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You Tell Us: Don’t raid the Occupy Oakland encampment

on November 12, 2011

Dear Elected Leaders and City Officials,

I write today to oppose any police action to disrupt the Occupy Oakland camp.  I think any such action is sorely misguided and will inevitably result in chaos, personal injury, property damage, wasted public resources, and perhaps, worse.  Although I was not yet alive when Alameda County Sheriffs killed a demonstrator at Berkeley’s famous People’s Park rebellion, I think we are at a similar moment in history.  I am concerned that a raid on #OO could lead to such a tragedy.

As I believe many of you are aware, we are at a moment in history when the economic systems have failed, and countless millions are impoverished and exploited to support the 1%.

The City Hall encampment is “unseemly” to many because, in substantial part, it is composed of poor people.  Suddenly, in our previously pristine Plaza, we have a varied crew of all sorts of people, including many who are homeless and some who are mentally ill.

Where were all of these people before?  In some cases, they were here in Oakland around us, hiding in plain view in parks and under freeways.  We didn’t think of them because they were not in front of us every day.  For those of us who work downtown, we were blissfully ignorant – perhaps intellectually aware of poverty but rarely confronted in a real way.

Now, because of Occupy Oakland and the efforts of its numerous supporters, there is food in Ogawa/Grant Plaza, there are donations of clothes and blankets, and there is social, cultural and political enrichment.  Of course #OO is a better place to be than a homeless shelter, or an Alameda County welfare office.  Oakland’s “anarchists” are taking far better care of the homeless than any of our government agencies.

I know that many of you would rather not be in the position of sending police to clear the Plaza.  You know that you are not responsible for the economic collapse that has deprived so many people of jobs, homes, and a reasonable standard of living.  Your role in the Occupy Wall Street movement is due to the simple fact that you decided to take office at a very tough time in history.

But I have said it before to some of you, and I will say it once more: permitting a permanent encampment is a far better solution than waging war on Occupy Oakland.  Again, looking back to history, during the Great Depression we had Hoovervilles that lasted for years.  Central Park was “occupied.”  The only thing that enabled these shanty towns to be destroyed was an economic recovery.

It may be true that we lose some businesses downtown during this time.  And it is possible that other businesses will rise.  Either way, we have to balance such economic interests against the fact that our people are feeling real pain, and that #OO is a legitimate expression of protest, resentment, and even rebellion.  The 1% have set this in motion.  Until the 1% make some concessions, to remedy the hardships they have caused, it is impractical and perhaps even unprincipled to demand the end of this movement.

One final note.  Last Wednesday night I was at Sproul Plaza.  At midnight, 2,000 Cal students and #OO allies sat down to begin a meeting to discuss proposals for #OccupyCal.  A new hub for the Occupy movement has been born – and many have committed to acting in solidarity with Oakland.

I send my respect to all of you who have worked for the betterment of Oakland and the people here, and my hope that we can move forward with any alternative that does not involve a police raid on the camp.

In solidarity,

Michael Siegel

Michael Siegel has been a lifetime “occupant” of Oakland. He has worked for the 99% as a teacher and a civil rights lawyer.  Follow him on Twitter @OaklandMike.


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  1. Mc Corbitt on November 12, 2011 at 11:58 pm

    I agree with a lot of what you are saying and I stand in solidarity with the Occupy movement sparked by Occupy Wall Street. What you fail to mention here is that Occupy Oakland is different than Occupy Wall Street and most other camps because they will not adopt a good neighbor policy to address vandalism and an agreement on non-violent tactics. In fact they have done the opposite by adopting what they call on diversity of tactics, without defining those tactics, and further muddied the water by approving autonomous actions that do not have to be approved. Therefore there is no accountability for any action. The reason that a policy on these issues has not been agreed to is because there is a large contingency against them. And they have made a concerted effort to block any attempt to address these issues.

    They are also against talking or negotiating with the city or the media. Those that believe in peaceful means have been maligned as divisive. I too am very scared about people getting hurt out there, but as much as I am scared about the police, I am also scared about actions being planned in secret that embrace a diversity of tactics. This lack of transparancy and accountability has left an opening for group that want to escalate the situation. I think some that have been caught up in this mindset have been manipulated for purposes that do not represent the Occupy movement. They want a confrontation.

    I can see trying to figure out how to keep the greatest number of people from getting hurt, but what I don’t understand is what is Oakland and even other Occupy’s going to do to take back the movement and give it back to the majority. How are these forces going to be dealt with? If you want to surround them and protect them, you might also want to make agreements about what that looks like and what is acceptable for you. You have to understand you are entering a situation where people want the situation to erupt and may do things to ensure that happens no matter how many people are there and whether or not there are children and elderly involved. You are putting yourself in a situation with people whose best interest is not the movement and who have not made agreements that will ensure the safety of the majority. This is not everyone out there but there are enough that feel this way to make this a potentially very volatile situation.

    I would suggest that these organizations request agreements with OO about what type of action they are supporting. Meaning: If you want to help save them, ask for some simple ground rules that people can agree on for this action. Ask OO to vote to agree that this assistance is available only if they are able to make this action one that employs non violent direct action … no antagonizing police, no vandalism, and other values associated with a social movement committed to change through peaceful and nonviolent means.

    • wiseold snail on December 21, 2011 at 1:35 pm

      what you seem to fail to recognize is that the city of oakland, opd, alameda county and the sheriffs all refuse to sign a nonviolence contract. meanwhile, pretty much no one at occupy oakland has been violent, while many officers (from various agencies around the bay) have been extremely violent or have been there enabling other officers to be so. though a very few occupants have been involved in misguided destruction of property, those actions were not specifically endorsed by occupy oakland, nor have they been often enough to associate that type of behavior with the movement.

      there is an enormous difference between nonviolence, which the vast majority of occupants adhere to as a main tactic, and pacifism, which of course at this stage in the game is useless.

  2. […] Read the rest of this op-ed essay by Michael Siegel at Oakland North. […]

  3. David Livingstone Fore on November 18, 2011 at 1:12 pm

    I’m all in favor of Occupy’s aims, but their next proposed move–setting up next door to Oakland School for the Arts–is deeply disturbing. Without consulting with the OSA community, this will not end well, and will only lead to another embarrassing setback for a movement. The fact is, nobody’s going to allow an encampment associated with a recent murder to set up next door to a middle school.

  4. fred on November 18, 2011 at 4:00 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.

  5. Eric on December 7, 2011 at 9:42 am

    The First Amendment (Amendment I) to the United States Constitution is part of the Bill of Rights. The amendment prohibits the making of any law respecting an establishment of religion, impeding the free exercise of religion, abridging the freedom of speech, infringing on the freedom of the press, interfering with the right to peaceably assemble or prohibiting the petitioning for a governmental redress of grievances.
    Originally, the First Amendment applied only to laws enacted by the Congress. However, starting with Gitlow v. New York, 268 U.S. 652 (1925), the Supreme Court has held that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment applies the First Amendment to each state, including any local government.

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