Monday, October 17, 2011


PLEASE REGISTER for the Saturday, October 29, "TAX THE RICH!" human banner at Ocean Beach, San Francisco. Complete details, and a signup mechanism at 310 others have registered so far.


Yesterday the folks camping in front of the Federal Reserve Building (101 Market Street, San Francisco) moved about 200 yards down the street to a little green area next to Justin Herman Plaza. They moved because they were getting hassled by the police and the Department of Public Works, and because the space in front of the Federal Reserve was getting cramped.

Last night the police were sent in, in force. Riot gear. The whole stupid deal. They tore down tarps -- tarps! -- and they threw away the food from the camp kitchen. They beat up a bunch of the folks I've gotten to know from my having gone down there almost every day for the past 16-17 days. I saw their faces on the disturbing video posted (right now, Monday night) at the website. It's about five minutes long. It shocked me. These people are very decent folks, and their cause is also all of our cause. They are doing their best to keep the areas they occupy neat, orderly. They have teams of people who have divided up tasks, including legal, communications, cleanup, kitchen, etc. You'd be moved if you were to hang out with them (especially if you then saw them getting beaten up by riot police).

Tomorrow there is a regularly scheduled meeting of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. It starts at 2 pm. There is a period for public comment (the starting time for public comment is unpredictable, at the discretion the president of the Board). I am going to be there, and I hope I get a chance to speak. You could come, too. Members of the public are usually given two or three minutes to talk on whatever subject they want.

Sorry for the downbeat mood.

There is an upbeat picture of me posted at the blog I've started with these posts. Some of you on this list don't actually know what I look like. So see if you can guess which of the two guys in the photo is me. See it here:

Good night.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Cab Story / About the Message “TAX THE RICH” / 283 signups

AT THE RITZ-CARLTON last weekend a young guy (my guess: 32) stepped into my cab. He had short-ish hair, precisely cut, and wore expensive-looking blue jeans and an expensive-looking plain white tee-shirt. He said he was headed to the climbing wall/gym at the foot of the Golden Gate Bridge. He said he was from New York. I asked if he’d heard about the Occupy Wall Street movement.

He snorted and, with much scorn in his voice, said, “I wonder what they think they’re doing?”

I said something about the 99% and the 1%.

He: “Well, I think I’m one of the one percent.”

Me, with perhaps some scorn in my own voice: “Do you have five million dollars?”

He: “I do.”

Me: “Do you have ten?”

He: “No.”

Me: “Do you own any politicians?”

He: “No.”

Me: “I’d say you’re not in the one percent.”

He: “Well, you may be right about that.”

It went on . . .


In the past two weeks, even the mainstream press has been reporting some startling statistics about America’s wealthiest one percent. (I’m writing off the top of my head, and my numbers may be just a tiny bit off, but not much. Still, don’t take my word, check them out for yourself):

-- America’s wealthiest one percent owns 40% of the country’s total wealth. (The bottom 80% owns just 7% -- no typo -- I double-checked this figure.)

-- America’s wealthiest one percent owns 51% of all of the country’s stocks, bonds, and mutual funds. (The bottom 50% owns just one-half of one percent.)

-- America’s wealthiest one percent takes in 24% of all the income generated each year.

-- Between 1923 and 1929, the concentration of wealth at the top of the country’s economic ladder was at the highest point in US history. Then came the Crash and the Depression. For decades afterward, the middle class was dealt into the game at a more reasonable level. As recently as 1976, America’s wealthiest one percent took in only 9% of the country’s income (again, the current figure is 24%). Time Magazine, hardly an outfit full of liberal kooks, says that the concentration of wealth has again reached 1929 levels. This sucker is so broken . . .

“TAX THE RICH!” -- Wrong message?

I’ve been getting a lot of feedback from people who think TAX THE RICH is either the wrong or not the optimal message to spell out on the beach. I tell them this:

“I’ve been shopping this around for about ten months. Lots of people have offered different ideas about what we should spell out. My own personal favorite was CORPORATIONS ARE NOT PEOPLE, but there are so many problems with that one: it’s way too long; it’s a bit of a head-scratcher; and no visceral reaction for the reader. Every time I’d try it on people, they’d say, “How about TAX THE RICH!” A lot of people favored “END THE FED!” Again, too indirect. When I ran that one, and so many others, by people, they often said, “How about TAX THE RICH!” It went on and on like that . . .

Many people I know, including many who have come to my previous events, are worried that taxing the rich will somehow mean them personally. They say, “How about TAX THE SUPER-RICH! Or the MEGA-RICH.”

