The struggle continues in Oakland

November 16, 2011

Alessandro Tinonga reports on the police raid against the Occupy Oakland encampment--and continuing resistance of activists against the 1 percent.

OAKLAND POLICE evicted the Occupy encampment for the second time in three weeks, clearing the plaza in front of City Hall of all people and camping equipment during the early morning hours of November 14.

But Occupy activists are keeping up the fight--and returned to reclaim Oscar Grant Plaza that night for a General Assembly meeting that voted to provide support the next day's student strike and Occupy demonstration up Telegraph Avenue at the University of California Berkeley campus, before leaving the plaza for the night under pressure from police.

The first attack on Occupy Oakland on October 25 led to a late-night confrontation with police that left downtown looking like a war zone. Iraq war veteran Scott Olsen was nearly killed when he was struck by a tear gas canister fired by police. People across the Bay Area were infuriated by the assault and turned out the next night to retake the plaza after Mayor Jean Quan and city officials were forced to back down from restrictions on reestablishing the encampment.

Oakland Occupiers watch as police again take over their encampment at Oscar Grant Plaza
Oakland Occupiers watch as police again take over their encampment at Oscar Grant Plaza

But in the weeks that followed--including during a general strike and day of mass demonstrations on November 2--Quan and the Oakland City Council continued campaigning to remove the encampment from their front door. They used the pretext of health and safety "concerns" and accused the occupation of causing business revenue to decline.

The tragic shooting death of Kayode Foster on the edge of the encampment on November 10 was exploited to escalate the fear-mongering. "It was no longer about the abuses of the financial system, or foreclosures or the unemployed," said Quan. "The encampment became a place where we had repeated violence and, this week, a murder. We had to bring the camp to an end before more people were hurt."

But police have not publicly identified any suspects in Foster's shooting, nor offered any evidence that the violence was linked in any way to Occupy Oakland. On the contrary, Occupy medics were first on the scene and attempted to save Foster's life.

Nevertheless, over the weekend, the city issued a series of eviction notices to the encampment. As fear of another crackdown spread, many participants began to leave Oscar Grant Plaza, reducing the number of tents from about 150 to about 60 by late Sunday night.

Hours later, hundreds of officers from Oakland and 13 other law enforcement agencies carried out a predawn sweep of the encampment. To avoid a repeat of the atrocious brutality by police during the first raid, the cops methodically closed down access to the camp block by block.

Entrances to the plaza were blocked off with police vehicles and police tape, but these barriers were soon reinforced with barricades dropped off by other officers driving around in City of Oakland municipal trucks. The crowd of people--probably numbering 500 at its high point--was allowed to leave the camp's perimeter, but no one was allowed back in, as police waited for those remaining in the plaza to thin out.

Despite the menacing police presence, several hundred protesters showed up in the early morning hours to defend the camp. The crowd formed a picket line, which included members of unions such as the International Longshore and Warehouse Workers. As the sun rose and more people started to trickle in, it became clear that the police would not attempt to conduct a mass arrest of those outside the camp's perimeter--a small march began around the perimeter, with chants "Who's streets? Our streets!"

Most of the people left in the camp at this point marched away rather than stay behind to be arrested--certainly the best course when it became clear that the police could not be stopped without hundreds more protesters. Thirty-two protestors were arrested, and any remaining camping equipment in the plaza was confiscated by city workers.

ACTIVISTS AND supporters of Occupy Oakland did not let the raid dampen the resolve of the movement to continue speaking out.

At 4 p.m., hundreds gathered at the main public library in downtown Oakland. An hour later, over a thousand people marched and assembled in front of City Hall. Police kept a heavy presence, but maintained their distance from the reopened plaza while a General Assembly formed to talk about next steps for the movement. More than 1,000 participants in the GA debated the next course of action.

"Whatever they do, they're just going to make us keep going," Boots Riley, a key organizer of Occupy Oakland and front man for the political hip hop group The Coup, "They're in a lose-lose situation. We're putting out the idea that the working class can organize itself, can withhold its labor and can cause them to have to deal with us. That idea is not going to go away by evicting this camp."

Though Quan and the police were able to break up the overnight encampment at Oscar Grant Plaza, the crisis for the city has caused important splits at the top of the local government.

There are still rumors of city council members raising a no confidence vote against Quan. The police department and its union are at odds with Quan's administration. Its statement after the eviction thanked other East Bay law enforcement agencies and even the protesters for a "peaceful resolution"--but left out the mayor.

Meanwhile, two members of Quan's administration resigned in protest over the raid. Deputy Mayor Sharon Cornu and Quan's legal adviser Dan Siegel both left their positions. Siegel posted on his Facebook page: "No longer Mayor Quan's legal adviser. Resigned at 2 a.m. Support Occupy Oakland, not the 1 percent and its government facilitators."

What's more, the experience of the last few weeks has been an education about the true character of capitalism and the political system that supports it. Occupy activists have learned a wealth of lessons--that the Democratic Party can be just as vicious in its crackdown on social movements; that the police will attack the 99 percent at every opportunity; that Oakland politicians and business business are incapable of providing real solutions to the city's social crisis; and that workers and the community are capable of raising alternative solutions.

In three weeks, the City of Oakland claims to have spent more than $2.4 million to shut down the peaceful protest of Occupy Oakland. That's money that should have been used to help keep underfunded public schools and libraries open, and maintain critical social programs.

The confidence of thousands of people has been raised by this struggle. While the future of a new encampment is unclear, we know that Occupy Oakland is here to stay.

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