On the night of the one-year anniversary of the police raid on the first Occupy Oakland encampment, a crowd of Occupy Oakland protesters zig-zagged on a march through the downtown before returning to Frank Ogawa Plaza, where they declared that they planned to hold an all-night vigil.
The six-hour protest Thursday night, which drew no more than 300 protesters, was noticeably smaller than Occupy protests last year, which drew thousands. Throughout the night, as the march moved from the plaza to Lake Merritt, to Chinatown and then back to the plaza, demonstrators banged drums and chanted “Whose plaza? Our plaza!” and “1-2-3-4, I declare a class war.” Fireworks crackled as the crowd moved through Chinatown. At least one bank—the Chase at 14th and Broadway—boarded up windows in preparation for the protests, and businesses closed up shop as the crowd moved down main city arteries. A small group of protesters, no more than ten, dressed in all black, with black bandanas wrapped around their faces, carried handmade shields fashioned from trashcans and Plexiglas.
The planned march concluded peacefully, with 150 people remaining at around 10 pm in the plaza, where they ordered pizza and set up a makeshift projection system displaying photos of last year’s Occupy events. Cigarette butts dotted the street, as rap played in the background. The crowd cheered or booed, depending on the photo, while others beat a giant cardboard figure that looked like a pig dressed as a police officer.
Police reported that one person wearing a mask, whom they identified as Alexander Loutsis, was arrested at about 9:30 pm, after allegedly throwing a hard object at a police officer’s chest. According to police in the plaza, Loutsis is being charged with felony battery on a peace officer.
“I think tonight has been a really great night,” said Scott Olsen, a protester and Iraq War veteran who was hit in the head with a police projectile during the rally following last year’s raid. “We want to send a message to the cops that they can’t really stop us.”
Olsen, whose blonde hair had grown long, used a cane to get around the plaza as he talked to crowds of enthusiastic demonstrators. But by 8 pm, as the crowd moved toward Lake Merritt, past Snow Park and past Whole Foods, Olsen donned a helmet and used a wheelchair to get around. He said he’d been hit by a car earlier this week.
The day had started off with a small group of protesters gathering at the plaza. Demonstrators brought pizza, lentil stew, kale salad and fruit for those who had gathered for a General Assembly meeting, where three main points were discussed: repression, racism and bridges to broader movements.
The group swelled from 50 people around 4 pm to an estimated 200 to 300 people by the time the march started around 7 pm. Many carried signs emblazoned with messages like “We are the 99 percent,” “Take back Oscar Grant Plaza now,” and “Hella Occupy Oakland.
“Occupy Oakland isn’t dead,” said Ross Parkansky, a member of Occupy Oakland who slept in the camp most of last fall. “I think tonight is impressive and I think it’s very hopeful,” Parkansky said, as he walked with the crowd near Lake Merritt, heading toward 12th Street. “The media and the police like to claim that we are a finished movement, but we’ve just begun.”
Nearby, a teenager said he was annoyed that the Occupy protests caused the re-routing of city buses. “I’m trying to get somewhere right now,” said Dionte Rockmore, 17, who lives in East Oakland. “They’re messing up people’s evenings.”
Sgt. Christopher Bolton, a spokesman for the police department, said this week that the department would allow a demonstration, but no violence. “Our goal is to have a powerful, peaceful event that is safe for everyone,” Bolton said on Wednesday. “If we’re going to be guarding against anything, we’re guarding against criminal acts.”
And Mayor Jean Quan had made it clear that protesters would not be able to set up camp on the lawn in Frank Ogawa Plaza. “We just won’t allow them,” Quan said Wednesday.
But many people who came out for the year anniversary of Occupy Oakland said they were determined to camp overnight, and peacefully protest. One of the protesters, Jesse Smith, 24, who identified himself as a member of Occupy Oakland, said the crowd was willing to work with the mayor to make sure that the plaza’s new lawn wasn’t destroyed. “I want us to have a peaceful protest,” Smith said. “There are ways to work with us, but she doesn’t want to.”
But not everyone agreed with Occupy’s message Thursday night. Attacking the police—“that doesn’t solve the economic problems of the poor,” said counter-protester Don Grundmann, who carried a sign that read “Occupy attacks working people.”
As of 10:30 pm, approximately 100 people remained in the plaza, eating pizza and looking at photos from last year.
Written by Angela Hart with reporting by Vanessa Rancaño, Samantha Masunaga, Samuel Rolens, Steve Fisher and Ashley Griffin. Photos by Samuel Rolens.
Oakland North will continue with more coverage Friday morning.