I say, “First, don’t flatter yourself. You and I have probably never, or just briefly, been in the presence of any of the one percent. Second, SUPER or MEGA requires another seven or eight hundred registrants. Also, we don’t have the whole beach to work with this time. Preparations for an upcoming surfing competition are using half of Ocean Beach, and we’ve had to move north to make way.”

So what’s my point here? I and my partners at The Other 98% (they named their venture more than a year ago) have to choose a message that’s short enough to fit the beach (700 feet is hardly short), can be understood in a blink, and is still punchy enough to get people to come out. TAX THE RICH is the best we’ve heard so far. Lately, people have been suggesting TAX WALL ST and we’re considering that, and others.

The truth is, this can be tweaked right up until the last minute, but it’s all going to be somewhere in this ballpark. The primary need now is for registrants. We need 2,000. Right now we’ve got 272. Plus 11 more who are un-registered. (If you are bringing people who have not registered, please send me an email to tell me their number, and I’ll keep a running tally.) So, 282 total.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011


DURING THE PAST FIVE YEARS, while organizing at least half-a-dozen “human banner/hovering helicopter/follow-up postcard” events, I have come into contact with, literally, hundreds of large and small groups that, I believe, constitute “The Bay Area Progressive Movement.”

One thing I have noticed: this stunningly diverse movement has no “center” -- no common means of communication, no physical meeting place, no common voice, not even a recognized common calendar. This diffuse quality gives the movement widespread strength, perhaps, but I think the lack of a center presents definite drawbacks.

With the October 29 human banner event, which I’m planning in partnership with the veteran organizers at The Other 98% (the plan is for 2,000 people to use their bodies to spell out “TAX THE RICH!” in lettering 100 feet tall and 10 feet wide and stretching 700 feet down Ocean Beach in San Francisco -- more details and a signup button at, I am trying to provide a place for a gathering of the tribe. At similar past events, it has proven to be deliciously reaffirming to have a chance to at least SEE each other, to have some fun while issuing a joint statement, and to observe that we are not all lone wolves. We are all in this together.

I envision Oct 29 not as a one-off, but as a stepping stone, or a petri dish from which greater things will sprout. I intend this event to seamlessly set up a similar gathering next October, in the weeks before the presidential election. And from there, an every-year gathering, from which to deliver a message from San Francisco to the world. The rest of the world really does note what the Bay Area thinks and does.

Further, I envision a community-wide online calendar, a progressive coffeehouse, a progressive newspaper. . . so many things. But, while these are all perhaps grandiose future possibilities, which may or may not transpire down the road, for now I’m concentrating on this one step directly ahead, the Oct 29 event.

To that end, I have partnered with the battle-hardened pros Andrew Boyd and John Sellers of The Other 98% (more about them in a future post). I feel like a minor leaguer getting a late-season call-up to the majors. With these guys and their connections, and with you, I think we can definitely make October 29 a day that the whole world sees and hears about -- 2,000 people spelling out “TAX THE RICH!” in San Francisco should reverberate far and wide. All we need now is YOU and 1,999 others to register by Oct 22, and to show up on October 29. (As of Oct 13, we have 127 signed up.)

Won’t you please join us? Details at, (page still under construction, but signup function is working).


I’ve been making daily visits to OccupySF (going strong at 101 Market Street, at Main) or the newly created Occupy Oakland site -- yesterday afternoon I counted 50 tents on the lawn in front of Oakland City Hall. Going strong. All support appreciated.


“There is no one-liner for this thing...”

While I’m still charged with The Feeling:

I just walked in the door from spending an hour-plus at the Occupy SF encampment in front of the Federal Reserve Building in downtown San Francisco. It’s raining here today, not hard, sometimes just a drizzle. Tarps were strung in the overhead trees, keeping some of the encampment dry. There were 50-75 people in attendance. I wore a sport coat and dress pants and dress shoes and a white shirt and blue tie, to try to give some varied texture to the scene.

I stood in the line of about 25 sign-holders along the curb and held as high as possible my sign (one side says, “We are the 99%,” the other side says, “Police, too, are part of the 99%.”) In the hour I was there, not thirty seconds passed without a car, bus, taxi, or streetcar blasting encouragement.

The three women nearest me introduced themselves as grandmothers from Berkeley, and said they’d been waiting for this movement for decades now.

