Occupy/Liberate Oakland: Firsthand Experience

Occupy/Liberate Oakland

Pundits and journalists are claiming confusion on  what the Occupy/Liberate movement is all about. It’s actually rather straightforward. Since I’ve been participating in some of the protests and assemblies in Oakland where I live, I’d like to share my view of the movement in this city of nearly 400,000 people:

1. The movement is driven by younger people who are fed up with business as usual:

a. Large corporations are making greater profits than ever before, but the public is the worst off since the Great Depression. The gap between the rich and the middle and working classes is wider than ever before.

b. Democracy isn’t working in the U.S. Large corporations and rich people have far too much influence on candidates BEFORE and AFTER elections are held.

c. Working people are being crushed by the economic crisis, foreclosures, skyrocketing costs of health care and prevalence of corporate greed.

d. Fairness and justice are unattainable until we make transformational change.

2. Although no platform has yet been developed, some of what we, the people, want is clear:

a. The rich should pay their fair share of the cost of running society. The money is there.

b. It’s unacceptable to continue to close and reduce fundamental programs that benefit the majority, such as education and health care.

c. The burden of debt cannot continue to grow on the backs of the average person. Regular folk are bent all the way over from the weight of it.

d. Students are outraged at the burden of their student loans, especially when good jobs are diminishing.

e. A general strike will take place on November 2, 2011, to demonstrate that business as usual must not continue while people’s suffering is intensifying. One of the targets is the Port of Oakland. Why? Because it’s the fifth largest containerized port in the country, trades some $30 billion worth of goods, has a huge negative impact on residents’ health in West Oakland, and often meets in closed-door sessions even though it’s a public agency.

3. The movement is peaceful.

a. The movement polices itself. Although right-wing columnist Deborah Saunders today called self-policing vigilantism on Forum, Michael Krasny’s morning radio show, it has in fact prevented individuals and potential provocateurs from using violence inside marches and protests. Self-policing has also managed out-of-control individuals.

b. The violence that has happened to date has occurred solely at the hands of the police and security forces. Yet police brutality is fully preventable.

c. Under the First Amendment to the U.S. Bill of Rights, passed in 1791, “the right of the people peaceably to assemble,” is guaranteed. It does not say, “from 7 am to 10 p.m.” The idea that encampments justify removal or police aggression is bogus. The notion that people sleeping in tents is a major health hazard is merely justification for unnecessary police action.

4. The movement is profoundly democratic.

a. In Oakland, mainly younger people are organizing it and calling assemblies and meetings. Older people are involved as well, but are playing more of a support role.

b. The assemblies and meetings are fully inclusive of anyone who wants to participate.

Occcupy Oakland assembly

c. The movement is leaderless. This is a deliberate strategy to permit a flatter and much more democratic structure of participation. Since public leaders at all levels have failed us, it’s important to organizers and the movement not to put too much trust in a few individuals at the top. Because this form of democracy takes a lot of time to get people’s input and make decisions collectively, it is one of the factors that makes the movement appear disorganized.

d. Many connected issues are being put forward and defended by participants, such as the human and civil rights of immigrants; opposition to shutting down local schools, the inhumanity and financial stupidity of the volume of foreclosures, to name a few.

e. The movement is transparent. All meetings and decisions are open.

My suggestion: If you are in a city where there is an occupy/liberate movement, (there are currently at least 462), visit the assembly and talk to people yourself. Do not let the media define for you what is happening.


  1. Cindy Warner says:

    Hello Leanne,

    Thank you so much for this. I can’t say that anything you have posted is anything other than what I thought. Let me also say that while I am part of the 1 percent, there is not a day that goes by that I do not question how in the world middle America survives in the midst of the escalating costs and declining opportunities. I think this movement answered all of my questions….they don’t. As I ponder how will afford to retire when costs are escalating so fast, the horror for these people must be palpable. I am extremely blessed but also extremely emphatic regarding the horror these people must be feeling…if I have an ounce of fear, they must have pounds.

    My biggest question is where is this all going? Do they really think this will solve anythin and if so how? Somehow I think that massive economic boycotts solve more than people freezing outside in tents….but I may be wrong. I somehow think that a month of no one buying gas from Exxon may send a message….in fact it would kick their rears. Additionally, everyone taking their money out of Bank of America and putting it into a credit union would kick their rears. That i would participate in today…..and I think many other would as well.

