Occupy Oakland called for a general strike — the city grinding to a halt, banks unattended, and schools closed. What they got was a few thousand protesters vandalizing banks and briefly closing a unionized port, but more important, a mayor happy to facilitate it all. Wednesday night would have been no more disturbing than a vigorous though destructive demonstration by the lefties of the Occupy movement — except that it occurred with the endorsement of Oakland’s mayor, Jean Quan.
The problems began last week when Oakland police cleared the illegal tent city in Frank Ogawa Plaza, responding to claims of sexual assault, vandalism, and other crimes. Clashes broke out between protesters and police, in which one man was accidentally seriously injured. The next day, much to the justified confusion and anger of the Oakland Police Officers’ Association, the protesters were allowed to return and continue their blatantly unpermitted occupation of the park — where Mayor Quan promised they could stay until they wanted to meet with her (they haven’t).
As if to make up for having offended her fellow activists-cum-politicians, Quan began to express her support for the movement’s “general strike” this Wednesday. She informed city employees, with the exception of the police, that they would be allowed to take the day off in order to participate in the strike, but few did — 360 workers from the 2,000-strong Oakland Unified School District, for instance. Even with all the abetting the city government could afford, only 18 percent of one of the strongest progressive groups in America, unionized teachers, joined the strike.
Despite her words, Quan attempted to maintain some sense of propriety and responsibility by requiring that all police officers show up to work and ordering extra police into the streets. It appears, however, that she significantly hindered their ability to protect citizens and private property. At 11:55 p.m. Wednesday night, police reported that “the protesters began hurling rocks, explosives, bottles, and flaming objects at responding officers.” The mayor responded with an almost unbelievable tweet at 1:00 a.m.: “OPD has not taken action. Smoke is from burning barricade. I’ll say it again, protestors need to call now” (having provided her office phone number earlier in the evening).
Although the exact events of the evening remain murky (my requests for explanation from the mayor’s office were not answered), this much is clear: While protesters were committing widespread acts of arson and violence, she felt the need to offer free consultation to the perpetrators and clarify that the police were doing nothing to stop them.
Tom Del Beccaro, chairman of the California Republican party, noted to National Review Online that he is hardly surprised; Quan was “really always more of an activist than a mayor.” There are obvious parallels to our current president, who has also expressed some support for the Occupy movement. The comparison stops there, however: Quan’s position demands a practical and serious response to a movement that endangers her citizens, and she has offered inane yet maleficent ideological encouragement instead.
This is not Quan’s first dereliction of her first duty, protecting the citizens of Oakland: Police chief Anthony Batts resigned two weeks ago, citing the impossibility of reform and effective law enforcement in a suffocating city bureaucracy. Del Beccaro explained that it was widely perceived that the mayor had “pushed him out because he got tough on crime.” In doing so, she showed shades of the liberal orthodoxy that has made her so ineffective in confronting this week’s events: ideological solidarity overruling practical concerns.
Del Beccaro, a resident of the Bay Area, finds himself bewildered by Quan’s attempts to “fan the flames” of unrest in Oakland. He characterizes the state of Oakland as “just sad,” afflicted with 15 percent unemployment, dysfunctional and corrupt government, and appalling rates of crime. That’s why the mayor’s office has attempted to portray Wednesday night’s events as successful work by her office.
Following the night’s chaos, Mayor Quan has refused to confront an angry and frightened Oakland public, but her office did release a summary of the events, beginning triumphantly: “Yesterday, the City of Oakland facilitated a long day of primarily peaceful protests with some isolated incidents of violence and vandalism” (note that she refuses specific credit to the police, the city workers tasked with controlling the mess she had instigated).
The isolated violence extended all the way to a gathering of thousands to close the Port of Oakland, and isolated vandalism afflicted banks and businesses all across the city. Even Whole Foods, the favored grocer of the American Left, had its stores vandalized by protesters because they had refused to allow their employees to strike; they relented later in the day, after the protesters smashed store windows and harassed customers and employees.
Mayor Quan’s obvious affections for the far-left Occupy movement have endangered her city. Politicians elsewhere may admit that the Occupy movement has legitimate grievances, but only go so far as to allow them a reasonable, legal forum for airing them. On the farthest edge of America’s left coast, Jean Quan’s sympathy makes her loath to restrain the protests when they begin to descend into violence — suggesting that, to paraphrase Evelyn Waugh, protesters have the right to bear arms in any battle anywhere against the upper classes.
Conservatives have joked that President Obama is our “community-organizer-in-chief.” Oakland certainly has one for a mayor, whose political inclinations make her comfortable and even pleased promoting and facilitating civil unrest. Her refusal to acknowledge this has left her community very disorganized indeed.
— Patrick Brennan is a 2011 William F. Buckley Fellow.