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.
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 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.
“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.”
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.”
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.”
For Jaime Omar Yassin, OO made him realize that “people can come together in unique and powerful ways.”
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.”
“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.”
“V. Dare,” who identified as a rank and file person, said OO “reinforced that those with the loudest voices are heard.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.
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.
What are your memories of Occupy Oakland? What effect has it had on your life?