Screenprinted "Hella Occupy Oakland" posters were given away free, part of the "gift" economy

Screenprinted “Hella Occupy Oakland” posters were given away free, part of the “gift” economy

To some residents of Oakland, Occupy Oakland was a godsend. To others, it was a nightmare. Two years after the offshoot of the Occupy Wall Street movement established an encampment at Frank Ogawa Plaza—unofficially renamed Oscar Grant Plaza—a survey of 20 respondents conducted by Oakland Local indicated Oaklanders have very mixed feelings about Occupy’s impact on the city’s social and political landscape.

The plaza named after civil rights activist Frank Ogawa was renamed Oscar Grant Plaza during the Occupy encampment

The plaza named after civil rights activist Frank Ogawa was renamed Oscar Grant Plaza during the Occupy encampment

Whether they hated OO or loved it, nearly everyone who responded to the survey had strong opinions. Shake Anderson, a military veteran who lost his house to foreclosure and later became a member of OO’s Media team, saw the movement as generally positive.

Occupy served up free food to hungry people while the encampment lasted

Occupy served up free food to hungry people while the encampment lasted

“Occupy personally changed my perception of reality and reaffirmed my belief in humanity’s ability to evolve into [a] world that benefits all living things,” Anderson said. He pointed to a “gift economy” which fed the homeless, provided shelter and medical care, and led, he said, to a drop in drug dealing and theft.

An Occupy Oakland General Assembly

An Occupy Oakland General Assembly

“Kersten,” who identified herself as an “Occupy supporter,” said she moved to Oakland because of OO, which to her exemplified Oakland’s “spirit, toughness, and anti-authoritarian stance.” Because of Occupy, she added, “I found a community.”

At its peak, Occupy Oakland's pre-raid encampment numbered around 150 tents.

At its peak, Occupy Oakland’s pre-raid encampment numbered around 150 tents.

Another respondent, “Occupy General,” saw Occupy as a continuation of the WTO protests in Seattle, and brought him to “a new level of awareness,” while “Anon Medic 3” said he no longer has any sympathy for Oakland’s city government, noting, “after Oakland spent $2m crushing the protest camp, they closed five schools to save $2m in East Oakland, where the need for social services is omnipresent.”

City workers clean up Ogawa plaza the morning after the OPD raid on the encampments

City workers clean up Ogawa Plaza the morning after the OPD raid on the encampment

Occupy General also said that he lost faith in the Obama administration during Occupy: “the night Scott Olsen was nearly killed by police for peacefully protesting wealth disparity, the President was across the Bay eating $5000 dinners.”

A shrine for Scott Olsen, the war veteran injured by police during an Occupy protest

A shrine for Scott Olsen, the war veteran injured by police during an Occupy protest

For Jaime Omar Yassin, OO made him realize that “people can come together in unique and powerful ways.”

The intersection of 14th and Broadway was ground zero for Occupy Oakland rallies

The intersection of 14th and Broadway was ground zero for Occupy Oakland rallies

Other respondents, however, had much more negative feelings. “Realtor Tom,” who noted he was initially “very supportive,” said Occupy made him “very angry at people who destroy private and public property and drain public resources.”

Anarchist graffiti  in Ogawa Plaza

Anarchist graffiti in Ogawa Plaza

“Fred,” a Christian prayer warrior, said Occupy helped kill his retail business; an anonymous respondent said he is now a conservative, adding OO “left a bad stain on the city of Oakland.”

Small business owner Alanna Rayford stands in front of her store's windows, shattered during an Occupy protest

Small business owner Alanna Rayford stands in front of her store’s windows, shattered during an Occupy protest

“V. Dare,” who identified as a rank and file person, said OO “reinforced that those with the loudest voices are heard.”

Boots Riley addresses protestors

Boots Riley addresses protestors

OO “pissed me off,” said “Citizen of Oakland,” who identified as a supporter of the OWS movement, adding the Oakland faction lost sight of the original fight and turned to destruction and violence without a valid cause.” Instead of the 99% meme of OWS, Citizen said, “I think of the 98% of us that have the right idea, the 1% of the wealthy fat-cats, and the 1% of morons that hijacked the movement and stabbed the original Occupy movement in the back.”

