Our occupation movement here in Oakland is participating in just the volunteerism that our mayor, Jean Quan, urged in her inaugural speech. At the city plaza, Occupation Oakland has fed, clothed, informed through teach-ins, experienced consensus in a very diverse community, practiced negotiation and conflict resolution, and inspired people to join in participation. When the occupation camp was rousted at 4:30AM on October 25th, close to 300 people were displaced and 80 arrested. I wanted to know why? Quan had been supportive, saying “democracy is messy.” There had been reports of rats and incidents of assault, but those were present in the area prior to the occupation. Where was our Mayor? Turns out she was in DC. Hmmmm . . . . .
I ride my bike downtown to our public library to a4PM rally and march in support of ourOakland community just twelve hours after the arrests. The library remained open, despite calls from Oakland PD, we are told from a librarian, to shut it down in anticipation.Oakland in all its ethnic diversity is well represented. Amongst the crowd are families with little kids, union members, including the California Nurses Association, seniors, wheelchair folks, and mostly young people, several with library books in hand on socialism, Karl Marx, etc. The crowd is polite and conversational and gentle with those few showing signs of disorientation. Helicopters hover closely overhead as we listen to anyone who wishes to speak while we amplify in repetition. A first for me: we are urged to write the local phone number for legal support on our arm before heading out to march. I do.
Our march takes us down Broadway, the main street of downtown. I chat with a young man who is happy to see myUniversity of Vermont sticker on my helmet, having moved from that state several years ago. He is fresh and clear-eyed, saying he had heard about this morning’s clearing and had come to show support. He had participated by sleeping at Occupation SF and said he felt appalled to imagine being arrested for his participation. We both remain curious and vigilant about what we feel to be an extreme city response.
Our route is clearly shepherded by a police presence on our periphery. I keep looking behind me to make sure I am not sandwiched between police. At the same time, here I see a parent from preschool and elementary school years. We catch up on our children. I see a familiar attorney who works with the mayor. I am glad he is here, as I am, to witness. The march makes a turn, and I see we are going towards the downtown jail, where the occupiers have been held on $10,000 bail. You heard right.
We pause. I can see the police department building. I remember my sons and I paying our respect to the department and their families after four officers had been shot onMarch 21, 2009 on a city street. My heart goes out to us all. At the sound of chanting: “Let him go! Let him go!” I move over to the sidewalk to see billie clubs swinging. Next to me a woman stands, palms at her side facing out to the skirmish. Her gaze is calm and directed. Suddenly I hear a series of pops, and see several flashes, and smoke. The police are firing what turn out to be rubber bullets and tear gas at us. Most in the march make a quick retreat while next to me on my other side a woman urges us to “slow down, please don’t run!” I am not afraid, but I am very alert. I call out and wave to the drivers of cars who are, even with such a strong police presence, freely driving into this intersection: “You don’t want to be here!” The first car is a taxi with someone filming out the passenger window. A man runs by, visibly shaken. I ask him what he saw. He tells me, “They were just beating on this guy. Beating on him. It was messed up . . . . fucked up.” More sharp pop pop, pops, flashes, and smoke. Most of the marchers have not left the scene. We all stand watching. Many are recording. Riot police establish a line.
The march turns away from the police and we proceed back to Broadway and towards the plaza where we know the encampment is cordoned off. I meet a family with a child of no more than two years old in a stroller. The mother works in prison reform. She smiles openly as we shake in greeting and I tell her I appreciate her warm hands. It’s getting cool. At the entrance to the plaza the march stops. I hear an announcement of a city code and something about unlawful assembly. We are told we have five minutes to disperse. I have been marching with the fellow school parent. That time of early schooling and familyhood feels long ago but very present now as we stand together asserting our commitment to peace. A young women standing close by with her friend cautions us that we have only three minutes left to disperse. She tells us she has been with Occupy Oakland for two weeks. She says she is confused by the unfortunate turn of events because there had been such good communication between the city and the occupiers. “We were taking care of their requests, and they were listening to us. I don’t know what happened. I don’t listen to the news. It’s just so negative. But my friends were calling me and going: ‘what’s happening down there – there’s drugs being smoked, there’s assaults.’ And I told them that wasn’t the way it was.” She pauses to look at her friend, and then down towards the plaza. “I just don’t want you to get caught up in anything, OK? We just have a minute or two more.”
I left then, to go home to email our Mayor, my city counsel member, and our state representative, and to return to my downtown today. To listen to our rally outside the public library, go to: http://redroom.com/member/jane-p-perry/media/audio/occupy-oakland-102511