Rights of Nature Tribunal Puts Chevron on Trial


October 1, 2014

Contact: Shannon Biggs, Global Exchange

shannon@globalexchange.org 415.298.9419

Nature Puts Chevron Refinery and Legal System on Trial

People’s Tribunal in Oakland Seeks to Give Nature a Voice in Law this Sunday

Oakland CA — On Sunday October 5, a People’s Tribunal will examine the violations of community and nature’s rights caused by the fossil fuel industry, using Chevron’s refinery in Richmond as a case study.  Recognizing legal standing for ecosystems is a concept that has been gaining strength over the past decade, in dozens of US communities and in the constitution of Ecuador.

Two years after the refinery explosion that rocked the Richmond, CA community, residents still live in fear, while air quality and land remain contaminated. Despite having been found guilty of 62 violations of the law in 2012, Chevron Corp. will be expanding operations, and 4 new projects will bring Tar Sands and fracked crude from North Dakota to the Bay Area.  The question for a growing many isn’t the violations of the law, but the daily chemical exposure permitted under the law.

 “Chevron has been destroying nature and poisoning people for over 100 years. Humanity is part of the web of life known as Nature. If Nature doesn’t have rights, then a viable future for the next seven generations is doubtful,says Richmond resident and Native American activist Pennie Opal Plant, who will also be one of several expert witnesses at the Tribunal.

Global Exchange’s Community & Nature’s Rights director, Shannon Biggs, one of the organizers of the event added, “the fact is, current law treats nature as property, so it’s easy for corporations to get a permit to blow the tops off of mountains for coal, or frack communities for profit.  Recognizing nature’s rights provides new and critical protections for our communities and the ecosystems we all depend on.”

  The tribunal, a project of the Bay Area Rights of Nature Alliance (BARONA)barona_logo_Mowder takes place Sunday 10 am – 2 pm at Laney College’s Forum, highlighting the impacts on people and nature from the Chevron refinery, and place on trial current legal and economic systems that advance the destruction of nature by the oil industry. Tribunal judges include:

  • Carl Anthony (Breakthrough Communities; Urban Habitat)
  • Brian Swimme (California Institute of Integral Studies; Journey of the Universe)
  • Anuradha Mittal (Oakland Institute)
  • Courtney Cummings (Arikara and Cheyenne; Native Wellness Center, Richmond)
  • Bill Twist (Pachamama Alliance)

The day will also include a “Web of Life Labyrinth,” created by local artists (opens 9:30 am), local music and food for purchase. Members of BARONA, a network of leading Bay Area rights of nature, ecological justice, human rights, local economy, Indigenous, women’s, and other groups will be on hand to answer questions. The event will be part of the global “Earth Rights Days of Action” sponsored by the Global Alliance for the Rights of Nature and the related efforts of the International Rights of Nature Tribunals in Quito, Ecuador (January 2014) and Lima, Peru (December 2014).

Please join us for a rich discussion of just what rights of nature could mean for residents in Richmond, CA—and across the country. Learn what over 100 other communities across the US are doing differently to put the rights of residents and nature before corporate profits.

Save your space for this important event register now.

Tayelyn and Elise Hill say no to fracking.

Tayelyn and Elise Hill say no to fracking. Mom (Francine Hill) helps with sign holding.

For the second year in a row, we came together across the globe to put a stop to dangerous and dirty fracking.

The second annual Global Frackdown was a truly international affair, with actions taking place in over 100 countries on Saturday, October 19th.

Locally, we convened at Frank Ogawa Plaza in Oakland to send a  message to Governor Brown, and to energy companies itching to get into the ground beneath our feet: we won’t let you frack with our future!

1309_FB-FrackdownAvatarSponsored by Food and Water Watch, 350.org, the Center for Biological Diversity and Global Exchange, the event featured a giant model fracking rig with warning tapes, a 10 ft Condor puppet declaring fracking a danger to the species.

Occupy San Francisco unfurled a one hundred foot banner detailing some of the chemicals found in frack fluid. The banner filled with threatening sounding chains of multi-syllabic words stretched the entire length of the stage: and it was the chemicals beginning with the letter ‘a!’

