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Occupy Bernal Heights Proves Occupy Is A State Of Mind

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The December 21st meeting of Occupy Bernal Heights.
The December 21st meeting of Occupy Bernal Heights.

When most people think of the Occupy movement, a very specific set of images likely pops up: tent cities, Zuccotti Park, Scott Olsen, Third Eye Blind, etc.

But in the minds of many protestors, they aren't occupying any specific place so much as a state of mind--a stance against the global financial and economic elite, the much-vilified one percent.

The proof comes in the form of Occupy Bernal Heights, a neighborhood group focused on fighting evictions in the close-knit San Francisco neighborhood that had its inaugural meeting earlier this month.

"Occupy Bernal started as one of many possible ways to bring the Occupy movement into the neighborhoods," said Stardust, one of the group's organizers. "Some of the neighbors here in Bernal have participated in Occupy SF and other Occupy camps, meetings, and protests, but the politicians and cops were raiding the camps and focusing a lot of organizing energy into camp defense and police brutality issues, rather than other important causes. From the beginning of the Occupy movement, many participants have understood that we occupy not only tents in a camp, but also our homes, our schools, our workplaces, our hearts, and our minds. Moving into the neighborhoods is a natural extension of the activities of the Occupy encampments, even if no tents are involved."

"There are 54 houses in foreclosure or in financial dispute [in the neighborhood] -- it's just horrible," Elizabeth Stephens, another Bernal Heights resident who helped start the neighborhood Occupy movement, told SF Weekly.

Stephens said that the first home they're targeting belongs to a 72-year old veteran named Thomas who is currently on the verge of eviction. "We will approach the bank and ask if they will renegotiate his loan," she said. "They will probably say forget it, but we are going to try. If that doesn't work, there are people willing to sit inside his house when police come to evict him."

This action is typical of the nascent organization's strategy--employing legal experts to sift though mountains of paperwork in lieu of activists camping out in tents.

For many Bernal Heights occupiers, this is their first direct involvement with the movement, but its unlikely to be their last. The group plans on taking action in coordination with other Occupy groups nationwide during the National Day of Action on January 20.

"Housing is a human right," proclaims the Occupy Bernal Heights website, an especially relevant sentiment in an area where both home ownership and evictions are on the higher end of the spectrum for San Francisco neighborhoods.

A recent social media-infused tech boom is threatening to send housing prices soaring in neighborhoods like Bernal Heights (along with nearby Potero Hill and Noe Valley), which some fear will lead to area landlords more aggressively perusing evictions in the an effort to dramatically increase housing prices.

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