“Occupy Wall Street” comes to Richmond
on October 13, 2011
A group organized by Richmond SPOKES director Brian Drayton and with the backing of the city’s progressive leadership, has taken the name OccupyRICHMOND and plans to gather downtown and march to City Hall this afternoon.
Mayor Gayle McLaughlin said Wednesday she’ll meet them there and express her support for the “Occupy” movement, a diffuse coalition of protest groups that has gathered in public places across the country to criticize economic inequality and corporate greed.
The Occupy Wall Street protests started about a month ago when activists began camping out in lower Manhattan, proclaiming themselves “the 99 percent” fed up with the economic and political dominance of America’s wealthiest 1 percent and major corporations. The protests have since spread across the country. In the Bay Area, there are now encampments or protests in San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, San Jose, Walnut Creek, San Ramon, Palo Alto, Concord and San Leandro.
“We have one of the biggest 1 percents in the world right in our backyard in Richmond,” said Drayton, referring to Chevron’s Richmond reﬁnery. “We want to say, ‘We know who you are, you’re right here, and the country is sick of you.’”
Drayton is organizing the local protest on Facebook with the support of the Richmond Progressive Alliance, the political organization that helped elect McLaughlin and City Councilmembers Jeff Ritterman and Jovanka Beckles. Beckles also plans to attend today’s rally.
As of 9:30 a.m. Thursday, 38 people had signed up on Facebook to join the OccupyRICHMOND protest. The group plans to gather at 4 p.m. in the parking lot behind the East Bay Center for the Performing Arts at 341 11th Street.
“We have a large black and brown, African American and Latino community that is gravely affected by this economic downturn and [by] corporate greed,” Beckles said. “And yet we often don’t show up, we black and Latinos don’t show up to these protests. This Occupy Wall Street movement is into its fourth week now, and those of us in the African American and Latino communities need to understand that we, more than anyone else, need to show our support for this movement.”
After the 4 p.m. start, plans remain up in the air.
Drayton said the group hopes to march down Macdonald Avenue to the edge of Chevron’s property and to then loop back to Civic Center Plaza and perhaps the local Bank of America branch. If there are enough interested people, Drayton said, he hopes some will camp out at the civic center overnight or into Saturday.
Beckles said that despite her longstanding criticism of Chevron, she hopes the protesters will march to local banks instead, to draw attention to banks’ role in the economic crisis.
Drayton and RPA representatives said that the march, although it ends at City Hall, isn’t against City Hall.
“City Hall is welcoming us — we’re not protesting City Hall,” Drayton said.
RPA member Mike Parker, along with McLaughlin, said it is the rest of the country that is now catching up to the conversation in Richmond.
“This is a different situation than you have in other areas, because, in a certain sense, the program of Occupy Wall Street, that it’s basically the 99 percent against the corporations, is something that gets regular attention at the [Richmond] City Council,” Parker said. “That’s been always something that the RPA has talked about, and now you have a movement that’s building across the country demanding similar things. And, of course, we support it.”
Meanwhile the Richmond Police Department’s Mobile Field Force, which deals with civic unrest and violence in “large-crowd situations” held a training session Wednesday.
Captain Mark Gagan, who heads the unit, said the training had been planned partly in response to the various “Occupy” gatherings in the Bay Area, in case any difficult situations were to arise, but said the training had been planned before police even heard about the OccupyRICHMOND protest.
Gagan said police aren’t planning to show up at the protest, aren’t expecting any problems and said the training was held in case the unit is called on to mobilize elsewhere in the Bay Area, which has happened in the past. He said the training was also organized in consideration of other recent large public protests, such as the Kaiser nurse’s strike last month.
OccupyRICHMOND has its roots in the “Occupy Oakland” protest. On Tuesday, Drayton visited the protesters camped outside Oakland City Hall and ran into several other Richmond residents. He considered taking a tent to Oakland, but decided, instead, to bring the movement to Richmond. On Tuesday night, Drayton attended an RPA meeting and suggested a Richmond equivalent. He said he got unanimous support.
Organizers want residents to come to the Civic Center with lawn chairs, musical instruments and food.
“It’s not a protest — it’s not scary,” Drayton said. “It’s like a tailgate party to show solidarity. I want people to come and enjoy themselves. I want church choirs out there. I wants kids out there.”
Then, he said, “We’re going to have a conversation about what it’s like to live under the oppressive power of the 1 percent.”
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