Until last week Occupy Oakland took up about as much space in the national consciousness as Occupy Tulsa.But then, last Wednesday, the Oakland Police Department tried to end the occupation in a violent clash that lead to the injury of Iraq war veteran Scott Olsen. As a result, Occupy Oakland saw an explosion of bodies and attention unseen at any camp elsewhere in the world.
The difference was dramatic to say the least. When police went into Oscar Grant Park last week there were, by the most generous estimates, about 2,000 people staying there. Yesterday’s general strike drew 20,000 people according to the Occupy Oakland website. Oakland officials put that number far lower, but regardless, the showing was greater than any other protests in the country so far.
And it was more violent. 60 to 70 people were arrested as black-clad and masked protesters wreaked havoc on the city, breaking windows and defacing buildings.
It’s likely none of this would have happened without last week’s strong show of police force, and the Soctt Olsen rallying cry. Those are two factors that are unlikely to go away as the protest movement goes on.
And then there are these factors that make Oakland a great occupation spot that aren’t about to change either:
Demographics: It would be easy to say that because Oakland is has a 75 per cent minority population that it’s a hot-bed of civil disobedience and unrest. Oakland isn’t divided by race so much as geography. Like the rest of America, the disparity of wealth in Oakland is stark, but it’s also broken into two sections: “the hills” and “the flatlands.” The hills house Oakland’s affluent, about one-third the population, the remaining two-thirds lives in the flatlands.
There are about 50 neighborhoods in Oakland, many not distinct enough to be on a map, and getting around the city is a piece of cake. Oakland is rated the 10th most walkable city in 2011. Corralling protesters and keeping others out is more difficult here perhaps, than elsewhere.
Climate: Oakland has one of the most envied climates in the United States. Temperate and Mediterranean, its summers are dry and they lead to mild, moist winters. It’s warmer in the winter than San Francisco across the bay and protesters here can expect average high temperatures of almost 64 degrees until December when high temps will hover around 60 degrees. Obviously, that means they don’t face the ‘what do we do in the winter?’ question other occupations face.
Income: Black workers in Oakland make 60 cents less an hour than their white counterparts, and Latinos earn 47 cents on the dollar. Two in five residents are working poor and incomes have declined by 5 per cent or almost $2,000 since before the recession, while the cost of living in the Bay area has continued to increase.
The wealth gap there is widening rapidly. The people of Oakland are living the issues behind the occupation every day.
And one more thing. They can make an impact. Yesterday they shut down the Port of Oakland, the fifth largest deepwater port in the country, and one of three major ports on the West Coast. It’s even more important than San Francisco’s port and can load any kind of transportation.
When Occupy Oakland can shut something like that down, the entire world has to pay attention. And that’s what the protesters want, isn’t it?
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