Occupy Castro activists speak out against supervisor
by David-Elijah Nahmod
A group of Occupy the Castro participants turned most of their ire to District 8 Supervisor Scott Wiener, voicing frustration at some of his proposals at the first General Assembly held in the gayborhood last weekend.
Longtime activist Tommi Avicolli Mecca and about a dozen others attended the small but lively rally at Harvey Milk Plaza on Saturday, December 17. Many in attendance were critical of Wiener, saying he wants to control who can sit in Milk and Jane Warner plazas, and when they can sit there.
"You can get cited for planting a flower in Jane Warner Plaza, for trying to memorialize a person with AIDS," said Gary Virginia, a longtime AIDS survivor. "You can get cited for having a baby stroller if there's no baby in it. They're trying to keep LGBT youth with nowhere to go out of the neighborhood."
Virginia stood on the Free Speech Soap Box, which was set up by event organizer Avicolli Mecca so that those who feel disenfranchised could be offered a platform in which to be heard.
Christopher Ray was another protester who accused Wiener of attempting to limit usage of Milk and Warner plazas.
"What did Harvey Milk get murdered for?" asked an angry Ray. "We are all people. You have the ability to make a change here."
As previously reported, Wiener has proposed rules for Milk and Warner plazas that would prohibit smoking and camping. The proposal also contains set hours for sitting on the movable chairs, although it would not ban overnight sitting on the plazas' permanent structures. Wiener said he worked closely with the Castro Community Benefit District and other stakeholders on the proposal.
Wiener, who walked by the protest but declined to comment on the issues raised by activists, on Monday responded via email to questions.
"What the legislation does is ensure that everyone can use the plaza by setting basic standards of behavior that are already in place for our parks or sidewalks," Wiener wrote in an email response to questions. "The legislation prohibits smoking or camping in the plazas, requires a permit to sell goods, and prohibits large shopping carts. The legislation does not impact newspapers or other printed material. My legislation will not in any way prohibit First Amendment expression, whether placing flowers in the plazas, gathering for vigils, rallies or protests."
Avicolli Mecca also broached another subject, the property 341 Corbett Street.
"The mayor's office could sell that property for $2.2 million and use it for affordable housing. [Former Supervisor] Bevan Dufty did nothing about it. Scott Wiener introduced legislation to give the land for free to a neighborhood association to use as a park. Give us $2.2 million for affordable housing in the Castro. No backroom deals," he said.
Wiener said the Corbett Street property is beautiful open green space for the Corbett Heights neighborhood.
"We need to resist the temptation to sell important public assets, and particularly neighborhood open space, to developers, even if the money will go to a worthy use," Wiener said. "Selling neighborhood open space to a developer is not, in my view, a progressive thing to do."
The supervisor also addressed concerns that he was trying to push LGBT youth out of the Castro.
"I am highly supportive of embracing LGBT youth in the Castro. As a supervisor and member of the budget committee, I have advocated aggressively to restore funding cuts for LGBT youth programs, including at the LGBT center, LYRIC, and Larkin Street Youth Services," he said, referring to the Lavender Youth Recreation and Information Center.
Avicolli Mecca was also angry when he spoke of Pedro Villamore Jr., a 44-year-old homeless man who died in a Castro doorway on December 8. The group later held a moment of silence for Villamore.
"I'm tired of people dying in the street," he nearly shouted. "We could prevent these deaths by providing services."
Occupy Redwood City
The Castro wasn't the only scene of action by the Occupy movement last weekend. On the Peninsula, openly gay resident James Lee reported that Occupy Redwood City was equally busy.
The group marched to the branches of four banks downtown, "leading the public on a Big Bank Tour of Shame," Lee said. "We marched inside peacefully and for a brief time disrupted business as usual by explaining to the workers and the customers what the crimes of each bank were, how these crimes have affected the average American citizen, and why people should move their money out of the big banks and back into their community."
Members of the Peninsula Peace and Justice Center, as well as Occupy chapters from Half Moon Bay, Palo Alto, Stanford, and San Jose marched in solidarity with their Redwood City comrades.
Lee pointed out that December 17 was the birthday of Bradley Manning, the army private and whistle-blower who is accused of disclosing classified material to WikiLeaks.
"Manning, whose status as a gay man has been used by the media to disparage or minimize his act of whistle-blowing, has been imprisoned without charge and until recently was held under conditions that amount to psychological torture," Lee said.
Manning was in Maryland last week for a hearing in his case. [See story, page 6.]
At 3 p.m. last Saturday, participants of both the Castro and Redwood City actions joined Occupy San Francisco for its weekly march through the Financial District in downtown San Francisco. A large, sometimes joyous, sometimes angry crowd celebrated Manning's birthday. The march concluded along the Embarcadero, where hundreds sang "Happy Birthday" to Manning, who remains imprisoned.