The Mayor Quan Connection at Occupy Oakland

SaveKPFA is touting its Occupy credentials, and there is an ironic basis to this. One of their representatives at Occupy Oakland was Pamela Drake. When the movement set up tents in the Plaza last fall, she was there from the start. She said in an interview, “I was down there every day for about five weeks, attended numerous General Assemblies and some committees.” Then she took a job working for Mayor Jean Quan — who repeatedly sent police to teargas, beat and arrest Occupiers.

Pam finally left OO just before Move-In-Day on January 28th, and after that I didn’t see her at the Plaza until last month, when she reappeared at Occupy’s anniversary commemoration of October 25th. That was the day, a year ago, when police raided our camp at the Plaza, arresting about 80 of us. It was also the day on which police injured ex-Marine Scott Olsen.

Now, a year later, four hundred Occupiers gathered at the Plaza to commemorate that day. It was a grand reunion of people who’d shared the risks, dangers, challenges and successes of the last year. Twice we’d shut down the Port of Oakland. Repeatedly we’d held meetings, marches and vigils in the face of police violence and intimidation, and here we were on this commemorative occasion, threatened by a repetition of the same repression. Just being there that evening took courage, and engendered a sense of unity, sisterhood & brotherhood. Comrades saw comrades, exchanging smiles, greetings and hugs.

It was about 9 p.m., back at the plaza after returning from the march. The street lights had just gone out again, as they had several times that evening. I was walking up 14th street towards the amphitheater, wondering if these repeated blackouts were part of the war of nerves being played against us by the city officials. That’s when I happened to glance off to my right. And there she was, no more than six feet away. Pam Drake. No! It couldn’t be her, I thought. She wouldn’t be back here, not after what she’d done. I looked again, peering through the murk.

Then she saw me. Her face froze, and she jerked her head to one side, involuntary body language that silently screamed, “You didn’t see me here! You don’t know me!”

Yes, it was her, but I wanted to be absolutely certain. So I said, “Hi Pam.”

“Hi Daniel.” Her voice was tense.

“What are you doing here?” I said.

“What are you doing here?” she shot back.

“I’m part of Occupy,” I reminded her.

“Well, I’m part of Oakland,” she said.

I said nothing, silently noting only to myself that she wasn’t claiming to be part of Occupy.

She added, “I’m just taking a walk, curious to see what’s here.” Having said that, she disappeared into the darkness.

The next day another Occupier told me he’d also seen her earlier that evening, taking photos of people. She’d gone up to a couple, pushed her camera practically right in their faces, very intrusively. They’d objected, telling her she should ask their permission.

That’s Pam Drake. I knew her from the Middle East Study Group that used to meet at the Grand Lake Center. That was back around 2004 and she was then thinking of running for the Oakland City Council. Having decades of political experience, which included having been chief of staff for two council members, she seemed well qualified, and I was hoping to see her on the council. But as things turned out, it didn’t happen.

Later, in 2009, she ran for the KPFA board with “SaveKPFA,” which was then called the “Concerned Listeners.” I and some other KPFA activists were surprised to see Pam in that group. We told her that “SaveKPFA” supported a clique of staff that were working to take over the station; that they had repeatedly cheated in the Local Station Board (LSB) elections. If they were to succeed in taking over the station they would tone down KPFA’s radical message, making it into NPR lite.

Actually, Pam had to know exactly what SaveKPFA was up to, and on becoming a board member, she was part of it. When SaveKPFA tried to drive grassroots activist Tracy Rosenberg off the board, Pam went along with that too.

That wasn’t the Pam we knew, or thought we knew. I guess we didn’t know Pam, or perhaps more significantly, didn’t understand the workings and connections of the establishment left. It was a network of progressives who had in their past done good work in left-wing movements, but over the years found their way into relatively comfortable positions in and around the Democratic Party. Their circle included labor bureaucrats and a number of local politicians including Jean Quan who became mayor of Oakland in 2010. Quan had formerly been a student radical and a Maoist. Many of them still talk the old revolutionary talk.

It was pretty clear that Pam had found herself a niche in the lower levels of the local power structure, and when she showed up at OO in the fall of 2011, it didn’t take much imagination to guess what she was there for. The Dems were at that time working to co-opt the OWS movement and turn it into their version of the Republican Tea Party. However, Occupy asserted its independence and maintained its identity as an adversary to the 1%. Pundits of the corporate media soon began asking, “Has Occupy lost its way?” which seemed to be their way of implying that the proper destiny of Occupy was to become a front group for the Democratic Party.

Mayor Quan may not have wanted to give up so quickly on the co-option of Occupy, but she was under pressure to suppress it. After authorizing a police action, she went on a convenient trip to Washington DC. During her absence, on October 25, 2011, police from 17 agencies raided the camp. Iraq war veteran Scott Olsen was severely injured.

There was massive outrage, and the General Assembly of OO called for a general strike, the first such event in more than half a century. Fifty thousand people marched into the Port of Oakland and shut it down. The mayor didn’t try to prevent the strike; many of her supporters actually joined in and helped organize it. Even Jean Quan’s husband and daughter took part in the demonstrations, as did Pam Drake. Mayor Jean Quan herself apologized for the police action and eulogized the strike.

The mayor’s apology notwithstanding, Scott Olsen was still in critical condition, and his injuries seemed likely to be permanent. Mayor Quan had alienated the left. She had also lost the confidence of the town’s right-wingers, who launched a campaign to recall her from office. She formed a group to fight the recall, and hired Pam Drake to coordinate it. “Stand with Oakland” was the official name of the group; Pam later described it as “a committee which advises the Mayor on many local issues.”

Might some of those “many local issues” have included Mayor Jean Quan’s strategies for suppressing Occupy? Pam doesn’t say. Nevertheless, while working for the mayor, she continued to be an activist at OO, helping to organize an event as late as January 20th.

During that time Mayor Quan was waging a PR campaign against OO, and the police continued to attack and harass Occupy, causing injuries and making numerous arrests. On January 26th Pam posted an article announcing her break with OO. But there she was last month, on the anniversary of October 25th, lurking in the shadows.

Pam’s activities at OO while working for the mayor look like a huge conflict of interest. That’s putting it euphemistically. There’s another word which comes to mind. Since she is an active member of SaveKPFA, maybe they would care to investigate and give us a report.

Daniel Borgström is a member of the KPFA Local Station Board Rescue Pacifica Caucus. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps during the Kennedy years, and now lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and writes on various topics including travel, history, and struggles against corporate dominance.  He can be reached at Read other articles by Daniel, or visit Daniel's website.