Speakers included:

  • Mari Rose of the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, who reminded us of the victories we have been able to win against energy companies when we band together
  • Jerome Waag from Berkeley’s premiere organic restaurant, Chez Panisse, spoke about our fragile water system, and the threat fracking poses to agricultural production in California.
  • Steve Kinsey from the Coastal Commission inspired the crowd with the story of Marin’s success in passing a moratorium on fracking
  • Andy Katz from East Bay Municipal Utility District
  • Ken Jones from 350.org
  • Rose Braz from the Center for Bioligical Diversity

Frackinglogo_transGlobal Exchange’s message for the day was simple: the power to stop fracking is, and always has been, in our hands. That’s why we’re working with over 9 communities throughout California to assert local democracy and stop fracking in its tracks. It’s a message we’re happy to share as widely as we possibly can.

After the speakers finished, the crowd marched from Frank Ogawa plaza to the nearby State Building. There, we dipped our hands in oil (molasses) and placed oily handprints all over the concrete. We chanted. We left a voice mail for Jerry Brown, letting him know just how we feel about fracking. (Hint: We don’t like it)

The diverse crowd of over two hundred slowly dissipated, leaving behind drying handprints, and a call to action that was unmistakable. We won’t stand fracking.  And we’re not going to stop until this monstrous practice is banned in every corner of the globe.


  • Like” and “Tweet” this blog post to spread the word!




This April Fool’s day, prank with purpose.

DoorHandleFront2Send your Senator and Representative a ‘Do Not Disturb’ door hanger that keeps corporate lobbyists OUT of their office.

These door hangers are a little funny, but the corrosive influence of money in politics is no laughing matter.

Sign up to send a door hanger today.

Take a stand in the spirit of April Fool’s day. It takes less than a minute to sign up. You can select for us to email your door hanger directly to your Senator and Representative, or we can mail it to you so you can send it directly to your elected official.

Sign up by March 22nd to get your door hanger to elected officials in time for April Fool’s Day.

Why Tell Corporate Lobbyists ‘Do Not Disturb’ Democracy?

  • Since 2007, nearly $20 billion has been spent on lobbying government.
  • The vast majority of lobbying spending is at the behest of corporations which can afford to lobby for policies that protect and expend profits and minimize even the most essential regulations, often at the expense of the well-being of constituents, our economy and our environment.
  •  Nearly a third of that $20 billion spent lobbying is from just three sectors: Wall Street, Dirty Energy (Oil & Gas) Industries, and the Defense Sector, which spent $2.7 billion, $2.3 billion, and $821 million lobbying, respectively.
  • Calculated another way, Dirty Trinity has spent $2,252 per minute, every minute, for the past five years to influence *your* elected officials.
  • It costs us around $5 to print and mail these door hangers to your elected official. 


1) Sign Up!
2) Spread the word– help get others to sign up and send a Do Not Disturb door hanger to their elected officials.

Facebook: Share this doorhanger image and encourage your friends to sign up!
Twitter: Click here to tweet, “Your Congressman needs this doorhanger. Srsly. twitpic.com/c8p9al  Sign up and send one for free: http://bit.ly/XSzIMG

 3) Learn more about Wall Street money in politics and what our Elect Democracy campaign does to stop it.

4) Chip In: Help us raise $1,883 to print and mail ‘Do Not Disturb” door hangers to every single member of Congress!


2012 certainly hasn’t been boring! Thanks to you and the hundreds of other people who are part of the Elect Democracy campaign, we’ve taken action to free our democracy from the moneyed grip of corporate interests… Thank you.

Here are some Elect Democracy campaign highlights:

“How Wall Street is Burning Democracy” Report and Legislative Scorecard: We made it easy to find out how much Wall Street gave to Congressional campaigns to check how often Congresspeople voted in line with Wall Street’s lobby position on free trade bills, Wall Street regulation, the bailout, and more. The Huffington Post, Yes! Magazine, Alternet, Nation of Change, Daily Kos, and dozens of other news outlets covering our shocking revelation that Wall Street spends over $1,331 per minute on political influence via lobbying and campaign money.

RNC/DNC: We brought our legislative scorecard and report to Tampa and Charlotte where we marched on both conventions with our call to get corporate money out of our democracy.

Stick It to Super PACs: Just days before the most expensive U.S. election of all time we used email, phone, and social media to clog the gears of the ominous Super PACs! GOOD magazine, Upworthy, and others helped us spread the message. Over 1,500 people Stuck It to Super PACs on October 25th! You can still take action here.

