Thursday, November 10, 2011

Oakland needs a peace conference.

Oakland needs a peace conference. 

And a peace treaty.  

Yesterday was a great example of people talking past each other and not listening. 
To start with, our chamber of commerce and five members of council tried to give a press conference advocating that the police remove the Occupy Oakland encampment, apparently they want that immediately.  Thanks to the written statement and the short period that Larry Reid got to speak at the microphone we got a rehash of the prior statements on fire safety, the needs of business in the area and city costs and some doubtful verbiage about protecting people’s rights to protest and use their freedom of speech … 

What we did not get was any addressing of the very basic fact that this proposal is seen by the people living in the plaza as another threat to use police violence against them again.  

So far I have not heard much to hold the police accountable for what they did during the first eviction. 
Nor did I hear anything from out local business community of concern for how the protestors would be treated if their proposed second eviction took place.  Would we not use stun grenades again the same way we did not use the stun grenade that the whole world watched our police throw at people trying to help an injured protestor?  We need to get real about what really happened at that eviction.  

It does not help that some are motivated by their opposition to the message of Occupy Oakland and some much unsubstantiated, exaggerated and doubtful claims were made about the impact of the protest on downtown business. 

The call to remove the encampment came from a very mixed group, one had been in a tent at first.
I came to listen to what they had to say all the same, as did many others.  A couple of people stood quietly where the TV cameras could see them with signs to denounce the police violence. 

Occupy Oakland is also a very mixed group.  

So someone shouted “mic check” and the press conference descended into a shouting match and was over.  The media circus continued.  Three of Jean Quan’s staff were there, the media did not ask them for any comments.  Nor me.  But they did ask a few business people for comments, but mostly focused on council members in the middle of the shouting; there was a core of elected officials, a ring of cameras and another ring of protestors speaking together with a public mic.  The print reporters spoke to a few more people, as usual.  The thing was a circus.  

I never got to ask my question. 

Then some media, some council people, some Chamber people and no small number of protestors stopped about half way to the parking lot to chat in small groups.  The shouting was over.  I dropped in to speak with a couple members of council who I know, and a member of the press, and a couple of the protestors who recognized me, but by and large most people were calmly chatting in groups of their own opinion within a few feet of one another. 

We all just talked past each other again.  

If I had been able to listen, and then ask my question, the question was going to be:
How were we going to avoid having a second eviction riot, and do they think having a second eviction riot would be worth it?  

In my one-on-one conversations, I heard a lot of “the protestors have had their chance” and talk about how the protest is “totally taken over by Black Block” and a lot of other stuff to the effect that “we have had enough and SOMETHING has got to be done”.  

I was there to listen, but doing NOTHING would be a lot better that doing the SOMETHING we did last time.  I just can not imagine anything worse for the city, including the city’s businesses, than to have a second violent police action with tear gas in our streets and stun grenades on world TV.  

And it would cost less to resolve every one of those health and safety issues than to pay for another full day of riot squad and mutual assistance.  Not to mention paying for the lawsuits that are coming.  

Back at Occupy Oakland General Assembly that evening the discussion continued on non-violence.  Nothing was voted on and nothing was voted against.  The only decision made was to hold a march in solidarity with the People of Cairo Egypt next Saturday.  

And it became clear to me that most of the people of Occupy have no feeling that the encampment problems are urgent to them or anyone else.  Many people spoke as if a police raid could, would and will come sooner or later.  The belief was that the police raids would come because people like the police, the rich and the chamber of commerce types just wanted to shut the protest down.  The health and safety stuff seems like a thin excuse for more police violence to a lot of the protestors.  

I would not doubt that there are some police and business people for whom the health and safety issues are just a thin veil to justify a crackdown on views that they oppose.  But the health and safety complaints are more valid than that.  They do not justify another raid, but do justify action.  

Finally, Jean Quan did ask my question for me.  She asked her majority of Council and the Chamber folk to show her a plan to remove the encampment without hurting more people and damaging more property.  Let us hope and pray that she is not waiting for them to come up with a sharp idea.  

This morning listening to the KPFA Morning Mix (that a lot of Quan supporters oppose in their fight to “Save KPFA”) and learned that Los Angeles has found a way to have peace with its Occupy protest.  The council member interviewed said that there was some trouble because such things attract a lot of homeless (duh) but that they were moving on and focusing on the bigger issues, such as LA setting up a review system of the social responsibility of the banks and financial institutions that they put their money through. He also wanted to focus on  corporate personhood and oppose big money in our elections.  Maybe Jean should give the mayor of LA a call?  

And tonight some of us local business owners have been invited to a meeting to talk about it all.  Since I am both a business owner and an Occupy supporter, I will go to listen and go to speak if allowed.  

I think I will propose a peace negotiation.  The city has put out a list of complaints against the encampment.  If we fix those can we stay?  The people of Occupy would be a lot friendlier with the police if there was a commitment not to raid them again.  Is Occupy hurting local business?  HOW?  Name names, tell us what you need.  Many other Occupy camps have made a point of helping local business.  This one could too if asked.  

Each group needs to put their cards on the table and say what they need to live with each other.  That means being willing to do some things and willing to give some things up.  My understanding was always that peace treaties are some kind of compromise because fighting it out would be much worse.  

And then we could go back to holding those press conferences, uninterrupted.  


  1. Occupy Oakland and Oakland City Administration Share a Historic Opportunity

    J. Webb Mealy

    I have three topics to comment on, and I believe that they converge to present a clear and striking opportunity for the present moment in Oakland.

