Category Archives: Occupy

Fascism-Light Has Come to America: Its Name is the Tea Party

Even if they don’t win this time around, the Tea Party’s defining influence in the 2012 election should concern everyone who does not want the U.S. decline to give rise to a new breed of 21st century, American-style fascism. I cam to this conclusion while watching Democracy Now!’s coverage of the Republican National Convention. Admittedly, Democracy Now! is very little pre-occupied with American journalism’s fetish for “objectivism”. From time to time their coverage comes across as paranoid and strident. In this case, I believe that they are right to be paranoid. Growing up here in the Bay Area, I have been witness to all manner of hand-wringing and chicken littling about the unchecked powers of the presidency, destruction of the environment, the rise of the military state, etc. etc., particularly during the Bush years. But George W. Bush, for all his destructiveness and extra-constitutional over-reaches, did not scare me the way that the Tea Party scares me. He infuriated and frustrated, and he forced me to marvel at the gullibility of those who supported him, who, as I believed, failed to see through his flimsy smokescreens. The worse alternative, of course, being that there were people out there who actually believed GW was right to reach for American global hegemony. Call this my political naivety. It is always better to assume the other side is ill informed, rather than malicious. It is less terrifying that way.

To my eyes, George W. always seemed something of an outlier, someone that we could probably handle when it came down to it. Even with his formidable machine of right wing political gamers, media cheerleaders and Christian zealots, he always seemed so alone up there, so paltry. His posturing, his transparently Freudian hang-ups, his almost comically sinister vice president. After his re-election in 2004, by my reading, it didn’t take long for the nation to experience something of a collective buyers’ remorse. Not that we regretted turning down the tepid John Kerry. More like we were embarrassed to have been taken by so obvious a straw man, wannabe strongman, duped by his manufactured threats, his in-retrospect almost childish war game rhetoric.

September 11th traumatized us, and the politicians in power took advantage. But even at our worst, I think we all knew that 9/11 was exceptional. Chances were, it wouldn’t happen again. There would be no war on American soil. The mere passage of days, suspiciously free of Muslim terrorism, proceeded to prove as much. The Bushites had gone out on a limb, and sure enough, with the Democrats’ 2006 and 2008 triumphs, the limb broke. As it turned out, we Americans weren’t so easily fooled. Our political system still had some life left in it, and we could elect, and at first overwhelmingly support, a man who seemed to represent everything that his predecessors weren’t. As if to show the world we had so blatantly disrespected that we weren’t all bad, after all.

Little did we know that the 21st Century was only just getting started. Indeed, seven years after 9/11 a trauma far more significant, and far more impactful fell swift and hard upon us. Upon all of us. And this time assigning blame wasn’t so easy. No WMDs, no terrorist training camps, no Axis of Evil. Rather, our entire way of life was put to trial. Something had gone wrong, or maybe it had been wrong all along. Maybe it had always been, and always would be a house of cards. The economy in free fall, basic comforts and assumptions once taken for granted now called into question, along with our very collective future. Our debt. Our children. Our homes. It was all going to be different now. Recession. Depression. The Great American Decline.

At first, we liberals liked to believe that the election of Obama had been our country’s answer to these new challenges. But this over-optimistic assumption was quick put to the lie. No, that had been too soon. Obama came about because of George W. Bush, not the economic collapse. But almost as soon as he stepped foot in office, a buyers’ remorse of a wholly different nature swept the country. Those who had once supported George Bush, and now felt over-chastened, felt it all slipping away. Our economy brought to its knees, our military chastened, And a fucking black man in the Oval Office? A black man with a middle name of Hussein? This while immigration continued unabated, and we whites’ majority status now on numbered days?

Well, not if we had anything to say about it.

