After “leave immediately” order and tense night, Occupy camp still in place
on November 13, 2011
Following a peaceful march in downtown Oakland Saturday afternoon, Occupy Oakland protesters braced themselves for a possible police raid later that night, after receiving a “cease and desist” order from the City Administrator’s Office.
“You do not have permission to lodge on or in ANY City property or parks, including and not limited to, Frank Ogawa Plaza,” the order read. “Your continued violation of these laws will subject you to administrative penalties, civil penalties, citations and immediate arrest.”
Many campers—and TV news crews—prepared for the worst, mindful of the October 25 police eviction that led to mass protests and what many regarded as questionable use of force by police officers. But by midnight, a long evening of tense anticipation appeared to wind down, and the threat of a police raid diminished—at least for the night.
Hours earlier, at noon, four Oakland police officers had circulated notices of eviction within the camp, warning protesters that they were not allowed to camp at night. The notice stated that those who failed to remove their tents they would be arrested. However, the notice didn’t include a deadline for when the campers must leave.
“We haven’t received any news yet [about an eviction date or time],” said one of the police officers. “We hope they leave on their own.”
Six hours after police officers left the plaza, protesters followed through with a planned march of solidarity with Egyptian demonstrators, in which about 200 Occupy Oakland protesters marched on Clay and Broadway streets in support of protests overseas against the regime in Egypt.
The Oakland marchers held a banner that read, in Arabic: “The people still want the fall of the regime.” They chanted: “When Egypt is under attack what do we do? Stand up, fight back.”
At about 5 pm, the march stopped for a few minutes in front of the Glenn Dyer Detention Facility and booed at the building. “We also have political prisoners here,” one of the marchers yelled.
Alli Venzee, a nurse and Oakland resident, had asked the Occupy Oakland general assembly to organize the march in support of Egyptian protesters earlier in the week, after learning that Alaa Abled Fatah, an Egyptian activist and Venzee’s “Twitter friend,” was arrested in Cairo for participating in the anti-government demonstrators.
Venzee said Fatah visited California for a human rights convention in Sillicon Valley and spoke at Occupy Oakland on October 26 after hearing about police use of tear gas and rubber bullets the night before.
“He was really upset by that,” Venzee said in an interview after the march. “He came here to show solidarity with Occupy Oakland. Unfortunately two days later, he flew back to Cairo and right after he arrived, he was arrested. I didn’t get a chance to meet him in person.”
The protesters returned to Frank Ogawa Plaza after less than a half hour of marching.
Then, according to the evening’s plan, a second march was supposed to commence. Fliers piled at the Information Tent near the Lionel J. Wilson Building at Frank Ogawa Plaza contained information about a march scheduled at 7 pm to “reclaim a building…to expand the occupation.”
Anthony, one of the protesters in charge of providing information about Occupy Oakland, said some protesters were considering moving into a building, but he said he didn’t have information on its location.
“We have to take this to the next level,” Anthony, who declined to give his last name, said. “The camp is not sustainable. You can walk around and see it’s disgusting. Also the rain is a problem.”
But an hour before that building-occupation march was supposed to start, protesters announced that it was canceled, because they had learned that a nonprofit organization was planning to start a housing program for low-income people at the building.
“It would be great if we could have a building,” said a protester who identifies herself as Susan Q. “But we are not planning to occupy a building, at least during the weekend.”
Tensions at the tent city then began growing at about 7 pm, after the city administrator’s office issued a new warning—an online Notice of Violations and Demand to Cease Violations that warned protesters they would be arrested if they continue to camp overnight.
After receiving the order, Occupy Oakland campers braced themselves for police action that night. A few people packed up their things as early as 7:30 pm, tensing at the sound of sirens from passing ambulances, while others tore down their tents at 10 pm, in anticipation of police “closing” the park by force.
“Last time I lost everything,” said Bruce Anthony, 48, who was evicted from the plaza during the October 25 police raid, but had since returned. “We’re getting ready to roll out of here,” he said, as he stuffed his belongings into plastic bags outside of the encampment. “But I’ll come back. It’s not illegal to sleep in the park, just to lodge here.”
A few hours earlier, volunteers at the camp’s interfaith tent sorted through the camp’s collection of donated items, deciding what to remove from the park for safe keeping (donated clothing) and what would stay (a make-shift altar). One volunteer handed out extra wool socks and beanies to campers, urging them to get their important belongings out of the camp “before the world ends.”
Standing nearby, Rita Nakashima Brock, a Disciples of Christ Minister who volunteers with the interfaith tent, said she and at least six other clergy would stay the night and await the raid.
“We’re just going to sit outside,” she said. “We’ll just lock arms and pray.”
But by 11:00, an hour after the park had officially closed, the camp remained intact and the only visible police presence consisted of two Oakland police officers tasked with patrolling the plaza after dark. While the officers declined to comment on whether police would enforce the cease and desist order that night, they did say that they planned to go home at midnight, when their shift ended.
Most Occupy Oakland protesters remained wary, though—convinced that a raid was imminent. Most prepared themselves for the kind of “worst case” scenario that had played out two weeks earlier during the first eviction.
“We don’t have anything to sleep in but I do want to stay here as long as feasible,” said Matt Proud, 27, who was visiting the camp with his girlfriend, Sabra, in anticipation of a police raid. “I wouldn’t be surprised if it escalates to the level it did two weeks ago,” he said, referring to the first eviction, which resulted in mass protests.
“(The police) have tremendous force—tear gas, rubber bullets. We can’t stand up to that,” said one woman, who declined to give her name. “But this location is very important, strategically, to us. We’ll come back.”
As rumors of a raid circulated, disagreements about Occupy Oakland’s next steps surfaced among protesters. “There’s not just the right infrastructure here—we need to take it a step forward, and make a list of demands,” said Berkeley resident, Sabra, 28, who declined to give her last name. “We have to make contingency plans.”
Sabra and her partner, Proud, both expressed frustration over Occupy Oakland’s failure to produce a list of demands to give to the city. That night, they had been speaking with campers about drafting a “constitutional convention” that would contain their proposals for social change.
“Has anyone just asked the city what can we do to stay here?” Prad said. “There’s something to be said about making a concerted effort to cooperate. And there are enough people here who have enough wealth where we could keep the camp sanitary.”
Disagreements about how the camp should operate, and how protesters should react in the event of a police action, carried into an open forum held in the park’s amphitheatre during the evening. Tensions reached a head when a group of about ten protestors wearing black jackets and vinegar-soaked bandanas arrived in the plaza shouting, “Cops go home! Cops go home!”
Several campers immediately confronted the group, telling them to stop “agitating” and taunting the only two police officers in the plaza. After a brief shouting match, the newly-arrived protesters dispersed and, in their place, an impromptu break dance circle formed to rhythmic calls of “5-1-0 Oakland—Occupy!”
As the night wound down, calm settled over the camp. Toward midnight, about 25 people gathered on the north side of the park for a candlelit open forum, where they discussed constructive ways to deal with “disruptive people” and led one another in group prayer.
By midnight, there were still no signs of an eviction or other police action.
Alex Park contributed reporting to this story.
You can see Oakland North’s complete coverage of Occupy Oakland here.
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