Barely one week after the Obama campaign office on Telegraph Avenue in downtown Oakland had one of its window panes shattered by Occupy protesters, at least 100 protesters calling for the release of jailed U.S. Army soldier Private First Class Bradley Manning invaded the campaign offices Thursday, occupying them for at least three hours and bringing business to a standstill before police forced them out.
Manning, a U.S. solider who was deployed to Iraq, was arrested in 2010 on suspicion of leaking classified government information to whistleblower website WikiLeaks, headed by Julian Assange. Manning is entering his third year in prison since his arrest in May, 2010, and has spent nearly 800 days in prison with no trial.
“The soldiers who oppose these illegal wars have watched Bradley Manning being mistreated and illegally held for the last two years,” said Emma Cape, one of the protesters and a member of the Bradley Manning Support Network. “Many people thought President Barack Obama would stop torture, and now we are here to send a fax to his central campaign offices so that he can respond to our demands.”
Thursday night’s protests, synchronized with similar protests in Portland, Oregon and Los Angeles, started peacefully at 14th Street and Broadway, before Occupy Oakland protesters and anti-war protesters trickled down Telegraph and started filling up the Obama campaign office, which has an open-door policy for members of the public. Before long, trumpets and chants of “Free Bradley Manning! Whistle-blowing is not a crime!” replaced the familiar sound of office telephones as protesters climbed on top of desks and danced to their chants, pushing campaign workers and volunteers into one corner of the room.
The protestors had two demands, read from a piece of paper distributed during the protest: “First that President Obama apologize for the comment he made at a fundraiser in April 2011 regarding PFC Manning’s guilt. Commander-in-Chief Obama stated, ‘He broke the law.’ This constitutes unlawful command influence.”
The second demand, protestors said, was for Obama to ensure that soldiers are free from unlawful pretrial punishment.
“Though he’s yet to be convicted of any crime, PFC Manning has already been severely punished,” Cape read aloud from the printed demands. “We ask that President Obama pardon him of the remaining charges and seek to ensure the international human rights of other servicemen and women will be respected.”
Oakland resident Jeff Paterson, who participated in the protest, said all that protestors wanted was for Obama to keep his campaign promises. “What’s outrageous is that Obama became president promising to protect whistleblowers. and yet he has been the most aggressive prosecutor of whistleblowers,” Paterson said. “President Obama should live up to candidate Obama’s promises.”
Protesters danced on desks and erased a whiteboard with the Obama campaign’s countdown to the November election, reading “82 Days to Go,” as campaign workers looked on. One protester brought a Chihuahua; another, a pet bunny that has become a permanent participant in Oakland protests. Meanwhile, a man smoked a joint and blew smoke out of a gigantic seashell, reducing the campaign office to a scene of near-total chaos as one campaign worker recorded the events.
The Oakland Police Department deployed officers as the situation became tense. A rumor spread among protesters that the police had been given orders that they be locked inside the campaign office and arrested, and so after nearly an hour of chanting and singing, they cleared the office, leaving just seven protesters inside, including two Iraq war veterans, Scott Olsen and Joshua Shepherd. Olsen, who was injured by police during an Occupy Oakland protest in October, 2011, has become a rallying figure for Occupy Oakland and anti-war protesters in the city. (See Oakland North coverage of the Occupy Oakland protests here.)
The remaining seven tried to send a fax demanding the release of Manning to President Obama’s central campaign offices using the fax machine in the Oakland office before police arrived.
“In this country, veterans cannot communicate directly with their commander-in-chief,” Cape yelled from outside of the building, as inside the two veterans and five other protestors sat on the office floor with their hands locked together, followed by chants of “Send the fax, send the fax now!”
According to a press statement released late Thursday night by Oakland Police Department spokesperson Officer Johnna Watson, six of the seven protesters were arrested for trespassing after they refused to leave the Obama campaign office. “After several hours of OPD negotiating with the seven protesters, one protester decided to leave; the other six protesters were arrested for trespassing as requested by the building management,” Watson wrote. “The building has been secured and the protesters have dispersed peacefully.”
Thursday’s protests coincided with rising tension between the British government and the government of Ecuador, which earlier in the day officially granted political asylum to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who has taken shelter inside the Ecuadorean embassy in London over the last two months to avoid extradition to Sweden.
“I think it’s tremendous that people are here to stand up for Bradley Manning,” said Oakland protester Marianne Thomas. “He is the hero. We need more Bradley Mannings and we need more people like the people here to today to protect our rights.”