San Francisco SCP?

At approximately 6:00 pm on Saturday, 30 March 2002, a group of Surveillance Camera Players (SCP) performed It's OK, Officer in San Francisco, California. Composed of players from New York City (Bill, Susan and Miranda) and San Francisco (Martin), this particular SCP grouping wandered around the city's financial district, which centers around Market and 4th Streets, and showed the play's hand-printed placards to every surveillance camera that was encountered. This trip to San Francisco marked the fourth time that the New York group has performed in an American city other than its hometown: the first three trips took the New Yorkers to Peekskill, NY, Baltimore, Maryland, and Jersey City, New Jersey.

The trip to San Francisco was undertaken to help inspire the formation of an active SCP group in the Bay Area, which has seen two previous groupings start up and then fall apart: the first grouping (centered around Redmist) put up a website but never performed; while the second grouping (centered around Pulsar and Gekkid) performed once on 7 September 2001 but never put up a site or performed again. (To help Martin form an active group, the New Yorkers left the boards that make up It's OK, Officer with him.)

The reasons that an SCP group hasn't yet taken hold in San Francisco -- a city that would seem to be a natural for political street theater -- are now clear to the New Yorkers. There is no sense of urgency about the subject of surveillance in San Francisco because the city doesn't have a lot of video cameras installed in public places (there are also very few microwave relay transmitters installed by the police so that they can use wireless video cameras and digital radios), and because San Francisco doesn't have a police department that is as brutal, feared or distrusted as the New York Police Department (NYPD). It is clear that people's positions on surveillance cameras are almost completely determined by their personal experiences with police officers (and security guards), that is to say, with the people who are watching the cameras. If one's personal experiences with law enforcement officers have been favorable, then one is typically in favor of the cameras; but if one's experiences have been negative, then one is opposed.

Despite the relatively small number of public surveillance cameras in San Francisco, the SCP's performance elicited curiosity and positive comments, that is, the same responses that the group gets in New York City. The only exceptions were the responses of some of the homeless people on Market Street, who told the performers to "go to another country" (!) if they didn't like surveillance cameras. The SCP handed out flyers to about 40 bystanders, as well as several camera-watching security guards. No SFPD officers were encountered during the hour-long performance, nor were there any reporters or photographers in attendance.

This performance was staged shortly after the conclusion of the 7th Annual San Francisco Anarchist Bookfair, which was held in the Kezar Pavillion of Golden Gate Park. At the bookfair, the SCP shared a table with the San Francisco chapter of Food Not Bombs, of which Martin is a member. Though it brought nothing to sell, the SCP did very well: it gave out plenty of free flyers, stickers and videotapes; met several people who had already heard of the group; and got introduced to several others to whom the group was unknown. Though there were no surveillance cameras at the fair, the SCP performed It's OK, Officer inside the pavillion for the benefit and amusement of those in attendance.

Over the course of their three-day-long stay in San Francisco, the New Yorkers also attended an "Anarchist Cafe" on Friday night and a conference organized by the BASTARDS (Bay Area Students and Theorists of Anarchist Research and Development) on Sunday afternoon. At the former, the group met with Will Doherty, who is interested in creating a website that would allow visitors to post pictures of surveillance cameras that have been installed in their hometowns. At the latter, the SCP-New York became reacquainted with the following truism: people who are interested in anarchist "theory" spend all of their time wondering how they will respond to the objections that might be made to whatever actions they (the theorists) might someday undertake; and so they never undertake any actions at all. Comrades! Act first and worry about your responses after or if any objections are made. Sheesh!

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NY Surveillance Camera Players