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Occupy: What Now, What Next? Commonwealth Club forum with Oakland Mayor Quan: audio & photos

by Dave Id
Considering the history of violent police raids and hundreds of arrests at Occupy Oakland, the Commonwealth Club forum featuring Oakland Mayor Jean Quan and Occupy "leaders" was sure to be contentious. The forum was titled "Occupy: What Now, What Next?" but probably would have better been billed as a debate rather than a panel discussion on the "what, why and future of Occupy’s mission." Disingenuously -- considering that Jean Quan used virtually every speaking opportunity she had to criticize the Occupy movement and to thereby justify her own anti-Occupy actions -- Quan told the corporate media later that "I thought this was a chance to be positive, I tried to talk and they wouldn't let me." [Full audio below]
[Pictured above: moderator Melissa Griffin and panelists Diana Macasa, Jean Quan, Nadim Haida, Iris Brown, and George Lakoff]

After Caroline Moriarity Sacks of the Commonwealth Club introduces the forum and moderator Melissa Griffin, the first question goes to Iris Brown, who became involved with Occupy Oakland during the November 2nd General Strike. Iris describes the movement's appeal.

Diana Macasa of Occupy SF says that she had been to occupation of the capital building in Madison, Wisconsin during labor struggles for the right to collectively bargain in the state and that she became involved with Occupy SF when the encampment at 101 Market was raided.

Jean Quan starts by mentioning her history of activism as a student at UC Berkeley and says she was initially enthusiastic about the Occupy movement, but she quickly turns to criticizing Occupy Oakland with a litany of mostly specious and factually incorrect arguments. While no one interrupted Quan, Ali from Occupy Oakland did stand with his back to her the entire time she spoke and a number of people in attendance began to grumble as she continued on for over three minutes with her self-justifying diatribe against Occupy Oakland.

George Lakoff discusses the framing of the Occupy movement, being in agreement with the sense of democracy as a form of mutual caring and responsibility rather than as means to merely satisfy one's own self-interest with no obligations toward other citizens.

Nadim Haida reports that he has been to Occupy Boulder, Denver, Santa Fe, Las Vegas, and Oakland. He says that every camp is unique with the exception of a common denominator being the consensus process used to organize the occupations and their anti-authoritarian nature. He describes some of the challenges facing the various occupations.

Diana is asked to talk about the horizontal organizing at Occupy SF. First, though, she confronts Quan's earlier statement which largely blamed Occupy Oakland for societal ills that long pre-date the Occupy movement and can be more strongly correlated with the avarices of American capitalism. Diana adds that Occupy SF has fed close to 1000 people a day.

Quan responds by saying that she supports economic equality in ways such as Governor Jerry Brown looking to increase taxes on the wealthy in California and claims that Oakland's homeless population has recently decreased. Quan says Occupy Oakland's work with the homeless and mentally ill cannot substitute for the long-term work that Quan and her allies are doing, then goes on to say that defending the work of the Occupy movement doesn't mean that the work of politicians has to be put down.

Nadim confronts Quan's earlier statement about political leaders tolerating peaceful protests . He makes clear that the Occupy movement is not asking for permission. He says it is not a protest,. It is a reclamation that does not depend on the authority of the state but rather innate human decency.

Quan retorts that Oakland was already occupied by Oaklanders. She says that she wanted to discuss the economic impact of Occupy Oakland and that she tried to open a dialogue between occupiers and local businesses. Quan claims that Chinatown restaurants reported a 40% loss in business when the camp was present, without offering any substantiation of the claim. (Chinatown is several blocks away from Oscar Grant Plaza and, other than perhaps a few marches that passed the edge of Chinatown via Broadway, it's hard to imagine how occupiers could have made such a strong negative impact. The claim also fails to acknowledge that hundreds of police in riot gear repeatedly releasing massive amounts of teargas downtown may not be much of an appetizer.) A woman outside of the main room shouted, "Liar!" right after Quan made that claim.

Sara of Occupy Oakland stands in front of the audience to correct Quan's misinformation. She reports that the Local Business Liaison committee conducted a comprehensive survey of local businesses which showed no such negative impact, and that overall business went up after the Occupy Oakland encampment established itself.

Melissa Griffin then asks George Lakoff about the importance of non-violence and horizontal organizing in the Occupy movement. George Lakoff first thanks occupiers for having brought the moral issue of the hoarding of wealth by the 1% to the forefront of national discussion. He urges occupiers to not only stop negative things, but to encourage positive actions and to connect a moral value with each action.

