Occupy Bernal Is Perhaps the Only Part of the #Occupy Movement That Wasn’t Completely Useless

bernal will fight

In hindsight, the Occupy movement was a big disappointment. When the movement first took hold last autumn, Occupy’s clever framing of economic issues as a contrast between the uber-affluent 1% of America’s population and the remaining 99% was a masterful piece of sloganeering that generated widespread public sympathy. Over time, however, Occupy devolved into a self-indulgent spectacle of pointless grandstanding and ineffective wankery, punctuated by occasional bouts of anarchic violence.  As Occupy sank into self-parody, public opinion plummeted and the movement became largely irrelevant.

On the bright side, our homegrown branch of the movement, Occupy Bernal Heights, has managed to avoid the ignominy of the rest of #occupy. Occupy Bernal’s secret: a tight focus on tangible goals and tried-and-true protest tactics.  As the SFWeekly writes:

Back in December we told readers about the newer, much more civilized arm of the local Occupy movement, dubbed Occupy Bernal Heights. The goal of this new Occupy group was not to pitch tents on public property, but to stop foreclosures and help troubled homeowners get affordable refinancing.

So how successful has Occupy Bernal been over the last five months? We checked back with the group’s leaders, who tell us they’ve been able to stop one foreclosure and helped postpone plenty of others.

That may not sound like much, but it’s more than what some other Occupy groups have accomplished.

PHOTO: Lily Rothrock

43 thoughts on “Occupy Bernal Is Perhaps the Only Part of the #Occupy Movement That Wasn’t Completely Useless

  1. I totally disagree with your characterization of Occupy. It really sets the gentrifier tone that creeps into this blog. Its good to see Annie and Beth and everyone at Occupy Bernal get the attention they deserve. You should be reporting more on this important work your neighbors are doing.

  2. Too late, Bernal is officially gentrified. If you make less than 250K a year, it’s time to move.

  3. Stopping one foreclosure and postponing others seems like a lot to me considering what Occupy Bernal is up against. It may not be as much as is hoped for (yet), but any success in helping people keep their homes is a great success!

  4. I believe you are over-generalizing in your assessment of Occupy, which continues to evolve and take hold as local movements like Occupy Bernal. In so doing, you might find yourself in league with those whose opinions and actions you abhor.

  5. Surprise! An upper middle class white property owner with a condescending view of Occupy? Shocker. Doesn’t your conclusion that the “best” part of Occupy is the one under your nose seem a bit shaky? Considering that it’s a national movement, someone who did absolutely no research would come to that exact same, parochial conclusion.

    Damn those hippies and their poor brand management! Sooner or later they’re going to lose market share to savvier protesters who play to affluent liberals’ base prejudices.

    Hey Bernalwood, stick to what you’re good at: kiddie art and succulent thefts.

    • Surprise! A sanctimonious class warrior who uses name-calling as a default rhetorical technique? Shocker.

      Let’s stay grounded in the facts: Please tell us how the national Occupy movement has been an effective vehicle for social change. It is not having any discernible impact on electoral politics whatsoever. It has not had a discernible impact on economic policy, either locally or nationally. I have no idea why market share is relevant to your argument, except perhaps as a way to showcase your own talent in the realm of parody. But the thing about “those hippies and their poor brand management” (your phrasing) is that they don’t seem to have gotten anything done at all. By all means, please correct me if I am wrong in my assessment of either Occupy’s effectiveness or your own powers of persuasion.

      To their credit, Occupy Bernal can lay claim to some tangible accomplishments in the “getting real things done and making a difference” department.

  6. Todd – You are right about the great work being done by Occupy Bernal. You are wrong though, in thinking that the wider Occupy movement hasn’t been effective in changing the national political discourse, in inspiring a new generation of youth to become politically engaged, in bringing new energy to social movement activists and organizations across the country and around the world who have been fighting back against the ever-increasing concentration of power and wealth for decades. There are lots of places to look beyond SF Weekly for information on what Occupy has accomplished over the last short eight or nine months of its existence. One place worth checking out is

  7. Todd – I think you are judging Occupy a bit too soon – while I agree with many of your points one cannot underestimate the impact of their changing the dialogue from deficits and debt to inequality. It is an idea that has affected the few young people I know and may reap dividends down the line. I think it is too early to really tell – after all the 99% encompasses a pretty broad spectrum!

