Portraits from the Occupation

Katie Mitchell

Portraits from the Occupation is an artist project by Alex Abramovich and Lucy Raven. The project comprises a series of video interviews with sixteen individuals involved with or impacted by Occupy Oakland. The interviews were recorded in March and April 2012.

Katie Mitchell

Retired Postal Worker and North Oakland Homeowner, with her sister, Corine Gaston (left)

The project was conceived by the artists and commissioned by the Oakland Standard to capture the complexity of the Occupy Oakland movement and to document a moment of social unrest that will have historical resonance in Oakland and beyond.

Artist Statement:

Portraits from the Occupation grew out of our interest in two of OMCA’s current exhibitions: All of Us or None: Social Justice Posters of the San Francisco Bay Area and The 1968 Exhibit. “What can we do in Oakland today,” we wondered, “that we wish had been done in Oakland, back in 1968?” 
We think of the resulting video portraits—of activists, organizers, businesspeople, elected officials, and others associated, in one way or another, with Occupy Oakland—as a series of time capsules. Together, they capture a cross-section of the ideas and personalities in play, even as some of the events under discussion are still unfolding.
We began with six interview subjects. Shortly afterward, we doubled our initial list of participants, then expanded it again. Representatives of the Oakland Police Department, and the police union, declined our invitations to participate, as did the editors of
Adbusters magazine, which issued the original call for Occupy Wall Street.
We asked each participant four basic questions:

1. How did you become involved with Occupy Oakland?
2. How has Occupy Oakland been good and/or bad for the Oakland?
3. Given the benefit of hindsight, what are some of the things that Occupy Oakland and/or the City of Oakland could or should have done differently?
4. What’s next (or, what do you hope is next) for Occupy Oakland and the City of Oakland?

A few phrases appear and reappear in these interviews: "First eviction” refers to the early-morning clearing of tents and protestors at City Hall Plaza in Downtown Oakland on October 25, 2011. The plaza was reoccupied almost immediately, and a “second eviction” took place on November 14, 2011, a few days after 25-year-old Kayode Ola Foster was shot and killed near the encampment.
“Move-in Day” refers to January 28, 2012, the day that activists tried to take over the Henry J. Kaiser Auditorium in Downtown Oakland. (By day’s end, over 400 people had been arrested.)
“May Day” refers to May 1, 2012, which has been promoted as a day of mass action in the Bay Area. It's also the date that this project was launched online.
The videos are presented in the order in which they were recorded. Interviewees include: Susie Cagle, independent journalist; Leo Ritz-Barr, organizer/Occupy Oakland Events Committee; Philip Tagami, developer; Joshua Clover, professor/militant; Jean Quan, Mayor of Oakland; Christopher Moreland, Occupy Oakland Tactical Action Committee; Desley Brooks, City Council Member, District 6; Max Allstadt, carpenter/activist; Jesse Palmer, attorney/activist; Leila Seraphin, kitchen coordinator Occupy Oakland; Arturo Sanchez, Deputy City Administrator, City of Oakland; Alanna Rayford, business owner, Downtown Oakland; Katie Mitchell, retired postal worker/North Oakland homeowner, with her sister, Corine Gaston; Scott Olsen, Veterans for Peace; Ricardo Robles Gil, truck owner/operator at the Port of Oakland; Anthony Batts, Chief, Oakland Police Department (retired).
—Alex Abramovich and Lucy Raven