Revolution #249, November 6, 2011
Dispatch from Occupied Oakland:
"The whole world is watching Oakland—Let's show them what is possible."
"We know we are here for a cause. And that cause, it has to be achieved. There's no way we're going to go back. No way. Nobody's going to push us back. No way. The more you try to put us back, the more we'll come in large numbers."
—An Occupy Oakland Protester (Democracy Now!, October 27)
It has been an extraordinary week in Oakland, California. In the early morning hours of Tuesday, October 25, the Oakland Police Department (OPD) unleashed a brutal attack against Occupy Oakland, which had set up an encampment in Frank Ogawa Plaza (renamed Oscar Grant Plaza by occupiers) right in front of City Hall. The camp was dispersed, over 100 people were arrested, and people's belongings trashed. The City of Oakland, which ordered the assault, may have felt they'd succeeded in smashing Occupy Oakland. But they were wrong.
People were shocked and angry. That afternoon protesters came back in even greater numbers, took to the streets, and into the night stood up against police tear gas, batons, rubber bullets, and shock grenades. Scott Olsen, an Occupy supporter and Iraq vet, was very seriously injured when he was hit in the head by a projectile canister fired by the OPD. The shooting fueled even more outrage and has become an international incident. At this writing (Oct 29), there have been gatherings, rallies, and protests every night since, with the Occupation growing in numbers, determination, and support.
With a multinational and multigenerational throng of thousands flooding into downtown Oakland, by Thursday night (Oct 27), the occupy resisters had forced the city to backtrack, with Mayor Jean Quan publicly apologizing for the attack (while Oakland's Chief of Police continued to defend it), and reopening the plaza to Occupy Oakland—which is now being rebuilt. The occupiers have generated very broad support—and brought forth new attitudes and new thinking among different sections of the people in Oakland—from Black youth, to educators, to middle class people who live in the hills overlooking the flatlands where the masses of people live.
The Occupy camps themselves have forged all sorts of new unity with homeless people, students, youth, older '60s people, unionized workers and other working people—of many different nationalities. The kind of mixing taking place is very exciting, especially for those who don't like how this society constantly tries to divide different sections of people from each other.
The struggle in Oakland has had impact nationally and internationally. The Oakland Tribune announced that Occupation Wall Street (OWS) in New York City sent tents to Oakland after the police raided the Oakland camp. There were vigils for Scott Olsen in cities around the country. The day following the attacks on the Oakland encampment protesters in Egypt marched from Tahrir Square to the U.S. Consulate. Reporting on the Egyptian protest PBS said, "Protesters held signs equating the Occupy protests rocking cities across the U.S. with the Egyptian revolution earlier this year. 'Those in Oakland are our brothers and sisters, a class that was dispossessed like we were,' the protesters chanted, according to an Egyptian blogger."
In the wake of all this, the Occupy movement in Oakland announced its decision to take its struggle to another level: a general strike and day of mass action for November 2. The call for the strike reads:
"We propose a city wide general strike and we propose we invite all students to walk out of school.
"Instead of workers going to work and students going to school, the people will converge on downtown Oakland to shut down the city.
"All banks and corporations should close down for the day or we will march on them.
"While we are calling for a general strike, we are also calling for much more. People who organize out of their neighborhoods, schools, community organizations, affinity groups, workplaces and families are encouraged to self organize in a way that allows them to participate in shutting down the city in whatever manner they are comfortable with and capable of.
"The whole world is watching Oakland. Let's show them what is possible."
The call for a general strike has broad support. The Oakland Education Association (the teachers union) has unanimously supported the call for the November 2 strike. Occupy Oakland has connected with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and there are plans to march to the Oakland docks as part of the general strike.
A week of intensifying struggle
Throughout the last week the political authorities in Oakland have thrown down in a big way against Occupy Oakland, and the Occupy forces have consistently found ways to continue and intensify the struggle, win victories, and win new people to their side. Here's a brief timeline of the back and forth battle between Occupy Oakland and the City of Oakland through the week.
