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.
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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