Saturday, Occupy Oakland had their largest action since the Port Shutdown in December. It was “Move In Day”, and the intention was to Occupy a vacant building. I wasn't really sure how I felt about this action, partly due to the necessity of the Occupiers having to keep the identity of the building secret.
Still, I hadn't been sure about the camp at the start, and after visiting the camp several times, I saw something beautiful grow that I had never expected. Given that, I've learned to give Occupy Oakland the benefit of the doubt.
The day began with a rally at noon at Frank Ogawa/Oscar Grant Plaza. I asked many people if they were planning on entering the building. Most said they were uncertain, they would wait and see how things were going. There were about 500 people gathered.
The march to the building left at 1 PM. Right away a man tried to drive his car through the march, got mad, a handful of protestors got mad and it was not looking good. Some people stepped in, cleared the way, and after a while he drove off. The tension of that moment was something that carried through most of the day and into the night, though there were moments of relief too.
After a few blocks police were lining certain streets blocking them off, herding the protestors through Laney College. By this time there were over 1,000 protestors. It was becoming apparent the police knew where Occupy was going, the secrecy didn't work. I ended up walking around and out of the way, as I had vowed I would not get arrested or hurt by the police. I learned the targeted building was the Henry J Kaiser Convention Center, and I proceeded with caution. The Kaiser center is vacant and is not currently being used.
I got to where the larger group was moving towards the building, and it looked like a trap to me. Very soon after they arrived at the Kaiser center the police fired teargas into the crowd. Those of us standing 2 blocks away could taste it from where we were. Later I spoke with many people who had been in front and everyone said the Occupiers had done nothing to provoke the teargas other then being there.
The police had effectively made it impossible for the Occupiers to carry out their plan, so the protestors moved on. A few blocks away a standoff occurred where the police fired many things into the crowd, some thought it was tear gas, some thought it was pepper spray bombs, some thought they were smoke bombs. Also, I believe this was when they fired some bean bag shots at the crowd, later I met one man who had been hit.
Eventually people went back to the plaza. It was announced that there would be a break, and then a second attempt would be made to occupy a building.
One of the remarkable things about Occupy is how people are to each other. As at other events I met many good and decent people who I had great conversations with. Most of these people really care about the state of our world, and have embraced this movement with gratitude for having a place where they can work on finding ways to take that caring and turn it into tangible action.
I point this out because no matter what the mainstream media will say about Saturdays action, there's a big piece of the story that can only be absorbed by walking with these people and getting to know them. The heart of Occupy Oakland is so good. It's been a bit broken by all the repressive police actions , ranging from waging war on the Occupiers the day of the first raid, to arresting people for things as petty as taking a blanket out of a garbage can. Recently they invoked lynching laws to arrest people, and that's too long and convoluted to go into right now in my exhausted state. In spite of all the attempts to break that heart and destroy it, it continues on, beating strongly and moving forward.
When it was time to go on march number 2, the crowd was probably back down to about 700. That crowd was remarkably upbeat and determined. We arrived at the “alternate” building, and got herded away by the police. So people marched around, continually getting corralled and surrounded. I stayed behind, and the friend I was walking with noticed police coming at us from both directions. We decided to get out as it looked like a really bad place to be. Our only way out was toward the police. On our way an officer told us to turn around. I held out my homemade press pass and said we just wanted to leave and he told us we couldn't and said “you choose to be here”. He was pretty angry sounding, and we were getting pretty worried. We turned around, which basically meant we were heading right into the adjacent street where everyone was being corralled. But, the police veered towards that crowd, leaving enough of a gap for us to move past them and get out.
There was a wire fence on one side of the Occupiers, and some of them pushed it down and everyone escaped across a vacant lot. They ended up in front of the YMCA on Broadway. I heard reports some entered the building and ran out the back, not to occupy it, but to get away from the police. A large group in front of the Y got surrounded by police. Many were arrested.
Then it was reported that some people had broken into City hall. I went down there and they had come out of the building and police were blocking it off. Someone burned an American flag, which I'm sure will be the most written about moment of the day.
I saw ambulances coming down the street. I saw a very young woman on the ground in pain. She had been beaten earlier, the pain had grown, and she had to go to the hospital. She was screaming in pain as they carried her on a stretcher to the ambulance. Apparently she had been doing nothing except being present when she got beaten.
I heard similar stories of the police randomly beating people or arresting them throughout the day, often just going for whoever was closest. The radio (KCBS) said over 300 people were arrested, which explains why by 11 PM there were so few people around.
The Oakland Police were just court ordered to report everything they plan on doing to a federally approved overseer, and if they don't start controlling their violence the judge will have the federal government take the department over. I couldn't help but wonder if they just decided to say a big fuck you to the judge and take their violent behavior to another level.
Whether this action was right or wrong, the tactics and actions of the OPD I witnessed and heard of were pretty extreme, and they were irresponsible to the citizens who weren't involved in any of this. While walking along Lake Merritt to the Henry Kaiser Center I saw two mothers with strollers that had young children in them. They didn't look like Occupiers, so I stopped them and told them there was tear gas ahead. They gave me a strange unbelieving look, and then looked around, and realized I was right. They turned around, looking fairly disturbed. There should have been officers on the periphery to warn people of what was going on.
Later in the night I saw some graffiti, some things like newspaper racks thrown into the street. As always, these things were done by a small group. The great majority of people I talked to throughout the day were committed to non-violence and to not vandalizing things. The radio reported three police were injured. They weren't specific at all about the level of injury.
Some good moments: Marching to happy dance music at dusk, just before the police corralled everyone. A group that broke into a nice version of the Star Spangled Banner at the Y in front of the police. A man I didn't know who smiled and waved at me, just being friendly. All the kind people I met, and all the people I've met before who came up and said hi. The good people I walked with throughout the day.
Right or wrong, I knew I was with people who care, who care enough to risk being assaulted by the police, to risk arrest and injury. Some might look at that and think it's insane. I think insanity is looking at how things are these days and doing nothing. I'm open to other ideas. But for now, Occupy is the best idea around. Even when it's a mess, and things don't go right, and I'm not sure what I think, it's a great, inspiring idea.