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Home » Culture Shock, Featured

The Oakland police and #OccupyOakland

Submitted by on October 28, 2011 – 11:25 pmOne Comment

Poster by Ronrico via

Emily Hauser is ambivalent about the OWS movement – but are the police’s actions in Oakland enough to make anyone a convert to the cause? Emily is a freelance writer and social activist. Her work has appeared in The Atlantic online, The Hairpin and Feministe, and in a variety of print outlets, including the Christian Science Monitor, Chicago Tribune and Dallas Morning News. She blogs at, crossposts at Angry Black Lady Chronicles, and can be followed on Twitter @emilylhauser.

By Emily L. Hauser

I’m on record as being of at least two minds, if not six or seven, regarding the Occupy Wall Street movement, and I remain ambivalent – confident in my support of many of the individual goals, rather less confident in many of the tactics the movement employs.

And as I’ve said in various places: Nonviolent civil disobedience is disobedience. Complaining about arrest (let’s be honest: whining about arrest) when you’ve been breaking city ordinances for days or weeks on end in order to make a socio-political point is not only disingenuous, it’s self-defeating. Arrests are, in no small part, the point of civil disobedience.

And yet, having said that: the Oakland Police Department came down like a fist on Occupy Oakland, greeting the nonviolent protesters in riot gear (translation: spoiling for a fight), ultimately unleashing tear gas, projectiles euphemistically known as “bean bags” and flash grenades (also known as “flash-bangs,” if I understand correctly).

Photo via buzzfeed

The rights to peaceful assembly and freedom of speech are enshrined in our Constitution; the right to endlessly “occupy” public property, thus rendering it useless to other members of the public and/or creating health and sanitation issues, is not. The latter does not negate the former, however. Arrests are reasonable when people refuse to leave public property. Creating mayhem is not.

I cannot conceive of a better way for the Oakland Police Department to increase support for the Occupy movement.

I’m the first to say that this movement shouldn’t be compared to the revolutions in the Middle East or the Palestinian resistance, not least because the Occupy folks have the right to vote, haven’t been tortured, aren’t facing live fire, and need not fear that having their picture taken might result in summary execution. These differences matter, and the problems America faces are big enough without having to engage in blatant disrespect for the struggles of others.

Photo via buzzfeed.

But another reason that Occupy Oakland (or Wall Street, or Atlanta, or Chicago, or wherever) isn’t Tahrir Square is because Americans have every right in the world to feel genuine shock at being met with tear gas and “bean bags” on their streets.

If the Oakland Police Department’s goal was “not as bad as the Middle East,” well then, I guess they succeeded. Well done and kudos! But I was rather of the opinion that the goal was something more along the lines of “maintain American norms and values and act in concert, however imperfectly, to perfect our union.”

I’m on record as saying that I probably won’t join the protests for a variety of reasons, at least one of which is very personal.

But you know what? If I lived in Oakland, I have a feeling I wouldn’t be blogging right now. I have a feeling I’d be making a sign, and packing a few onions in my bag.

The Palestinians say that when you get hit with tear gas, you should hold an onion to your nose.

One Comment »

  • Trudy says:

    Having the right to vote is not a right at all if your choices of who and what to vote for are controlled by corrupt and greedy individuals and corporations. This is about one thing and one thing only in my mind, and that is Moral and Ethical Responsibility and Accountability.
    Unfortunately, if any person still believes that the USA is still a democracy they are, at best sadly naive, and at worst stupidly dangerous. But, when we come together in places like #OccupyOakland, we can try to find a solution, and send a message to the greedy and corrupt everywhere that the jig is up! We now know, and we will no longer be silent while murder is committed in our names using our money, while the planet is destroyed, and people are treated like commodities to be traded and exploited and otherwise disregarded. WE ARE THE LABOR ON WHOSE BACKS THIS COUNTRY WAS BUILT AND WE ARE THE PEOPLE WHO IT WAS BUILT FOR! WE ARE THE 99% and WE ARE DONE WITH THE 1% and all the lies.

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