Posted by Ted on Nov 5, 2011 in Causes
Last week I woke up in anger at the Oakland Police Department (and their affiliates, and the mayor). This week I woke up in anger at some of the demonstrators. Wednesday’s “mostly peaceful” General Strike was overshadowed by the acts of a few extremists which vandalized buildings and broke windows. Dressing ala the ‘Black Bloc‘, they took the opportunity to wreck havoc under the cover of the crowd and confusion of the day. (More coverage here and here.)
Since Oakland is now in the international spotlight, I didn’t want the world to get the impression that Occupy Oakland had become destructive. Out of several thousand peaceful protestors who took part in the General Strike, it was only a few dozen who lashed out. When I saw an event posted on Facebook, “Occupy Oakland Clean up today“, I felt more personally moved to act than at any time since the occupation began three weeks ago.
It was my 39th birthday, and I wanted to spend it picking up trash and scrubbing down defaced buildings with noxious chemicals.
I rode my bike down to Frank Ogawa Plaza on a dreary Thursday and ordered a sandwich and a mocha for sustenance and warmth from a proud Asian cafe owner wearing an “I am the 99%” button. Surveying the camp through a thankfully unbroken window while I gathered my strength, the scene was active, but calm.
Once fortified, I made my way to the supply tent and inquired how I could help. “Grab a bag and pick up any trash you find. Simple as that,” said a frazzled young black man. With plastic garbage bag in hand, I slowly wandered around the plaza, picking up broken tent poles, cigarette butts, and used paper plates. While cleaning the front steps of City Hall, a text came in from my friend saying that he had just arrived. Unsurprisingly for a theatre playwright, Iggy showed up looking as dapper as Dick Van Dyke.
Together we found a street corner down the block where graffiti-removal efforts were already underway. We grabbed scrub brushes and went to work, using one of two available chemicals – one a milky-grey liquid worked well enough, the other an iridescent goo was like magic. After getting off the worst of the graffiti from one building, we moved onto the one across the street when the city power washers came by to finish the job, but the stone on this one was much more porous and was an uphill battle between 5 of us trying to make a difference.
Iggy and I split up, and I joined a couple of young women who had been with us on the first corner, and we tackled a small section of wall right next to the main plaza. A man with a nice looking Canon started chatting with me, and asked if I’d be willing to say a few words on camera about it being my birthday and how I felt about what had happened the night before. It turned out he was from Time magazine, trying to cover a different angle than the sensational account made by another reporter. I then rejoined Iggy at the street corner in front of Tully’s coffee to work on the BART elevator in the picture above. As you can see, even with scrubs and chemicals, removing graffiti is hard work, but it felt good to be making an effort, showing both the city and the world that the actions of a few don’t speak for the movement as a whole. My friend eventually took his leave, and as I stood pondering where to work next, a woman with a reporters’ notebook came up to me to ask me a few questions. I answered in much the same fashion as the first interview, and when we were done I asked who she worked for, and she told me the Associated Press.
That night, the San Francisco Chronicle picked up the article featuring my quote as a spokesman for responsible and peaceful demonstration. That article also showed up in Louisiana, Indiana, and several other California local online news outlets. Little did I know when I left the house with my conviction that I would be able to share it so widely.
Done with scrubbing but not with helping out, I found myself wandering near the food tent staged right next to City Hall. Once again, I asked how I could help, and a frantic woman exclaimed, “Oh gods yes, I haven’t had a break in hours. Put on some gloves and serve people what they want.” So I spent the next several hours serving vegan minestrone soup, spiced sweet potatoes, and made dozens of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The line was never-ending, but I found it heart-warming to see all the different faces, some confused, some tired, most just happy to be given a warm bowl of soup on a rainy day.
In typical Hobbit fashion, I gave the gifts of my time and energy on my birthday, and what I received in return was worth far more than any commercial product could possibly provide.
Posted by Ted on Oct 27, 2011 in Causes
Yesterday morning I felt as if I had woken up in a Middle Eastern police state. In a pre-dawn raid, several hundred police in riot gear tore through Oakland’s Frank Ogawa plaza to disperse the peaceful Occupy Oakland demonstrators. One first-hand report noted;
“It was brutal. Over 300 police in full riot gear fired tear gas, rubber bullets and flash bombs. [..] Then they started pushing us back with barricades and when we didn’t move as fast as they wished, they began grabbing people and trying to drag them over the fences. There was a struggle and then they came from behind the barricades swinging clubs and arresting everyone they could get their hands on… Slamming their faces into the concrete… many of them women. I barely got away. [..] They DESTROYED EVERYTHING in the camp… this was no eviction.”
