As a mere hundred protesters marched down the street from 101 Market towards Justin Herman Plaza, there was a distinct lack of the optimism which has thus far permeated the Occupy protests. The chants and rants of indignation weren’t filled with self-satisfied righteous fury, but with a mechanical need to inject spirit into a worn down congregation. Angry youths and tired-looking activists approached the thin police line surrounding the park, knocking down the few temporary signs declaring the former encampment location off-limits as the officers beat a quiet and anticipated retreat. Nothing was meant to stand for long. The signs and barricade were a tacitly acknowledged starting line.
The plaza was the stage and the actors had been playing these parts for a little too long. The activists knew their roles, the cops knew theirs, and the audience had already read the reviews. Then came the point to go off-book, and each side seemed less certain. The protesters declared the park reclaimed. The cops reassembled. Some time passed with fluctuating levels of activity, the emotion growing as the first act comes to a close.
While a large group of Occupy SF protesters and supporters began a general assembly to discuss the next steps in rebuilding their camp and community, others on the outskirts - onlookers, supporters, commuters, tourists - wandered in apprehension. Everyone knew the police return was inevitable, and any long-term planning at this point was either undue optimism or merely for show. And inevitably the cops returned.
Wednesday morning I saw a few scattered reports that Occupy SF had been raided just a few hours prior. While I don’t doubt that the atmosphere on the ground was tense and incendiary, the coverage conveyed a greater societal feeling. Fatigue? Inevitability? Zuccotti was shut down. Occupy Oakland was shut down. Occupy Cal was shut down. The Occupy Movement in the Bay Area stalled. Major camps around the country are dismantled, and Occupy SF seemed in a similar position of merely sheltering itself from the inexorable backlash of a commercial center which has grown tired of the smell of patchouli.
And the strangest thing happened. After several hours of two hundreds or so protesters facing off with a single police department, with obligatory screaming, hostility, detainments, civil disobedience, clowns and intoxicated antagonizers, it all just tapered out. The police left, freeing those who had been detained. Protesters briefly celebrated, and - with the exception of a few cracked and calloused hands reconstructing a tent or three - most people left. Eventually so did the tents, as well.
I don’t intend to undermine a movement, nor do I intend to expressly support it. These are my observations, invariably colored by my own background. Maybe the inert cynicism comes solely from me; certainly, many of the protesters seem dead set that this same method of extended encampment will lead to a solution or resolution. But I suspect the cynicism has also crept through much of the populace that once quietly supported the Occupy Movement from the sidelines. Even some of the protesters seem worn down by overt flashes the status quo creeping rooting into this counter-culture movement.
The raid and reoccupation and abandonment of Occupy SF seems to me an important milestone of the Occupy Movement. Not because it held off the police or because it didn’t hold off the police. No one won. It’s because no one won. The movement is changing because no one won.