Tim Ryan, 23, of the west county, protests with Occupy Sebastopol, Saturday Nov. 12, 2011, in front of Wells Fargo Bank in Sebastopol. (Kent Porter / Press Democrat) 2011

Occupy Sebastopol calls for encampment backing, protests big banks

Occupy Sebastopol demonstrators put their voices, and their feet, behind the movement on Saturday.

Two days after the Santa Rosa City Council gave Occupy campers permission to remain on the lawn at city hall if they meet a range of conditions, close to 60 marchers in Sebastopol distributed fliers at shops and offices along several blocks of downtown.

They hope business owners will post them as pre-printed statements of support in advance of a Tuesday meeting at Sebastopol City Hall over their right to camp in the central square.

"We want people to open their minds to how much change needs to happen," said Andrew DeRoos, 21.

"The idea of holding the square is about creating the space for dialog," said Erik Ohlsen, 32, who cut his activist teeth during demonstrations at the 1999 ministerial meetings of the World Trade Organization in Seattle. "Grassroots organizing takes time."

The march passed the branches of several national banks, where supporters pumped their fists and chanted their dissatisfaction with traditional financial institutions. A few exuberent demonstrators shouted directly at a woman who was trying to exit the Bank of America, until another supporter persuaded them to back off.

Otherwise, there were no confrontations as the group walked along downtown sidewalks, followed intermittently by a police sergeant who tailed them in his patrol car and later thanked the group for "how you conducted your business."

It was their second Sebastopol march. The first one, last Saturday in the rain, marked the start of Occupation Sebastopol in solidarity with a nearly two-month-old demonstration in New York's Wall Street area protesting the concentration of political and economic power in the hands of corporations and the nation's wealthiest one percent.

Though only a few people have been staying the night in three or four tents erected in the northeast corner of the Sebastopol plaza, the city has alerted Occupy supporters that staying there violates city ordinance.

They were given a 20-page permit application Wednesday evening that's supposed to be completed by Tuesday, several members said.

But it's not at all clear what the consensus for handling the city's demand will be.

As part of the cross-pollination that's occurring between demonstrators in different cities, Ben Browner, an Occupy Santa Rosa participant who helped negotiate a permit obtained last week for camping at Santa Rosa City Hall, urged his Sebastopol counterparts to make a good faith effort to meet the Tuesday deadline and avoid forcing the council's hand on enforcing the ordinance.

Occupy Sebastopol members are to hold a general assembly meeting today Sunday to discuss how to proceed.

One supporter, Chris Rockwell, 33, said it makes no sense for an individual to accept responsibility and liability for the entire group by taking out the permit in his or her name.

Rockwell said he's working to get the group incorporated so the permit can be obtained by the corporate entity — though that would require additional time and the patience of the city council, he said.

Rockwell said the group, meanwhile, was trying to be respectful in its use of the plaza, prohibiting alcohol, for example, and planning Sunday to move the tents to another portion of the square to spare the grass excess wear.

Ohlsen, who owns a local permaculture consulting and sustainable landscaping business, plans to hold ecological base camp design training in Sebastopol on Tuesday for Occupy supporters.

"Our intent is to work with the city in as cooperative a way as we can," said Sebastopol resident Linus Lancaster, a Healdsburg High School art teacher and Navy veteran who has supported Occupy encampments in Santa Rosa and Sebastopol.

Lancaster said he joined the Occupy Wall Street movement "because it's the first political movement I've seen that in broad terms understands the issues America is facing in a systemic way."

"I've been waiting for the revolution for four years," 88-year-old Geneva Folsom said. "This is the first time I've been passionate about getting out and fighting for something."

The marching, chanting and camping out is just the beginning of a process aimed at raising awareness, engaging large numbers and reaching consensus on common goals, demonstrators said.

In Santa Rosa, junior college business student Frank Anderson, 19, said he'd camped out at Santa Rosa City Hall for nearly a month and now thinks of it as home.

When the lease on his apartment is up Jan. 21, he plans to give it up altogether since he's living out front of City Hall to support the occupation.

"When this goes down in the history books," he said, "it's going to go right next to the Civil Rights movement."

Mary Callahan

Environment and Climate Change, The Press Democrat

I am in awe of the breathtaking nature here in Sonoma County and am so grateful to live in this spectacular region we call home. I am amazed, too, by the expertise in our community and by the commitment to protecting the land, its waterways, its wildlife and its residents. My goal is to improve understanding of the issues, to find hope and to help all of us navigate the future of our environment. 

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