Tuesday, October 25: "The Battle of Oscar Grant Plaza." At 3:00 am word spread that the encampment would be raided. A couple hundred people prepared to stand their ground. By 4:00 am, hundreds of police in riot gear from many different cities cordoned off the blocks of the area around City Hall and Oscar Grant Plaza (officially Frank Ogawa Plaza). Police moved on the camp, ripping up tents, scattering belongings everywhere. Flash grenades went off and smoke filled the air. Over 100 people were arrested. As word spread of the attack, others came to downtown Oakland to protest. Police made more arrests. Revolution witnessed incidents of police suddenly swarming in on people and taking them away.
Word—and outrage—quickly spread throughout the Bay Area about the police assault and arrests. At 4 pm, over 400 people gathered at the Oakland Public Library and rallied to defend Occupy Oakland. As the march back to Oscar Grant Plaza was about to begin, rapper and musician Boots Riley said: "I'm proud to see all of you shown' up here in Oakland to show that you are committed to that…All over the world, people are wondering what's goin' to happen here in Oakland. People that are not involved in the movement are looking to see if this is a movement they want to join. People that are in the movement want you guys to win. We are the 99%. We will stop the world and make those motherfuckers jump off."
Metal blockades and a row of some 100 cops standing shoulder to shoulder, dressed in riot gear and holding shields with their batons drawn confronted the marchers when they arrived at the corner of Oscar Grant Plaza at 14th and Broadway. Behind them were many more cops armed with various types of guns that appeared to shoot different kinds of projectiles. Others were armed with tear gas canisters and shock grenades that make a large flash and noise when they explode. There also was some sort of armored vehicle.
Tuesday night, Oct 25: Wounding of Scott Olsen. Many more joined the protests when they got off work or saw reports on TV. Protesters stood their ground and wouldn't leave. Suddenly, without provocation, the police lobbed tear gas and shock grenades and other projectiles into the crowd. As the crowd scattered Scott Olsen, a Marine Corp Iraq veteran and a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War was standing near the police barricade. Next to him stood another veteran, in a Navy uniform, holding a Veterans for Peace flag and a little book of the U.S. Constitution open to the first amendment. Some sort of police projectile hit Scott Olsen in the head and he fell to the ground unconscious. When people rushed to gather around and help Scott, police threw a flash grenade at them. (See, "Occupy Oakland: Courageous, Determined Resistance in the Face of Brutal Police Assault," Revolution Online, October 27, 2011, http://www.revcom.us/a/248/occupy_oakland_courageous_determined_resistance-en.html)
Scott was rushed to the hospital and admitted to intensive care where he was listed in critical condition with a fractured skull and brain swelling. After two days his condition was upgraded to fair. The part of Scott's brain that controls speech was affected and it is unclear if there is permanent damage. Amnesty International condemned the tear gassing and attacks on the Oakland protesters. ("Outrage Over Veteran Injured at 'Occupy' Protest," New York Times, October 27)
During the evening and late into the night there were at least five attacks by the police, and many people were hit with police projectiles. But the crowd, mainly youth from different backgrounds along with many—of all ages—from the bottom of society, still didn't leave. Again and again people regrouped, marched, and fearlessly faced the army of riot cops. They chanted "Who are You Protecting?" and "We're still here!" They also put a sports chant to good use: "Let's-go, Oak-land!" There were chants of "From Oakland to Pelican Bay: we refuse to live this way." And then the spirited, quintessential Oaklandese slogan: "Hella Hella Occupy!"
A video later posted on youtube shows that the Oakland Police sent undercover pigs in "protester" costumes to the Tuesday night action. It also includes a 2003 audio of current Interim Chief Howard Jordan discussing planting plainclothes cops and others in protests to "get them to do what we want them to do." (See, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VrvMzqopHH0&feature=youtu.be)
Wednesday, October 26: More Marches; Plans for a General Strike. In defiance of the attacks of the night before, on Wednesday evening, a surge of 2,000-3,000 people came to Oscar Grant plaza for the general assembly. The City had by then conceded the temporary use of the concrete sections of the plaza, while fencing off the lawn, and still refusing to allow people to camp overnight. But the fences were soon taken down by the people. The police had backed off, for the evening. After consensus was reached to call for a general strike to shut Oakland down on November 2, people again took to the streets and marched until the early hours of Thursday morning.
