Friday, October 28, 2011

Occupy Oakland

As a follow-on to Professor Pierre-Louis's excellent post yesterday in connection with violence that broke out during the Occupy Oakland protests this week, below is the response that Mayor Jean Quan, mayor of Oakland, CA, issued last night:


October 27, 2011

Mayor Jean Quan’s Statement to Occupy Oakland

I had hoped to speak directly to you tonight. I was told that I could speak at the Speak Out at 6 pm, but that was cancelled. So I apologize for providing these remarks in written form.

I am deeply saddened about the outcome on Tuesday. It was not what anyone hoped for,
ultimately it was my responsibility, and I apologize for what happened. Today I visited Scott Olsen and his parents because I was concerned about his recovery. And I hope we will keep them all in our prayers.

We have started an investigation into the use of force, including tear gas, on Tuesday.

I cannot change the past, but I want to work with you to ensure that this remains peaceful moving forward.

When there’s violence, there are no winners – it polarizes us and opens old wounds rather than brings us together, which is the aim of Occupy Wall Street and uniting the 99%.

We are a nation in crisis. Oakland more than most cities faces budget cuts, unemployment and foreclosures. We are also a Progressive city. And as a long-time civil rights activist and union organizer I want my City to support the movement.

Thank you for last night’s peaceful protest. I will continue to order a minimal police presence. I need you to maintain a nonviolent attitude towards people, business owners, and homeowners around City Hall. I hope you will consider starting a dialogue with the small businesses around City Hall that you impact.

We pledge to work with Occupy Oakland and Occupy Wall Street, but we need to ask for four things:

1) We understand that some members of Occupy Oakland want to meet with me and Chief
Jordan. We agree. We need to have direct communications between city staff and your

2) We need you to maintain healthy and safe conditions where you gather.

3) We need our public safety employees to have access when there is an emergency.

4) We are asking you not to camp overnight. Frank Ogawa Plaza is open for free speech
activities between 6 am and 10 pm.

We can change America and but we must unite and not divide our city. I hope we can work together.

/s/ Jean Quan
Mayor of Oakland"


  1. JesseeB_MemphisLawNovember 2, 2011 at 7:37 PM

    Mayor Jean Quan's unwillingness to take any responsibility for what happened at Occupy Oakland is inexcusable. Understandably, she has been placed in a very difficult position. On one hand, she is charged with maintaining public safety and ensuring that laws and city ordinances are properly enforced. On the other hand, she is former activist who has expressed her personal support for the movement. However, taking a decisive leadership role and handling uncomfortable situations is part of the job description of being mayor.

    While I can respect her scheduled travel plans, I cannot respect the way she has distanced herself from police action and violence that occurred. While she claims to have no involvement in the decision, this point is irrelevant. As head of city government, you sign up to accept both the criticism and praise for your actions, as well as the actions of your subordinates. Being conveniently out of town does not mean you are absolved from your official duties. By leaving and washing her hands of the situation, she effectively chose her course of action. Her flip-flopping and failure to take a firm stand one way or another has alienated both sides, and in my opinion, rightly so. I do not feel she should have to step down, but instead, take responsibility for what happened and consider it a painful, but necessary learning experience in leadership (or rather, the adverse result of non-leadership).

    While the violence and ensuing injuries are incredibly unfortunate, a silver lining is that it has drawn national and international attention to Occupy Oakland and the OWS movement. Nonetheless, it is troubling that this kind of thing must occur before people take OWS seriously.

  2. Robert_(Memphis Law)November 7, 2011 at 12:23 AM

    I agree that the Mayor is shirking her responsibilities because she wants to maintain a relationship with the OWS movement. As a mayor, she has a responsibility to the citizens and business owners of Oakland.

    Last Wednesday, OWS Oakland and the anarchist fringe undermined the message of the OWS movement of economic inequality. The mob violence and the blockade of the Port of Oakland hurt members of the 99% including small business owners, Police officers, average people simply trying to make a living, and Oakland taxpayers. If OWS does not gain control over the fringe elements, the movement will be undermined and critics will have the ammunition needed to label the group radical in the minds of average Americans.

