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San Mateo Goes 1960's Berkeley

Social activism hits well-heeled suburb as more than 150 demonstrators stage rally in support of grassroots "Occupy Wall Street" movement.

As soccer moms dutifully toted their kids around town in luxury SUVs during the heart of a busy Friday rush hour commute, a predominantly white, upper-middle class Bay Area suburb about 20 miles south of San Francisco went 1960's Berkeley.

In a scene that in recent weeks has been repeating itself throughout the nation, a crowd of over 150 gathered at a busy freeway overpass, carrying signs in support of Occupy Wall Street, a grassroots movement that these days is finding support in the most improbable places.

The  Mid-Peninsula American Dream Council (MPADC), which functions under the liberal MoveOn.org umbrella, organized the 4 p.m. "Jobs Equal Safe Bridges Rally" on the Alameda de las Pulgas overpass of Highway 92 to call attention to San Mateo’s aging infrastructure as an example of how America can create employment amid the Great Recession.

Unlike some of the other events across the country that have turned confrontational, this rally more closely resembled a victory parade, with the occasional whiff of marijuana in the air and minimal police presence.

Motorists driving BMW’s and Lexus’s in a city where average household incomes routinely exceed $95,000 honked their horns in support of protesters who carried “Tax the Rich” signs. A fire truck blew its siren as it passed.

“Berkeley’s coming to the country,” said longtime San Mateo resident Sande Anfang, a former teacher and librarian, who said she’s fallen out of the middle class and now just gets by.

It is perhaps a sign of the times when social activism typically associated with big city urban minorities and college campuses of the 1960s comes to towns such as San Mateo, where Anfag is joining the growing ranks of what one protester called the “Nouveau Poor.”

Anfag said she’s “absolutely not” seen any socially activist protesting such as Friday’s in the well-heeled suburb in the 30 years that she’s lived there.

She cited a decade of overly adventurous military escapades, unjustified bank bailouts and corporate greed among the leading culprits of wealthy, white suburban angst.

Who knew, right?

“It’s a pretty complacent area,” Anfag said. “Not to put it down, but when things are working, why fix it? And now there are an awful lot of people who are unhappy, so I think it's great. I think it’s a healthy response.”

“Unemployment doesn’t have any boundaries, and compassion and concern don’t have any boundaries,” said San Mateo resident Eric DeBode, who recently moved to the Peninsula from Ventura County.

The protesters carried signs saying “We are the 99 percent,” calling attention to the growing income disparity over the last few decades that’s become more pronounced since the foreclosure crisis plunged the nation into an economic hole in 2008 it still hasn’t recovered from.

“Ninety nine percent of us are getting screwed by the one percent elite on Wall Street,” said Sean, a San Mateo man who asked that his last name not be published.

Investing in infrastructure they say is desperately needed – the group claims 74 San Mateo County bridges have been found to be structurally deficient - could be paid for in part by ending the Bush tax cuts on the wealthiest Americans. They say that would be a nice start.

“We’re here because we think our tax policies need to be reformed so people who are wealthy and corporations who are wealthy are paying their fair share to help pave roads and build bridges and support people who are struggling with unemployment,” DeBode said.

Event organizer Robin Hansen, who sits on the Dream Council, said that Friday’s protest was about calling attention to the need for jobs, not “sticking it to the rich.”

She said the Dream Council formed over the summer, long before the Occupy Wall Street protests were making headlines.

“When we got together in July, we were a bunch of people who were individually frustrated who were just yelling at our TVs and thinking ‘what’s the use,’ “ Hansen said.

But as the disaffected suburbanites got to know each other and learned more about each other’s plights, Hansen said she and others felt compelled to take action on each other’s behalf.

“We’re almost doing this more for the other people in the room, to let them know we can make a difference,” she said, noting there was one person at the first meeting who seemed especially bitter whom “I really wanted to give some lift to.”

Hansen said and her group got a lift from motorists honking their horns in support of Friday’s rally, and the better-than-expected turnout.

“I guess it was kind of surprising how quickly it built up, “ she said.

