Photo by Orvised (www.flickr.com/orvised).
In the dark wee hours on the night of January 29, after a month of construction and preparation, a small band of intrepid sailors from Occupy Oakland launched the second iteration of a floating occupation of Lake Merritt, a small, charming aquatic version of the traditional American dream. The OO Hope Floats, a dreamy pink, white and purple houseboat with front porch, white picket fence, pitched roof, and flower boxes, floated peacefully out onto the lake and became home for four days to a group of lively, thoughtful Aquapiers and their guests. Conversations were had, pizza was eaten, songs were sung, dances were danced, and a message was spread.
Written in large white letters upon the black-painted back wall of the floating house was the statement, “3.5 Million Homeless, 18.5 Million Vacant Homes in America Today,” and the question, “Why won’t you let us in?” The issue of homelessness and foreclosures was but one of several reasons given by team members who toiled for a month on this project. Their goals included, “creative use of a public space; providing an open, safe community forum and venue for performances; and to call attention to the issues of homelessness, home foreclosure, and general economic injustice.”
The Aquapiers said that although they didn’t keep a specific count, hundreds of people every day interacted with the boat while passing around Lake Merritt by foot, bicycle, or car, and many people stopped to talk and ask questions, virtually all in a good mood, expressing their positive reactions to the OO Hope Floats. The residents of the OOHF were peaceful conversing, playing music, sharing food, and sometimes giving guests a ride out to the visit the houseboat via small rowboats used as shuttles from ship to shore. One night there was a dance party, sending music out over the waters of the lake. They received no complaints from Oakland residents or authorities.
Despite amiably sharing information with lake visitors, not bothering local residents, and having no negative impact on the environment (the OO Hope Floats had no motor to pollute the lake, and Aquapiers removed their trash and used public restrooms on shore), as with the first Aquapy vessel in December, the City of Oakland felt compelled to remove the little boat after a short time afloat on the waters of the Lake Merritt.
On the evening of February 1, a “friend of the boat” spotted police and firefighters arriving at the Lake Merritt boathouse and alerted the crew of the OOHF. At the time, approximately ten people were on board the boat. The crew already had a plan in place to abandon ship in the event of a raid, which they managed to swiftly accomplish. They removed all of their possessions and themselves from the boat to a safe location on shore, and then watched as a pontoon boat manned by the Official Boat-Removers of the One Percent slowly towed the houseboat out of the water and hauled it ashore onto the parking lot by the boathouse. No citations were issued; no arrests made.
At around mid-day on February 2, the day after it was confiscated, the OO Hope Floats was destroyed. A witness saw and took a photograph of the crushed boat pieces being moved by a bulldozer bearing the City of Oakland insignia. Upon learning of the demise of their boat, the crew stated that they were saddened because they had been considering options to try to retrieve their property from the City. The Aquapiers had even tried, while the boat was still afloat, to reach the Oakland Police Department to offer to remove the houseboat from the lake on their
own after a few days, but they were unable to reach anyone at the Department who had even heard about their exitence.
Upon calling the Department after the raid to discuss where the OOHF was being held and whether it could be recovered, the Police Department claimed that it had no knowledge of the boat – that Oakland Police did not tow it and had no record of it. OPD suggested that it was a different agency that was responsible for the removal of the boat from the
lake, although Aquapiers observed Oakland police among those involved in the raid.
At the time of this writing, after several days of multiple calls to various City of Oakland agencies, including the Oakland Police Department, Lake Merritt Boathouse, and Department of Public Works, it appears that no department of the City actually knows who towed the OO Hope Floats out of the water and destroyed it. (Perhaps some mysterious phantom department was responsible?) We do know that the boat was considered “abandoned property,” and was destroyed less than 24 hours after it was removed from the water.
Questions remain as to City policy regarding how long it is required to hold abandoned property before destroying it, especially in light of the fact that, according to staff at the Department of Public Works, when the City conducted its first major raid on the Occupy Oakland encampment at Frank Ogawa Plaza (aka Oscar Grant Plaza), it held confiscated property such as tents and sleeping bags for up to 30 days while waiting for Occupiers to come and retrieve their personal belongings.
When asked whether they feel they accomplished their goals, the creators of the boat said that although they knew when they built the boat it would probably be confiscated, they feel satisfied that the OO Hope Floats made a statement. “We engaged with a lot of people around Lake Merritt,” they said, “many of whom would not usually be at other rallies, marches, and meetings. Many said that they were appreciative of our tactic and agreed that the economic system is unjust. We feel that the OO Hope Floats captured the imagination of the public nationally and internationally, and converted an underused public terrain into a community space.” Commenting on a party held on the night of January 30 that spilled over from ship to shore, Aquapiers commented, “Musicians performed on the boat deck, and many Oakland residents came out to enjoy the show. A birthday was celebrated, there was a dance party, and it was an opportunity for everybody to enjoy Lake Merritt at night, creating an atmosphere that challenged the norms of civic spaces.”
Regarding possible future actions of the creative team behind the OO Hope Floats, the group stated that they have several projects they are considering, and many collaborators are working on ideas. The Lake Merritt project “has empowered not only those who directly participated in the planning and construction of the boat, but also many others who have expressed interest in participating in new, collective subversive art protests.” The current group is made up of filmmakers, sculptors, artists, musicians, philosophers, plumbers, carpenters, and doctors, and continues to “subvert contemporary paradigms through radical means.”
So the OO Hope Floats, one remarkable incarnation of Occupy Oakland and the Occupy movement at large, is no more. The City, police and fire departments, and any number of pontoon boats and bulldozers may confiscate and destroy mere wood, paint and nails, but the spirit of the lovely little houseboat and the creative and inspired energy of the team that built her
is most definitely alive.
The Aquapy team says, “Oakland will know when our ideas come to fruition, when our projects spread from ink to paper, and from pen to wall. We are the ones who built the pyramids, not the pharaoh.” Translation: Be on the watch for new, unexpected, and thought-provoking projects expressing the spirit and message of the Occupy movement, brought to you by some of Occupy Oakland’s most creative and enterprising members.