Saturday, October 29, 2011

Operation Richard J. or 68 Convention Take Two

All hell broke loose in Oakland, CA this Tuesday as police attempted to prevent Occupy Oakland protesters from reentering Ogawa Plaza.  The Mayor of Oakland, Jean Quan, had earlier issued an order to police to remove the protesters due to the "unsanitary conditions" that existed in the Plaza.  Not content to barricade the Occupy Oakland group from the park, the police decided around 8:20pm Pacific Time to use tear gas, rubber bullets, and bean bag rounds to drive protesters away from the park and prevent them from reoccupying the site. 

Here is a YouTube video that was posted as the events were unfolding.  I'm still stunned as I watch it now for the fifth time.

Many members of the Occupy Oakland movement were injured in this confrontation with the Oakland police.  Among them was a veteran of the Iraq war--Scott Olsen--whose skull was fractured (presumably by a tear gas canister). 

Like most people who watched these events unfold, I am still trying to make sense of all that happened.  Two observations occur to me now that I would like to share with my readers: 

First, this event feels like a turning point in the Occupy movement and perhaps might end up in retrospect being seen as the defining moment for Generation Y in the same way that the protests surrounding the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago shaped the Boomer Generation.  As one woman mentioned on Twitter, it's events like these that turn ordinary people into revolutionaries.  How can one stand on the sideline while citizens are brutalized by those paid to protect them?

Second, what happened on Tuesday reflects the complete and utter uselessness of mainstream media.  As the police moved in with tear gas guns, all the live camera feeds at the Oakland TV stations went dark.  One station (CBS) took the cynical approach of showing an image of the capital building in Washington, D.C. as if to say "everything is alright."  Cheap Third World Dictators do that same thing. After the fact, these stations realized their gaffe, missing perhaps the most important news story of the year, and put reporters into the field on subsequent days.  But as the events unfolded it was only through social media such as Twitter that reliable news could be gathered one bit at a time. 

I found myself that night unexpectedly thrown by technology into the middle of history.  Checking my Twitter feed before going to bed, I saw a young woman's tweet (resent by one of my followers) that exclaimed "My God, they're teargassing us.  I'm fcking terrified."  I thought it was a joke until I found more and more tweets appearing saying much the same thing.  Then I followed a link in one of the tweets to YouTube and found the video above, along with hundreds of photos taken by camera phones, and haunting audio clips. 

Generally speaking, I find citizen journalism to be nearly as empty-headed as mainstream media.  For some reason we care more as a society about Lady Gaga's eating habits and unfortunate clothing choices than we do the issue of social inequality.  Here, however, citizen journalism worked.  Technology made it possible for ordinary people to tell the world what was really happening. 

What happens next remains a mystery.  Occupy Oakland has been relatively quiet in the days since Tuesday.  It seems that those in power are waiting for the weather to resolve the problem, thinking that practical concerns (i.e. frostbite) will end the protests better than police evictions.  My hope is that the movement does not lose steam but keeps up its steady pressure.  Already there actions are having significant effects.  Obama has started to make much of their language his own as he begins to campaign, whether it is meant sincerely or not is a different story, and banks such as Bank of America have started to back off their increases in fees and engage in an aggressive public relations campaign.  A few more careful pushes and lasting change is possible. 

Here's a song to close my post.  In honor of Mayor Quan who seems to have chosen as her subconscious mentor Richard J. Daley--the man for whom police "defended dis-order."

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