Occupy Oakland: ‘Move-In Day’ #J28

After the reasonably peaceful demonstration on November 2, i didn’t really expect much from this next major Occupy Oakland endeavor. In hindsight, i suppose i should have realized that attempting to literally take over a downtown building would not end well.

Arriving just after dark, i found the Plaza nearly deserted, save for a few people sitting on a bench, huddled around a laptop. I approached them and asked where everybody had gone.

“Shh!” was the terse reply.

At that moment, the few people left in the Plaza were watching a live stream online of what was happening just a few blocks away – protestors (who i would later find had mostly been involved in storming the YMCA) were being ‘kettled’ by police officers and arrested en masse. On my tricycle, carrying personal protective gear, a well-stocked first aid kit, and a camera, i thought about riding toward the unfolding altercation. About that time, i noticed people were beginning to trickle back into the area, displaced by the chaos, and seeking a common place to reconvene.

The open space in front of City Hall began to draw a crowd. A few people gathered up front, just outside the doors. Before anyone realized what was happening, protestors had entered the building.

It was about 7:15 PM when a small group of people emerged from City Hall onto the front steps, tossing a stack of papers into the air like confetti, discarding an office chair to one side, and hoisting an American flag, all pillaged from inside. Everything was happening so quickly – i found myself feeling a mix of revulsion and awe at the drama unfolding. I climbed onto a statue pedestal for a better view. A group of angry protestors huddled around the flag – I thought someone was about to give a speech, but instead they lit the flag on fire. From my perch, i was capturing it all on video.

A woman in the crowd ran forward to try and stop the process, but she was engulfed by much larger and angrier people who deterred her impact. It seemed shocking that this was taking place in front of me, in real life, without intervention from law enforcement or security of any kind, until i considered that all the police in the area were likely entangled with the building-takeover incident still ongoing.

Until that moment, police presence had always seemed an infinite resource – they were always everywhere, all the time. For the first time i realized that even law enforcement has finite resources – a dramatic concern for many residents of Oakland. I had scarcely a moment to pause and consider this before the police did indeed arrive. After all, City Hall is more than a symbolic target for invasion.

The arrival of the police, and subsequently the news crews, marked the likely departure of most of the people responsible for the break-in. Allegedly someone punched a reporter in some sort of scuffle, and the paramedics joined the scene. I joined the exodus down Broadway, only to see some vandals flagrantly defacing buildings and banks in the area. Like a car accident, i couldn’t seem to look away, and almost had my camera stolen for making a video of the incident.

I am still in shock from what i saw. What were people thinking? What were they trying to accomplish? I don’t really understand the madness i saw downtown. I don’t understand the need for such muddy, controversial expressions of anger. It is possible that i am too removed from the daily struggles of the people who erupted in such a chaotic display. Perhaps i simply can’t understand what drives people to these actions.

For now, i remain both confused and enthralled. This is my city too, and this is our history as we write it. Can we not achieve our goals without such provocative, destructive, and irrational displays of anger?