The Second Occupy Oakland Raid, and The Campaign Of Fear
I think the Oakland Police department and city officials understand those feelings well, and spent this holiday weekend exploiting them fairly effectively. At least on me. A feeling of dread crept in as I read little items that were leaked out, like the following email that went around on Sunday that :
“A highly coordinated law enforcement raid to clear out OO is planned to take place Monday morning early. Significant public safety mutual aid is being called in from neighboring jurisdictions. The goal is to permanently clear out the OO encampment of illegal activities. Expect to see overwhelming use of force by police directed to occupiers who refuse to comply.
Peaceful protesters are advised by police to stand down until the situation stabilizes. The general public is advised to stay away from the area during the action to avoid potential personal injury from incidental contact with conflicts.”
No-one has been able to verify exactly where the email came from, but all weekend I saw intimations of actions like this on twitter feeds, facebook pages and the news. Each day of the holiday weekend eviction notices were handed out to the residents of the encampment. It felt like a war of fear, an attempt to break the protesters before any raid could happen.
The weekend started with a fatal shooting near the encampment on Thursday evening. Reports of what this had to do with Occupy Oakland are still a bit conflicted and unsure, so I'll keep out of that. The shooting shined an unfortunate light on one of Oakland's largest problems, the murder rate, which stands at 91 murders so far this year. Rather then focus on that, the leaders of the city and the chamber of commerce all jumped at it as an opportunity to justify evicting the camp, blaming Oakland's endemic issues on the protesters.
Mayor Quan, who really hasn't been able to win with any of this, made a sad attempt Friday morning to have a press event where she released a dove at a church where she had attended an interfaith thanksgiving prayer breakfast. She said “We need to peacefully close the encampment at City Hall and we're asking people to leave.”
Are there calls to close down neighborhoods in Oakland where the other 90 murders happened? Of course not. It's recognized that a small element makes life difficult and oppressive for the vast majority of good people in the neighborhoods where most of those murders occur.
All night I received text updates of the impending raid, with predictions of it taking place after 3AM. I got there at 2AM, and there was a small crowd of people. That crowd eventually grew to about 2 to 3 hundred. Not the crowd Portland got this weekend, and I think this was the desired result of the campaign of fear throughout the weekend.
Many people I spoke to had a feeling of dread, an uneasy feeling in the gut. I talked to one man who had driven by the Oakland Coliseum, and he had seen 80 of the plain white vans the riot police use, with around 10 to each van. I knew the Occupiers were vastly outnumbered.
Some stayed in the camp, including a small group of interfaith people who knew they would get arrested.
Possibly around 4:30 a few police showed up. Pretty close to 5AM riot police showed up. Not the huge number I expected, but enough. I'm really not sure since we couldn't get close to most of them, but I could see maybe 3 or 4 hundred. Possibly there were more standing by, possibly there were more where I could not see them.
They blocked off the encampment and Broadway below 14th. By 6AM they had arrested the people in the camp, and had begun tearing down the tents. By 7, the crowd had gotten down to maybe 100.
All this happened peacefully, at least as far as any of us could see. Once things were winding down, I tried to get into the camp to take pictures but was not allowed, even with my mock press pass. At one point a handful of more “official” press was briefly allowed in. I spoke with a cameraman for the local ABC affiliate KGO, and he told me he was allowed in for 2 minutes and then had to leave.
There was no tear gas, no shooting of anything, no throwing of things. Though I'm saddened by the actions taken by the city and the police coalition, I'm grateful that both sides maintained a peaceful composure throughout.
Many people are mystified as to why the continual occupation of public space is so important to this movement. I'm sure there are many answers. For me, by sharing space with the homeless, it begins the process of breaking down the barriers in our society between the separations of our different economic classes, it begins a new equality based on something else.
And by feeding the homeless at the camps, it illustrates the wealth redistribution OWS speaks of on a very basic level; that those that have enough are willing to donate goods and time to help those that have nothing. I spoke with an Occupier named Toby, and he told me the Occupy Oakland Kitchen had been serving somewhere between 750 to 1,000 meals a day. On my list of good things to do, feeding the hungry is right up there at the top, whether it's churches, or Occupiers.
The Occupiers plan to reconvene at the nearby Library at 4 PM today. Snow Park, the smaller and auxiliary camp was allowed to stand. I drove by and saw about 20 tents there.
This morning I watched the camp end for the second time. I'm not going to declare it dead, not at all. They are a force unlike anything I have ever experienced. I'm sure the Occupiers will find the strength and means to resurrect themselves again. Very soon. Whether it's in Frank Ogawa Plaza or somewhere else, or as something else has yet to be seen, but I'm sure somehow, someway, they will continue. As this will across the country, around the world.
The chalk messages photographed were done in the intersection of 14th and Broadway in the early morning by Occupiers. The tent is one of the ones I found at Snow Park on my way home.
Some sources used in writing this:
Quan Again Asks Occupiers to Leave Plaza is at baycitizen.org. As hard as I try, I can't get the link to work.