As some of you know, ORWC endorsed and attended the Unwelcome Obama action in Oakland last week Monday, standing in solidarity with anti-war/anti-torture peace activist group World Can’t Wait. An ORWC member who was at the protest has contributed a personal report back below.
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It was quite an inspiring time! I got to Oscar Grant/Frank Ogawa Plaza shortly before 4 PM, where hundreds of medical pot activists had been rallying for hours protesting Obama’s betrayal of his 2008 promise not to raid medical pot clubs. Oakland as many of you may know is home to a strong medical pot presence and the city has been the subject of harsh crackdowns from the feds, disenfranchising countless legitimate PATIENTS suffering from pain and representing yet another move in the ongoing, constant criminalization of Oakland’s population. People of color are disproportionately arrested, fined, and jailed for marijuana use/possession.
Activists had created an impressive piece of chalk art at the Plaza:
After checking out the Plaza I headed over to the barricades blocking off the nearest intersections leading to the Fox Theater where Obama was due to speak. Pro-Obama and anti-Obama supporters were already gathering.
One nice thing about this event is that, unlike the February protest of Obama in SF that some ORWC and OSJ members went to, and unlike the May protest of Obama in RWC that ORWC endorsed, this event had very few, if any Tea Partiers or other racist/fascist protesters in attendance. Back at the Feb. and May events the racists and the anti-choice folks and other right-wing folks definitely seemed to outnumber the protesters on the left and the Occupiers present.
By contrast, the dissent in Oakland on Monday was thoroughly dominated by those of us on the other side: environmentalists demanding that Obama reject Arctic drilling; medical pot activists calling out Obama for his broken promises; Iraq Veterans Against the War, Veterans for Peace, and World Can’t Wait calling out the president for the continued operation of Gitmo and continued presence of 1,000s of troops in Iraq and the escalations of civilian killings via drone strikes in Af/Pak; Courage to Resist calling for the freedom of Bradley Manning; DREAM Act supporters marching against continued deportations under Obama; Occupy Oakland and other locals pissed that Obama had the gall to show up in Oakland after making no supportive comments about the Oscar Grant tragedy or the continued police violence in Oakland against people of color or the crackdown on OO protesters; anti-capitalists and black bloc protesters; and more.
(More photos here.)
So we rallied at the barricades, and despite corporate media claiming that there were only 50-60 people present, there were well over 100-150, swelling to nearly 200 at some points, and that is a conservative estimate on my part. The crowd was large enough that we naturally filled up the large thoroughfare intersection of 19th and Broadway right by the barricades closest to the Fox and the line of Obama supporters going in. We claimed the intersection and shut down traffic without even really meaning to – I know some in the crowd were hoping it would happen but it seemed to happen organically and not in any planned way.
By about 5:30 – 6 PM many of us were getting bored of standing around in the intersection, especially since now that traffic was blocked no one was driving by and really seeing our signs or our impressive numbers. We got together, started discussing a march, and after taking some turns speaking out on World Can’t Wait’s megaphone we all took off.
We marched around the perimeter of the Fox Theater, taking the streets and stopping traffic, chanting “whose streets? Our streets!” and “Puff puff, pass pass, the President can kiss my ass!” (for the medical pot folk, lol!) and “1, 2, 3, 4/we don’t want your racist war!/5, 6, 7, 8/stop the killing, stop the hate!” We stopped to rally at various intersections and barricades, shutting down traffic as we went and blasting our message out to the onlookers hoping to catch a glimpse of the president. Many people were pissed at OPD and used the points where the march stopped at barricades to give the police officers gathered a piece of their minds. While a couple people were definitely exploiting the situation to be opportunistic and shout ~edgy~ insults at the PD, most of the yelling came from Oaklanders/OO folk who have had to put up with police violence and brutality for ages, and their pain and rage was fully justified.
(More photos here.)
After we were done marching we rallied at the last barricade and had another speak out. When we saw the doors to the Fox open up a little after 8 PM and the attendees start streaming out, we quickly rallied and marched to the exit point so that we could chant and rally and wave our signs as the people left. People were chanting “Four More Years” when they saw us but we chanted back “Four More Wars” and drowned them out. We managed to make enough of an impact that PD routed the guests to another intersection where they could exit: no matter, we just marched on down to that next exit point and did our thing again.
After that the march, which up until this point had been around 100-150 people, dwindled to about 40-50 of us as some OO folk and other radicals continued down past OG Plaza and headed down to OPD HQ to rally against police brutality/violence in Oakland. I marched with them for a while but had to duck out early, as it was close to 9 PM and I had to catch the next BART and get home.
My sign read “F*@# CRUISE MISSILE LIBERALS.” One of my favorite journalists uses the term “Cruise Missile Liberals” to describe folks who profess to be progressive and peace-loving but advocate hawkish, imperialist, and bloody ways to conduct foreign policy.
One “pacifist” organizer of the medical pot march got physical with a masked protester (who de-escalated by turning and walk away from the confrontation), shoving him and unfairly accusing him of carrying explosives. That organizer later said sorry.
There were a few snipers on the roofs of buildings. OPD and Secret Service were filming all the protesters, trying to record faces in particular.
There was a great moment in the middle of the march where we came across a large “Welcome to Oakland—99% Obamaland” banner. Naturally most of the marchers were pissed and one person used his huge picket to tear the “99% Obamaland” portion down:
Several of the pro-Obama folks rallying earlier in the day got aggressive and confrontational with us. One person waved his large, heavy Obama sign in a threatening manner in an Obama protester’s face every time the guy tried to speak and they nearly got into a fight.
It was unusually hard to get corporate media to pay attention to ORWC. Not a single journalist I talked to about ORWC, from Telemundo to KTVU to CBS to KGO-810, gave me the time of day. Usually I can get a few seconds of speaking time at events like these if I keep pressing journos for a short interview, but they weren’t having it. Phil Matier’s (KPIX) cameraman was an asshole: he literally told me to get lost before I could even say hi. Either MSM in Oakland isn’t used to dealing with friendly Occupiers who want to talk to them (I did get a few surprised looks, including from Phil, when I said I was an Occupier and would like to talk to them), and/or ORWC wasn’t important enough (in their eyes) to cover.
BellaEiko of OO was lovely. She remembered me from the #Occupride march in SF last month and took the time to say hi again and hang out for a minute. She’s a fantastic speaker as well and got into more than one confrontation with pro-Obama folks who were trying to silence her when she was speaking out:
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More photosets are available at the links below. And while you’re at it, compare the report above (from our ORWC member) to the mainstream media reports in the Chronicle and Mercury below. They don’t come close to telling the whole story: