Sunday, November 06, 2011

Occupy Oakland (re)Visited Part 2

Yesterday I wrote a little bit (okay, a lot) about what had changed since my I first wrote about original feelings about the Occupy Wall Street movement in general and the more local Occupy Oakland movement. I end up writing forever time-wise and word-wise and decided it would be better for all parties involved if I broke my thoughts up into chunks.  When I first posted, I hadn't had anything to do with Occupy Oakland, and had only participated in a Global Day of Action in San Francisco on October 15th.  After that, and especially after October 25th when the police and the protesters had such a terrible night, a friend of mine started heading down to the General Assemblies that Occupy Oakland holds every night at Frank Ogawa Plaza (side note: OO (the Occupy Oakland Movement) has renamed FOP "Oscar Grant Plaza," as I mentioned yesterday. Somehow I cannot bring myself around to calling the plaza this. I think part of my resentment is that Oscar Grant's murder happened in Oakland but had nothing to do with Oakland. Memorializing the park in front of City Hall after him reiterates that this horrific piece of violence is another piece of Oakland violence.) Every day my friend and I would dialogue about her experiences at the General Assemblies, and about my concerns, as well as my experiences working with police and the city.  I also watched the following video, which I found enlightening about the intelligence of OO and the truly democratic process that goes on. It's almost 10 minutes long, but I encourage you to watch it.

From what I understand from my friend, S, who goes to the meetings, a proposal is made via the "People's Mic." Since the General Assembly does not use amplification, one person says something, and people serving as the People's Mic shout what was just said so everyone can hear it. This part, she says, is long and boring.  Then the Assembly breaks into groups of 20, and discusses the proposal. The groups come to consensus about the proposal, then have someone present the group's view to the General Assembly. The large group then comes to consensus or does not.  There is a huge variety and diversity of views, and not everything goes the way each group member or group would like it; for example, in the above video, the letter which I found incredibly sane and well thought out, did not pass. It was written prior to the eviction, and perhaps would have avoided some of the conflict.  But the democratic process that is going on involves creativity, growth, and mistakes.

I ended last time with a note about my optimistic boss and my total skepticism.  October 25th, she believed, would lead to Oakland as a whole having a better dialogue.  I rolled my metaphorical eyes (I hope I didn't roll my real eyes at my boss.)  But the dialogue did start happening. After October 25th, Oakland became the center of media attention, including internationally. People started discussing what was working in OO and what wasn't working in OO, and what was and wasn't working in other places. Reporters from reputable and progressive news sources sent reporters to OO to live, live-tweet, and report.  People I know from twitter moved their attention from OccupySF to Occupy Oakland. (By the way, for excellent independent and reliable reporting about OO via twitter: @JoshuaHol of AlterNet, @pixplz aka Justin Beck, and @tigerbeat aka Steve Rhodes.) OO was where it was at.  Notably, the Council and Jean Quan weren't really part of the larger discussion.  City Council held off on discussing OO till a special City Council meeting Thursday, October 4th, but more on that later. Meanwhile Quan has held some press conferences in typical politician style: saying a whole lot of nothing. (For excellent coverage both as it happens and with behind the scenes stuff, follow @matthai of the SF Chronicle.)

The Oakland Police Officers Association (OPOA) put out a remarkable letter asking for clear leadership after the events of October 25th. The letter stated in part that "As your police officers, we are confused," and asked "the citizens of Oakland to join us in demanding that our City officials, including Mayor Quan, make sound decisions and take responsibility for these decisions. Oakland is struggling – we need real leaders NOW who will step up and lead – not send mixed messages." This was a bold step for the police to take- speaking out of school- and a welcome one: it showed what I had believed to be true, that individual police officers did not want to be in the position that they were in on the 25th, but were thrown into an unsafe situation by whichever combination of authorities. They acted as they were trained (which may need revision), and the situation escalated, but the OO mess was not a situation the police wanted to be in the middle of.

