When I heard the helicopter, I knew something was up. Living in downtown Oakland, I've come to learn the dull thumping of helicopter rotors means there's probably Occupy action not far away.
Like any other day, I was walking around the Financial District in downtown San Francisco on my lunch break—shooting pictures, being indecisive about where to eat. I heard the helicopter before I could see it. But once I pinpointed its location, near 1st and Market streets, I changed course and headed up Market towards the Ferry Building. Protesters gathered in front of a Bank of America.
Once I caught up I saw they were not only outside the bank, but crawling everywhere inside the bank, filling the place, standing on desks, sitting on the floor, chanting, waving flags. One banker sat at his desk, calmly gathering his things as protesters surrounded him and photographers surrounded the protesters. It was an amazing picture, the banker at his desk, utterly surrounded. I needed inside.
Just as that thought hit my mind, I realized I left the office with my film camera and only one roll of film on me. Thirty-six frames. That's all I had. I'd have to shoot judiciously. If shit hit the fan, or this lasted very long, I wouldn't be able to get the photos. I found my way inside the bank. The banker, an assistant vice president it turns out, was still at his desk, getting ready to leave.
I took a few other photos: signs protesters put up around the bank, general shots of the group, some of the tellers.
The cops would be here soon. A police officer in the bank made an announcement that anyone who didn't want to be arrested needed to leave immediately.
Given that I didn't have a press pass on me and only 10 pictures left, I left the bank and went to the lobby of the building. No need to get swept up and stuck. Sure enough, a large contingent of police gathered in the lobby and was preparing to storm the branch. Two cops in riot gear blocked the door. "No one gets in. No one gets out." I was stuck in the lobby.
A dozen cops in full riot gear ran into the branch. Click. Click. Down to five frames.
Hundreds of people lined Davis Street in front of the bank. Police formed a semicircle perimeter around the front of the building. Inside the lobby, a security guard was trying to get workers from other floors who'd come down to see the action to return to their offices and random protesters to exit the building. Police stood at each entrance as another security guard locked the revolving doors.
Things seemed to be settling down. Inside, the bank was quiet, protesters likely getting arrested, one by one. Outside there was chanting, but the police and protesters stayed respectful of each other's position. No pushing, no fighting. They'd both been here before. Pros on both sides. I burned the last two frames and slipped out of the building with a guy who got kicked out for not having a press pass. He was incredulous that I left on my own volition.
I walked through the crowd outside. A group gathered right up against the police perimeter and another group kept more of a distance, lining the other side of the street. Workers in the building across the street pressed against the windows, taking photos with their phones. I said hi to a few people I knew in the crowd and made my way back to the office, finally grabbing lunch on the way.