With Paul Ryan as VP, Mitt Romney becomes a Tea Party candidate

And thus, the Tea Party was born. The fruits of the Great American Decline. Comparable in genesis, if not yet ferocity, to Weimar Germany’s National Socialists — the once Great Power Germans grappling with sudden collapse, vs. the still Great Power Americans faced with gradual decline. George W. was the political machine’s power grab. Now it was the “grassroots’” turn. White men, Christians, the “real” Americans as Sarah Palin so memorably put it. A nostalgic, virulently nativist, often expressly xenophobic, soon sponsored by bottomless pools of cash and corporate, political and private donor/allies. Encouraged and enabled by the same well-oiled machine that had directed George W. Bush, their intension from the very beginning was to seize control of the political system, and enact radical change in response to the sudden fears and altered realities of 21st Century America. It has been a little over two years since they first came onto the scene. Already they have ensconced themselves within a political system that had never intended to defend against such a movement in the first place. Now, with their first national convention, their mission has been codified and advertised for the nation and incorporated whole-heartedly into the political mainstream. Neither the old style “country club” Republicans like John Boehner, nor the neo-conservative Karl Rovians Republicans knew how to deal with them at first. Now, it seems that the Tea Party has been accepted. Jim Crow-reminiscent anti-immigration and voter suppression laws are passing everywhere, and the Citizens United decision has facilitated the total corruption, and near-absolute oligarchy of a system already groaning with such pressures. Ron Paul, whose delegates could have functioned as dissenting voices, were decisively excluded from the Convention. John McCain and Sarah Palin in 2008 are small fries compared to Paul Ryan and Marco Rubio.  Even if Mitt Romney proves too weak a candidate to best Obama this time around, in the long run, I fear that the piddling Democrats do not stand a chance.

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The Lakeview Elementary Sit-In, Part 1: They’ve Done It Right

If this is to be one of the last of my Occupy hurrahs, as seems increasingly likely, at least on any kind of scale approaching grandeur, than it is a good one. The sit-in at Lakeview Elementary, one of four schools closed by the Oakland school board, is a perfect example of the impact Occupy has had on our local culture, the resilience of Oakland’s people and the merit of resistance, and, no matter how it turns out, it should be remembered as a prototype for what we should watch for in the years to come, the pockets of resistance that will spring up, which will need support. There might not be any such thing as an Occupy 2.0. At its best, there never really was such a thing as an Occupy 1.0. As soon as there became a “we”, rather than a “99%”, the way was lost. We can thank the repression of the government and the police forces, though we shouldn’t blame or hate them — they were only doing what they were supposed to do. Those of us who came together, and those of us who drift apart, should take to heart the lessons we learned. We should remember. It’s a good thing that so many of us were young. Our expertise will surely come in handy again, later in our lifetimes. This was an extremely important battle that we waged, and we never really did have a chance of winning, we all knew this.  When the time comes, we’ll still be here. And now we know that there are a lot of us, just waiting for something to happen.

Something like the Lakeview Sit-In. The People’s School for Public Education, staffed as it is by professional teachers, by parents, by enthusiastic volunteers, has been, in my opinion and from my perspective, an unqualified success. I’d been interested in the pending school closures as an issue for a while, because, in my rhetorical-political-Occupy mind, I thought of them as a perfect opportunity for a coincidental cross-section of labor, community, and Occupy-style protest. I’d remembered that the decision to close Lakeview Elementary’s had lead to flyering and speak-out campaigns months earlier. One of the multi-thousand person marches back in November had been organized around this issue. It had seemed such a strange and forgetful shock to remember that I hadn’t heard hardly anything about it since. While we were busy Fucking the Police (erm, for lack of a better term) and arguing about diversity of tactics, a real, painful and absolutely tangible injustice was playing out underneath our noses. How did we miss that?

