The Last “last-day” at Occupy Oakland

Posted on October 26, 2011

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There were several “last-days” of Occupy Oakland. From the moment the first city notice to vacate arrived, people began to prepare and expect the worse. But as I’ve written elsewhere, the constant threat of eviction never stopped people from planning for tomorrow.

Occupy Oakland’s last “last-day” at Ogawa was no different. Like many, I had successfully partitioned my brain; the reality of the uncertainty lay in one portion, the positive expectation of the future in another.

With that in mind, I planned to arrive earlier than I had in the past few days. I had been volunteering for a cop-watch, riding my bike around the area, looking out for any noticeable police mobilizations. I’d been staying late into the early morning hours, getting little sleep and was feeling burnt out. I promised myself that I would spend only a few hours there, through the general assembly, some dishwashing or kitchen-help, and sharing some conversation over the brackish coffee from the reverse-engineered coffee maker.

It was the second-week anniversary, and there was a sound system set up and a dance party had popped up on the corner of 14th and Broadway. I felt like that was a more appropriate celebration for the people who’d spawned the Ogawa occupation, and those that had held it down 24/7. I could celebrate best by helping in the kitchen.

But word had come down already that the police would be coming that night. This time occupiers were fairly certain that the threat was bonifide. The pallets that created the streets of the camp were scooped up so that people wouldn’t trip over them in any panic that might ensue in a late night raid. The camp had been ordered by the city to stop using the open flame cookers, and these were removed by the group that had brought them, for fear of their being confiscated. There was only salad and bread for dinner [though of course, it was a delicious salad], and I spent an hour or so chopping carrots and tomato for it, and adding lettuce, continuously renewing it as it diminished.

It got colder that night than others. The new rules for GA time began, and so there were no resolutions; rather it was a free speech open mic, and then report backs from the committees. As uninspiring as the free speech was, I was especially disheartened by one of the report backs, which involved talking about some of the overt sexism and harassment that had been happening in the camp.

The camp had been riven by these kinds of tensions from the beginning, of course. Some people were politically apathetic and had come to O-O for practical reasons; others were politically apathetic and had come to party. Some had little politicization and were trying to catch up; others had been in the loop too long, and found it impossible to see things the way the non-initiated did, or were too far into the realm of ideology and theory to have any practical way to relate to others who weren’t. There were cultural differences, different ideas of how to resolve conflict, and differing views about what constituted good conflict or bad conflict. People became frustrated, some left because these issues could not be reconciled.

But as I’ve written before, if there was an important legacy at Occupy Oakland, it was that for once, all of these issues were getting an airing in an open dialogue. So much of left-wing rhetoric involves ignoring issues of class and culture. By its nature, it’s a way of taking on the issues of the poor and non-white, but excluding them from the process until they catch up at some point in terms of a complete world-view about society and government. Tension arose because finally, middle class educated leftists were forced to confront head-on the reality of a de-politicized working and poor class. We couldn’t pretend to be one big happy family anymore, and so we had to talk about our family secrets. And in my mind, and though it’s a position that’s not very popular if my conversations over the last few days are any sign, that was one of the most revolutionary aspects of the last two weeks.

Of course, my plan to leave early was dashed by the news of the impending raid. On the perimeter run later, I rode my bike in a large arc that took me from the border of West Oakland to Laney College, and I felt better. And I had a cup of syrupy coffee when I returned and, as always, some great conversations.

Someone from the media tent told me the full story of how he and others had prevented someone from killing themselves on Broadway. I learned that the man in traffic had said he’d been recently released from prison after several years for a crime he claimed he hadn’t committed and that he was distraught about putting his life back together. We talked about how the media committee could focus more on showing the positive nature of the occupation; a census of how many people O-O fed daily, and how many homeless slept there. How crime had dropped during the period compared to last month according to numerous sources, including the OPD.

Later, I spoke to someone I’d worked with in the kitchen, who told me about the elaborate dishes and foods that proud donors provided every day. We came up with the idea of a culinary page on the website that would have profiles of food donors, their recipes and a short political statement about Occupy Oakland. We took it to the media tent, which was up late. We were both excited. It was a really good idea.

In all, everyone lived that night as though there would be a tomorrow at Occupy Oakland. By two or so, when it became clear that the police would be raiding, I had no illusions about how easily police would dismantle what these wonderful people had spent the last two weeks building. O-O had survived by virtue of solidarity and hard work to a certain extent, but also as a product of the great amount of popular support that it was given–support that gradually eroded with the toxic atmosphere the media created, as it tried to find images and text for their pre-fab script about the encampment. Though I’m confident that in the coming days, O-O would have been able to turn this negative image around, they sadly didn’t have the time to do so.

It occurred to me, at a certain point, that life in Occupy Oakland was a little like life in Palestine. Obviously, its much more intense and horrible in Palestine, with people living under the constant threat of indefinite detention, senseless death, and radical economic downturns. And still, people marry, they plan families, they open shops, they expect to see their friends in the same places tomorrow.

The saying is, “tell god, your plans if you want to make him laugh”. But if there is such a thing as god, I think the fact that people make plans in that kind of every-day uncertainty would make god quite happy. As would the fact that thousands of people returned to Ogawa on Tuesday to let the city know that the “last-day” of Occupy Oakland, was not Occupy Oakland’s “last-day” by a long-shot.