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Occupy Oakland (OO): Mayor Quan Says Not Again

Oakland Mayor Jean Quan (photo: dougsmi/flickr)

On Thursday, April 19, I attended a meeting sponsored by the Oakland Police Department (OPD) with our new police chief, Howard Jordan, leading the meeting and Mayor Jean Quan attending. The agenda was all about crime and the strategies and resources the OPD is using to address it. I went to the meeting with a question for Mayor Quan, to ask what her plans were for OO this year if OO sets up another encampment. I didn’t get to ask my question during the meeting but was able to have a 5-minute discussion with her afterwards.

Mayor Quan made it clear to me that she will not allow OO to set up again. She cited a number of reasons why things went south last year and she made it very clear that under no circumstances would she allow an overnight encampment this year.

I began the conversation trying to leverage off a couple of things that she had brought up during her part of the meeting, i.e., limited resources (mostly money) and patterns (of crime over time). I brought up how over time, the last 10 years certainly, there have been fewer resources largely through actions at the federal and state level. I’m sure I threw in something about economic inequality and the mantra of austerity and how this was a pattern that is now clearly evident.

She placed the economic policy blame at the federal level on the Republicans, “not Barack”. At the state level, she placed the “mess there” on former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. I said I thought both parties were complicit at the national level (to which she shook her head no) and did not disagree with her regarding the state level. In any event, I could see this was not a good segue into Occupy, so I just asked the question:

“Given that last year, the Occupy movement was the only force to shift the national conversation from austerity to economic inequality, what are your plans for OO this year, should they set up again.”

She said that OO had too many anarchists there who had caused property damage and great economic loss to the City, especially Chinatown (which is just a few blocks south of where the encampment had been). She said Chinatown’s business had been down 40% from the year before. She said that the City had lost one major business (“a renter”, I believe she put it) and she was just able to save another large company (Clorox) from leaving. She said that OO had been able to effect the national conversation only during a period of 10 days. She cited the General Assembly’s failure to agree on non-violence as a significant position. She cited the leaderless nature of OO as being a big problem, and referring to NYC’s Occupy, indicated she was somewhat envious of Mayor Bloomberg, who had been able to have some sort of dialog. She pointed out that a wealthy Oaklander had offered to house the entire OO but had been turned down. She also brought up there was significant drug dealing (and use) going on, as well as a rape and a murder. When I said that the murder was outside of the encampment, she was vigorous in saying that it was because of the drug dealing. And she also brought up the mentally ill and homeless who “were brought” to the encampment. Finally, she related how her daughter had been initially part of (or maybe supportive of, I’m not sure) of OO at first, but left because of the anarchists’ actions. And she added that many people had left the encampment after the initial few weeks because of the dangers and anarchy.

I asked if she was willing to reconsider her position if OO were to achieve a consensus on non-violent protest and perhaps accommodate some other concerns of hers. She made it clear the answer was no. She also made it clear that it would be fine to protest, but not as an encampment – “up to 9pm every day if they want”.

One area where she totally lost me was on groups currently organizing and taking actions, e.g., helping those being foreclosed on. She mentioned names and places that were unfamiliar to me. I thought she was saying that some OO people had moved on to these efforts, but in retrospect, I think she was referring to groups that existed before. She did, after all, quote someone twice who had told her “I was here before Occupy and I’ll be here after”.

During the course of our conversation, she became more spirited and heated, this obviously being a sore point for her, and she acknowledged to me that she was indeed somewhat inflamed by this topic/conversation. I told her I suspected beforehand that might be the case. On a side note, a person at the entrance to the building had a recall-the-mayor petition for people to sign.

I’m trying my best to recall what she said. When I got to the meeting I thought “damn, I should have brought my recorder”. As I type, I can feel many of the details dripping out of my brain.

I know most here (myself included) will have opinions quite the opposite of what Mayor Quan expressed. But my two takeaways from this discussion are 1) there is no chance of another Occupy Oakland this year, like last year’s, and 2) binding consensual non-violence has got to be the way to go (here and elsewhere) for any near-term efforts.

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