Saturday, October 29, 2011

Eyewitness report from Oakland

Oakland Occupy Dispersed, but then…

Oakland Erupts!

Police Attack Protestors In the Streets

Oakland, very late on Tuesday the 25th of October 2011 --

It all took place under the endlessly circling helicopters, like giant gnats, flapping, buzzing, shining their threatening lights. It made me remember the line from a 1980s song, "I wish I had a rocket launcher."
The Oakland Occupy, a peaceful and well organized encampment of about 200 or so in front of Oakland's City Hall, was violently attacked and dispersed by 500 cops at 4:45 am this (Tuesday)morning. The Oakland police, backed up by cops from 13 other jurisdictions, including UC Berkeley cops and the California Highway patrol, moved in with tear gas, flash grenades, rubber bullets and even armored vehicles. At least three people were injured, including one hospitalized with a head wound.

Approximately 105 people arrested at the dispersal were still being held as of 4 pm, most charged with standard protest charges such as "refusing to leave the scene of a riot," according to representatives from the National Lawyers Guild, who have been acting as legal monitors. These may be cited and released, but some face more serious charges, and could be arraigned this week.

"This Is What A Police State Looks Like," said the Oscar Grant Plaza Gazette, which promises to keep publishing despite the dispersal. But the dispersal was just the beginning, as this evening's events showed. According to news reports, another hundred or so arrests have been added tonight, charges as yet unknown.

After the dispersal, a rally was called for and held at 4 pm on the steps of the main Oakland Public Library on 14th St, several blocks down from the Occupy site (which was now barricaded off and guarded by cops). The library was significant, since the Occupy and other protestors have sharply opposed the recent threats of Oakland's "left" liberal Mayor Jean Quan to close libraries, a threat which was used to force concessions from city workers. On an Occupy support march, which wound its way through Oakland's streets last Saturday to protest the threatened dispersal, marchers stopped in front of the library and chanted, "Shut down OPD, not the public library," to smiles and cheers from library workers. Then today, as the rally formed up, we were told that the the Oakland PD had asked the library to close its doors in advance of the expected rally. Library workers proudly refused to do so, to cheers from the crowd.

As the rally outside the library gained strength, supporters quickly filled 14th St below the library steps. Chants of "Every week, every day, the Occupy is here to stay," rose up from arriving supporters, and the rally vowed to march up 14th to re-take the Occupy site in Oscar Grant (officially Frank Ogawa) Plaza. Using "mic check" repetition, the rally vowed that, "whatever happens tonight, we meet again, every night, at 6 pm, at 14th and Broadway."
On the way to 14th and Broadway tonight, the plan was to wind our way West a few blocks to the local municipal jail at 7th and Broadway, to give some support to our detained comrades inside. As we marched closer to the jail, changing the route at least once to out-flank a major police barricade on Broadway, images of the storming of the Bastille came to mind, and I think the cops were thinking about that as well. They seemed almost desperate to keep us from getting to that jail.

As we rounded the corner at 8th and Washington, now only about two blocks from the jail, there was a thin blue line of 10 or so cops blocking the street. The crowd pushed up and many began to flow around the police line. After some billy-club poking, the line broke up, people poured through, and the cops were quickly surrounded, along with a handful of civilian vehicles that were caught there. Protestors and cops shouted and cops jabbed for a few minutes until all of a sudden three cops were bent over beating and containing someone. Enraged, the crowd surrounding the cops broke into a chant of "let them go." (It turned out it was two arrestees.)

While all this was going on, many marchers had moved on up the block, and once again made a turn to avoid a second and more formidable line of cops, complete with motorcycles and patrol cars, guarding the jail. The Occupyers' principle of consensus and no leaders seemed to alternatively work well, and then break down into disorganization; but then it usually picked up and found a united path again.

In this instance, while some marchers were shouting "let them go" and surrounding the cops, others were trying to get marchers to move on, not realizing that the cops had two prisoners down on the street. For a while marchers were separated into two groups, but then, the second line of cops moved in to rescue their now paint-spattered brethren, and all hell broke loose. This was the first battle of the evening, as police opened fire with flash-bang grenades and tear gas. The police then retreated with their prisoners, and the marchers reconnected and decided to keep moving, this time heading toward Oscar Grant Plaza, as darkness began to fall.

That set the pattern for most of the night. When we arrived at the site of the former encampment, it was barricaded off and guarded by a solid line of cops. (And City Hall was closed, even though tonight would have normally been a council meeting.) Protestors pushed up to the line, but very soon a sergeant was on the horn. "This is an unlawful assembly. If you do not leave the designated area within 5 minutes, you will be arrested. Chemical agents will be used. You could suffer serious injury." Just as the police were about to unleash a barrage of tear gas, protestor consensus worked again, and the march took off up Broadway and then swerved to go up Telegraph Ave. to avoid yet another line of cops.

We marched and marched, seeing no cops, and getting enthusiastic welcome from the drivers whose cars were stuck at intersections that the march was passing through. In the streets the whole way, this march had grown as people heard news reports on KPFA and came down to join it. Very hard to say, but I think its peak could have been 3,000.

After a stop at Snow Park, on the shore of Lake Merritt (the site of a second encampment, which was also removed early Tuesday morning), marchers headed back up to 14th and Broadway. That's when the serious battle erupted. This time, after the usual warning, marchers held their ground, and the cops unleashed a huge barrage of tear gas, which sent most of us off in different directions. At least one demonstrator was struck in the head by a tear gas canister.

The police were later quoted on local TV news as saying that they acted in self-defense, since they were being bombarded with rocks, bottles, and even knives. This is crap. I was watching the whole time from the outer edge of the crowd, and saw exactly one piece of something flying toward the cops. It was now about 8 pm, and my companion and I escaped the tear gas and called it a night. But many marchers, fewer in number each time, kept returning to the scene at 14th and Broadway. According to news reports, three more barrages of tear gas were fired at ever smaller groups of protestors, the last one around 11 pm. And the maddening drone of helicopters never seems to stop, just one price of living in a war zone.

The spirit and determination--and the numbers--of these protestors was impressive. One young marcher said to me, early in the march, that he'd been to several of the other Occupys around the country, but except for New York, Oakland was the only place that could produce a large protest such as this on the very next day after a police dispersal of their encampment.

As for consensus and "99 percent?" Those concepts will inevitably give way to a process of sorting out. The bulk of the Tea Party, the police rank-and-file, and Mayor Jean Quan are all in the 99 percent, as it is being defined. The General Assembly of the Oakland Occupy evolved, in its 2-weeks so far, a view of the police as the enemy who needed to be kept out of the encampment, and a decision-making process that involves a quorum of at least three to present a proposal, and a super majority (but not unanimity) to pass one.

For now though, the great value of this movement is that its aim is quite good. The one percent of Wall Street barons, the financiers who are the very peak of the imperialist ruling class, is exactly the clique that needs to be overthrown in a working class revolution which would expropriate, not just control, the banks. The aim is good, but the revolutionary consciousness is not quite there yet. Still, the consciousness is a bit better than what is suggested by one sign that I saw being held up at the library rally earlier today. It read, "Mayor Quan, and Oakland Police - Which Side Are You On?" I smiled and said to the sign holder, "I think they've already answered that question." He smiled back broadly, but still held the sign.

-- Chris Kinder, socialist and activist

No comments: