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At the intersection of 14th Street and Broadway stood thousands of people who represented nearly every imaginable facet of background, class, race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age and ability. The group was a literal Venn diagram of the intersectionality Monday’s event organizers say is key to reclaiming the radical legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

For a sixth year, the Anti Police-Terror Project called on people of Oakland to come out and claim the streets and their rights in what’s been dubbed the “Reclaim MLK” march and rally. At the center of that figurative and literal intersection this year were Moms 4 Housing, a collective that put King’s non-violent civil disobedience into practice in a publicized fight for housing equity that erupted a conversation across the city and nation. 

Ching Wong/SFBay Demonstrators march down 14th Street on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day after a rally held at Frank Ogawa Plaza in Oakland, Calif., on Monday, January 20, 2020. (Ching Wong/SFBay.ca)

The Moms 4 Housing story and events of the past week were inextricably tied to Monday’s MLK march. In a sea of related but different causes, the saga of two working, homeless mothers who illegally occupied a vacant West Oakland house owned by corporate real estate investors epitomized the meaning and message of the day.

Driving that point further was the dramatic turn their story took the very morning they were scheduled to stand atop a truck with APTP and other activists to speak to the MLK Day crowd gathered at Frank Ogawa Plaza, also known as Oscar Grant Plaza.    

Mayor Libby Schaaf held an unexpected press conference around 10:15 a.m. to announce that the city of Oakland reached an agreement with Wedgewood Inc., the Redondo Beach-based company that owns the Magnolia Street house the mothers took over Nov. 18.

Less than a week after Moms 4 Housing — the collective of homeless mothers formed in the standoff — were forcefully evicted by Alameda County deputies with militarized reinforcement, and less than hours before Monday’s rally, Schaaf said Wedgewood agreed to negotiate the home’s sale to the Oakland Community Land Trust. 

Ching Wong/SFBay Moms 4 Housing member Misty Cross speaks at a press conference before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day rally at Frank Ogawa Plaza in Oakland, Calif., on Monday, January 20, 2020. (Ching Wong/SFBay.ca)

Schaaf said:

“If we work in partnership, we accomplish great things.”

If the sale is finalized, the trust will retain the property as affordable housing and allow the mothers to move back in after necessary repairs are made.

Some of the mothers and their supporters found themselves swarmed by press in front of City Hall minutes prior to the official start of the Reclaim MLK event. Misty Cross, 38, said:

“Ask Libby (Schaaf) what made her change her heart, what made her start this negotiation. And why did it have to happen (behind) closed doors?”

Cross, one of the two mothers arrested during the Nov. 13 eviction raid, said exact details of the sudden deal are still confusing — the group had yet to see the mayor’s morning press conference as they prepared for the march.

Cross said:

“(Schaaf) wanted to get here ahead of us and get ahead of this thing.”    

Caroll Fife of Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, who has steadily advocated for the women, was hopeful but cautious about the outcome. Fife said:

“It’s not a done deal. It’s a good sign, but it’s not sold. We’re waiting to make sure that actually does happen.”

Ching Wong/SFBay Oakland Council President Rebecca Kaplan speaks during a press conference for Moms 4 Housing members before Martin Luther King, Jr. Day rally at Frank Ogawa Plaza in Oakland, Calif., on Monday, January 20, 2020. (Ching Wong/SFBay.ca)

Fife, joined by councilmembers Nikki Fortunato Bas and Rebecca Kaplan, looked further down the conversation to legislative remedies to protect vulnerable communities from real estate speculators like Wedgewood. Kaplan attributed the apparent Moms 4 Housing victory to actions of the women, public, community leaders, attorneys and elected representatives who kept pressure on the investment firm and the mayor’s office.

Kaplan said:

“That is also part of the legacy we celebrate today — that it does take elected leaders and it does take people marching in the street, and it takes drastic advocacy and it takes attorneys. And it takes that broad effort to be able to win victories like making sure we have housing for everyone.”

That determined and unified spirit carried through the next four hours, weaving into speeches and rallying calls from advocates of all stripes. “Housing is a human right” was an echo to calls for economic justice, environmental justice, LGBTQ rights, racial equality, disability rights, immigrant rights and women’s rights. It highlighted the demand for better, safer schools and an end to police brutality and mass incarceration.

Ching Wong/SFBay A woman leads a chant during Martin Luther King, Jr. Day rally at Frank Ogawa Plaza in Oakland, Calif., on Monday, January 20, 2020. (Ching Wong/SFBay.ca)

It reminded the crowd of the work still to be done nearly 57 years after King marched on Washington and had “a dream.”

Children, students and activists all took to the mic to inspire, drummers and brass paced the marchers and a truck with booming speakers led the way from the plaza to the group’s “intentional” final destination: The Alameda County Sheriff’s Office.

From the truck, with supporters pooled in the street around the building near Lake Merritt, Cat Brooks of APTP took the microphone and brought the rally context full circle, calling out Sheriff Gregory Ahern for extreme tactics used during the Moms 4 Housing eviction.

Brooks said:

“You know why we’re here, right? We’re here because this fool ordered tanks and AR-15s and cops in military gear to come kick out mothers and children into the cold.”

Boos bellowed from the crowd.

Despite the heavy tone of all of the topics — the mothers who shared stories of sons killed by police, the immigrants thankful they were not “caged” when they arrived here, the youth demanding climate justice, the black women who fought the “giant” for an opportunity to be housed — there was a palpable feeling of hope and possibility fueled by the success of a group of mothers willing to put up a fight.

Ching Wong/SFBay Demonstrators rally during Martin Luther King, Jr. Day at Frank Ogawa Plaza in Oakland, Calif., on Monday, January 20, 2020. (Ching Wong/SFBay.ca)

On Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Oakland, thousands took the power of social movements to heart. The collective feeling on the street Monday afternoon is best summarized in just one of the day’s chants:

“I believe that we will win.”

Nik Wojcik

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