    First, Oakland exists in the midst of a national economic crisis, which itself exists in the midst of a global economic and environmental crisis. The unwelcome reality behind the economic pinch that is rippling throughout Europe and North America now is the fact that it ultimately stems from a century-long burn rate of natural resources (petroleum in particular) that is flatly unsustainable. The "housing bubble" and the "stock market bubble" hide a natural resources bubble that simply will not go away. Economists and hopeful politicians will keep shuffling the numbers back and forth, but the intractable fact is that unlimited growth is not possible. What we urgently need is to begin experimenting with entirely new styles of practical living --- ways that require about a fourth of the resources that we have been used to expending.

    Secondly, we are now witnessing the birth of the most powerful political movement since the civil rights and anti-war movements of the 1960s. Many participants in the current "occupy" movement in the USA probably have only slight awareness of the deep causal relationship between our over-taxation of the Earth's resources and the current economic and political dysfunction of our country. But many Occupy Oaklanders do "get" this equation, and are searching for alternative lifestyles. In any case, all of us sense that something is very wrong, and we're giving up "business as usual" in order to discuss the matter at length and try to get to the bottom of it.

    Thirdly, the recent earthquakes centered in Berkeley remind us that we are due for the biggest quake since 1906. In 2007, earthquake scientists led by the USGS, CGS, and SCEC estimated that there is a 63% probability of a magnitude 6.7 or greater earthquake in the Bay Area in the next 30 years. The single fault in the SF Bay Area most likely to have a damaging quake is the Hayward fault system that runs right through Oakland. How do we prepare for the huge disruption of such an event? Is it possible to develop an experimental model of instant camps with semi-autonomous systems for serving the needs of the homeless and those without electricity, gas, and water?

    Consider the Venn diagram at

    Isn't it possible that, with mutual good faith between the City of Oakland and the Occupy Oakland movement, that the movement could return valuable results in all three of these areas, and render service not simply to our city, but to our nation? I'm imagining one or more encampments that would potentially be ongoing for some years, each one a continuously evolving experiment in how to serve the basic needs of human beings without the relying on the exclusive use of resource- and money-intensive boxes ("houses").

    Nothing insuperable stands in the way of a detente and eventually a working relationship between Oakland city government and the Occupy Oakland movement. Past mistakes, stubbornness, and overreactions on one or the other side are just that: past. My hope is that the various distancing factors can be put into perspective by both sides in view of the great gains that we stand to win as a city through mutual cooperation. It's said that the best mediated solution leaves both sides feeling as though they gave away too much. I challenge people of both sides, both my own, and the city administration: hold your noses and get to the negotiating table! Ugly or pretty, ultimately successful or unsuccessful, our experimental results here may well provide crucial pointers for cities throughout our country.

  2. I was at the Wednesday press conference and share your dismay over the spectacle of five council members and the Occupy Oakland protestors trying to shout one another down. You may have seen me at one point jumping into the middle of the melee yelling "Shut up, everybody" in a vain effort to start a dialogue.

    Unfortunately, I see little prospect of that dialogue beginning at this late date. My pessimism was underscored by the events at Wednesday's General Assembly which I listened to via a live feed. My recollection is quite different from your own.

    Several resolutions were debated and one passed by the required 90% majority. That resolution pledged Solidarity with protestors in Egypt--a no-brainer except for the unfortunate inclusion of incendiary language pledging the destruction of Capitalism as we know it.

    A second, badly-crafted resolution would have condemned the use of vandalism as a protest tactic except in specific circumstances. That resolution received only 15% support.

    A third, much-stronger resolution would have committed the Occupy Oakland group to supporting peaceful protest exclusively. Based on the results of the prior resolution and the tenor of the arguments pro and con, that resolution was tabled for fear that a "No" vote would harm the movement.

    In my mind, the damage has already been done. In the Nov. 10 issue of Mother Jones, Gavin Aronsen argued that non-violence is absolutely essential and quoted local union organizer, Jeff Duritz:

    "It’s nearly impossible to change the country. The only way that that could possibly happen is if that’s a mass movement. If my mom can’t come, we’re not going to change the country. That’s the bottom line...When we boil it down, when someone smashes a window that means no one’s mom is coming, and we need the moms to come."

    Robert Gammon writing in this week’s East Bay Express said that the same thing applies to organized labor:

    “...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”.

    Wednesday’s General Assembly included one additional resolution supporting the occupation of yet another downtown building. Fortunately, that measure failed to pass as it received only 65% support. I’d note that the occupation of the Travelers Aid building the week before precipitated violence on the part of protestors and police and an encore will likely have the identical result. I’d also note that the Travelers Aid building is owned by a private partnership that consists of folks in their 70’s to 90’s. Although vacant, there are currently at least two offers to purchase the building which is now listed “as is” because of the damage incurred by those who occupied it. A third offer was withdrawn because of fears that protestors would return.

    As for the impact Occupy Oakland is having on local businesses, after Wednesday’s press conference, I talked to owners of half a dozen, independently-owned shops who want to remain anonymous. Some have been affected by vandalism. All have suffered from a climate of fear that’s keeping customers away with sales off by as much as 50%.

    Despite my pessimism, I’m prepared to support any measures that would forestall another violent confrontation that would further tax Oakland’s limited financial resources and possibly result in more bodies being maimed.

    I’d add that the one thing we can all agree on is the need for the OWS movement nationwide. One way or the other, I’d hope that Occupy Oakland can re-invent itself; ditch the anti-capitalist, revolutionary rhetoric; ban the black bloc anarchists and, in the process, become more (not less) inclusionary by welcoming people like me into the movement. Finally, Occupy Oakland has to begin focusing on the core problems. The ongoing battles with the police, the city council and with the mayor (who should have been your strongest ally) are an unnecessary distraction.