Tim October 15, 2011 at 06:54 AM
At least they admit they are part of the hard left-wing George Soros funded moveon.org so we know what we're dealing with here. From ABC news..... “I think the people who are protesting on Wall Street break into two groups,” Gingrich said. “One is left-wing agitators who would be happy to show up next week on any other topic, and the other is sincere middle-class people who, frankly, are very close to the Tea Party people and actually care.” “And you can tell which group is which,” Gingrich added. “The people who are decent, responsible citizens pick up after themselves. The people who are just out there as activists trash the place and walk off and are proud of having trashed it. So let’s draw that distinction.”
Tim October 15, 2011 at 06:59 AM
We can and should invest in infrastructure, but lets not pretend that these are "shovel-ready" jobs. Much planning has to go into these projects along with environmental impact reports, public meetings, etc. Of course they are needed and they should be done with the current funding that's been allocated. We were told the first trillion stimulus that was pissed away would fund these projects but it was wasted and there's no accountability. And now they want to deficit spend another half trillion? Dream on, it's not going to happen.
J October 16, 2011 at 12:13 AM
As a participant at the Friday rally and a former journalist, I'm compelled to point out that good news reporting isn't dismissive, or full of cliches and snark--as this article is. If you want to present your opinion ( "wealthy, white suburban angst") and be snarky, then write an editorial; don't do it in news coverage. In addition, I seriously doubt anyone was smoking dope at the rally. (Not that there's anything wrong with that, to quote a great line from "Seinfeld".) The rally took place at a highly visible intersection, with police close by. Maybe someone was adventurous enough to light up in such a situation, but I suspect the reporter made this up to fit the story he or she wanted to tell, and to force an analogy.
Tim October 16, 2011 at 03:43 AM
As a former journalist attending left-wing moveon.org events, I'm glad you're no longer a journalist. I support their right to protest but it's misguided and I fear it will become less than peaceful. If someone wants to light up, great, who cares? But don't start trashing the place, turning over trash cans, and defecating on police cars like they've done in NYC and for heavens sake, lets not have it end up like the OWS in Rome.... http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/44912532/ns/world_news/#.TppSBILzK9N
Cilla Raughley October 16, 2011 at 06:40 PM
I am very proud of what the Mid-Peninsula American Dream Council, with the help of so many who participated, was able to accomplish on Friday, letting the plutocrats know our united determination to Rebuild the American Dream and defend our democracy. I missed any whiff of marijuana, but sure had some wonderful conversations with my neighbors. There is something very wrong when 19% of Americans report they are struggling to provide enough food for their families! There is something wrong when our country is the second worst in the entire world in regard to the distribution of wealth, the gap between the haves and have nots. There is something wrong when Republicans push for voter disenfranchisement legislation in blatant disregard of our historic values demanding that government of the people, by the people, for the people shall not perish from this earth.
Larry Mitchell October 16, 2011 at 07:30 PM
I to was at the event on Friday and, no pot, no violence and actually, some Republicans that wanted to "take their party back". I do not know who Tim is, but I do feel he is grossly misinformed and probably gets most of his info from Faux News. The participants I encountered were close to my age [60], highly educated, [college to PHD's], and in a higher economic demographic then most in the bay area. I'm assuming that "critical thinking" or "questioning authority" is not part of Tim's information processing procedure. I do not mean to put him down. I would invite him to an upcoming event and have an actual discussion without shouting or name calling or decision making on false premises. - Thank You. -Larry
Joel Weddington October 16, 2011 at 07:40 PM
The passion we showed at our rally was for a very simple reason: we want to keep California from becoming a third-world country. No matter our politics, we can agree on this: the United States Constitution. Our Constitution provides for Congress to levy taxes for the general welfare (sect. 8). This means public bridges, roads, etc. The Decaration of Independence asserts we have the right to the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness. Falling bridges and condemned public buildings are anti-democratic, and unconstitutional. Now that we have all agreed on America's fundamental values, let's get those tax revenues, fix those bridges, and restore our once golden state!
Larry Mitchell October 16, 2011 at 07:43 PM
I to was at the event on Friday and I did not smell any pot, there was no violence, and the demographic I talked with was around my age [40-60], well educated [college-PHD's], and probably more financially secure than most in the Bay Area. Many that I schmoozed with were also Republicans, [as opposed to Republicons], that wanted to take their party back. I would invite Tim to attend an event and articulate his views to have an actual, fact based, not Faux News, sound bite, name calling discussion. As our government is prevented from solving the recession/depression by Republicons that yearn for the "good old days" of the Robber Barrons, and serfdom, economics royalist times, we are duplicating the exact same policies that got us into the Depression in the 1930's. Those that don't remember history, are doomed to repeat it. -Thank you - Larry
Larry Mitchell October 16, 2011 at 07:49 PM
P.S.- Let's all try to be part of the SOLUTION, not part of the problem. Progress is moving forward, not moving backwards.- Thanks for reading
anon October 16, 2011 at 09:29 PM
Making this a republican versus democrat issue is to engage in tribal politics and sounds (to the clear minded) like kids arguing over their favorite team. The US, and many others, are burdened by debt, and debt repayment taking precedence over healthcare and education. I for one am most definitely not participating in any protest that becomes, like this one could, childish tribal politics. The problem is the broader macroeconomic principle the espouses slavery of all but the richest. It has to end.Hearing the R word, or the D word, just turns people off.
Kristen Emery October 16, 2011 at 11:12 PM