    (Confidential to fabergeleggs: See how I did that without making a complete ass out of myself and shitting all over our host? You’re welcome.)

  8. Sanctimonious? Really? Didn’t you just write “Occupy devolved into a self-indulgent spectacle of pointless grandstanding and ineffective wankery”?

    Moving on, I stand by what I wrote. You are biased and parochial. If you assume that the best aspect to come out of a national movement is the one closest to your own front door, that should ding an alarm bell. What are the odds that the entire rest of the movement has achieved less than Occupy Bernal (nothing against them, of course. Good work there.)? Quite slim. A journalist would sense that instinctively, and do a bit of research to question his or her own assumptions, before mouthing off.

    Not you, though. And your assumptions are, pretty transparently, traceable to your own comfortable class position.

    This post should be titled, “Liberal Who’s Disgusted by Occupy Wonders, ‘Why isn’t Occupy more effective when even liberals find them disgusting?'”

    • Obvious troll is obvious.

    • Prove that you are not a troll. So far I see a bunch of name-calling and reaction but no dialogue. Todd asked you several questions and all you have done is attack him but offered no real substance. We are all in the 99% and it behooves us to make efforts to understand each other.

  9. Open reply to SeanD: that wasn’t exactly “confidential.” A better term for your remark might be “passive-aggressive.” And (although I’m groaning a little at this tit-for-tat b.s.) as for name-calling, my language may be intemperate but not gratuitous, whereas you basically called me an ass so I’m sorry, you don’t exactly get the moral high ground here…Mr. Poopypants.

    More to the point, as a bunch of commenters noted, Todd is just wrong. Occupy is in its infancy and it’s a force for good (as proven by his own example of Occupy Bernal, in fact!). And I reiterate that to say “National Movement X is shit, except for this one tiny bit of it that happens to be composed of my friends and neighbors (and, possibly, readership), none of whom look much like stereotypical adherents to National Movement X” is intellectually specious tribalism, where contempt for the unwashed masses smothers the real substance of that movement. If you disagree with me, address this point.

    Here’s a thought experiment. Ask yourself the following. Did you vote for Obama? Do you consider yourself liberal? Do corporations have too much power? Do you blame poor regulation of banks (or something similar) for the state of the economy? Do you agree that the American political system is corrupt? Do you thank your lucky stars you’re not 22 and entering the workforce saddled with debt? Do you find commercialism to be rampant in US society, and seductive and powerful enough to absorb and neutralize dissent?

    If you answer YES to most of those questions, you’re basically on the side of Occupy. But if instead of being on their side you want to focus on how naive young idealists aren’t mimicking established networks of power (or you think that drum circles are annoying, or that these dirty kids need to take a shower, and the other distractions that comfy liberals trot out to justify their contempt) I caution you to be on guard against your prejudices.

    These people are getting beaten by the cops to make the world better. They are really trying. Please don’t crap all over them–especially if you’re a middle aged, middle class, white, employed, heterosexual male homeowner. End rant.

    • Fair enough on the Mr Poopypants front – mea culpa – I was just looking for civilized substance and I got it. Thanks. Good points.

  10. The one element absent from Bernalwood’s hostile “review” of occupy is the terrifying convulsion of police violence visited upon the encampments in Oakland, New York, and countless other locations. To miss mentioning that in one’s summary of the last six months is to risk repeating the mystification that says that cops can do no wrong. Among the movement’s many accomplishments (see other comments above), I’d count the ways in which it has inadvertently exposed the skull-cracking violence our corporate-sponsored politicians are willing to unleash upon the populations they claim to represent. The legitimacy of the system is cast even more deeply in doubt as a consequence of this willfully violent coordinated response to peaceful protest. What’s truly disappointing and positively ignominious is how ready the mainstream media (and its consumers) have been to look the other way while the police have repeatedly violated the rights of the citizens they have sworn to protect. The mainstream media’s inability to face this truth, let alone tell it, confirms that it too suffers from a waning legitimacy, and courts the very irrelevance Bernalwood accuses the movement of.

    Three cheers for drawing attention to Occupy Bernal’s formidable accomplishments on the foreclosure front. It’s also well worth remembering the phenomenal work that’s been done by the Wild Old Women of Bernal at the Mission branch of Bank of America.

