Time to take a break in the mostly lighthearted nature of this blog to provide some insight on the Occupy Oakland protests that have captured the world's attention. I finally made it down to the site Monday night, Nov. 1. It was relatively quiet--several hundred people milling about--organizers holding a low-key meeting, intellectuals debating the issues at hand, and lots of homeless guys asking for handouts. I was glad I went at that time--it was an easy way to get a sense of the effort without the chaos. I got to peruse the Occupy Oakland library collection, talk to a few people, check out the tent city, and listen to some of the meeting.
But the following day, Nov. 2, was a whole different ballgame. This was the day of the general strike, a day filled with one rally after another as the crowd swelled throughout the day, climaxing with a march to the Oakland Port that lasted into the wee hours. The atmosphere was very positive and energetic at the noon rally I attended. The speakers were animated, the signs expressive and colorful, and the crowd filled with every kind of person you can imagine. It was clear something special is going on--we may not know exactly what it is yet, but anything is better than all of us sitting on our couches griping about things.
I was very bummed not to be able to attend the evening march, but was very proud to have several friends and neighbors who hung out throughout the night, and who had the presence of mind to engage in an exhaustive series of texts that told much of the story. Rather than try to relay their story myself, I'll let them tell it in the form of highlights from the text string. It all started when I texted my Albany neighbor and friend, Ulan, who has been visible at Occupy Oakland for many days despite hobbling around in a cast due to surgery for a torn Achilles. It was 4:18 pm Wednesday when I asked him where he was, and whether he'd joined the 4 pm march (there was a second group leaving at 5 pm). Here are the highlights of the ensuing string, which had six or seven people on it:
Text from Ulan, 4:44 pm: "On the bridge. Bikes are at the port. U gotta be here. It is awesome!!! Must be 20,000 people. 500+ bikes."
Response from me, 4:45 pm: "I'll have to settle for living vicariously through you. Couldn't pull it off--just the wrong night."
Next text from Ulan, 5:21 pm: "30 min later and they are still streaming over the bridge. And there is another group that left at 5."
5:22 pm, from Ulan: "Someone was talking to his friend at 14th and Broadway and said there is a continuous march of people...2 miles!"
5:23 pm, from Ulan: "It is warm. A perfect day to change the world. ;-)"
5:32 pm, text from another neighbor, David Skinner, who's been even more visible at the protests than Ulan: "Kristin [his wife] is sick (food). I am evacing (sic) her out from the port. Headed to the hood. Then back. Need something from the hood? Let me know."
5:40 pm, from Ulan: "A whole other group has come. Wow. The bridge is flooded with oldies again."
5:41 pm, from David: "KFA!" (For those who don't know, this stands for kick f*cking ass!)
During this time, Ulan sends a series of photos and videos via text, all documenting the events at the port--people gathering, climbing on top of trucks and roofs, and general revelry over the show of solidarity.
One of these photos, sent at 5:50 pm, is accompanied by this message: "The bridge is 1/4 mile back. I am at the gates of the port. Half the people are further in. It just doesn't stop."
5:52 pm, from David: "Saw 30 cyclists with banners coming up San Pablo as a supervehicle 20 min ago."
5:55 pm, from Ulan: "The bridge is still packed." The implication being that protesters are still flowing into the port. Text is followed by a video snippet of an even more crowded port packed with protesters, all of whom seem very well behaved, and who have blanketed the roof of every truck and container in view.
6:09 pm, from Ulan: "Bridge is still packed. Going on 1.5 hours of people walking (across it)."
6:46 pm, from another Albany neighbor, Laurie Wong-Roberts, who is not at the protest but is monitoring the text string: "WOW! LOVE IT!!!! Thanks, all, for occupying!"
7:06 pm, from David: "Report from OGP [Oscar Grant Plaza, the Occupy Oakland renaming of Frank Ogawa Plaza]. Chill. Down to regular non-sardine levels. No OPD on site. Alameda fire fighter union is grilling gratis making many friends. 14th and Bway still occupied. Drums and dance." The message includes a photo of the firefighters serving up grub.
