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You Tell Us: Obama supporters and the Occupy protests

on November 8, 2011

When I was in Oakland recently, I saw an interesting mural. There was a whole wall full of them, commissioned by the city to brighten up the area. All of them were happy and cheerful.  This one depicted the Obama family smiling and having a picnic together—a very happy scene. But recently, someone decided to alter it a bit. The mural was hijacked, and now President Obama’s mouth is dripping blood, making him appear to be a monster.

The mural must have been painted soon after the 2008 election, when everyone on the left (myself included) was full of hope that politics in America would finally start changing for the better. The city’s African American community was thrilled to see the election of our first black president and First Family. After a decade of Republican rule, we felt that we had finally won. “Hope” and “Change” might sound like corny slogans, but a lot of people really did feel that way at the time.

That mood didn’t last long. Just like the vandalized mural of Obama, our mood has changed from hope and celebration to desperation and anger.

Personally, I’m very conflicted on how I feel about Obama’s job performance. He has had some important accomplishments, especially Obamacare, which is the first reform to our screwed up health care system since the ‘60’s. However, all of these accomplishments have been a slow, small, subtle sort of reform, representing the politics-as-usual that we’re all sick of and not at all the progressive revolution that Obama’s supporters from the left were hoping for.

Meanwhile, the recession has dragged on and on with no hope of recovery in sight, while politicians (including Obama) debate arcane details about the budget deficit. It was bad enough watching Republicans run the country into the ground, but now the people have seen that a Democrat-led government is unable to do much better. They feel betrayed, and want to take charge of the political system themselves, rather than trusting a distant representative in Washington, DC to take care of them.

Perhaps we were just being naïve to think that any new president or election could make the sort of changes we were looking for. That’s a valid critics—many of Obama’s supporters were certainly naïve. However, that does not make our anger any less real. The lesson we’ve learned is that no matter how good of a candidate we elect, it doesn’t work. The political system simply won’t accomplish what we want—and that means we need to move outside traditional elections to revolutionize the entire political system.

This is the background that has sparked the Occupy movement. The same people who campaigned so hard for Obama are now vandalizing his picture, venting their anger and despair against a system that seems to have betrayed them. The fact that all the Occupy protesters have been nonviolent so far is a remarkable achievement and is a testament to the courage and discipline of all the protesters.

But now, Oakland police have decided to crack down on these peaceful protesters with force and violence. The videos of the police crackdown look more like a war zone than a political protest. Perhaps they thought that a small show of force would be enough to end the protest movement. If that’s what the police thought, then they were wrong. The people are angry, they’re fed up with the usual system, and they’re not going to let police stop them.

I don’t know what will become of the Occupy movement, but I do know that police violence will only encourage the Oakland protesters. This is a battle that the Oakland police have no chance of winning. It’s ironic that police use the term “kettling” for their tactic of shutting down protests with localized force and blockades, because this movement represents political anger that has been heating up for years, just like water boiling inside a tea kettle. If they try to hold in that anger with force, they will only cause the kettle to explode. I sincerely hope that police wise up before the violence escalates any further.

Charles Pye is a freelance writer and blogger, writing political commentary at his blog


You Tell Us is Oakland North’s community Op-Ed page, featuring opinion pieces submitted by readers on Oakland-related topics. Have something to say? Send essays of 500-1,000 words to We’d love to hear from you!

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  1. MarleenLee on November 8, 2011 at 1:48 pm

    Occupy protesters non-violent? Where have you been? Setting a building on fire; throwing rocks and bottles at police; breaking windows; and today, a knife fight at the plaza. Tonight I hear they will consider a resolution condemning violence or some such. We shall see what happens with that. But to say the protesters have been non-violent is just a blatant misstatement. I suppose you could say “mostly” non-violent, but please be accurate, or you lose your credibility.

    The protesters were breaking the law. The City had the right to use its police force to enforce the law. If there were isolated incidents of excessive force, presumably those will be investigated.

    • Charles Pye on November 8, 2011 at 2:45 pm

      You’re right, I should have said that “most” of the protesters so far have been nonviolent. A lot of people are very angry, so it’s not surprising that some of them will turn to violence.

