street bridge. In the intersection of Water and River, the group paused. Then, instead of continuing down Water along the announced route, the group turned left on River. All of the sudden the doors of 75 River were open; people began elatedly yelling “We’re in!” and a flier was distributed within the group to announce the new occupation.

“I don’t think it’s that we have the right to (take over property,) it’s that we have the ability to do it.”

Immediately, office furniture was re-purposed into barricades. A group of individuals had gained roof access from the outside and began hanging banners. One read: ” Reclaim space. Reclaim Our Lives.” The other: “Oocupy Everything” (sic and siiiick). Soon, roof access was gained from the inside out to let these people down into the building. The building itself is fairly labyrinthine and people immediately began exploring. A group of people took over the vault to smoke a celebratory blunt while others opened up a candy machine, netting about 50 dollars in quarters. The majority of the group began organizing the space, putting up signs and moving in furniture.

One person was arrested for allegedly moving a traffic cone.

Hours later, at about 6:30, the police showed up in force. They immediately attempted to gain entry to the building, but were repelled at the barricades. 20 or so people were inside with about 150 on the outside. The sound system from the march was still present, providing the soundtrack for the confrontation. People linked arms against the police, three or so lines deep. The cops fiddled with the barricade, trying to gain entry. They were unsuccessful. After much verbal harassment on the part of the protestors, the police left–nominally to protect against human harm. After this, the occupation took the form it would take every night for the next three nights: one part organizing, one part festival, and constant anxiety regarding a police attack. Shifts were organized to patrol the area for police, some making forays to areas that the police might be staging in. Organization and destruction of the space happened simultaneously, racing at about a dead heat.

The sound of traffic starting up again Thursday morning was the first sign that the occupation might have survived the night.

Thursday

The next day, which wasn’t really demarcated from the previous day, started (continued?) with a clean up from the night before. Plans were made mid-day for a social gathering that evening. The idea was to have a potluck with small group discussions, followed by dancing. What actually happened that night was a bit different. DJs started spinning at around ten with the dubstep scene out in full force. More blunts in the vault, more moderately destructive exploration of the space. A community atmosphere prevailed, if only in a vague sense. A repeat sexual assaulter was ejected from the space. A favorite new activity was discovered: pretending to rob the bank. Groups of sometimes up to twenty people would play through different scenarios. Other individuals practicing jumping over the teller counters.

Late in the night, between two and five a.m., the windows along River Street were barricaded with sheets of plywood nailed to each other, backed with pallets and filing cabinets. After the first altercation at the barricades, people were fairly confident that they could hold the barricades at the doors. So the emphasis shifted to the bottom floor windows and a contingency plan for an attack from the roof. Barring extreme measures by the police, occupiers felt confident they could hold the space. Those who didn’t sleep at the space trickled out at around 5am, sure the space had survived another night. At least  one occupier had work as soon as 8am.

Friday

Meetings were organized to clean the space (“keeping the space clean felt like carrying water with a sieve” one occupier offered). The entire space was re-organized. Shifts were drawn up for scouting and copwatch. Mid-evening, the property owner shut off power, plumbing, and gas to the building. A call-out for flashlights went out over twitter. Later that night, a scare happened when cherry-pickers were seen assembled on Ocean Street, but it was later determined that they were there to repair power poles from the last fews days of heavy wind. Occupiers slept soundly–the occupied bank had a feeling of home and, counter-intuitively, safety.

Saturday

At the mid-day meeting people decided, less than unanimously, that it was time to leave the bank. The decision was multi-faceted and a bit controversial. A fear that a small group of peripheral (or just plain not-involved) individuals were going to be blamed for the whole of the occupation was central to the discussion. The incompatibility of the space with people’s desires for the space seemed to underpin much of the dissonance in the discussion.

Mid-evening, one last blunt was passed in the vault. A circle of twenty or so people who hadn’t already left sat in a circle and shared their feelings about the end of the space. A Plains Indian who was present sung a song and shared a prayer. Then, little by little, folks trickled out. Leaving wasn’t at all climactic. Some people, upon leaving, would see others still within the building and go back in. By nine or so, everyone was out.

Uncontrollability

The old Coast Commercial bank at 75 River is a fucking beast. The vision of an orderly community center  was completely at odds with the unmanageably large space. The same unmanageability was also one of the most beautiful attributes of the space. Almost immediately, every person in the space felt an ownership of the occupation. Every day, one could hear others calling their friends and referring to “our occupation” or “the bank that we took over.” The sense of ownership over the space was contagious and took many forms, many of which were directly contradictory. Some felt the best thing to do was to hold meetings, some wanted to party, or to expropriate, or to vandalize. The root of many of the conflicts within the space was that everyone felt like the space was theirs to use as they wanted. Some people flipped out when others asked them not to smoke (cigarettes) in the main space, some flipped out when people didn’t come to their meetings. An occasional individual showed amazing sangfroid amidst these conflicts.

Self-Management

An occupier activity that was fairly unpopular but overly vocal was the management of other occupier’s activities. Obviously, it would be sophomoric to call every conversation about the boundaries or shape of the space “management.” Moreso, it was the tendency of some occupiers to loudly judge the activity of others in some vague moral terms of “rightness”, “wrongness”, or, worst of all, “down-ness.” This sort of behavior peaked early and had disappeared almost entirely by Friday.

Vandalism

One occupier activity that was widely popular and loudly condemned was vandalizing the space. Many people didn’t want their future community center vandalized. Other people had a quite natural reaction to a bank (the most common interface with the violence of capitalism)–the urge to fucking destroy it. If people ever chose to occupy a vacant prison, it would be a travesty if people didn’t rip out all the bars and write slogans on the walls. Of course, in a nonviolent political sense, vandalism might be bad strategy. In a human sense, it is one of many beautiful reactions to the misery of the world. Also, it’s fun.

Forward!

The significance of the occupation is mostly unclear and individual analyses are widely divergent. Everyone, though, wanted 75River to inspire occupations in other locations. Some participants never wanted to set foot inside an occupied space again, many wanted to re-occupy immediately. Differences like this shouldn’t be seen as frustrating future occupations. Future occupations, here and elsewhere, will depend on the autonomous actions of committed individuals.

Find a space. Find your friends. Do the damn thing.

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1 Comment

  1. theredson said,

    solidarity from sf homes not jails. i appreciated the analytical aspect.

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