OAKLAND (CBS SF) — Since it began last week, “Occupy Oakland” has grown into a bustling miniature city in the shadow of Oakland’s City Hall, equipped to provide medical aid, food, and shelter to hundreds passing through every day.
The Oakland encampment—inspired by New York’s “Occupy Wall Street” protests—began with a large rally in Frank Ogawa Plaza on Oct. 11 as protesters angry about economic troubles, deadlocked politics and lists of other complaints pitched tents and prepared for a long stay.
The nature of the “Occupy” protests, which have quickly spread to dozens of cities throughout the world, is to create an ongoing presence in the seats of government and economic power, both as a demonstration of those affected and as an alternative to those institutions.
A banner over the entrance to the demonstration welcomes visitors to “Oakland Commune; Oscar Grant Plaza,” the occupiers’ new name for Frank Ogawa Plaza, named for Oscar Grant III, who was shot and killed by a BART police officer in 2009.
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Just beyond, a series of tarps, tents, shelves and tables are arranged into a large kitchen area, where protesters estimate that thousands of meals are served every day to anyone who passes through the encampment.
A supply tent takes donations from anyone who drops them off, provides tents as available to anyone who wants to join the encampment, and hands out dozens of blankets every day, according to protesters.
Beyond that, small tents and canopies provide protesters with a library, run by the Raheim Brown Free School, an arts and crafts center, legal information, media outreach and general information.
A makeshift garden is centrally located, created with buckets of soil with small plants just starting to spread their leaves. Near the library, a bicycle sits propped on two supports, and protesters take turns generating power by pedaling.
Beyond the bustle of the central area, paths defined by wooden pallets and planks wind through dozens of tents. In the northern corner, one canopy has been designated the children’s village, just beyond several medical tents.
Another canopy overlooking City Hall has been designated the “Kehilla Community Synagogue,” and at lunchtime Wednesday, as people lined up for meals, the Buddhist Peace Fellowship held a meditation circle just outside of the main occupation area.
“The occupiers should not be trying to build a constituency; they should be reorganizing social relations. Oakland seems to get this,” read the top of The Oscar Grant Plaza Gazette, the short newsletter distributed on the information table at Occupy Oakland.
But by camping out, demonstrators open themselves to the possibility that police may forcibly evict them, as protesters at “Occupy SF” across the Bay have discovered. On several occasions, San Francisco police have removed tents and other equipment from the sidewalk where Occupy SF is held in the middle of the night.
The city of Oakland so far has not attempted to remove the encampment, but has instead communicated expectations with demonstrators camping in the plaza. The city has issued a series of letters to demonstrators asking them to remove certain structures, to only camp on the grass sections of the plaza, and to install fire extinguishers near the cooking tent, among other things.
Subsequent letters have praised the Occupy Oakland protesters for complying with the city’s requests, addressed ongoing concerns, and have alerted demonstrators to upcoming events also scheduled in Frank Ogawa Plaza, including a wedding scheduled for Friday afternoon.
The wedding, however, has embraced the protests. The bride and groom Mateus Chavez, the grandnephew of labor leader Cesar Chavez, and Latrina Rhinehart, an Oakland elementary school teacher, said in a statement that they consider their wedding in solidarity with the Occupy Oakland protests.
Some rules the protesters have put in place on their own, in an ongoing effort to better organize the sometimes-chaotic encampment. Quiet hours, from midnight until 9 a.m., are posted throughout the area. Homemade signs warn occupiers to stay out of a central tree area fenced off from the rest of the plaza.
Protesters say they have installed fire extinguishers and shelves in the cooking area, to address potential rat infestations, but are still in need of more shelves to complete the improvements.
“We’re trying to keep it clean; we have to live here,” said Brian Glasscock, who has been staying in the encampment since it began.
“So far they’ve complied with most of our requests,” Oakland Mayor Jean Quan told reporters Wednesday. “It takes about 48 hours to get through their democratic process.”
Quan said she toured the camp on Tuesday, and said she did not find the encampment threatening, but did not say how long protesters would be able to continue camping there.
“We’re making the rules day to day,” Quan said. “It’s clear people have a right to protest, they don’t have a right to have permanent camping facilities.”
Quan said city spokeswoman Karen Boyd has been more involved in communicating with the protesters. Boyd was more critical of the potential for health and safety problems.
“We have an ongoing rat problem, we’re concerned it’s going to be exacerbated,” Boyd said. “We do continue to be concerned about public safety issues.”
As the protest has grown, it has also spread. Occupy Oakland quickly grew beyond the confines of its inception at Frank Ogawa Plaza, and for the last four days occupiers have taken a plot in Snow Park, overlooking the west side of Lake Merritt.
Not content to simply occupy, this offshoot has set out to help maintain the surrounding park, even spending $250 on manual lawnmowers to maintain the lawn, and collecting leaves and dried grass.
Protesters there said that police arrived to evict them around 4:30 a.m. Thursday, after alerting them that they would not be allowed to stay after the park closes at 10 p.m. The protesters said the police left without incident, but are worried they may return.
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