Election Day: do you remember that exact moment when the election was called and we learned that Barack Obama would remain President? I do. What has this election meant to you? Leave a comment on our blog.

#StopTPP: I joined social, labour and faith based groups on the US/Canada border earlier this month to stop the TransPacific Partnership. To learn more about this ominous, 13 country free trade deal (and our work to stop it), read my blog about the TPPxBorder rally we attended on the U.S.-Canada border.

All that and so much more! A great place to read all about it is our online Media Center which has a vast collection of articles about our work this year.

Next year, we have even more ways to take action. Elect Democracy is taking on the hired hands that call the shots in DC: big shot lobbyists. From challenging Super PAC millions to lobbyist billions, our work is going to be fun, tough, and more important than ever.

We’ll also need your help. Compared to the amount of money flowing from Wall Street to Washington, when you see all we have accomplished, we truly make the most of every penny.

Consider giving a Global Exchange membership to a friend this season and support Elect Democracy.

Again, thank you so much for your action. I look forward to starting 2013 with refreshed energy and refueled strategies.

Happy Holidays!

Over $629 million in Super PAC (Political Action Committee) spending didn’t sway U.S. voters as significantly as expected in this past election, but in the coming months will the billions spent in corporate lobbying sway Congress?

Lobbying is a multi-billion dollar industry. While it’s technically true that any constituent can go lobby or try to persuade their legislators, the vast majority of lobbying that is happening in our capitals is funded by -and promotes- corporate interests.

Tens of thousands of corporate lobbyists call the DC area home. Since 2008, Wall Street has spent over $2.2 billion on lobbying, largely in order to weaken and squirm out of financial regulations. Add in the pharmaceutical, HMO, agribusiness, business, oil & energy, and defense/militarism sectors and we’re talking nearly $4 billion since 2011 spent specifically to get corporations unprecedented (and undue) influence over all those folks we just elected into office.

In this year’s election, nearly $6 billion was spent to influence the 120 million votes of the American electorate. Compare that to the $2 billion spent lobbying by the top corporate sectors this year to influence a handful of decision-makers. No matter who gets into office, once the elections are over, corporations spend billions to influence the victor. While the corporate elite gave well-financed electioneering an old college try, now these interests will be lobbying harder than ever to influence the decisions of around 750 hundred key decision-makers (Congress, presidential administrators, and state and federal offices like the EPA, SEC and FDA) to get what they want directly from the people who can give it to them. If you were a greedy businessman, what would you do?

Sheldon Adelson may be lamenting, “I spent $60 million and all I got were these lousy House seats.” But now Adelson can just reroute money into lobbying, pay someone in a suit seven figures to put his feet up on the desk of a Congressperson, and still get a lot of what he wants, or at least less of what he doesn’t.

I don’t get to put my feet up on my Congressperson’s desk. I mean, I could try, but I would probably get in trouble. So why don’t lobbyists? They don’t deserve the proximity of influence and mental bandwidth of our elected leaders that their corporate-funded tactics afford them. Besides, these lobbyists usually aren’t even members of the constituencies that decision-makers were elected to represent!

Corporations are not people, and money is not speech. But the speech of people hired by corporations to do their bidding in Washington needs to be reined in. On the heels of an historical election and shifting political paradigm, we must be prepared in our civic activism to challenge corporate power plays beyond those unleashed by the Citizens United ruling. We must be vigilant in challenging the undue influence of corporate lobbyists. The voters and constituencies who just cleaned out DC expect integrity, and this means that legislators need to say NO to corporate lobbyists spoon-feeding them profit prioritizing policy and analysis… that’s not who they are elected to represent.

Voting truly does matter, but a healthy democracy requires ongoing participation.

If you want to take action to protect democracy now that the election has concluded, consider looking into Global Exchange’s Elect Democracy campaign and follow @ElectDemocracy and @GlobalExchange on Twitter.

See for yourself how much campaign money the last Congress received from Wall Street and their “Wall Street Loyalty Rate” based on how often their votes matched Wall Street’s lobby position. Most importantly, call your Congressperson and remind them that their job is to represent you, not lobbyists, in Congress.

Fact Sources:

  • SuperPACs spent $629 million: MapLight.org
  • Election cost $4.2 billion: Center for Responsive Politics:  OpenSecrets.org
  • Lobbying costs: Center for Responsive Politics for a) $2.2 billion Wall Street in 2012, and b) $4 for top sector lobbying (opensecrets.org)


  • Make the Call! Call your Congressperson and remind them that their job is to represent you, not lobbyists, in Congress.
  • Leave a comment with your ideas about how to challenge the undue influence that corporate lobbyists have in DC.

