What do the Occupy movement, foreskins, an ice rink, international human rights and the world's largest gathering of naked Santa Clauses have to do with each other? Under normal circumstances, nothing -- but this is San Francisco after all, where anything is possible, so come along on a guided photographic tour of several separate socio-political events that inevitably overlapped and coalesced into an unforgettable political mashup.
It's not often that one must wear a Santa costume as part of one's job, but on Saturday, December 10 that moment had finally arrived for me: I suited up and made my way to San Francisco's Justin Herman Plaza, where I hoped to blend in with the rest of the protesters and revelers on this Santa-themed day.
For our first event, I joined up with some of the scattered remnants of OccupySF (recently evicted from their camp) and marched up Market Street to sing awful satirical carols and deliver coal to naughty banks. Santa suits were required to participate, but a few elves and other slackers snuck in anyway.
Every time we came to a bank branch, we stopped and harangued them with off-key renditions of various Christmas carols, re-written à la Occupy.
Here, for your listening displeasure, is a sample:
To spare you further listenings, I snapped a photo of one of my fellow Santas holding the lyrics sheet, so you can safely read the satirical versions and not have to hear us singing any more of them.
After railing against banks and corporations at each stop, we continued up the street in a small group of about 30 -- yes, the glory days are over for Occupy San Francisco.
All that walking can tire a Santa out, so a pair of Occupiers lagged behind and when they thought no one was looking ducked into -- gasp! -- a corporate chain store (7/11) to nab a quick calorie and caffeine boost. Bad Santas, bad! We're here to smash corporations, not give them our money!
Note these Occupiers. They (among others) will re-appear later in the day at a completely different event. Also note the red t-shirt of the tubby Santa to the left. Here's a close-up:
In case it's not clear, it's an infamous classic T-shirt from Oregon's Reed College, and it says "Seal of Reed College: Communism, Atheism, Free Love." Here's a clear photo of the t-shirt design, in case you can't quite make it out. It is serious? Satire? Well, you rube, if you have to ask, you're just not hip. A Reed College graduate wrote a seven-part essay explaining the ethos behind the "Communism, Atheism, Free Love" slogan, but I'll summarize it here for you: "We semi-pretend that our public embrace of communism is an ironic joke so we can have some wiggle-room in case any of you McCarthyites try to pin us down on it. But secretly, we're totally radical, and proud of it! Sort of. If you don't get the joke, you must be a dumb redneck. Revolution!" Anyway, this Occupier is so dedicated that he would never sneak into a corporate chain store in the middle of an anti-corporate protest.
Ooops! Another one fell off the anti-corporate wagon and slipped into a Radio Shack to go shopping during the march. Tsk tsk tsk. But really, she couldn't help it! Those pesky corporations offer useful consumer goods at low prices in convenient locations! It's irresistible. Curse them!
The staff at Wells Fargo have by now been well-trained in dealing with Occupy protests. At the first hint of trouble, they lock the doors and stand guard. One of my fellow Santas was not pleased, and began yelling "Naughty bank! Naughty bank!" at them.
And on and on it went, from bank to bank. I don't like singing much, so whenever possible I stepped back to snap a picture as a way to avoid joining the chorus.
When we got to the Powell Street cable car turnaround, we encountered some other protesters we also were upset about the commercialization of Christmas -- but they were coming at the issue from the opposite direction. One of them even wore a "No Santas" shirt. Stop the anti-Santa bullying, you mean fundamentalists!
Our route was to take us further down Market to various federal buildings, but at this point I had to bail out on the anti-bank caroling because other events were awaiting me. I bade my fellow political Santas farewell, and headed back down to the Embarcadero.
Along the way, I passed the final surviving rump remnant of San Franciso's last Occupation camp, on Market in front of a Federal Reserve Bank branch. It was rather small and by now was little more than a flophouse for bums. Little did I know, but those were the final hours of this camp too: later that night, the cops cleared it out, completely ending the physical Occupation of San Francisco.
Further on, I visited the former location of the main Occupy camp: this is all that remains of it, as it has now been returned to its natural state as bocce ball courts. The cops need to guard the area 24 hours a day to prevent the Occupiers from moving back in.
As you can tell from all of this, the Occupy movement in the Bay Area has been irrevocably fractured by the successful police raids on the various encampments in San Francisco, Oakland and Berkeley. Nothing makes this more evident than the fact that the various Occupy factions now schedule protests and marches and "direct actions" in scattershot fashion all over the region, with little apparent coordination. That's why there could be three separate Occupy events on the same day in the same city (as we will see), all sparsely attended and all apparently unconnected to each other. The whole reason I had to bail out from the Santa-themed Occupy march was that there was another Occupy march starting a few hours later from the same place, but with a completely different set of Occupiers.
