teeth and claws: Move-in day at occupy oakland

29 Jan
Yesterday Occupy Oakland tried to take over an immense vacant city-owned property* and turn it into a social center. The ruling class of Oakland brought out all its forces to protect the empty space, to keep it empty.
The Occupy Oakland march was huge, militant, determined, brave. Over 2000 strong. The march and the OPD played a game of cat and rat, we, the rats with our tiny sharp teeth bared, they, the dumb slow cats with their fancy technology and weaponry. Their minions thudded around the building as Occupy Oakland swarmed from one side and then other, but we were never fast enough to find the gap we needed to get through to our first target. We didn’t have enough communication, we got split up moving into bad terrain, we took some wrong turns. Carrying chairs, sleeping bags, books, instant coffee, snack bars, we also bore our shields of garbage cans and corrugated metal. They fired on us with small plastic balls covered in neon dust to mark us for capture, balls that stole chunks of flesh out of our arms, legs, scalps. They fired on us with hot cans releasing acidic clouds, cans that felt hot like a flaming ball of metal flying over your shoulder. They left dents 4 inches deep in our metal shields, they left bleeding arms and legs, bruised chests, armpits, shins. We tried to divert them: the glitter block sparkled in their eyes for distraction while the medics tended to the wounded. We finally moved to elide them towards the second location (though most of us didn’t know what was going on in the frenzy and miscommunications). But they had more troops than we could evade, though we came close once or twice.

So we fled. After failing to evade or break through police lines to get to the first two vacant buildings, the march returned to Oscar Grant Plaza to regroup and gather strength. On the way back, the OPD approached a group of parents with children who were keeping to the side and away from all the action, and   threatened to arrest them for child endangerment –  when the police charged at one woman, the other parents defended her and she ran with her kid to safety.

We set out again to find ourselves a space to move into. Hours later, and we were still over 1000 strong: we left with an energy we didn’t know we still had. We tried to re-enter the Traveler’s Aid society building (the site of the occupation we attempted on the day of the General Strike), but it was filled with management and workers mid-renovation, who refused to allow us inside. We could not break the lock, and the manager hit our hands with poles when we tried. We heard one of the workers say to another; “we are on the wrong side in here.” We marched northwards, snaking around, sniffing out empty buildings, blasting our music, waving and blowing kisses to our Oakland neighbors. From Chinatown through downtown and up Telegraph, everbody we saw jumped up and pumped their fists to us, leaned out their windows and waved and shouted and smiled. People in their cars raised fists out the window or stuck their hands out for high-fives as we flooded around them.

The police managed to temporarily corner us. They boxed us in on every side, at the 19th and Telegraph Park, another space we had attempted to occupy when forced out of Oscar Grant Plaza. The pigs would let no one leave the kettle and fired gas into the trapped crowd, but we finally tore down their super-reinforced chain link fence, streaming up and over and out. We tore down the fence we had torn down already once before, which, once liberated, had become a playground for the school across the street “finally the kids had a place to have PE, for a few months, until they put the fence back up.”  Thwarted, frustrated, the pigs followed us, now out for mass arrests.

Eventually, we were cornered again, between two lines of police. People jumped over fences and into the YMCA to escape — the YMCA initially closed its doors, but when we yelled, “they’re going to gas us!” they opened up and the crowd streamed in, flowed through the YMCA with the pigs close at our heels, grabbing the ankles of the protestors at the tail end of the march and dragging them down the steps of the building. Half of us were able to escape through the back door, half were trapped inside and arrested.

Many people were arrested outside as well in the kettle. Our estimates sit at about 448 arrests, the largest mass arrest in Oakland in recent history.  People were submitted to torturous conditions in jails, and denied essential medications such as HIV meds, many going through withdrawal. Some were kept for 40 hours in cramped cells without being charged. People classified as “women” were called “occupy bitches”, “men” who “looked” gay were cordoned off and called fags. People were denied food, water, access to restrooms – the usual torture all prisoners face on a daily basis. For three days following the mass arrest, hundreds of people did jail support for the arrestees, bringing food and coffee, sleeping all night in the release room of the jail, collecting legal information, and driving people home.

Many of us said afterward: never have we been with such an enormous group so ready to have each-others backs, to run when we have to run, to pull down fences when we have to pull down fences. The crowd was undaunted, the crowd was young and old, the crowd was elated, the crowd was sometimes afraid, the crowd was sometimes terrified, eager, starving for a victory.

what next?


The RAT Fraction of Oakland Occupy Patriarchy

* Oakland sold the building, the Kaiser Center to its own redevelopment agency for 28.3 Million – this money went to the city’s general fund, 50% of which funds city policing.


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