After the tear gas clears

What are the lessons from the conflicts of the latest Occupy Oakland action?

Tear gas and police violence: A line of cops tries to block Occupy protesters Jan. 28.

After a chaotic day of marches and confrontations between police and protesters Jan 28, I was arrested along with about 400 others who were trapped by police in front of the downtown Oakland YMCA. Seven of us were journalists.

The goal of the march was to take over an abandoned building — an the vacant Kaiser Convention Center, a city-owned building that's been closed since 2005, was a prime target.

I have not yet been able to retrieve my property, including my recorder and notebook, which is being held by the Oakland Police Department. What follows is a pieced-together account and a perspective on what the events of Jan. 28.

I spend 20 hours behind bars, and missed the later parts of the action. But I was able to observe what happened in jail and make some sense of what happened.

Occupy people are constantly debating tactics and goals, and for many, the idea of occupying a vacant building made sense. When Occupy Oakland had a camp in Frank Ogawa Plaza, also known as Oscar Grant Plaza, and commonly shortened to OGP, it created a strong community. That community bridged divides between the homeless and the housed, between students and labor organizers, and between Oakland residents of different races, genders and levels of ability in an unprecedented fashion.

The camp had a kitchen that fed hundreds of people everyday and a network of shared tents and blankets which welcomed in hundreds who otherwise would have slept on the streets, often feeling isolated from other residents of their city and made to feel inferior.

The camp was repeatedly raided, Occupiers were tear gassed and shot with rubber bullets, and when OGP was cleared out, the community no longer had a home. And the police started that violence.

That was the practical reason for wanting to occupy a vacant building: to have a social center for Occupy Oakland.

Of course, there are other reasons. There's the question that many squatters and homeless advocacy groups have been making for decades: why let buildings lie vacant while people freeze on the street?

Remember: The building that Occupy wanted to occupy is public property, and right now nobody is using if for anything.

In one exchange in jail, a guard asked a protester why the activists thought they had the right to take over a vacant building. "I mean, it's not yours," he insisted. The protester replied that many vacant buildings are government-owned and therefore public.

"So it's the government's," the cop said.

"But I pay taxes," the protester responded.

"Me too!" replied the cop. "It's mine!"

"It's both of ours," smiled the protester. "It's all of ours."

That's what made the convention center action such a clear and easy political decision.

A lot of people in Occupy would go further, saying that at a time of a severe housing crisis, it's perfectly legitimate to take over privately owned buildings that are sitting there vacant. It's part of the central argument of Occupy — that corporations and the rich unfairly own and continue to acquire much more wealth than the majority of people. For many people, owning a vacant building and doing nothing with it, while hundreds freeze on the streets, is a crime itself.



Then there's the question of the police -- and violence.

The word "nonviolent" has a specific meaning in the history of political movements. Martin Luther King Jr. defined it in his essay "The Meaning of Non-Violence": "If you are hit you must not hit back; you must rise to the heights of being able to accept blows without retaliating ... But it also means that you are constantly moving to the point where you refuse to hate your enemy. You are constantly moving to the point where you love your enemy."


If you had bothered to do even an iota of research into what's going on with the Kaiser Convention Center, you would know that 1, it require an enormous investment to become safely usable; and 2, the City is in negotiations with concert promoters to lease the building. But thanks for your uninformed opinion on the best use of the City of Oakland's public property!

Let's extend this principle and let anyone do anything with public property that is currently closed. Some condos, perhaps?

Posted by Guest on Jan. 31, 2012 @ 11:33 pm

The Occupy movement discovered something almost by accident. People gathered together and stayed together day and night. They discovered the joy of companionship. They discovered that when people gather together, with an agenda they agree upon, and accept others with differing views, in a safe and non-threatening environment, that they could live together peaceably, satisfying each other’s needs for food, clothing, shelter, and companionship. They found that with everyone contributing something no one had to give everything. They then agree upon their rules of association. They agreed among themselves to be non-violent, drug and alcohol free. They agreed to be an accepting place without judgment for the homeless, and those with homes, the poor, and those with money, the sick in mind and body, the outcast, and those that were acceptable, the prisoner recently set free, and the ones about to enter, those without options, as well as those that had options. The miracle is that not only did they exist together they thrived.