  2. Mr Freely on November 9, 2011 at 6:20 pm

    I am an Obama supporter. Hope and Change doesn’t sound corny. Obama has done a great job as a President. If the Republicans can be thrown out on the next election cycle, Obama might do the great changes that you want, in a second term. If the Republicans can be sent to political oblivion.
    The slow pace of change is the fault of the Republicans: they stand in the way of Recovery and change. Californians are lucky to have Obama as President and not some Governor from Texas.

  3. Lynx T'chass on November 10, 2011 at 10:41 pm

    Marleen I don’t know where you’ve been but the Occupy movement I’ve been lucky enough to participate in has been overwhelmingly peaceful. And no one set a building on fire at any point, no one has even been accused of that. There was one instance well after the mass protest last wednesday was over where a couple individuals lit a small pile of wood scraps they’d built into a makeshift barricade on fire in the vain hope that it would counteract the teargas that was being used by the police, but that’s a far cry from setting a building on fire. You’re playing fast and loose with the facts and it doesn’t do your credibility any good.

    As for our corporate-puppet in chief, I think Obama is a charlatan now and I thought the same before he was elected and even wrote a song about it. Got a lot of hate mail from “naive” liberals for my trouble but I was right. The president does what his corporate backers tell him to do and the D or R next to his name makes about as much difference as picking Coke or Pepsi. You end up with essentially the same thing either way. Mr. Freely you can blame the Republicans if you want, but Obama had a Democratic majority for his first year in office and still broke most of his campaign promises.

    You can’t elect Change, you have to build it. And that’s what Occupy is all about.

    • Mr Freely on November 11, 2011 at 7:01 pm

      Lynx 
      You probably write song lyrics more authentically than you discuss politics. “corporate-puppet in chief”, “charlatan” sound like beery song lyrics.
      Try to put this quote into a song:
      “It is too early to say”
      Zhou Enlai, asked for his assessment of the 1789 French Revolution.

  4. Gina on November 12, 2011 at 2:55 pm

    I am more heartsick about where the OO movement has gone in it’s short life than I am about the failures of the Obama admin. I saw the occupy movements in the beginning as having the potential to actually draw many different people, viewpoints, backgrounds, etc, together into a movement for the benefit of all of us.

    I am still hopeful for O movements around the world, but this one in Oakland has got to go! That little section of downtown Oakland is a fragile microcosm, and I dont think it can withstand the onslaught. And it’s small, fledgling businesses that are suffering, not the 1%. Besides earnest demonstrators,the whole scene down there is attracting a lot of confused folks.

    When I first saw the occupiers, I thought there were a lot of fringe characters taking advantage of the scene & the free food, but that it was probably a more wholesome scene than some were usually in. I know the organizers were trying to keep it safe & clean. But now it looks like a party for lost souls down there, and it’s getting worse.

    A lot of folks around here are quick to start screaming “police brutality” about everything OPD end up embroiled in. I feel like we have a community in which 9-year-olds are mugging people at gunpoint routinely, overgrown bullies are armed with lethal weapons and have control of many blocks all over town, the children of this city are inventing reasons to kill each other at the rate of 2 or 3 per week, etc. OPD, which probably has 1/2 the # of officers we actually need, goes out into these streets to face this insanity everyday. You expect them (& our teachers) to make up for the failures of the entire community?

  5. fred on November 18, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    Here’s how to get Oakland back on its feet:

    1. Evict the Oakland Perpetual Protesters from Snow Park, Lake Merritt and anywhere else they set up camp illegally. The OPP does not represent the occupy movement as a whole or even the concept of economic justice. They are only hurting Oakland and its citizens. Enough is enough.
    2. Evict Jean Quan and most of the City Council from office.
    3. Fire all corrupt officials in the city government.
    4. Cut EVERYTHING to the bone except police, fire and city maintenance.
    5. Eliminate all targeted parcel taxes and other pet project fees. Get Oakland’s overall tax structure in line with other similar cities in the area.
    6. Increase investment in city infrastructure that will help make Oakland a decent place to live and work.

    Oakland has an opportunity to be a jewel of a city. It has possibly the best location in one of the best places on earth to live. It could be a shining example of a diverse culture working and living together and prospering. It is time to wipe out the past and move forward. Fire Jean Quan and the city council and send a strong message that status quo won’t cut it any more.

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