I was supposed to write a post about what I was looking forward to most in my new neighborhood, when something big happened – Occupy Oakland. I don’t know how I could possibly write about Oakland right now and not mention it, so I decided to dedicate this post to my (limited) personal experience with Occupy Oakland.
A quick recap of the situation: Occupy Oakland sprung out of the Occupy Wall Street protests that have been happening all over the country and around the world. About 3 weeks ago, an encampment started in Frank Ogawa Plaza, which is a large square in front of the City of Oakland government buildings. It is located at the intersection of 14th and Broadway, which is also where I catch the bus to work and the BART to go everywhere else. Last Tuesday, the city ordered the police to go in and break up the camp at 4:00 a.m., which then spurned a protest that evening. The protest grew to huge numbers, at which point the police decided to use tear gas to break up the protest and arrest the remaining protesters. Since then, there have been a few more protests and marches, culminating to today’s General Strike.
It’s weird being only 5 blocks away from the center of the action and not knowing whether to join in or stay away. I don’t want to over-politicize this blog, since I’ve tried to keep it light and focused mostly on food, but I’ll just say that I do agree with the main points of the Occupy Wall Street movement, so I’m with them in spirit. But let’s face it, I’ve never been an activist. The only protest I’ve ever attended was back in 2001, on the eve of the invasion of Afghanistan. I remember standing in downtown Carrboro, NC, holding a lit candle in my hand and joining in the large crowd that had gathered, hoping that President Bush would see how many of us opposed his war and change his mind. No such luck.
I got an accidental, small taste of tear gas last week, as LF and I walked Downtown, searching for pho. We had no idea that the police had released tear gas just 2 blocks away. All of a sudden, we smelled a weird, chemically scent, followed quickly by our eyes tearing up. Yep, we had been inadvertently tear-gassed. Crazy. We quickly ran into our destination and closed the door, breathing sighs of relief.
Since then, I haven’t been that motivated to be a part of Occupy Oakland. Last Wednesday, only one day after they were forced to leave, Occupy Oakland was once again allowed back into Ogawa Plaza to set up camp. I walked by on my way to the bus stop, but couldn’t get very close due to the still heavy police presence and barricades. Last night, out of curiosity, TC and I walked down to Ogawa Plaza, on the way to dinner. We took a lap around the plaza, looking at the protest signs and the campers. There were volunteers handing out food and water, and a children’s garden had been set up. It was very touching, actually.
Today was the General Strike. I wondered how much mayhem was going to break loose. Fortunately, it’s been a fairly peaceful day, with only a few acts of vandalism here and there. Finally, I decided to walk down to 14th and Broadway this afternoon to show my support for Occupy Oakland. On my way there, I encountered a large group of kids and parents who were marching from the Oakland Main Library down to Ogawa Plaza. They were adorable; how could you not support these faces chanting about being the 99%?
When I got to the Plaza, it was a lot less crowded and more peaceful than I expected. There were no police in sight. Just lots of people, representing a diversity of race, age, and social groups. It was nice. But I didn’t bring a sign, and I was by myself, so I quickly became bored, felt awkward, and decided to make my way home.
I had my doubts, but I really hope that Occupy Oakland succeeds. Hopefully, all of the protests from here on out will be peaceful and positive. Peace, y’all!