Sunday, January 29, 2012

What I saw at J28

This is going to be a long one.

My son and I arrived at Ogawa-Grant Plaza at 11:45 AM Saturday morning. I was hoping to be greeted by a massive crowd, but was disappointed to find no more than two hundred folk spread throughout the area. Oh sure, the 'usual suspects' were there...but I'm not one of them, and I'd been hoping that others of a less active persuasion would be joining in on this special day.

The excitement began within half an hour, as OPD snatched up Khali on an outstanding warrant that he didn't have. A crowd converged and the inevitable 'let him go' chant erupted. Some brainless wag behind us suggested that the police van be flipped over...with Khali inside. There's an idea.

Around 12:30 PM, the crowd moved to 14th and Broadway. There was a boring speech about hating the rich by a woman whose name I've forgotten, and then some uplifting words from Gerald Sanders (who seems to be an awesome gentleman) and Khali, who had already been released from police custody. Oops, OPD's bad (using the word as a noun, not an adjective, though that applies, too)!

Fashionably late but now numbering well into the hundreds, the march finally began around 1:15 PM. My son and I decided to stick close to the sound truck because a)it needed protection and b)there's nothing better than over-amplified dance music to get the blood flowing and the tinnitus acting up. (The hearing in my left ear is still recovering from standing right next to the bass amp at a Jam concert in 1980. Yeah, I was young and foolish.)

As the march set off down 14th St, the trepidation and fear I'd been feeling melted away. The crowd was still growing, the sound truck was pumping, the brass band was playing, the neighbours were waving at us from the apartment buildings above. Where was the ticker-tape? It was a party atmosphere and I was getting some exercise, too.

The mood began to shift ever so slightly when we discovered that the Occupy Oakland bus had already been cut off from the march by OPD. The folks on the sound truck had urged the crowd to stay together to prevent this from happening, but it was too late: instead of the bus, there were van loads of OPD bringing up the rear. We rejoined the crowd (which I am comfortable in estimating had reached close to 2,000 at this point) and proceeded to march towards Laney College.

At first I thought we were going to occupy Laney, but the sound truck urged everyone to walk through campus. It was at this point that I began to worry again, as the passageways through Laney are narrow and would have made perfect kettling points for the police. The march lost its cohesion and unity at these choke points: not only were people spread out too thinly, we had also lost the symbolic and communicative power of the sound truck. From here on we were on our own.

Police had formed a line to the north, so we all climbed up a small hill and reached an intersection near what appeared to be an abandoned OUSD building (if it's not abandoned I really feel sorry for the folks who have to work there). Aha. Here was the destination!

Except, of course, it wasn't, at which point Occupy's leaderless organizational model really began to work against it. Everyone had an opinion: let's keep marching, let's wait until more people join us; let's run, let's walk; slow down, speed up! I'm not sure how the indecision eventually was resolved, but the crowd meandered their way to...

...another narrow space! Fenced in on both sides, we continued to march towards our final destination. By now my paranoia was striking pretty deep...even with two thousand people in the street. And wouldn't you know it, there were the Officer Friendlies of OPD, waiting to greet us outside the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center, a building that hasn't been used for anything for six years. SIX YEARS.

Well, that's definitely ambitious, I thought. I'd been assuming all along that we would end up at something a little smaller, something that might be a little easier to hold, or something where the building's ownership status was unclear enough to give OO some breathing space. The Kaiser Center, on the other hand, is huge, impossible to hold, and is owned by the City (who apparently have no need for it, but that's another story).

What to do? Despite my intentions of being nowhere near the front lines, here we were...right on the front line. As Melvin waggled his bright red Occupy Oakland sign (I do love that sign), the crowd began raining motherfuckers on the plods. We moved away when folks decided they didn't like the fence between them and OPD. Hey, if it was up to me, OPD would always be on the other side of a fence. To each his own, I guess.

Boom, and a cloud of something began enveloping the fence-phobes. We walked slowly away from the crowd, now obscured by either tear gas or smoke...I'm still not sure which. The group reconvened for an impromptu 15-minute discussion while the rest of us leaned against some concrete barriers, where a nice woman gave out oranges to people. One of the Michoacan ice cream men from the Fruitvale came by, and I offered to buy my son a cone.

Me: "It might be your last chance to have an ice cream."
Son: "Why? Do you think the police are going to kill us?"
Me: "No, silly, because the ice cream man will be moving on soon!"

We then gently chided a gentleman for using the word 'bitch' to describe the police. I guess he hasn't been participating in Occupy Patriarchy.

Finally the Long March recommenced. Where we were going? Back to the plaza, I think--but the catnip scent of OPD beckoned, tempting and taunting the now riled up anarchists amongst us. The marching stopped as soon as the police line on Oak Street was sighted (I'd love to know why there was a line there, as the march did not initially seem to be heading in that direction). Someone started chanting 'fuck the police' and a few dozen others joined in, at which point I decided our day of direct action was over. I was not about to get myself and my son tear-gassed and/or arrested, so we calmly peeled off from the crowd just as the first flash bangs went off. (For what happened next, see my previous post.)

We went to Broadway and waited for the bus to take us back to our nice, quiet, safe home. Three senior citizens joined us. An African-American woman was complaining about owing $900 tax on her meagre 2011 income of $19,000. A white woman was in great physical pain and mental distress; she was almost in tears about her lot in life: "I'm so tired of being poor", she said. It was the perfect reminder of why Occupy exists. The day may have ended in failure, but the movement goes on, because it has to.

I'll be back in a day or two with a deeper critique of J28.

1 comment:

Tom said...

Occupy Tampa wasted many weeks fighting to camp in a city park; driving a wedge between themselves and the 99% who love to use their parks. Public support dwindled and some went to jail.

Then a kind and generous person offered to let them camp for free on vacant land he owned.

Now they are back to mobilizing the public to change an unjust economic system, and planning to greet the republican convention.

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