Oakland, CA--Saturday, January 28, 2012, Sheila and I joined about 1,500 members of Occupy massed at 14th and Broadway in downtown Oakland. Occupy Oakland’s announced intention was to march to and occupy a long vacant building “somewhere” in the city to re-create a living, working, and coordinating center for this young “politics on the fly” movement for the rights of the 99%. As you probably know, previous occupations of public space from coast to coast have been destroyed and precluded by Government ordered police actions, making community development, collaboration and participatory mass democracy yet more difficult.
The atmosphere was festive and gay, resembling what the counter culture of the 60s used to call a “be-in.” People of all ages, got up in all kinds of costumes, wheeling large platform dollies with furniture, mattresses, sleeping bags, grills, electronics, crates of canned foods, loaves of fresh bread and almost anything you can think of you might need in your new home, through the streets of the city. A drumming corp and a brass band separately did their thing. Within the march itself, music also blared from a powerful high quality sound system on a flatbed truck draped with young people. A famous recycled and refurbished AC Transit “Occupy” bus was ambushed out of the demo and occupied by the police. When one of the marchers’ platform dollies lost a wheel in a BART grating dozens of people came to the rescue, each picking up something from the load of materiale and carrying the stuff along the march. Sheila grabbed a box weighing about 15 pounds, which may have contained large plastic bags (at least according to its original printed label). We saw an old friend, Helen, in the drum group, pounding out a pulsing beat on a large drum strung from her waist. Young people smiled, swayed and danced their way snakelike through downtown until the march reached Laney College. There were also bicyclists, children in carriages pushed by parents, people of various ethnicities often in small social groups, and the always present minority of young anarchists with shields and masks.
Slowly the police began to mass around the march perimeters. At Laney the march was blocked by a police line to the left and had to enter the campus; and when it tried to exit we found most of the ways off campus barred by battle ready police lines. Exiting at the Southeast edge of campus the march tried to track back toward downtown, only to be fenced in and blocked by chain link fencing and police lines. With nowhere to go the march stalled for a short while until, without provocation, Oakland’s finest began lobbing numerous (probably about 10) smoke/flash grenades into the dense crowd. People scattered briefly without any panicking and then reassembled. About 10 minutes after the smoke cleared, the police from a cruiser speaker declared an unlawful assembly and issued a disperse order. We left the demonstration, backtracking our way out at that point to avoid arrest or being beaten. However, the police apparently did not attack the full demonstration at that time (from what we later learned) and you’ll have to find out what then transpired from some other intrepid reporter. One of those, still among the crowd when we left was Mitch Jeserich (in his wheelchair), undaunted and apparently recording for his KPFA Letters and Politics program (Mondays-Fridays 10 a.m. at 94.1 FM the SF Bay Area).
A 5 p.m. local newscast on Channel 7 (ABC) stated that police were forced to use grenades and teargas because an unruly crowd attacked them. If this happened it wasn’t while we were there. Although we were right in the middle of the crowd, we saw no attacks against the police, only the smoke grenade attack by the cops, although a few young men pushed down parts of the chain-link fences in a couple of places. From the way the crowd was blocked an uninvolved observer might well conclude that any confrontations were in response to the police decision to trap the march. The police and the ABC media coverage suggest that the aim of the 1%’s armed and responsive police was to create just enough chaos to: 1) prevent the Occupiers from reaching their objective location, 2) to justify some arrests, 3) provoke some skirmishes that would allow demonization of the 99% movement via the 1%’s wholly owned corporate capitalist media. We’ve all seen these tactics used against the Black and Latino communities and against immigrants.
In a perhaps unrelated provocation a couple of counter pickets held a huge printed sign at the start of the march with the slogan: Occupy attacks Workers Rights. No one paid them any attention. Later I overheard one marcher tell another: “The media and politicians always claim we are costing the city all this money for the police. But why are they calling out hundreds of cops? We aren’t destroying anything or hurting anyone. We don’t want them spending public funds on cops to attack us and prevent public discourse either. They do it to protect the monopoly of power of the 1%.”