Occupy: A Tale of Two Mayors

Jean Quan was vilified for not raiding Occupy Oakland sooner, while Ed Lee escaped criticism for allowing Occupy San Francisco to remain.

As of early this week, Occupy San Francisco had been in existence for more than two months — about twice as long as Occupy Oakland. The main encampment at Justin Herman Plaza also has been larger at times than the one at Oakland City Hall. And yet much of the mainstream press, including the San Francisco Chronicle, have given San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee what amounts to a free pass. His decisions to not raid Occupy SF’s main encampment and to allow protesters to reestablish tent cities after police had cleared them have been portrayed as thoughtful and deliberate. By contrast, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan has been heavily criticized in the press, particularly in opinion pieces in the Chronicle, for her handling of Occupy Oakland. She has been portrayed as indecisive, even incompetent, for not raiding the City Hall encampment sooner — even though her actions have been similar to Lee’s. Why the difference?

Arguably there are several reasons for the apparent Quan-Lee double-standard, but first let’s look at some facts. Over the past few weeks, the Chronicle’s East Bay columnist, Chip Johnson, penned four columns chastising Quan for how she dealt with Occupy Oakland. Johnson was especially miffed that Quan had allowed the City Hall encampment to resume after the first raid on October 25. In one column, he even suggested that she should “reconsider whether she wants to be mayor.”

By contrast, Johnson’s counterpart at the Chronicle in San Francisco, C.W. Nevius, has mostly treated Ed Lee with kid gloves despite the fact that the Occupy SF encampment last week had more than two hundred tents — eclipsing Occupy Oakland’s encampment at its peak. Late last week, Nevius even praised Lee for not ordering police to raid Occupy SF’s main encampment at Justin Herman Plaza, calling it a “good thing.”

Similarly, the Chronicle‘s editorial board repeatedly harangued Quan for not taking a tougher stance on Occupy Oakland and not cracking down on it earlier. The editorial board even ridiculed Oakland’s mayor, calling the City Hall encampment “Camp Quan.” Yet the paper has directed no such criticism at Lee, even though he repeatedly allowed Occupy encampments to come back after ordering raids on them.

To be fair, Occupy Oakland created more problems for its host city than Occupy SF has done so far. For many people, the two violent clashes with police — coupled with vandalism and the influence of protesters who use so-called Black Bloc tactics — made Occupy Oakland a more serious threat, creating a sense of urgency to remove it. But there’s also evidence that the October 25 police raid of Occupy Oakland, which Quan green-lighted after the Chronicle editorial board essentially demanded it, helped polarize the movement. Vandals and those intent on violence had very little influence over Occupy Oakland before police sprayed tear gas and fired other less-than-lethal weaponry at protesters on October 25. But afterward, the anti-police fringe gained credibility and power.

At the same time, Occupy SF hasn’t necessarily been a model of good behavior. Like Occupy Oakland, it has been mostly peaceful. But a San Francisco Examiner report last week revealed that it at times can be violent, too. An Examiner reporter wrote of witnessing several assaults at an encampment during a 24-hour period. And yet the Chronicle‘s opinion-makers have treated Occupy SF essentially as a nuisance, while portraying Occupy Oakland as a hostile threat that had to be exterminated.

For Oaklanders, it’s no secret that the Chronicle opinion writers have exhibited an anti-Oakland bias over the years. Columnists have often treated Oakland as San Francisco’s ugly stepsister, beset by intractable problems that, in the City, are mere inconveniences. It also should be said that Quan’s personality can rub people the wrong way, while Lee is often viewed as congenial and easygoing.

But there’s also reason to believe that politics are at play. Quan is a liberal, while Lee’s moderate views are more in step with the Chronicle‘s columnists and editorial board. So her actions on Occupy Oakland, even though they are not much different from Lee’s with Occupy SF, are viewed as wrongheaded while Lee’s moves are portrayed as thoughtful. The paper’s opinion writers seem to be saying that Quan is indecisive because she’s a liberal who agrees with the Occupy movement and has struggled personally over a correct course of action, while Lee is deliberate and careful because he’s more like them and has had no such internal battles.

Indeed, it doesn’t seem farfetched to think that if Lee were mayor of Oakland and he had done the same things as Quan — raided the camp, and then allowed it to return (just as he has done in San Francisco) — then criticisms by the Chron‘s columnists and opinion page writers would have been much more muted. And Occupy Oakland might still be in front of City Hall today.

Three-Dot Roundup

Quan continued to crack down on Occupy Oakland over the weekend, ordering a police raid of a new encampment at Telegraph Avenue and 19th Street and clearing Snow Park, which had become known as a peaceful, nonviolent camp. Lee, meanwhile, ordered police to clear some of Occupy San Francisco’s satellite encampments, while leaving the main one at Justin Herman Plaza intact. … UC Davis police brutally attacked peaceful protesters, pepper spraying them as they sat arm-in-arm during a demonstration. The excessive use of force prompted the university to place two cops and the campus police chief on administrative leave, pending the outcome of multiple investigations. There also were calls for the resignation of UC Davis’ chancellor. UC President Mark Yudof said he was “appalled” about what had happened. … UC Berkeley police raided the Occupy Cal encampment on Sproul Plaza last week and removed all of the tents. Many Occupy Cal protesters were not on hand during the raid because they had gone to San Francisco for a big march through the city. The demonstration included an occupation of a Bank of America branch in which protesters set up a tent inside and chanted: “The banks got bailed out, we got sold out.” … A massive fire destroyed numerous businesses on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley, including Cafe Intermezzo and Raleigh’s pub. The fire also gutted a large apartment building and may have dealt a crippling blow to the Telegraph area business district. … And the state Supreme Court ruled that anti-gay-marriage groups can defend Prop 8 in federal court, even though the governor and attorney general have refused to do so.


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