Obama Oakland visit draws protests
Oakland may be a proven bastion of support for President Obama, but his planned visit to the politically charged city Monday is expected to lead to the first major downtown protests in months.
Medical marijuana advocates are staging what will likely be the biggest rally as they urge Obama to halt a Justice Department crackdown on dispensaries. Antiwar activists are coming, too, lending energy to the barrage of criticism that Obama has been taking from the activist left.
If the president wanted this kind of attention, he picked the right destination.
Among East Bay stops on Monday, Obama is set to appear at a fundraiser that starts at 4:30 p.m. at the Fox Theater, which sits on the edge of Oaksterdam, Oakland’s unofficial cannabis district, on a block where Occupy activists have clashed with police.
Between the rallies and street closures related to Obama’s security, the downtown area may be tough to negotiate. Some businesses that fall within a Secret Service perimeter will have to close for the evening.
Police, who are beefing up their presence, urged people to avoid the area or use public transportation.
He said he wasn’t worried about political protesters causing trouble but about others hijacking their events.
“If there are problems,” Bolton said, “they will be with those small groups that have historically caused acts of property damage and violence.”
BART said it planned to keep all stations open while running longer trains throughout the day to accommodate a potential surge in riders.
California NORML, a lobbying group trying to reform marijuana laws, obtained a city permit to demonstrate in the plaza outside City Hall from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The group and others are angry that federal authorities have, in the past three months, taken action against two Oakland dispensaries that are among the most influential in the state.
Stephen DeAngelo, whose Harborside Health Center is contesting the government’s move this month to shut it down, said the dispensary is helping to bus in supporters for a “patients’ tribunal” at noon and a 3 p.m. march.
“We’re doing everything we can do to get the president’s attention and ask him to keep the promise he made to us on the campaign trail to not use federal resources to circumvent state laws on medical marijuana,” said DeAngelo, whose dispensary is believed to be the largest in the nation.
Melinda Haag, the U.S. attorney in San Francisco, said last week that Harborside’s size made it a target.
In April, federal agents raided and shut down a dispensary, school and other properties connected to Richard Lee, the founder of Oaksterdam University and the state’s most active proponent of marijuana legalization.
A group called Afghans for Peace is asking people to come downtown for an antiwar protest, with a rally outside City Hall at 3:30 p.m., followed by a march toward the Fox Theater. The group did not have a permit as of Friday.
Occupy Oakland protesters have announced no specific plans but said they may join other protest groups.
“Obama made a lot of promises and spoke a big game in his campaign to become president. He used language and concepts familiar to the radical community,” said Occupy activist Lauren Smith, 30, of Concord. “But what he did when he got into office was decide to be the great compromiser. … People feel really betrayed.”
The Obama campaign did not respond to a request for comment about the planned protests.
But at an Obama campaign office near the Fox Theater, volunteer Dianne Lyles said the president had great support in Oakland because of “what he is doing for the average American.”
The Fox event sold tickets from $100 to $7,500. Also on Obama’s schedule Monday is a fundraiser at the Piedmont home of real estate developer Wayne Jordan, one of his top fundraisers, and a technology-related event at a place to be determined in the East Bay. Both cost $35,800 per person, the legal maximum for a donation.
The East Bay has long been an Obama stronghold. In the 2008 California Democratic primary, which Obama lost to then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, his highest vote among all congressional districts was the one represented by Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland.
Lee said the president’s handlers knew what they were doing when they scheduled a campaign stop in the city.
‘Supporters here, too’
“They know we’re involved in many, many movements, and people have the right to free speech,” Lee said. “People have the right to free speech and exercise that free speech as long as it is lawful. But people should know that President Obama also has a lot of supporters here, too.”
UC San Diego political scientist Samuel Popkin, a former consultant to five Democrat presidential candidates, said he didn’t see an “obvious negative” to Obama being targeted by protesters.
“Having distance from the anti-capitalist left and pro-pot left does not necessarily hurt him,” Popkin said. “Suppose the Tea Party attacked Mitt Romney for being a centrist. That’s not all bad.”
Presidential Road Closures
Oakland police and the Secret Service are shutting down some downtown streets and businesses Monday to make way for President Obama’s 4:30 p.m. re-election campaign fundraiser at the Fox Theater.
While cautioning that the details could change, police officials said the following streets are scheduled for closure to all traffic between 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.:
— Telegraph Avenue between 17th Street and Thomas L. Berkley Way
— 17th Street between Broadway and San Pablo Avenue
— 18th Street between Telegraph and San Pablo avenues
— 19th Street between Broadway and San Pablo Avenue
— William Street between Telegraph and San Pablo avenues
— Rashida Muhammad Street between 19th and 20th streets
— San Pablo Avenue from 17th Street to Thomas L. Berkley Way