The OPOA letter was put out after OO called for a general strike on Wednesday, November 2nd. The strike was an amazing success. For the first time I went out to Occupy Oakland, and it really was, in most ways, as cool as S had told me.  There were So Many People there. Official estimates have put the numbers at 5000-7000, especially when people were marching to shut down the Port of Oakland, and some (crazy) people have said there were 100,000 people out that day.  Unions came out, families came out, Buddhists came out, individuals came out, Mac came out (of course). Oakland came together and I haven't felt that optimistic about Oakland in a very long time. People were in downtown Oakland all day, and after I took the old dog home, they marched on the port, closing it down. I was worried about this part of the day, since the last action (that I know of) in the port in 2003 went really badly and I thought the crowd would be spoiling for a fight after October 25th. I was wrong. The crowd was not spoiling for a fight, and the police had decided not to respond at all unless there was a call for service. (They eventually came down and basically provided traffic control toward the end of the evening, and late there was another confrontation.) The lack of police presence during the march was noticeable: at every march and parade there are cops controlling traffic. During the strike people on bikes blocked off the street, and the march carried on, peacefully.  I left when windows got broken, but it was clear in later videos that those "outside agitators" really were the culprits: each act of vandalism was clearly someone in all black, who had come spoiling for a fight. When I was walking in the streets, you could see these people, and see that they were a tiny minority of people. Thousands of people came together in Oakland to march for a better world. It was very cool. I didn't go with the marchers to shut down the Port, but you can see the vastness of the numbers who did.

Occupy Port of Oakland 26
photo courtesy of Brian Sims, cc
The general strike happened on a Wednesday, the day before a pre-planned City Council meeting on Thursday that was scheduled to be all about OO. The meeting was interesting for it's calmness: only two people were escorted away from the mic, one who was clearly mentally unstable and the other a young activist who hadn't learned or didn't care about moderating his passion in front of The Establishment. As always happens with the Oakland City Council, nothing was decided. First, City Administrator Deanna Santana gave a summary of her attempts to deal with the Occupiers, and the reasons they had to go, including a fancy powerpoint presentation and lots of big lawyer words. Her assistant, Arturo Sanchez, went over all the things he had done in the camp and all the signs he had posted, and all the times he had been rebuffed, and showed pictures of all the awful things he had seen (like open flames and buried electrical cords.) The Police Chief spoke, and was interrupted, and sounded like perhaps public speaking is something he is not fond of doing (unlike Chief Batts) and basically said his guys did great, and that the encampment was a public safety issue.  The Mayor spoke and defended herself and said she had done some wonderful stuff but couldnt' do it while this was going on.

Then the Council listened quietly to over a hundred speakers, most supportive of the encampment and Occupy Oakland, some supportive of OO but not the encampment, and a few, mostly business owners, ready for the whole thing to go away. The speakers had some great points about what OO is about, about where the city has failed them, and about other alternatives. And then each Council Member spoke. Rebecca Kaplan gave an impassioned speech about how the movement was wonderful and Oakland has always been progressive, and about how police are people too. Desley Brooks unleashed a can of whoop-ass on Kaplan for being inconsistent in public and behind closed doors, but said she supported OO, but that everyone involved needed to think beyond a patch of grass. Pat Kernighan, who represents District 2 which includes one of the wealthiest parts of Oakland, ranted on about getting OO the hell out of dodge.  Nancy Nadel did her best to sound radical while saying she knew she didn't have the votes for her resolution, and Ignacio de la Fuente was incoherent, but got the point across: Occupy Oakland was bad for business. Libby Schaff "agreed with what everyone else had said" which was impossible, since the speakers before her had disagreed. President Reid talked about his pride in the marines and commiserated with Scott Olsen and apologized for the police brutality, and Jane Brunner was AWOL. And nothing got done, because, as always, the Council tabled the important question of the day till the next meeting.

So my boss and I were both right: dialogue *is* happening, between the city and the occupiers, and even within the city. There is great potential for change here. AND the city is incompetent, as usual. The city administrator's attempts to justify the raid on the encampment were feeble, and as someone on twitter said, looked like an attempt at CYA (cover your ass) in the face of potential fallout.  As usual, the City Council sounded like they not only agreed but that they could barely stand to sit at the same dais with each other, let alone do anything but make speeches across each other. And the citizens spoke at the Council, but did not dialogue with them, proving the point that each side was saying: "no one will talk to me!" As of Thursday, cooperation seemed at a minimum: the Police, the City Administrator, the Mayor, the City Council, and the Occupiers seemed to be sitting on separate continents, and no one was willing to hand anyone else a boat and paddle.  But I'm still optimistic.

(Coming soon: part 3 of 3- the Occupy Movement and Race.)