Last night Occupy Oakland held a FTP march. FTP stands for F**k the Police. Mass Media characterized the march as consisting of 75 people meandering through the streets of Oakland. This not only misstates facts, it substantially misses the march's significance and new tactic it revealed.
While the march started in the city center with about 150 people, instead of staying downtown it moved into areas not normally visited by outsiders, parts of West Oakland. Allow me to meander. West Oakland is probably the oldest or near oldest neighborhood of Oakland. It borders the ports. Ports have always been important to Oakland. Before there were bridges, and before Los Angeles became a major city, Oakland was the terminus for nearly all shipping coming to America from the far east and all freight for California. The workers lived here. But West Oakland became impoverished. And the area became largely Afro-American. In the 1960s, it was the birthplace of the Black Panthers. The neighborhood is still largely impoverished and black.
To a keen or even not so keen observer of last night's march, its import and significance of was (a) its peacefulness and (b) the encouragement it received from the residents of West Oakland. Many feared that, seeing what they'd be shown and being told what they'd been told, that this march was sure to lead to a violent confrontation. It did not. But that these fearful perceptions are themselves ill founded was also proved last night. The ability of Occupy Oakland to act peacefully and forcefully was shown. Instead, the peacefulness shows what always been true. In nearly every incident it has been the police who have caused violence, not Occupy. From the initial violent tear down of the encampment, to the violent use of various projectiles in response to ensuing protests, to unlawful kettling and mass arrests, the city appears to have been singularly invested in using brute force as the means of quelling what it facially acknowledges are issues of health and safety and perhaps inconvenience. But if these are its true concerns, it appears such responses are wildly disproportionate and inexplicable. The City never appears to have even undertaken to question why these responses are rational in light of the highly protected rights of speech and assembly involved and they should differ from the usual response to concerns of health, safety and convenience: requests to desist and, if necessary, citations to appear in court. Not arrest. To be frank, the city's response appears to be almost of the reactive lizard brain variety, by people of power who feel they have had their authority challenged but who lack the imagination and/or flexibility to deal with challenging issues and proper responses when confronted with them. The march last night proved the peacefulness of movement and its intent to avoid confrontation of the police at the same time as it insists its message be heard.
More importantly, the march appeared to receive enthusiastic response from the residents of West Oakland as it moved through the neighborhood. People came out of their homes and tenements and shouted the march on, joining in the chants. And this points up a crucial fact: there is much support among Oakland's citizens in protesting perceived unfairness generally, but Oakland police activity specifically. Some have attacked the movement for focusing on police conduct and not wealth disparity. But the two issues are not truly separate. Indeed, they are intertwined. The City's reaction to the expression of legitimate concerns of wealth disparity has been the reaction of the 1%: repression and brutalization and no change. Why has this concern met with such disproportionate force? The way the City and OPD have responded reflects in a very physical and plain fashion the way our country has reacted to the concerns of the 99%--ignoring them and displaying a rather complete inability to deal with the issue rationally. In emphasizing the OPD's reaction to the protest, Occupy Oakland is seeking to compel the City and Country to respond to a broad category of issues and concerns involving wealth disparity in a new and more effective manner. And to respect the right to have them heard at all, since we have very limited alternative meaningful means, and in a new and bold fashion. Moreover, marching into the areas of the most harmed not only potentially gets their residents interested and involved, it protects the movement. There seems to be a very small chance that the police will use excessive force in the open and invite already angry, sympathetic residents out into the street in this neighborhood. They will be equally unlikely to kettle occupy protestors for mass arrest in West Oakland. Moving into the areas of the already dispossessed and abused gains supporters and moves the movement forward.
The Occupy movement says we are in a new era, and need new, different and better responses to legitimate concerns long ignored, suppressed and unattended to. As in all societies at all times, a sustainable peace can only arise from meaningful action in response to the expression of legitimate concerns.