I made a joke earlier about Occupy Oakland’s General Assembly being a clever device designed to make occupiers so frustrated with bullshit that they would actually go out and do things themselves. That’s an exaggeration, of course. The GA has been responsible for some unequivocally fantastic things: the November 2nd General Strike; the November 19th Rally and March that led to the new, brief, but important occupation at 19th and Telegraph; and the solidarity march with Egyptian activists struggling to overthrow a US funded Egyptian military dictatorship. But anyone who listens to the recordings of the assembly I make every night could be forgiven for thinking the GA sometimes reaches Olympian levels of frustrating wankery. The assembly varies wildly from effective and cheer-worthy, to the epitome of left-wing masturbatory debate, politics and time-wasting.
But because of the way that Occupy Oakland works, autonomous actions are inevitable, encouraged, and indeed, in this case, the heart of this movement. With Occupy Oakland, when the march or rally ends, people keep on resisting and protesting by simply coming back to a living occupation, which in itself, is a constant affront to the city and state’s authority and control over public space. Each second of the occupation reminds elected officials that there’s no real authority behind their control. When enough people surround an encampment, there’s nothing the city can do to enforce its own laws short of a violent response that inherently deligitimizes its claim to consent of the governed. This reminds everyone that all laws exist at the whim of the people, not the government. That presents a new frame of possibilities that exists outside of electoral politics.
The Occupations that have and are serving as place holders for the movement while it gets a new home are the product of autonomous action [I would even argue that the failed Traveler’s Building occupation was an important occupation that reminded people that the movement is dynamic, rather than static]. Running Wolf’s tree occupation overlooking the former camp continues, a product of his own eccentric imagination. The Snow Park occupation was carried out autonomously, and continued until just this morning, outlasting Ogawa and the brief one at Nineteenth and Telegraph. Meanwhile, Snow Park occupiers barely had enough time to nurse a hangover of cynicism and depression before Chris M., a young occupier, and a few others, presented the new plot at 18th and Linden.
Chris, who lives in West Oakland, had already put in the research. He’d seen an empty lot in the area, and, inspired by the anti-foreclosure occupations he’d heard about in Georgia, started digging around trying to find information about the owner. Discovering that it was in foreclosure proceedings, he went to the assessor’s office, found the information of the owner and discussed the idea of occupation with her.
Though she’s not a great supporter of the Occupy movement, or the idea of occupation, she invited Chris and others to come and do what they could to prevent the foreclosure out of simple desperation.
While there is a committee that formed at OO to do just this kind of foreclosure defense, 19th and Linden happened outside of it and organically, a product of Chris’ footwork and populated by newly evicted Snow park occupiers, like Ryan. Ryan, who’d been occupying Snow since its inception, was sitting on the lawn this morning when Chris and others arrived and told him and others about the new occupation on a foreclosed property. Later, Chris and other new occupiers presented the occupation at the GA, followed by a mild rebuke to the sitting members of the assembly to “get off their ass” and start doing likewise. By 10 pm, there were thirty bodies ready to hold down the lot.
While the occupation is apparently legal, Ryan worried about the police and city using similar tactics as they had in Ogawa, making lists of infractions to create an argument for their eviction.
But many things will be different here. The new camp already sports a central entry point—a hole in a chain link fence—which allows a certain level of control over who enters the space [not necessarily good, in my opinion, but more manageable]. The camp has been deemed drug and alcohol free. Outreach to neighbors has already begun, with much positive feedback, especially because the purpose of the occupation is such an obvious crowd pleaser in a part of town that has been experiencing a long and withering assault on African American property ownership for years. And many of the issues that plagued the camp—such as the ban on open flame cooking—are perfectly okay in a backyard [and yes, there’s no good reason for that].
Meanwhile, at the GA, clever forms of re-occupying Ogawa have been broached and are only as far from happening as an occupier “getting off their ass” on the amphitheatre steps and doing it. Those steps are pretty cold right now, anyway.
Update 1 :
Some media outlets are now reporting that Gloria Cobb, the owner of the property claims she didn’t give permission for the group to occupy the lot. Given what I wrote here, based on the recorded conversation I have with Chris, its possible that Cobb gave very broad permission for an action to save her property, not realizing she was greenlighting an occupation. That’s suspect, though, since the name of this group is Occupy Oakland. Cobb may now have changed her mind about the occupation as well. Or there may be a misunderstanding of some other kind. I’ll try to keep informed about how this is working out.
I also spoke with Chris this morning around noon, and he says that the police have not been called, and that the relationship with tenants remains strong and positive.
Update 2: As the Chronicle reports, Cobb did indeed seek police help in evicting the occupiers and they elected to leave before being evicted around 10pm this evening; there was no force. Its not really clear why or whether there was some kind of combination of misunderstanding, exacerbated by an unexpected rain of media and municipal attention. I visited the camp around 6pm, shortly before the police raid. The camp was doing more than fine and the group was very disciplined, eager to avoid some other problems that emerged at previous camps where a tone was not set in advance. The center of the space remained open, with tents surrounding and close to one another. The gate had been opened, the hole in the fence blocked. While there was an open policy of letting anyone in, and campers were being encouraged, the fence was to lock at 10pm to prevent security problems; no drugs or alcohol either, and quiet time at 9pm.
A kitchen had been set up on the north end of the property and I was happy to see some familiar faces manning it from the old kitchen committee at the plaza; the new kitchen was a collaboration, apparently, between the occupation crew and the original kitchen committee.
I was writing all this up a few minutes before I heard about the raid, and I noted at the time that the odder outcome would be “if the new camp wasn’t facing extinction every four or so hours.” Funny, depressing, true.
It certainly doesn’t make any sense; Cobb will lose the property on December 11th. Though the odds of the occupy crew making a difference in her foreclosure fight weren’t good, it was certainly better than the certainty of losing the property she faces, as well as the imminent eviction for the tenants in the adjoining home. There are dozens of such properties in the neighborhood, however. It won’t be hard to find another, and the lesson learned will be to make sure to find a rock solid partner.
Also, it looks like Occupiers are about to re-occupy the plaza using a loophole that allows 24 hour peace vigil, with tents, so long as there’s no sleeping. The issue had been brought up about three times independently at those “useless” GA’s by Running Wolf proxy, and then by a legal advocate. Recent experience tells me there’s still a lot of time for that to go south, but we’ll see.
In the meantime:
Earlier, I rode by and took a photo of the lot that used to lie invisible and untouchable behind a pointless chain link fence that surrounded the large majority of public space on 19th and Telegraph. Now that the fence is gone, the lot actually resembles an un-manicured and humble city park, a green space for people to play soccer in, although there is a large set of gashes where city public works drove vehicles through. It would be difficult to argue that it looked better before, or was a more useful component of the community. I propose some Occupy events: Occupy Soccer, Occupy Dog-run, Occupy Box Garden.