Occupy Oakland

i-dbfa47d68a51d4ab6408a54b9050dd39-OccupyOaklandsign.jpgLike a lot of folks, my first reaction to the Occupy Wall Street protests – which began on September 17th, over a month ago – was dubious. While I agree with their concerns over income inequality and the failure of policymakers and law enforcement to hold Wall Street accountable for its role in the financial crisis, the language of occupation, and the vague strategy and early lack of focus left me ambivalent.

As time has passed, Occupy Wall Street (and similar efforts in hundreds of cities around the world) have drawn in expertise from organized labor and have transformed this effort from what seemed like a feckless gathering into the sort of metanarrative that Van Jones eloquently urged liberals to create at last summer’s Netroots Nation.

Over the weekend, I visited the folks at Occupy Oakland. Oakland is not Wall Street, of course, and I’d joked before that Oakland really ought to be occupying someone else, not being occupied. Oakland, to put it simply, is the 99%.

What I found was an experiment in building community, and a vigorous protest on behalf of Oakland and its citizens. The city plaza being occupied had been renamed after Oscar Grant, a young black man who was shot in the back during his arrest a couple years back, and whose killer was given a laughably short sentence. His death had spurred protests, many of which resulted in rioting and violence, often in and around the same plaza now being occupied. The Occupy community was vigorously nonviolent, a quiet, polite tent city where about 200 people lived, with a kitchen that served the Occupiers and other hungry folks, a first aid tent, a supply tent with water and spare blankets and other necessaries, an area for children to play under adult supervision, and an arts and crafts area.
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This little girl had been painting in the arts and crafts tent, and I caught her as she was cleaning up and picking up some plastic flowers that had been donated to the camp.

The main purpose of the arts and crafts area was signmaking, I gather. Signs of various sorts were lay all around the periphery of the camp, left their in anticipation of future protests. Near the arts and crafts tent, a series of signs that others had painted were drying, including my own favorite, urging (at the upper left): “Octopi Oakland.”

i-2201bbc5d2161db4bd422416b36c568a-OOsignsOctopi.jpgBut it wasn’t just about protest. We entered the camp at lunch time, so the kitchen was busy, and I’d guess that at least a quarter of the folks being fed weren’t Occupiers, just folks from the area who were homeless or otherwise going hungry. We may not have the public bread lines of the Depression, but the economic crisis has left a lot of people scrambling for their next meal, and the kitchens in Occupy camps may be doing more direct good on that front than almost anyone.

Near the kitchen there was a poetry slam under way, and in an amphitheater at the center of the park, a group of Native American women were talking about how their experiences and those of their people could inform the Occupy movement (including urging them to drop the language of occupation, which understandably turns off Native Americans). After they finished speaking, there was a polite and thoughtful discussion which branched off from their talk into the various other concerns of the protesters.

i-20e9cc2e4f151f06a88d82bc1d903f9c-OOorganize.jpgThis woman was listening to the conversation as she put the finishing touches on her large banner. Her theme is fairly traditional, but perfectly expresses the attitude and accomplishments of the Occupy movement.

Apparently this peaceful experiment in democracy was raided by the Oakland police, who swept in at 4 am. Apparently using toxic gas, grenades, and rubber bullets, they arrested dozens, confiscated tents, sleeping bags, and other gear, and cleaned out the park. Occupy Oakland organizers insist they’ll be back, but this makes Oakland’s response one of the most aggressive assaults on the Occupy movement in the country. In a city with epic crime rates and genuine, deep-seated problems, I have a hard time seeing how a peaceful protest deserves this level of police response, apparently involving multiple police agencies coordinating the assault.

Is this really a threat deserving of such a response?

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I mean, this is a group so polite that someone made a sign to request that folks smoke a little farther from the tents, signing it “asthmatic occupier.” Honestly, not the foremost threat facing Oakland. The mayor and other city officials have previously expressed sympathy with Occupy Oakland, and I simply cannot see how this outcome makes any sense.

Comments

  1. #1 Ed
    October 25, 2011

    These polite people started tossing rocks and bottles at police.

    Smoke some more dope… it will make you smarter.

  2. #2 Patrick
    October 25, 2011

    Is this really a threat deserving of such a response?

    Absolutely. These libs have been coddled too long. Don’t have a job? Tough. Life is never intended to be fair. And never was.

    I can’t wait until Jan 2013. If this nonsense is still around, it will be shut down good.

  3. #3 informania
    October 25, 2011

    @2
    Life has no explicit intentions whatsoever, these intentions are only formed by human construct. i.e. human social life is only unfair because smucks like you make it so..

    And what’s on Jan 2013? Going Camping?

  4. #4 D. C. Sessions
    October 25, 2011

    I simply cannot see how this outcome makes any sense.

    Yes you can. You just don’t like what you see.

  5. #5 Mr. Adams
    October 25, 2011

    This Occupy Oakland thing is an invasion of my community – Oakland – from Anarchists that travel the west.

    Its rife with intimidation of the community and a foul mess. You are a pain in the butt and you belong in the remote woods.

