Monthly Archives: January 2012

Occupy Oakland vs. the OPD, and Move-In Day/Oakland Rise Up Festival

Let's Hope Not

Over the last month or so, I have become increasingly involved with Occupy Oakland (while trying my hardest to keep up with the rest of life’s inconvenient responsibilities, many of which, unfortunately, are far less involving than OO). The other day, I for the first time witnessed a confrontation with the police, thankfully free of riot shields and pepper spray. And it was an undeniable victory. Small, but undeniable. As you may well know already, the police of late have been applying an unprecedented amount of pressure on OO wherever it may manifest, be it the 24-hour vigil holders, or people on the plaza who have fixed an umbrella into the ground. The infractions are often petty, yet ruthlessly enforced. In some cases the police seem to have targeted specific protesters. In lock up, there have been stories of individuals deprived of bathrooms, food, first aid, and their phone call. OO, of course, has not taken all of this lying down, and over the last two weeks, there have been several “Fuck the Police” Marches“, disembarking from 14th and Broadway and usually terminating at or near the police station. These have resulted in several arrests, and some property damage to police vehicles and the area about the police station. A lot of people don’t agree with these marches, and think them unproductive or pointless. But given what has been going on, I for one find them understandable at least, if something of a double-edged sword. While they risk scaring away some outsiders, I think they also help the movement as a whole retain its radical edge, and help us all not to be intimidated. Some fear that the larger public will come to define OO based on its relationship with the police, but I for one don’t think that that’s likely, and think it would be counter-productive to try too hard to stop the marches even if I felt otherwise.

So, at the GA on Sunday, we were getting ready to vote on the agenda’s first proposal, when a “comrade” walked into the center of the space and cut off the facilitators, saying that a man was being arrested at the edge of the plaza for a charge that had already been dismissed. He told us there was only three of them. Other than that, he didn’t have to say much. Slowly at first, with some showing far more enthusiasm than others, we stood up and started towards the 14th Street side of the plaza, where, indeed, three uniformed police officers had encircled a man sitting on the steps with his head bowed. We were about 100 strong. We surrounded the officers. A few of the long-timers and stalwarts stepped to the front of the crowd to shout into their faces. One person brought out his laptop and started reading legal code to them. When the crowd started chanting “Pigs go home! Pigs go home!” you could see the officers growing nervous.

Me, I’m not used to seeing police officers nervous, and I started getting a little nervous myself, started thinking of all those pepper spray and baton stories, and I started to wonder what these guys had on those ridiculously over-stocked utility belts. The police were not attempting to speak with anyone or to clear a path, but they were calling on their radios. A few more OPD cars swerved off of Broadway and pulled up. The backup. Now I really was worried.

But instead of whipping out the tear gas, they got back into their car, parked and surrounded on the 14th Street sidewalk, and left the young man on the plaza steps. After a few members started telling us to “let them leave, let them leave,” we cleared a path, and the car slowly and carefully rolled past. We gave a general cheer, and then, after being reminded that we still had some voting to do, we returned to the plaza steps and the meeting continued (almost) as if nothing had happened.

That was a victory. Small, but undeniable. Perhaps it is testament to how far this movement has gone already that, upstanding citizen that I am, I would ever consider such a statement. But the repression that the Occupy Movement has met with, here in Oakland and around the country, is unprecedented and truly heinous. At a certain point it becomes hard not to buy into a kind of siege mentality. At this point the police seem to be making a concerted effort to bring the protest movement down. Of course, the police aren’t the real problem. But they are its most obvious manifestation, and we will have to survive them if we are ever to accomplish anything else.

There will, no doubt, be more repression to come. And one particularly contentious action, the taking of a large building, termed Move-In Day and the Oakland Rise Up Festival, which is to occur on January 28th and 29th, at an as yet undisclosed location, could very well be the next flashpoint. Taking a building is a truly radical step. We are all scrambling now to pull it off as well as we can. Honestly, and though I am absolutely going to give it my all in an effort to prove otherwise, I’m not sure that this action will be a success — that is, that we will be able to hold the building long-term. We might not have given ourselves enough time to prepare, and the original proposers might not have fully appreciated the spectrum of challenges the action would face. This is a direct strike to the face of the political, financial, and law enforcement forces that are arrayed against the Occupy movement, and they will likely do everything in their power to see that it doesn’t come to pass. This is property, that magical term. Taking it for our own is illegal even under the most generous of interpretations. But, at the same time, when thousands of buildings across the city are vacant, and tens of thousands more are homeless, who cares? What good is that building doing? And furthermore, if any Occupation can pull something like this off, it’s Oakland’s. We have proven that much. It will take a lot of numbers, and it will take a lot of outreach, but it can happen. The more people show up, the less likely it is there will be a police action. The Occupy movement is stronger here in Oakland than it is perhaps anywhere else in the country. This is partly because Oakland already has so deep and proud a history of civic activism. If Occupy can tap into that, can make the people of Oakland, all the people of Oakland, including residents of Fruitvale, West Oakland, the Burges, and the hills, see this movement as a resource, a uniquely Oakland opportunity to fight for their own self-empowerment, than I believe even the city council may come to see our use. Think about it. It takes only 30 people to stop an illegal foreclosure. How many would it take to stop a school closure? To highlight a vital service cut? To hamper draconian raids by ICE? Occupy Oakland provides a place where we can stand together, in the truest sense of the word, such a rarity in this hugely divided city. Now, imagine if we had a building, with a reception area, offices, speaking areas, bathrooms, a kitchen, tables, chairs and windows. Man. If we had that there’d be no stopping us.

