Occupy Oakland: Last days of the 2nd Oakland Commune

19 Nov

I was recently in Oakland and San Francisco for the annual Community Food Security Conference and was able to spend a good chunk of my time exploring Occupy Oakland and Occupy SF.  I arrived late on a Friday night, 2 days after the historic General Strike called by Occupy Oakland, which shut down the Port of Oakland, the 5th largest port in the US.  I missed the last BART train into the city from SFO so I rode the bus to Downtown SF and found a cold lab of concrete to unroll my sleeping bag and catch a few hours of sleep.

First thing in the AM, I caught a train over to Oakland and stopped at Oscar Grant Plaza (aka Frank Ogawa Plaza) in front of City Hall, the home of Occupy Oakland.  People were working on boiling water over a small kettle grill.  I was offered some sheep yogurt and water.  It was all very friendly, although there was an edge of paranoia amongst the campers.  This was little more than a week since their last eviction and that fateful Tuesday night when all hell broke loose.  A night that left Vet Scott Olson with brain damage from a gas canister projectile used on him by a paramilitary police riot squad.

Later, I checked in at the Marriot a few blocks down Broadway and went into full on Confine mode.  It was a drastic change from the last week for me.  I had been glued to the Internet, following the occupy movement and the seemingly nightly evictions.  I think Occupy Boston was one of the first, and then a cascade of others followed and a pattern began to emerge.  I was sitting at home late at night, but I felt I was right there in the thick of it.  I started a twitter account and the world blew up in front of me, bombarded by words and images flying by at lightning speed.  I was having trouble sleeping with shallow sleep punctuated by nightmares of black clad police lines, concussion grenades; even live rounds.

           I went back every day, to see what was happening.  Listened to a General Assembly for a bit, but was mostly there to see the faces.  What were people doing?  Of course, there is the constant dialog; the debate between youngsters and oldsters, between the have’s and have not’s, between black and white, between friends and between strangers.  History was being discussed and the future.  Political theory and tactics.  The Black Panthers, the Free Speech movement; the history of labor and the history of music.

There was the constant drumming coming from 14th St., benches being converted into tarp huts.  A music room in one blasted folk, funk, and Nirvana, while the drum hut next door was an ecstatic blast in your ears, a viral kinetic rhythm for the wild and untamed ones.

Work was happening all around.  It was like a city within a city.  It had rained on November 5th, so when I returned on Monday afternoon, an impromptu landscaping crew was hauling mulch.  This was something I knew.  I jumped in.  There were people building things, a space ship, art, the library, media, medics, security, the archive, the kitchen, the amphitheater, and the street corner.  It was all-alive with activity.  People creating the new world, debating the old one, some just surviving, some just arriving.  Tourists and commentators flowed through with cameras and live satellite feeds.  A high school class was singing on the City Hall steps and a white Rasta was filming his “occupy” video in front of a bank of homemade signs.  And that’s what this thing is all about.  Participation and Empowerment.  Everyone exploring the edges of possibility, a thousand simultaneous autonomous action, tied together by the process, by the horizontal democracy sprouting and growing at the heart of this camp, the heartbeat of a liberated space; the key ingredient for true freedom.

And now the camp is gone.  Just one night after I was up till 2:30am patrolling the perimeter of the plaza with the late night security crew, a man was murdered on the next block.  Mayor Quan used this as a pretext to level the camp for a second time.  This time there would be no bloodshed and no teargas.  The city was already facing potential lawsuits for breaking their own rules about crowd control the week before.  The Mayor ordered a non-violent dispersal and of course, since the cops were not being violent, the event was peaceful.

The Faith Community was plucked one by one from their prayer circle of candles.  3 mediators were cuffed one by one with smiles on their faces as they realized enlightenment.  Only Running Wolf, a Native American activist known for his constant running and flag burning, was left to hold his tree sit.  Yes, the camp is gone now, as is the camp at Liberty Plaza home of Occupy Wall St., but the liberation continues.  The movement grows as more violent crackdowns erupt and the outrage grows.  The corporations have seen that they must stop this thing from spreading now before it’s to late.  The thing they don’t realize is this thing is already well beyond their grasp.

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