I knew going into the Occupy Oakland May Day Strike that it could be a rough day. I kept trying to talk myself out of going, and as it was, I couldn't get myself to show up until 11:30 AM. I had a feeling of dread; I was pretty sure the Oakland Police would be ready to come down hard on the protestors. Sadly, I was right.
Several actions had started earlier in the morning around 9AM. I found a march wandering near Lake Merritt by driving to where I saw a helicopter hovering, and finding riot police milling about in the area. When I found the march, it was tense. The usual friendly mood of Occupy actions wasn't to be found. Some people didn't want to speak, and most seemed on edge. I'm not blaming them, riot police were walking ahead and alongside at times, an oppressive feeling was in the air.
As the march would get to various banks, the riot police would race ahead blocking the banks off from the protestors. The Occupiers would yell at them, then move on. Some people I spoke to felt the march was unfocused, though I'm not sure if that's so much the case as it's focus kept being deterred by the police.
At one point riot police came charging down the sidewalk where I was, yelling at me to move out of the way, just as they were pushing into me on both sides. I was behind the crowd, and these riot police simply ran ahead and did nothing in particular, it was just a typical display of force they do at these events.
Sometime after noon, people were converging at Oscar Grant/Frank Ogawa Plaza at the city center. The plaza is where the Occupy Oakland encampment had been, and is still the central meeting place for most actions. Large amounts of riot police were there, and the tension was growing rapidly. I stood far behind, not wanting to get in the middle of anything. I couldn't really see how many protestors were present, possibly between 500-1,000.
I could see skirmishes happening, and eventually I saw people who had been arrested led down the street to where I was. Then, several police chased down a man, threw him on the ground not too far from where I stood. They started to severely beat and restrain him. A crowd of photographers and bystanders gathered around to witness and photograph. I tried to get closer, but just as I did a tear gas canister fell right near where I was.
So there it was, my second time getting teargassed. The picture above was taken right before, as you can see we're all behind the general crowd. I can't help but think it was directed at the media to keep them from getting pictures of the beating. I know that sounds paranoid, and this is how the tactics of the OPD work. They have successfully radicalized many of us who have been at Occupy events, and made us suspicious to the point of sounding a little crazy. But being there, being present and witnessing their aggression and violence, has greatly changed my world view. And not for the better.
Having had enough of that for awhile, I decided to go home and shower. On the way home I stopped by a one day nurses' strike at Summit hospital up the street. The peacefulness of the event was good to be around after what I'd just been through, and I can always get behind any action to support nurses. These nurses were protesting sweeping reductions in patient care and nurses' standards and workplace conditions.
Last I heard, Sutter had decided to lock the picketing nurses out for 5 days as punishment for the strike. I hope they back down from that, and I hope they listen to the nurses. Having been in another hospital a year ago, I can't express how much the nursing staff did to help me be here today. We all know they work hard and don't get the pay or conditions they deserve. I was glad I stopped by.
After showering, I drove down to the Port Of Oakland. The Longshoreman's Union had moved a meeting originally scheduled for May 17 to May 1, which resulted in closing the port. It was eerily quiet.
I went back to the Plaza, and found police standing off with protestors. The police declared it an unlawful assembly. The Alameda Sheriffs department drove out a scary looking tank that was most probably for show. Eventually the majority of the crowd dispersed, and so did many of the riot police.
I learned that at least one more round of tear gas had been fired while I was gone.
I realized the police were moving to where another event was happening. An immigrant's rights/Dignity and Resistance march had left the Fruitvale Bart station. It included some Occupy groups, and went to a park where many Occupiers met up with them. I found at least 16 riot police vans around the park.
The march had been very peaceful and well organized. I learned this was the fifth year this march has taken place on May Day. There were at least two to three thousand on the march. Once they met up with the Occupiers, I think that number grew closer to four thousand.
At the park, at 5 PM, I sat down on the grass, and thought about the day so far. I realized I'd had enough. Though I love Occupy, I wasn't feeling the connection I usually do at Occupy events. I have no idea if that was my mood, the crowds mood, or most probably the effects of breathing in a bunch of tear gas. I felt spacey and weak. Tear gas is a chemical agent, and it is harmful. Generally not deadly, but not healthy either.
The world isn't right. That's why I keep going to these events. Something has to happen to change things. I wish I had something smart and uplifting to say to wrap this up, but it's just not in me right now. After what I saw and experienced, the world is even less right then before. I know hope will come back to me. But for now, I just want to curl up on the couch under a blanket and hide.
And wake up to a better world. A safer world. A more equitable world. A world we all deserve and need, a world of safe spaces and dignity, of justice and peace, a world where none of us need to go through this, a world where things are good and right.
Not in Oakland, not on May Day. Not like this.
all content by me. no copyright intended. in spite of my kind of low mood, i'm glad to see people out getting involved, caring enough to show up and stand up for what they believe in. i thank them all.