Well, as it turns out, we didn’t. That is, if “we” were to include the full breadth indeed of the “99%,” and would therefore include the Occupy Oakland Education Committee, Occupy Education California, the Liberate Education folks, and Joel Velasquez, the Lakeview parent leading the charge at Lakeview Elementary. In the weeks prior to the sit-in, based on the OO Ed meetings I’d attended I was a bit dubious — I wasn’t sure that one parent would be enough. But, apparently, it was. Coupled with parents and students and like-minded teachers, that was all it took. Joel has been the forefront of the action, and he is a good one — good looking and well spoken, and when his kids take the mic they match these qualities with their sheer adorableness. Behind him are a few veteran left wing education figures such as Jack Gerson and Bob Mandel, and a few stunningly beautiful female teachers, including Feyi Ajayi-Dopemu. All of them have presence and charisma and deep knowledge of the issues both local and systemic. Underlining their arguments, literally right behind them on the steps of Lakeview, now draped in protest banners and alive with children and arts and crafts, is one of the most demonstrable failures of American society — the abandonment of public education, the gutting of urban school systems, the consistent and almost willful neglect of minority children. Concerning the Oakland school systems deep fiscal difficulties, the closure of the 5 schools (the 4 schools now, after Lazear’s application to become a privatized charter was accepted), seems just about one of the most clumsy and ham-handed solutions imaginable. At a dinner party a few weeks ago I actually got a chance to meet one of the school board members who voted for this closure, Jemoke Hodges. Ironically enough, her husband is a Lakeview alumnus. This was a source of tension between them — she became very defensive when I brought the issue up, and a few days later I noticed in a picture of one of the daily rallies, her husband, sitting on the steps, looking away from the cameras. According to what she told me at the party, her line of reasoning, that is, why they chose these 5 particular schools, consisted of their poor academics, and the fact that many of the students served lived in neighborhoods far removed from the school site — both of which rang to me as convenient excuses rather than thoroughly thought-out reasoning, given OUSD’s aggressive drive to charterization, the high levels of gentrification in the neighborhoods surrounding the schools in question, and the city of Oakland’s generally liberal and wrong-headed use of its limited funds. The former site of Lakeview Elementary will be the new home of OUSD’s administrative offices. Santa Fe has been auctioned off to Emeryville. At a town hall meeting about a month ago, the influential Coach Tapscott leveled the charge that the city wanted the buildings, literally wanted the brick and mortar real estate in order to make money off of them. Seems true enough. Of course, given the diminished population of children and families, Oakland probably does have too many schools — but it seems extremely unfair, and even suspicious which schools end up slated for closure. Rather than displace 1,300 kids at the stroke of a pen, why not roll back the “small schools” that were more recently opened? Could it be because they are charters? My elementary alma matter, Oakland Arts Magnets, was closed several years ago, ostensibly because of a re-orientation of priorities from the arts and music, which were used to buttress our education in maths and sciences and English, and in my opinion gave us all a pretty well-rounded education, given the perpetually high demands we inflicted on our over-worked teachers. What it comes down to is a question of priorities. Who are the indispensable ones, in the eyes of city leaders. Obviously, they are not the children of Oakland.

The sit-in itself started off quietly, relatively speaking. Arriving at the school at 4:30 on Friday, it seemed a scene familiar from my own childhood, the last hours of a school before summer break, when for some reason a slight surfeit of teachers and and children and attached adults seem to linger around as if reluctant to leave. In typical Occupy style, they held a barbecue in the back yard. The parents and teachers on the OO Ed committee set up their tents and began painting and dropping banners. The media was there in force, though when I watched it later that evening, the tone of this coverage had almost more a resigned than hopeful quality, as if this action were a slight poeticism rather than a militant resistance. When evening fell, Occupiers set up a sound system on the sidewalk, and engaged Grand Avenue in a manic dance party, booming Michael Jackson, the Coup and 2pac out into the up-scale Grand Lake District, catching a surfeit of supportive honks and quizzical looks, and even a slight degree of fear. When Occupiers are out in force, they are something to see. There’s anger and militancy even in their dancing. There’s the sense of fight in the very air, and potency to the very standing in the place you are standing. I am going to miss this feeling so much. I am going to miss them so very much. I wonder when we’ll all see each other again. Because I am certain that we will. We must.

The teachers though wouldn’t want the Occupiers to commandeer the event, and they packed up the sound system after about an hour and a half. Then, they told most of us to go home. This was a teacher-led action. This was a community-led action. Only those “directly affected” were to participate to the fullest extent. Lakeview Elementary was not to become an Oscar Grant Plaza. Not even a 19th and Telegraph. No, there was something in the very air telling all of us so. I would go back to this school again and again over the coming week, perhaps in the hope of influencing them otherwise. This was a real fight they had here, and I wanted to be a part of it. I believe that I was willing to get arrested for it. Why? It wasn’t even my fight. Maybe in part because it was Occupy’s fight. It was a part of the fight, a small, real example of the sickness in the system, one of the many reasons for the pain in my beloved Oakland. Thusly, I wanted more participation probably than my back-story justifies. But what fight could I make my own? I have no idea.

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Can Occupy Oakland Save Lakeview Elementary?

This weekend, something big is going down. This Friday is the last day of the school year, and the day that 5 public schools in Oakland are slated to close, all in the flatlands, all primarily composed of poor and minority students. A perfect example of the slashing of public services, of the slanted priorities of our country’s leaders, of the hopelessness of our political system to do anything to stop it. Lakeview Elementary School, long-standing, well-loved and prominently situated, will become an OUSD Administrative Building. Next year, its 300 students will attend school elsewhere, sometimes across town, with no extra money offered them to pay for the bus. That is, unless Occupy has anything to say about it. Or, more accurately, a coalition of parents, teachers and students engaging in Occupy-style tactics, with support from Occupy-style activists, minus the bad stuff. Minus the Black Bloc, police provocation and property destruction. They will engage in a sit-in, and if they make it through the weekend, they will re-open the school on Monday for a weeklong free summer program. If they make it through this week, who knows what will happen. Maybe they will want to stay longer. And maybe the police will be called out to stop them. But, if the crowd is truly composed of parents and teachers, and even students, maybe, just maybe, the police and their handlers will be forced to think twice before they storm the locked school doors.