Thursday, October 27: "I am Scott Olsen": During the day some 30 tents, along with a library and a day care center, were set up in the plaza—in defiance of Mayor Quan's call not to camp in the plaza. That evening, two days after she ordered Occupy Oakland disbanded and unleashed the police on protesters, Quan tried to address the General Assembly—to "apologize." She was clearly attempting to cool out the situation and head off even more powerful protests. This didn't work. Quan was met with cries of "Go home!" and "Citizen's arrest"—and she then scurried back into City Hall.
At 7:00 pm a vigil for Scott Olsen took place on the plaza. 2,000 people were there. Scott's comrades in Iraq Veterans Against the War and those who helped him after he was injured spoke. A friend and roommate who served with Olsen in Iraq described what drew Scott to the Occupy Protests where he spent almost every evening after work. "He felt you shouldn't wait until something is affecting you to get out and do something about it." Many began chanting, "I am Scott Olsen."
Friday, October 28: Occupied Once More: By Friday morning, there were about 60 tents in the plaza. The Oakland Tribune reported, "It seemed as if the tents were multiplying by the minute. For every tent, there are probably quadruple the number of people in the camp, with many sleeping unsheltered on the ground in front of, behind and between tents." The Oakland Tribune also reported new broad support: "Alicia Arnold and Steve Butler, two Oakland school teachers, were up early to help unload nine portable toilets paid for by donations, mostly from unions friendly to the cause." (Oakland Tribune 10/29)
At a morning press conference, there were more indications of the initiative the Occupy movement had seized and the quandary faced by city authorities. Mayor Quan backed up even further than the night before, stating, according to the Bay Citizen, "that while she doesn't want protesters 'to camp downtown,' she doesn't want to evict them 'if closing the camp would create more violence.'" (Bay Citizen, Oct 28, http://www.baycitizen.org/occupy-movement/story/quan-wont-evict-occupy-oakland-now/)
Meanwhile other city officials including the Police Chief defended the actions of the police as did the San Francisco Chronicle and there continue to be calls from local ruling class forces to crack down. (See Salon.com's exposure of the Chronicle's anti-Occupation coverage at: http://www.salon.com/2011/10/29/great_city_forced_to_read_swill/)
That afternoon activist film maker Michael Moore came to the plaza to support the protest. "Occupy Oakland! Occupy everywhere!," he said over the bullhorn. "I am honored to be here!... I have to tell you the other night, not being here and watching from afar what took place here, it was really horrifying, to see what took place here in this country." Marches and "propaganda actions" (going out to the people with information) are happening every day.
Repression and Growing Resistance
In the face of attacks by the police, some have tried to argue with the police to convince them that "they are part of the 99%." At the same time, a Black youth, about 13 years old, boldly carried a sign with quote 1:24 from BAsics on how the police's role isn't to serve and protect the people, but to serve and protect the system that rules over the people. When a Revolution reporter asked him why he was carrying the sign, he pointed to a picture of two cops brutally beating a Black youth and said, "That's my cousin. That's Oscar Grant. This tells it true." This kind of mixing and debate is an important part of this struggle and a very good thing.
Revolutionaries are in the mix of all this, protesting and camping out with the people, setting up nighttime screenings of the DVD Revolution: Why It's Necessary, Why It's Possible, What It's All About by Bob Avakian, and getting out copies of Revolution and BAsics.
Here in Oakland we see a movement standing up to repression and emerging even stronger, more determined, and with broader support. All those who care about the future need to take up the fight and continue to expand and defend Occupy Oakland. The battle is far from over, and there's great potential and need to draw forward many thousands more to Occupy Oakland. The whole world is watching.
Fight the Power, and Transform the People, for Revolution!
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