This second Occupy protest was more heavily advertised (paste the URL http://www.indybay.org/newsitems/2011/12/06/18701872.php into a new window if the link doesn't work), a major rally called "#OccupySF Occupy Human Rights Day! Saturday December 10, 2:00 PM - 7:00 PM. Join Occupy San Francisco for a day of action where we call for the recognition of International Human Rights. The 99% demand human rights for all! ... Speakers from Amnesty Int'l, Occupy Sf Encampment Educational Circle, and human rights struggles in Egypt, Burma, Tibet, Palestine, Darfur, Latin America and more."
I dutifully showed up at the rally site shortly after 2pm (note the clock on the Ferry Building) and this is what greeted me: the most ill-attended Occupy protest ever. Or so it seemed. I guessed that most of the protesters were going to shrug off the pre-march speeches between 2pm and 3pm, and instead just show up at 3pm for the march itself.
I had a little time to kill so I went to check out the protest's sole Occupy tent and the only game in town: an "Anti-Oppression Workshop." If you've ever wondered what gets "taught" at "workshops" like these, the answer is: Nothing. From my experience, the protesters just pick some topic -- in this case, Haiti -- and spend a hour nodding in agreement as each person in the circle whines about their feelings of how horribly America treats [topic in question]. At this Haitian-themed Anti-Oppression Workshop, none of the rants or criticisms were consistent or made coherent points. Some people complained that America didn't help Haiti enough after its 2010 earthquake; others complained that America practically "invaded" the country and that our response was too overhwelming and "militaristic." One person said that Haiti needs democracy to get back on its feet; someone else said that Haiti's newly elected president Michel Martelly was "a vile human being" and that "he shouldn't have been elected." Another person described the horrors of mass rapes in the aftermath of the earthquake and how no one stopped them; but then someone else said that the police and the military were "shooting people dead in the street" after the earthquake and that the response was "fascistic." And round and round it went, with each complaint contradicting the previous one, and no one seeming to notice. Nod. Nod.
At around 2:40 a few more people showed up, but the crowd was still pitiably small.
But steps away from this history-making mass Occupy rally, there was a huge crowd -- going to a holiday ice rink that had been set up in Justin Herman Plaza for the kids. In case you're curious about that bizarre sign next to the crowd of kids at the ice rink -- yes, the anti-circumcision people are back, and chose this event to make their reappearance.
It's not often you see the words "Penile Nerves" at a political protest.
To lend an anti-capitalist Occupy theme to their foreskin protest, they created an American flag with stripes made of dollar signs below a baby getting circumcised, the argument being, I imagine, that hospitals circumcise babies just for the money...? Or...?
"Occupy Genital Integrity" was another attempt to Occupize their obsession. (And no, that's not my foot.)
By now it was finally 3pm and the rest of the human rights cliques had shown up, swelling the crowd to a hundred or two. Earlier this year the anti-circumcision people were severely stung by accusations of anti-Semitism when one of their movement's leaders released a bizarre comic book as part of the campaign material for a (now abandoned) ballot initiative to outlaw circumcision in California. After going undergound for a while to ride out the controversy, the group has re-emerged with a new strategy to neutralize any potential new accusations: Now they approach the question as (purported) Jews from a Jewish perspective, rebranding their movement as "Jews for the Rights of the Child." Will the new marketing gimmick succeed? Only time will tell!
Joining the Foreskin Crew at the #Occupy SF Human Rights Day rally were the "Fuck Monsanto" contingent...
..."The World Can't Wait for us to Stop Being Obsessed with Bush and Cheney" Maoists...
...the Burmese and the Tibetans, the only groups with whom I sympathize and about whom I have nothing sarcastic to say...
...some lady who doesn't like other people to have money...
...someone trying to make me give up organic food by contaminating it with political posion...
...the "It's time to challenge that turncoat Obama in the Democratic primary" voters...
...and someone who made a list of so-called "human rights" so all-inclusive that I wondered why he didn't also ask for a pony. Note to the starry-eyed: Any "human right" that requires the labor of other people is just another brick paving the road to totalitarianism.
The disconnect is unreal! (Still not sure if this guy was an Occupier, or a counter-protester. What disconnect is he referring to?)
Meanwhile, the signs brought by the overly optimistic organizers sat unused in stacks.
You can't blame the guy: Schools have simply stopped teaching kids how to spell.
Speaking of kids: One of the "intactivists" brought his son to the circumcision protest. Wise move, or just creepy? You decide.
But before the Human Rights Day march could begin, I once again had to bail out (still wearing my Santa costume this whole time) and head on over to the next events, which had already started. I rushed across town to Washington Square in North Beach, where I was to re-join with some of my fellow Occupy Santas at a massive gathering called SantaCon -- or at least at a special sub-event within SantaCon.