… Tell Your Congressperson to Have Goodwill Toward Their Constituents!

In the results of the election, a lot of truths have been unearthed- the demographics and values of the United States, the power and limits of corporate money to influence elections, and the real significance of votes.

Over $629 million in Super PAC spending didn’t sway U.S. voters as significantly as expected, but in the coming months will the billions spent in corporate lobbying sway Congress?

Lobbying is a multi-billion dollar industry. While it’s technically true that you and I (or any constituent really) can lobby or try to persuade their legislators, most lobbying is funded by -and promotes- corporate interests. Since 2008, Wall Street has spent over $2.2 billion on lobbying, largely in order to weaken and squirm out of financial regulation. Add in the pharmaceutical, HMO, agribusiness, business, oil & energy, and defense/militarism sectors and we’re talking nearly $4 billion spent specifically to get corporations unprecedented (and undue) influence over all those folks we just elected to office.

We need to make sure all the new and re-elected members of Congress know that we elected them to represent us, not Wall Street and its cadre of lobbyists.

Can you take just a few hours in December to make a world of difference on this issue?

You and your representatives will both be back in your hometowns and districts during the month of December. Congress takes a recess, but you can still easily set up a meeting with your Congressperson in their district. Take the time to set up a meeting, put on a nice sweater and go tell your representative that you want them to commit to not being overrun by big bank lobbyists.

Here’s how:

  1. Look up your representative: {http://www.congress.org/congressorg/directory/congdir.tt}
  2. Call their office and set up a meeting for when you’re both home just before the holiday break.
  3. Do some research- look up how much campaign money your representative received from different companies and look into the DC connections of lobbyists representing those companies.
  4. Write this information down in a notepad, along with other questions you’d like to ask. If you need ideas, here are some of our favorites:
  • How many lobbyists from Wall Street arrange meetings with you?
  • How many lobbyists do you plan to meet with during this term?
  • If lobbyists give lots of gifts and throw lavish parties, does it influence your vote on their issues?
  • Are some lobbyists in DC perceived as bullies? Is there any way we can help you focus on your job without all these lobbyists trying to influence you all the time?
  • Have you ever seen a scorecard that shows campaign contributions before? Do you feel comfortable with how much money you received from Wall Street and your ability to put your constituents first? (If they were in office last year, you can show them Global Exchange’s Legislative Scorecard and measure  their ‘loyalty rate’ to Wall Street’s lobby position on key bills like Dodd-Frank!)
  • What would you like to see change in DC in the realm on campaign contributions and lobbying?
  1. When you meet, dress neatly and write down the answers!
  2. Take a picture with your senator/representative and an Elect Democracy sticker if you can.
  3. Email them to Global Exchange since students around the country will be sending in answers. Together, we’ll be able to see who’s willing to make some real commitments to say NO to lobbyists next year!

Boom- you’re done! All in all, it should take less than 3 hours, but it makes a huge difference not only for your Congressperson, but in helping to create a culture where politicians become more wary of the lobbyists and campaign contributions coming from Wall Street and other industries that want to put their profits before a healthy democratic process.

TAKE ACTION: Leave a comment confirming you can meet with your Representative in December!

I celebrated Earth Day along with hundreds of other earth-conscious individuals at San Francisco’s Civic Center/UN Plaza. Everyone came out that day under a common idea: we live in a wondrous community of life that is planet Earth and that community deserves our awe, respect, and attention. There was an array of speakers and musical performances as well as booths and vendors featuring local non-profit organizations, green businesses, and organic food.

I participated in a panel discussion at the celebration on Sunday around the question of “co-creating our sustainable future – what are the successful tools for coalition building and collaboration both within and beyond your organization’s work?” I was joined by leaders of the non-profit environmental movement including Rolf Skar from Greenpeace, Sarah Hodgdon of the Sierra Club, and Kevin Connelly from the Earth Island Institute.

It was insightful to hear about the different work that each of us is doing to make the future of the planet and us humans that inhabit it more sustainable and less destructive. There was one common thread throughout the discussion and that was: in order to ensure a positive future for people and the planet we must figure out how to live in balance – or in ‘harmony’ – with nature. And, in doing so, we must also learn how to work in harmony with one another towards the common goal of protecting and conserving Mother Earth and the resources that our human societies depend on for survival.

