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A critical look at Occupy Oakland (Community Voices)

Photo by Howard Dyckoff, Move in Day,

Photo by Howard Dyckoff, Move in Day,

While standing in front of the Oakland Public Library, a young white man gave me a flyer to Occupy Oakland’s “Weekend of Action!” While I agreed with some of Occupy Movement’s positions, I disagreed with a lot of their tactics.  I told the man I had problems with Occupy Oakland.  Though it was called “Occupy Oakland,” the media focused on white protesters from other cities.  I heard little from the African Americans in Oakland.  The young white man’s partner joined our conversation and it quickly escalated into an argument.
During the argument, the men conflated gang injunctions, racial profiling and racial discrimination.   I disagreed.  The gang injunction issue boils down to the community’s right to public safety over the right of individual gang members to terrorize it.  Many African Americans in Oakland support gang injunctions for their neighborhoods because the injunctions help control gangs.  It made them feel safer.  Gang injunctions are based on a specific community’s need—whether that community and its gangbangers are predominately African American, Latino, Asian or white.  It is not racial profiling.
The two men spoke against the police actions taken against the Occupy Oakland protesters.  One called it “police brutality.”  I disagreed with his use of the word “police brutality.”  In the name of public safety, the police ordered the predominately white Occupy Oakland protesters to disperse.  Though I saw a video with rocks and bottles flying at the police, many debate whether or not the protesters disrespected the police.  However, the protesters had the option of leaving the area but they chose not to.  In effect, they forced the police to get physical.  The police gave them a reality check.  With rights come responsibility; if the protesters wanted to make a statement, they would have to pay the price.  However, because the protesters felt entitled and privileged to disrespect the police, they called the police actions “police brutality.”
I asked the men if the citizens of Oakland voted to make Oakland the “home” of their movement?  Does Oakland benefit?  Many Oaklanders don’t even know what they’re really protesting about.  One of the young white men had the temerity to tell me that Occupy Oakland was fighting for me.  I disagreed with this paternalism.  He did not know my name, profession or where I lived, but he assumed he knew what I needed.
In fact, I told the man that Occupy Oakland distracts Oakland from its own issues.  He asked me what some of those issues were.  I didn’t know where to begin.  How about the gentrification that treats African Americans like “blight” to be removed from our own homes?  Then our politicians applaud the new “diversity.”  Our politicians worry about polishing Oakland’s image and an Oakland Renaissance, even as Oakland’s children get killed in the streets.
In addition to the financial burden of Oakland Occupy protests, the state is cutting off Oakland’s redevelopment money.   Rather than being distracted by Occupy Oakland, Oakland citizens need to be looking critically at its city management and “progressive politics.”  In the past, was redevelopment money wisely spent or wasted? Did “progressive politics” use redevelopment money to foster an attitude of unsustainable “gimme, gimme, gimme” dependence?   Did the redevelopment money spent downtown benefit Oakland’s African Americans or displace them?  Can Oakland afford “progressive politics”?
As a result of Oakland’s financial woes, half of the employees at the City of Oakland, many of whom are working-class African Americans, received layoff notices. When the City Council met to discuss the layoffs, a group of Occupy Oakland protesters disrupted the meeting.  But how many of those jobs were lost due to the financial burden of Occupy Oakland protests?
After Occupy Oakland’s shut down the Port, several major shippers threatened to use other ports. This could severely cripple Oakland’s, if not the region’s, economy.   Unemployment among Oakland’s African Americans is already high and if those business leave, it will likely get higher.  An independent truck driver complained on television news that the Port shutdown hurt his business and livelihood.  One arrogant protester, a young (white) woman, told the reporter they were doing it for his own good.
When the protesters went back to their own homes, Oakland was left with the bill.  In addition, our already understaffed police had been dispatched to attend to their protests away from other crimes in Oakland.
These two men at the library felt they were entitled to make Oakland the home of their movement.  It mattered not that I saw them as privileged white men coming to trash Oakland and then going back home when they got tired.  They did not think they needed the support of Oakland citizens.  One of the men outside the library told me he did not live in Oakland.  The other told me he moved to Oakland.  Why did Oakland have to bear the cost of their protests?  Why shouldn’t their own hometowns bear the costs?  Why not Walnut Creek?  Why not make some wealthy enclave in Marin County or Silicon Valley their “home”?  Perhaps part of the answer can be found in our “conversation.” Perhaps they did not assume those places needed their paternalism.
Even though Oakland is a predominately African American city, the media portrays Occupy Oakland as privileged whites who come to Oakland to protest.  Even though the two white men argued that there were African Americans in Occupy Oakland, I realized that they would only hear the African American perspectives they wanted to hear.  In the past, I have heard African Americans make their same arguments and I disagreed with them too.  Finally, one of the men began cursing and stalked off like a spoiled child throwing a tantrum.  At that moment, he personified what I hear many people say about Occupy Oakland protesters—frustrated white skin entitlement. 

