A day in the life of Occupy Oakland
The Occupy Wall Street movement continues to develop in cities around the country and here all around the Bay. Early this morning, San Jose police arrested four protesters outside City Hall, and cited another for camping on public property.
In downtown San Francisco today, interfaith religious leaders marched in support of the burgeoning movement.
Meanwhile, in Oakland, demonstrators continue to defy the city's orders to take down their tents.
Oakland’s encampment went up two weeks ago, when hundreds of people took to the streets outside Oakland’s City Hall in solidarity with the Occupy Wall Street movement – and they haven’t left. Over the past two weeks, Frank Ogawa Plaza has become a veritable tent city, complete with a free kitchen that serves food daily, a medical center, a kids’ zone, and wooden pathways built between the tents.
Oakland city officials had been relatively tolerant of the occupation until last Thursday, when they issued a notice to vacate, citing health and safety concerns. So far, the police have not made a move to enforce the ban on overnight camping.
Protester Penny Opal Plant says she thinks the demonstrators are in for the long haul:
PENNY OPAL PLANT: Personally, speaking for myself, I think that the tents will stay and the tents will stay wherever they are around the country. And that if the tents get taken down that they’ll come back with more people, and that there’s Twitter and Facebook and all the telephones, and every other way that people let others know that the tents are being taken down in every city. When those words go out, people show up.
Last week, KALW’s Jen Chien and Sara Bernard spent a day at the encampment – from early morning until midnight – to learn more about its culture, rhythms, and logistics. Here’s what they found, as reported by Jen Chien.
* * *
JEN CHIEN: It’s 7:30am and some city workers at Frank Ogawa Plaza are using some very noisy, high-powered hoses to clean off the steps. There aren’t a lot of people up yet, even with all the noise. But then a sleepy-eyed man stumbles out of a tent near the camp’s main center...
SHEIK ANDERSON: My name is Sheik Anderson, I’m from Oakland, California, and I’m an artist.
I ask him to give me the lay of the land.
ANDERSON: We have a supply tent where we have clothes that are donated, blankets, sleeping bags… We have a school where we have information, we have a media tent and an info tent, we even have a little garden growing, and we have a full kitchen – no one’s hungry...
There’s no one individual that could take responsibility for anything that is done here. Everything is a collective effort.
And that’s not just for practical reasons. Unlike at most political protests, many at Occupy Oakland see this collective effort as fundamental to their aims: a promise of a new way to organize society. You can see it in action around the plaza. Over in the kitchen area, two young men are peeling carrots and potatoes in the prep tent, while two others are serving cooked food at a long table. Jamal Porter shows me around the kitchen area.
JAMAL PORTER: My name is Jamal Porter, I was born here in Oakland, California. And I’m here to assist. The front table is lined with condiments and staffed by serving individuals, who serve anyone who’s hungry. Off to the side we have our little pantry, with our oats and berries, and canned goods that people are so generously donating...
We go in shifts, we don’t have a schedule, just someone shows up and relieves someone. And then behind that is where the dishes are done. So this is going on 24 hours a day.
The high-pressure hoses have now stopped and it looks like a yoga teacher has set up for a class, but no students yet... There are some tourists taking some photographs of the encampment.
MIKE PORTER: My name is Mike Porter, I’m from Concord. I’m kind of embarrassed to say it, but I sell Direct TV. I am pedaling a bike that’s hooked up to an alternator, to power our media tent, and to charge cell phones.
CHIEN: Have you taken a shift here, for a specific amount of time?
PORTER: I just saw there was nobody on it, and I was finished eating, have some time to kill before I have to be at work, so...
The campers put down straw all over the grass at Frank Ogawa Plaza. And they’ve made a walkway using wooden pallets and boards going through the tent area. There’s a lot of tents, and among the hundreds of tents, there’s even a kids’ zone, with crayons, toys, and books. Rachel Dorney, sporting a green face-paint mustache, is watching the kids.
RACHEL DORNEY: This can be a really big driving force for the occupation. Just not being so serious all the time, and aggravated. If people would just look around and be like, “There are these beautiful kids, and the activities that they’re doing, it’s just so wonderful.” The other day we had this drum circle with the kids and it was the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. I kind of cried a little bit, just seeing it. It was perfect. I kind of wish the world could be like this ...
It’s about 8:45 in the morning, and right in front of City Hall, the yoga class now has five students, and live musical accompaniment. Over at the opposite end of camp from the central kitchen area is a first aid tent, and I notice some port-a-potties over to one side...
CHIEN: Inquiring minds want to know, where are people using the bathroom?