Just a quick comment for the author, I was at the rally during the whole time, and I beg to differ with your allegation in your fifth paragraph "with the occasional whiff of marijuana in the air and minimal police presence." My guess is that you were trying to link it to the protests from decades ago in Berkeley? But I would think you could be more original than that. Plus the crowd was a mix of young and old, children included. And our group coordinated with the police, to make sure that we were abiding by the law and not creating any unsafe conditions for the drivers going by. I hope next time you cover something like this, that you will be a bit more rigorous in your writing. Thanks.
Kristen Emery October 16, 2011 at 11:25 PM
Tim, Gringrich is hardly a credible resource to quote, the man with the $500,000 line of credit at Tiffany's. I love watching Bob Schieffer's face as he grills Newt on that issue: http://youtu.be/YRWv4zO6-pA?t=47s
Joe October 17, 2011 at 02:15 AM
so who would you quote? al sharpon or kanye west? or some other liberal millionaire that shows up at these events wearing thousands of dollars worth of clothes and jewelry?
Joe October 17, 2011 at 02:20 AM
Progress is not four more years of Obama economic policy either unless we want to bring back the Jimmy Carter misery index. Liberal policies have failed us every time they've been tried. We've tried massive deficit spending under another "hilghy educated PHD individua"l named Christina Gomer (one of Obama's top economic advisers).... she was a complete and utter failure and now she's back to failing her students at Cal Berkeley instead of ther greater economy. It's time to change course and we can't afford "four more years"
L October 17, 2011 at 02:25 AM
In another posting someone described the scene at the NYC OWS protest... "it looks like New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina" Maybe if these jerks weren't trashing the place and living like gutter rats people would take them more seriously. Children included? you mean children are angry about "corporate greed"? How about the idiot in the $40 SJ Sharks shirt and $30 sharks hat protesting corporate greed.... a little ironic don't ya think?
Kristen Emery October 17, 2011 at 02:30 AM
Maybe Sally Kohn of Fox News - http://goo.gl/Qbni4
Kristen Emery October 17, 2011 at 02:48 AM
L, Please provide a link to the posting that described the NYC OWS protest as something that "looks like New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina". Second and third hand information is not taken seriously. It would be more constructive if comments would avoid devolving into faulty ad hominem arguments such as calling someone an idiot for wearing a SJ Sharks shirt and hat.
Thomas Atwood October 17, 2011 at 06:07 AM
I was at the rally, and detected nary a whiff of pot. And if I had, I wouldn't use it to distract readers from the real story--that America is waking up to a decades-long transfer of resources to our wealthiest citizens. You can choose to descend to name calling or have a real conversation, and reasonable people can argue about the details, but the numbers don't lie. The top 1% now own over 40% of all assets and 24% of income. 400 individuals own more that 50% of Americans. This is a world-class disgrace, and I applaud everyone who takes a stand for living wages, clean elections, regulation of the financial industry, and progressive tax policy.
Cilla Raughley October 17, 2011 at 06:32 AM
Thank you Kristen and Thomas. I appreciate the dose of reality. It's also interesting to see the polling data showing that majorities of both Republicans and Tea Party members are in sympathy with the call for tax fairness. Americans believe in fairness, plain and simple. We are a nation of patriots, across the political spectrum, and we're willing to work to help our country get back on track.
Larry Mitchell October 17, 2011 at 08:49 AM
L-I'm the so called "idiot" in the Sharks t-shirt and hat. The shirt was bought at Fry's for $14.99 and the hat on-line at the NHL outlet/clearance section for $9.99 with free shipping included. I am a self-employed child safety consultant /installer. I have been doing it for over 25 years, and wear this garb for business and pleasure. I like to think that I try to give back to the community by donating time, energy and $$ doing pro-bono work for organizations like Habitat for Humanities, Families in Transition, and others who could barely afford my services, unless otherwise subsidized. You would probably consider me in the top 5% of the economic demographic. I'm probably not perfect, but calling any one names and claiming irony and hypocrisy is not the way to move forward. I would invite you to come to any event and have civil discourse with any participant and leave your anger and maybe ego in a place that allows us to be civil and respectful. If you can back up your point of view with facts, common sense and logic, it would be helpful as well. -Thank you - Larry
anon October 17, 2011 at 12:54 PM
Larry. by making this a childish, tribal, republican v democrat issue, you sound just as silly as the other guy, if not worse. Leave the flags and old boy school songs behind, this is about universal morality and greed.
Larry Mitchell October 17, 2011 at 03:53 PM
You are correct in pointing out that this is not a D v R debate, but a $$$$, ethics/morality issue and a universal one at that. However, in the current choices that are available, there is a distinction between the 2 parties. I may not like them either, but it will take much time and energy to change them, especially if you chose to do it non-violently. It may take decades or even generations as history has shown. Every journey starts with a 1st step. Join the discussion. I look forward to meeting you.
anon October 17, 2011 at 04:57 PM
Larry.I applaud you, despite my tone. In my own way I am fighting the battle too, one step at a time. Greed is a ferocious enemy, and he reaches into every corner of our community. The protests around the world this week focus very much on the rich (5%) versus the struggling (95%) and in most countries they are not mentioning any form of party politic. I think this is important. Lets go from there. Look at what 'red versus blue' is doing to children in gangs. We should be better than that, not encouraging it.
Joe October 18, 2011 at 01:15 AM
Occupy Wall Street.... These people need to Occupy JOBS! Generation E(ntitlement)
Joe October 18, 2011 at 01:24 AM
I just got back from New York and I can tell you that Zuccotti Park is a disaster. Not only does it look like New Orleans after Katrina (the place is absolutely trashed) but it sticks something awful there. The sanitation is extremely poor and they need to let the city clean up after them or the likelihood for rampant disease with poor sanitation and colder weather will become inevitable.

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