A woman named Penny, somewhere in my age range, came over and worked her way in among us: “I thought I’d join my age group,” she laughed. Her story, which she said she’d shared with Channel 7 a few minutes earlier: “Fifteen years ago my husband and I bought a ranch up in Tehama County. He’s a heavy equipment operator. I’m a teacher with a Masters degree. We put three kids through college. Now neither of us has been able to find any work in three years. and we just. . . We just lost the ranch. I bought a bus ticket down here. I had to be here. I’m staying with one of my kids who lives here in town.”

The chatter around camp was about the media (Channel 2 was leaving just as I arrived) continually asking, What’s this about? What do you people want? One of the grandmothers said, “It’s so big. . . Everything is connected to everything else.” Penny said she told Channel 7, “There is no one-liner for this thing.” I told her I think that may wind up being this thing’s one-liner. While we were talking, Channel 7 was interviewing one of the long-haired campers. After he’d had a microphone in his face for ten solid minutes, a guy behind me muttered, “If they use anything he says, it’ll be the six seconds that makes him look the stupidest.”

I’m sure it was because I was dressed so fancy, that several people approached me and asked if I knew how this thing is organized? What’s going on? Is there a calendar? I said I have come here just about every day for the past ten days, but it’s the young people who sleep here each night who are the key, the heart and soul of this thing. And if you ask them, they’ll say they’re just taking it day to day, trying to hold the space, and waiting for the cavalry, the rest of the 99%, to do what’s in their hearts, and fill in behind.

[Last night, in my own Oakland neighborhood, a black woman who sells Street Sheet newspapers, told me, “I seen you with your sign the other day. That’s good. Even Obama’s talking about it now. Once you white people get angry, something’ll happen.”]

Before I left, I sat down in the drum and guitar circle, wearing my coat and tie, just as the group was starting up Bob Dylan’s “Like a Rolling Stone,” which I first heard when I was 13. (“Once upon a time you dressed so fine, you threw the bums a dime in your prime, didn’t you?”) Between lines the guy next to me -- he was 25-ish and had hair down to his shoulders -- and I had a conversation. He started it: “How you doin’, brother?” (“scrounging your next me-aaalll!”) I thanked him for spending the nights here for those of us who are too old or (“you’re gonna have to get USED to it!”) too bought off to do it ourselves. He said, “Thanks for coming, we need the wisdom.” I said, “I’m not sure I’ve got any of that (“took from you everything he could stee-aall!”) but I’ve still got a body, and I (“HOW does it feel?”) can still come down here and hold up a sign once a day.”

In fact, it’s the thing I most look forward to when I wake up each day now.


And now, let’s see if the counter has moved from 112, where it was when I left to go in to the city three hours ago. (First, a note about the counter. I don’t have as much control over this counter as I’ve had with the counters on previous events. A couple of you have sent me emails saying that you are coming, and you’re bringing one or two or three more people, or a carload, but the others haven’t signed up. If that is your situation, please send me an email, and tell me how many unregistered people are coming with you. Thanks.) And now, let’s see: 114. Well, it is what it is. Still waiting for the cavalry.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

OccupySF / 68 signups for Oct 29

THE WORLD IS BUSTING LOOSE, finally, and seemingly out of a dead calm. A month ago, whodathunk?

This morning I went down to the Federal Reserve Building on Market Street in San Francisco. At 9:30 there were probably 60 people there, some familiar faces, but mostly new ones. I stayed until about noon. The entire time I was there, I heard a constant stream of beeps and toots of encouragement from passing cars, buses, streetcars. All morning, passing pedestrians stopped to inquire about what was up.

A very pleasant, open-seeming, 35 year-old named Jackson approached me. He said was a San Francisco native (he had Asian looks, and a born-in-the-USA accent), owned a small business (with, I think he said, 50 employees), and things were going well for him. He asked me what we at the site wanted.

I said I thought it was probably a good question to ask, but a bad question for us to try to answer. (This week Jon Stewart said the mainstream media has only two settings regarding the Occupy movement: “Blackout” and “Circus.”) The instant “we” (the absolutely disparate group at the site) begin to say we want This, or we want That, or this is The Reason why we’re here, I think we’re sunk. The mainstream media will just firehouse us with everything they’ve got. And they’ve got a lot. That’s what I told Jackson.

I asked him this: “Given that we live on a planet with 7 billion people, given that 3.5 billion of us live in relative wealth, and given that 3.5 billion of us live on less than $2/day, where do YOU think we should start?”

Jackson thanked me for my time and moved along.

