Anatomy Of A Takeover At A Health Care Corporation

On Monday, April 11, in San Francisco, I felt it was not a romantic notion that my videographer Scott and I were embedded among Partisan guerrillas deep in enemy territory.  We were all joined together in a viciously difficult corporate class war.

We met our band of resistors, from teens to elders, at the Panhandle tennis courts where SFPD squad cars lurked in the parking lot.  Corporate staff reporter, Amber Lee, KTVU FOX Channel 2 News at 6, interviewed Matt Crain, spokesperson, after which, Matt clarified for me the purpose of this day's action.  

“We are gathering here for a brief rally before we march through the Haight into the Western Addition to draw awareness to an apartment complex where the owner chooses to keep the place vacant and waste a resource as valuable as housing.  Most folks don't know that there are 30,000 vacant homes here in San Francisco” (while 6,000 to 9,000 San Franciscans suffer homelessness).

Partisan is an apt name for a miniscule group resisting a dysfunctional systemic Colossus.  The word suggests stealth and clever action against an overpowering army.

One partisan organizer promotes this simple concept:  The world's resources are finite.  The idea any one person deserves to hoard and consume more resources than all others is absurd.  When residential housing sits vacant solely to benefit a few, people recognize that is unacceptable.  He believes at point of maximum group frustration, people will resist, rise up, recapture resources, and return them to the community.  

His certainty that resistance will inevitably succeed seems borne out by the Peoples' Middle East revolutions cascading across the globe to Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Washington.  Even the school girls, Sarah 16 and Zoe 18, who I met in Golden Gate park, knew the four hundred families hoarding the Nation's wealth can't shore up the current system.  However, the slaughter of Yemenis and Syrians, so desperate they die protesting despots and demanding democracy, attests to a powerful multinational counter-resistance force.  Nevertheless, he insists that, since the monolith will crash, we must “keep people planning how to reduce the amount of suffering.” But,“The sooner we start bringing it down, the better.”

Western Regional Advocacy Project Director, Paul Boden, supporter and 'comforter of the enemy' decried a new Republican budget [in which] “$38 million dollars in cuts is 80% against programs that serve poor people” containing tax credit extensions for wealthy corporations like Kaiser Permanente Medical Center “that we're marching on today.” They let these buildings sit vacant for years to get maximum Federal Government tax credits and make money keeping buildings vacant.  “And, we got an increase in military spending,” he added.

He urged today's resistors to join allies in cities nationwide to take a stand, “and have a good time doing it.”

Then, like any band of French or Russian Nazi-resistors, Revolutionary or Civil War patriots, they sped off billowing liberation banners --- a swift tiny platoon commandeering San Francisco Streets --- David's pebble to a   Multinational Corporate Goliath's brow.   Scott floated a boom over heads capturing a rapid march out of The Haight's 'Summer-of-Love' turned 'Get-These-Punks Out-Of-My-Upper-Crusty Neighborhood.'  North along the Divisadero corridor, poet Dee Allen's strong voice cadenced, “Homelessness Is Not A Crime!  Corporations are filled with Crime.”  Organizer, Jeremy Miller pointed a J'accuse finger at wasted, unoccupied buildings near the shut-down gas station on the Fell Street corner.  

Indicating the empty Street Kaiser Permanente building 'down there at O'Farrell,' I informed interested neighbors and business people this was an occupation-in-reverse against a nonworking system.   Resisters enter, occupy premises, and ---  Believing 'Housing Is A Human Right,' not a free market commodity that a few hoard for profit --- symbolically return it to people who need it.   

At McAllister Street, I passed three pre-teens.  One girl smiled up, “Who are those people?”

They are saying the empty buildings around here could house all the homeless people.

“It's not right to have homeless people,” she mused.  “They should have houses.  I'm going to the store for my mom.  I wish I could march, too.”

Next time, you can. “Okay,” she smiled.  “I will!”


I was the last person in.  I squeaked inside just as an officer slammed shut and locked the yellow O'Farrell door behind me into blackness.   It was a rush.  A kind hand guided me carefully up a flight of stairs through dark rooms faintly lit at bay windows opening out to the street.  Silhouettes wandered happily about greeting in excited camaraderie.  Doing a takeover was fun.

Matt met us in the foyer.  “If you go straight down here, you'll see light on your right hand side, and that light leads to the main lobby which has a stairwell going upstairs.”

“It's huge!” Someone exclaimed.  It was large, but not as large as the 40-unit Leslie Hotel occupied previously.  Floor plans showed researchers ground floor commercial space containing a beauty shop and grocery store.  About 20 residential units of studio and one-bedroom apartments housed families on higher floors.  A man I later met in the Walgreens on the corner said he recalled the eviction years before.

“This is a cozy little place.  Quite cozy.”

“There are dozens of pigeons living in here!”

“Did you evict the pigeons?”

“The squatters did.”

“Did you eat all the pigeons?”

1409 Divisidero was an Open Occupation.  Open occupiers conduct public tours exposing to neighbors and visitors a building sitting open, unused and wasted.

Occupiers are compadres with shared values and objectives who mind-meld their takeover plans via spontaneously coalescing and dissolving, decentralized coalitions with names like 'Stop the Cuts Bay Area,' 'Creative Housing Liberation,' 'Homes Not Jails,' and 'Food Not Bombs.'  

Though each occupation is unique, the 1989 video 'Takeover' of HUD buildings by homeless people across the Midwest provides a template.  

