The stated goal of Occupy Oakland’s day of action on Saturday January 28 was to take over an abandoned building and repurpose it for the good of the people. I participated in the action for part of the day and feel like I have spent the last two days defending the action to friends over breakfast, on Facebook, and on the phone. If you aren’t aware of what happened, this blog post does a good job of summarizing what I witnessed in person, and for moments I was not apart of, that I verified with multiple individuals I trust.
I know this post is long, but I can summarize it in one sentence: Regardless of how you feel about the chosen tactics from Saturday’s demonstrations, OPD is out of control, and the ability to gather, demonstrate, and protest is sacred and needs to be defended.
OK, here it is in much longer than one sentence:
- Taking over unused buildings and doing something useful with them is a good idea. Although I may disagree with the specific tactical decisions that were made, this is a good step forward for Occupy and the large number of people who turned out to this event (by any estimate, at least 1,000) is evidence that a lot of other people think so too. I have long supported squatter’s movements and will continue to do so. Property and who has access to it or not is a huge issue that cannot be ignored.
- I did not participate in the meetings leading up to this occupation and all of the people who have been criticizing the action that I have been arguing with didn’t either. It’s unfair to make judgments and say “they should have done X” when we were unwilling to participate in the (open) decision-making process. We also don’t know all the factors that went into any specific tactical decisions, and I am willing to make a good faith guess that the people who were making decisions were doing the best they could with what they could.
- The group that organized this action did an excellent job of putting out why they wanted a building and what they wanted to do with it. You can read some here. This was smart.
- When there is a crowd of 1,000+ people involved, no one can (or should) control everything. OK, some people burned a flag. Fine. Next.
- This photo of the crowd by Len Tsou gives you an idea of what the march was like. When we approached the building (the Henry J Kaiser auditorium in Oakland), it was surrounded by riot cops. It was around 3 p.m. I was happily walking along talking with a friend and hanging out next to the Brass Liberation Orchestra. It was a gorgeous day. There were kids and families and old people and young people and yes, there were “black bloc” people there (how I hate that moniker).
When the march reached the Lake Merritt side of the building, the police announced a dispersal order (aka leave now or you will be arrested), despite the fact that there was a large ditch and construction fences between the building and the march. This seemed a bit premature. The marchers were not being threatening in any way, other than by our mere presence. Despite this, the police repeated the dispersal order and then began to use smoke/flash canisters to disperse the crowd. Did you look at that photo? Does that look like a crowd that needs to be dispersed by smoke bombs? It can not be overstated that the Oakland Police Department’s actions were heavy handed, escalated the situation, and set the tone for the rest of the day.
The march moved on and there was a confrontation with the police around the side of the building. Yes, there were protesters there with shields and gas masks. Despite that, I feel strongly that the use of tear gas on a largely unprepared crowd was an excessive use of unnecessary force by the OPD. I was a half a block away from the confrontation and felt the gas.
- It was clear from that point on that the OPD was intent on escalation with the ultimate goal of arresting as many individuals as possible. This video shows what happened when a second large march later in the evening was surrounded and “kettled” by OPD. All of my friends who have participated in anti-war or any other kind of demonstration should be f-ing outraged that the OPD thinks that it is OK to surround an entire march and arrest everyone! Instead, many are criticizing the action and all of those of people who were expressing themselves just as we have countless times. Just because you disagree with the goal of the day, does not mean that the OPD’s actions are OK. Kettling IS NEVER OKAY. Maybe you didn’t notice the part about them using tear gas on people who they had trapped and couldn’t go anywhere? The “vandalism” in this video, of people pushing down a fence, is not vandalism but a (successful) attempt to escape a messed up situation and imminent, unjustified arrest. If I had stayed around a little longer, that would have been me.
There are way more things to talk about, like the targeting of specific protesters, specific new tactics being used by the OPD and SFPD, what’s next for Occupy, and excessive charges for those who were arrested, but that’s way more than what I can talk about right now.
Let me repeat: Regardless of how you feel about the chosen tactics from Saturday’s demonstrations, OPD is out of control, and the ability to gather, demonstrate, and protest is sacred and needs to be defended.
I talked a bit to Aaron Glantz today who is writing about the action for the Bay Citizen. Here’s a link (with an incorrect quote from me, hopefully he’ll update it). He said that the number of arrests (409) is the largest in Alameda County since the big anti-nuclear protests of the past (1980s). This feels like an attempt to hobble the movement by tying up so many people in the court system. Aaron also said that the city is considering an injunction system where if you’ve been arrested at Occupy and you go back to Frank Ogawa/Oscar Grant Plaza then you could be arrested simply by being there, just like gang injunctions. Sigh. Unbelievable.
That’s all for now. Above is my favorite banner from the day: “Revolt for a life worth living.”
PS – A few occupy resources. Though there are tons of reporters covering Occupy, Susie Cagle has done consistently amazing on-the-scene reporting. When I’m not there, I follow her Twitter stream to know what’s up: @susie_c. I’m supporting her by making a donation here, and you should too. Also, the go-to photographer for SF/Bay Area actions is Steve Rhodes, his Flickr stream is here.