Black Friday: Occupy Protests Discourage Shopping On One Of Retail's Biggest Days
SAN FRANCISCO -- Anti-Wall Street protesters took their message about corporate greed to Black Friday shoppers, staging demonstrations in commercial areas around California on one of the busiest days of the year for retailers and bargain-hunters.
In San Francisco, a few dozen people in tony and touristy Union Square used signs to spread an anti-consumerism message. One, 9-year-old Jacob Hamilton, held a sign that read, "What is in your bag that's more important than my education?"
Some of the protesters from the Occupy movements in San Francisco and Oakland clashed with police when they briefly blocked the city's iconic cable cars until officers pushed them out of the street.
Later in the afternoon, some of the participants in what protesters called "Don't Buy Anything Day" sat down in the middle of Market Street, San Francisco's main thoroughfare, and blocked traffic while chanting, "Stop shopping and join us!"
"I wanted us both to be here for the children," said protester Steve Hamilton, a screenwriter who traveled to the city from Winters, Calif., with his son Jacob. "I see how the education deficit directly affects the schools; how the teachers struggle with so many kids in the classrooms and a lack of books. It's not fair to this generation."
Down the street from Macy's massive store on Union Square in San Francisco, shopper Celia Collins of New Orleans said she worked hard to earn her MBA and pay off her student loans. She had every right to enjoy Black Friday, she said, and the protesters would be better off working within the system to find jobs and support the economy.
"I think they're a bunch of ... crybabies," said Collins, clutching her shopping bags as she watched the protesters march down Stockton Street. "I don't begrudge them the right to do it, but I just don't think they've really very smart."
A group of about 20 Occupy protesters in Sacramento marched from a park to a small outdoor mall where many of the storefronts are empty. A police officer on a bicycle trailed the crowd.
A few puzzled shoppers, many toting large shopping bags, stopped to stare at the crowd as they read a manifesto asking people to support local merchants.
Michele Waldinger, 57, a retired attorney who used to work for the U.S. Small Business Administration, said she joined the group to lend her voice to the Occupy effort to restore a social safety net and get corporate influence out of American politics.
"I support the movement, I support getting money out of politics and I support having people shop locally," she said.
The group paraded into a Macy's store, entering near the women's clothing department.
"We are here today to ask you to shop local and sustain our local economy," the group's leader, a man who identified himself only as Brother Carter, read into a bullhorn. "And not reward the 1 percent, large corporate stores like Macy's, whose profits enrich the 1 percent, while they pay next to nothing to their workers, the 99 percent."
The group stayed inside the store for several minutes chanting slogans such as, "They call it profit; we call it robbery." Several shoppers crowded around taking photos with their cellphones.
"I just was took back by surprise that they came into Macy's," said Beronica Jones, 39, of Reno, who was carrying a Gap bag. "I guess that it's positive for people to hear it when they're shopping for Christmas, when we're consuming."
After most of the crowd had cleared out of the store, two young women wearing Macy's badges approached one of the protesters to ask what their rally was all about. One explained that it was to call attention to workers who perform all the labor but do not share in profits.
The employees nodded their heads in agreement.
A Macy's manager threatened to arrest a reporter for The Associated Press before she could ask for the names of the employees or the manager.
Betsy Nelson, a spokeswoman for Macy's, declined to comment on the group's assertion that the chain is among the "1 percent." Nelson said Macy's usually asks the media to check in before reporting at its stores but apologized for the manager who threatened to have the reporter arrested.
"We are a place where people shop. We are not necessarily a place to protest," she said.
Along with identifying new protest targets, people with the Occupy movement energized more established awareness campaigns.
In Emeryville, a small city on San Francisco Bay that has been transformed from a manufacturing area to a shopping destination, more than 60 people attended a Native American community's 10th annual Black Friday protest of the Bay Street Mall.
Corrina Gould, a lead organizer for Indian People Organizing for Change, said the goal is to educate shoppers that the mall was built in 2002 on a sacred Ohlone burial site.
About one-third of the people at Friday's protest came from neighboring Oakland's Occupy movement, and Gould said having the new voices was invigorating.
Jesse Smith, an Occupy Oakland protester, passed out fliers encouraging mall shoppers to instead support local businesses in downtown Oakland to help "keep them in the black."
Williams reported from Sacramento. Associated Press Writer Terry Collins contributed reporting from Emeryville.