Oakland is hella occupied


The Occupy Oakland encampment at Frank Ogawa Plaza is about 150 strong at any given time, and with a march, rally, and live musical performances on Oct. 15, the protest zone in the heart of Oakland was buzzing with energy.

Oakland is home to hundreds of seasoned activists who've made headlines in the past for organizing mass demonstrations against police violence, pushing back against cuts to public education, and moving to save Oakland public libraries from closing their doors in the face of budget cuts. Now, in solidarity with Occupy Wall Street and the Occupy movements that have sprouted up across the country in recent weeks, they've staked out a tent city in front of Oakland City Hall to join the national chorus condemning income inequality, corporate influence in government, and the role of major banks in unleashing a tide of unemployment and foreclosure that has swept working-class and middle-class Americans.

In just a week's time, the occupiers have managed to create a community space governed by consensus that has the feeling of being an established space. Wooden pallets create walkways that criss-cross through the tents, which are staked close together. A kitchen area has been set up, with industrial-sized pots and pans piled high, and regular meals served to more than 100 people. There are portable toilets, portable outdoor sinks, a library supplied with zines and radical literature, an arts and crafts area, a kids' area, a first-aid tent, and a makeshift stage in the plaza near the entrance of the 12th Street BART station.

The space is continually evolving, several activists told me when I chatted with various people at the camp. A few small arguments have broken out here and there, but on the whole things have been extraordinarily peaceful despite the close quarters and wide-open vibe. This past weekend, a tall structure with a pointed rooftop materialized overnight, adorned with colorful fabric and curtains. Tables and chairs had been brought in so people could play cards, hay bales served as structural dividers between encampment spaces, and the plaza was adorned with posters bearing statements like "The First American Revolution Since the First American Revolution."

What sets the Oakland occupation apart in some ways is the diversity of people who've been drawn to participate. From black youth born and raised in Oakland, to Muslim women donning traditional headscarves, to white anarchists, to parents of young kids, to college students, to people in wheelchairs, to aging hippies, to transgender people, Occupy Oakland reflects the diversity of the city -- and it's bringing together a group of people who might not necessarily share the same space at the same time on a regular basis.

Boots Riley of The Coup performed at Occupy Oakland on Oct. 13, and other musicians have treated occupiers to live music as well. Shane Bauer, Sarah Shourd, and Josh Fattal -- the three activists who were imprisoned in Iran and are now back on the West Coast -- were scheduled to speak on Oct. 17. At one point just before dark on Oct. 15, a group of bikers blew past the camp in what seemed to be a show of support, performing tricks while everyone applauded.

On Oct. 15, Move On staged a Jobs Not Cuts rally at Occupy Oakland, but because activists decided by consensus beforehand that they did not want any politicians speaking at their encampment, several elected officials whom the group had invited to speak were struck from the roster. (However, a representative from the office of Congressional Representative Barbara Lee did deliver a prepared statement, which some occupiers characterized as going back on their agreement with Move On.)

Danny Glover delivered a passionate speech at the rally, telling the crowd, "We are here because it's the right time to be here." He spoke about transforming and reinventing the system so that it could work for the people and the planet, asking, "What does it mean to be a human being in the 21st Century?" He urged the activists to hold their ground, and then said, "What it's going to look like, I don't know." But he asked people to believe that a new system could come out of this grassroots movement, "based on our faith in humanity."

All photos by Rebecca Bowe