Oakland Mayor Jean Quan made the right move this week when she allowed Occupy Oakland protesters to return to the plaza in front of City Hall. She also deserves credit for apologizing for people getting hurt in the police action on Tuesday night and for apologizing to Iraqi war veteran Scott Olsen, whose skull was fractured after apparently being hit by a nonlethal projectile fired by police.
But we still think Quan is wrong when she keeps requesting that occupiers not camp in front of City Hall. As we’ve written previously, camping is what the Occupy Movement is all about. It’s about occupying a public space, 24 hours a day, for as long as people can do it or until our system of favoring Wall Street and the wealthy over middle- and low-income citizens changes.
But today at a City Hall press conference, Quan repeated her stance, declaring: “We don’t want them to camp downtown.”
Her position seemed rather absurd, as well, considering the fact the tents once again had repopulated the plaza in front of City Hall, just steps away from her press conference, and that the campers/occupiers have no intention of leaving.
Moreover, by insisting on no camping, Quan may be setting the city up for another possible ugly confrontation. The occupiers clearly aren’t going anywhere, especially after being visited today by liberal icon Michael Moore, which means that if Quan is going to follow through on her no-camping demand, it would mean once again evicting the occupiers and their tents. That, in turn, raises the possibility of another clash with police.
As we noted earlier this week, Quan, a longtime progressive activist, made a big mistake when she green-lighted both the police raid of the Occupy Oakland encampment at City Hall on the morning of October 25 and the over-the-top response to protesters who tried to reoccupy the plaza later that night. Progressives from around the globe have decried the actions as an unwarranted attack on the Occupy Movement. In the eyes of the world, it didn’t matter that Occupy Oakland had devolved last week from a protest against greedy and corrupt bankers to a demonstration against local government and police. It also didn’t matter that the camp had very real problems with public safety and sanitation. It was still an occupy camp, as far as most people were concerned, and an attack on it represented an attack on the movement.
Quan also had made a mistake by not immediately taking full responsibility for the heavy-handed police response on Tuesday night. On Wednesday, she danced around the issue, noting that she wasn’t involved in the detailed police planning, and that she didn't know exactly which day the raid would take place. The fact is: She’s the mayor, and because she allowed the police action to go forward, she is responsible for it. She could have stopped it anytime she wanted. As such, she deserves credit for finally taking responsibility for it in her public apology last night.
It’s not often that politicians apologize and take credit when things go very wrong, and so it deserves to be noted when they do — even if the apology and the politician’s positions are flawed.
It also needs to be said that Quan and Interim Police Chief Howard Jordan appear to be serious in launching an investigation into the use of force on Tuesday night, including the use of tear gas, and whether other police agencies on hand used rubber bullets in violation of Oakland policy. The city also needs to seriously rethink whether using tear gas and bean bags are appropriate during protests.
Quan also was right to agree to meet personally with Occupy Oakland representatives, to request that the encampment work with the city to stay clean and safe, and to request that the protesters allow emergency personnel access to the camp when people need help. It’s in the interest of the Occupy Movement, just as it is to the city, that no one else gets hurt.
However, City Administrator Deanna Santana’s insistence today that the occupiers should not be able to cook for themselves while camping is unreasonable. In fact, instead of making demands that the campers will ignore, Quan and her staff should set aside their egos, roll up their sleeves, and get to work with the occupiers to make sure they run a clean and safe site. If it means bringing in portable restrooms, so be it. If it means relaxing rules about cooking and camp stoves, then they should do it.
It’s really the only path that Quan has for rehabilitating her severely damaged reputation for being a progressive, and it will allow Occupy Oakland to focus on the real goals of the protest: corporate greed and the politicians beholden to it.