Yesterday in Oakland

This seven-minute video gives a pretty good brief impression of what happened in Oakland yesterday, following the police destruction of the Occupy Oakland encampment at Frank Ogawa Plaza. Among other things, I call your attention to a poignant interaction around 4:45 where a few marchers start pushing a dumpster, as if to start a barricade. A guy hugs one of them and pleads with them, “Oh, no, guys, come on, let’s be civil.” One of the others says, “Are they [the police] being fuckin’ civil?!” Hugging that second guy, he says, “I know, brother, they’re savages, they’re fuckin’ savages. But don’t be like them! Don’t be like them!” If you think that rhetoric is excessive, note the very end of the video, where lots of people are running away and one of them is hit by a tear gas canister and falls to the ground. Several of the others run back to help him, and as they are all crowding around, the police throw a flash-bang grenade right down into the group which explodes in the injured man’s face. Here is a clearer view of the same incident. The young man, an Iraq war veteran, has a fractured skull and is in critical condition. But I guess this sort of thing has to be done in order to maintain “public peace” and keep the Plaza nice and “hygienic” . . .

I was at the 4:00 rally outside the Oakland Public Library. It began with a report on the situation of the arrestees. We learned that there are 105 of them, and that two of them have broken hands and another one is in the hospital. Then there was an open mic for an hour or so, then a march. (The rally and the march ranged between 1000 and 2000 people, with many coming and going at various times.) We intended to pass by the jail where our friends were being held, but were blocked by police. In the process of pushing and shoving, the police grabbed two of us, threw them down and handcuffed them. Hundreds of us crowded around them, shouting: “Shame! Shame!” and “Turn them loose! Turn them loose!” Ten minutes later police reinforcements arrived, clubbed their way through the crowd and pointed rifles at us, so we backed away and continued on to Frank Ogawa Plaza, which was barricaded and surrounded by police.

Shortly after we arrived there, the police declared that we were an “unlawful assembly” and had five minutes to leave or we would be arrested “and risk serious personal injury.” One guy spontaneously sat down on the concrete in meditation. I immediately joined him and we and a few others started chanting:“Sit down! Sit down!” Several dozen others did the same. But there were also a lot of people who did not want to do this, so we got up again and continued marching. (To be safe and effective, a sit-down in this kind of situation would have required several hundred people all doing it together. And in any case, if one is going to do this sort of thing, it makes much more sense to prepare carefully ahead of time, choosing one’s goal and planning for different contingencies so that everyone is on the same page, as was usually the case during the civil rights struggles.)

Next stop was Snow Park, about half a mile away, where a smaller satellite occupation had also been destroyed the same morning. (This satellite camp had been formed because the original camp was so popular it was becoming too crowded.) We had a brief assembly, but with so many people so revved up, nothing was decided except that quite a few people wanted to go back to the Plaza. I went part of the way there and then headed home, so I missed the tear gas attacks that happened shortly afterwards.

Although Occupy Oakland’s next move may not be determined until the arrestees are released and can rejoin the general assembly, one definite decision has been made: To demonstrate, celebrate, orate, meditate, or otherwise be present at the corner of the Plaza at 14th & Broadway at 6:00 p.m. every day until the further notice.

One thing that struck me yesterday was that even under these brutal conditions, the mood was not entirely grim. There was of course lots of outrage and anger, but also lots of joy. Somewhat like in the early civil rights movement, there is a feeling that the old order is now on the defensive and that its ignorant and brutal reactions are a reflection of its inability to grasp the new community in the making, the new liberated community that we and countless others around the world are trying to create, and that we are already feeling in our hearts.

In a message that I sent to all my Bay Area friends yesterday I suggested that they might consider giving Oakland’s “progressive” mayor Jean Quan a piece of their mind. I’m happy to note that such comments would now be redundant. Mayor Hygiene’s phone line was so busy that most people could not get through, but her Facebook page has received over 3500 comments in the last 24 hours. Someone who has examined them reports that, “among the most recent 500 at the time of this writing, not a single one is positive.”

Ken Knabb edits the Bureau of Public Secrets.