New Post: 2nd Tuesday of the Month
Eight years ago, on January 27th, 2012, my comrades and I drove up to Oakland from Los Angeles in response to their call for Move-In Day. In 2012, we were the ripples of the “Occupy” movement.
Move-In Day was a vision, inspired by the revolutionaries, warriors, and fighters of our past. Like the Argentinian workers who took over abandoned factories in the early 2000s, our goal was to take a building and transform it into a community space – the Oakland Commune.
On January 28th, I woke up in a studio apartment with twelve others and a sky full of sun and promise. At 10:30am, we met at Oscar Grant Plaza for a rally, strategy sessions and art-making.
At about 1pm, we took the streets. Some held trash can tops decorated with peace and anarchy signs; others held three large corrugated metal sheets displaying “Oakland Commune,” “Commune Move In” and “Cops Move Out”. Our handmade shields, our defense.
We knew we needed it. We remembered November 2nd and Scott Olsen. The photographs of his cracked, bleeding head circulated social media, freshly imprinted in our minds.
The police followed us from the beginning. They made an arrest before our main march even started. They wanted to control us, to scare us. The police aren’t here to serve and protect the people. They are here to quell protests, maintain social order, and ensure the current hierarchies remain in place.
They blocked our planned route. In an attempt to escape them, we marched through Laney College, clambering across narrow pathways, losing our music truck. Emerging on the other side of the campus, they tried to cut us off again. We walked around, crossed a bridge and arrived at the Kaiser Convention Center. This could be it – this grand, empty, ornate building could be our community space.
The police formed a perimeter around it. We weren’t deterred, someone tried to move the metal barricades surrounding the building. A few cops pushed them back. The first canister hit the ground. People screamed, thinking it was tear gas, preparing themselves for stinging eyes and a burning throat. But the police hadn’t escalated yet, this was round one, these were only flash grenades.
We continued to look for a way in, ignoring the smoke piling up around us. The police drew their paintball guns: round two. They pointed it at me. I rushed behind a shield, ducking underneath. They didn’t fire, not yet.
Through their megaphone the cops announced that the “State of California” declared us an unlawful assembly. According to their codes, they must tell us this before they can disperse us.
The Kaiser Convention Center was our first target, we had others in mind. We moved away, passing by Oakland’s Museum of Natural Science. On this bright sunny afternoon, families and couples cluttered the sidewalks, streaming in and out of the museum.
The police blocked us on both sides. Our shields led the way as we attempted to continue our march, tear gas and flash grenades erupting around us, hitting parked cars. Their alarms bleated and blared. To the right of me, someone yelled “Medic!”
Heavy smoke hung in the air scorching my eyes and throat. Near my feet, a flash grenade exploded, I backed away, stumbling to the sidewalk. I looked up, across the street, by the museum, dozens of shocked onlookers stared. Someone handed me a gas mask, I slipped it on with shaking fingers and returned to the front lines.
The police started to fire rubber bullets, as we tried to find an opening to continue our march. Behind the shields, the bullets didn’t hurt us, but we could feel their impact. The stench of tear gas filled the air, making it hard to see. My gas mask wasn’t tight enough, my lips and tongue started to burn.
Unable to get past the cops, we scattered on the sidewalk and began to retreat back to Oscar Grant Plaza to recuperate.
We were hungry and high on adrenaline. It felt surreal to return to the calm grass baking under the sun. Was I just tear gassed? Are we doing it again?
An hour later, we were ready to return to the streets, as the sun bowed its head.
We couldn’t give up, we headed to our next location, the police trailing behind us. As we crossed through Snow Park, the cops trapped us again, gave another order of dispersal followed by more tear gas. I found myself yelling, “Don’t run. Walk. Don’t panic. Walk,” as people pushed each other to escape the tear gas.
On one side the police had surrounded us, but before they could completely enclose us, six hundred tore down a fence and continued down Broadway. We were building-less but we had evaded the police for hours, disrupting the day-to-day status quo of Oakland. The rest of the march was a blur.
A few blocks later, the police cut us off once again. Thinking quickly, some people rushed into a nearby YMCA building, the rest of us started setting up barricades. But this was round three, the police advanced towards us, pushed us into a corner, against the building. We stumbled into each other, trying not to fall.
A few minutes later the police announced, “You are all under arrest.”
No one believed this.
We started to chant, “Let us go” and “This is illegal detainment.”
The woman next to me was indignant. “This is against the law. You can’t detain me. I’ll call my council members,” she yelled. “Call the media.”
The cops ignored us. We rebelled. This is America. We are not supposed to do that.
It took five hours to arrest 409 people. As they processed us, we sat on concrete, our hands gripped by plastic cuffs. When they finally removed my cuffs at Santa Rita, I cried.
I spent two nights and a day in a holding cell with at least sixteen others. We had no beds, no blankets, no pillows, only cold air blowing at us from vents near the ceiling. For food, we received bologna between two slices of bread, an orange, two cookies and a calcium drink.
Time was non-existent, as we waited for the guards to call our name and release us.
Getting out of jail and seeing my comrades filled me with joy. Later that night, we cooked pasta and wept together. Following day, we drove back to Los Angeles, strengthened and smarter.
The revolution is a mix of victories and failures. For me it is always a victory because we haven’t stopped fighting. We don’t always win the battles, but we face Goliath. But with each action our collective power grows. We didn’t take a building on January 28th, but we built something wonderful and massive: our ripples continue to this day.
Eight years later, we may not be in the same physical space together, but our community continues to grow. Tear gas, flash grenades, and bullets can’t suppress us. Despite police repression, we believe in direct action, we believe in not asking for permission from false authority and fake hierarchies.
As November 2020 nears, we know replacing the Empire’s leader won’t change the institutionalized dynamics of this country. We need more. We need reparations, we need to give land back to the Indigenous, we need to end our complacency in a system hurting the majority of living beings. The question, then and now, is how. Taking and holding space is one tactic, hopefully more will flower in this decade.