The camp supported a wild and unlikely mix of people united in their disenchantment with the status quo — young and old, black and white, housed and homeless, queer and straight, credentialed and uneducated, vegan and omnivorous — and within this developing space, societal barriers seemed to be falling away.
"It's an occupation that transcends what it was initially about," reflected a protester named Miguel. "It's feeding homeless people, and it's giving people a place to sleep."
Protesters didn't rally around demands. "From my understanding, this is a movement of autonomy, and liberation from ... the politics of representation, and the economics of capitalism," said Bryan R., an organizer who helped plan the occupation. "To engage in dialogue with the power by means of demand is to acknowledge their power over us."
All decisions were made by consensus in a General Assembly. The occupation had passed resolutions stating that it didn't back any political parties, supported the Pelican Bay prisoners' hunger strike, and was in solidarity with striking students and workers.
Rodrick Long, a 21-year-old Oakland native who'd been camped at the occupation for two days when I met him, said he felt he was participating in a piece of Oakland's history.
"As far as Oakland goes, I just think we need more unity," he said. "There's a lot of gang violence, and a lot of poverty. A lot of people don't show enough that they care about Oakland. But it's a lot of people here. I didn't expect this many people to come."
Occupy Oakland seemed both serious and playful as it journeyed each day toward fomenting the revolution, or maybe just keeping the camp together, depending on who you asked. A tense General Assembly meeting was reportedly held after the city issued the first eviction notice on Oct. 20, and occupiers vowed to hold their ground. But the somber moment broke up when someone kept randomly shouting "Michael Jackson!" — prompting someone to blast the song "Smooth Criminal" over a loudspeaker, sparking an impromptu dance party before everyone got down to business again.
The occupiers were sculpting a self-governed, non-hierarchical mini society in the heart of Oakland as an affront to Wall Street bankers and capitalism itself — a complicated endeavor, to be sure. This was, after all, a mix of perfect strangers, some with mental-health issues (who'd been failed by the very system the occupation was opposing, several people pointed out to me), striving to coexist in a densely populated public park. Illegally.
There were ups and downs. Mainstream newspapers were running headlines about the occupation's rat problems, television reporters had gotten into tiffs with protesters, and in the hours before I arrived, a man who went by Kali was forced out for starting arguments that eventually came to blows.
The outside world seemed separate from the occupation, though its presence was acutely felt. News vans were parked along the perimeter at all hours of the day, and a live stream sent raw footage directly to the Internet, making the surreal scene feel a bit like a fishbowl.
As night fell, around 150 people congregated in the plaza's amphitheater for the evening's General Assembly, which opened with general announcements. Ellen spoke about organizing actions against foreclosures. Jonathan urged a transition from mega-banks to credit unions. Someone proposed expanding the first aid tent into a free clinic that would operate out of an onsite RV. But just as a woman began describing the struggle of revolutionary youth in Uganda, shouts rang out from somewhere in the thicket of tents. Kali was back. Members of the "safer spaces" committee made a beeline toward him to try and deescalate the conflict, while others milled about in alarm and confusion.
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