Certainly, those who claimed that the move to 19th and
Broadway Telegraph was a tactical error will think they can claim the high ground today as the OPD throws away yet another set of tents. But the reality of the day of actions on Saturday is not such a simple story. Rather than lend credence to the idea that OO can’t co-exist with residential communities, and that it must fastidiously guard its PR brand, Saturday’s successful event proves that the movement can’t be boxed into conventional ideas of protest, nor when it should be allowed.
First of all, the crowd that took the lot at 19th and Telegraph was huge–thousands. It wound itself into a gigantic cluster of joyous and raucous people in front of the Grand Lake Theater and took the entire span of Grand on both sides on its way to the new encampment site. Along the way, drivers happily pulled over and/or waited, honking their horns, pumping their fists and hooting. Even people on the bus were enthused; that’s a tough crowd.
When the thousands-strong mass arrived at the corner, a lonely and sad group of people who claimed to be residents of the community were out protesting against the encampment to-be. A couple of protesters from OO helped create some space between the two, to prevent the kind of shouting matches that end up becoming “two sides” stories in the news at 11—one side being thousands of people, the other a handful of others with an opposing view. The anti-protest protest gave up quickly, as they often do. When you are publicly protesting against the idea of public protest, I assume you start feeling stupid within a very short amount of time. Soon after they left, they were replaced by two men holding a banner with the 99% slogan—the attempt to hi-jack the 99% meme to paint protesters as divisive backfired, a product of the meme’s own success as a vague place-holder for true dissent and real political discourse.
Once OO 3.0 was staked into the earth, a dance party ensued. I actually don’t think it was the best strategy to do that, but the idea was to keep as many people there all night as possible to prevent the rousting that was the eventual fate of the camp. A night of pissing rain nipped that strategy in the bud [the fate of the music truck is a story for another day]. Personally, I think if not for the rain, the camp would have held on to the lot for at least another day. We’ll never know now.
But some issues and ideas emerged clearly from the day:
—The movement is going strong, and has tons of community support. Every time people count out this movement, it doubles back stronger than ever. No one knows why, even the people that organize and make these events happen are constantly shocked and amazed at the turnout and support. The reality must be, I think, that the level of dissatisfaction and anger at the status quo is so great that people don’t even have to be organized anymore, they simply join in. They’re simply waiting for something to jump into.
—The character assassination by city hall, the media, police, the Oakland Chamber of Corporate Hegemony and now “local residents” has failed to demonize this movement. Despite predictions that Occupy Oakland would permanently deform growing minds if placed too close to their school, thousands of Oakland residents marched to the new site to establish the camp.
As you can see in this video, bystanders honked, hooted and cheered and were more than happy to pay the price of sitting in traffic and the creation of a lost generation of critically thinking children resistant to conventional platitudes and establishmentarian support at OSA.
—Supposed local residents who opposed the camp may have been in the minority. No more than a dozen residents participated in a counter-demonstration on the corner of 19th and Telegraph. This is remarkable given that the square block is home to hundreds of people in half a dozen
condominiums ‘luxury’ apartments.
Close to midnight, one resident came down to bring a family size French press full of coffee, and a basket with cups, sugar, and milk to the core of demonstrators who stayed to brave the rain and defend the camp. Though she preferred not to be named, she was happy to speak to me and I conducted a short interview with her. She revealed that most of the neighbors she’d talked to were really only concerned about the possibility of high sound levels late night. She considered herself a “radical moderate for immediate regime change” and had bought earplugs; she felt that the earplugs were a small price to pay to maintain the constitutional right to free speech.
—Occupy Oakland proves that it’s a protean and organic movement, as close to “leaderless” as any movement full of human egos can be. A march to Lakeview school, which was ordered shut down by a government that can spare millions for endless militarized police wildings, but not for education, did not detract from other events of the day. Intrepid direct action protesters set up a memorial vegetable box garden at the north end of the old camp site, in full view of police guarding the plaza. It was an act of civil disobedience so fucking beautiful that no one in the city or police has been able to summon the cruelty necessary to dismantle it as yet.
—Another waste of city money and police resources in a failed effort to prevent encampments hurts city hall, not the movement. Its only a matter of time before the city and police concede that theirs is a failed strategy. OO has the support of the people—police, the city council, the mayor, do not. Supporters of the Occupy movement don’t blame the campers for the expense, or inconvenience, or “violence” but the people actually causing those things, city hall and the police.
Rather than a failed attempt to repost camp, the march to 19th and Telegraph and the temporary encampment there are another positive referendum on the primacy of dissent over local and national authority. Sometime this week, the city will have to decide if it wants to rebuild the fence around the lot, or complete the process of its destruction so that the community can make use of the space in their neighborhood as they wish—for planter boxes, picnics, gatherings, and sports and recreation for the all-important children of the area.
The decision is a symbolic mirror of the choice that everyone in Oakland faces at this juncture—to return to a state of affairs in which a corrupt, inept structure runs the city into ruin, while preventing people from making use of the potential before them. Or to continue on this new path–though not always safe or comfortable–which demands that we all pose tough questions about the status quo and the heinous reality it already represents.
Note: Shortly after I wrote and published this, the city did indeed rip out the garden. There’s no conceivable reason for this. Not even Quan’s most liberal supporters will be able to justify this one [I’m probably speaking too soon here, too]. Perhaps an inebriated arugula from the violence-prone box threatened nearby school-children.