    • I agree with what Abiezer Coppe wrote above: “Among the movement’s many accomplishments (see other comments above), I’d count the ways in which it has inadvertently exposed the skull-cracking violence our corporate-sponsored politicians are willing to unleash upon the populations they claim to represent.”

      For some reason, even though there’s a ton of photos, video and words written about Jan. 28 in Oakland, Todd decided to link twice to the same mediocre SF Weekly slideshow that doesn’t even show what the cops did to the protesters that day. He used those links to talk crap about Occupy Oakland, but has he seen this? http://youtu.be/NNrCDDPrUcs The video shows just some of what the cops did.

      And what about this one? http://youtu.be/yfhrmtNXrOk It’s the cop kettle at 19th and Telegraph that I (as an independent journalist) and hundreds of others were caught in. We were trapped THEN told to disperse, but there was no way of getting out. Then the cops teargassed us. Teargassed us, while we were kettled. Talk about pointless.

      What were people doing before the kettle? Marching. The only reason I escaped without getting arrested or injured was that some masked up people pushed down a couple of chain link fences, as the video shows.

      A little while later in front of the YMCA, the cops kettled again, and this time they arrested more than 400 people, including a number of journalists. I was in Oakland all day livestreaming so I can report that the vast majority of those people had been doing nothing but marching in the street. They really didn’t deserve to be brutalized and arrested like that.

      Maybe Todd missed this rather important story about Jan. 28 (one of many): “Police Used Illegal Weapons on Occupy Protesters” http://www.baycitizen.org/crime/story/oakland-police-aim-improve-crowd-tactics/

      Does everyone remember what the cops did to Scott Olsen and Scott Campbell all the way back in October? I’ll leave their names here as an exercise for the host and any curious readers who might not have heard of these guys or had forgotten about them.

      But back to Occupy Bernal. They’re doing some rad stuff for sure. I know some of the people involved and I think they’re great. Hopefully some of these comments will encourage Todd and others reading this to learn more about Occupy SF, Occupy Oakland, the broader movement, as well as the persistent, outrageous repression by the cops.

    • Okay, thanks to all who have contributed in the spirit of ideas and discussion.

      Look, for what its worth, I keep hearing similar arguments put up here in defense of #occupy. The specifics change, but the basic thrust remains the same. The argument goes something like this: “#Occupy was important because it resulted in some important consciousness-raising about INSERT ISSUE HERE.” (Take your pick: rampant corporatism, police violence, underfunding of social services, generational empowerment, and many more.)

      I get that. I totally get it. And for the most part, I even think a great majority of folks (and certainly here in the Dominion on Bernalwood) agree that those fundamental critiques are valid.

      My counter-argument is that consciousness-raising is an extremely low bar to use as a measure of success. It has some value, yes, but I think that value is so limited that it hardly counts as much of a success at all.

      If talk is cheap, then consciousness-raising and conversation-changing are only slightly less cheap. I know it doesn’t feel that way when you’re on the receiving end of pepper spray or police batons, but if you’re going endure all that hardship merely to make a critique about the concentration of corporate power in postindustrial capitalism, it probably would have been a whole lot easier just to print up a bunch of “I’m the 99%” bumper stickers and call it a day. It’s easy to critique the nature of the game. It’s much harder to change the way the game is played.

      Against a backdrop of recent political events, I think #occupy fares particularly poorly. Just in the last few years, we’ve seen several popular movements that quickly changed the way the game is played. They did it in Tunisia and Tahir Square. The Tea Party has done it to great effect closer to home.

      Can #occupy point to any accomplishments even remotely as tangible? Set aside overthrowing dictators; Has any American politician lost an election after facing opposition from an #occupy-fueled candidate? It’s an election year. Is #occupy going to send a freshman crop of agenda-setting #occupy legislators to the 113th Congress? Or local statehouses? Or even a City Hall? Richard Lugar just lost his Senate seat because he was defeated in a Republican primary by a Tea Party-backed challenger. Is there evidence that any centrist Democrat has reason to fear a primary challenge from an #occupy-backed opponent? And if not in 2012, when?

