Outbox

Put the tent in the bank! Put the tent in the bank!

San Francisco’s Occupy camp was broken up the other night. It had been running for over a year.

Darryl, a homeless veteran we spoke to, had told us that the place had degenerated from a protest to a den of iniquity: drugs, violence etc.

Me and Mon hurried over to check it out. Sure enough, most of the people there either looked like teen runaways or older people who had been homeless for a long time.

They were smoking weed that smelt like a deadly but rather floral poison, possibly one made from the sweat of a mythical creature. We politely declined to sample their peace pipe, but we did sit with them a while.

A lady who calls herself ‘Anona Moma’ was doing most of the talking. She was a committed activist, having been in Occupy since the beginning, given up her flat and possessions, and lost a few ribs to a debate with the police.

She had also been elected ‘Queen of San Francisco Occupy’. As they practice ‘complete democracy’, where decisions must be agreed upon by everybody, her role was constitutional.

However she admitted that since receiving the title she had a lot more interest in Monarchy as a system of rule.

Among Anona Moma’s various creative actions, she had once broken into a bank and set up a tent in there. This one caught my attention, because I happen to have personal experience of this daring and perplexing manoeuvre.

At the G20 in London a number of years ago Me and Mon had been unfortunately kettled in the financial district. People milled around for a bit, and gradually everyone realised we were trapped in there.

To this day I wonder, why?

At the time I asked a police person. They ignored me, wouldn’t even look at me. I moved my head until I was looking in their eyes, they changed the direction of their gaze. I asked another one. They told me it was ‘captain’s orders’, and looked at me semi-apologetically.

After a few hours people were really cross. There was pushing and shouting where the protest met the lines of riot police.

Back from the front, where we were, the throng was more jolly. People were commenting sardonically on the situation. We all tittered to each other. We were like a flock of caged birds. There was a huge feeling of camaraderie. We all felt like one big Oscar Wilde.

Items were being passed around over peoples heads – a traffic cone, a bucket – it was surreal.

Some other folks were smashing up the big windows of one of the banks. One pane was almost all broken in. No-one really knew what to do next.

Then a fully erected tent came crowd-surfing by.

It approached the broken window. Perhaps the whole crowd was thinking it, but it was one person who shouted the words: “Put the tent in the bank! PUT THE TENT IN THE BANK!”

People started chanting. There was something compelling, symbolic, hilarious about it all. We desperately wanted the tent to go in the bank. It moved deliberately through the crowd. We were one seething muscle.

I don’t know what it is about tents in banks.

I am glad Anona Moma exists. She is a patient fighter, a sensitive soul, and tough as old boots. She is also an Aztec.

I’m not sure about what Darryl said regarding drugs and violence at Occupy SF, but it seemed very possible. There is no denying that the place basically is a homeless shelter now.

On this basis the SF Chronicle ran a story celebrating the end of the camp. “Occupy’s Point Eclipsed”, ran a header, shaming the little row of tents and information stands as a poor front for the movement: “just a homeless camp that the city has let exist for too long.”

Reading this, Mon pointed out something very profound: a homeless encampment nestled among the skyscrapers of the financial district is perhaps an even more visceral statement than the original protests, with their dust storm of visiting intellectuals and newspaper inches.

Protest is a ritual with agreed rules. Protests are part of the identity of democracies. I’m sure the elite who work in that district agree that protest is a healthy part of life in a free society.

But the actual fact of extreme inequality is sick, and people do not like to be reminded of sick.

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