At the considerable risk of indulging in nostalgia, I can’t help but revisit what happened a year ago. It feels like a lot longer than a year ago, but it’s still an itch I can’t help but scratch. Below is what I posted the morning after the Oakland Police Department raided the Occupy Oakland camp.
It was heartbreaking and surreal to be at the “crime scene” that was, until recently, Occupy Oakland. I don’t really have words. When I first went down there, the police had the whole area blocked off and you couldn’t get close. There were pockets of occupiers gathered on street corners talking about what they had seen, what had happened, and you could hear a lot of anger and amazement at the number of police that had been deployed. People were naming off the different police departments that were represented, like trainspotters. A whole lot of different police departments were represented. At one point, a column of San Leandro police in full riot gear came marching along the sidewalk and I stepped back, almost involuntarily. It’s a scary thing to be standing there and look at them staring right through you.
An hour later, things were opening up and as the downtown got busier and busier — it is the downtown, after all — all sorts of people were milling around. There were probably a hundred police officers just on the edge of the wrecked encampment, taking pictures, reading their iPhones, and drinking coffee. They were no longer standing between the encampment and the people by that point; the deed was done and if you wanted to, you could have walked right in. They looked like workers on break, and I guess that’s what they were. It was, in fact, as close to the 99% including the police as we were going to get. One young guy was trying to talk the police into seeing themselves as allies, but the cop he was talking to never said a word or acknowledged his presence, just sipped his coffee.
I spent about ten minutes waiting by this “Justice” painting, trying to photograph police taking photographs against that backdrop, but it was harder than it seems like it should have been to get a good one. This is the best I could manage. I suspect that the cops taking pictures saw me taking pictures of them, and got shy, if you can believe that. But at any one time, there were probably at least five police taking pictures of the camp, on their phones or on real cameras. They looked like tourists, rubbernecking at a disaster scene. I don’t think they saw themselves as having created the mess; judging from the snippets of conversation I heard, in fact, they seemed to view the wreckage as having justified what they had done. It was all business, all jokes and snickering, while waiting for the serious business to start again, or end.
On the curb, a knot of young people were eating Burger King breakfast sandwiches and occasionally yelling caustic remarks at the gathered police. I heard a teenage girl ask the cops: “Want some food? I’d cook some for you, but my kitchen is fucked up.” They did not respond. “I had to buy food this morning,” she said. “You know how long it’s been since I had to pay for food?” There was defiance, bravado, and also pain in her voice, I think.
This was what was left of the camp:
I wasn’t there when the raid happened. By the time I arrived it was all locked up, or locked down. And pictures like this one make it hard for me to pretend I was anything but glad I wasn’t:
They came in force, bringing hundreds and hundreds of para-military police officers to subdue a group of campers who offered no resistance. JP Dobrin has some amazing pictures of the police assault, if you want to see that. I find myself thinking much more about what isn’t there anymore, the social infrastructure that these people treated as a violent threat to, something. We shouldn’t romanticize what was happening in that camp; parts were incredibly beautiful and inspiring, and then parts were, like anywhere else you have people, problematic. But it was working and growing and struggling, until, of course, it wasn’t allowed to anymore.
The media tent, then, powered by the 11 volts that blue bicycle could give you: