Hundreds of Occupy Oakland protesters broke through a fence surrounding an empty lot at 19th and Telegraph Avenue on Saturday evening, and began setting up tents as Oakland Police officers watched from across the street.
As a light rain fell at 7 pm, about 25 tents had been set up in the lot, along with a few simple canopy shelters. Music played from a truck parked on 19th Street, as people stood around talking under one of canopies.
“We’re going to try to hold the plaza tonight,” said Oliver Rubin, a 22-year-old Oakland resident, as he hammered in a stake for one of the tents.
Protesters entered the lot following an afternoon march that started at Frank Ogawa Plaza and wound though the streets of Oakland before pausing for a rally in front of Lakeview Elementary School and then returning downtown.
As the crowd reached the fenced space at 19th and Telegraph, they were met by a group of about a dozen distressed residents of the Uptown building next door, who were chanting, “Unite, not divide!”– and urging the protesters not to set up camp on the lot.
“We want people to know the people who live here care about what’s going on,” said Sherbeam Wright, a building resident in his forties, who said that kids from Oakland School for the Arts, across the street, regularly eat lunch in the park next door to the lot, making it an inappropriate place for the Occupy camp. “This is not an empty space, this is a community.”
A police statement early Saturday evening said the day’s events had so far remained peaceful and arrest-free, but that no new overnight campsites would be permitted in the city. ”While peaceful forms of expression and freedom of speech will be facilitated,” wrote police spokeswoman Johnna Watson, “acts of violence, property destruction and overnight lodging will not be tolerated.”
In a statement released Saturday morning by email, Oakland Mayor Jean Quan responded to the new effort at encampment by repeating the position she has tried to repeat over the last week–that she sympathizes with the anger of the the marchers, but that no one may camp overnight in public spaces in Oakland. Efforts to manage the encampments have so far cost the city $3 million, Quan wrote. ”As Mayor I have to ask that the actions not harm people or property in our city of the 99%,” Quan wrote. ”Overnight lodging in any park or other public space will not be allowed.”
Nonetheless, in preparation for the march earlier in the day, a large crowd began gathering in front of City Hall in downtown Oakland this morning, at the site of the first Occupy Oakland encampment, which went up October 10 and grew to house hundreds of tents before police dismantled it for the second time Monday.
The march had a festival-like atmosphere throughout the day, with a truck driving with the crowd playing dance music from large speakers, and a brass band and drummers as well. The day started with a crowd gathering just outside Frank Ogawa Plaza, at 14th Street and Broadway, to listen to various speakers, including union representatives, and danced to music.
Mark Stanton, a 30-year-old San Francisco resident, stood in the crowd holding a sign that read, “Evolve Occupy, it’s time for Phase 2.” Stanton, who was wearing a gas mask around his neck and said he has been camping at Occupy San Francisco, said he thinks it’s time for the Occupy movement to become more organized and develop more strategy. He said he was in favor of the Occupy Oakland group taking over a new space, as long as it fits the needs of the group. “We need to find the best location possible to accommodate the most people possible,” he said.
On the other side of Frank Ogawa Plaza, near the amphitheater in front of city hall, a few people were laying down sod and planting kale, lettuce, herbs and flowers. “This is food for the community, food for everyone,” said Paulieanne Duke, a 22-year-old West Oakland resident, as she worked in the makeshift garden. “We wanted to clean up the plaza a little and do something to give back to the community because we can’t camp here anymore, and a community garden is one of the best ways.”
Duke said police came by and told the group the garden was illegal, but did not try to stop them from planting. She said she thought police might come in the middle of the night to uproot the plants, but that she hoped they wouldn’t. “If the city is smart, they’ll see this is a resource, a free community garden,” she said.
The march headed down 14th Street and then turned on Franklin before pausing in front of a Wells Fargo bank branch, which was closed. As protesters chanted, “Banks got bailed out, we got sold out,” and “Make the banks pay,” a protester tacked a “past due” notice on the front of the bank. The march also stopped in front of a Chase Bank, also closed, where another past due notice was tacked to the door.
Protesters shut down traffic, with police stopping cars in all directions. After passing by Lake Merritt and Children’s Fairyland on Grand Avenue, the march paused at Lakeview Elementary School, one of the five schools recently designated for closure this fall by the Oakland Unified School District, which has declared that it must close schools to save money. A group from the Oakland Education Association, the teachers union, stood in front of the school holding a sign that said, “Bail Out Schools and Services, not Banks,” while another group seated on the steps chanted, “We are–we teach–the 99%.”
Then, shortly before 5:00 pm, the march returned to downtown Oakland, with some of its members clearly intent on re-establishing their camp in a new location.
As protesters walked up Telegraph Avenue toward the lot, a man named Jon, who would not give his last name, said he was excited to be a part of a large-scale civil disobedience movement. He said he didn’t plan to camp at the lot tonight, but supported those who would. “It’s not about camping, it’s about community,” he said. “There’s no place to go and be a community anymore.”
Back in the lot, shortly before rain began to fall, rumors spread that the police planned to clear all the tents at 3:00 Sunday morning. Oliver Rubin said he thought it was important for protesters to keep as many people in the lot for as long as possible. “It’s important that we keep a good presence tonight and fight back if they raid us tonight,” he said.
You can see Oakland North’s complete coverage of Occupy Oakland here.