Oakland City Councilmember Pat Kernighan (District 2) has stated that she supports the ideas of the Occupy Wall Street Movement, yet she has actively opposed local Occupy activities and has backed multiple police raids of Occupy Oakland encampments, resulting in injuries to demonstrators and negative portrayals of our city in the media. We call on Councilmember Kernighan to support Occupy Oakland and prevent future evictions of Occupy camps.
Support Occupy Oakland and prevent police raids on Occupy camps
Dear Councilmember Kernighan:
As a resident of District 2, I urge you to support the Occupy Oakland movement, stop police raids on Occupy camps and ensure fair and humane treatment of demonstrators. In your recent newsletter dated Nov. 18, you state that based on feedback you have received, the majority of your constituents believe Occupy Oakland hurts the city and are in favor of removing the Occupy Oakland camp. Your letter goes on to explain the reasons you support the eviction of Occupy Oakland. As a District 2 resident, I believe this position is misguided. I would like you to know that I fully support the Occupy Oakland movement and I am calling on you to do the same.
Occupy Wall Street is among the most significant social movements to unfold in the United States in recent memory. It has called attention to the wealth disparity and social injustice that plague our nation and has inspired thousands of individuals from across the country to take action. You have repeatedly stated that you support the sentiments of the Occupy movement and that Oakland is a city of the 99%, and yet you have actively opposed and sought to dismantle the most significant and symbolic act that has come to represent this movement, the occupation of public space.
Your letter states that your constituents “from all walks of life stated that our city is not the place that the Occupy message needs to be heard.” What these constituents fail to realize is that citizens are rallying in cities and towns across the nation in order to send a collective message to the 1%, wherever they may be. It is precisely because of Oakland’s identity as a progressive city and stronghold of the 99% that we have witnessed such extraordinary levels of mass mobilization and activity in support of Occupy Wall Street. As a working-class city with a history of political activism, Oakland is poised to lead the nation in the current movement for economic justice. The city government should embrace this opportunity and find ways to support local Occupy efforts, not stifle them.
Certainly, this movement will require more than tent camps to achieve its objectives, and yet we cannot overlook the critical role of acts of civil disobedience in bringing about positive social change in this country. Your suggestion that individuals involved with Occupy Oakland join a non-profit organization fails to consider the underlying purpose and philosophy of civil disobedience, and reveals a somewhat limited concept of democratic activity and the use of public space. Ordinary citizens have been compelled to engage in collective organizing and acts of civil disobedience because the traditional avenues for affecting change have failed to alter the underlying system of economic inequality. The use of public space as a site for political activity, organizing and public discourse - inspired by the Occupy movement - is at the heart of a healthy democratic society.
Moreover, your suggestion mischaracterizes Occupy Oakland participants as individuals who are not already engaged in meaningful work to improve our community. On the contrary, if there is one common thread that unites this diverse group, it is their active engagement in working for social change. It is because of this deep involvement in efforts for social change, and the limitations of such efforts in a corporate-controlled society, that so many have been inspired to move beyond their usual routines and participate in a new form of direct action for economic and social justice.
The concerns expressed regarding the impact on local business, while worthy of consideration, are ultimately shortsighted. Regardless of our efforts here in Oakland, a sustainable local economy that meets human needs will never be possible in the context of a financial system dominated by the wealthiest 1%. The Occupy movement is drawing national attention to a system that favors large corporations over small businesses and is advocating for political and economic reform that would create the necessary conditions for a thriving local economy that is favorable to local businesses.
Finally, efforts to prevent the occupation of public space have been ineffective and harmful. The city government’s repeated attempts to evict the Occupy Oakland encampments have resulted in injuries to demonstrators by police, negative and inaccurate representations of our city in the national and international media and an enormous misuse of scant city resources. Each time the city has dismantled a camp, a new one seems to emerge within days. It is time for the city to stop pitting police against demonstrators in this game of cat and mouse that squanders vital city funds and has failed to stop the momentum of this movement. The current message on the marquee at the Grand Lake Theater reminds us, “You cannot evict an idea whose time has come.”
I urge you to publicly support the Occupy Oakland movement, prevent future police raids on Occupy Oakland camps and seek creative ways to address the legitimate concerns and challenges raised by this movement. More importantly, however, I am calling on you as an elected official to take a more active role in the fight against economic inequality that has been catalyzed by the Occupy Wall Street movement. It is not enough to simply state that you support the ideas of the movement, you must act.