by Jaime Omar Yassin
(Omar is a member of the Occupy Oakland Media Committee and also blogs at http://hyphenatedrepublic.wordpress.com/)
I made a joke earlier about Occupy Oakland’s General Assembly being a clever device designed to make occupiers so frustrated with bullshit that they would actually go out and do things themselves. That’s an exaggeration, of course. The GA has been responsible for some unequivocally fantastic things: the November 2nd General Strike; the November 19th Rally and March that led to the new, brief, but important occupation at 19th and Telegraph; and the solidarity march with Egyptian activists struggling to overthrow a US funded Egyptian military dictatorship. But anyone who listens to the recordings of the assembly I make every night could be forgiven for thinking the GA sometimes reaches Olympian levels of frustrating wankery. The assembly varies wildly from effective and cheer-worthy, to the epitome of left-wing masturbatory debate, politics and time-wasting.
But because of the way that Occupy Oakland works, autonomous actions are inevitable, encouraged, and indeed, in this case, the heart of this movement. With Occupy Oakland, when the march or rally ends, people keep on resisting and protesting by simply coming back to a living occupation, which in itself, is a constant affront to the city and state’s authority and control over public space. Each second of the occupation reminds elected officials that there’s no real authority behind their control. When enough people surround an encampment, there’s nothing the city can do to enforce its own laws short of a violent response that inherently deligitimizes its claim to consent of the governed. This reminds everyone that all laws exist at the whim of the people, not the government. That presents a new frame of possibilities that exists outside of electoral politics.
The Occupations that have and are serving as place holders for the movement while it gets a new home are the product of autonomous action [I would even argue that the failed Traveler’s Building occupation was an important occupation that reminded people that the movement is dynamic, rather than static]. Running Wolf’s tree occupation overlooking the former camp continues, a product of his own eccentric imagination. The Snow Park occupation was carried out autonomously, and continued until just this morning, outlasting Ogawa and the brief one at Nineteenth and Telegraph. Meanwhile, Snow Park occupiers barely had enough time to nurse a hangover of cynicism and depression before Chris M., a young occupier, and a few others, presented the new plot at 18th and Linden.
Chris, who lives in West Oakland, had already put in the research. He’d seen an empty lot in the area, and, inspired by the anti-foreclosure occupations he’d heard about in Georgia, started digging around trying to find information about the owner. Discovering that it was in foreclosure proceedings, he went to the assessor’s office, found the information of the owner and discussed the idea of occupation with her.
Though she’s not a great supporter of the Occupy movement, or the idea of occupation, she invited Chris and others to come and do what they could to prevent the foreclosure out of simple desperation.
While there is a committee that formed at OO to do just this kind of foreclosure defense, 19th and Linden happened outside of it and organically, a product of Chris’ footwork and populated by newly evicted Snow park occupiers, like Ryan. Ryan, who’d been occupying Snow since its inception, was sitting on the lawn this morning when Chris and others arrived and told him and others about the new occupation on a foreclosed property. Later, Chris and other new occupiers presented the occupation at the GA, followed by a mild rebuke to the sitting members of the assembly to “get off their ass” and start doing likewise. By 10 pm, there were thirty bodies ready to hold down the lot.
While the occupation is apparently legal, Ryan worried about the police and city using similar tactics as they had in Ogawa, making lists of infractions to create an argument for their eviction.
But many things will be different here. The new camp already sports a central entry point—a hole in a chain link fence—which allows a certain level of control over who enters the space [not necessarily good, in my opinion, but more manageable]. The camp has been deemed drug and alcohol free. Outreach to neighbors has already begun, with much positive feedback, especially because the purpose of the occupation is such an obvious crowd pleaser in a part of town that has been experiencing a long and withering assault on African American property ownership for years. And many of the issues that plagued the camp—such as the ban on open flame cooking—are perfectly okay in a backyard [and yes, there’s no good reason for that].
Meanwhile, at the GA, clever forms of re-occupying Ogawa have been broached and are only as far from happening as an occupier “getting off their ass” on the amphitheatre steps and doing it. Those steps are pretty cold right now, anyway.