An OPD officer prepares to fire tear gas into a crowd of protestors

An OPD officer prepares to fire tear gas into a crowd of protestors

Thomas Duffy, who identified as an Oakland citizen, said, OO “really opened my eyes to the number of people from outside of Oakland that feed off of legitimate movements and use them as excuses to thrash Oakland.” More importantly, he added, “it really showed just how poorly our elected officials perform.”

Ex-police chief Howard Jordan, Mayor Jean Quan, and City Administrator Deanna Santana speak at a press conference following the raid on the Occupy camp

Ex-police chief Howard Jordan, Mayor Jean Quan, and City Administrator Deanna Santana speak at a press conference following the raid on the Occupy camp

By far the most extreme negative reaction, however, came from Jim Zig, who complained in broad terms about what he called “Jokeland”: “let’s go whoring there, let’s go buy drugs there, let’s go protest and break apart downtown.”

occupy oakland nov 10 290

Police brutality wasn’t part of the Occupy agenda — until Occupy Oakland

Zig said he remains intolerant of “anarchist rabble that were imported from out of state to incite,” and feels city government “betrayed the trust of the people by unnecessarily spending funds” in support of OO. Unions that supported Occupy, Zig added, also betrayed members’ trust and “made themselves anarchists.”

Black Bloc anarchists confront police during an Occupy protest

Black Bloc anarchists confront police during an Occupy protest

Though the above responses vary from overwhelming approval to overwhelming disapproval, all of them are valid in their own way. Maybe that’s the point of Occupy; like the fable about the blind men and the elephant, it was many things to many people. Indeed, it’s unsurprising that Oakland Local’s survey indicated there is no prevailing opinion and no general consensus around Occupy – just as the same things can be said about the movement itself.

Somewhere between 30,000 and 50,000 people participated in the General Strike called for by Occupy Oakland and labor unions

Somewhere between 30,000 and 50,000 people participated in the General Strike called for by Occupy Oakland and labor unions

Interestingly, most of the respondents who had favorable opinions of Occupy continue to be involved in organizing and activist work. Anderson noted the skills he developed during Occupy helped him to organize a successful campaign to save the historic Marcus Garvey building from foreclosure. Occupy General now works for a local non-profit radical newspaper in Berkeley, where he says he’s “found the hope the Obama campaign had lied about.” Kersten continues to attend rallies and demonstrations, and says she changed jobs and now works for a more progressive organization. Yassin became involved in a movement which reclaimed city land in the San Antonio district, which he calls a “rewarding and informative experience.”

Occupy supporters rally at the Port of Oakland

Occupy supporters rally at the Port of Oakland

Citizen of Oakland has also become more active politically, but in an ironic way: “I now take photos of the morons trashing my city and send them to the police.”

A Rite-Aid store in downtown Oakland was vandalized during an Occupy protest

A Rite-Aid store in downtown Oakland was vandalized during an Occupy protest

In assessing the impact of Occupy through the rearview mirror, some questions rise to the forefront: Was Occupy Oakland a brief blip on the radar, a moment in time which crystallized into a history-making event horizon which soon flamed out, or was it symptomatic of a larger sociopolitical phenomenon which continues to evolve the conversation around economic equality, social justice, police accountability, and housing rights? The answers seem to depend on individual perspective.

Howard Johnson retired from OPD after an independent monitor's report was critical of OPD's treatment of protestors

Police chief Howard Jordan retired after an independent monitor’s report was critical of OPD’s treatment of Occupy Oakland protesters

For Anon Medic 3, Occupy’s biggest accomplishment was “to let the world know that the class war is on.” He elaborates that during the Bush administration, “there was always a hypothesis that GWB was just a well-meaning idiot, a guy with misplaced priorities and unlimited resources. Now we know that the conflict is explicit – the rich are in control and extorting the poor for everything they’re worth.”

An OPD officer is engulfed in tear gas intended for Occupy protestors

An OPD officer is engulfed in tear gas intended for Occupy protestors

Yassin feels that micro-reclamations of public space “could be the next phase of Occupy,” while Zig says he now supports zero tolerance for “out-of-state anarchists.”

