"I first noticed the constant whine of helicopters at about 4 pm today. Checking the news I learned that the Occupy Oakland camp in downtown Oakland had been cleared by police in the middle of the night, and a series of afternoon protests had been called in the nearby area. With plans in place to go downtown later that night, I searched the internet with a mix of curiosity and anxiety for news of what was happening. A flurry of twitter messages at the www.occupyoakland.org site detailed a few non-violent marches snaking throughout the downtown area, all headed for the disputed encampment that had become known in recent weeks as "Oscar Grant Park". An Oakland teacher's brigade led the march (see photo.) As phrases like "unlawful assembly" "tear gas" and "bring gas masks" began popping up in OWS feeds, I knew I had to head downtown - camera in hand - to see for myself. (more photos after the jump)
Before heading out, I followed a link on the www.occupyoakland.org site that encouraged me to send an email to the office of mayor Jean Quan. In this missive I identified myself as a business owner, renter, and taxpayer in Oakland, as well as someone who supports the Occupy movement, and now regrets voting for our popular first-term mayor. I also pointed out that concerns about sanitation at the Occupy camp could have been efficiently and affordably dealt by allotting a few city resources, rather than calling out the costly full-scale police assault we are currently witnessing. Protests can also be directed to the OPD and Oakland City council members by phone or email through easily accessed municipal websites. Now would be a very good time to make your feelings known, via the internet or by showing up in Oakland to add your voice and support.Walking by foot down a mostly deserted Broadway through downtown, there were no broken windows, no smashed cars, not even a single broken bottle. Wisps of smoke from a smoldering garbage can fire were the only evidence of anything close to a "riot", at least until I arrived at 14th and Broadway to see the line of police and sheriffs in full riot gear, lined up behind barricades to prevent the re-taking of Oscar Grant Park.Helicopters buzzed overhead, police announcements warned of arrest and chemical agents, and a mostly young and racially diverse crowd milled about nervously, interwoven with older movement veterans and a few street crazies. Most of the media had left by now, some say under police orders. If you were watching the Channel 7 news feed (as I was earlier) you couldn't help but notice that news helicopters diverted their "eye in the sky" just before the police fired their first tear gas volleys. A few video camera operators remained, wearing very modern gasmasks that looked even nicer than what the police wore (see photo.)The phrase being used throughout the mainstream media is "clashes between protesters and police". And while this may make for splashy headlines, it was far from the truth. What kind of clash can there be between overwhelmingly peaceful and idealistic protesters vs. police in riot gear, armed with shields, tear gas, concussion grenades, rubber bullets, and helicopters circling directly overhead? I would describe the mood as a nervous faceoff between officers who know they are in the 99%, and kids with t-shirts and bandanas over their mouths getting a sobering taste of the future (see photo.) That taste, by the way, is tear gas, and it sticks in your throat for a long time.Feel free to circulate this to your social media circles, post the attached photos freely, and tell your real friends too. Sadly, you just can't get the real story from the corporate media anymore. And if you have been wanting to get involved, we really need your help in Oakland now. Bring a drum, a sign, food and water for a few people, dress up, get creative and OCCUPY!"