    Although not all of these protests have been violent, the OWS movement needs to regain control of the movement. The Oakland protest is a distraction from the national debate on economic inequality and corporate abuse of the economic system. If the OWS does not regain control and criticize this violence, the movement will be written off as a radical group by average Americans.

  3. I didn't take from this that mayor Jean Quan is refusing to take responsibility or shirking her plans. In fact, she specifically said, "ultimately it was my responsibility, and I apologize for what happened." She is in a very difficult position right now where she is trying to keep the peace while also facilitating change, and I think she is acting courageously to be so black-and-white in her support for the OWS movement. Many politicians would chose to remain completely neutral and abstain from endorsing the views of a group that has recently caused a disturbance in the peace of the city.
    As for the movement itself, this is a critical time. On the one hand, they need to maintain their identity as a peaceful, intellectually-based movement, as opposed to a radical, anarchist one. At the same time, however, there is only so much they can do. As the movement grows the government will become more and more nervous, ready to pounce at any sign of disruption. It is almost inevitable that violence will ensure. Unfortunately, that is the thing that usually must occur before people really start to pay attention.

  4. Mayor Jean Quan’s response seems to me to take responsibility for the occurrence and seek to prevent such an occurrence from happening again. Mayor Quan also seeks to establish a rapport with the movement by pointing out her work as a civil rights activist and union leader and that she wants the movement to gain support in the community. Mayor Quan offers advice as to how the movement can gain momentum and support.
    Whatever you political beliefs are, I think that Mayor Quan exemplifies the type of leadership that our nation needs. Political parties appear to have the attitude, my way or the highway. Mayor Quan wants to work together with the protestors to bring about change. Change is what our nation needs. Political Leaders need to be more open to compromise. I strongly believe that every hot button issue could easily be resolved if people were willing to listen to the opposing side and take their rationale into consideration. There is a happy medium that can be reached as to any issue, but each party needs to learn the art of compromise.

  5. Jessica Bradley (Memphis Law)November 11, 2011 at 6:05 PM

    Politically, this situation is very interesting. Jean Quan is Oakland's first female mayor, she is a minority, and her base of support has largely been liberal. However, the situation in Oakland has highlighted a divide between liberals. Quan initially broke up the protests to allow union workers at Oakland's port go to work. Quan's initial actions were an attempt to satisfy her union base of support, and her subsequent decision to allow the continuation of the Occupy protest seems like an attempt to save face. The overall result seems to be that she has alienated her entire support base. Quan has been put in a position where she cannot satisfy anyone-there have even been petitions floating around the Occupy protest to recall Quan. It will be interesting to see if this situation plays out on a national scale as the Occupy movement continues. Will the Occupy movement reveal a divide between liberals as the Tea Party has fractioned the Republican Party?

  6. I have to agree with Jessica that Quan's actions following the raid of Occupy Oakland seem insincere and nothing more than a poorly executed PR attempt to save face. While I'm all for politicians remaining open to views from both sides, at the end of the day, after all things are considered, good leadership requires someone to pick a firm course of action and lead the way.

    First, Quan left town at a time when she knew the trouble brewing at Occupy Oakland was about to come to a head. Then upon her return, she ran around trying appease everyone involved while shifting the blame to anyone but herself. Saying you take responsibility in a well-crafted statement and actually TAKING responsibility are two different things. Quan needs to pick a message, develop a plan and stick with it. Several members of her staff have recently resigned due to her inconsistency.

    Please excuse the cheesy Elton John reference, but Quan's response to Occupy Oakland reminds me of that lyric in "Candle in the Wind" that says "never knowing who to cling to/when the rain set in." Or in Quan's case, the hailstorm of controversy.

  7. Andrew H - Memphis LawNovember 20, 2011 at 8:26 PM

    This is an interesting twist to the OWS demonstrations occurring in Oakland, especially since those particular ones have been marked with violence (more so than its brethren across the country).

    The OWS movement must be leery of violence for it will turn off the fringe prospects which have not yet been convinced to join. It will also make those against the movement that much more negative.

    Hopefully this stand by Oakland's mayor will put an end to the unnecessary violence which has occurred out there. Demonstrations in Memphis have yet to hit such violence which should serve as a model for the rest of the country in my opinion. It's very similar to Dr. King's peaceful protests against the prejudice and racism in this nation. If you want to change the way things are done, you must do so in a peaceful manner. Violence will only get you ignored and detested.

