Outside of New York, Oakland has been the Occupy city to receive the most national attention. Last October, Scott Olsen, a twenty-four-year-old ex-Marine, was critically injured during a police raid on the Oakland encampment at Frank Ogawa Plaza. A few weeks later, Occupy Oakland became the first of the Occupations to call a general strike, the first held in Oakland since 1946. Twice, the group has shut down major berths at the Port of Oakland, costing operators millions of dollars. “All of the energy in the Bay Area is coming out of Oakland, not San Francisco,” Edwin Dobb, a local journalist, told me. “I think the police response had a lot to do with how militant Occupy Oakland became. It was like, ‘Okay, motherfuckers, this is how it’s gonna be?'”
One of the most dynamic spokespeople for Occupy Oakland has turned out to be Boots Riley, who grew up in Oakland and might be familiar to music fans as m.c. of the radical hip-hop group the Coup. Riley has described himself as a Communist in the past, though now he says, “I don’t care what you call it, as long as people have democratic control over the wealth they create.” We met for lunch one afternoon in December at a nouveau soul food restaurant in an industrial neighborhood in West Oakland. With his prominent Afro and mutton chop sideburns, Riley looks like he was cryogenically frozen after leaving a Black Panther rally in 1971.