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Portraits from the Occupation

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Earlier this year, Lucy Raven and I were commissioned by the Oakland Museum of California to make a series of short video portraits of people involved in, opposed to, or otherwise affected by Occupy Oakland.

After Occupy Wall Street, OO has been the most visible American Occupy. It has also been the most militant, and following Oakland’s efforts to clear the physical encampments at City Hall Plaza – which involved mass arrests, and the wounding of Scott Olsen, a former marine – OO became a constant presence in the news cycle, and a pilot light for the whole Occupy movement.

In November, OO called for a citywide General Strike. (The last General Strike on American soil had also taken place in Oakland, in 1946.) In January, protesters tried to take over the city’s Civic Auditorium, which has stood empty since 2005. (This photograph, taken a block or so from the auditorium, and directly in front of the Oakland Museum, catches the resulting street battle from a rather dramatic angle. Lucy and I are in there, somewhere, standing just inside the museum’s entranceway.) The project we ended up making launched on 1 May, which was widely advertised as a ‘Day of Action’ throughout the Bay Area.

We conducted the interviews in March and April, aiming for the best cross-section we could get within the time and space we’d allotted ourselves, and editing minimally, for length and clarity. They appear in the order they were recorded in, starting with Susie Cagle, an independent journalist who’s been arrested, twice, in the course of reporting on OO, and ending with Anthony Batts, Oakland’s former chief of police, who handed in his resignation just as the first tents were being pitched at City Hall Plaza. Our hope was that the video portraits would serve as a sort of crib-sheet. Watching them now, we’re struck by the distance between various sides, by the ideological stalemates they describe, and by the way those stalemates have played out, in real time, on the streets of our city.

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