  8. People on both sides of the issue are blaming Quan because she has not completely agreed with one viewpoint, but everyone who wants a resolution needs to be actively involved in a solution. In her letter, Quan asks for direct communication, safety, and unity of the city, and if she honestly works to facilitate her objectives, both sides of this situation could see positive results if they cooperate. Regardless of whether her letter is sincere, both city staff and occupiers need to hold her to her promises in order to further their purposes. To shift the focus from OWS goals to anger directed at Quan will not produce any progress in the movement, so everyone involved should take the opportunity to meet and come up with a solution.

  9. Robert_(Memphis Law)November 21, 2011 at 1:57 AM

    “What had started as a political movement and a political encampment ended up being an encampment that was no longer in control of the people who started them,” says Mayor Quan.
    Many of these mayors have finally wised up and evicted the protestors in a coordinated widespread crackdown because the mayors have realized that the movement has been hijacked by the radical fringe. It took Mayor Bloomberg too long to realize this and now they are drumming outside his mansion. I agree anger directed toward mayors is distracting to the overall message, but the protestors are distracting from the issue with their antics which is damaging their support with ordinary Americans.

  10. Just to clarify, I'm not blaming Quan for what happened at Occupy Oakland. Friction was already present and quickly increasing within the movement there. However, knowing this, Quan should have stuck around town and attempted to take preemptive measures to control it or at least minimize it. Perhaps then the violent clash that resulted could have been avoided. Measures of control could have been executed in a more peaceful, orderly fashion. I admire Quan for her open-mindedness and willingness to express her support for the movement, but she cannot please everyone all the time, try as she may. Both sides can work together, but it takes a leader to facilitate this type of compromise, and I do not feel she has stepped up to properly fill this role. Instead, she has been too concerned with gaining approval from all sides, while neglecting to determine what is best for Oakland and its citizens.

  11. Jessica S - Memphis LawNovember 22, 2011 at 2:23 PM

    I think that Mayor Quan's letter is refreshing. I think she is looking out for the best interest of everyone involved. I appreciate that she claimed some responsibility and while I disagree with excessive force should be used I think it is obvious that the mayor didn't wish for the type of injuries Scott Olsen incurred to happen. I think there needs to be a balancing of responsibility regarding Occupy Wall Street. The police force in Oakland used more force than necessary (I think this is clear considering Olsen's injuries are not the kind that occur from an unintentional bump); however, I do think the OWS movement participants need to recognize that they should share in some of the responsibility because as the actions of the protestors of become more radical, the police force will have to become more radical to keep order.

    I also appreciate Mayor Quan's recommendations to OWS in her letter. She is telling them what actions will be tolerated and giving them guidelines while allowing them to continue with their movement. It seems to me that she is genuinely trying to find a way to allow the protestors to continue exercising their opinions and comply with city standards. She clearly stated that the city and OWS organizers should meet and the requests she made for the organizers to maintain safe conditions and allow access to emergency personnel are understandable concerns that the Mayor should address and I think she deserves credit for doing so.

  12. Speaking of Mayors and how they address OWS...

    I view Bloomberg’s “eviction” from Zuccatti Park as a victory for OWS. OWS needed a useful next step and now it makes a dramatic exit (instead of merely becoming stale and bedraggled as the winter progresses.)

    Now is the time for OWS to make some concrete political demands. It is time to do more than occupy a physical space. Here is the opportunity to demonstrate the bigger significance of our plight – so now what? What political demands will be made?

  13. When I initially read Oakland Mayor Jean Quan’s statement re: the recent Occupy Oakland happenings, I felt she was reasonable. I respected that she was “taking responsibility” for the situation. But after viewing the footage of teargas being launched into the crowd, I have a hard time seeing Oakland’s response as anything approaching “reasonable.”

    In particular, I find Mayor Quan’s statement: “ Thank you for last night’s peaceful protest. I will continue to order a minimal police presence,” to be woefully inadequate and sickeningly dismissive.

    Oakland is, in Mayor Quan’s own words, “a progressive city.” Since when does a progressive city treat peaceful protesters in such a manner?

