Project Occupy San Francisco Connect

Published in the The Nurse Alliance Roundup on Nov. 7, 2011

By Sasha J. Cuttler RN, PhD

Sasha works at San Francisco General Hospital, where he is co-chair of the Nursing Research Council and an activist in the nursing chapter of SEIU Local 1021

“Let’s set our sights beyond the abominations of today to divine another possible world: death and money shall lose their magical powers, and neither demise nor fortune shall make a virtuous gentleman of a rat”
— from “Upside Down: A Primer for the Looking-Glass World,” Eduardo Galeano, 1998

Throughout the world people are coming together, reclaiming public space and helping to imagine and create another more just and beautiful world. Rather than despair about the myriad horrors, I offer my version of a near-future utopia as a love letter to my brothers and sisters in Labor who have always believed that another world is possible.

This week, the San Francisco Department of Public Health announced that public health nurses have volunteered to coordinate a massive effort to protect the health of the growing number of participants of Occupy San Francisco. Borrowing the infrastructure established by Project Homeless Connect, volunteer healthcare workers and nursing students are receiving training at Bill Graham Civic Auditorium.

Only two weeks earlier, the Department of Public Health decried the poor sanitation at Justin Herman Plaza nearly leading to a massive law enforcement response. Thanks to the petition signed by virtually every healthcare worker in San Francisco, an emergency resolution passed by a veto-proof majority of the Board of Supervisors declared Occupy San Francisco a “Public Health Opportunity.” A volunteer Department of Public Works noted the stark contrast of the Occupy SF environment with that of her assignments in “normal” City environments. “People complaining about this must not get out much”, she said, “you want filth? Try working Bay-to-Breakers!”

Mayor-elect John Avalos noted that the City’s response to the 50,000 strong and growing movement was an example of the best of San Francisco. When asked about the cost incurred, Avalos laughed:

“Are you kidding? San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi apologized for attempting to balance the budget on the backs of City workers and his venture capitalist backers are paying for a model solar-powered tent city and philanthropist Warren Hellman is picking up the tab for all the porta-potties and water trucks!”

Labor Council leader Timothy Paulson lauded the unprecedented volunteer spirit of organized labor who have donated unused sick time and are working shifts in support of the participants. “This really presents an opportunity to prepare for the huge number of jobs that will be created to restore housing, create renewable energy, care for the infirm elderly and heal the soldiers returning from Afghanistan,” Paulson said, referring to President Obama’s decision to withdraw combat troops from around the globe effective immediately.

Though it was noisy, crowded and a light rain was falling, Public Health Nurse and SEIU Local 1021 activist Martha Hawthorne marveled at the festive atmosphere. “It’s not very often you hear people laughing while getting a flu shot, but I believe the combination of healthy food and every kind of dancing imaginable is going to do more for public health than all the vaccines put together!” It certainly helps that Bank of America and Wells-Fargo were nationalized, Hawthorne noted, adding that “this time the bail-out will benefit the 99% who actually do something productive instead of just sitting on their assets.”

Veteran’s Swords-to-Plowshares director Michael Blecker took a break and recalled how things turned out differently this time:

“People forget that the Occupy movement really started nearly 80 years ago when WWI veterans and their supporters brought their tent city to Washington D.C.”

History sadly repeated itself after the Vietnam war when government policy created homelessness. “We went from a veteran’s rights movement to a homeless support agency almost overnight.” Michael remembered sadly.
While a crew of artists altered a banner that said “Another world is possible” to “Another world is here, baby!” Blecker smiled approvingly, adding “Maybe this time it will be different.”

Read more about 1021’s participation in Occupy San Francisco. Associated Press article on Thursday’s march here.

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