I spoke about how the emerging global movement for community and nature’s rights works to build coalitions and develop collaborations with a wide variety of groups. Our present-day global economic system and indeed our structures of law have been built upon a mindset that places humans not just apart from, but actually above nature. We codify our values in our laws and so in order to change the system, we must transform the laws that govern it.

Polar bears making a point about climate change at Earth Day

We are building a movement and there is a role to play for everyone.

The idea of organizing to actually challenge our current structures of law to recognize that nature itself has inherent rights to exist, thrive, and flourish is a big one.  We must ask ourselves the following question: If Rights of Nature is to succeed as an alternative framework to our current property-based system of law, how are we going to implement it?

The movement for nature’s rights is unique in its ability to be all-inclusive because the dire need to better protect the environment and the concept of ‘rights’ is something that everyone can understand and agree upon, despite different political beliefs or affiliations. . Most people know that allowing decision-making based on money, greed or narrow self-interest to sacrifice the well being of the planet is foolish, they just can’t see how to move to a better way of doing things.

This is because our current structures of law actually facilitate the on-going exploitation of nature. Climate change, water withdrawal, and deforestation are all symptoms of the same problem; that communities do not have the right to make decisions about how to protect the environment under the current system. Instead, this right is reserved for corporations and the state.

In addition to our coalition building with communities, policy makers, indigenous allies, and climate justice allies, I also spoke about the role of small farmers in creating viable alternative systems to corporate-dominated agriculture. If large, corporate factory farms are not what we want our food system to look like then what is the alternative? The answer lies in small, community-based farmers selling, growing, and sharing their own food.  Food sovereignty is a growing issue for communities across CA (and the rest of the world) and we have been getting an increasing number of calls from places like Nevada City, and Mendocino, CA, where citizens are looking to pass a law that asserts their right to local food sovereignty without interference from government regulations and raids on small farms.

Occupy the Farm

Meanwhile on Earth Day, across the Bay in Albany, California, the Occupy Movement was taking a stand for local food sovereignty by taking over a portion of property known as the ‘Gill Tract’. It is the last remaining 10 acres of Class I agricultural soil in the urbanized East Bay. The owner of the land, UC Berkeley, plans to sell the property to Whole Foods to open a new retail store. For decades the UC has thwarted attempts by community members to transform the site for urban sustainable agriculture and hands-on education. In solidarity with Via Campesina, “Occupy the Farm” is a coalition of local residents, farmers, students, researchers, and activists that have begun planting over 15,000 seedlings at the Gill Tract. Over 300 people turned out on Sunday to help plant seeds and till the land.

The goals of “Occupy the Farm” echo the calls of communities across California and the US that there is a dire need for people to have access to uncontaminated land for farming if we are to reclaim control over how food is grown and where it comes from. That sustainable, community-based farming is the best alternative to corporate control (and poisoning) of our food systems.

The time for a new system is now and the well being of the planet, our health, and that of future generations absolutely depends on it. We are up against an enormous task to remove the power of decision-making from profit-driven corporations (and the state) and put it back in the hands of people and communities, thereby enabling us to co-create our sustainable future.


•    Watch this video documenting the first day of Occupy the Farm.
•    Learn more about the movement for Community and Nature’s Rights.

Global Exchange has joined more than 60 other organizations to host a 99% Spring non violent direct action training – one of 912 events (and counting!) taking place during April 9-15. Thousands of people across the country have stepped up to plan a 99% Spring action training and we’re training all Global Exchange staff on April 12.

We will prepare ourselves to join a huge wave of progressive direct action nationwide this spring. All over America, the 99% movement is getting ready for 60 days of protests, sit-ins, rallies, marches, and more this spring—all aimed and confronting the power, greed, and influence of the 1%.

I jumped in to do this because I want to see the 99% Spring take off in a big way. We’d be joining a rich tradition in this country of non-violent direct action to make the change we know we need.

It’s exciting and I hope you can be part of it!

Sign up for a training here.

Sign up to host a training here.

Our movement will be holding huge rallies in every major city on Tax Day to call out the 1% who refuse to pay their fair share. We’ll be gathering massive crowds to confront CEOs and top executives at annual shareholder meetings of Wall Street banks, dirty energy polluters, and corporations that refuse to treat workers fairly. And we’ll be doing everything we can to call out the corrupting influence of corporate money on our elections. Global Exchange’s Occupy the Elections will be part of this campaign.

