Occupy protesters squat on Oakland foreclosure property
OAKLAND, Calif (Reuters) - Anti-Wall Street demonstrators in Oakland, evicted from three public spaces in recent weeks, have set up camp on a privately owned vacant lot as they look to regain momentum for their protests.
The so-called Occupy Oakland activists, touting their latest move as a bid to rescue a piece of property from foreclosure, said the owner of the lot was allowing them to stay. But the owner, Gloria Cobb, would not confirm she gave her permission.
"I'm not interested in making this bigger," Cobb told Reuters on Tuesday, declining to comment further.
The move to establish a foothold in the lot on Monday evening came the same day police in the largely working-class city on the east bank of San Francisco Bay swept away, at least temporarily, the last of the town's protest camps from public spaces.
No clashes were reported. But previous unrest surrounding Oakland protests has helped rally support nationwide for the Occupy movement launched in New York in September to protest economic inequality, high unemployment, rising home foreclosures and excesses of the U.S. financial system.
Oakland activists had voted in support of occupying homes that face foreclosure in a recent "general assembly" session, and individual members were taking the initiative to locate and move onto such property, activist Julion Lewis-Tatman said.
Lewis-Tatman said he and other members of Occupy Oakland had found Cobb's vacant lot in an online list of properties slated for foreclosure and set up camp on Monday night.
"We reclaimed this ... property for (Cobb) since she is in the process of foreclosure," he said.
Oakland police spokeswoman Johnna Watson said police would take no action against protesters at their latest base unless Cobb complains.
On Tuesday morning, about 20 people milled around the grassy corner lot, folding tarps, offering donuts to neighbors and answering questions from reporters. "We have been feeding anybody in the neighborhood," Lewis-Tatman said.
The protesters will stay until the bank restructures the homeowner's mortgage "or they pay us to leave," Lewis-Tatman said. By staying on the land, the occupiers hope to gain squatters rights that would make it more difficult for the bank to remove them.
But neighbor Melvin Welch was not pleased with the occupation. A Vietnam War veteran who lives on Social Security, Welch rents an apartment unit in an adjacent house owned by Cobb.
"I like their cause," he said. "But I've got a bunch of people living next door urinating where they should not be urinating. And I didn't get any sleep last night because my dog was barking."
Welch said Cobb told him that she did not give permission for the occupation of her property.
After forcibly evicting protesters from their original camp in Frank Ogawa Plaza next to Oakland City Hall on October 25, police fired tear gas at demonstrators who returned later that day seeking to reclaim the site.
The ensuing clash, which left a former U.S. Marine seriously injured, ranks as one of the most violent episodes linked to the Occupy movement nationwide.
On Saturday, protesters pitched tents in a park and an adjacent vacant lot, but left peacefully when police ordered them out on Sunday morning. Protesters were evicted from yet another park early on Monday.
Oakland protesters have announced plans to shut down all West Coast ports on December 12 in coordination with like-minded protesters in Los Angeles. Lewis-Tatman said demonstrators were also planning to shut down traffic on the Bay Bridge between Oakland and San Francisco on January 1 in conjunction with Occupy San Francisco.
(Editing by Steve Gorman and Cynthia Johnston)