At the plaza

Friday, October 28, 2011

By Akasha Orr, ACRJ

Wednesday, October 26, 2011, I sat in the Oscar Grant/Frank Ogawa Plaza amphitheater with almost a thousand of my fellow Occupy Oakland activists. My head lowered and eyes heavy with the weight of tears I tried to choke back, I beheld the power of the human spirit. Just the night before we stood as a united body, marching to take back the plaza following the heinous raid and eviction of the commune that had lived there for two weeks. Arms linked, fists and voices raised, we were tear-gassed and shot with rubber bullets. An experience that left me shaken and angry, yet determined to remain aligned with a movement that continues to spread across the nation and the world community.
I listened to my comrades share their experiences during the General Assembly with pain in my heart and a desire the hug each and every one of them. A young woman spoke of being debilitated by the tear gas, choking for air and pleading to the stone-faced police officers in front of her for help. They ignored her. Her respite came from a few protestors who braved the toxic assault to help her to safety and found an Occupy medic to attend to her. The young woman later addressed the officers stating “You just gassed a 17 year-old asthmatic and refused her medical attention. I’m just a kid. How do you feel about yourselves?” I could only think, “out of the mouths of babes…”

Later, a woman could barely express her thoughts through heavy sobs, saying that she had just been released from jail and returning to the plaza, to all of the love and support that was being sent her way had overwhelmed her in a way she wasn’t prepared for. I felt the sting of chills spreading through my limbs. I too, was unprepared for how emotional reclaiming that space for Occupy Oakland would make me and others around me. Watching folks wrap their arms around this woman who could barely hold herself up through her shaking and appreciation for us, made me feel the gravity of this movement, perhaps more deeply than ever before.

We got news of our comrades at Occupy Wall Street’s decision to send $20,000 to us to help the encampment re-establish itself and create even safer conditions for its inhabitants. We got news that Occupy Portland chanted on our behalf during their march, happening simultaneously. New York, San Francisco, Boston, Seattle, Germany, Egypt, and far too many other cities in the Occupy movement to name, marched, protested and chanted in support of the struggle happening in Oakland. Occupants from Boston went so far as travelling to the plaza to show physical support. San Francisco rallied to donate food and supplies to us. We also got news that San Francisco was under threat of raid during our assembly, the call of which several of attendants answered immediately by leaving the meeting to head to the city to defend their space.

A joyful (and humorous) moment came when a group decided to forcibly take down the fence the city had erected around the perimeter of the grass. Their roughness was met with one of the General Assembly facilitators announcing: “To the group of folks taking down the fence…we support you, but please be gentle. And recycle the fence.” You have to imagine this announcement echoing as we had to use “human mic”, which means simply that the crowd echoes whoever is speaking on the microphone so that the farthest reaches of the group can hear what’s being said. Several other attendees went to assist the group and the fence was gingerly laid to rest on the lawn. The crowd cheered as the group danced around the last reminder of their brutal and callous eviction. The fence wasn’t recycled in the traditional sense. It was repurposed as an art installation, the way only Oaklanders could do!

My favorite moment of the assembly came when a woman took to the mic to publicly thank Mayor Jean Quan for sending the police to tear down the encampment and attack its citizens. The crowd first erupted in booing and mass objection to her comments, but soon changed their tune when she stated that if it had not been for us being tear-gassed, shot with rubber bullets…if it had not been for the news that Marine Scott Olsen had been struck in the head with a projectile and was in critical care…if a woman in a wheel chair had not been pulled out of the attack by self-less protestors, determined not to leave anyone behind, a thousand people would not be huddled together in the plaza planning the first General Strike in Oakland since the historic strike of 1946. She said, “Attack us, go ahead, you are only making us stronger!” We cheered and chanted: “Whose city? Our city! Whose streets? Our Streets! Whose plaza? Our plaza!”

As I look forward to the next moments of this movement, I can’t help but to feel inspired. For the first time in my life, I have stepped out of the sidelines, off of the sidewalk and onto the street, willing to risk my freedom for the freedom we all deserve. A flame has been lit in my soul… One which blazes with the glory of lions, ready to again answer the call to protect that freedom. This moment in history will not be forgotten. We are no longer isolated beings grappling with individual struggles, but a global collective, battling ferociously on one another’s behalf. And isn’t that how it should be?

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