For a while last Wednesday, the Occupy Oakland General Strike and day of protest looked as if it might become one of the most successful demonstrations in city history. Tens of thousands of people took part in the day’s events, the vast majority of them peacefully. The massive march on the Port of Oakland was an amazing display of solidarity and nonviolence. But then as night fell on downtown, a small group of masked vandals, using so-called Black Bloc tactics, grabbed hold of the demonstration and turned it into a night of chaos.
Similarly, the fortunes of Oakland Mayor Jean Quan, which now seem inextricably tied to Occupy Oakland, rose and fell again with last week’s events. Had the general strike ended peacefully and been pronounced a success, Quan’s decision to allow the occupiers to return to their City Hall encampment the week before might have been viewed in a different light. But when black-clad vandals propelled the protest into a night of violence, Quan’s predicament over what to do about Occupy Oakland grew more intense, particularly after the occupiers refused to publicly condemn or expel the troublemakers in their midst.
By Thursday afternoon, the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce was calling on Quan to clear the tent city in downtown for a second time. The chamber said that the violent protests were harming downtown businesses, particularly small ones — a complaint echoed by some of the businesses themselves, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. In a press release the next day, the chamber called it a question of “jobs not tents.”
The chamber was not alone: It was seconding the hard-line stance taken by the Chronicle and the Oakland Tribune. The Chronicle, in particular, has repeatedly called on Quan to clear the City Hall encampment for a second time, and criticized her for not doing so. The paper also has complained that the mayor sent “mixed messages” by green-lighting the October 25 raid on the camp and then allowing the occupiers to return a day later and remain.
Quan’s critics, including the chamber, also say they are holding her “responsible” for Occupy Oakland and its outcome. However, they apparently will not hold themselves “responsible” if Quan orders the encampment cleared and then one or more violent protests ensues with police. Indeed, Quan’s detractors blamed her for what happened following the raid on October 25 even though many of them pressured her into it. And so it seems likely that they will blame her again if she clears the camp and it results in another ugly confrontation.
Yet despite this hypocrisy, it’s tough for any politician to defy the near-daily drumbeats emanating from the area’s two major newspapers. And for Quan, the dilemma is made even more difficult by the fact that at her core she agrees with the Occupy movement’s goals of fixing a broken system that rewards the rich and large corporations while making everyone else fend for themselves. It’s also personal. The Chronicle reported that Quan’s husband, Floyd Huen, opposes another raid on the encampment. And her close friend and confidant Dan Siegel thought for a time about quitting his post as her advisor after she approved the first raid. Quan, Huen, and Siegel all met as student activists at Berkeley in the Sixties and have been progressives ever since.
But in some ways, the current Occupy protest is unlike any they’ve ever experienced before. For starters, the occupiers are not making it easy for Quan. Although many helped last week to clean up the mess — the broken glass and graffiti — made by the vandals, the occupiers also continued to provide political cover and support for the violent among them. Last Thursday, even the progressive Oakland City Council refused to endorse Occupy Oakland after last week’s general strike turned into a fiery melee. And labor groups, which have been generally supportive of Occupy Oakland and have said they want to form an alliance with it, said they can’t work with it if the occupiers embrace violence.
At the same time, some of the growing defiance at Occupy Oakland can be attributed to Quan, and to the hard-liners who pushed her to approve the October 25 raid. When Oakland cops and other police agencies fired tear gas and other less-than-lethal weaponry on a mostly peaceful protest later that night, it greatly deepened the distrust that demonstrators have for the city. It also gave credence to those who view OPD as an occupying force itself. And it provided fuel to those who argue that the only way to combat police violence is with violence. It seems clear now that if Quan gives in to her critics and approves another raid, the result might be among the worst clashes with police that Oakland has ever experienced.
In recent days, the mayor has talked about the possibility of moving the camp to another location in the city. But that idea also prompts several questions. Among them is whether the occupiers will agree to moving, and if so, to where?
There are no easy answers. In fact, Quan’s only hope may be for a long, cold, wet winter. It could dampen the occupiers’ resolve and ultimately prompt them to disband the camp. But the question is: Can the mayor hold out long enough to find out?
More and more people have been switching from major banks to credit unions — even before last Saturday’s national Bank Transfer Day, the Contra Costa Times reported. Nationwide, credit unions picked up an astonishing 650,000 new members in October. That’s 50,000 more than they signed up in all of 2010. … The City of Oakland says it has spent a little more than $1 million responding to Occupy Oakland, and most it went to police overtime: $700,000. The estimate did not include last week’s events, so the most of the expenditures appear to have been for the October 25 raid and the protest afterward. … An Iraq War vet who says police beat him last Thursday morning in downtown Oakland is recovering from spleen surgery, the Oakland Tribune reported. Kayvan Sabeghi, who served two tours in Iraq and one in Afghanistan, says officers beat him with batons when he refused to leave during a violent confrontation between police and black-clad vandals. … A new report, meanwhile, is adding fuel to the Occupy movement’s protests over corporate giveaways. The report shows that thirty major US companies paid zero federal taxes in the past three years, including Wells Fargo Bank and PG&E Corp. — both based in San Francisco, the Chron noted. Wells Fargo, in particular, benefitted from generous government loopholes and subsidies. … And greenhouse gas emissions jumped sharply last year around the globe, the AP reported. The amount of carbon pumped into the atmosphere by human activity rose 6 percent.