Demonstrators occupy a shipping container during an Occupy protest

Demonstrators occupy a shipping container during an Occupy protest

Realtor Tom, on the other hand, has steered clear of radical activism, in favor of concrete, constructive community-building efforts. He says he supports education for local youth, volunteers with community groups, and invests in the community by using his real estate company to renovate derelict properties.

Occupy Oakland protesters at the Port of Oakland

Occupy Oakland protesters at the Port of Oakland

Perhaps in another five or ten years, the legacy of Occupy Oakland will be clearer and less contradictory. But for now, the responses to the survey will have to suffice as a representative sampling of community voices and individual opinions.

A resident of Occupy Oakland's tent city

A resident of Occupy Oakland’s tent city

View more images of Occupy Oakland here. Oakland Local’s top Occupy coverage is here. Read a history and analysis of the movement here.

What are your memories of Occupy Oakland?  What effect has it had on your life?  

 

11 Responses

  1. Dan

    “…established an encampment at Frank Ogawa Plaza—renamed Oscar Grant Plaza”
    Article should read: unofficially renamed Oscar Grant Plaza

    Reply
  2. Marcus

    To those who supported/participated in Occupy Oakland….WHAT DID YOU ACCOMPLISH?

    Beside costing the city of Oakland $10-$20 million plus, WHAT DID YOU ACHIEVE? WHAT WALL ST LAWS HAVE BEEN CHANGED BECAUSE OF YOUR MOVEMENT? BE SPECIFIC PLEASE.

    DO YOU THINK THAT ANYONE IN WALL ST FELT THE IMPACT OF YOUR MOVEMENT…or better yet, do you think that any WALL STREETERS have ever been to Oakland or even knows where Oakland is?

    You mind as well had the movement in Burma because events in Oakland affect Wall Streeter’s as much as even in Burma do.

    The stupidity of the Occupiers is absolutely appalling, and that is the most positive thing I can say about the Movement.

    Reply
  3. Marcus

    Next week anarchist will destroy Downtown Oakland to show support for the Rebels fighting in Syria.

    President Assad better notice!

    Reply
  4. a

    Marcus, those are just semantics. To the Occupiers they felt that they did something important and brought change in their reality. You, I, the rest of the country and non-occupiers know they only caused needless destruction and didn’t do anything to change a darn thing.

    Class war has been in existence since the start of civilization. To think that it has just been a thing of the past 10 – 20 years is being naive at best.

    Reply
  5. Eric K Arnold

    Dan, thanks for the catch. i changed the description to say “unofficially.”

    Reply
  6. Shake Anderson

    Erik Arnold didnt even mention my full name …in this occupy article …way to be bias …Congrats on being consistently you.

    Interestingly, most of the respondents who had favorable opinions of Occupy continue to be involved in organizing and activist work. Anderson noted the skills he developed during Occupy helped him to organize a successful campaign to save the historic Marcus Garvey building from foreclosure.

    Wtf is that … http://hellaoccupyoakland.org/oaklands-marcus-garvey-building-saved-from-citibank-foreclosure/

    Shake Anderson interview on Half Circle t.v.
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gKbV_k9_RlY

    Occupy Oakland first interview …in first encampment w/ Shake Anderson uncut
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XUHOnqSeu2Y&feature=share&list=UUsiMdnhcYT1mjgysu0S339Q

    Reply
  7. Pam Smith

    Thank you for this remembrance of OO. The Occupy Movement signaled the beginning of people gaining awareness about the catastrophic changes in this country – the loss of the middle class and the greed of a powerful few who threaten the welfare of our planet. Watch the new film Inequality for All, THEN comment here. — Yes, there were many, MANY frustrating things about OO, but it was a beginning. All significant social movements have had bumpy and ugly moments, and what appear to be lulls. The important thing is that there IS continued movement, and momentum. As highlighted in the story, many participants are now more engaged after OO – May we continue to raise awareness, and work toward real change!

    Reply
  8. R2D2II

    “…the responses to the survey will have to suffice as a representative sampling of community voices and individual opinions.”

    Yes, some interesting voices and some not-so-interesting. No, no possibility that these few tales are a representative sampling of anything. They’re just some voices.

    Reply
  9. Eric K Arnold

    Shake, it’s journalistic convention to mention a subject’s full name only in the first instance; subsequent mentions are last name only. if you have a problem with that, i suggest you take it up with the Associated Press.

    Reply

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