SantaCon is basically nothing more than a huge Santa-themed pub-crawl, held in cities around the world. San Francisco's event was one of the biggest. As I dashed through North Beach, the closer I got to Washington Square Park, the more Santas I saw clustering around every available liquor-serving establishment. But this was just the overflow; nothing prepared me for the vista at Washington Square Park when I finally arrived. No single photo could capture the action, so here are a few to give you an idea:
How many Santas were there? Lord knows -- I haven't seen any official estimates, so my best guess is "several thousand."
95% -- no, make that 99% -- of the Santas were already drunk. And night hadn't even fallen yet.
But I wasn't there for the drunken debauchery. I was there to Occupy The World's Largest Gathering of Naked Santas. Yes, this year's San Francisco SantaCon was the site of an attempt to earn a spot in the Guiness Book of World's Records under the heading "Most Naked Santas in One Place."
Needless to say, this was likely to attract a lot of photographers and media coverage, so some of the Occupy folks thought it would be a good idea to piggyback on the naked Santa gathering in order to get the Occupy message out to a wider audience. If we can occupy the naked Santas, then we can occupy the top of the news. Or so the theory went.
But what the Occupiers didn't quite grasp is that when you must co-opt someone's else's event as the only way to get media coverage, that's a good indication that your own movement is kaput. If the Occupy thing is such a big deal, then why weren't the naked Santas holding their event at the Occupy march, to leech off our media coverage?
The medium is the message, they say, and if the medium is someone else's fame, then the message is that you are insignificant.
Anyway, 4pm was Naked Santa Time, so everyone dropped trou and away we went!
(Note: All pictures from here on out are uncensored and Not Safe For Work. If you prefer instead to see the censored version of the report, in which all naughty parts have been blurred, click here to exit this page and go to the G-rated version on PJMedia.)
Occupiers daring enough to get naked held aloft "Occupy North Pole" signs to get their message into all the photos.
Somewhere back there is a brave naked Occupier, drowning in a sea of Santa flesh.
But the Occupation wasn't just about signs. Guy Fawkes "Anonymous" masks were another way to show your solidarity. This anonymous Anonymous Occupier earned an approving glance from a fellow naked Santa.
Some of the original Occupy Santas from this morning were also on hand, though like me they didn't have the nerve to actually get naked themselves. Notice the green anarchy "A" symbol. Green for environmentalism, or green Christmas? Who cares! Drink!
I don't care what anybody says, I still think elf costumes are inappopriate attire for Santa events. Proper protocol must be maintained!
Adding another layer to the already-bizarre political onion, a counter-protesting anti-Santa mocked the Occupy Santas who were occupying the Naked Santa World Record Attempt which was itself piggybacking on the SF SantaCon which was part of the overarching global SantaCon pub-crawl. And now I'm photographing him and putting his mesage through my own eccentric political filter, which you will now view through your own lens. Clear enough?
The naked Santas actually only comprised a small percentage of the crowd. Many of the Occupiers stayed in the clothed zone.
Some brought along anti-Goldman Sachs signs.
To dispel any doubts: Yes, some Occupiers were part of the world record attempt. Now that shows political dedication!
By now you're probably weary of politics and just want to see more wild and crazy drunken naked people -- so let's drop the pretense and get to the good stuff!
Did I say "wild and crazy"? Sorry, I meant "totally out of control."
All of this, for those of you unfamiliar with the area, took place directly in front of Saints Peter and Paul Church. Not that anybody cared or was consciously trying to be blasphemous.
The goal of most people there was to annihilate any remaining inhibitions they may have. Glug glug glug...
An entire bottle of Jägermeister, down the hatch!
Let naked Santa prime the keg, you amateur!
Alcohol 1 - Inhibitions 0.
The immediate feedback of seeing yourself in a cell photo can be a little embarrassing, however. The downside of instant gratification.
I never found out if they broke the record for most naked Santas, but the whole event certainly deserved some kind of award, perhaps for "Most Densely Packed Santa Meat" if nothing else.
Naked Santa corner was just a small part of the overall picture, really: Clothed Santas stretched off to the visible horizon, and (as we saw earlier) also packed most of the surrounding streets. (Herding drunks is even more difficult than herding cats.)
Boy naked Santas outnumbered girl naked Santas at least eight-to-one, but the girl Santas attracted most of the attention.
The scrum of nudeness became so dense that some naked lady Santas couldn't even squeeze in. You booze, you lose.
Suprisingly, only one naked Santa went the Full Rudolph.
If you have an aversion to ass, this was not the place for you.
Notice the "flasher Santa" in the fur coat. Which brings up a philosophical point about context. If a guy in nothing but a fur coat and a Santa hat stood all by himself in that park flashing his private parts at people, he'd be arrested. Yet if he does the exact same thing in the exact same place but surrounded by other flashers, then suddenly it's perfectly OK. Ain't life funny?
Calling Guiness -- I think we have a record!
As things wound down, the naked Santa were reduced to just standing around with nothing to do -- except shiver, that is.
A parting word.
The moral of this Shaggy Santa story? None, I'm afraid.