Occupy Oakland: From Flowers in Your Hair to the Dark Side

Oakland Protestors

TIME TO TAKE THE HIGH GROUNDThe Occupy Oakland movement is at the crossroads of peaceful demonstration and violence. It’s time for the ‘organic’ movement to learn how to better cultivate allies.

The San Francisco Bay area has a long history of protest – much of it gone violent. At 1960s UC Berkeley, Vietnam war opponents started as idealistic, flowers in your hair protesters who morphed into glass breakers, nascent fire bugs, and building grabbers with a few Molotov hurlers for good measure. Next door, the hard-scrabble neighborhoods of East Oakland are now the perfect breeding ground for discontent.  It would seem to be the right place for the Occupy movement to set up tents. Plenty of people with grievances and lots of rich people to snub.

But, Occupy Oakland has a dark side.

Peaceful Occupy marches have become a thing of the past in Oakland. Now, the occupiers fan out while windows break, dumpsters flare, and the very people most likely to support Occupy are left to sweep up. Understandably, 99 percent of the 99 Percenters are growing tired and that’s a hell of a way to build a movement. Just ask Sarah Palin.

No Weather Underground. Even the first Occupy march broke some windows and spawned some graffiti, but the mood was more youthful exuberance than Weather Underground sinister. The next day, some of the occupiers went out with cleaning equipment to get clean up the graffiti and help small business owners replace their broken glass – testament to the sane and peaceable idea of protesting in front of the little guys, not driving them off with boorish behavior.

Their relationships with community were basically good, even when they closed the Port of Oakland and cost the rough-hewn Teamsters a day’s pay. The second time around the Teamsters weren’t nearly so understanding and neither was the commuters stranded on some of the most overcrowded freeways in the nation.

Many people blame the Oakland PD for the violence. No doubt they aren’t a crackerjack force. The Feds have them under threat of Federal control because of the tepid pace of court ordered reforms. Incompetent police chiefs and even more incompetent mayors didn’t do much to help. Many people finger the current mayor, Jean Quan, with mismanaging the original outbreaks. And there is some justification; several recall drives are collecting signatures as you read this. She was so bad, she lost several top advisers who couldn’t take the addle-brained chaos.

I know several OPD cops. They’re like cops anywhere. Standing in front of a potentially dangerous mob throwing rocks and bottles at their head understandably makes them edgy. Some react with restraint, others fire tear gas canisters into the crowd or rely a little too heavily on truncheons to break things up. You can charge the PD with using too much force, but if someone was trying to whack me in the head, my adrenaline would be up too.

But most of the cops are doing a job in less than optimal conditions. They have orders. Some don’t agree. They feel the same as some of the cops in the Arab Spring uprisings. They don’t necessarily feel that clubbing their fellow citizens is exactly what they signed up for nor something they particularly feel good about doing.

Like a Sunni in TehranBut occupiers and cops alike suffer more for the actions of the few. The latest numbers indicate that a healthy majority of people arrested in the melees are true anarchists from out of the Bay Area fixated on no one coming to an agreement over anything…ever.

Occupy Oakland doesn’t need the distractions and fewer cops would be in the street. Oakland citizens might look more favorably on the occupiers if millions of dollars weren’t being spent to keep the peace and pay for damage. They just want to dodge the regular drive bys to go to Safeway. They’re already feeling like a Sunni in Tehran.

A lot has been made about Occupy being “organic” which a $10 word for leaderless uprising is. Occupiers may venerate the “organic” nature of things, but they could use a small leader committee to help keep eyes on the prize, ferret out the anarchists and other malcontents, and do some community outreach to a community that is getting a little battle worn. Have a heart for the cops, plumbers, and taco truck entrepreneurs who just want to make a living in an increasingly difficult place to do it. Turn the violence down a notch.

Focus the organics onto others and give fellow 99 Percenters a break from falling even farther behind.

Cross posted at The Omnipotent Poobah Speaks!

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