Occupy Oakland continues; tensions grow within

November 10, 2011

It’s been a little more than a week since Occupy Oakland’s general strike paralyzed the city of Oakland and closed down its port. If you went to bed before midnight on November 2, or if you failed to read the headlines the following morning, Occupy Oakland’s general strike seemed like a resounding success.

“One thing I loved about the march on the Port of Oakland was the way there were so many groups doing what they wanted to do,” said writer Lucy Bledsoe. “Sista Boom playing drums in one place, people who wanted to meditate doing that in another place, all kinds of small group gatherings, no one voice telling everyone what they should be doing.  That said, I also loved how the entire thousands of people stayed in touch via texting.  As I walked, I got texts telling me where the police were, where support was needed, how the Port of Oakland workers were responding, etc etc.  These texts were always calm and to the point.”

But anyone who read the headlines Thursday morning, November 3, could well have asked what had happened because, by morning, there was little of that calm and much confusion. Sometime in the night, a group of Occupy Oakland protestors broke away and took over the former Travelers Aid Association building near 16th St. and Broadway.

The Oakland Police, which had for the most part kept a respectable distance throughout Wednesday’s general strike, came out en force. The police, by their own admission, tear-gassed, fired bean bags and otherwise engaged the protestors. Yet another Iraq and Afghanistan veteran, Kayvan Sabehgi, was injured, this time beaten up by a cadre of cops.

“A group of folks reclaimed a former homeless shelter which had been foreclosed on and abandoned for eight years,” explained Bots Riley. “The purpose was supposed to be to use it as a homeless shelter/library/community space. They did it in a very public way, reclaiming the space, hanging a banner, and throwing a gigantic dance party. I don't think that was tactically wise. I think the place should've been quietly reclaimed, fixed up beautifully, then announced. That would make it a space worth defending. That being said -- the police attacked a dance party in the middle of the street. After the first tear gas grenade was thrown, some folks decided to set fire to tires in the middle of the street. They were saying that that is what's done in Europe to counteract tear gas. Other participants didn't agree with this and put the fires out. The only thing thrown at the police was a tear gas canister that got thrown back at them. The windows that were broken were broken early on in the day -- not at night -- by, I believe, another grouping than who reclaimed the space. There was graffiti done at night by unknown folks, which was cleaned in the morning mainly by Occupy Oakland.”

In a matter of days, the Oakland City Council was besieged by citizens wanting Occupy Oakland ousted from the park that’s been renamed Oscar Grant Plaza. In recent days, the calls have become stronger, and Mayor Jean Quan, already under siege for approving police action October 25, again asked the demonstrators to move. The demonstrations and continued occupation have cost the city of Oakland, already in a deep hole, more than $1 million.

Since last week, Occupy Oakland’s General Assembly -- which routinely gathers more than one thousand people nightly now -- has voted to continue taking over foreclosed properties, with the idea of turning them into useful community spaces. But the assembly’s refusal to condemn violence has caused a rift in the ranks, especially because of the presence of “The Black Bloc,” an anonymous group that believes in confronting authorities, such as the police, in whatever way necessary.

“The truth is that there are tactical divisions in the movement,” said Riley. “What happened (Wednesday night) was organized by folks on all sides of that tactical spectrum and wouldn't have been voted for, much less organized and promoted, without all of those people on the different sides of that ideological spectrum.”

“Actions like the (Travelers Aid takeover) are incredibly vital to a movement like the 'occupy' movement,” said Sampada Aranke, who participated in the general strike but not the takeover or the confrontation with police. “It pushes the notion of direct action outside of the bounds of marches and demonstrations, and into a need-based restructuring of public space and community organization.  It seems to me that most critiques of the action fall into the mundane (and often ill-thought through) politics of ‘outside agitators.’  This kind of analysis seeks out 'villains' that 'provoke anger and violence' in order to divide the movement into 'us' and 'them'.

“As for the folks who occupied this abandoned building,” said Aranke, “they are self-defined anti-capitalists across race, class, gender, and sexuality lines. They are not outside agitators -- they have been a vital part of the organizing model in Oakland. In fact, most of them have facilitated the general assembly model, the de-centralized approach to the general strike, and have worked and lived in Oakland for years.