A Look Back on The Occupation of Alcatraz

Today, we’ll turn on the news or look at online articles, and we’ll see a lot of what’s going on with the Occupy movements, a collection of events that many of us have followed for the past couple of months. We can even walk around campus and find information about the OccupySFSU movement. Knowing about these events currently, many of us look back to the San Francisco State 1968 strikes as an inspiration and motivation to speak out. However, we should also look back at a very important and very meaningful occupation movement: the Occupation of Alcatraz.

This nineteen-month-long movement (November 20th, 1969-June 11th, 1971) first began with, and primarily included urban Native American Indian college students from around the Bay Area, and was planned by Richard Oakes (Mohawk). This movement was a response to Nixon’s Termination policy, which called to end all Indian Treaties made with the United States. It was also a response to all of the mistreatment of the Native American Indians, because of the different laws made by the United States Government over the years.

“Up to that time, Congress had passed some 5,000 laws dealing with Indians, and most of them were bad for Indians.”—Dean Chavers, in his article “Alcatraz Occupation Four Decades Ago Led to Many Benefits for American Indians” from Indian Country Today.

Indigenous people (later to be known as the Ohlone) have been on Alcatraz about 10,000 to 20,000 years before any of the European settlers appeared on this land. Then, during the occupation, the many people involved represented various tribes, and had all identified themselves as “Indians of All Tribes.”

What’s different about the Alcatraz occupation, and the Occupy movements of today (besides the reasons as to why the people involved with the movements have protested) is the organization of the publicity, and spreading the word to others about what’s going on. Today, we can use social networking, such as Facebook invites, twitter posts, and even emails. However, the information about Alcatraz occupation took much more effort and time to spread (again, this movement took place way before internet!).

“An ‘Indian Desk’ was set up at the SAC offices to handle public relations. The office was initially staffed by Livermore and other Indian volunteers. One worker summed up the efforts of the many volunteers: ‘Everyday was HECTIC, but wonderful.’”—Johnson, The American Indian Occupation of Alcatraz Island

It’s very awesome and inspiring to see and look back on this kind of movement done by young people who stood together for a change they longed to see, just like today’s Occupy protesters.