Oakland police move on school occupiers

July 5, 2012

Jessie Muldoon, a member of the Oakland Education Association, reports on the eviction of a school occupation--and the determination of activists to keep fighting.

POLICE USED a pre-dawn raid to evict the peaceful occupation of Lakeview Elementary School Before in the early morning hours of July 3, forcing 12 occupiers to leave and arresting two who defied the dispersal order.

The occupation was in its 17th day and had been building momentum since the sit-in began on the night of June 15. Parents, teachers and other community activists organized the occupation to protest the Oakland School District's plan to close five of its elementary schools, including Lakeview--the others are Lazear, Marshall, Maxwell Park and Santa Fe.

The occupation made possible a daily summer camp at Lakeview called the People's School for Public Education, which offered children a free program of gardening classes, games of all sorts, and workshops on topics like social justice.

The movement, while sometimes small, was able to inspire several solidarity actions.

On June 23, more than 300 people gathered at Oscar Grant Plaza in downtown Oakland to rally and kick off the march. The location was significant because Oscar Grant Plaza (renamed by activists when it became the central location for organizing against police brutality) was the home of Occupy Oakland until the Oakland Police Department, under the direction of liberal Mayor Jean Quan, violently and recklessly raided and displaced the camp.

A Lakeview parent who was part of the occupation speaks to marchers in Oakland
A Lakeview parent who was part of the occupation speaks to marchers in Oakland (Jessie Muldoon | SW)

Marching behind a banner carried by the young students of the People's School, the crowd made its way to Lakeview for a rally. Speakers discussed the role that this struggle is playing in rebuilding Occupy as well as the need for a new movement for public education.

On June 27, the sit-in activists mobilized for the final Oakland School Board meeting of the year, joining some 400 outraged teachers, families, students and supporters protesting deep Special Education cuts. Speakers at the rally linked the ongoing cuts to essential education programs and enrichment classes such as art, physical education and libraries to the broader economic crisis that is forcing people out of their homes and driving down living standards. Later that night, after hours of testimony from the Special Education community, the school board voted to reverse the vast majority of the cuts.

By the morning of July 3, the occupation had become a fixture in the Grand Lake neighborhood and enjoyed broad community support. But in order to begin converting the school to administrative offices, Superintendent Tony Smith ordered the police raid.

AFTER OAKLAND Unified School Police pushed out the occupiers, activists organized an emergency rally for that evening.

About 200 people turned out for the rally, where spirits were high in spite of the raid, and demonstrators were motivated to continue the struggle. Speakers discussed the need to oust current school board members, with a special emphasis on Superintendent Smith. Hiding behind the language of "social justice," Tony Smith has been able to carry out a savage assault on Oakland's public schools. In addition to the cuts mentioned above, he has arrogantly defied the contract covering Oakland's unionized teachers and ushered in a slew of charter schools.

Other speakers addressed the fact that the dispersal order at the camp that morning was issued by School Police Officer Barhin Bhatt, who shot and killed Raheim Brown outside a school dance at Skyline High School in 2010. There was general outrage at the fact that killer cops are allowed to move freely on school campuses, while families are not.

Joel Velasquez, a Lakeview parent and one of the two people arrested in the raid to evict the occupation, has been staying at Lakeview since the start of the sit-in and made a moving speech about the role of public education. He focused on Superintendent Smith's role as the mastermind behind the closures, as well as the general decline in public education in Oakland. "We are just warming up!" he told the crowd.

Later, Velasquez described the lesson that the Lakeview occupation was teaching: "This is showing people that it is okay to stand up, to not be scared. The district is scared of us taking power."

The rally concluded with a call to march to Superintendent Smith's house in the affluent Lakeshore neighborhood. The march proceeded through the streets with overwhelming support from drivers and passersby. When the march reached Smith's house, the rally continued for another 30 minutes while more speakers continued making the case against the district's plans.

Tim Terry, whose mother worked at Lakeview for 30 years, echoed the sentiment that the struggle is not over. "This is a first," said Terry, who was the other person arrested with Velasquez in the pre-dawn raid. "We need to take back the schools one student at a time, one classroom at a time, one teacher at a time. We need to start over. Education is not to be rationed."

The march proceeded back to Lakeview Elementary and continued to rally in the street.

While the occupation has been displaced for now, the movement continues to fight for education justice--and for justice for Raheim Brown, Kenneth Harding and Alan Blueford, all victims of Bay Area police brutality.

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