The first thing the crowd noticed at the Thursday night Occupy Oakland City Council meeting was the table piled with signs, shields, and protective gear that police had taken from demonstrators during Wednesday’s Occupy Oakland-led strike. “They’re bringing in signs and stuff. Really? Oh my God,” said Ishua Bnjoube, an unemployed Occupy Oakland demonstrator who was leaning against the back wall of the Council Chamber. “This is going to be really interesting.”
The meeting, which began a little after 5:30 pm and continued until 11 pm, was held to discuss recent events pertaining to Occupy Oakland, notably the vandalism and property damage that occurred late Wednesday night, when protesters clashed in the street with police officers. Almost 150 people signed up to speak before the council.
All eight city council members were present at the meeting, although Councilwoman Patricia Kernighan (District 2) and Mayor Jean Quan arrived roughly an hour late. By the time the meeting began, a couple hundred people had packed into the council chambers. The extra screening rooms on the first floor of City Hall were also used to accommodate the crowd.
During the first speaker session of the council meeting, a majority of speakers decried the mayor’s, city council’s, and police department’s treatment of the Occupy Oakland camp and its supporters since the group’s initial eviction from Frank Ogawa Plaza in late October.
“I am exercising my First Amendment rights, where no place does it say anything about time, place, or manner,” said speaker Mindy Stone, an unemployed homeless woman who said she had planned to join the Occupy Wall Street movement in early October before the Oakland tent city was set up. Stone said she was one of the campers at Snow Park who was evicted, arrested, and taken to Santa Rita Jail last week. “There is abuse that our government is not addressing because you all don’t seem to be up to the task of doing it,” she said to the council.
Molly Bolt, 30, an arborist and mother of two, was especially upset about the money the city has spent on policing Occupy-related events—she referred to the $1 million price tag cited last week in an open letter circulated by the Oakland Police Officers Association. “I am appalled that the city has even considered using our meager tax dollars to harm poor and working-class people,” she said, prompting cheering and applause from the audience. “A million dollars could have moved every single person in that occupation into a studio apartment.”
“Why does Oakland have to be the poster child for the rest of the world?” said speaker Jose Duenas, president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Alameda County, lamenting what he considers the harsh treatment that Occupy protesters have received from the police and city council. “Let that be L.A., let that be New York.”
Audience members were vocal throughout the night, cheering and clapping loudly for speakers who supported Occupy Oakland, and hissing, booing, or mocking those, such as Joseph Haraburda, president of the Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, who advocated taking down the Occupiers’ camp, which he said was hurting local business.
“Hundreds of businesses over the last few days have basically said, ‘The situation we are finding ourselves in is absolutely unacceptable,’” Haraburda said. “We want Occupy Oakland Park closed.”
Since the encampment started, he said, the city has lost two separate business deals that would have leased out a total of 50,000 square feet of commercial office space downtown and another with a company with 100 employees that also decided not to locate its business in Oakland. He cited future strikes, property damage, and the unsightly camp as some of the concerns of these businesses. Haraburda also told the council that several downtown businesses had told him that they were considering not renewing their leases “unless something is done, and done immediately.”
At various points throughout the meeting, Council President Larry Reid (District 7) had to reprimand the audience for heckling and shouting down speakers. Audience members heckled interim Police Chief Howard Jordan, who discussed the police reaction to the Occupy events in the last week, some shouting “liar!” and calling for him to resign.
The crowd also grew loud during City Administrator Deanna Santana’s slideshow presentation on the Occupy campsite, which began October 10 and, despite the tent city’s dismantling last week, had grown to include over 100 tents by Thursday night.
At least 20 police officers were also present, and on two occasions were asked by council president Reid to escort two demonstrators out of the chambers because they refused to leave the podium after their allotted time was up. “If you don’t respect us,” he told both hecklers and those who refused to leave the podium, “I will have these officers escort you out. I want to be respectful of you, but I want you to be respectful of me.”
Earlier this week, Councilwoman Nancy Nadel’s (District 3) had proposed a resolution to sanction the Occupiers’ camp and provide city support, but only a few speakers used their time at the podium to comment on it. Pamela Drake, 65, a laid- off adult education teacher, supported Nadel’s resolution and proposed setting up a month-by-month permit rental of the plaza. “We have to embrace what the Occupiers are trying to say and we have to work with them,” she said. “Let’s work it out between us how conditions are working out for everybody so we can stay and continue to move this movement forward. It’s so important.”
But most speakers called for other changes, such as more jobs and affordable housing for Oakland residents, or discussed their unhappiness with how the city has been handling the Occupy strikes and treating the demonstrators.
“If I say anything, let it be this: You cannot beat us into submission,” said Bolt, who held her eight-month old child in her arms as she spoke at the podium. “You are just hammering on the loose bricks of an old dam. When the flood comes, I hope that you will have found yourself some paddles or gotten out of the bay.”
Councilwoman Desley Brooks (District 6) urged cooperation and better communication between demonstrators and city councilmembers, and told demonstrators to remember that the success of the Occupy protest did not rely on the encampment itself. “The movement doesn’t die because you aren’t in a camp outside of City Hall,” she told the audience. “Yesterday demonstrated that. There were thousands and thousands of people …and all those people are not camped out there in front of City Hall.”
The council did not vote on Nadel’s resolution Thursday night because, said Nadel, “We don’t have the votes tonight to make this a resolution.” In the meantime, she urged demonstrators to respect one another and recognize that their actions have an effect on the entire city, most notably local businesses, which the city is already struggling to retain. “I am acknowledging that you are fighting the good fight in the big picture, but what I’m asking you to realize is that there is serious collateral damage to the city in the process,” Nadel said. “I know that’s not your intention, but it’s real and it’s what a whole lot of people are upset about.”
By the end of the council meeting, no resolution was made and a decision was postponed until a later date. As the crowd dispersed, some heading to their cars, others to their tents in Frank Ogawa Plaza, some grumbling could be heard amongst those who felt that nothing was decided.