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Occupy Oakland 11.14.11
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The Occupy Oakland camp in front of City Hall was cleared on the morning of Monday, November 14th in a measured, paced fashion after days of forewarnings.  Many had already left their tents to stand on the periphery to witness.  Members of the Interfaith Community tent chose to stay, sitting in a semi-circle of votive candles in front of their space of faith.  This tweet comes through: “A couple is getting married now in front of the riot line. Vows delivered through ppls mic. Yes really.”

Just as I was posting last Thursday’s report, a man is shot in the head outside the camp at the corner of 14th and Broadway.  Occupy Oakland medics are the first responders.  The one month birthday party for Occupy Oakland planned for that night turns into a vigil for the young man and the one hundred others who have died this year so far in Oakland neighborhoods not under international scrutiny.  Behind the scene plans to negotiate a relocation to an indoor space where teach-ins, resource center, support groups, and a free kitchen are tabled for now.  Recall Mayor Quan was in DC during the first raid?   Recent crackdowns in Denver, Salt Lake City, and even Albany, where the police up until recently had told NY Governor Cuomo that clearing Occupy Albany was not their job, and now Occupy Wall Street, make this look very much like a coordinated national effort.  Mayor Quan admits as much in a BBC report: http://rt.com/usa/news/occupy-crackdown-oakland-mayor-419/

I head downtown on my bike.  I pass vertical street light post banners that proclaim: Prosper Oakland.  The plaza is blocked at 14th though traffic is running along Broadway.  Media vans, with satellite feeds raised high in the air, run with generators churning.  A line of cameras, each with super large lens, sit on tripods facing the blockaded entrance to the plaza where I collected rubber bullets and birdshot just twenty days ago.  Camera people chat and joke as they wait.  What are they waiting for?  Groups of young people are standing around, some bantering with police.  “You took my home.”  “Don’t you have a job?”  I can see the encampment space, now empty.  I can also see people walking in the plaza. 

Alongside Broadway at this intersection are large 3’ by 5’ posters behind a series of glass windows.  The posters, filling one window each, are photos.  Nate looks back at me with a sober stare.  Rafael is calm and resolute in expression.  Chinaka looks at me with a steady gaze as she stands in front of our Lake Merritt.  Bamathi has his wrists resting on top of his shaven head, revealing geometry of tattoos on his underarm as he stands with trees below him and the Bay behind him.  I go back to the beginning of this series and read this text set in front of the densely Art-Decco-ed architecture of downtown:  “I am Oaklandish.  The Arts and Action Program developed by Oaklandish to support creative endeavors of dynamic and inspiring young artists in Oakland.  Each participant becomes an Oaklandish Sponsored Artist for one calendar year, and is tasked with representing the unique culture of Oakland to the world.”  These artists have gazed over all that occurred here, including downtown business crowds and the nightime first Fridays of each month when thousands and thousands come to celebrate Oakland’s Art Murmur by walking the streets, visiting galleries, eating at pop-up canteens, enjoying an outdoor bazaar, music, and movies screened on the Great Wall.

Crouched in a doorway a young woman stares so sadly out to the street.  I pass another young woman on a side street who plaintively looks at me.  There is a human cost to creating and then dismantalling a village that offered support to those in need.  I bike around to the back of the plaza, which empties onto the entrance to the Elihu Harris State of California Office Building.  No police barricade.  I get off my bike and walk tentatively into the plaza.  Small groups of police gather.   More media people.   One young man is talking animatedly with a few police, trying to get his point across.  I stop and look out over the plaza.  No one stops me.   I continue.  Adjacent to the plaza is a credit union, with a sign saying that this branch is temporarily closed.  There is a hole in one of its plate glass windows, which is a real shame.  I wonder who did this because I have seen Occupy Oakland’s commitment to supporting local business and exacerbation when damage occurs.  I open my backpack to take a picture, and wonder if I look suspicious, but no one approaches me.  Most everyone passing me has a visible, lamentated badge around their neck: office workers.  But some do not.  A family walks by.  A young man.  We move slowly and pause frequently. 

I hear a voice raised, and see a larger gathering of police and move to it.  The young man I noticed before is upset at having been cited for his bike.  I’ve got my bike.  Why didn’t they stop me – which is exactly what the young man is asking.  The camp had proudly run free of  this discriminatory discretion.  As the young man leaves, one police officer says to another, “if he had pointed his finger at me, I would have arrested him.”  A woman standing next to me asks why he was cited, and an officer tells her he was riding his bike.  “The plaza is supposed to be closed,” he adds.  “But what about me?” I add.  “Well, except for the media . . .  . your recorder.”  Only I didn’t have the recorder out when I entered the plaza.  The woman next to me says she has visited Snow Park, one of three additional occupation sites.  “It’s got a pretty view,” the officer adds.  He looks at his watch, and tells us in an hour the plaza will be open 24/7.  “Just no camping.”

