Santa Cruz native and current UC Berkeley student Ariella Powers couldn’t talk for long this past Monday afternoon — she was too busy trying to get her backpack, credit card, ID and other personal items back from the police.
Powers was part of a major protest associated with Occupy Oakland last Saturday, in which approximately 400 people were arrested by the Oakland Police Department — including Powers, who spent 20 hours in the Santa Rita jail in Dublin, Calif.
Powers, who said she has been “solidly involved” in the Occupy movement since the Nov. 9 protests in Oakland, was part of a group on Saturday trying to occupy and repurpose an old convention center in Oakland that had stood empty for six years.
“We were trying to reclaim this building that belongs to the people of Oakland,” said Powers, who is an interdisciplinary studies major at UC Berkeley, focusing on how social movements and art intersect. “When we got there, the police had already established themselves, and were using tear gas. They had already issued a somewhat dispersal order, but [it was so crowded that] it was hard for people to get out.”
Some protesters then redirected and started marching down Broadway Street, Powers among them, police officers not far behind.
“Riot cops were coming at us from both sides and trying to corral us,” she said. “Everyone was getting arrested. My friend was beat over the head with a baton.”
Oakland Mayor Jean Quan said this latest Occupy event disrupted the city.
“It draws forces from the neighborhoods where I have been trying to put them … this impacts the whole city, not just a building,” Quan said in a video shot by the Oakland Tribune.
Powers was arrested for failure to disperse at the scene of the crime, and joined the 337 other people arrested at Santa Rita (100 more were at the downtown Oakland station), where Powers says quarters were close.
“They kept us in very unsafe conditions,” Powers said. “There were 20 people packed into one cell.”
They were released the next day, with over 50 people outside welcoming them with cheers, coffee and cigarettes. They all have arraignments between Feb. 28 and March 7 — Powers and many others for misdemeanors, but around 10 others for felonies — and Powers is hopeful the charges might get dropped. Either way, Powers said the experience did not disillusion her toward the Occupy movement.
“It’s a pretty interesting thing being arrested for standing up for my freedom of speech,” she said. “It’s only going to increase my involvement. In the process of the Oakland police trying to destroy this day … by arresting us they built a stronger community.”