By Matthai Kuruvila
October 23, 2011
Hundreds of activists with the Occupy Wall Street movement marched Saturday from Oakland City Hall, snaking their way through downtown and around Lake Merritt while they flouted an eviction order.
They closed thoroughfares and freeway ramps, invaded one bank and temporarily shut down another as they spread their message against economic inequality. But after three hours, they returned to City Hall, where they cooked food over open flames, danced and slid back into their tents.
“We’re not leaving,” said a 30-year-old bartender who identified himself only as Jabar. He has been at the camp almost every day and vowed, “We are not going to just walk away.”
Of course, leaving is exactly what city officials had hoped.
‘Democracy in action’
On Friday, the city had handed out legal notices stating that the encampment was illegal and that the activists would be subject to “immediate arrest” if they did not leave and remove their belongings. The city set no deadline, something it chose not to clarify Saturday.
“We’re not going to talk about specifics about what we may or we may not be doing going forward,” said Arturo Sanchez, assistant to the city administrator, who has been overseeing the issue. “We’re asking them to comply.”
The weight of the threats left campers wary as they watched closely for police. The group has set up a text message alert system to bring supporters to City Hall if police arrive. Those who talked to the media said they would resist nonviolently.
“If they show up, I’m going to stand up with the people – nonviolently,” said Allen Adams, 37, who grew up in North Oakland and said he’s been living in a tent for a year. But, he said, “I don’t think the city has the resources to move people and shut this camp down.”
A masked camper said some people may respond in other ways, but declined to elaborate.
“The people here are the voice of Oakland,” said the man, a 24-year-old, self-described anarchist who declined to give his name. “This is democracy in action.”
On Saturday, the city – and the Police Department, in particular – helped demonstrators. During the march, police stayed away from activists and cleared their path blocks in advance. The protesters walked down 14th Street, Lakeshore Avenue and Grand Avenue.
As a result, there appeared to be few confrontations of any sort between police, motorists, bystanders or marchers. Many passers-by honked horns, waved or cheered activists on. Others had mixed views.
Preston Pleasants said he supports the message but called the cooking and camping at Frank Ogawa Plaza “a carnival atmosphere” that undermined the seriousness of the cause.
“Conduct it in a way that’s going to get noticed – business hours,” said Pleasants, 62, an Oakland resident. Between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., he said, “who’s paying attention?”
Marching into bank
One exception to the nonconfrontational day occurred at two banks on Lakeshore, where the tension between peaceful and disruptive protest was on display. The Wells Fargo branch closed its doors, but the doors to the Chase bank stayed open.
Perhaps 75 marchers, including many anarchists with bandanas over their faces, crammed into the branch office as they chanted, “Banks got bailed out; we got sold out.”
Protesters threw hundreds of bank deposit slips up in the air, leaving them strewn all over the floor. As most left, Nick Jantz, one of the protesters, shouted, “Some of you are going to stay and help clean this up.”
Few did. But the 6-foot-8-inch Jantz got on his hands and knees and began picking up the deposit slips and cleaning up the mess. Shell-shocked bank workers stood by as police officers streamed in.
“These workers aren’t the people we’re mad at,” said Jantz, 23, who is from Modesto and said he’s homeless. “I’m disappointed and upset with the 1 percent, the people running the corporations – not the people working for them.”