[Hpn] It's a Wrap

Coalition on Homelessness, SF coh@sfo.com
Thu, 24 Aug 2000 12:17:29 -0700


http://www.latimes.com/news/state/20000819/t000077955.html

Los Angeles Times

Saturday, August 19, 2000

Section: Metro, Page: B-1

It's a Wrap

Protesters begin pulling out of the Convergence Center, and
a building that bloomed like an outpost of the Woodstock
nation is abandoned again.

By Jeffrey Gettleman <Jeffrey.Gettleman@latimes.com>

Alice, a 15-year-old drifter, was standing outside, trying
to hitch a ride back to Oakland. "Krazy Bill" was hauling
stacks of Free Mumia posters to a recycling bin. And Roger,
the artist, was boxing up a gigantic red-faced corporate
greed puppet and clearing out of the parking lot.

They were among the few remaining souls Friday at the
Convergence Center, which served as ground zero for this
week's protest movement. And almost as quickly as it formed
in the Pico-Union neighborhood west of downtown -- flooding
the area with colorfully clad protesters, beaten-up Volvos
and scraggly-haired families drinking soy milk -- the
center was disbanding.

For hundreds of protesters who came from all corners of
the country, the bald concrete building on 7th Street was
the nucleus of their convention week experience. It was the
place to go for rally information, Band-Aids, legal advice,
art supplies, meals and anti-establishment literature.

But with the Democratic National Convention over, organizers
of this week's street demonstrations planned to wind down
all operations at their headquarters this weekend and go
their separate ways until the next battle -- whenever or
wherever that is.

People inside and outside of the Convergence Center said
they'll miss the place.

"We've had a lot of good times in here sharing what little
we got and trying to make revolution fun," said Krazy Bill,
a gray-bearded protester.

Protesters weren't supposed to sleep in the building -- the
lease and zoning didn't allow it. But it remained open 24
hours and sustained a freewheeling, Woodstock-like air in
a working-class, mostly immigrant community.

"Yeah, those folks stuck out, 'cause they dressed like
they were in the '70s," said Paul Davis, who lives in the
Westlake Apartments down the street. "But they were cool,
man. Those kids came here to get across their issues."

Organizers from the D2KLA activist coalition took over the
four-story building with chicken wire covering the windows
on Aug. 5. It cost them $4,000 to rent the building until
Wednesday, when they must vacate.

The 90-year-old building, last used as a flea market but
abandoned 15 years ago, was in "scary shape," said protest
organizer Kimi Lee. In the days leading up to the convention,
committees were formed to unclog toilets, replace broken
windows, lay down donated carpeting, rig lights, bleach
floors and set up a kitchen capable of serving 3,000 vegan
meals a day. (Typical menu: granola and rice or soy milk for
breakfast; pasta salad for lunch; and tofu tacos and chopped
mangoes for dinner.)

By Monday, opening day of the convention, the Convergence
Center was abuzz with activity. It continued throughout
the week.

Young men with tattoos clustered around the back entrance
blowing into didgeridoos and tickling guitars. Inside, on
the first floor, a legal committee held what-to-do-if-
you're-arrested seminars and went over the ABCs of
civil disobedience.

People marched around in berets. Others wore "Meat is
Murder" T-shirts. Upstairs, rally-weary protesters crashed
on plywood floors while comrades brushed paint on
demonstration puppets.

"This was such a great space for creativity. You had all
these strangers here and everyone had a role," said Erin
Zion, a 22-year-old Berkeley grad who wants to pursue a
career making socially conscious puppets. "It's sad this
place is closing down and we have to go home."

By Thursday, some protesters began to leave. Many
demonstrators were visibly drained.

On Friday at noon, organizers held a final meeting to
discuss how to support the 50-some colleagues arrested
during demonstrations and still in jail.

Then the cleanup started and arrangements were made to
return copiers, tables and other borrowed equipment. Out
back, people sought rides and one sullen 18-year-old sat
on a box holding a sign that read: "Trying Desperately
to Go North and/or East."

Because the center was the result of several unaffiliated
groups banding together, there was never any question that
its doors would close after the convention. Some people,
like Lynn Miesse, a Florida-based activist, were fine
with that.

"It's time to move on," Miesse said as she put her
4-year-old son, Skylar, on a hip and headed toward the
door of her family's 1979 sea green school bus with bikes,
fishing nets and buckets on top. "We're not the type to
get attached to spaces."

But some people did get attached. And it wasn't just
protesters.

Hyo Shin nearly got a tear in his eye remembering the moments
when every stool at his 7th Street juice bar swiveled with a
young, upbeat demonstrator sipping freshly squeezed carrot
or apple juice.

He liked the youths. They made him think of his own son. He
sometimes gave them extra juice and worried when they left
because of all the police on the streets.

"These were good kids," Shin said as he peered out his
storefront toward the now-quiet ramshackle building.

"Good kids, yes, good for the neighborhood, good for this
world. Do you know when they're coming back?"

***

Staff writer Joe Mozingo contributed to this story.

Copyright (c) 2000 Los Angeles Times.




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