Occupy Oakland Moves Uptown

by zunguzungu

It’s been a contentious issue, but Occupy Oakland passed a proposal on Wednesday to move to a new site on 19th and Telegraph, and last night they did it (there was a whole afternoon of marches, which you can see here). While many wanted to stay in Frank Ogawa Plaza — if a way could be figured out how to occupy it without submarines — the new site has some clear advantages, starting with its spaciousness. At least some of the real problems that have plagued Occupy Oakland’s encampment are a function of its cramped location, where hardly a foot of grassy real estate is unclaimed; a big reason why the Snow Park camp came into existence was the messy chaos of the original camp, and a lot of that chaos comes from the impossibility of living architecture in such an overcrowded tent city. This is the site from google-maps:

We’ll see what this looks like in the light of day:

As of this early morning, they’re still there, having survived the rain and the police who didn’t come. The police stood down last night when they tore the chain-link fence and took over the space:

You can see a small circle of cops protecting a strange little drainage area on the bottom right; the cop I asked had no idea why, but also didn’t mind talking to me about it. In fact, the OPD were completely relaxed and non-confrontational as far as I could see. I happened to witness a cop recognizing an old acquaintance and having a funny little catching-up conversation over a chain link fence, describing how he had become a police six years ago when he was laid off and declaring that being police was a lot harder than doing child care, which I inferred was what he had been laid off from. I also was watching carefully to try to catch a police officer dancing or tapping his or her feet to the music that was blaring from the sound truck all night; when I left, I saw one who was either dancing or hopping to stay warm. I read in Susie Cagle’s twitter feed — in which you’ll find twice as much real news on Occupy Oakland as the entire local press corps combined — that the sound truck was eventually confiscated by OPD, though it’s not clear what that means. The art around the site — I believe, made by Oakland School of Arts students — was carefully carried away and stored at Rudy’s Can’t Fail Cafe. Gavin Aronsen was last night’s all-night live-tweeting champion, though, and he’s still going.

We’ll see how long this lasts, but it’ll be just as interesting — if it does last — to see how Occupy Oakland adapts to its new space. They’ll need to. Frank Ogawa Plaza is  city property and had streets and government buildings (city, state, and federal) surrounding it, but the new site is next to Oakland School of the Arts and is essentially a residential area. This doesn’t necessarily mean the camp shouldn’t be there, of course — in fact, as a friend pointed out, it makes gentrification of the area quite visible — but it does raise a wholly different set of logistical and political questions, some of which have been coming up with real force in this week’s GA discussions.

Omar has put up audio from Friday’s General Assembly, which I’d recommend you listen to if you want to get a sense for how things have gone; from about 1:12, the debate is over a proposal brought by some Occupy Oakland folks to rescind the decision made on Wednesday and to select a different site (than the one they moved to last night). It’s not a normal GA, but then, none of them really are. You can read the pro- side of the debate here and here, and they make some good points, but the bigger issue seems to me to be that a consensus driven process clearly became resolutely defined by two sides and their partisans. Whoever is at fault, and whatever the procedural fuck-ups have been, both sides clearly feel victimized and attacked, and that’s a loss for all. If you want most of Wednesday’s GA can be heard here, as well.

From listening to the GA audio, I find little support for the claim (in those two posts I linked to) that it was specifically the people who wanted to rescind the proposal who were making the most noise and being disrespectful, nor do the claims (implicit and explicit) that such people are outsiders to the movement hold much water for me. I know some of them (and know them not to be “new faces”), and also fear the vanguardism of those who want to speak for Oakland but not listen to those who live there. Subjectively, the vast majority of the off-stage shouts and cat-calling seemed to me come from those in favor of the move, but subjectivity is exactly the problem; we all frame what we see by what we expect and want to see. I wasn’t there, of course. But I also don’t think who’s more at fault even matters; no one came away pleased from that meeting, and what I hear on the audio file is not one side attacking the other, but a generalized failure to communicate that is or will probably be much more poisonous in the long run. L.E. Long suggested to me yesterday that if “rescinders” hadn’t appealed to the pro-move people to “have a heart” but rather had argued about tactics, it might have reached a more receptive audience. Who knows. But certainly a lot of Occupy Oakland people felt attacked and talked down to on Friday — and certainly a few of the pro-rescinder arguments were very poorly framed for the venue — though it also seems to me that expecting the community to support you — without taking seriously and being respectful of the ways that community sees the world differently than you — is a dicey proposition at best. Hoping for the best, and waiting for the sun to come up.