Originally published on Oakland North
“Everyone has to sign in first.”
As 20 protesters filed into City Hall, umbrellas open, the security guard at the front desk kindly asked that everyone sign in and obtain a visitor sticker before going upstairs. Everyone followed suit, filing into an orderly line, signing their name and collecting a sticker. Unlike most Occupy Oakland events, this one was rather cordial in tone.
Following a confrontation with police last Thursday at Frank Ogawa Plaza after being denied a permit for a canopy, Occupy Oakland protesters and local clergy members who had organized the Interfaith Tent at the former Occupy camp site had called for an “umbrella action” during which they would confront City Administrator Deanna Santana—in song and dance—about recent events.Their grievances were twofold: They wanted an explanation about why they were denied a canopy permit, as well as one for why their replacement — a beach umbrella — was being considered a “structure” by city officials.
On Monday afternoon, the group of umbrella-wielding protesters marched to the City Administrator’s office. Three protesters sang a Mary Poppins-like tune with lyrics about how “We are the 99 percent” while using their umbrellas as props, dancing in a circle as they sang.
A protester who called herself “Madame Burns” dances and sings “We are the 99 percent” as City Administrator Deanne Santana looks on.
Santana wasn’t in her office, but Assistant City Administrator Michelle Taylor-Lloyd, who represented her, clapped as she watched. Afterward, she was presented with a yellow umbrella and a letter from the Interfaith group.
The scene was then repeated across the way outside the mayor’s office, only this time Santana watched on with a smile and was given a light blue umbrella.
The protest stemmed from the Interfaith group’s desire to re-establish a presence at Frank Ogawa Plaza. The group originally hosted a tent at the plaza’s Occupy camp site, which they used as a scared spiritual space, until it was taken down during the November 14 raid. Following the dismantling of Occupy Oakland’s camp, the Interfaith group has maintained a presence during the day to give people a place to discuss issues like economic inequality. Meanwhile, other occupiers have been holding a 24-hour vigil on the plaza in protest of the camp being dismantled.
While Oakland officials allow protesting during the day at the plaza, overnight camping and the erecting structures are not tolerated. While the Interfaith Tent has obtained a permit to maintain its presence on the plaza during the daytime hours, a week ago a permit for a canopy was denied by city officials, and the group’s members say they are unclear about why it was refused.
“This gets distilled down to First Amendment rights,” said Sri Louise, an organizer with the Interfaith group. “Everything (identified with the Occupy Movement) is seen as an insurrectionary object.”
Arturo Sanchez, assistant to the city administrator, said the canopy permit was denied because the group’s permit had no expiration date. Typically, permits of this nature only go out for a few days, he said. “We don’t issue permits in perpetuity,” Sanchez said. “We never told them they couldn’t reapply for a permit.”
According to protesters, umbrellas and tables are now being considered “structures” by city officials, resulting in what they consider harassment by police officers. After an umbrella the size of a beach umbrella was set up to replace the Interfaith group’s canopy, the group was issued a citation.
Sanchez said that due to umbrella’s size, it violated the city’s encroachment code. Under the Oakland Municipal Code, encroachment is defined as unpermitted objects or structures that are in the public right-of-way, such as flower planter boxes, fences, and kiosks.
“It’s not a regular umbrella,” he said. “They were using it as a shelter.”
Sanchez added that the occupiers behind the 24-hour vigil have been cooperative and have been filing for permits for their activities. He said the citations against the Interfaith group are not selective enforcement.
“It’s unfair and inappropriate for one group to abide by the rules and not others,” he said.
Like most Occupy-related events, the umbrella action attracted a number of people who have been adversely affected by current economic conditions. Cynthia Joseph, a 50-year-old Oakland resident who was laid off in 2010, said she participated in the umbrella protest because she is concerned about the future, especially because Congress seems unlikely to extend unemployment benefits. She said she has been active with the Occupy Movement since the beginning.
“I really don’t know what I’m going to do in three months,” Joseph said. “I feel like I’ve been waiting for Occupy my whole life.”
For Sri Louise, she hoped to hear back from city officials soon about the canopy so the group could reapply for a permit. “It provides a space that is inviting to people,” she said of having a canopy, “and has a sense of sacred shelter.”