On Demo Day, participants meet to make banners and posters for the march and site windows.   Three huge signs cascaded down the 1409 Divisadero facade: From the roof, “Hella Occupied;” “Kaiser Thrives, People Die” from a top floor; and farther down 'Homes Not Jails.'

Before open occupations, advance notice is provided to participants and media.  This time, occupiers announced the meeting place and time (but not location of the occupation site) by Press Release, on Facebook, and in 'Street Sheet.' This explains the black and whites in the park.

Occupiers often divert police to a central location where marchers escorted by police cars, follow organizers to the pre-occupied squat.

Researchers check public records, scout available locations, find their way into a building.  Once in, they check Safety meticulously: broken stairs, boards with nails, wiring, electricity, water.  The public cannot be brought into an unsafe building.  

They note Security: Entrances, exits, windows, escape routes.  Can sections or rooms be barricaded to protect from police, security, landlords entering to evict?  

The idea is to occupy while the rally diverts police, and to draw out the stay for media attention.  Lydia Blumberg, past takeover participant, noted the march is timed to reach the location after 5:00 to 6:00 p.m. close of business when it's harder for police to reach the landlord who's gone home.  Often the site is held well into the following day before police can secure the landlord's eviction notice.

At the Divisidero location, occupiers gained access early Monday, 4/11;  Police issued citations Tuesday, 4/12 at 11:43 a.m. (Total occupation time: 33 hours.  Average time: 32).

Occupations constitute a public demonstration of a direct action in which participants are willing and prepared to be arrested for civil disobedience.  (Lydia has not, but would wear arrest as a badge of honor.)  Arrests intrude the issue into the broken Court structure.  Noted Aaron Buchbinder, the march's Legal Observor, “civil disobedience, which we should do more often, is a protected act of free speech so charges tend to be more lenient.”

Bob Offer-Westort, Coalition on Homelessness, laid 'Mad Kudos' on partisans who, from April 2010 to 2011, achieved four rapid-fire  occupations. “(These takeovers) have been pretty ingenious,” he said.

A year ago, Sun/ April 4, 2010, occupiers captured Jose Morales' former 572 San Jose Avenue Mission District home, standing open two years while people slept on streets.  Morales, an elder, spent fourteen years  fighting an Ellis Act eviction from his home of 43 years in a building his landlord raised to market rates by purportedly 'escaping' the rental business.  

With much media publicity, on Mon/ July 20, 2010 the Sierra Hotel occupiers at 20th and Mission protested government cuts of social services creating increased homelessness.

On Sun/ October 10, 2010 the Leslie Hotel takeover at 587 Eddy Street (Tenderloin) highlighted World Homeless Day and the Sit/Lie law's criminalization of homelessness.


Today, Mon/ April 11, 2011 at the fourth occupation, a Western Addition/ Fillmore area Kaiser Permanente holding, resistors marked this predator Medical Corporation with a banner reading, 'Kaiser Thrives, People Die.'

Scott guided me up a staircase through a bright door to the the roof's blue sky.   The view impressed Berkeley occupier, Crusty Shackleford, (No, not son of pedophile Crusty-The-Clown). “In an hour and a half the sun will set.  It's going to get all pink, and the reflection is going to get on the buildings.  Bay Area sunsets are awesome”

Occupier Linda, Los Angeles family abuse runaway, underage in squats during San Francisco's early punk scene, suffered “horrible things to survive.”  Since she nearly died homeless, she wanted to support the occupation.  Now 45, after living 20 years in London where squatting is legal, she does permaculture and tends horses and chickens with her partner on a Redwood Valley ranch.   

We four stood at the pinnacle of Kaiser Permanente corporate behemoth on a rooftop of an empty building from which someone, probably homeless was evicted drying out.  In a dusty bedroom drawer, Scott had found the 12-step book, 'Getting Sober.'

But, evicting people and leaving buildings empty were not the only ways Kaiser hurt people. Early on, Edgar Kaiser designed this gargantuan medical corporation to damage human health.

On a Feb. 17, 1971 Nixon tape, Watergate Plumber, John Erlichman told Nixon, “Edgar is running this [Health Maintenance Organization] for profit.  He can do it [because] the incentives are for less medical care, because the less care they give 'em, the more money they make.”  

“I like it,” Nixon answered, and on Feb. 18, he gave a speech proposing HMOs ---“a new National Health Strategy” to The American People.


We descended to the street.  Surrounded by cops, media trucks and people, a large crowd chanted, and listened to poetry and music.  

To much enthusiastic clapping, Dee Allen performed his poem, “Shelter,”  

"Master lock on steel chains

Boards on windows & doors

An old building interiour's bare

Down to the stairs & floors


“Emptier than a tomb

While a sickened man sleeps outside

The cold, hard sidewalk against his back------

His last abide”

The Homeless People, a washboard accordion band, delivered a haunting arrangement of Leonard Cohen's song, 'The Partisan.'  The slow cadence and washboard thumping echoed plodding hooves as the Partisan was hunted toward death by the powerful Army he resisted.  

“An old woman gave us shelter,

kept us hidden in the garret,

then the soldiers came;

she died without a whisper.


Oh, the wind, the wind is blowing,

through the graves the wind is blowing,

freedom soon will come;

then we'll come from the shadows.

When wellness is based on a home --- with buildings left vacant --- a health care corporation leaving one empty is a savagely hypocritical act.

In a final bullhorn blast, Jeremy Miller announced to demonstrators, occupiers, and passersby, “The fact that anyone should be forced to remain without shelter is criminal, is wrong, and is a situation that we will resolve if the Powers That Be refuse to.”

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