Kheven LaGrone is the editor of "Alice Walker's The Color Purple," a collection of literary criticism on the controversial novel. He was also the curator of Coloring Outside the Lines: Black Cartoonists as Social Commentators at the San Francisco Main Public Library and Laney College Library. Kheven LaGrone is currently curating "Remember My Name: Black Genealogy Through the Eye of An Artist" which will exhibit at the San Francisco Main Public Library later this year.

Thank you for publishing this piece.  I don't know what to make of a movement that challenges the one percent by trashing a city  like Oakland.  I agree--let them occupy Hillsborough and leave our city alone. 

Thanks for this article. I sympathize(d) with the general premise of the Occupy movement, but is has gone awry, has lost its course, is protesting the wrong things with the wrong tactics, and most definitely is protesting in the wrong place.

Oakland? Really?


My guess is that they think they are the elite Vangaurd of the Revolution, sent here to instruct and direct the sheep-like proletariat, that is, the rest of us. 

No, no and no.

NO-The predominant protestors on Saturday was EVERY COLOR, not just white. There were brown, black and yellow.  And thanks, BTW, for your opinion on "gang injunctions" but unless you live there, it's only an opinion.

NO-In reference, again, on Saturday...there was no "option of leaving".  We were there to turn a vacant builing into a place of public service.  One that would feed and house the homeless and create a vibrant, community-oriented work/play space.  The cops were the violent ones.

And NO-We don't care what the mainstream media says.  We care about Oakland.  PERIOD.  

Open your eyes.

Embarrassingly factually inaccurate article. 

Additionally, if the author is really concerned with individuals disrupting the Port of Oakland and City of Oakland's operation, costing the City money it doesn't have, it's hard for me to understand how filing a lawsuit against them accomplishes his enthusiastic support of business as usual.


Executive Committee Agenda 
Tuesday, May 18, 2010 (1:00 p.m)
6th Floor - Room 619
530 Water Street - Oakland, CA.
President Uno; 1st Vice-President Head; 2nd Vice-President Gordon
  1. CONFERENCE WITH LEGAL COUNSEL - EXISTING LITIGATION. Pursuant to subdivision (a) of Section 54956.9.
    1. Total Terminals International, LLC v. City of Oakland Acting by and Through its Board of Port Commissioners; Alameda County Superior Court Case No. RG 06269294
    2. Kheven LaGrone v. City of Oakland, Port of Oakland, City of Oakland Civil Service Board; Alameda County Superior Court Case No.: RG 09477713


Yes, heaven forbid that he try to use legal means to an end.  He should follow Occupy's example and use extortion. 

I find it interesting that someone who calls themselves X goes to the trouble to do a search on our writer but doesn't give her real name. Really? How would you know ANYTHING about this matter?

nine-t-9: agreed.

But among the first 20 people arrested, only 3 were from Oakland.

Re: "Even though Oakland is a predominately African American city, the media portrays Occupy Oakland as privileged whites who come to Oakland to protest."

