I used to go to Grateful Dead shows at the Oakland Auditorium, which is now called the Kaiser Convention Center. One night I saw Bill Graham, the late concert promoter, ride a zip line from up near the ceiling to the stage in a giant paper mache joint called the "S.S. Columbian," which looked like it was going to fall apart at any minute as he swung back and forth 50 feet over the crowd, trying to smile and wave in a bizarre promotional stunt that confused even the deadheads. I bet he shit his pants.
The place was a pretty good venue for a big concert, but it never worked out as a convention center, and the city shut it down in 2005. It needs seismic work and about $5 million in maintenance. It sits near Lake Merritt, on the edge of downtown Oakland, a giant empty building just waiting for something to happen to it.
It's a perfect spot for an Occupy Oakland headquarters. I'm surprised it took the Occupy folks this long to figure it out.
Look: Oakland's a working-class city, and it's having severe financial problems, and sending hundreds of cops to arrest Occupy protesters is sucking up money that's desperately needed for other things. Mayor Jean Quan complains that police were unable to respond to emergency calls in other parts of the city because they were all downtown dealing with the demonstration.
Understood — and it's clear that the Oakland Police, whether the Occupy folks like it or not, are going to arrive in mass numbers to make sure that there's no damage to local businesses or City Hall (where, oddly, there were no arrests, because the cops were elsewhere).
But the empty Kaiser Center, which isn't even in the downtown center? Why bother?
Seriously: Why not just give it to Occupy Oakland? Tell the group that the city will strictly enforce fire and health codes, that the Occupy people will have to clean the place up and keep it clean, that they can't damage the place ... and hand over the keys?
It's public property. Nobody using it now. Occupy might actually bring some excitement to the scene. If it became a center for political meetings and organizing, for education and performances, it could be a be a very positive thing.
Declare at truce in the Occupy wars. Let the cops go after murderers; give Occupy the vacant convention center. Nothing else is working. It's worth a try.