  6. #6 Dan
    October 25, 2011

    Factually incorrect: no one was hurt and no rubber bullets were fired. People were arrested for refusing to leave. Otherwise police just did what they needed to do to clean out the park and restore it to use as a public space rather than a camp ground.

  7. #7 D. C. Sessions
    October 25, 2011

    And what’s on Jan 2013? Going Camping?

    President Scudder will put an end to this, permanently.

  8. #8 Casey
    October 25, 2011

    It’s funny to watch these desperate right wing clowns attack any comment section they can get their hands on.

  9. #9 A Broken Country
    October 25, 2011

    In so many places in the US it is illegal to be homeless. Illegal to exist as a human being.

    The US is broken. Slowly, inexorably, standards of living are declining. National wealth is squandered in misguided foreign imperialist quagmires, billions of dollars are given to foreign governments such as Israel and Egypt.

    Essentially the rule of law is breaking down. Too many financial schemes, not enough honest businesses. No prosecution for slick thieves who steal money electronically and game the system. Congress is partially to blame because laws in the US are antiquated and corporations are now “people” who can donate unlimited amounts of money to buy the politician who make the laws (or do nothing).

    Slowly, surely it is all coming apart at the seams.

  10. #10 https://me.yahoo.com/a/PxckwTE5h.aX2IKVBbVpSwG7pnzF1A--#8e772
    October 25, 2011

    What do people like you mean by calling corporations “”people””? What is it about corporate behavior that amounts to claiming to be one person instead of many?

  11. #11 Resident
    October 25, 2011

    Former resident of Oakland and employee, er, that is “worker” downtown for about ten years. About the end of last week I noticed the camp had started to attract a bad element – the mask-wearing self-styled “anarchists” who basically just like to break things and who you can always count on to screw up everything … not a hell of a lot of them and I wouldn’t say I felt threatened … just wanted to be elsewhere, quickly …

    Nevertheless, the police action today was beyond unreasonable. There were more police from more agencies out there all day long than I’ve ever seen, even before, during and after real disturbances where people got hurt and stuff got broken. It was intimidating, and I believe that was the purpose. Would want us cubicle drones to take the wrong message and get uppity, would we … in order to prevent Ogawa Plaza from being blocked, the police shut it down for the entire day … cops in riot gear, everywhere, by the dozen, helicopters buzzing by all … day … long, so it was hard to concentrate … “show of force” would be the term. This unfocused rabble called “Occupy” sure is making some people nervous …

    It backfired. There was a march this afternoon – unpermitted, natch – right around close-of-business that shut down Broadway. It was made up of far, FAR more people than had ever been at the camp. I watched it go by, then watched the cops, dozens of them in riot gear AGAIN – nothing compared to the hundreds all day, and oh yeah, more helicopters – following the march. Between the march and the police was not where I wanted to be. Fortunately I was able to get lost. I heard a bank got occupied for a while, but no arrests …

    It’s getting interesting out there …

  12. #12 Anthony McCarthy
    October 26, 2011

    Homeless people have political lives, their political lives are usually more immediately important to them than they are to the affluent, a matter that could easily and quickly turn into life or death. They also have a right to make themselves heard, to agitate for political change that addresses the crisis of their destitution and to move the local, state and federal governments. They have every right to be and should be a part of the Occupy agitation, every bit as much a right as anyone else who is participating.

    I’m not in a place to say if they’re exercising a right, only the owner of the blog can determine that, but this blog seems to be occupied by Republican trolls, just now. Though some of them might just be class snobs.

  13. #13 Wow
    October 27, 2011

    “the mask-wearing self-styled “anarchists” who basically just like to break things”

    The G20 summit in Italy had mask-wearing self-styled “anarchists” who instigated violence.

    The recording of these people was confiscated from IndyMedia servers because these mask wearers at least included undercover police and their cover would be blown.

    Undercover police officers who were instigating violence.

    Guess why?

    So that the uniformed police can break the protesters up and paint them as violent anarchists.

    Something to keep in mind when violence breaks out at a protest.

  14. #14 Lindsay
    October 27, 2011

    @6 Dan:

    You are factually incorrect. Someone (an Iraq War veteran no less) ended up in critical condition at a local hospital from wounds received from the police. http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2011/10/27/MNE71LMH3C.DTL&tsp=1

    Furthermore, when occupiers tried to help this man, a police officer lobbed a flash grenade right in the middle of them. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OZLyUK0t0vQ

    It was completely excessive. I never see OPD in my neighborhood dealing with the real crime, but they have the resources to pick on protestors peacefully assembling? Bollocks, and embarrassing.

  15. #15 Emme
    October 30, 2011

    This was a beautifully written reflection on the Occupy movement. Thank you for taking the time.

  16. #16 Nina Nathan
    October 31, 2011

    DOES ANYONE KNOW WHERE I CAN GET A COPY OF THE POSTER AT THE START OF THIS ARTICLE? I TEACH ART TO KIDS, DOING A UNIT ON SOCIAL JUSTICE AND ART….WOULD LOVE TO HAVE A COPY OF THIS!!! PLEASE EMAIL ME IF YOU KNOW…. ninochkalove@att.net

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