Every community that had a large occupation with an encampment saw crime decrease. So how did the governing authorities react? With violence. First kidnapping and capturing a few at a time and imprisoning them for days or weeks. And finally by assaulting these peaceful communities with armed troops, called “officers” in riot gear carrying lethal weapons and using them without reserve.

When people responded by going limp and refusing to move they were charged with resisting arrest. When they threw empty water bottles and books they were gassed, shot with bullets, beaten and charged with assaulting police officers. For what. For peaceably assembling and finding a way to make community work! For saying that greed is evil and using money to buy politicians votes on legislation is bad? What evidence more do we need than to look at the Republican presidential primary? A majority of the voters want someone other than the person who won without a majority of the votes. And those currently in power want to crown him the winner. Why, because he has the most money to share with them in their reelection efforts?

Occupiers call that unjust. So they must be removed and imprisoned? Lest the rest of the world find out those reporting the facts are arrested and imprisoned with them or separated so far from the terrorism by authority that they cannot see it and record it. But some having been arrested with them reporting on people being arrested with no injuries, being brought to the jails with bruises and injuries inflicted only after being taken into “custody” by the “authorities.” Who is deceiving who here? For what reason?

Why does our local government find it a necessity to present ordinances to aldermen on the morning of a vote with them seeing it for the first time and not having the time to give the ordinance thought or deliberation? What is our Mayor trying to hide? Who has paid him to propose such things? Making it legal to enter contracts with close personal friends who contribute to election funds that can spend unlimited amounts to encourage unsuspecting voters to cast an AYE vote for him or his favorite aldermen?

Who has promised to contribute money so the Mayor can propose to close schools that provide education for our children, close health clinics that provide our critical medical care, art centers and parks that provide us with recreation and police and fire station that provide our safety? This has been done and more.
Who is paying to have ordinances proposed that restrict our constitution rights to bear arms, to peaceably assemble, to seek redress of our grievances, to speak against such atrocities? Who is paying to silence the voices of those oppressed? Yet we are being forced to pay for the multimillion dollar gifts to corporations with the blood sweat and tears of our hard labor to pay excessive taxes on undervalued homes and property we own.

Occupiers say THIS IS UNJUST! I add my voice to theirs and say I believe in my heart they are right. My question to you is if we can’t speak, publish, assemble, or take a stand with our guns and fight back what can we do? If we don’t protect the freedoms we are losing daily what kind of environment will our children live in? What will be left for them to inherit? When they have taken our jobs and left us with no income? When they have taken our homes through tax sales and foreclosure, where will they live? With no education where and how will our children find employment? If now isn’t the time to take a stand and fight back when is? If this isn’t the place to stand and fight where is? In the words of Patrick Henry “Give me liberty or Give me death.” And I say Give it to me Today!
Keith Smith

Posted by Keith Smith on Feb. 01, 2012 @ 5:47 am

I think the main lesson to be learned from Occupy Wall Street 1.0 is that you can have a protest and exercise your first amendment rights to assembly, freedom of speech, etc. BUT you will be continually harassed by the authorities and their thugs, on the flimsiest of pretexts or no pretext at all, to the point of having your camp ransacked and your gear confiscated - but you can still assemble on the spot where your camp used to be, and you're free to speak about it! - until a reason is found to close down your impudent civil disobedience action completely, in most places, while a few, like San Francisco (out of respect for its bothersome reputation as a bastion of liberal sentiment and protest, which some of the populace isn't willing to let go of - YET) are allowed to stay put only after every possible excuse for routing or destroying them is exhausted, and the camp is so demoralized and its key people so drained it more or less collapses on its own, like a house of cards, which is all some of its former constituents will have to live in now that it's gone.

Or, in a nutshell: you can have your lousy little dog-and-pony show protest, but TWO MONTHS is all you get - don't be thinking you're gonna get another 10-year ARC/AIDS Vigil or anything like that - those days are OVER - and you'd better believe it's gonna be an uphill battle all the way.



Posted by Tony Longshanks LeTigre on Feb. 01, 2012 @ 7:21 pm

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