How Occupy Oakland co-opted city’s historic immigrant rights march (Reflection)
Occupy Oakland may have been “at it for months,” but the group’s naive attempt at supporting the struggles of our most vulnerable communities fell flat on May 1.
May Day marches in the past, typically led by the immigrant rights group Oakland Sin Fronteras - OSF - served to highlight the fight for immigrant rights. But this year, it was Occupy Oakland and the Black Bloc that made global May Day headlines.
The Dignity and Resistance group (led primarily by Occupy Oakland organizers) had its banner leading the march, but it was the trust of OSF that brought the majority of Latino migrants to the protest. Ultimately, OSF seemed to be treated merely as a “contingent.”
It was noon and the mood downtown had grown tense. A haze of smoke from flash-bang grenades filled the air as nearly 100 protesters, led by the Black Bloc and their shields, advanced towards at least 30 riot police. Still more deterrents were launched and the pandemonium continued.
Meanwhile, at the Fruitvale Plaza, the May Day rally had begun. Scores of families were gathering and the familiar, cheery bells of popsicle vendor carts filled the air. The mood was pleasant and the sun was out. It was a good day for immigrant rights.
For the past six years, the city of Oakland has given permits to OSF to organize and take to the streets on May Day. This year was no different. Yet, despite permits, stakes are high for undocumented migrants who brave leaving the shadows of invisibility to make their voices heard. In my opinion, they are far braver then the most aggressive, shield-wielding “Occupier” could ever hope to be.
Arrest for an undocumented immigrant does not just mean a few hours in jail, only to be bailed out. Rather, its deportation from the United States and, often, permanent separation from their families.
News of the violence downtown had reached the Fruitvale rally and there was a tense feeling among Latino organizers. Their contingents trusted them to execute a safe march with minimal police presence. One leader admonished her high schoolers saying, “If you see an Occupier, engage them, ask them to chant with you. Be inclusive!”
The Fruitvale event began with its traditional, vibrant gusto. Copal smoke filled the air as Azteca dancers sanctified the event with indigenous ritual. And then they were off, first stop: San Antonio Park.
Rally cries of “¡El pueblo unido, jamás sera vencido!” (“The people united, will never be defeated”) rang out as Latino youth took the megaphone and led the 2,000-plus marchers through Fruitvale.
But suddenly, the procession came to a halt as it crested the hill to San Antonio Park.
Up ahead were seven vans of riot police and hundreds of Black Bloc protesters casually standing about as if waiting for the Fruitvale march to arrive. They seemed blind to the implications of their presence. Undocumented attendants would be forced to either abort the march or pass scores of police, some of whom were filming.
In fact, a few vulnerable contingents immediately abandoned the procession. The undocumented high schoolers who, just minutes earlier had been leading the march with their spoken-word poems and cries for justice, were now headed for Madison Park where they would remain until they returned home. Many other groups followed suit.
Meanwhile, Fruitvale organizers approached the occupiers pleading with them to “please stand aside so we can march through.” And, indeed, the Black Bloc did make way for the march. In fact, in a show of solidarity, the occupiers raised their fists in the air and cried with the marchers, “¡El Pueblo, unido, jamás será vencido!”
But the divide was evident.
After a brief rest at the park, the Dignity and Resistance march (or what remained of it) moved on to Frank Ogawa Plaza. They dispersed soon after arrival, amidst the palpable tension between OO and the police.
Yet, for the Black Bloc, the night had just begun. Occupiers invoked their privilege to First Amendment Rights as they protested and engaged police, sometimes with beer bottles and paint bombs. Meanwhile the OPD fired back, rushing the crowd and beating people almost indiscriminately. In all, 25 individuals were arrested.
The arrival of the Immigrant Rights march to Frank Ogawa Plaza was expected to be “a ‘peak time’ when people who don’t know about Occupy Oakland, can learn about us and choose to join this radical movement,” said Lauren Smith, of Occupy Oakland, a few days prior.
Though I do not doubt Smith’s sincerity, after the events on May 1, the comment seemed more like a mean joke. Based on OO’s May Day performance, its unlikely that Fruitvale’s 99% will be joining their “radical movement” anytime soon.
^^THIS THIS THIS