      Obviously, electoral politics are not the only way to have a social justice impact. (cf. Occupy Bernal) But as a movement that once seemed to harbor policy ambitions that were both nationwide and much more seismic, I think it’s hard to argue that #occupy has accomplished a whole lot thus far, and there’s no indication that it will do so in the foreseeable future. Falling back on “consciousness-raising” seems like a pretty significant dialing-back of expectations.

      That’s where I’m coming from. Reasonable minds can disagree. But if your disagreement hinges on some comment about my bourgeoise naiveté, I will thank you for having demonstrated my point.

      • Todd, remember when, after Occupy was just a couple of months old, politicians in cities all around the country sent cops to destroy the camps and brutalize and arrest hundreds of people? Maybe Occupy would have accomplished more that’s up to your expectations if that hadn’t happened, and if so many people hadn’t looked the other way while it happened.

        What has Bernalwood accomplished? Not even consciousness-raising.

        And that’s when I clicked ‘unsubscribe.’

  11. I’m astonished that anyone who is paying attention and participating could claim Occupy has been useless. Incalculable good has come out of thousands of mass events as well as smaller splinter events, actions, and gatherings, from Occupy for Prisoners to Occupy the SEC to Occupy the Farm and onward. People’s lives have been changed by rallies, organized actions, strikes, and marches large and small, and much more good is yet to come. I have noticed that some people feel vindictive or angry towards Occupy. It is chaotic, as horizontal populism will be. No movement is perfect. But if we don’t resist, nothing will change, and we all know that =everything= needs to change. The clock is ticking for power, for the inhumanity of a system that normalizes domination, irresponsibility, greed and exploitation, for the interlocking ideologies that got us into this insane, catastrophic mess. Occupy is a commodious enough form to hold a range of kinds of people and a range of kinds of political desire, a form that galvanizes people but also can hold difference. As we think about all that has happened since last September 17th, we realize that although we seemed to have no power or voice at all, people have more agency, more power, more strength, valor, courage, intelligence, imagination, and heart than we thought. And that is having effects everywhere. De-privatize your dysfunctional debt; de-privatize your despair; de-privatize your doubt. Negative capability and political action are compatible.

  12. “Middle aged, middle class, white, employed, heterosexual male homeowner…”
    Me: Five for seven. Winning.

    Given my privilege, it’s not surprising that I’m more with Todd than the Occupiers. I even had a happy experience with foreclosure.

    No, I didn’t buy a foreclosed property. I thought about it. I’ve been renting this apartment for almost fifteen years, so when the absentee owner stopped making payments, and the building went on the auction block, I tried to come up with a down-payment.

    I never did make a bid. Just as well. I like my neighbors, but I didn’t really want to be their live-in landlord. The new landlord lives a block away, and I get on with him better than I did with the previous landlord’s property management company.

    I’ve got other problems with the Occupiers. The vanguard who make their way to the front of the marches are usually either revolutionary socialists or anarchists eager to build a new world on the ashes of the old. I don’t want the old one burned down. (BTW, thanks to SFFD for putting out this place twice since I’ve been here.) Despite all its problems, our political/economic system is the only one that could have created (not stolen, _created_) the vast wealth we see around us here in San Francisco and Bernal Heights.

    So when #OccupyOakland holds a “funeral for capitalism,” I say fuck that. When #Occupy protests foreclosures, I say… who’s being foreclosed on? If it’s someone who actually lives here, carry on, Occupiers. But I’m kind of glad they weren’t here two years ago.

    • Another way to state this is: I don’t want to fight the Man, I wanna be the Man.
      I’m with you on that.

  13. As for dismissing the Occupy movement so early, that seems rather impatient and short-sighted. It is only the beginning and will surely evolve over time. So sorry they/we couldn’t meet your expectations and completely reform centuries of economic and political inequity and disenfranchisement quickly enough for you. But hey, as long as you are comfortable and there is a roof over your head and your kid can go to private school, then why does it matter? Fortunately abolitionists, suffragists, civil rights activists and a host of other movements didn’t share your short attention span.

  14. In my mind, the great success of this blog has been in creating a community voice. By its very name, and your usual approach, it purports to represent all of its denizens. It filled a void in local news. Reading it has made me feel connected to my own community in a way I did not before it came into existence. So, I am disappointed each time one of these political arguments is kicked off by a post showcasing your personal political views. You are, of course, entitled to have your opinions, but I wish you wouldn’t do it here. I think it undercuts what is your great success. Perhaps you originally meant it to be a personal blog, but it has become much more than that. I’d like you to feel a responsibility to maintain the really lovely thing you have created.

