I’ve dreaded writing this post for some time now, but I guess if I want to keep up how I’ve been keeping up, I’ll have to get it over with. Grab the bull by the horns, as it were. In writing on Occupy Oakland, I’d intended to relate little more than my own perspective, experiences, opinions and observations about a movement that reached me in my core. I expected that my own story would serve to further illuminate the inner workings of the Occupy movement. I hoped to keep myself out of the posts as much as possible. But after becoming involved with organizing Occupy Oakland’s Brooms Collective, this has become increasingly difficult, and from now on I might have to start putting myself a little bit closer to center stage (or center blog post) than I would normally feel comfortable with.
So, here goes:
I mentioned earlier that I hoped to grab the bull by the horns. In many ways, this is exactly what one Alex Miller-Cole has done — in this case the bull being Occupy Oakland, and the toreador a long-time community organizer, a 2012 candidate for Oakland’s third city council district, and a so far instrumental player in Brooms Collective actions. As we’ve worked with Alex the last few weeks, I’ve come to respect him as a man of pragmatism and action, who sees the ends and knows how to reach them. He seems liked and trusted by his neighbors and his friends. We at the Brooms Collective have always been aware that we were working with a candidate for office, but I for one was less worried about that dreaded word “co-option” than some of my fellow OO’ers might be. So far, in my opinion, the work has justified itself. I am not ashamed of our role in general outreach for the Occupy Movement — one of our primary goals is to help OO’s name and do good in the community, two essential parts of building a lasting movement anywhere. If you ask me, we should be looking for common ground with as many people as possible, and there are many people who can be valuable to us who shouldn’t be discounted because they have differing political philosophies. I imagine that for anybody running for public office, engaging with Occupy Oakland is a surefire way to gain attention and court controversy. So while Mr. Miller-Cole has surely taken something of a risk by grappling with so dangerous a wild card, he has always made sure we know who’s in charge, that, as mostly non-residents, we are not the ones calling the shots when we work in his neighborhood (a sentiment with which I wholeheartedly agree). He’s taken an important role in decision-making and meeting facilitation, and he’s bank-rolled our small barbecues and events. But, perhaps in anticipation of further changes to come, and perhaps in effort to head off that bull before it runs out of control, he just recently went a step further: he offered me a job working for his campaign.
Volunteer to start, with possibility for pay later (I am currently working full-time in a temp position that will terminate some time in late May to mid June). I will help out in the office, weigh in on policy meetings, stick up for my beliefs, and fundraise. I will even attend fundraisers. In fact, I’ve already attended two of them, full of practiced smooth-talkers, all of them with an agenda and a purpose that they know well how to conceal. To call myself out of my depth would be a gross understatement. Somehow, I have stumbled upon the periphery of the world where the true power brokers dwell. Where lives are made and broken and set to the side depending on the whims of the winds that blow.
So, what am I doing here? I couldn’t say exactly. Alex might want me for my writing skills or my organizing abilities. And also, perhaps, as an anchor into Occupy Oakland. And by this I am actually most intrigued. Occupy Oakland should be influencing our political system. It’s just another sign that we’re having an effect. And furthermore, I don’t believe that I’m being facetious when I say that we’ve been a huge help to him: in supporting his weekly clean-ups of a notorious drug park at 32nd and San Pablo, where he is also planning to hold a BBQ lunch next Saturday, effectively, if only briefly, making this hell-hole of a place safe to walk through and even enjoy; In establishing a community garden and safe space at a blighted lot at 28th and Market, one of a handful of such properties throughout the city, whose property taxes have gone unpaid for long enough to put ownership into question, thusly, in my opinion, making them prime Occupy targets. We have helped him by increasing his numbers and drawing media attention. He has helped us with substantive, original projects, with as many Occupiers as un-affiliated community members working alongside each other. My point in saying all this is to head off what criticism I am worried that my group and I might receive. My point is, I don’t think this is co-option, I think this is pragmatism. I think this is a chance for us to do a lot of good, and help our movement in the process.
When my current job terminates, I will be able to throw myself whole-heartedly into Occupying and into Alex’s campaign, and I very much look forward to doing both. I think that if we do this right, this could be a fantastic opportunity for Occupy Oakland. A chance to participate in creating something permanent. The Market Street Garden could, perhaps, be a model for Occupy’s free breakfast program: the Black Panthers’ hugely popular program, which J. Edgar Hoover at the time called the greatest threat to internal American security. That is, the ability to consistently provide a service that is needed, in the name of solidarity and community and a vision of a better world. We will gain positive exposure, and we will make allies. I, for one, will do my best to represent Occupy Oakland honestly, forthrightly and fearlessly whenever I get the chance.