My #J28 and the Triumph of Occupy Oakland

I had set aside all of this past weekend for the Occupy Oakland Move-In Festival, not making any specific plans because I expected to be busy, though I didn’t know what with.  Turns out I made the right call.  A fog of sleep deprivation and worn nerves is still somewhat upon me, but here’s my #j28 story.  Apologies if it’s scattered and incomplete.

I got to Oscar Grant plaza around 12:30 in the afternoon on Saturday for the first march.  It was such a beautiful day for a march.  We snaked our way through downtown and across the Laney College campus, a move that seemed creative but ultimately slowed us down and confused many marchers.   As we approached Kaiser Auditorium, an attempt was made to break into different flanks, but due to lack of clear leadership or preparation for that moment we were sluggish.  Still, there were at least four hundred in the flank I was in, so I’d have to estimate that the total number was at least twice that.  I was there when the fence came down on the Lake Merritt Blvd. side of the convention center, and when we beat our retreat back to Oscar Grant Plaza under a surreal hail of tear gas, flash bang grenades and other less-lethal projectiles.

I was just out of frame in the last segment of this video:

My first experiences with police mistreatment–getting shoved hard enough to trip over a fire hydrant and land on my ass–were only just last weekend at the #j20 #owswest actions in SF and the next day’s counter protest to the Walk For Life, and having things shot at me was definitely the next level.  I was already pretty dazed and overwhelmed by the time I got back to OGP.

The second march/building occupation attempt began shortly after 5 PM.  Though a lot of people had apparently left, there were still at least five hundred of us.  That’s an easy count to verify, as most but not all ended up in jail.  I was there when we were kettled and gassed at 19th and Telegraph, and when we escaped by taking down the chainlink fence on one side (a tactic that the November 19 one-night occupation of that park had prepared us well for).

In retrospect I wish we had declared our flight a victory and dispersed, but adrenaline was high and we kept marching; it’s unclear whether we were headed to another building or just avoiding police lines.  The thrill was short-lived as we were kettled at the Y a few minutes later.

Shortly after it became clear that all of us were being arrested, the occupation of City Hall (by some of our comrades who had escaped the kettle over a tall fence) was announced.  I was later to learn that a third march of a few hundred took place at 11:00 that night, not to mention the solidarity actions of over twenty other Occupy sites across the country.

I spent the next twenty-four hours in custody, which was as awful as you’d expect.  I slept maybe a total of three hours on the frigid concrete floors, got accustomed quickly to peeing in front of twenty other men, looked forward to any change of surroundings, from sidewalk to bus to cell, only to grow immediately bored with new but equally alienating setting.  I witnessed both a man with HIV and another who had blood in his urine denied medical care, despite the clear declaration of the right and imperative to seek medical attention in case of emergency posted prominently on the jail walls.  My own partner was denied her meds.  If cops are pigs, then COs are the shit they roll around in.  That you haven’t been either charged or found guilty in a court of law makes no difference to them; they are going to treat you like a piece of garbage because it’s the only worldview that can justify their inhumane profession.

Since Saturday, my social networks have been abuzz with discussion of the action, and while the main topic is the egregious actions of the police, there have also been a sizeable number of people quick to declare the day’s events a disaster and Occupy Oakland dead or at least hopelessly marginalized from the mainstream.

I disagree.

Yes, there were plenty of mistakes.  The confrontational letter to the city and OPD, while exciting to read and I’m sure satisfying to write, might have played a role in the pre-emptively robust police response (mutual aid from up to seven different agencies was present early in the day, unlike November 19 or December 12).  As I mentioned before, the lack of clear leadership and preparation for the first building target was a significant tactical blunder.

But we also had three highly visible marches in the course of one day, no small feat when you consider that the third happened after four hundred of our most active folks were already detained.  We have footage now of the OPD’s wanton use of force and blatant disregard for their own policies in broad daylight, with hundreds of first-hand witnesses.

Some have said that Occupy Oakland is losing the PR war, but I challenge the notion that this is the most critical front upon which we must prevail.  What is portrayed in mainstream media is important, but so is what happens within and between all of us.  There are scores of us who are being radicalized, who are seeing the true face of law enforcement and the state for the first time, who are turning away from electoral representation as a means of redress and embracing direct action.  I reject claims of substitutionary offense on behalf of some mythical, monolithic mainstream moderate, such as, “I don’t personally care that they burned a flag in City Hall, but it looks bad to…” whom?  When I got out of Rita, reactions from my middle American politically moderate family members ranged from “Thank you for standing up for our rights” to “I hope you gave them hell”.  Provocative symbolic acts like flag-burning or even throwing something at line of riot cops (and yes, it is a symbolic act, because you’d better believe ain’t no bottle gonna injure a pig in riot gear) that I might have found off-putting even a few months ago now feel empowering as sincere, authentic expressions of outrage.  I’ve heard from a few sources now that as many as eighty OPD officers have resigned since the beginning of Occupy.  We may be taking a beating, but there must be something we’re doing right.

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