Occupy Oakland, first hand
By Sophie Needelman
One of the things I love about dance is that it uses the body to make a statement. This seemingly simple feat is actually a very powerful one; the strongest way to promote solidarity, universality, and humanity is to use the body to communicate and connect with others. Despite the many differences that mark our human bodies in diverse ways- whether in skin color, ability, sex, or the likes- the physical form in which we as humans exist transcends this diversity and allows us to unite as humans- humans, in the bodies of human beings.
Or at least, it should.
This is one of the many reasons I am choosing to pursue a degree in Dance and Performance Studies at the university level. It is also one of my personal outlooks that strongly resonates with the Occupy movement taking the nation by storm. Like the participants in the Occupy movement, I believe protesting, like dancing, can be effective in provoking change- if done correctly. The Occupy movement has been gaining momentum the past few weeks, which suggests that something is being done correctly. The Occupy Oakland movement, specifically, has created a huge buzz in the Bay Area- enough of a buzz for me to want to witness for myself what this ongoing social dance protest is about. So on November 2nd 2011- the day the Institution from which I am getting my degree happened to officially declare me a double major in Dance and Rhetoric- I put that education to good use to protest the Institution by occupying Oakland.
This day of action was called as part of the Occupy Oakland movement’s efforts to strike, march, protest, and occupy the city. The square in front of Oakland City Hall was full of a self-sustaining tent city where participants in the movement have been camped out for weeks. This is also the location where police brutality has manifested in the use of tear gas against peaceful protestors- a conflict that has left a young Iraq War Veteran hospitalized in critical condition. When I got to Frank Ogawa Plaza, though, there was not a policeman in sight. Many streets surrounding the area were shut down, and the entire plaza was occupied by protesters. Many organizations had booths to facilitate interactions with the public. There were make-shift libraries with free books to be shared. Protesters lined up and waited their turn for food which was being provided for them. Meditation and prayer circles cropped up like Weed- I mean, weeds. The emotional gravity of the presence of this sort of occupation was felt at every turn; the air was thick with passion, persistence, and connection on a human level.
After milling around the settlement, I joined in the group of people who were going to march from downtown to the Port of Oakland; this port is the 5thlargest in the country and is responsible for one billion dollars worth of consumerism a day. We walked over two miles across traffic in the middle of the streets, virtually bringing the city to a stand-still. Martin Luther King Jr.’s ‘I Have a Dream” speech was playing on speakers and could be heard over the chants of passionate protestors marching together for a common cause. People of all backgrounds joined forces in the effort to march on the Port, and the sense of unity was truly palpable. People were there with their loved ones, their elderly parents, and their infant children. There was such a visible diversity, yet everyone connected under the umbrella of this one cause for power to return to the hands of the people. One of the most impactful parts about this experience was how organized and peaceful it was. This time around, the police kept their distance- although before marching we were told to write the legal aid phone number on our bodies in ink in case we were to be arrested. Luckily, no one had to call that number. The Port of Oakland was successfully occupied.