I MET HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS from Orinda, California; two moms who’d brought their teenage daughters into town from Marin County; a man who managed a series of small retail businesses in Petaluma; a man who came in from Hayward just for a look. Always, across the street from the Federal Reserve building, there was a line of 10-30 people aiming personal cameras at the encampment.

I met a 23-year old woman originally from Illinois, and more recently from Santa Cruz. She came to town last weekend for the music festival in Golden Gate Park and when she heard about OccupySF she just stayed. Last night was her fifth night camped out on Market Street. I told I’ve been thinking of camping out, but I haven’t yet. We both noted that the core of OccupySF is young people like her, but is augmented by a constantly rotating stream of older people like me, folks who spent last night at home in a bed.

This young woman said, “We need people like you -- people who aren’t burnt out and hoarse from yelling slogans all day. People who’ve had a shower and regular food that helps them think a little more clearly. If you only stay an hour, or even just a few minutes, that’s cool. We need everyone.” I told her that the longer she and her young colleagues can hold out, the greater the chances that people like me will show up in greater numbers. She said, “We need numbers. Portland had 10,000 show up. Did you hear that? I thought San Francisco would be the place.”

By the time I left, around noon, I counted 175 people in the crowd. And just four police officers.

IF YOU ARE one of the 68 people who’ve signed up for the TAX THE RICH human banner on Oct 29, thank you. If you can share the signup site with others, please do:

Friday, October 7, 2011

SIGNUP / Stand up

(I’m dashing off this note from the Apple Store in the middle of a cab shift on Friday morning.)


Lots of you on this list have been to one of our beach events before. You can now register for October 29 -- and if you can come that day, please DO register -- at Please know that the site is as yet incomplete, but I’m getting it in shape. There will be more information posted on the website (in the next few days), but those of you who have attended in the past know the basic drill. The only significant new wrinkle is that, this time, if we don’t have 2,000 people registered by Oct 22 (two weeks from now, one week prior to the event) we pull the plug, and we can all go apply our energies elsewhere that day. But I see that the good folks at The Other 98%, who have created the website, have included all sorts of social media ways to share this event. So please, share away. And know that more (and more-detailed) info will soon follow. Hope to see you soon.


A good friend of mine, Paul Vandevelder, went from his home in Corvallis, Oregon, up to Portland for an Occupy rally yesterday, Thursday. The folks on the ground were expecting a few hundred people, hoping to match the 1,000 people who turned out for Occupy Seattle and the 800 we march with us at Occupy San Francisco the day before, Wednesday. The Portland newspapers, who always estimate low, estimated that at least ten friginn’ thousand people showed up! I got goosebumps talking to Paul. Paul is my age, 60, and he had a chance to address the whole crowd on the kickass sound system that was wheeled into Pioneer Square in the heart of Portland by one of the “kids” who’ve joined this movement. Paul said, “I bring you greetings from another generation! Many of us in that generation have never given up the dream of building a more just and honorable society. Welcome to the revolution!” This Occupy movement has spread to approx 150 cities across the US. The police are making arrests (in NY, in Sacremento, in SF). I think this thing is ON. Even, which was so silent during the Impeach-Bush-and-Cheney movement, is onboard:


A picture was posted to Facebook of several hundred people doing a 99% human banner in DC yesterday. It’s impressive. It’s given me ideas. I’m going to try to swing out into the tech-world and try to attach a photo to this email, but if that doesn’t work, you can (maybe) see it here:


The police have forced the dismantling of the tents in front of the Federal Reserve Building. The numbers have dwindled, but I’ve been there several times over the past couple of days, and I’ve fallen in love with the kids. My Tunisian friend told me this morning that they were all shocked by the police brutality they saw the other night. “You hear about this, but when you see it with your eyes, like I did, it’s different.” One of the group was being arrested (he was charged with disturbing the police and resisting arrest and is still being held), and, says my new friend, “He was handcuffed, he was down on the ground, he was defenseless, he was helpless, and one of the police put his knee into the back of his neck and drove his face into the ground. His face. Your should see it. Even the other police were shocked by this one (police) guy. He didn’t need to do that. We’ve learned his name. He’s got a family. We don’t want to hurt him. But, that hurt us all.” I’ve been getting familiar with the group -- they’re mostly young (I met a 19 year old girl from Altoona, Pennsylvania, this morning) -- and I tell them if they can just hold the space, I like to think that my generation will start supporting them in numbers. One of the fellows who has been there a week, and who, I think, composes the text that appears on the site, looked me in the eye a few minutes ago and said, “Oh, we’re going to hold the space.” He’s been camped there a week now. “This is it,” he says. “Not going anywhere.”

