Friday, May 4, 2012

Who trashed Valencia Street?

Monday night, on the eve of big May Day protests signaling the hoped-for resurgence of Occupy, a planned “pep rally” in San Francisco’s Dolores Park turned into an ugly riot. Dozens of small businesses and cars on Valencia Street were trashed and smashed and painted with circle As.
Valencia Street is some of the mostly hotly contested territory in San Francisco. When I moved to the Bay in 1980, it was one of the first places in San Francisco that I ended up. It was at that time the hub of the lesbian/feminist community in the West Bay. Between Amelia’s women’s bar at 18th and Artemis Café at 23rd were Womancrafts West and Old Wives Tales, across the street from one another and right by Modern Times Bookstore, an anarchist collective that included a number of queer people. Osento women’s bath house was at 19th. Half a block up 18th Street toward Guerrero was and is the San Francisco Women’s Building, home to a dozen or more feminist organizations and one of the only wheelchair accessible spaces where you could hold a public event for not too much money. Next door to the Women’s Building, the Dover Club was one of the last vestiges of the time when the Mission was heavily Irish and German.

The white lesbians, feminists and queers who flocked to the Valencia strip knew we were the leading edge of gentrification in the primarily Latino neighborhood. We tried to be conscious and supportive to the Latino businesses and neighbors, while realizing that good intentions were not necessarily enough. It helped that the major focus of the left in the eighties was U.S. intervention in Central America, so there was some political crossover.

Lesbians and Gays Against Intervention in Latin America, which I joined in 1986, used to meet in the back of Modern Times, but when the group dwindled to eight or so, we moved to a restaurant called Puerto Alegre near 16th and Valencia. I always ordered the same thing: a veggie tostada with rice, beans and tortillas and a Dos Equis beer. The bill, with tip, came to $5 – a great deal, even then. The comfortable booths were never that crowded and they didn’t mind us sitting there for two hours. Since I lived in the neighborhood, I went there at other times too. The waiter-owner would recite my order for me. In the mid-nineties, as hipsters began to pour into the neighborhood for the clubs on 16th Street, Puerto Alegre suddenly started to have lines out the door. I’ve been there like twice in the last fifteen years. The last time was the day I got deported from Palestine in 2005. The food was neither as good nor as cheap as it used to be, not surprisingly.

courtesy @marymad
Since I could not spend much of Tuesday in the streets, I spent a little of it on Twitter. That’s how I got to see the armored personnel carrier roaming around downtown Oakland before many of the people who were actually in Oakland did.

It’s also where I ran across a link to a blog post from someone named Scott Rossi. He writes:

I don’t know who, the people I’ll dub as the ‘ringleaders’ of the march were exactly. Nobody did. Yeah some of the aggro people we always have to deal with were there, but these guys weren’t it. You remember those asshole jock bullies in high school? Well that was who was leading the march tonight. Clean cut, athletic, commanding, gravitas not borne of charisma but of testosterone and intimidation. They were decked out in outfits typically attributed to those in the ‘black bloc’ spectrum of tactics, yet their clothes were too new, and something was just off about them. They were very combative and nearly physically violent with the livestreamers on site, and got ignorant with me, a medic, when I intervened and reminded them that I was there to fix them from police violence, not protester on protester violence.
Now I’m not pointing a finger at SFPD, although it would not surprise me if certain elements were clued in on it. Generally, the officers seemed as upset and bewildered as we were. Remember that article that just came out about the banks cooperating against Occupy? They have hired Pinkerton, those fucking goons, the scourge of the labor movement from back in the day, to coordinate against us. It could be that they are the Feds, it could be that they are some corporate assholes or even some of our right wing blogger friends who stalk us at events. It very well could be SFPD, as apparently there were no arrests, yet several cruisers drove past myself and a few other people with what I assumed were protesters in the back seats. Bandanas still up over their faces.
The other thing that bothered me is the level of destruction and the targets.…Black Bloc goes after state or corporate property not that of the working class and poor. …This wasn’t directed against corporations or big banks, with the exception of one single ATM I saw smashed. This was specifically directed against mom and pop shops, local boutiques and businesses, and cars. Lots and lots of cars. I won’t weep for the hipster dives or the WASP nests for nouveau riche white trash, but the working class, poor and immigrant owned places I will. At first it was a few luxury cars, but as I followed the march down Valencia from a distance, it was all types of cars.
Okay, now there are some internal inconsistencies and leaps of logic there. I have to say that the theory about it being right-wing bloggers seems a lot more plausible than that it’s SFPD. Why? For one thing, the SFPD, of all the police departments around, has been one of the least gung-ho when it comes to busting Occupy. Not that they haven’t done their part, but they don’t seem nearly as personally invested as police in Oakland or even Santa Cruz. Participants in last week’s blockade of the Wells Fargo stockholders’ meeting talked about how downright friendly the cops were. Secondly, SFPD is not a small organization. A few angry cops couldn’t just decide to do something like that. An SFPD counterintelligence operation like that would, I assume, have to be okayed by the chief of police, and likely the mayor, and both of them I think would know that people are going to investigate and probably discover the truth and there would go their careers.

But if it was right-wing bloggers or other private forces, then that calls into question the story about seeing the masked guys in police cars, when they were not arrested.

Last night on my way out of work, I stopped by the Occupy SF General Assembly. They were discussing whether to fundraise for the Mission businesses that were damaged, which it seemed like they would agree to do. A guy named Carlos mentioned that Wells Fargo Bank has pledged $25,000 to help the shopowners repair the damage.  After saying, “I usually stay far away from conspiracy theories,” he suggested that Wells Fargo might have had a hand in hiring the people who did the damage in the first place, so that they could both discredit Occupy and show it up by offering to help. I have to say, I’ve heard crazier ideas.

If this all sounds like paranoid fantasy, consider a few things:

  • We know that the Koch Brothers considered hiring thugs to infiltrate the crowds in Wisconsin last year
  • We know that the biggest banks in New York were helping the police with surveillance in preparation for May Day, comparing themselves to "innocent elk hunted by wolves."
  • Business and government interests have shown themselves willing to commit violence in order to frame activists in the past, as in the 1990 bombing of environmentalists Judi Bari and Daryl Cherney, where the FBI attempted to blame the victims
  • We know the FBI has been setting up activists, including recruiting people to blow up a bridge in Cleveland
  • We know that the tendency of some local Occupy groups to cover their faces and commit property damage provides a good opportunity for counterintelligence to move in and confuse casual observers
Like Scott Rossi, I am not saying I know who did this. Like Carlos, I am usually very reluctant to endorse conspiracy theories. What I am suggesting is that most of those businesses probably have video cameras. The city itself has video surveillance cameras on the street. Every ATM has a camera or two. Some intrepid investigative reporter or group of activists with more time and guts than I have should be able to go up and down Valencia Street and collect a ton of video which could prove or disprove this theory once and for all. I sure hope someone decides to do it. (If you want help, you know where to find me.)

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