Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Photograph: Darryl Bush/AP
We watched with horror yesterday as the Occupy Oakland encampment was destroyed and the residents evicted with flash grenades, tear gas and batons. We watched as Occupiers and allies from all over the world responded with outrage and organized to return last evening, ending in a violent confrontation with the police.

One of the most inspiring parts of the Occupy movement is how it engages folks across age, race and class. At Occupy Oakland, there were folks with walkers and wheelchairs, parents with small children, elders and youth, unemployed people and professionals, and people with nowhere else to go. There were Buddhists meditating, artists silk-screening, and homeless people and working folks together envisioning and creating something new.

There has been lots of discussion about race and Occupy. Like all of society there are visible and invisible barriers for people of color to participate, and we are present and working to make our way in. We know that the issues that Occupy is naming are crucial to the survival of our communities, and that it's essential that our voices be heard.

We know that protest is an essential tool for those of us with less power to make ourselves heard by those who have more. We gather, we chant, we march, we sing. This is the way we make sure we are heard by those who can grant us what we need--be it funding for schools, marriage equality, affordable housing, or the end of apartheid. They know we are together, we are determined, and we are strong.

When protests become violent (and this violence has been instigated by the police) just about all of the folks we work with and for, the people that we are, have to leave.

People with disabilities, those who have been incarcerated or have records, parents, children, folks with PTSD, undocumented people, queer and trans folks, returning veterans, and low-wage workers often cannot risk injury or arrest. Cannot afford to find themselves in jail for several days without bail. Cannot breath the tear gas or endure the violence without it extracting an enormous toll. And as is clear from the photo above, featuring an elder in a wheelchair in a tear gas cloud, often people do show up, despite the barriers and the risks.

When the state pulls out the big guns-the tear gas, the bean bags, the flash grenades--they also turn many of us away at the door. This is the impact of state-sanctioned violence: it shuts down our ability to participate, and makes us choose between our rights. It once again tilts the scale toward the 1%, who do not fear police raids on their homes, or tear gas on their way to City Hall.

This is not a critique of those who can risk arrest, or who are able to function in the violent situation the police are creating. We have the utmost respect for the countless Occupiers giving blood, sweat, tears, and time to this movement. You have our deepest appreciations for holding the line.

Today, we are calling attention to the folks that cannot participate in those confrontations, or who chose not to in order to protect themselves or their families from the risk of injury, arrest, deportation, or other violence.

And we join with our allies all over Oakland, the US and the world who are calling on our Mayor Jean Quan to restore peace at Frank Ogawa/Oscar Grant Plaza, to call off the police, and let the process of democracy continue.

Oakland is built on the breath of protest movements. Our proudest heritage comes from the Panthers, the Porters, and the day-to-day struggle that has built Oakland into a diverse and vibrant city. Let's do that heritage proud, and give the plaza back to the people. While the encampment was not a utopia, people continue to work to make it a safe place for all, across race, class, age, ability, gender and sexuality.

We know Mayor Quan may have ordered the eviction in response to accusations that she is soft on crime because she has opposed gang injunctions and supported prevention over policing. Mayor Quan, we know these are often unpopular positions--we hold them too. We know it can be hard to defend yourself against the people who believe that more violence will somehow make our city more peaceful. And we can imagine that upon hearing about the recall effort against you, you may have felt afraid for your job and your legacy.

But we also know that you stand with us in believing that in the First Amendment, the right to protest, and that violence is not the answer.

Join us in calling on Mayor Quan to return Frank Ogawa/Oscar Grant Plaza to the people, and letting this government continue--by, for and with the people.

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