It is a cold and rainy Friday night - four days after police cleared the Occupy Oakland camp for the second time. A peaceful rally marked the afternoon following the Monday eviction, followed by a march to Oakland’s downtown plaza for a General Assembly. In the following days, higher education campuses took up the call, with Occupy Oakland joining UC Berkeley students for a day long strike, teach-in and occupation on Tuesday. University of California Regents cancel their regularly scheduled meeting for Wednesday, anticipating an inflammatory atmosphere. Faculty at the East Bay campus of California’s State University system concurrently go on strike for a breach of contract that stalls their guaranteed wage increase. At UC Davis, students in locked-armed nonviolent civil disobedience are flamboyantly doused in pepper spray by a publicity-seeking campus cop who actually steps over the seated students from behind their blockade to assault them. An open letter from a faculty member circulates for UC Davis’ chancellor to resign https://bicyclebarricade.wordpress.com/2011/11/19/open-letter-to-chancellor-linda-p-b-katehi/, while students greet Davis’ Chancellor in a silent vigil along a three block walk to her parked car. Oh, and did I mention that on Thursday a US District Court judge denies a temporary restraining order preventing excessive use of violence by OPD? http://www.dailykos.com/story/2011/11/17/1037550/-Federal-Judge-to-Oakland-Police:-Go-Ahead,-Bash-Some-More-Skulls
Back to Friday night. Occupy Oakland’s General Assembly is prefaced by a folk singer making his rounds of occupy locales across the country. Behind him is a banner “Occupy Tulsa to Occupy Oakland,” with hand prints. Sarah, our facilitator for tonight reviews the General Assembly process, including hand signals that insure participation. A representative of Longview Washington’s Longshoreman’s Union thanks Occupy Oakland for inspirational direct action in closing down the Port of Oakland during the General Strike. People continue to arrive and are greeted warmly. Others stand at attention and make no contact. Several committees provide two minute updates on finances, the children’s village, events, community outreach, the Raheim Brown Free School, the Bloc Defense Group protecting tenants and homeowners facing foreclosures or evictions, the Victory Garden, and a labor rally the next day. Proposals are on the dock, including a coordinated shut down of all West Coast ports on December 12, one asking the GA to rescind a vote to occupy a park and empty lot a few blocks away, and another requesting more inclusiveness in the General Assembly Process.
Occupy Oakland voted two days ago to relocate across the street from a city charter school for the arts and adjacent to a low income housing development. A proposal urges OO to remain responsive to community interests and create a committee to thoroughly research locations to set up encampments rather than occupy the location. Two hundred and one people have signed this proposal. Parents and teachers from the school express concern about safety in general and specifically around police actions and impeded transportation to work after drop off. “We don’t want to get caught in the crossfire!” pleads one parent, which elicits calls to meet with the police on that concern. Someone mentions that the school is closed for nine days, the implication being that the occupation is not going to last long anyway. A school parent argues that forcing this on the neighborhood is not a strategy for the 99%. Another says she has been with the camp from the beginning and that all children deal with the issue of safety and what about those children in the five city schools that are closing after this school year. A teacher reads pro and con feedback from her students. Another speaker says the proposal subverts the GA process. “We can’t go against something we have already voted on.” A former school student says she felt unsupported in taking political action – “I was the only one against the war. The ONLY one!” She says the occupation can show students that alternatives exist.
Heated though it is, and a work-in-process, the General Assembly offers a place where ideas can be heard. Not necessarily embraced, but recognized within a negotiated process. Whether the group of 201 will commit to participating in community advocacy in the future is a question, but the facilitated process is bringing community members together, discord and corrective assessment not withstanding. The vote is Yes: 165, Abstained: 49, and No: 126, which tables the proposal. On the way home from the General Assembly, I stop to get gas. A man approaches me, asking for money for a gallon of gas. I tell him no, and wish him luck. He says “Well, at least you talked to me.” He moves to the sidewalk and as he walks away I hear: “I don’t know what’s wrong with people, it’s like a person doesn’t exist.” His words stay with me and I continue to believe that part of the fuel of the Occupy movement involves striving for recognition and inclusivity.
I hear Alanna Rayford, a small business owner in downtown Oakland, being interviewed on KPFA radio. She had a window broken during rioting following Occupy Oakland’s General Strike, which she participated in by walking down to close the Port. Art work was taken from her space. “Very sad,” she says. “Very sad.” She doesn’t know who broke into her business, allowing for any of a number of intentions. She also says she recognizes that some feel extremely angry and anger gets acted out. What does she do? She goes to the occupy camp to put out the word that she needs to recover her artists’ work. And then she turns this act of vandalism around and has a party and fundraiser in the space, because Oakland is her city. To hear voices from tonight’s General Assembly, go to: http://redroom.com/member/jane-p-perry/media/audio/occupyoakland-111811-were-gonna-stay-right-here