Posted by: smstrouse | January 21, 2012

Occupy Cathedral Hill

I had a different idea in mind for this week’s blog. But, as usual, I was behind schedule and had not put pen to paper, so to speak. Thankfully. Because there, on last night’s local news broadcast was our neighborhood: Cathedral Hill, San Francisco. The day-long Occupy SF protests had branched off in the evening and taken over the Cathedral Hotel, which has been vacant for two years. The plan is for California Pacific Medical Center to eventually turn it into a hospital.

What bothered me about the  coverage was the dismissive and almost gleeful tone in reporting the effect of the day’s rain in dampening the overall Occupy protest, along with the usual interview with an inconvenienced commuter. In the coverage of the hotel, the main interview was with an older protester who was unhappy with the behavior of other, younger protesters. No mention of the issues behind the takeover.

So when I got up today I was anxious to read all about it in the Chronicle. But the headline, ‘A Bit of a Wash for Occupy,’ signaled more of the same and the accompanying photograph showed a confrontation between police officer and two demonstrators. Coverage of the hotel was on the bad behavior of some of the demonstrators, the confrontation with police and eviction. Again, no substantive engagement with the issues. The SF Examiner did better. They actually addressed the reason the protesters took over the vacant hotel. It was organized by a group called Homes Not Jails, which advocates for the use of vacant and abandoned housing for people who are homeless.

I get it. The Occupy movement has its problems. It’s hard for those of us who need organizational structure and strategic planning to get our heads around a movement that prides itself on being unorganized. But here’s the thing: this chaotic groundswell of anger and energy is just what we’ve needed to rouse ourselves out of our disillusionment and despair. We have been stuck, but now there is – a  movement. A perfect one? No. One that is evolving? Yes. So how about if we look to find the positive aspects of what’s going on instead of the negative? And how about if we demand better from the media?

The Homes Not Jails protest was in our neighborhood, one block from our church. We worship among the homeless and the marginally housed. We walk past the men lined up to get into the SF Interfaith Council’s Winter Shelter. We support the SF Night Ministry, Welcome, and other organizations who feed, clothe, and shelter our neighbors. So this protest was about them and us – and it deserves, not only better coverage, but better attention from all of us.

There are complicated issues involved with the Cathedral Hotel. California Pacific’s plans for a new hospital are controversial in the Cathedral Hill neighborhood, as well as among advocates for St. Luke’s Hospital. Housing homeless folks in the hotel may  or may not be a good idea. But please, can we talk about it?

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