To be continued, I’m sure.

Please share the October 29 signup link.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Story / Last night

ON THE SWELTERING but beautiful summer evening of the Fourth of July, 1971 -- when Richard Nixon was in the White House, the country was painfully split over the Vietnam War, and I was 19 years old -- I drove my two younger brothers and myself into Washington DC from our home in the nearby suburbs. A family crowd estimated at 400,000 had spread their blankets on the vast lawn surrounding the Washington Monument, to picnic and wait for the upcoming fireworks. We found a spot up the hill, and sat down to watch the show, which turned out quite differently than all 400,000 of us had expected.

In a small area over toward the Reflecting Pool, the authorities had fenced off an area of lawn, and inside this barricade five thousand dressed-up VIPs were seated in rows of folding chairs, watching the entertainer Bob Hope and a singing group named the Lennon Sisters perform a show was that being televised live to the nation. A sound system was set up to, theoretically, allow the rest of us to hear the songs and Bob Hope’s banter. But the sound system was lame, the show itself even lamer, and no one in the larger crowd was paying attention anway. Because off to the side of the fenced-in area a much more interesting spectacle was playing out.

Fifty DC police mounted on horseback were lined up to protect the VIP area from a small, boisterous band of heckling hippies clustered at the edge of the sprawling crowd. These hippies had started a chant -- “F--k Bob Hope…! F--k Bob Hope…! -- and now it was starting to spread through the rest of the crowd. “F--k Bob Hope…!” At first it was barely audible, but then, even though it was not exactly family entertainment, it grew to a roar. Hope was seen as a symbol of the hugely unpopular Vietnam War, and a crony of the widely unpopular Richard Nixon. “F--k Bob Hope.”

A no man’s land of maybe seventy-five yards of green lawn separated the horses from the hecklers, one of whom, quite prominent, looked like a feral Greek god. As he ran around exhorting his small band of pranksters, his long, frizzy, Old Testament hair flew behind him like a black tornado. He wore patched blue jeans and was barefoot and shirtless -- his torso and his stomach muscles looked like something from an anatomy textbook. He would shout encouragement to his crew, wave his arms overhead like an orchestra conductor -- “F--k Bob Hope!” -- then sprint alone to the middle of the no man’s land and shake his fist at the line of horses. One or several of the officers would charge forward and drive him back toward the crowd, and whenever wonderboy would retreat, so would the officers.

This skirmishing continued for fifteen minutes, maybe more. Riveting entertainment. Truly. And then, on one of his forays, our action hero stops in the no-man’s land, turns, bends, points his blue-jeaned rear end toward the army, raises his open hand to his mouth, dramatically kisses the tips of his fingers, holds his hand skyward, palm open, stares back at the line of horsemen for two or three long beats, and then slaps himself on the rump. Kiss my ass.

And suddenly the whole damn cavalry is galloping toward him. The horses pull up short of the crowd, however, and retreat. But just seconds later, from behind the police line, a smoking tear gas canister comes whistling through the air and lands at the edge of the crowd. Is our action hero deterred? He runs to the canister, picks it up in his bare hand (‘Nam vet?), runs toward the police lines and hurls it (outfielder for the old Washington Senators baseball team?) back into the midst of the army.

That’s all we saw. Within seconds the tear gas cloud had wafted into the larger crowd. In ripples, 400,000 of us rose to our
feet, put our hands to our stinging eyes, grabbed our stuff, and disappeared.

An hour or so later my brothers and I walked into our living room. Our parents were watching Bob Hope and the Lennon sisters on television. The cameras picked through the VIP crowd, sending out to America images of guffawing power guys in coats and ties, or cute young girls rapturously adoring the Lennon Sisters.

Our parents asked us, “How was it?” It was fine, we told them.

FORTY YEARS LATER, at about 11:30 last night , I had to walk through two lines of police to reach the folks at If it is possible to read faces, I promise you this: Most of those police, half my age, and barely older than most of the campers, wanted to be someplace else. They had no heart for what they knew they were about to be ordered to do.

Yesterday, just before the march up Market Street, I shook hands with three of the Fed’s security police. One of them, in full earshot of his partners, told me, “Hey, man -- we support you.” Anyone on the street is part of the 99%. Someday soon, I believe we’ll all be one hundred percent clear about that.

By the time the powers that be ordered the troops to move in last night, I was home in my warm bed. No hero here. But to me, these kids at (and all the occupiers around the country) are heroes. They could use our help and encouragement.