CORRECTED, at bottom.
Though support for Occupy Oakland is clearly plunging quickly, I’m amazed there is any organized support left for the encampment following the utterly predictable events of Occupy’s big protest last Wednesday. The next day the City Council heard public testimony and a staff report about the illegal encampment that has forced them to close their front doors. Unfortunately, ostensibly responsible and community-minded organizations chose to support the dangerous encampment.
After watching the City’s presentation at the meeting, with its meticulous catalogue of fire and other life-safety hazards, continuing to support the encampment amounts to callous disregard for the lives of employees – and, yes, residents – on the Plaza. Yet public comment in favor of the encampment included representatives of at least one City union (IFPTE Local 21 representing planners and inspectors among others), the Alameda Central Labor Council, the teachers’ union, Causa Justa Just Cause, the Ella Baker Center, and the mayor’s own Block By Block Organizing Network.
This is puzzling since the speakers are well aware of the problems with the encampment and how it undermines many of their stated goals. City employees represented by Local 21 and the Central Labor Council have filed complaints with Cal-OSHA, and only 5% participated in the General Strike last Wednesday. Block By Block’s tax campaign had to move its offices off the Plaza to Uptown, presumably because it’s impossible to attract volunteers in those conditions. Occupy Oakland has caused more blight than the Ella Baker Center has cleaned up in its year of Soul of the City beautification events. So why are these political groups supporting the encampment even after seeing its vandalism, violence, and evidence of severe life-safety hazards?
Consider that impacts to businesses, rather than downtown residents, are what is dominating the public debate. These organizations have broad political agendas that often, if not always, clash with the interests of businesses and employers, such as higher taxes, more restrictions on economic development, or costly mandates on private housing construction. The employees of these political organizations are attending the Occupy General Assembly and consenting to resolutions about occupying private property, yet unable to pass resolutions condemning vandalism and transit disruption. Days after the vandalism, the Ella Baker Center blogged that if businesses are hurt by the encampment, “maybe that’s the whole point.”
People who live in downtown Oakland are deeply frightened that their mayor did not want to order the police to crack down on the protest even after large fires were lit within a hundred feet of residences. City employees have already filed health and safety complaints with Cal-OSHA. Employees on Frank Ogawa Plaza have witnessed crimes including drug dealing, drug use, and prostitution from their office windows, and many fear that the encampment is becoming a magnet for sex trafficking. The police and city administration are well aware of these crimes and have documented them, yet continue to do nothing as the encampment approaches the one-month mark.
Many people initially supported the Nov 2 General Strike because they wanted to march against Wall Street and make a political statement. But why did that have to be done without permits? Why is bus and traffic disruption so important to Occupy, but nobody else is allowed to do that? The League of Women Voters recently got a permit to march around Lake Merritt in celebration of the centennial of women’s right to vote. Is that activity less “free speech” than what Occupy is advocating? But the fact is that November marchers intended to disrupt transit, intended to forcibly close businesses, approved the takeover of the 16th St building, and began engaging in vandalism at noon.
There is nothing beautiful left about Occupy Oakland. I don’t blame those who were inspired by its Utopian vision of bringing new ideas and activities to a public place, and naively thought that lawlessness could be contained. But the encampment’s atmosphere has scared away pretty much everyone at this point. Disrespect for the law, vandalism, and property seizures have become official policies of the movement. The General Assembly’s agenda has moved from Wall Street to Oakland-specific issues like policing, real estate development, school facilities, and the municipal budget. But the bottom line is that it is an unacceptable danger to people’s lives, and must be removed immediately.
Are labor, anti-police, and anti-business political organizations callously ignoring the dangers and damages of the encampment to further a political agenda? Who wins politically when public meetings are under-attended and businesses have to spend all their profits on security? These are the questions I asked when watching organized supporters press their case for the encampment.
The City Council is in closed session, presumably about Occupy Oakland, as I post this. We’ll soon see if they finally wake up to their duty to enforce the law – because every day risks a death or injury for which the City is now responsible.
Correction: I misinterpreted Councilmember Libby Schaaf’s speech on Thursday Nov 3. She clarified to me that she did not give support to the encampment and acknowledged her speech was not as clear and compelling as she would have liked.