Occupy Oakland – A Symbol For Our Times

This morning Oakland authorities made good on their threat to evict Occupy Oakland from Oscar Grant Plaza, in front of Oakland City Hall. Again, hundreds of police from across the Bay Area were amassed and sent against those camped out there.

We need to ask ourselves, why is this and other occupations such a problem for the authorities? From the first day of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, when tents were pitched in Zuccotti Park in Lower Manhattan, there was a response by those who occupy the corporate boardrooms, the city halls and other centers of power in this country. They used their media to ridicule those who they called hippies, counter-culture types and anarchists. When the occupation caught the imagination of many youth, working class and middle class people, – the 99% – the forces of corporate power took on a different tone. And in no place in this country was that more apparent than Oakland.

Oakland city officials, as the mouthpiece for the 1%, invoked their laws against camping on public property. Next, they expressed concerned about the health of people in the occupation.  It seemed like there might be an intelligent response, when the city had port-a-potties set up near the occupation. Unfortunately that was the end of such a thoughtful response. People in the occupation were left on their own to organize life in the encampment. As the encampment grew, so did the complexities of running the occupation.

Occupy Oakland, like other encampments, became a concentration of society’s problems. People whose lives have been shattered by this society found shelter in the occupation. People living on the street and with problems of addiction or mental health, were received with compassion by the occupiers who organized food, shelter, first aid and other essentials for those in the encampment.

The city officials could have taken this opportunity to address some of these problems by sending in social workers and providing medical and mental health services to assist those in need. Instead their response reflected the failure of this society to respond to people’s needs. Their response was one of organized violence.

On October 25, more than one million dollars was spent to mobilize 18 police agencies to mount a vicious pre-dawn assault on the encampment and maintain a police occupation through the day. The next day thousands descended on the plaza and retook the encampment site. The following week, tens of thousands of people poured in and marched on the Port of Oakland, shutting it down. And that is what those who occupy the halls of power fear – the power of the 99%. That is what the Occupy Movement really represents.

The tents and the occupations are just the symbol of a deep and growing discontent in this society. They have become a symbol of the 99% – the majority of society – the workers who have lost their jobs or who face the jobs that demand more and pay less; the young and old who have watched their future being stolen from them by a system of capitalism that puts profits before human needs. The 99% is those who are tired of being cast aside by a society that is supposed to be ours – watching the engineered economic crisis result in soaring profits for the banks and corporations while we are expected to exist in the margins.

The Occupy Movement is an announcement that those days are over. That is why those in power are responding with such force against seemingly harmless encampments across the country. The attack on the occupations is an attack on all of us.

People around the world have taken to the streets and occupied – from Tahrir Square in Egypt to Wisconsin to the plazas of Spain and Chile. These uprisings have inspired people around the world. Those who occupy positions of power know the threat those movements pose to them. The city centers across the country may be cleared of occupations for the moment. But this is just the beginning. It is time for the 99% to step up and occupy our lives!