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OCCUPY OAKLAND DEBATED AT PUBLIC FORUM




Hundreds of Oakland residents cram into City Hall to defend or criticize the movement, decry the violence and reach consensus about what comes next. Consensus seemed to be far off, however.

Reporting from Oakland -- Several hundred residents crammed into Oakland City Hall on Thursday evening to debate this city's Occupy movement, decry the violence that has marred it and attempt to reach some consensus about what comes next.

But as the meeting wore on, that seemed unlikely.

Molly Bolt approached the lectern, her baby in her arms. The 30-year-old's voice shook as she chided city leaders for razing the protesters' original encampment.

"You cannot beat us into submission," Bolt said. "You are just beating on the bricks of a loose dam."

When Interim Police Chief Howard Jordan spoke, he was met with cries of "lies" when he asserted that officers had used tear gas and other projectiles only after being attacked by protesters.

The City Council president called for order.

The crowd called on Jordan to resign.

The meeting came one day after a citywide protest had drawn more than 7,000 largely peaceful demonstrators before devolving once again into violence.

Riot police arrested more than 100 people in the pre-dawn hours Thursday who had taken over an empty building, armed themselves with bottles, rocks and firecrackers, and set blazes. Five protesters and three officers were injured, Jordan said.

Many who spoke at City Hall expressed pride over the massive turnout and downplayed the conflict.

"I am here to say that yesterday was a beautiful and amazing day," resident Pamela Drake said. "What happened late last night should not overshadow what a beautiful thing happened."

But business leaders voiced a starkly different message.

"The situation we find ourselves in is absolutely unacceptable," said Oakland Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce President Joe Haraburda. "We have made our position clear. We want Occupy Oakland closed."

That situation was in full display around the Civic Center area as city workers boarded up shattered store windows and scrubbed away graffiti. Meanwhile, Occupy Oakland activists struggled to distance their movement from the vandals they said were intent on co-opting its message.

Officials characterized those arrested as a relatively small group of black-clad provocateurs who favor face masks and confrontational tactics. But the violence stung the body of protesters occupying the encampment near City Hall.

"We have never ever acted like this in this democratic stronghold," said Regi Hayes, a 35-year-old artist, as he took his turn at the camp microphone earlier Thursday and pointed to a "stream of negativity" - including signs that said: "Kill the cops."

In an effort to make amends to area business owners, Occupy Oakland supporters donned rubber gloves and joined the cleanup. A sign someone posted amid the damage read: "This is not the story."

"I don't like it," said a subdued Leandro Marques, a 33 -year-old audio engineer who came from his home in Berkeley when he saw the damage on several blogs.

"We've been protesting to change inequality that's been going on in this country for a long time, and I want it to be focused," he said as he scrubbed. "We don't want our movement to become an anarchist movement."

But for some, the protesters' goodwill gestures may not be enough.

Hundreds of Oakland residents cram into City Hall to defend or criticize the movement, decry the violence and reach consensus about what comes next. Consensus seemed to be far off, however.

Noemi Perez, 42, who manages The Juice Joint in the plaza, said a customer came in Thursday to apologize for her absence these last few weeks. "She said she didn't want to come down here," said Perez.

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Cleaners remove graffiti at the site of an Occupy Oakland protest


THE ART OF GRAFFITI REMOVAL




Graffiti removal is treated like a menial job, and it's not, says Adam Kopcho, director of Urban Restoration Group, U.S., Inc., in Glendale, California. "In the end, you're cleaning and restoring people's property without showing evidence you've been through."

For Kopcho, whose company sells only products relating to graffiti removal, business is booming. Municipalities throughout California are using one of his company's products - Graffiti "Safewipes" - to encourage volunteers to fight the blight of tagged signage.

Dan Rasper is part of an anti-graffiti movement that is sweeping the country, due in part to the convenience factor associated with disposable, biodegradable cleaning wipes. In a February 6 article in The Signal in Santa Clarita, California, reporter Laura Dixon said Rasper, an Imperial County firefighter, received the "Person of Character and Kindness Award." The Santa Clarita Parks, Recreation, and Community Services Commission bestowed the award on Feb. 3, 2011, for Rasper's efforts to clean off more than 2,000 graffiti-tags on public property over the past two years.

[Rasper] often pulls his car over and searches for his stash of graffiti wipes, if he notices any new tags while driving around town," reported Dixon.

Graffiti wipes are effective (in part because they are convenient to use) as battling the vandals is more likely to succeed in an area when graffiti is quickly removed.

"It's a big sociological issue," says Kopcho. "If a sign is placed in a graffiti-prone area, a sign builder has two choices: using a protective coating that makes graffiti easier to remove, or erecting a sign that can be quickly cleaned by graffiti wipes."

For graffiti-prone areas, "they have to think about specifying materials with the most gentle of product," or using a laminate or protective coating, says Kopcho, as some products made of harsh solvents can dry films, and they can become brittle, losing their protective qualities.

According to Kopcho's company Web site, Greg McAllister, community coordinator for the Fresno Police Department Graffiti Bureau, says 3,300 volunteers are using Urban Restoration Group's Safewipes on a weekly basis - 900 volunteers in just one morning.

Randy Frees, president of Soy Technologies, LLC in Nicholasville, Kentucky, says his company's graffiti removal product line has been certified by the EPA as eco-friendly and has also qualified for the USDA's BioPreferred program. The line includes industrial-sized graffiti wipes. Frees hasn't seen a big increase in demand for the industrial-sized wipes. However many of his customers have used trigger sprays and the graffiti-removing products that come in industrial canisters.

Frees says the removers have a soy-oil methyl-ester base and are "safe for the user, the earth, and the air," offering a "legitimate alternative to petrochemicals."

Robert Haselwood of Berryton, Kansas is part of a group that has promoted the use of soy in graffiti-removal products. Haselwood lives on a hard-to-find, dead-end road in a rural area. Fifteen years ago, graffiti mysteriously sprouted on his shed one night, and it's still there.

"There was no way to use that for communication," says Haselwood with a laugh. "No one can see it."

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