As night falls on the ninth night of Occupy Oakland's encampment, hundreds of people at City Hall continued to ponder their role in a movement that has swept across the country and now, with protests erupting in Europe and elsewhere, the world.
"I don't know what this is all about," says Jaime Saavedra, a 40-year old Mexican native from Michoacan, "But I don't think it's fair what the people on top of us are doing. They have whatever they want and don't care about the people under them."
Saavedra's 8-year old son, also called Jaime, looks around at the sea of tents that have sprung up around the steps in front of Oakland's City Hall and smiles. "Do people actually sleep here?" he asks.
"What do you think?"his father asks.
"I like it," says the son.
Much of the conversation that is developing here is centered around defining common goals are, how to achieve them, and what the short and long term priorities should be. People disagree on many things, but what animates them is a conviction that the systems the country has relied upon -- financial, media, real estate, banking and business -- are corrupted beyond repair and require radical overhaul.
"How many of you feel righteous anger?" asked Katherine, a recent arrival in Oakland who was co-chairing an ad hoc symposium on "conflict resolution" for the occupiers, many of whom have witnessed fights, arguments and, in at least one case, a knife-wielding man who threatened several
One woman spoke up and said that she and several other women had eventually calmed the man down and managed to get him to give up his knife. "We handled it better than the cops," she said.
The police are a target of much of the ire of the protesters. They have declared the encampment a "police free zone" and go to great lengths to keep it that way. They have established a security cordon, and volunteers with walkie-talkies patrol it regularly to alert those inside of any encroaching law enforcement.
"(expletive) the cops!" is a regular refrain from crowd members.
But there was also, at least during the conflict resolution symposium, a recognition that police and media are members of the 99 percent, the group the protesters claim to represent and in whose service their nightly vigils are being conducted.
"It's hard for the media," said the other symposium manager, Anna, a pixyish-looking young woman from Texas who spoke eloquently and passionately about the need to maintain some semblance of calm, "The media are people too, they have jobs and they probably know they're really lucky to have jobs."
There was also a recognition that the Occupy movement is on the verge of either winning or losing huge segments of the American population, and that the swing votes may be cast depending on how these initial gatherings conduct themselves.
"If we can't resolve conflicts peacefully, we're going to lose the public," added another man.
One middle-aged woman, Joy, summed up what she saw as the creed of careful and thoughtful thinking that the younger generation was displaying.
"People are dissatisfied with the entire system, and they're trying to say, 'If we don't like it, then what is it that we do like?'" Joy marveled at what she saw as the innovative decision-making process that was evolving each night as the encampment developed. "They're asking interesting questions all the time," said Joy, "How are we going to make decisions? How are we going to think about our own decisions, our government? What do we want and how can we get it."
Some of those mechanisms were on display at when the General Assembly convened about 7 p.m. Speakers lined up and spoke to the gathered listeners for brief periods.
The theme question of the night was: How can we promote change in our city outside the boundaries of the encampment?
"We need to socialize!" began the first speaker, to loud applause.
"Deface your money!" someone shouted from the crowd.
A woman named Ellen got up to say that people needed to band together to close their bank accounts.
"(expletive) the banks" came the response from the crowd.
A smartly dressed young man named Jonathan who said he was a project manager took the stand and said he had three words for the crowd.
"Move your money," he said, "I am part of the 99 percent, but I work 9 to 5 so I can't be here every day. But what the 9 to 5'ers can do is to move your money. I don't think Wells Fargo speaks our language, and we don't speak theirs." He urged the crowd to move their money into credit unions as a way to illustrate their complaints and put some meat behind their shouts.
Two people from Occupy Sacramento said they were inspired by Oakland. Their own camp had been shut down 13 nights running by the police. They pleaded for help.
Two distinguished older women took the stand and said people were forgetting the role that America's involvement in foreign wars had played.
"Fifty percent of our discretionary funding goes to wars," one of them said.
"(expletive) that!" came a shout from the audience.
High brow and low brow, informed or just plain angry, the pronouncements and the responses they elicited were varied in scope, but all tapped into a current of rage.
"We have to have some demands at some point," said another woman, "The infrastructure is (expletive) in Oakland, we should demand that the rich be taxed, we have more people unemployed here than anywhere else in California."
Later, rumors swirl that police would crack down on an overflow camp site about eight blocks from City Hall.
"We have to support our brothers and sisters," a young man shouted, "Harm to one is harm to all."
And with that, the bodies moved off into the night, fists raised.