Iran hikers speak at Occupy Oakland protest

October 17, 2011 12:00:00 AM PDT
The Occupy Oakland protesters got a big morale boost when the freed Iran hikers came to speak to them. The message was drowned out a bit by some of the intense moments that happened.

Oakland police almost shut down the Occupy protest after a protester's dog bit a television reporter. There were some angry words exchanged and then the police showed up to see what was happening.

The presence of police on the plaza, in front of City Hall, drew a crowd of angry demonstrators. More officers arrived and the tension escalated as protesters linked arms, preparing for the worst. The protesters changed "Go away, go away!" to the cops, but the police tolerated the jeers and chose to stand down.

"I would like to remind everyone this is an occupation. So we respect this as a public space that is no longer under the authority of the city," said Sara Mizner an Occupy Oakland organizer.

Some demonstrators started turning on the media saying it no longer had the right to shoot video of them on public property.

Around 5:20 p.m. all three of the UC Berkeley graduates who were freed from Iran made their first public appearance on the West Coast in Oakland. The arrival of the three American hikers released from an Iranian prison quickly altered the mood. Sarah Shourd, Shane Bauer and Josh Fattal, spoke to the crowd at the Occupy Oakland demonstration at Frank Ogawa Plaza. It was their first West Coast appearance together in the Bay Area since being released.

"Coming home to Oakland, coming home to this, this is amazing, this is really amazing," said Bauer.

"Because we're American, we shared a special privilege that we know that we would never really be forgotten and a lot of prisoners don't have that. A lot of prisoners are sitting inside and for all they know they really are forgotten," said Shourd.

Bauer and Fattal were released after 26 months in prison, charged with espionage.

"Never doubt that every piece of support helps. And a particular message to everyone here at Occupy Oakland. Occupy Oakland, I support you," said Fattal.

The hikers' impending visit is not exactly the buzz around the camp. In fact, we found more than a few in Oakland who have no idea who they are. That said, others feel like the hikers' visit and all they've been through in many ways symbolizes what this movement is all about.

"I think it says a lot about their passion to come back here and to make a statement," said demonstrator Jason Lane.

The three hikers were students at UC Berkeley and activists that supported such movements there as the tree-sitter protest which was an effort to save a grove of trees in the way of the university's efforts to build a new athletic facility.

Currently in Oakland, the message is less precise. Amid the sea of tents that make up Occupy Oakland, there is a steady stream of demands from the participants.

"We want to focus on provoking change in areas like keeping public libraries open. They've closed five public libraries. We want to keep our public schools open. We want to do away with curfews and gang injunctions," said Darren Stiplin from Occupy Oakland.

"I'm talking in terms of the rich getting richer and everybody else getting poorer. I'm talking about the destruction of the environment, global warming... all of that," said demonstrator John Reimann.

On Monday, the city sent its own message to a group that has set no timetable for leaving. The city administrator distributed a memo asking the protesters to stop smoking, including marijuana, dismantle structures, stop using city power and to clean up after and police themselves to help keep the costs of this massive display to a minimum.

"To the extent that there are costs, the city of Oakland is paying for it. So it's taking more money from our very limited resources, which is not to say that I disagree with what the protesters are doing, but it's important that we spend as little as we can," said Oakland City Councilmember Pat Kernighan.

City officials won't put a dollar figure on it, but this event will clearly cost them some money. City crews have already had to clean up spray-painted graffiti, portions of the lawn may have to be replaced and there have been extra police patrols. Beyond that, there are a couple of wooden structures set up, but the city has given the protesters until Monday evening to take those down or the city will have to.

In the end, Oakland protesters were quietly settled for the night and they were watching a documentary about the collapse of the economy.


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