Since when is Oakland a predominantly African American city?  According to the 2010 Census approximately 27% of Oakland's population is African American.  Meanwhile 26% is white and another 25% is Hispanic/Latino.  Even Asians, which account for about 17% of the city's population are over 60% as numerous as African Americans in Oakland.

Oakland is a vibrant and diverse city that does not belong to any single demographic.  Likewise, there is ample room here for any social, ethnic, or political group to thrive.  What Oakland does not have room for is whiny brats from the suburbs that feel entitled to smash windows, spray paint graffiti, and ruin the formerly beautiful lawn at Frank Ogawa Plaza without regret.  We certainly have no room to accomodate those who hope to throw rocks and bottles at police without consequence.

If Occupy Oakland's dwindling supporters were interested in real change they would focus their efforts of peaceful sit-ins, letter-writing campaigns, and other productive activies.  If the goal is stronger regulation of financial firms, more economic equality, and less money in politics, then terrorizing the City of Oakland is a huge waste of time.  The legislative powers to address these issues are located in Sacramento and Washington, DC, not downtown Oakland.

This Opinion represents a critical need for Oaklanders to involve themselves in this conversation -- as obviously, most of us are not represented by those who have decided to mask themselves to hide from the consequences of trashing our City.

Our Founding Fathers boldly scrawled their names on the Declaration of Independence, knowing that this id would give the British license to pursue and hang them.  In the name of independence and democracy, many of them paid a dear price for hanging their names out there for everyone to see.

Kevin has also hit the nail on the head: "Rather than being distracted by Occupy Oakland, Oakland citizens need to be looking critically at its city management and “progressive politics.”  In the past, was redevelopment money wisely spent or wasted? Did “progressive politics” use redevelopment money to foster an attitude of unsustainable “gimme, gimme, gimme” dependence?" 

In fact, that's exactly what Redevelopment money did -- our City leaders (including Jerry Brown when he was Mayor), rode on the coattails of Redevelopment funds to get themselves re-elected for multiple terms.  Former City Administrator Deborah Edgerley understood the power of buying support by giving each City Council member $250,000 in "pay-go" funds annually, to spend any way they wanted.  This was unheard of power for an elected official -- and gave the appearance of being able to "buy" support through investment of City dollars in items that did not have to prove any sustainable positive impact on the majority of Council District constituents. 

The redevelopment safety net is now gone.  Oakland -- pay attention.  We're going to have to find new ways to attract investment dollars into our City.





Many years ago, I spent a week camping in Canyonlands with friends. Although at first it might look like a desert, it's really an incredibly beautiful and fragile ecosystem. As we were leaving, a huge group in a Suburban was coming in. They were going off-trail, trampling the cryptobiotic soil and leaving a trail of damage in their wake. Didn't they stop at the Ranger station on their way in for the orientation, we asked? No, they said. Why should they?

Occupy Oakland has treated my city the way those hooligans treated Canyonlands. You don't see what is beautiful about the city, you don't respect the local ecology, and you are too arrogant to slow down and get directions. Any support or sympathy you had from the locals is just about disappated.

Please: Go home. You can't come in here and fix us. You are only making things worse.

How are you planning to furnish that "vibrant, community-oriented work/play space" once you steal it?  Residential burglary?  Muggings?  Occupy Oakland has been taken over by thugs. 

Nine-t-9:  One look at the Alameda County Inmate locator for Sunday, January 29th tells you that the overwhelming numbers of those involved in, and arrested for, the latest Occupy Oakland attack on our city were white and a significant number were not residents of Oakland.   Additionally, many of us saw the livestreams of the OO 'March To Steal The Convention Center' that were broadcast by Occupy Oakland's own 'citizen journalists."   We heard OPD declare an unlawful assembly and issue several warnings to leave.  It was clear that they could have.  Instead, they decided to physically attack the police.  When you announce weeks in advance that you intend to mass a large number of people to commit an admittedly illegal act, you shouldn't be surprised when law enforcement responds to try to stop you.  OO might want to reconsider livestreaming its riots if it plans to continue playing the victim card.