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The Battle of Oakland and the Occupy Movement: 25-27 October, 2011
An account and commentary on the police state raid on Occupy Oakland and some implications for the broader movement
This is an account by someone among the 99% who was at the Oakland Commune, in Oscar Grant Plaza, on Ohlone Land, when on October 25, around 5 am, hundreds from OPD and associated police departments raided the Occupy Oakland camp and arrested almost 100 people who were peacefully assembled. The police used tear gas and rubber bullets, trashed everything in Oscar Grant Plaza, and cordoned off several blocks around the Plaza. This lasted for about 30 minutes. At that point, about 100 other people who were outside the Plaza reconvened on 14th and Franklin to demand the police to release those being arrested and the return to the Plaza. Policemen in motorcycles drove into the crowd to force their dispersal down the street. The people then began marching around downtown and attempting to barricade the streets behind them from the police who attempted to surround them. As this game of cat-and-mouse continued, at least two columns of 50 police officers each marched in full riot gear to Snow Park, which was also surrounded and cordoned off by police motorcycles, cars and additional police in riot gear. The police proceeded to arrest everyone at Snow Park even though it was already after 6am and the occupants had only been ordered to leave the parks between 10pm and 6am according to the Oakland’s mayor’s “eviction notice”.
During the rest of the day, hundreds went to the jails in Dublin and on 6th and Washington in Oakland to demand the release of those arrested, and thousands decided to reconvene at the Oakland Public Library downtown at 4pm. There was a rally and some scuffles with the police, until at 7:30 people marched back towards Oscar Grant Plaza but were stopped by the police at 14th and Broadway. Police from throughout California had blocked all six approaches and entrances to the park. The police also stationed cars and motorcycles at all the freeway entrances, remembering the time people blocked the Interstate 80 in Oakland during rush hour in a state-wide strike and day of action in defense of public education. This time, the police were occupying Oscar Grant Plaza while we occupied the streets. What happened then has gone viral: the police brutally attack the people with rubber bullets, batons, tear gas and concussion grenades on at least five major salvos over the next four hours. Some people were arrested and many were hurt, even critically, such as the Marine Scott Olsen, who suffered a fractured skull from a projectile police shot at his face, followed by concussion grenades thrown at the people who rushed to rescue Scott Olsen while he lay on the ground before the police line unconscious. The people did not abandon the streets after this brutality, and just like in Scott Olsen’s case, continued to rescue others who were gassed, shot at or attacked with concussion grenades. There was little or no relation against the police, not even against police cars suspiciously abandoned around the area, and many people suspect the police or federal agents infiltrated among the crowd may have thrown a glass bottle towards the police and instigated violence against the peacefully assembled people.
On the morning of the 26th, various groups rallied at the jails in support of those arrested and at the hospital in vigil for Scott Olsen. Thousands organized for a general assembly on Oscar Grant Plaza at 6pm. By that time, the police had withdrawn from the emptied out plaza, leaving the entire grassed area where the tents of the Oakland Commune had been pitched barricaded by chain-link fences. We began the General Assembly and hundreds continued to arrive, so people dismantled the fence and carried on. As Scott F put it, “More than a thousand people, truly of all ages and walks of life, conducted a well organized and efficient public meeting in the town square… I don't think I have ever seen a more literal embodiment of the First Amendment than last night's General Assembly.” After four hours of meeting, the General Assembly decided by consensus to call for a GENERAL STRIKE in Oakland on November 2nd!
Below is the proposal passed by the General Assembly on Wednesday October 26, 2011 in reclaimed Oscar Grant Plaza. 1607 people voted. 1484 voted in favor of the resolution, 77 abstained and 46 voted against it, passing the proposal at 96.9%. The General Assembly operates on a modified consensus process that passes proposals with 90% in favor and with abstaining votes removed from the final count.
“We as fellow occupiers of Oscar Grant Plaza propose that on Wednesday November 2, 2011, we liberate Oakland and shut down the 1%.
