It’s been 11 days since Occupy Oakland took over Oakland’s Frank Ogawa Plaza, and now the tent city is bigger than ever and facing eviction.
Last week, there were more than 100 people living on the front lawn of Oakland City Hall in support of national, and now global, protests against economic inequality. Now there are over 550 people occupying Oakland’s plaza, even after they received an evacuation notice from the City Administrator’s Office on Thursday evening.
Occupy Oakland stems from the larger Occupy Wall Street protest that started over a month ago against corporate greed and the influence of big banks. Calling themselves “the 99 percent,” the protesters say they’re the ones taking the brunt of a bad economy, while the wealthiest one percent of the population continues to thrive. According to Khalid Shakur, a media and security guard for the Oakland protesters, the local group wants the city of Oakland to eliminate school and library closures, and establish guidelines for banking systems.
On October 10, the Occupy Oakland protesters took over the grass field at Oakland’s plaza in front of city hall. Over the last week and a half, protesters have built a complex city which includes amenities such as portable toilets, a security unit, medical assistance, arts and crafts, activities for children, a library, a gardening tent, and a kitchen that provides daily meals.
Stating that after ten days the “camp conditions and occupants’ behavior have significantly deteriorated, and it is no longer manageable to maintain a public health and safety plan,” on Thursday evening the City Administrator’s Office issued a notice to vacate. Although the notice states that “peaceful daytime assembly” may continue between 6 am and 10 pm, tents and overnight camping will no longer be allowed. The notice does not provide a set date by which protesters must leave, nor does it explain what will happen if they do not leave.
Among the concerns listed on the notice are graffiti, vandalism to plaza infrastructure and “the historic tree,” and the disruption of the plaza for public use by groups who had to relocate events which had previously been scheduled at the plaza. Many of the city’s concerns deal with fire risks; according to the eviction notice, the tents’ flammable materials, in addition to inadequate fire extinguishers and people cooking over open flames pose a serious fire hazard.
Additionally, the city’s notice said that protesters are not allowing Oakland police within the tent city. According to a report by the Oakland Tribune, early Monday morning one of the residents was escorted out of the tent city by the tent city’s security unit for threatening other residents with a knife.
Protesters say they plan to stay until their demands are met. “The general consensus is we’ll stay as long as we have to,” said Chris Dunlap, a 23-year-old who had just returned from a yoga class being offered in the tent city. “We’re not going anywhere.”
“We’ll peacefully resist to the best of our ability,” said Shakur.
Over the past weeks, protesters in the tent city have started a variety of programs to keeps the residents occupied as they occupy Oakland. The tent city has a library in the “Raheim Brown Free School” tent, a garden tent, an activities tent for kids, and yoga classes every morning.
At the library tent, a list of of daily workshops is organized on a white board. Protesters can attend discussions on topics such as anti-capitalism, labor history, Marxism 101, gang injunctions, and “what to do when the police come.” Locations for the workshops are divided between the “amphitheater,” the “front steps” near Tully’s coffee shop on Broadway, and the “North Plaza.”
“We got a whole community,” said Miller. “There’s an information table, donation boxes—people bring us clothes everyday.”
“It gave us a safe haven,” said Lex Williams, a homeless man, of the tent city. He pointed to his gray tent on the far eastern edge of the plaza. He calls it the “Lower Bottoms.”
“They’re trying to kick us out, and I don’t like that,” said Pooda Miller, a 21-year-old homeless woman who lived in the plaza before it became tent city. “This is my home. The tent city just made it better for me. I don’t have to worry about where I’m gonna eat. We got a whole kitchen here, and I work in the kitchen.”
Not all who live in the tent city are homeless. Many of the protesters residing at Occupy Oakland are college students, or blue-collar workers by day, who return to the plaza at night to attend meetings and sleep.
Teranthony Junior has been living on the plaza since day one. Unlike several of the camp’s homeless and unemployed residents, he goes to his job at an auto detail shop during the day before returning to Occupy Oakland to sleep. “People are complaining that people are squatting,” he said. “But there should be a safe community for all people to go.” Junior still pays for rent for his apartment in Oakland—which he, like other protesters with similar means, opens up to people who need essentials, like a shower.
In addition to keeping out the police, protesters have begun to keep out what they view as the “mainstream media.” A large banner painted in red letters which read “Corporate media puts the masses to sleep” greeted TV crews from major stations that had been parked outside of the plaza since 4 am.
At Occupy Oakland’s daily meeting Thursday evening, protesters distributed a half sheet of paper called the “Statement to All Media Covering Occupy Oakland.” The document lists six rules, including that reporters cannot film or photograph people who are sleeping or receiving medical treatment, and cannot enter the kitchen, the kid zone, or medical assistance spaces because it will disrupt their functions. Reporters are also encouraged to document the general assembly meetings, which are held daily for protesters to discuss and vote on proposals that affect the tent city and its residents.
The protesters have called for a rally and march Saturday at 11 a.m., which will begin at the tent city. Protesters say they are on alert in case there is a police raid after the city’s eviction notice. “Some people are nervous, for the most part,” Shakur said. “But we have to stay focused.”
You can see Oakland North’s complete coverage of Occupy Oakland here.