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Despite eviction warnings, Occupy Oakland protesters revel into the night

on October 22, 2011

Occupy Oakland protesters received their second wave of eviction notices from the City Administrator’s office on Friday night.  Despite the threat that police could force them to leave at any time, protesters continued their daily routines, which included a night of revelry at the amphitheater outside of City Hall.

On the grass field of Frank Ogawa Plaza, protesters nodded their heads to Bob Marley tunes, shared music, cigarettes, and joints over conversations about capitalism, and read by candlelight in the library tent.

“We’ve known from the beginning that this is an illegal occupation in the eyes of the city,” said Ali Hakimi, an Oakland resident who is part of the protesters’ facilitation subcommittee. “We’re just taking it day by day. We’re consumed with people being fed, that they’re safe, and outside of that, I don’t know how far ahead we’re thinking.”

Hakimi stood on the front steps of Ogawa Plaza. His tired eyes were framed by a pair of rectangular, thick-rimmed glasses. It was midnight. He had been working since 8 am dealing with various campsite issues. As he spoke, a woman named Angela, wearing a patterned blouse and matching pants with a black leather jacket, approached him with a big smile. She gave him a hug. “Thank you so much,” she said. “I appreciate what y’all are doing for us.”

Hakimi was amongst several protesters who spoke at the general assembly meeting on Friday. Every night at 7 pm, protesters weave their way through the plaza, over a pathway called “Endism Rd,” created out of old crates and pieces of cardboard, and flood the steps of the amphitheater to discuss proposals and any concerns they have regarding what some protesters described as a “village” that since October 10 has swelled to include approximately 550 people living out of more than 100 tents.

“We’re taking care of the problems that the city can’t take care of,” said Ron Ferguson, an Occupy Oakland protester better known as “Sweet Potato.”

“The primary goal is to open a space for citizens to voice themselves,” Hakimi said, “to listen, learn, and create solutions together as opposed to some hierarchical system where someone chooses for us and doesn’t listen.”

Friday night’s general assembly meeting focused on preparing for a rally and march planned for Saturday morning, as well as for the possibility of police action in response to the eviction notices the group has received from the city. An evacuation notice issued by the City Administrator’s Office on Thursday ordered the protesters to cease camping overnight and listed a number of public health and safety concerns, including fire hazards, vandalism and disruption of the plaza’s normal function. On Friday, the city released a second notice warning protesters that they were violating the law and could be arrested.

At the meeting, one young man stepped up to the mic to encourage his fellow plaza dwellers not to give up. “Be strong and be brave. Keep working to be here,” he said.

But another Oakland resident, who had spent time in prison, told the crowd he had “two strikes”—previous criminal offenses—and as much as he believed in the “righteousness” of their cause, he was not willing to go to jail again for someone being “stupid” and violent towards police. “It’ll be stronger for you not to pick up the brick, or a 2×4,” he said.

After the general assembly meeting, residents scattered across the plaza. Some remained at the amphitheater dancing as a reggae band performed. Some went back to their tents to make their own music. Some went to the kitchen for a hot meal. Others milled around, laughing and chatting with other protesters.

“We fell in love with this village, and we care about it,” said Ferguson. “We’re not leaving here.”

But tension built throughout the evening, as protesters speculated about when the police would arrive to evict people from the camp. The second eviction notice stated that protesters had to be out by 10 pm, but beyond the occasional patrolman, no strong police presence was visible.

As hundreds of protesters continued to mill about in anticipation, several TV news crews provided live coverage. A helicopter buzzed up above, the noise providing another track to Coolio’s “Gangster’s Paradise,” which blasted from a boom box at the front of the plaza. Some people sat on the front steps facing 14th Street and Broadway, watching and waiting for any sign of police, while others continued to dance or adhere to their different committee duties.

As the clock reached 10, people were on high alert, but no police arrived. Not at 11, nor at midnight, nor at 1 am. “All is quiet tonight. Most quiet night so far,” someone posted to the official Occupy Oakland Twitter stream at around 4 in the morning.

Many protesters were unclear about a specific plan of what they would do if police forced them to leave the plaza. “We hope, first of all, that it won’t happen,” said Hakimi. “This is a public park. I don’t think it would be wise for them to remove citizens coming together to figure out their future.”

Hakimi added that protesters had not reached consensus on a collective plan of action for how to respond to a city removal effort. Occupy Oakland’s democratic rules require one hundred percent approval from the group before a proposal is pushed forward.

Protesters said that while the tent city may not have specific policy-driven demands, or a single goal, it has created a space where people can not only receive a free meal, shelter, and medical assistance, but also a sense of community. “We live in peace here,” said Evie McKnight, 51. She lit a cigarette and invited passerby into her tent. “So, I don’t see what’s the big problem.”

You can see Oakland North’s complete coverage of Occupy Oakland here. 

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Photo by Basil D Soufi
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