We propose a city wide general strike and we propose we invite all students to walk out of school. Instead of workers going to work and students going to school, the people will converge on downtown Oakland to shut down the city.
All banks and corporations should close down for the day or we will march on them.
While we are calling for a general strike, we are also calling for much more. People who organize out of their neighborhoods, schools, community organizations, affinity groups, workplaces and families are encouraged to self organize in a way that allows them to participate in shutting down the city in whatever manner they are comfortable with and capable of.
The whole world is watching Oakland. Let’s show them what is possible.”
In celebration of our reoccupation of Oscar Grant Plaza and the call for the strike, thousands marched the streets of downtown peacefully but defiantly, going first to the grotesque tower in which our comrades are imprisoned. They heard us and flickered their lights through the sliver windows, as we chanted, “Free them all! Free them all!” That entire night, we kept receiving updates from those at Occupy San Francisco requesting support because they had good reason to believe that a police raid was imminent. Many in the march considered taking the Bay Bridge to support our comrades across the bay, but the police aborted the raid on Occupy San Francisco even after they had already converged nearby in riot gear.
Why did the police abort the raid on Occupy San Francisco?
The police abandoned their plans to raid Occupy San Francisco because thousands heeded the call for support from the occupiers at “Justin Herman” Plaza, and they had just witnessed how the brutal crackdown in Oakland only incensed even more people to reoccupy Oscar Grant Plaza and escalate the Occupy Movement to a demand for a community wide general strike. The police knew that they did not have the power to raid another Occupation in the Bay Area with the people mobilized and on the offensive everywhere.
This victory is evident even from the statements of the SFPD to SFGate, under the pretense that the preparations for the raid were “just in case” people from the East Bay went to San Francisco:
“Officer Carlos Manfredi, a police spokesman, said the department was worried that decamped protesters from Occupy Oakland would flood into San Francisco late Wednesday. About 1,000 Occupy Oakland demonstrators did try to board BART around 11 p.m., only to find that the transit agency had locked the two main downtown stations. The Embarcadero Station was also shut. ‘In light of what happened in Oakland, we wanted to be prepared,’ Manfredi said. ‘In preparation, we made use of the time by assembling all of our officers to be ready in the event there would be any kind of incident.’”
But the power of the people to make the police back off is actually glossed over by KTVU, SFGate and so many other media portrayals of the event.
Instead, during the early hours of October 27th, the focus shifted strongly towards Jane Kim, John Avalos, David Campos, Eric Mar and David Chiu from the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and other city and state officials like state senator Leland Yee who went to the “Justin Herman” Plaza in support of the Occupy Movement.
It is crucial to understand both the significance and the perils of these statements made by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and the response of the Occupy Movement.
First, the perils. People at Occupy San Francisco accepted the presence and the communication with these elected officials, thanking them for their support and dialogue, even while pressing them on immediate needs of the homeless people in San Francisco, criticizing their support for tax-breaks for wealthy corporations (in this case, Twitter), and occasionally shouting clearly “we do not trust you!” And indeed people are correct to be hesitant: John Avalos and Leland Yee are both campaigning for mayor of San Francisco, and this adds more than a grain of salt to their words. Moreover, the massive outcry against Jean Quan, who pretends to the authority of mayor of the City of Oakland, is making other elected officials somewhat tremble before the Occupy Movement in an attempt to cover their own asses. After all, what Jean Quan supported during campaigns is exactly what she attacked this week, ceding control of the city to martial law by the police.