Iris and Nadim are asked about criticisms around the lack of demands and leaders in the Occupy movement. Iris says that getting caught up in the semantics of demands can lead to losing sight of the common goal, caring for one another, and that not having leaders is a strength of the movement. Nadim says that there is not one demand, but 10,000 demands and grievances, which requires a fundamental transformation of the system. George Lakoff had commented just before about some small businesses being good, and Nadim adds to that that in a capitalist profit-driven system there are tensions between workers and owners even in small businesses.

Quan jumps in and insists on talking about the issue of violence. Quan says that the Occupy Oakland General Assembly proposal on non-violence was critical but didn't pass by the required 90% consensus. Sara from Occupy Oakland asks why Quan thinks the police are non-violent. The woman outside of the main room called out, "OPD is violent! Police are violent! Your ordered police violence! You almost killed Scott Olsen!" Quan goes on to talk about a "small group of anarchists" being violent on November 2nd.

It is at that point that Sara from Occupy Oakland, who began to ask about police violence, initiates a "human mic" by calling out, "Mic check!" She apologizes to Quan for the interruption, but tells Quan that her statement is "a misrepresentation of anarchism in all of its forms. The only reason that non-violence proposal didn't pass is because it generated a beautiful community discussion. That discussion is ongoing. We have fortunately, unfortunately for the city of Oakland, do not have the apparatus of state violence that you call the OPD to brutalize our citizens like Oscar Grant, like Scott Olsen, like myself, and like many other peaceful protesters that have been occupying Oakland." The woman and the man standing next to her are then escorted out of the room by Commonwealth Club people acting as security.

The audience was perhaps two thirds supporters of the Occupy movement. As Melissa Griffin tries to settle the crowd down, several people shout out about Quan's continued lying. When Caroline Moriarity Sacks announces that anyone who speaks out during the panel will be removed, about a third of those in attendance applaud.

Melissa Griffin reads a quote from Kalle Lasn of Adbusters, who is credited with having conceived Occupy Wall Street. Kalle said in a recent interview that occupations should hibernate for the winter, brainstorm, and "come out swinging" in the spring. Griffin asks the panel for their thoughts.

Diana returns to the violence issue first. She says that the occupations have been brutalized. She says she is tired of seeing the police attack occupiers. Diana then moves on to confront memes that has been promoted in the corporate media about the port shutdowns, one originating from Quan that the actions were a form of "economic violence." Diana says that the true economic violence is being perpetrated by the 1%. She says that sometimes a lock might have to be broken in order to defend a family from being evicted from a foreclosed house. Diana disagrees with Lasn about hibernating and says that actions will continue throughout the winter.

Nadim, too, addresses the issue of "economic violence" by reading a series of facts reported by the U.N. Fifty percent of the population of the world makes less than $2.50 a day. The top 2% of the world's population controls over 40% of the wealth. He calls that economic violence. Nadim agrees with Lasn that hibernation might be the way to go for now due to the cold of winter.

Iris points out that there are many people who do not have the option of going indoors. She says that foreclosed homes and banks are still ripe for actions. She insists that there needs to be a continued presence and support for those who maintain it. Iris says that if cold is an issue, then donate supplies to help keep people warm. Iris then reports having overheard Quan in the back room before the forum began complaining about spending $5 million clearing out the Occupy Oakland encampment. Iris says one irony of that is that the occupation could have used that money, for instance, to help the homeless stay a lot warmer. Iris mentions the overwatering of the Jack London oak being done by the city of Oakland in order to make Oscar Grant Plaza uninhabitable for occupiers, adding that some are now calling the plaza "Quan Lake." In regard to the phrase "economic violence", Iris mentions the violence committed against Scott Olsen and Kayvan Sabehgi.

Quan responds that she has seen Scott Olsen and asked for an independent investigation into the incident. She says "nobody in Oakland is happy with what happened around the tear gas, around the mutual aid." She says she has been working with Judge Thelton Henderson regarding civil rights violations. Quan said it is a tough thing for her to deal with, to see to public safety and that civil rights are respected. She moves on to say that the Port of Oakland belongs to the people of Oakland. She says that kids in East and West Oakland really depend on jobs at the port and that she has been working on environmental issues with diesel trucks idling at the port. From there, she says all of the $5 million the city has spent around Occupy Oakland was not spent on police, that $1.5 million went towards vandalism around the plaza.