CARLA WEST: There are these Porta-Potties. They are getting a little full. They are serviced on a regular basis, but they might need to do it more often ...
That’s Carla West, a radio producer and high school tutor who has been camped out at Occupy Oakland for the last three nights.
WEST: During Monday to Friday, nine to five, City Hall is open. I’m a taxpayer, I help to pay for those bathrooms, so I go in there and use those also.
Amanda Kolstad has been traveling back and forth from San Jose to volunteer in the medical tent.
AMANDA KOLSTAD: They’re basically offering first aid care to everybody here. Water, sunscreen, bandaids, trying to keep it a safe space. People with medical situations can come here and we’ll try and get them the appropriate help that they need.
By mid-morning, I’ve gotten a good sense of how things work in this mini-city. I’ve met a diverse range of people – different in race, class and ethnic origin, but most call the East Bay home. Even though basic parts of life continue as normal – eating, exercising, using the bathroom – there are many parts of a day in this life that are not so normal.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: If we really believe it is possible, to organize this 99%, we have more than enough work cut out for us.
ANDERSON: So we have a bulletin board so we know when the meeting and events are.
Throughout the day, people gather to discuss topics like conflict resolution and how to propel the movement outside of the camp’s perimeters. But this is where the lack of central organization is really obvious. Sessions are rescheduled or canceled, often scattered by rumors and shifting personal agendas. And everyone’s geared up to protect the camp’s borders from police intervention, but so far, they haven’t needed to worry that much.
CARL BETFORD: My name is Carl Betford … I actually do security here, every morning from six to eight, I volunteer my time to patrol the perimeter and make sure that everything is kosher. I’ve been here since Day One, and I’ve seen a little bit of movement on the part of the police, but mostly they’ve been hanging back, probably strategizing. So we want to be able to meet their strategy with our own strategy, to resist.
Many people told me about an incident from the night before involving police presence, but the stories varied widely, showing the lack of centralized information. It reminded me of the old game, “Telephone.” Here’s how Carla West told it:
WEST: We were woken up by our security at about 5am, there were some undercover police outside, so they set off our camp alarm and woke everybody up in camp … We all woke up, got dressed, got our bags and met in the front of camp … but then we realized that we weren’t going to be raided, so we all went back to bed.
Well-known Berkeley activist Zachary Runningwolf gave a different view.
ZACHARY RUNNINGWOLF: The last couple days the police have really been flexing their muscles. And last night we spotted them down the street … 17 police officers in riot gear, they were ready to go! We were on alert, they were doing a little chase down the street … so it came pretty close...
The prolonged tension of living in such close quarters with such a diverse group has created some interpersonal conflicts – even a few alleged incidents of violence. A safer-spaces committee was formed early on, and there are workshops on peer mediation and violence de-escalation. As night approaches, everyone gathers on the amphitheater steps for the daily general assembly at 7pm.
MALE ANNOUNCER: Attention everybody, the GA will be beginning in five minutes.
It begins with an open forum. People form a line next to the mic, waiting for their turn to speak.
DANIEL KAYA: Hey my name’s Daniel Kaya. All today I’ve been trying to explain to some of my friends from my childhood what we’re doing. And they all want this clear demand set first. … We’re not on the same damn page, we’re not trying to force a hostage situation and like, “Give us this and this and this and this.” It’s not like that. It’s much more than that. This society is not serving the needs of so many people. And that’s what we have in common. In lots and lots and lots of different ways. (applause)
This is the moment when the protesters seem most united and focused – and when many people who aren’t camping with the occupiers show up to speak.
JONATHAN: Hi, my name’s Jonathan. I’m a project manager. I’m one of the 99%. I have three words for you: Move Your Money. (applause)
After the general assembly, hundreds of people remain in the camp. It’s still pretty lively. There are people all around the edges, there are people cooking, there’s a whole stew in a pot, there are people hanging out and smoking, talking, and drinking hot liquids, conversing.
T: My name is T, they call me T. I’m from West Oakland, California...
T, a young man who declined to give his last name, was recently released from jail.
T: Yeah I stay out here, I been tented up here for the last six nights, this is going on Day eight or nine, damn near … I be out here in downtown Oakland all the time, I pass through here, I job hunt... I finally see something in Oakland, when I come downtown I finally see something. I just want to be a part of it. This is very important right here; this is history. This is going on all around the world.
It’s almost midnight, and I’m still out here at Occupy Oakland. While a lot of people have probably gone to sleep, I imagine that some of these people that are up right now – it’s almost midnight – are going to stay up for the night. Definitely the security shifts will be going all night, people will probably be making food all night, and otherwise preparing for the next day of occupation.