The one-year anniversary commemoration of the first early morning police raid on the Occupy Oakland encampment at Frank Ogawa Plaza has been quiet so far, and a press conference sponsored by Occupy Oakland scheduled to take place at noon failed to materialize.
At 9 a.m. this morning, there were few passersby at the plaza, save for those on their way to work. Around 9:15 City Hall staffers put up a dozen signs around the plaza reading: “Newly installed lawn. Please keep off to ensure the lawn grows in healthy” in anticipation, perhaps, of gathering crowds.
At 10 a.m., a splinter group that calls itself the Occupy Oakland Media Collective held a press conference outside of Oakland City Hall to discuss the anniversary of the police raid and the violence that ensued afterwards. The Media Collective operates without oversight from Occupy’s General Assembly.
The press conference began with a blessing by pastor Nichola Torbett, director of Seminary of the Street, who was a member of the Interfaith religious tent that was a part of the Occupy camp. “Change our hearts, change the hearts of the people in City Hall, and in our police department,” Torbett prayed before the twenty or so people gathered there. “And, God, as we approach the anniversary tonight of the tear gassing and the violence that happened in our streets at the hands of our police department, we pray for the transformation of bad institution, we pray for the individual police officers, and for change in their hearts and their healing. We are taking on a police department feels that it can stop and even kill black and brown men in Oakland without any response from the community.”
Theresa Anderson, the Oakland Green Party candidate running for Oakland’s at-large seat current held by Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, was also present at the press conference. “I stand with Occupy,” Anderson said. “People should be able to protest peacefully and not be assaulted by police.”
Speaking by phone shortly after the press conference, Shake Anderson, spokesperson for the Occupy Oakland Media Collective, said that the tone of the anniversary’s events have been mostly about anti-police repression. “I hope it remains peaceful. Some people just come out here to make a mess,” Anderson said. “It’s supposed to be about social and economic injustice. If we remain on these topics, it helps other people come out and support us. The Black Bloc tactics decrease our numbers.”
Earlier this month, fliers appeared throughout downtown Oakland urging those interested in participating in today’s events to “Stand up and defend the great city of Oakland,” and to “beat the shit out of anarchists and vandals.” The fliers, posted by an organization calling itself D.O.O.M, the Defend Our Oakland Movement, encouraged protesters to “BYOB (Bring your own bat)” to and to target “any and all Caucasian black clad anarchists/vandals and other that would engage in physical destruction against Oakland and use our city landscape as a canvass for their divisive and violent message.”
Samsarah Morgan, a member of Occupy Oakland who attended the press conference, said some members of Occupy are aware of the fliers and do not support their message. “We do not support violence of any kind on our streets,” Morgan said. “We honor our young people, and wish them not to be harmed or abused within our justice system.”
By 11:15, a group of less than a dozen people had convened at the plaza. Alexander L., a 29-year-old from Stockton who declined to give his last name, arrived at the plaza wearing military clothing and a hoodie, and had his face covered. He carried a green and black Anonymous flag. He said he’s only been involved with Occupy for a few months, and this is his first time in Oakland. He said he traveled to be a part of today’s anniversary because the he feels that the government is corrupt. “If we don’t use our First Amendment, we’ll end up losing it,” he said.
Isaac, 39, who goes by Black Angel and was wearing a blue jean jacket with an anarchist symbol drawn in pen on his back, said he first became involved with Occupy Oakland last year, a month after the tents came down. He still remembers where he slept in the grass in the plaza. “If anybody shows up here with bats, it’s going to be the cops,” he said. “There’s no reason anyone in Occupy would be violent.”
“They [police] have their army, why can’t we have ours?” he said. “All the people you see here are a family, so if something happens to them we’re going to protect them.”
By noon, when the rain had stopped, a few more people began to trickle in to participate in Chalkupy, an event led by a group of artists who call themselves Fresh Juice Party and draw political and Free Speech Movement-related messages at the plaza. Some members of Chalkupy wore white painters’ uniforms, while others wore Anonymous masks or bandanas and scarves to cover their faces. They began work on a large-scale depiction of a cupid-like teddy bear facing off against a semiautomatic, dagger-toting, Lego-like action figure. The caption for the drawing read: “Cupid vs. Stupid.” Nearby, someone had scribbled the phrase “No Snitches” in white chalk onto a square on the pavement.
Nearby, a man with dreadlocks gave Occupy-related pins to passersby. Although the scene was calm and quiet—apart from the Michael Jackson and The Flaming Lips songs playing on the sound system set up by the Chalkupiers—six police officers in riot gear stood nearby, observing the area. The smell of pot lingered in the air.
At one point, a woman in a blazer walked by the Chalkupiers and members of Occupy. “Go home, go home,” she said. “I’ll be there to support you all when the police come by and arrest you.”
“ABC is bullshit. CBS is bullshit. Stop believing in what in they tell you,” a member of Occupy responded.
Around 12:25, the small group of gatherers started posting signs around the plaza—“Revolt,” “Occupy it all,” “Defend Oakland,” and “The Fall is Coming.” They also put up a banner that urged “Death to Imperialism.” An angry-looking pink papier-mache pig measuring over 6 feet tall and wearing a blue police uniform was also propped against the stairs to City Hall. Painted on the uniform was a bloodied OPD police badge and a sticker proclaiming “Vote Nobody 2012.”
As of 4 pm, there were about 50 people scattered throughout the plaza. The Chase bank had been boarded up, and TV news vans had gathered at the corner of 14th Street and Broadway.
This story was written by Madeleine Thomas with reporting from Nausheen Husain and Titania Kumeh.
Oakland North will continue to report from downtown throughout the day.