Melissa Griffin asks George Lakoff about a recent piece he wrote about the occupation of elections. He points to the Tea Party having elected a large number of representatives to the U.S. Congress in 2010, as well as lower level elected positions. Lakoff, citing polls that show 46% percent of Californians support the Occupy movement and over 50% support the ideals, suggests that the "bought and sold" Democratic party be occupied, not necessarily by those in the streets, but by the larger group of supporters. He says that committed volunteers can overcome the advantages of money. He says that if a group can run an encampment, it can run a campaign. George Lakoff calls this a "dangerous time" and calls for occupiers to seize electoral power.

The forum then moves to audience questions. Caroline Moriarity Sacks lays out how the Q&A is to go, warning audience members that if they speak out then they will be asked to leave. The first questioner addresses Quan, saying that her statements about economic violence encourage real physical police violence against protesters. He asks if she thinks that her daughter and husband were guilty of economic violence when they shut down the port on November 2nd. Quan says that her daughter was not there, and that her husband, Floyd Huen, was one of 200 "community monitors" out to thwart the "black bloc" on that day, so he was not a part of the economic violence.

George Lakoff is asked about the Occupy movement including more of the 99%, people that are currently afraid of it. Lakoff says that differences should be recognized between "greed capitalism" and smaller businesses that are honest and trying to serve the community.

Diana talks about Occupy SF outreach looking to do community forums in neighborhoods throughout the city. She says that she helped plan an immigrant rights march with the Day Labor program and Women's Collective of La Raza Centro Legal. She says Occupy SF has had human rights marches, anti-war marches, and tries to include as many of the 99% as possible.

Iris goes back to George Lakoff's point about elections. Iris says that many in the movement do not support reform of capitalism. Lakoff responds that the issue is not capitalism per se but whether people can make a living without exploiting anybody and how can things get moved in that direction.

The next questioner quotes from the Nuremberg Trials and asks occupiers on the panel about ways to incorporate language about universal human rights into the Occupy movement and its dialogue with the broader U.S. Nadim refers to Noam Chomsky, who he notes always defends anarchists, and suggests educating people, decolonizing their minds, is the way to go, that you don't have to appeal to public opinion on its own terms if that opinion is racist.

The next questioner asks what occupiers can do to assure that the next thirty years do not look like the last thirty as far as growing economic inequality. Lakoff goes back to his thoughts on elections, noting that right-wingers do think about elections. Quan recommends state initiatives that would shift wealth from the wealthy to school districts. Someone shouts out, "and the recall," referring to efforts to recall Mayor Jean Quan.

Melissa Griffin closes the forum by asking panelists for their 60-second idea to change the world. Diana says to get involved with the Occupy movement. Quan says she is working to break the cycle of violence with her 100-block program to put more resources into the most troubled neighborhoods in Oakland, including jobs, centers, toy drives, having police officers walking children to school, and giving residents more say in how resources are distributed in their neighborhoods. Nadim recommends dismantling illegitimate forms of authority, those based on violence and unjustified premises, and to do it out of love, not out of revenge. Iris suggests people go to Oscar Grant plaza and bring supplies and warm food for those holding vigil there. Lakoff talks about the language barriers to discussing systemic causation and the need to understand how systems work with our economy, our planet, and our politics.

A final mic check is called by Elle of Occupy Oakland once the panel portion of the forum comes to a close, asking if Quan will talk about economic terrorism when she is spending $5 million to shut down Occupy Oakland instead of spending $500,000 to keep open Lakeview Elementary school and the devastation to small local businesses when she is teargassing them. The mic check ends in a chant to recall Quan.

Event Announcement

§Open Air Mic Check version
by Dave Id
Listen now:
Copy the code below to embed this audio into a web page:
(audio 1:12:37)

More off-mic audience comments can be heard in this version. Includes, as do both versions, Quan addressing media who flocked to her on stage after the panel concluded.
§Commonwealth Club Microphone version
by Dave Id
Listen now:
Copy the code below to embed this audio into a web page:
(audio 1:18:58)

Cleaner version of audio, mostly of those microphoned for the panel, although louder off-mic voices can be heard. Includes Caroline Moriarity Sacks pre-introduction ground rules talk.
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