At the trainings we’ll be preparing ourselves to take part in these bold actions and to build connections with other progressives who want to see a 99% Spring in America.

Me, on the streets Jan 20, 2012, hope to see you on the streets soon!

We’ll practice telling the story of what happened to our economy and what a different future could look like, we’ll learn the history of nonviolent direct action, and we’ll train and plan to take direct action ourselves—in the footsteps of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.—to win change. We have an amazing shared history of everyday people using direct action to transform the political landscape in this country from the civil rights movement to Occupy Wall Street.

This spring, I want to you join us in becoming a part of that legacy right where you live. Find out more here.

This is the very first online announcement about our newest campaign about to launch. Consider yourself in-the-know! Support this new campaign by making a donation. Here’s Global Exchange Executive Director Carleen Pickard to explain:

Our politicians are playing with F.I.R.E., but we’re the ones getting burned.

Between 1998 and 2008 alone, the FIRE industries (Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate) spent more than $5 billion in political contributions and lobbying efforts. And with elections less than a year away, FIRE continues to top the list of corporate campaign contributors.

It’s no secret why the banks are so eager to donate. While Main Street is in foreclosure, it has been a year of record profits for bankers — and they want more!

Banks are putting a down payment on future profits, spending more freely than ever before on political parties, candidates, and Super PACs. They know come Election Day their investment will pay off and they’ll have the ear of those elected — a small price to pay to keep tax loopholes open, guarantee future bailouts and to stop regulations.

But we know Democracy belongs to the people, not the highest bidder. We must act now to ensure those who are elected represent the people’s interests, the interests of the majority, the interest of the 99%.

That’s why I am excited to announce a new Global Exchange campaign: Occupy Our Elections! This election year Global Exchange will arm the public with facts about the influence of money in politics and mobilize a people’s movement that calls on candidates to refuse campaign contributions from FIRE and other corporate interests.

We’re going up against some of the wealthiest, most powerful industries in the country. And we could use your help! Join us as we reclaim and rebuild our democracy and tell banks it is time to withdrawal from our elections. Together, we, the 99%, have the power to put out the FIRE this election year, and to remind our politicians that when you choose to play with FIRE you only get burned.

As Michael Moore stated last month, “Congress is bought and paid for by the 1%. Nothing— and I mean NOTHING—we want to accomplish, from creating jobs to protecting the environment to preventing wars, will happen as long as those who hold the purse strings are the ones who own our Congress.

Here’s more about what we’ll be doing in this Global Exchange Occupy Our Elections campaign:
• We’re digging deep into political contributions and their impact on voting records in the House and Senate. We’re going to single out the worst offenders, expose their records, and birddog them on the campaign trail.
• We’ll be calling on people across the nation to build centers of protest around their local banks, to draw the explicit link between banks, campaign spending, and policy decisions in Washington.
• We’ll be mobilizing people to put pressure on their candidates to say no to FIRE and other corporate campaign contributions.

We’ve seen what we can do when we band together to claim our democracy. Over the past decade our election campaigns investigated election fraud and disenfranchisement, highlighted close connections between politicians and the oil industry, and mobilized activists across the county to make peace and clean energy key election issues.

Creating the deep democracy that we all want is at the core of our work through programs like our Community Rights Program. But as we head into this critical election year, we must take immediate action to ensure our democracy is not bought by big banks.

It is time for us to stand up and say enough is enough and call on all those running for election to refuse FIRE funding.

During election years, people often feel compelled to donate to their favorite candidates, yet organizations like Global Exchange continue to be the creative, mobilizing force for true change. Election years are when our vibrant campaigns for democracy, justice, and human rights need your support the most. Please take a moment to make your campaign contribution this election season – make a gift to Global Exchange and our new and urgent campaign to Occupy Our Elections. Your gift ensures that we can make this the election season we douse the FIRE in democracy and send a clear message to our politicians that we will no longer allow Wall Street to dictate our future. Thank you.

Kylie Nealis

The following is an eyewitness account of #J28 Occupy Oakland Move-In Day written by Kylie Nealis in collaboration with Andrew Montes. Kylie is the assistant to the Community Rights program at Global Exchange and Andrew is a writer and resident of Oakland, CA. The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of Global Exchange.