    • I think Todd has always behaved like a mensch. He doesn’t owe us anything. Furthermore, if anyone cares, tomorrow I’ll be dressed like Sally Field a la Norma Rae walking down Cortland with a sign that says “union.”

  15. Un-stolen wealth? What wealth are you talking about? I understand a lot of tech people work in this neighborhood now. (I grew up in Bernal, though next month I have to leave b/c it’s become too expensive for me!) The wealth of the tech industry relies upon exploited factory workers in the third world and not taking responsibility for immense toxic waste. Wealth can hardly ever be attained without harm to the environment and exploitation. It’s not your fault that your job entails these harms and is ultimately therefore unethical. But we need to rethink forms of work where the environmental cost of the energy that is put into it is so destructive. The short term thinking that occurs under the sign of “growth” is endemic and is no one person’s fault. What other forms of growth can we imagine? Think free public food forest being made in Seattle, or the possibility of the growth of generosity, giving your wealth away instead of hoarding it, or the growth of ideas and innovations towards sustainability and social justice instead of personal enrichment. Cities as scaffolds for living systems instead of cars. As places for children and young people not financiers. As to Occupy not having a candidate to put forth in electoral politics, the question is, is that a good use of resources and energy? Part of what is not going acknowledged here, and is obscured by the cliche that Occupy is made up of some privileged class, is that many, many people who have been Occupying are doing so b/c they are struggling to get their basic needs met, living below the poverty line in precarious conditions, and saddled with debt. Poor. But rich in humor and analysis, ideas and love. Of course it’s a ragtag operation. If it were slick and efficient and able to get into electoral politics, it would be the 1% right? It takes money to get power. And as the great Oriana Fallaci put it, “Power is inhuman.”

      • I liked the part where it wasn’t my fault that my job was creating toxic waste and exploiting third world factory workers, and “ultimately therefore unethical.”

        My nonexistent job is unethical. Or maybe it would be unethical for me to get a new job writing software. A lot of people don’t know about the toxic waste produced by compilers (Google semicolon disposal in China), not to mention the poor working conditions for worker threads.

      • I am listening to the Tron soundtrack and feeling solidarity with the oppressed electrons of Bernal Heights.

  16. Bwrnalwood – thank you for your kind comments on Occupy Bernal. Folks in Occupy Bernal believe that what we’re doing with and for our neighbors in foreclosure is helping them keep their homes, as you note. We have kept them from losing them to property auctions, but have a ways to go in helping them to win a permanent solution. As for the rest of us who aren’t in foreclosure, we are also trying to preserve one of the wonderful characteristics that drew us all to Bernal Heights – its diversity. Almost all of the neighbors we’ve met in foreclosure are people of color, minority homeowners (and tenants) – a group that we’d hoped wouldn’t get priced our of the community. If we can keep pushing, and enjoy the support of so many of you our Bernal neighbors, we might succeed. In regard to Occupy as a whole: I must admit that I am disappointed. Occupy dramatically changed the political discourse in America – from what tax for the rich to reduce and what program for the poor and working/middle class to cut, to the hegemony of the 1% over the political, economic and social life and soul of America. I do wish that those of us in Occupy had found more ways to take advantage of the opening by rooting the message in concrete efforts to improve our neighborhoods and work places. I remain hopeful that we will.

  17. At the very least, it becomes harder to say a person who wants social change is just a 60s throwback anymore. Obviously dissent, in some form, is alive in the U.S. So there’s that.

  18. A great discussion thread that lays bare the disparate political ideals of Bernalwood’s readership. I’m with Todd on the ineffectuality and irrelevance of the Occupy movement. Moreover, I’m even skeptical that Occupy Bernal’s efforts will amount to much. You can’t fight capitalism. Anyone who tells you otherwise just wants your money.

  19. Pingback: Occupy Bernal Protesting Today to Halt Foreclosure of Neighbor’s Home | Bernalwood

  20. Pingback: The Secret Sauce That Makes “Occupy Bernal” Effective | Bernalwood

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