  14. Who canceled the Speak Out? That's sad that she couldn't speak to them in person; I think this issue, as serious as it was, was one that should have been addressed in person.
    However, the letter does at least say it was "her fault"- how often do we really hear that from a politician? I think it'd be a cold day in July if I ever heard King Willie Herenton take even a speck of responsibility for any of the scandalous, ridiculous ways he hurt the city of Memphis during his joke of a career. I am at least impressed by her honesty and support of OWS... only time will tell if she is sincere.

  15. FalenH (Memphis Law)November 27, 2011 at 9:49 PM

    Regardless of how insencere this letter may appear to some, there is little tone that can be reasonbly gathered from a writing. It's all a matter of interpretation. By reading the letter, it seems to me that she is taking responsibility for the actions. She even states that it was her responsibility. Regardless of what side of the issue Mayor Quan is on, she still has her job duties as mayor. It seems to me that she is sincere in this letter and wants this movement to move forward without any violence.

  16. I think JC made an excellent point, that although mayoral "evictions" of OWS protestors could look like a blow (and under the right circumstances, could be unconstitutional), I think it presents an excellent opportunity for the movement. At this point, OWS protestors have made their presence known and their voices heard across the country, but now the voices are all shouting over one another and no clear message is getting through. If the movement is to move forward and make any difference, they need a strong figurehead to deliver their demands and clarify the message. Otherwise, as others point out, violent altercations like this will increase, or perhaps just as bad, the cold winter will drive protestors inward and be seen as a retreat rather than a rally.

  17. Lindsey G (Memphis Law)November 28, 2011 at 8:39 PM

    It doesn’t seem to me that Mayor Quan was being insincere (but I do agree with Falen- how much can we really get out of a written statement?) I think she has a difficult job of listening to the citizens of Oakland while making sure the city as a whole is protected. With regard to the teargas that JC speaks to in the post above, while I believe that using teargas against an innocent peaceful person is reprehensible, Mayor Quan was not the one who physically launched teargas at the protesters. I think she is doing her best to stimulate an open, peaceful, conversation between both sides. Her actions in the coming weeks will demonstrate how much she actually cares for the movement and the amount of support she is willing to give to it.

  18. I agree with both of Katie's posts. I do not get the impression that Mayor Quan was attempting to punt responsibility but rather reach out to the citizens of Oakland and apologize. I also think it is very important and the OWS protestors should absolutely heed her four requests. When the people of OWS, the police, and everyday citizens are being injured or kept from living their everyday lives, isn't the movement failing? All of these parties are part of the 99% OWS is directed toward so why make decisions that are creating harm for these people. If OWS truly wants to succeed it needs to regroup and decide the best way to proceed - likely protesting the right sources in a nonviolent matter. Both sides of the aisle really should appreciate Mayor Quan's outreach effort because not all (or even many) other politicians would have taken those steps.

  19. Gray N. Memphis LawNovember 29, 2011 at 8:55 AM

    Mayor Jean Quan's written statement did not make it seem like she was shirking her responsibility for the attacks in Oakland. However, her mistake in this matter was that she delivered her message to the people of Oakland in the form of a written statement and not a speech. Rhetoric delivered orally is almost always going to be more effective at conveying a message than a written statement. If Mayor Quan had delivered a speech regarding the violence in Oakland, her message would have been delivered much more directly to the protestors and other members of the community. The listeners could then determine how sincere she sounded, and they would have a better platform on which to decipher her remarks.

  20. Mayor Jean Quan's handeling of OWS-Oakland was deplorable. She failed to manage the protests is a way that would both allow for free speech and protect both individuals and property owners form harm. While some may say this is a tall order, this has been marginally accomplished in many other cities without allowing anarchy to take over. She should have issued her resignation, not an excuse.

  21. I think she has a difficult job of listening to the citizens of Oakland while making sure the city as a whole is protected. With regard to the teargas that JC speaks to in the post above, while I believe that using teargas against an innocent peaceful person is reprehensible, Mayor Quan was not the one who physically launched teargas at the protesters.

  22. Nothing surprising that thousands of workers are expected to support the 'Occupy Oakland' movement with an attempt to shut down the city.