Photo: Jane Tyska
This is the same camp that I’d seen just a week earlier where people had set up a food kitchen, information kiosk, media tent powered by bicycle, and a medical tent. (Short video here.) They held informal caucuses to discuss politics and corporate policy, speeches, and sing-alongs. After the raid it looked as if a cyclone had blown through.
Last night the violence continued as the Oakland PD used tear gas, rubber bullets, bean bag rounds, and flashbangs to break up protesters who had marched through the streets, and yet denied doing so this morning. They made it seem like a minimal police action by saying;
“At approximately 7:45pm, officers began to deploy gas after issuing the order to disperse. We have received no reports of injuries at the time of this release.“
Following that understatement, the police report then goes into a scripted Q&A with such highlights as;
“Q. Did the Police deploy rubber bullets, flash-bag grenades? A. No, the loud noises that were heard originated from M-80 explosives thrown at Police by protesters.“
Elizabeth Flock of The Washington Post has a detailed blog post compiling tweets of photos showing evidence of such use.
The bogus Q&A goes on;
“Q. Did the Police use tear gas? A. Yes, the Police used a limited amount of tear gas for a small area as a defense against protesters.“
(A video of multiple shots of tear gas being fired)
Does this look 'limited' to you?
(SF Chronicle coverage)
Lastly, the Oakland PD’s grossly inaccurate Q&A states;
“Q. Where there any injures? A. At this time, there are no reported injuries.“
The biggest counter to this innocent claim is the fact that Scott Olsen, a 24 year old US Marine Veteren who survived two tours in Iraq lies less than a mile away from me in Highland Hospital with a fractured skull and brain swelling after he was hit in the head by a bean bag round during the clashes yesterday. He’s currently in “a critical yet stable condition”.
(International Business Times video of Scott Olsen)
(Huffington Post coverage)
One brave young woman via the Occupy Oakland FB page, Chelsea Lohr, was also hurt last night;
“I work in an East Oakland preschool. I occupy Oakland for those kids. Those kids that I see, hug, play with, feed, read to, teach. I’ll do anything I can so those kids don’t have to grow up to be adults in a city where money owns everything and cops fire at innocent people. I was hit by some sort of shrapnel tonight, I’m hurt. I can’t go to work tomorrow to say hi to my little friends, mi amigitos, because when I did what I could to change their world- the cops blasted me, us, back. I’ll be back downtown tomorrow, though. On crutches if I have to. Because while being there in class with them matters a lot, Occupying Oakland matters most for those kids.“
I spoke with her afterwards and she elaborated even further;
“When I first witnessed these 3 and 4 year olds playing ‘cops’ (one child chases the others and pins them to the ground with their arms behind their backs) it really began to hit me how significant these kids’ futures are. Many of these children and their parents are Oakland natives or longtime residents. Their lives are spent largely in and out of poverty, their neighborhoods have all the bad stuff we hear about on the news. When kids create a game out of their understanding of police brutality…that is something worth marching about!
I’ve been going almost every day after work, since the first day of Oakland’s Occupation. Some days at the camp I felt discouraged by stories of people feeling uncomfortable, or seeing public drinking. But each day there was something someone said that redeemed it for me, that reminded me why I was there. Last night was insane. Nothing that happened in the camp or in the protests can compare to or warrant that nightmare. All night I was noting how many elderly people and children and dogs were out marching and I was thrilled “This is great! There are even more diverse faces than before, everyone’s getting out in support!”. Then came time for the running and screaming and I of course worried where those kids were, hadn’t the police seen them? Or the people in the wheelchairs? I knew that they must have. That was the truly, truly scary part.“
The lies that the Oakland PD is propagating about their use of violence can’t stand up to eyewitness accounts and the spread of truth by word of mouth, digitally or otherwise. In the span of 48 hours, Oakland has made the world’s headlines, even being covered by Al Jazeera. Cities throughout the U.S. and abroad have publicly voiced their solidarity.
To have this happening in my own backyard, listening to shouts and sirens and helicopters outside my window, feels like a very surreal dream.