7:26 pm, from Ulan: "Shift change at 8. Staying put for a while. :) Expect to see my photo in the Tribune tomorrow." (Alas, no photo of Ulan in this morning's paper.)
7:42 pm, from David: "Too many have left the plaza. 14th and Broadway is starting to see traffic. I hope the thousands of port marchers return soon. With the intersection gone police will follow." (This analysis proves eerily true as later texts show.)
7:44 pm, from yet another Albany neighbor, Sheri Spellwoman, mother of two young girls, who had come home during the afternoon but managed to make it back for the port protest: "They are asking for more bodies here until the shift change at 8."
7:48 pm, from David: "I had to leave 14th. Cars coming through and I am concerned someone is going to mistake the ped/protest areas for the thoroughfares and hit someone." (Another eerie prediction from David--not much later, a couple of people are struck by cars in that spot.)
7:48 pm, from David: "Enough people at the port?"
7:50 pm, from Ulan: "Plenty of people are here. No worries. The port is shut and will stay so!!!"
7:53 pm, from Ulan: "Folks leaving. Woot!! Nice and loud. :)"
8:03 pm, from David: "Got an orange vest. Am now the traffic cop of 14th and Bway."
8:11 pm, from Ulan: "Music semi just rolled up the bridge filled with a couple of dozen hangers on. OPD moved so they could pass. The port is NOT going to open. Nope. Nadda."
8:27 pm, from Ulan: "How's the plaza?"
8:35 pm, from David: "We're holding. With effort."
8:36 pm, from Sheri: "People are talking about blocking the port until 3 am. Isn't this strike over at midnite?!?!?"
8:39 pm, from David: "It's all about shifts. Hold steady if you need where you are and we'll hold here. Talked to some bicyclists back from the port. Bway is holding."
There is then a break in the messages. I assume there is little activity during this time, or perhaps everyone is too engaged to text.
10:22 pm, from Ulan: "More people."
10:50 pm, from David: "Big block."
Then another hour of quiet before the, uh, poo hits the fan.
11:53 pm, from Ulan: "Riot is about to start. Fuck."
11:57 pm, from David: "Police are starting shit."
Midnight, from Sheri: "Fuck!"
12:02 am, from David: "Police riot starting." This text is followed by a photo from David showing police in riot gear on Broadway and a huge bonfire in the background.
12:04 am, from Ulan, in response to David's photo: "Yes they are. We are on the other side...the one with all the fires."
12:08 am, from Kristin, David's wife who has long been home after getting sick: "Stay safe!! OO [Occupy Oakland] tweeted rubber bullets and tear gas being fired at 17th and Bdwy."
12:09 am, from David: "Not yet. One flash bang. It embarrassed them."
12:09 am, from Sheri: "I ran right into it!"
12:10 am, from David: "Moving in now."
12:10 am, from Sheri: "Lots of shots being fired."
12:22 am, from David: "No shots now. Police are securing a building that was occupied and supporting fire control against the fires on Telegraph. Mood is lightening. Fire is out."
12:43 am, from Ulan: "Home safe. So is Sheri. David seems to be ok. Checked in with him."
12:46 am, from Ulan: "That Black Block is weak. They want to incite but they don't really want to fight. Fools."
12:47 am, from David: "Peace has returned." Text is followed by photo of much calmer scene on Broadway.
12:59 am, from me: "What insanity! Thanks for keeping us updated, guys...I feel like I was almost there with you...glad you all stayed out of harm's way!"
1:01 am, from Ulan: "It's those Black Block kids. We have to find a way to fix this. It's a good process to go through. And we will find a way through."
As you can see, this string provided compelling theater for someone who couldn't be there. And on some small level, it justified Sarah's fears about my taking Max down to the port march. Granted, there wasn't any violence until nearly midnight, but still--she was right to be fearful of what might happen.
Let's hope Albany's little band of activists continue to play a role in the uprising, wherever it leads us...regardless of that path, as I hinted at in the headline for this post, the primary concern should be to create a vision of this country's future that will help to ensure that our children have the best possible chance at happiness. Without that, we'll have accomplished little, if anything.