An Open Letter to Occupy Oakland

Categories: Discussion, Open Mic, Reflections

There has been a lot of discussion about the deposit of funds into my Wells Fargo client trust account. In the interests of transparency, I submit this open letter.

When I volunteered the use of the account I was balancing the possibility of bad PR, with the possibility of forestalling serious physical harm to people in the jail. It was possible that there would have been mass arrests on the day of the general strike.

If I have to choose between bad PR and human lives, then I will choose bad PR every time. I was informed that people had already faced seriously dangerous conditions in the jail. The night before the general strike I had no way to know that the day would not end in mass arrests at the port, or a hail of rubber bullets and wooden dowels like the anti-war port protest in 2003.

A few points of clarification:
1. Why did Occupy Oakland open an account at Wells Fargo?
We didn’t. My client trust account existed previously– I did not open it recently. I was in process of moving all my accounts for 5 November when I got sick.

2. So you control the money?
No. The money is technically still the property of Occupy Oakland, that’s why it’s called a trust account. Occupy Oakland has ownership of the money, and dictates how it is spent.  That is why the solidarity committee brought a proposal to the GA the other night– to get approval for the money to go into the client-trust account.  Had the GA rejected the proposal that would have been 100% fine with me, which is what I said at the GA.    Had someone else stepped up that night, that would have been 100% fine with me as well.  But no one did.

3. Why didn’t Occupy Oakland just open an account in its own name?
We were in the process of doing that. However, we had to file paperwork with the state of California. I, personally drove to Sacramento to file it and get it done in an expedited way. Nonetheless, we still had not received the paperwork back, and are still waiting for it. We are still in process of setting up an independent Occupy Oakland financial account.

Neither a bank nor a credit union will open a bank account for an organization without showing the relevant state paperwork.

4. Well what about Long Haul? Aren’t they handling some donations on our behalf?
Long Haul could not accept the money from OWS. The terms of the agreement with Long Haul forbid Occupy Oakland to use any of the deposited money for bail. Period.

5. Why didn’t you just send someone down to a credit union to open an account?
Because if we sent some random person down to a CU or any institution, and they opened an account, they would take legal possession of the money. If that person had wanted to run off to Tahiti with the money, they would have been well within their legal rights to do so.

6. Why didn’t you personally just open a trust account at a credit union, it’s so simple?
Actually it’s not simple. First, there was nothing I could do the night before the general strike. Second, adding steps to a process always adds uncertainty and more variables increases delay.  Last week,  we knew that at least one person had languished for almost 24 hours without medical care, despite a ruptured spleen.   Those are not, by any stretch of the imagination, good conditions.

7. Where the hell is the money now?
The money reached the client trust account today, November 9th, around noon.  I have been told that another attorney has stepped forward who has a client trust account with a non-major financial institution.  If this is the case and Occupy Oakland authorizes it, I will happily transfer the money to him.

8. Well fine, but you didn’t receive the money until November 9th, why not open a new account before then?
I had passed the client trust account information to OWS (via people inside Occupy Oakland) on the afternoon of 3 November. I was advised that the transfer would take place immediately, so made no preparations for another account.

Over the next week, I heard a variety of things from “the money is being transferred today” to “NPR has reported that the money was transferred over the weekend.” I can understand that OWS was concerned who I was, and so I offered my bar (law license) number as well as volunteering to give personal references in the Bay Area progressive community.


Had I known it would take a week, I would have simply put the word out for another attorney with a trust account in a community bank or other institution. But there was no way to know that going in.

I understand that this entire event has been bad PR for Occupy Oakland and the Occupy movement generally. What I also know is that I will always choose to risk bad PR over risking people’s lives and personal safety.

The mentality that Occupy is protesting is a mentality that applauds the opposite.  It applauds good PR over risking people’s lives. That is the mentality of people who stand aside for corporate misbehavior, even when it costs lives. It is exactly the mentality of politicians who choose to go to bat for oligarchs and try to cut food stamp programs, rather than risk being called a socialist.  It is exactly the mentality of judges who allow foreclosures even when the bank foreclosing has no case.

People like that don’t want the bad PR, and they’re willing to risk other people’s lives to avoid bad PR.

And that is exactly what we are fighting against. Isn’t it?


7 Responses to “An Open Letter to Occupy Oakland”

  1. a_small_voice

    it has been two weeks. will the $20,000 be taken out of the wells fargo trust and placed into a credit union in oakland soon?

  2. GreenEngineer

    I emailed a reporter who mentioned the $20K @ Wells Fargo thing in his article, here:

    This is the text of my email. Please feel free to copy it and send it to other reporters and media outlets:

    As so many in the media have done, you mention the fact that OO put $20K with Wells Fargo. I thought you might be interested in a little background on that decision, directly from the group’s lawyer, into whose account the money was put:

    As you can see, the whole issue is really a tempest in a teapot. It makes OO look bad, yes. So if that’s your goal, keep talking about it. If not, maybe you would like to say something about the practical limitations of the circumstances, and the pragmatic humanitarianism that drove this decision. The community chose to prioritize supporting its people in need over maintaining the outward appearance of ideological purity. To make any other decision would have been hypocritical.

  3. east bay green bloc

    Thanks very much for the explanation. It was disconcerting to see how many times the news of an OO account with Wells Fargo was noted on Twitter last night.

    It’s very difficult to operate a real people’s movement within the confines of the negative mainstream environment.

    I will spread this message/explanation to my best ability.

    Power to the People!

  4. mark

    It doesn’t seem right to paint those who may disagree with what you did as being ‘the mentality that we’re fighting against’. Isn’t every decision here being made on some continuum of PR vs personal well being. People get arrested…that has symbolic value that we applaud. It brings more people in. And its at a cost to individuals. So just using the argument…”I’m against PR and in favor of human lives…(and you’re not)” is not a discussion of the issues.

  5. wiseoldsnail

    thanks for this. now i can copy it everywhere i find misleading press reports about this issue, as i encourage everyone else to do as well.
    we are all so blessed to have each other!

  6. GreenEngineer

    Thank you for the explanation.

    Please share this perspective (to the extent they will listen) with the media. The MSM is part of the problem for sure, but they are also the conduit by which most of our country’s citizenry forms their understanding of what is happening in the world (and THAT is the real problem). We need to use them to the extent that we can.