Ed and his dog Einstein host a free buffet at Frank Ogawa Plaza.

Oakland at Work: The rump of “Oscar Grant Plaza”

on December 15, 2015

The acoustics are perfect in Frank Ogawa Plaza, the site of City Hall, on a Sunday. The clang of pots and pans resonate in a corner where a table is set up with turkey, gravy, and other Thanksgiving fixings covered with foil to keep it warm.

“On the last Sunday of every month we like to put on a little feed and feed some of the folks in the community when they’re running out of money,” said Ed, a retiree resembling Santa Claus who sat at the end of the buffet line in a lawn chair. He declined to provide his last name.

“It’s been a longstanding Occupy Oakland tradition since it existed,” said retired programmer J.P. Massar, referring to the protest encampment that took over the square in October 2011.

The two men and a third, who declined to be interviewed, are a far cry from the protest movement that had boisterously lobbied for progressive change at City Hall years earlier. But they say they’re keeping the tradition alive. In addition to the monthly buffets, they say they hold public meetings every Sunday to discuss news, politics and activism.

Political discussion was as much on the menu as the meal being served to hungry citizens who braved the day’s drizzle.

“There’s been nothing yet to curb the rent increases and gentrification,” said Massar. “There’s been nothing done for affordable housing.”

So long as the economic needs of Oaklanders aren’t being addressed, they say they’ll continue to meet in the square. Ed and J.P. say the weekly salons draw handfuls of people, mostly former protestors, to what they and hundreds of other occupiers had briefly rechristened “Oscar Grant Plaza” after the 22-year old African-American man killed by police in 2009.

Today was especially slow because of the weather.

An African-American woman approached the table just as a breeze caught the tinfoil covering the dishes, causing it to peel back and sway.

“Is the gravy warm?” she asked.

A grin carved up Ed’s bushy white beard. “It was at one point.”

Photo by Basil D Soufi
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