Why I Got Tear Gassed at Occupy Oakland
Written by Annie Liebman: an eyewitness report
If someone had asked me why I was at the Occupy Oakland movement on Tuesday night after work I wouldn’t have had an “ideal” answer. I know there are hundreds of reasons why I could have been there. Honestly I went with a feeling — a feeling that the Occupy Movement was “right” and a feeling that it is unconstitutional to prohibit the free speech of the people. I don’t know if this Occupy movement will fix anything. I don’t know if it will result in any real change. But I knew that something was wrong when I arrived at Frank Ogawa Plaza to see hoards of policemen blocking what was supposedly “free space.”
“What are you protecting?” protesters were chanting at policemen. And really, what were they protecting? A small grassy knoll in the city center? The policemen looked robotic — standing in a line, motionless and stoic, looking like creatures with their gas masks on and batons in hand. I looked at the policemen and then I looked at the “other side” — the vibrant, diverse community of people. I saw such a beautiful community of people there and, at the moment, I was incredibly proud to be from Oakland.
At one moment, I was looking admiringly upon this community. At the next I was confused and watching this same community running in fear. The police threw canisters of tear gas, firing up the streets and producing sounds like bombs. I ran, crying, and when I stopped and realized what happened, I got angry.
I’m not one of those loud, motivating protesters. I don’t yell at police officers or get visiby angry. I am observant and cautious. But how can it possibly be considered “okay” to throw tear gas at peaceful people? How can these actions from our government be considered moral?
The policemen weren’t protecting the people. They weren’t concerned about any of the protesters’ well-being. They were using gas to keep us out of an area that is supposed to be public space. They would rather us not protest and keep our mouths shut. They wanted us to disperse — to figure out our problems as individuals and not as a community.
As a stranger handed me a bottle of water to flush my eyes, I imagined a community made by the people, instead of these “robots” in charge. Although I never camped at Occupy Oakland, I can only imagine the love and support of that community. If, within two weeks, that community was able to generate adequate food, free child care and a garden, I wonder what could happen if we were given more time.
This government simply works for 1% of the population. The other 99% deserve to be heard.
Photo from ekai via flickr