    School me lady….but how can this go from pissed off to kicking the rears of the monsters who are raping America?

    God love you as always for you candor and activism. You are my hero.


    • Cindy,
      I so appreciate your comments. In answer to your question where is it going I would say that what seems different is that a movement is growing as opposed to a single rally or action. It can go many directions, but there seems to be a determination and mutual trust in each other that I haven’t seen or felt in a very long time. I think ideas like yours are ones that will develop out of this movement: moving our money from the corporate banks to the community banks is a fantastic idea. I know the idea of forming a third political party is now being talked about. To me, that is not necessarily the way, but a deeper conversation is happening about the real problems. The uniting of different social change movements is more possible now than ever before. For example, Wed. nite the general assembly voted to approve a resolution, which invites indigenous peoples to give wisdom and guidance to this movement “so as to help restore freedom and democracy in this country, to initiate a new era of peace and cooperation that will work for everyone, including the Earth and the original inhabitants of this land. Why is this so important? Because different groups have all been working on important things, but in separate causes. We can only move into concrete actions with a united platform when all groups, all advocates are included in the decision-making.
      With deep respect and love,

  2. Donna Brenneis says:

    Fantastic, Leanne. Could not have said it better myself. I completely agree. Am posting this on my facebook, but I am also sending it to Curt Day back in Eastern PA as he goes to New York and D.C., I believe. I had one man from Brazil, originally from South Africa, thank me for giving a face to the Occupiers in the states. I have created one album only called “Occupy” on facebook. It has a few pictures in it — not over 50, I believe. Curt Day was my inspiration. I was over in the city on 10/28 in the early a.m. and posted some photos from Justin Herman Plaza. Also, I am going to send you something from the California Nurses Association (CNA) that I don’t believe has hit the mainstream press yet. Inasmuch as Just Cause has made the link of foreclosure as a health care issue, the nurses, once again, are right on point. I am totally supportive of the Occupiers. I am assuming you have heard Robert Reich speak. I picked up his talk to the people on the streets from Susan Katz. If you have not heard it, the video is on my profile page. Susan is doing a lot too from what I can see as is Ella Baker Center. Many thanks.

  3. Go oakland!

  4. Becky Jacofsky says:

    I wake up every morning praying for the safety,prosperity,and peace for all of us. Since I was very young I knew there was enough MONEY and RESOURCES on this PLANET for all of us to share equally. Distribution of wealth would not make the RICH poor it would just make LIFE a lot less painfull for the 99%. How many times can AMERICA spin the bottle with SHELL GAMES such as the dot.com garbage of the late 90″s,the turn of the century MORTGAGE/BOND hedge fund scandal. OBAMA promised change to the YOUNG, now the YOUNG have the opportunity to effect CHANGE on their own, which is the “GOD GIVEN NATURAL WAY” it should be. My generation had the opportunity and got wrapped up in survival- more game playing. Let’s try not to loose our way again of the backs of these brave YOUNG PEOPLE…VIVA la revolution…..

  5. Kate Watters says:

    Hi Leanne,
    Thanks for these really interesting comments. I think that whenever there is a “leaderless” movement, people don’t know what to do because they don’t know how to “define” it. And, from what you are describing, the movement is defining itself just by being. Thanks for sharing your ideas and observations! Love, Kate

  6. Jennifer Astone says:

    Thanks for your articulate thoughtful piece on Occupy Oakland and the whole movement. I am inspired by this youth movement.

    I hope the demonstrations can make a difference because we – I mean the big inclusive 99% we – need change in this country – and frankly the formal political process has shown how inadequate it is to the task.

    Continue to write and translate this big messy movement to the rest of us in suburbia and rural American a bit too far from the cities to be there but who occupy nonetheless.

    Best, Jen

  7. Patricia Brown says:

    Hi Le–thanks for your thoughtful observations. Tomorrow we are going to “teach in” to some of our adult immigrant students who want to know what this is all about. I’d like to use your observations and thoughts as a starting point for discussion with my students. Thank you.

    I’ll be in Oakland with my union tomorrow. Yeah–something is happening.

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