Flattened fences and strengthened bridges

Bay Area occupiers resist police, lend mutual support, and attract international attention

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Thousands marched in downtown Oakland Oct. 25
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY REBECCA BOWE

With high-profile standoffs between protesters and police last week, Occupy Oakland and OccupySF have attracted international attention and support, helping to galvanize the six-week-old Occupy Wall Street movement.

At press time, Occupy Oakland organizers working in league with local unions were gearing up for a citywide general strike intended to shut down the Port of Oakland and encourage work stoppages and school walkouts on Nov. 2. The occupation at Frank Ogawa Plaza, which had been dismantled by police only days earlier, had begun to reseed, with some 40 tents and a kitchen and first aid area reassembling. Planning meetings for the general strike were being held daily. Nearly 2,000 Occupy Oakland participants voted at an Oct. 26 general assembly to call for the shutdown, following an Oct. 25 clash with law enforcement that left Iraq war veteran Scott Olsen with brain injuries after his skull was fractured by a projectile fired from a line of riot police.

Olsen, 24, who completed two tours of duty before becoming a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, had progressed beyond critical condition and was expected to eventually recover, yet he continued to have difficulty speaking. At a flagpole near 14th and Broadway, near where Olsen was struck, a shrine was created with his visage illuminated with candlelight and surrounded by flowers and notes wishing his speedy recovery.

Video of an injured Olsen being carried by fellow activists through what looked and sounded like a war zone went viral, putting pressure of Oakland Mayor Jean Quan to retreat from her stance against the encampment. But in San Francisco, Mayor Ed Lee stuck to his position that the OccupySF encampment must come down, threatening another police raid if necessary.

"Any official who would send in the riot police to deal with this camp does not deserve to be mayor of San Francisco," said Brad Newsham, one of a stream of activists sounding off at an Oct. 31 hearing of the Board of Supervisors' City Operations and Neighborhood Services Committee convened by Sup. John Avalos to consider a resolution the mayoral candidate had created allowing OccupySF to keep its infrastructure in place.

OccupySF was jolted to a new level of activity Oct. 26 when supporters flooded into the camp in anticipation of a pending police raid. As hundreds practiced forming human blockades to defend the space and news of police whereabouts traveled like wildfire along social network sites, five members of the Board of Supervisors and Sen. Leland Yee appeared in the plaza and voiced their support for the Occupy movement.

"We should allow OccupySF to do what they're doing," Sup. David Campos, who was among those to turn out at the plaza and address protesters around 2 a.m., said at the Oct. 31 hearing. "It's good for San Francisco."

Campos singled out Lee and Quan for the violent raids, disputing the idea that "somehow it's okay for us to spend the limited resources we have on these kinds of police actions...I hope we don't have Mayors Quan and Lee wasting resources that could be better spent elsewhere."

Amid the ranks of Bay Area occupiers, it was clear that a week marked by fierce government resistance to their organizing had only strengthened their resolve and ignited greater passion for advancing the Bay Area's role in a nationwide movement that, on the cusp of its seventh week, continued gaining momentum.

Chinatown residents rallying with the Chinese Progressive Association gathered in Portsmouth Square Oct. 30 and marched to the OccupySF encampment in solidarity with the "We are the 99 Percent" movement. On Oct. 29, some 1,000 activists gathered at Ocean Beach to spell out "Tax the 1%" in a human formation.