As Mayor Jean Quan finished fielding reporters’ questions Friday afternoon at City Hall about the clash between police and protesters earlier this week, she was suddenly drowned out by cheering coming from Frank Ogawa Plaza for Occupy Oakland’s newest celebrity guest: documentarian and political activist Michael Moore. Moore flew in from New York City to address hundreds of Occupy Oakland supporters, who gathered to hear him speak near the approximately 30 tents that have been raised on the plaza since the raid on Tuesday.
Moore is a filmmaker and activist best known for taking on topics like corporate greed, US military involvement, the American health care system, and gun ownership. His 2004 documentary Fahrenheit 9/11 about George W. Bush and the War on Terror went on to be the highest-grossing documentary of all time.
Much of Moore’s talk served to rally Occupy Oakland participants. “I’m looking at the mosaic of the country right here in Oakland,” he told the crowd. “This weekend in Oakland will stand out as a watershed moment. Something good will come out of this movement.”
Moore rebutted critics’ comments that Occupy Wall Street has no unifying message saying, “The mission is in our name: Occupy Wall Street. Period.” He also announced that he would try to speak with Quan, whom he said had not responded to his requests so far.
Moore praised the protesters for returning to the streets for a march on Wednesday, following Tuesday’s campsite raid and late night clash with police. “Millions are inspired by you because you didn’t go away—the next night you came back!” said Moore to applause from the crowd.
Moore said that the Occupy protests have captured the attention of American citizens. “This movement has killed apathy—they’ve turned off their cell phones, they’ve even turned off ‘Dancing With the Stars!’” Moore said.
Moore asked the audience for 30 seconds of silence in the middle of his nearly one-hour speech to honor Iraq War veteran Scott Olsen, who was seriously injured during the riot Tuesday night. “We are all Scott Olsen,” said Moore to cheers from the crowd.
Onlookers repeatedly interrupted Moore with questions and shouted at the dozens of press photographers in front of the podium: “Media sit down! This is for the people!”
When what sounded like a gunshot was heard in the distance, one audience member shouted, “Welcome to Oakland!”
“We’re doing this Oakland Style,” Moore laughed, tilting his signature baseball cap up to look at the lively audience, which spanned about half of Frank Ogawa Plaza in front of City Hall.
Many then yelled at Moore, “Make this into a movie!”
Moore continued to speak, gaining momentum as he was buoyed by the crowd. “You know someone from the press asked me who the leader of this organization was and I said we all are,” Moore said motioning to the crowd. “If you want to know who organized this, Wall Street organized this.”
Moore then listed other Occupy camps throughout the nation and even joked that Walnut Creek should be the next one. “That’s where all the money is, right?” he asked.
Moore said that he didn’t think that the “occupying” would let up because of the coming cooler weather. “We have two people who have flown in from Occupy Anchorange and they are here to help us cope with the winter,” Moore said as the audience cheered.
Ralph Bartholomew, a retired engineer from UC Berkeley’s optometry department, had patiently waited an hour outside of City Hall to see the man he called his “hero” speak. “He has the voice. He has the audience. He’s an example of the 1 percent, but he’s on our side,” Bartholomew said.
Dave Bischel, from Kelseyville, who served in the Iraq War from 2003-2004, was wearing his Army uniform to honor Scott Olsen. “Because of what happened on Tuesday, I’m here in solidarity,” he said. “I’ve brought enough gear to stay out here for the next few nights. If the police do anything like that again I will stand out here against them.”
During the afternoon, members of the California Nurses Association set up a First Aid tent for Occupy Oakland. The union is part of the umbrella association National Nurses United. “We were involved before Tuesday night, but that incident solidified our resolve even further to be out here in a medical capacity,” said Katy Roemer, a registered nurse at Kaiser Oakland.
As Moore spoke, nearby a somber-looking Mayor Quan had just finished briefing reporters about the city’s stance on the Occupy Oakland protests. Quan distanced herself from Tuesday’s police actions but stopped short of endorsing tactics used by Occupy Oakland. “It appears that mistakes may have been made,” she said. She quickly added, “on both sides.”
Quan said she had visited Scott Olsen and apologized to his family.
The mayor said she had ordered that Frank Ogawa Plaza be re-opened to the public and renewed calls to meet with representatives of Occupy Oakland. “We hope the protesters will meet with local merchants” as well, she said.
Quan outlined several “ground rules” that she wants Occupy protesters to follow, including allowing emergency responders access to the plaza, and not staying past 10 p.m. “My main concern is that people be safe,” she said, pointing out that the city had not interfered with the camp for the first week.
City Manager Deanna Santana echoed Quan’s call for public safety. She said that at the first camp, emergency response personnel were blocked from entering the plaza while trying to respond to calls, and that electrical equipment had been sitting on top of hay, a fire hazard.
Quan also called for any Oakland residents with footage that might help with an ongoing investigation into the use of police force Tuesday night to come forward.
Earlier on Friday, the Oakland Police Department released a message to the community from Interim Chief Howard Jordan discussing the police tactics used during Tuesday’s raid. “Not unlike you, I am concerned about the injuries to protesters and officers alike; the decision to use any level of force is never taken lightly, and certainly was not in this situation,” he wrote. “All allegations of misconduct and excessive uses of force are being thoroughly investigated by internal and external investigative sources.”
You can read the entire statement here.
You can see Oakland North’s complete coverage of Occupy Oakland here.