Last week, protesters at Occupy Oakland held a “general strike” that dissolved into widespread vandalism and violence. In response, the city’s mayor, Jean Quan, refused to confront the protesters and offered only plaintive requests for dialogue. As the occupation persists and the city continues to suffer, she has doubled down on her policies.
In her most prominent public statement since last week’s violent and destructive strike, Quan has not changed her tone. She begins:
Oakland is a city of the 99% and last Wednesday’s peaceful demonstrations showed support for the broad goals of creating job [sic] and reducing income inequality.
Following that praise, she finally confronts some of the realities of the situation:
Local businesses are hurting because of vandalism and reduced patronage. Neighborhoods are hurting because city services already stretched by budget cuts face additional demands responding to emergencies downtown.
But then she moves on to conclude with a message that would be almost risible, if it weren’t such an ineffective response to the situation:
Oakland has demonstrated its support for the 99%. Now is the time for the encampment to show its support for Oakland.
We call, once again, for dialogue between representatives of the encampment and the city to move toward a peaceful resolution.
We ask the many Oakland individuals and organizations who have shown their concern to reach out to the encampment directly.
And, we call on protesters to assure Oaklanders that further demonstrations will be peaceful and that violent demonstrators will be isolated.
Mayor Quan appears to have made essentially no effort to rein in the illegal protests or address their residual potential for violence — one might note that she should be using her own police force to “isolate” violent demonstrators, in jail, rather than asking and hoping that some parallel institution among the occupiers may do so. (Of course, she may also be hoping that the problem will simply go away and violence will crop up only in “isolated” parts of her city.)
She continues to rely on “dialogue” and “peaceful resolution,” ignoring the fact that similar calls for civility were ineffective in stemming last week’s violence. She refuses to abandon the irresponsible policies she pursued during the general strike.
In an interview with KGO radio on November 8, she reiterated the same request, calling for the occupiers to “set up a formal committee to dialogue with the city.” Thankfully, they have not been actively violent since last week, and have merely, in the opinions of local businesses and residents, been “deteriorating the quality of life in downtown and beyond.”
But the occupiers have not been completely idle — instead of responding to Mayor Quan’s requests, they are planning a new tactic of social disruption, occupying foreclosed buildings. As the San Francisco Chronicle reports, “conversations have narrowed down not to whether Occupy activists should take over empty buildings, but when and how.” It’s worth nothing that it was specifically the occupation of a foreclosed building (once a homeless shelter) last Wednesday that led to the most extreme acts of violence — protesters vandalized the building thoroughly and assaulted police in an attempt to defend their illegal occupation (which, they admitted, “counts as trespassing, if not burglary”).
Unfortunately, the mayor does not seem prepared or willing to confront this next inevitable stage of civil unrest. Once again, Quan is abandoning her first duty to protect the law-abiding citizens of Oakland and their property, now under siege, because she is sympathetic to the message that Occupy Oakland intends to promote through its lawlessness.
— Patrick Brennan is a 2011 William F. Buckley Fellow.