Occupy Oakland Update: Foreclosure Defense, Occupy the Courts, and Move-In Day

Gayla Newsome in Front of her Re-Occupied Home

Here are a few updates on my experiences in Occupy Oakland, which seems to suck me in deeper every time I attend. It’s hard to resist, at least for me. While it’s huge and vast and intimidating, it is also remarkably self-empowering. With the force of passion and numbers, there is the real sense that you can make a difference. You can feel it in the air. Also, I personally tend to have a lot of opinions about politics and Oakland, and I tend to like to talk about them. Now that Occupy is here, it seems disingenuous of me to talk so much without at least trying to put my money where my mouth is. So, here are the updates:

When last I wrote, I told about OO’s Foreclosure Defense Subcommittee, and canvassing in West Oakland. Since my writing, the homeowner in question, one Gayla Newsome, back into her home following a massive rally in a nearby park, and, together with a rotating shift of Occupiers and ACCE members, held the place down for several weeks. A few days after the move in, three police officers, a realtor, and a locksmith showed up at her front door. The Occupier who was there on shift refused to grant them entry, telling them that he was there lawfully (which is true: at the behest of ACCE, the foreclosure defense experts, Gayla formally leased the property to an ally in the fight, who then can grant permission to anyone to stay there — the leaser must now be evicted for the property to be forcibly, legally vacated). 30 Occupiers showed up within the hour and crowded the entryway. Phone calls went out to the Oakland Police Department, to the legal defense team, and to city council. A few hours later, the police and the locksmith and realtor left. The next day, OO Foreclosure Defense held a rally at 51st and Broadway, at the Chase branch where Gayla’s mortgage was held. Miraculously enough, this resulted in Gayla sitting down with the branch manager, who went on to admit that her eviction had not been lawfully executed. In effect, the eviction was called off. Today, the shifts at her home are winding down. Believe it or not, victory. An actual and demonstrable good. I hope there will be more like it (though for some reason I haven’t heard back from the subcommittee organizers or the ACCE people — according to an Occupier I know who spends more time at the plaza, in fact there have been about 5 other successful actions like this, but the homeowners wanted to avoid the publicity).

Now on to Occupy Oakland Courts. Here is a group spearheaded by my cousin, Geza, who got the idea based on the national Move to Amend initiative to nullify corporate personhood, an outgrowth of that strange and hugely unpopular decision brought by the Supreme Court two years ago in the Citizens United case. There is a national day of action on January 20th, the same day that Occupy San Francisco plans on shutting down the city’s financial district (this seems to be coincidence, or rather the financial district action resulted from the MTA national day of action, and the true motivation was forgotten, which, interestingly enough, is in parallel with Occupy Wall Street’s original genesis as well, also planned in part as a protest against corporate personhood). We are holding a rally in front of Oakland’s Federal Building at 14th and Clay, with street theater and talking points, before crossing the bay to join the others in San Francisco. While I personally believe that local issues should usually be Occupy’s focus, here is an exception, if only because the polls are so vociferously disapproving of the Supreme Court’s wholly undemocratic decision, that influences our democracy so thoroughly. If Occupys around the country can get behind Move to Amend, show their anger about this case, something might well come of it. Hope to see people there at 14th and Clay on January 20th.

The Henry J Kaiser Convention Center — Could It Be?

And then there is the understatedly titled Move-In Day. A few weeks ago, a proposal passed at the GA (by a very slim margin, just barely above the 90% threshold) to seize and Occupy a large building, whose location is known only to a few select and trusted members due to obvious and justifiable fears of police infiltration. This is perhaps one of the most radical actions Occupy Oakland will be taking yet, right up there with the port shutdowns, and as such, it has been hugely controversial. I myself at first was inclined not to vote for it. If you ask me, except for a few holdouts such as the 24-hour vigil-holders who remain at the plaza (they have to stay awake all night, but they’re still there), the camps and the Occupations are pretty much over with. The police know what to do now, and it has become clear that no one is going to hold them to account for whatever brutal actions they end up taking to achieve their goals. Trying to take and hold a building, on the face of it, seems the most surefire of lost causes. And yet, swayed by the infectious and romantic and somewhat hopeless support this proposal seemed to have, I ended up voting for it, and now I have joined the Messaging Subcommittee, under the Media/Outreach Subcommittee, and we are holding by-daily meetings. The issue is as contentious as it is electrifying. I now believe that, potentially, even if this particular building gets shut down, this could in fact end up as a whole new direction for Occupy Oakland, and a chance to get the rest of the city behind us with still more force. I will explain more in a later post, cause this one’s getting a little too long. Stay tuned. And rest assured, that even without the camps, Occupy Oakland, for one, is still very much alive and kicking.

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