This irony must be taken seriously. Jean Quan entered into politics during the 60’s struggling against police brutality, and was popularly elected in Oakland after she personally participated in protests and demonstrations alongside the same people brutalized by police in Oakland on the 25th. Finally, she expressed support for the Occupy Oakland movement when it was first installed, but abandoned the movement to a crackdown by a police state in her absence. Calling it betrayal, Keith Olberman calls for Jean Quan to dismiss the acting chief of OPD and guarantee the continued occupation of Oscar Grant plaza, or resign. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zXj-sbzglfw) Jean Quan now claims she was not in charge of the operation, and after media reports contradicted the official OPD statement that rubber bullets and concussion grenades were not fired, the acting chief of OPD blamed other police departments involved. If neither the mayor nor the chief of OPD was in charge of the city government, who was? It should come as no surprise that the people at the Oakland Commune refused to allow government officials to speak at our General Assembly, and while it is very important and in many ways good that the people of San Francisco have initiated dialogue with their own city officials, they ought to be extremely careful to avoid cooptation as well as betrayals.
Not only the risk but also the positive significance of the dialogue between the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and Occupy San Francisco is not yet widely understood. Supervisor Kim said, "We want to thank you for coming in such great numbers tonight" and added that the five supervisors were at the camp "because we strongly believe in the first amendment rights of everyone here." Given that public health concerns were among the three main issues with which the City of Oakland and others have justified police crackdowns on Occupations throughout the country, it is momentous that Supervisor Kim also said "We feel confident that we can work with you to develop a protocol that balances our first amendment rights and public health concerns”, explaining that we do not need the police for that.
The Occupy Movement, which was criticized for not having clearly articulated demands, begins to articulate demands organically through the process of struggle itself. Simultaneously assuring that the municipal government can and should attend the public health needs of the people of San Francisco and explicitly excluding the police from anything related to this issue, the dialogue between Occupy San Francisco and the Board of Supervisors can cultivate an important space for public debate from which two demands are already materializing: the provision of free and quality healthcare for all and the need to deactivate the police from infringing against the right to peaceful assembly.
The general strike called in Oakland can also become a stage on which to demand the resignation of the acting chief of OPD and/or mayor Jean Quan, but individuals holding office have never been the focus of the movement cultivating the Oakland Commune. The ultimate goal of the occupation in Oakland is not likely to be expressed as the replacement of officeholders, but rather as the replacement of the city government and the police force by the democratic organization of the Oakland Commune through general assemblies. Such a goal will certainly not be easy to achieve, but it continues to materialize through each day of struggle.
In the meantime, the example of Occupy San Francisco may come in more handy in several other cities across the country: after all, the police raid in Oakland was not the only one that took place during these days. Atlanta, Eureka and several other Occupations were also raided, people were arrested and harassed, and peaceful assemblies were disrupted in several other places around the country at virtually the same time. In fact, Greg Mitchell blogging for The Nation remarked on “Much speculation and alleged info last night out of California on DHS (Homeland Security) behind the crackdowns this week at camps across country. This would explain why mayors, such as in Oakland, appear weak and unable to halt attacks.” As mentioned above, neither the mayor of Oakland nor the chief of OPD were in control during the raid and attack on Occupy Oakland, but the California Highway Patrol and ten other police departments were involved in the crackdown, so coordination at least at the level of the State of California must have taken place. Whether or not the Department of Homeland Security was also coordinating or encouraging the widespread crackdowns on the Occupy Movement remains uncertain, but it would not be surprising if it were the case. This would mean that the action taken by the Board of Supervisors in San Francisco sets the precedent for a remarkable new development: the confrontation between Federal agencies and local governments in opposition or support for the Occupy Movement.
Mayors, city officials and even Sheriffs have sometimes stood as the last line of defense where community members were able to rally support for radical solutions to the problems we are currently facing. The financial system might be failing while banks continue to foreclose homes, but community organizations protecting their neighbors have cultivated support from Sheriffs in Arizona, Michigan, Illinois and elsewhere who have refused to enforce evictions so that families can continue to live in their own homes flouting the foreclosure. We might be reaching a point now where mayors and city officials will have to clearly decide on which side of the barricades they stand: with the Occupy Movement cultivating concrete solutions to the problems we are facing in our communities because of the crimes and exploitation of corporations and the wealthy; or facing the demand for their resignation.