As in the first camp eviction, there will be a rally outside the downtown Oakland library. I decide to bike the eight blocks to Snow Camp before moving to the library.  Snow Park is a tiny bucolic triangle of green with Redwood trees overlooking Lake Merritt.  A few elder folks walk gently past.  Senior housing borders on two sides.  Maybe twenty pop up tents are up, and a food table.  This morning on the radio a resident of Snow Park called this site “the suburbs.”   A man dropping off supplies returns to his car.  We greet, and I pull away.  The car passes me and turns where I will turn.  We are both going to the rally.

At the library an ever increasing crowd gathers.  Afterschool child leave in small groups, some by themselves, some with an adult.  One heavy set guy passes me with a bin:  “Respirators.  Ten dollars.”  An ABC cameracrewsman shakes his head.  “Resperators,” he repeats.  He then tells me he was stationed at Alameda Naval Base during the Vietnam War, and as he departed on an aircraft carrier, the crew was informed there would be demonstrators in rafts trying to block passage.  “We didn’t see any rafts.”  A few minutes later I see the Respirator guy being interviewed by the ABC news crew, then another crew.  Slow news night.  A woman approaches with a large shopping bag.  She offers turkey and ham sandwiches.  She explains, “I made these for this morning, but when I got here, there was no one around.”  The rally starts, with the people’s mic to amplify for the growing crowd.  A family arrives at the bottom of the library steps, where I am standing.  The daughter is giving her mother a quick tutorial in how to use the cell phone’s camera.  “We’re not going to go in and get a book?” the daughter asks plaintively.  “Oh, no, not today” her mother responds.  “Awwww!” says the son dejectively.  Then they climb the steps for a closer view and a read in a different format.

Like the previous rally, anyone who wishes may speak.  We hear that Occupy Oakland Library now has four branches.  Though we are urged to focus on our unity, the group needs to continue the debate over tactics.  Many, from the clapping and upwards finger waving, want to see a statement endorsing nonviolence.  Others want to hear the same from OPD.  In city’s and town across the country I am seeing the recurcussions of ten years of Homeland Security and war technology.  Bay Area Rapid Transit shuts down cell phone service in stations as a response to a protest a few months ago.  Crowd control tactics I and others have experienced are remarkably unrestrained.  In clearing a peaceful gathering of students in front of  six tents inside the UC Berkeley campus four days ago, University police wacked away with batons.  Capt. Margo Bennett is quoted in the SF Chronicle: “The individuals who linked arms and actively resisted, that in itself is an act of violence.  I understand that many students may not think that, but linking arms in a human chain when ordered to step aside is not a nonviolent protest.”  I don’t know about you, but that ain’the history I know, Margo.  There is a ‘non’ in front of violence for a reason.  

We march back to the plaza, which is indeed open.  Judging from past gatherings we look to be about 2000 strong.  We gather in the amphitheatre for tonight’s General Assembly.  A helicopter flies low overhead, shining a spotlight down as it circles.  A second helicopter hovers directly above.  Despite this terrific noise, Occupy Oakland conducts its General Assembly,  just as it has for the past month.  The assembly decides to support the UC Berkeley strike tomorrow with a march to the Cal campus.  As I leave, I count 41 police gathered in the side entrance/exit I take.  Some stretch their legs.  Some drink coffee.  Returning home in the dark, I notice cars moving faster along Broadway away from downtown.  Twice I stop my bike to let a car quickly make a right turn on red.  These people don’t want to be around here tonight.  Are they frightened?  Prudent?  Both?  Calm settles.  Occupy Oakland.  It’s web site at: http://www.occupyoakland.org continues to offer critical thinking and dialogue through its Open Forum as well as a momentum to move forward.

The following morning, I read this Op Ed piece in the Oakland Tribune (11.15.11) with the headline: “Banks cost Oakland more than protesters”

We are a downtown local, cooperatively-owned and managed small business, and residents of Oakland. We are in support of the movement of the 99% and of Occupy Oakland. We believe the Occupy movement is democracy in its highest form.

We believe that Oakland should lead the way in supporting a local, economically-sustainable business community, one that challenges the power of large multinational corporations who strip money out of our local communities for their own coffers.

The city of Oakland should offer services to the Occupiers to keep it clean and safe for all people – which in turn will prevent violence – instead of just spending all the money on the police.

We love Oakland! Oakland can lead the way in this country by setting an example that this wonderful city is progressive and believes in supporting local business entrepreneurship, cooperative and collective managements, community banks, and small businesses which keep the money reinvested back into our community.

Last year the Oakland deficit was $58 million. Oakland exempts banks from paying a real estate transfer tax for foreclosures – any time any of the rest of us buy a home or transfer it in anyway, we have to pay this tax. But the banks don’t for foreclosures. Last year, this exemption alone cost the city $51 million. That’s all but $7 million of the deficit!

The banks have other exemptions to account for that last $7million. Like not paying their vacant property fees, the $5million interest rate swap the city of Oakland is still paying each year, not to mention their property taxes that haven’t been reassessed.

In the end who costs more? Occupy Oakland or the banks?

By halting such exemptions and proactively investing in public safety through education, after-school programs, healthcare, community safety services, the arts, and other services, Oakland will chart a course of economic resilience that other cities will surely follow.

Design Action Collective http://www.designaction.org/index.php/blog/archives/767



Hole in plate glass window of credit union bordering Occupy Oakland