The images of street battles and arrests at the Occupy Move In Day in Oakland this past Saturday have garnered national attention. About 400 protestors were arrested during the action. Unfortunately, much of the reporting by mainstream corporate media has been incomplete and/or inaccurate, misrepresenting the intentions behind the march and distorting the sequence of events that led to the mass arrests.

What started as an attempt to reclaim an abandoned space (the Henry J. Kaiser Convention Center) and repurpose it for human needs by converting it into a social center was met with intense police aggression resulting in injuries to peaceful protestors, plus the roughly 400 hundred arrests by the end of the day. I was not one of those arrested, but I participated in the action for several hours. Here’s what I experienced:

I arrived downtown around 1:30pm, shortly after the march left Oscar Grant Plaza. Following police helicopters, walking the few blocks towards Laney College, I met lines of riot police forming blockades at strategic intersections throughout downtown before seeing a single protester. The tone for the day was clearly set.

Photo credit: Andrew Montes

Nervous, I finally caught up with the march inside the Laney College campus, and joined approximately 1,000 people as we zigzagged our way towards the convention center, but as I neared the block where the vacant center is located, I saw smoke ahead. The police had decided they’d seen enough. Over a loudspeaker a disembodied voice declared an unlawful assembly and issued an order to disperse, an order that was punctuated with more flash-bangs and smoke bombs. These would be the first, but not the last shots fired by the police at citizens during the day.

Nearing the entrance to the Oakland Museum of California, I saw the police use rubber bullets and tear gas, many protesters protected themselves using improvised shields. Some responded to the assault by throwing back whatever they could, whatever was at hand, rocks, bottles, the same tear gas canisters that had just been thrown at them. I heard one person yell, “Oakland Police Department, we declare your assembly unlawful, and hereby order you to disperse!”

This is where I saw the first attempt by the police at kettling (a form of crowd control that involves cutting off escape routes, leaving demonstrators trapped), but a small alley was left unguarded and people fled into surrounding blocks. People were confused by the sudden violence, unsure of where to go; nobody around me seemed to know whether the original plan was still being followed or if the police had derailed everything. The general consensus was to move back to Oscar Grant Plaza and City Hall to regroup.

Photo credit: Andrew Montes

At this point I left, partially in fear of further police violence. My feeling was right, as the evening would see more brutality and eventually mass incarcerations. After the group took to the streets once more towards a backup occupation target, the police finally managed to fully kettle protesters at 19th and Telegraph, a location known as much for a previous occupation attempt in November as for its statue commemorating champions of social justice and civil liberties throughout history. More chemical agents were used without warning, but the cornered protesters escaped by tearing down the very same fences they had torn down in November.

Undaunted, they continued to march until being completely fenced in near the Broadway YMCA. Seeing the dire situation of the protesters, an employee of the YMCA unlocked the door and several dozen people escaped through the back. The rest were not so lucky, and spent the following hours sitting on cold pavement in zip-tie handcuffs, waiting to be processed and bussed to Santa Rita jail. Several reporters were arrested, in flagrant violation of the Police’s own stated Crowd Control and Crowd Management Policy.  All of this I watched live, on the internet stream of a citizen journalist.

From my first encounters, it was clear to me from their actions and attitude that the Oakland Police Department was intent on escalating the situation so as to arrest as many people as possible. Tired of the vocal criticism about their handling of past Occupy Oakland actions, they aimed to lock up as many organizers as they could in one fell swoop. In defense of property, they turned their weapons against people. Complicit in this entirely legal crime is the corporate media, which willfully slants coverage to minimize police violence, whitewashing the physical oppression endemic to the system of the 1%.

Protester's view from the kettle at the YMCA. Photo credit: Allison Deger/Mondoweiss

The previously vacant and newly converted social center would have housed a kitchen for the hungry, a first aid station, sleeping quarters and an assembly area, libraries, and free classes. Instead it remains vacant and empty, a fitting testament to the Oakland Police Department’s hollow victory. Instead there was a fuller jailhouse and court arraignments. A couple of things are clear to me from Saturday’s events, one being that the force used by the police to thwart the demonstration was unjust and entirely heavy handed. And the other is that now is the time, perhaps more than ever before in the Occupy Movement, when it is critical for people to remain unified and committed to taking peaceful action in standing up for the needs and rights of the 99%.

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