This could be big. In fact, I’ll go so far to say perhaps the biggest since the second port shutdown, and, springing from the long-standing grievances of a long-ignored community, a true first of its kind. We all need to be at this. I don’t say this lightly, but this is important.

Last night, I attended my first city council candidate debate. Six of the seven 3rd District hopefuls showed up, including Alex Miller-Cole, Chair of the San Pablo Corridor Coalition, and the man who has just recently officially employed me as a writer, editor and advisor for his campaign (unfortunately, Jessica Hollie, the Occupy candidate, did not make it). My full-time temp work came to a conclusion in mid-May. Since then, I’ve been moving and house hunting, juggling re-entry into unemployment and struggling to get back into the writing gigs I’d been holding down before. Strangely enough, I’d been looking forward to this for some time. I’ve looked forward to pursuing community organizing, to pursuing Occupy, wherever it may lead, because I do believe it will lead somewhere. I will have to find my niche, and, in fact, I may be finding it. As a white kid from the lower middle class, with an education one would think that puts me definitively to a certain side. But furthermore as a born and raised local who has largely had to make it on his own since getting out of college, I believe I have a perspective that I am sure can be put to use in some way. I’ve found that I love organizing, and I strongly believe that the Occupy model offers something unique and truly powerful when it’s applied correctly, when it bridges divides, rather than exacerbates them.

Interestingly enough, my niche might be something of a political (dreaded word) liaison. I caught Alex Miller-Cole’s eye through my work with the Brooms Collective (our groups have partnered for weekly clean-ups in West Oakland for about four months now) and he soon recruited me to his campaign. While I was working full-time I wasn’t able to apply myself as much as either of us would have liked. Furthermore, I believe my independence is important. I do not want to be a simple employee, and I’ve come to honestly believe that Alex feels the same way. I think he needs somebody like me, who is trying to work within Occupy and who loves Oakland. And, frankly, I think Occupy needs somebody like me as well. That is, somebody who can help to represent their side to people like Alex, who, when we first started partnering with him, had a far different opinion of us than he does now. I do not believe this is co-option. I’m not important enough to influence Occupy in any major way. They can take it. But as long as they don’t completely exclude me I could bring some tangible benefits I believe. A whole different set of platforms to get our issues out there.

Well, to get back to the debate. Sponsored by the Adams Point Action Council (or APAC, certainly not to be confused with AIPAC), the event was held in the Bellevue Club, which, in its tony Old Money, Old Politics nouveau Roman building in the heart of the Lake Merritt Adams Point Park, could not have been a more fitting venue. I thought that Alex did quite well. He had creative, out of the box ideas, and he spoke with passion. People listened to him, and I believe they will remember him. I know very little about local politics. This was my first time seeing any of the other candidates in person (except Sean Sullivan, Alex’s chief competitor, the career politician of the bunch — the Hillary Clinton to Alex’s Barack Obama — Alex has introduced me to him fleetingly at other events). I found that Derek Yves came across as reasonable and likable and levelheaded, though I disagreed strongly with his politics — he supports OUSD Superintendent Tony Smith, for instance. When one of the audience questions called in the candidates to describe how they would have “handled” the Occupy protests, surprisingly enough for me, all of them went out of their way to label themselves supporters — initial lip service quickly reduced to meaninglessness through a surfeit of qualifications, and a condescending insistence that the best chance of “handling them” was through better police training (which is kind of like saying that the best way for NATO to deal with the Taliban is to shoot better weapons at them).

I didn’t come to the debate empty-handed — I’d brought fliers for Lakeview (I’ve got more on the way, and Alex says he’s printing as we speak). I distributed them to those around me, and they read with interest, including the ‘Principles of This Action’ section (a first inclusion on such paperwork), which specifically prohibits Black Bloc tactics, vandalism/property destruction, and confrontation with the police. I did not get into any arguments about this action. Likewise when I was handing out flyers on Grand Avenue the day before. You see respect come into their eyes. Even something like hope, the more they think about it. Maybe Occupy is worth salvaging after all, you can see them thinking. Because perhaps we are the last hope for saving the schools after all. Because, when you think about it, maybe, just maybe, we’ll be able to do it.

Anyhow, it seemed somehow appropriate to bring fliers to this event. Nobody is in favor of school closures (though of course acknowledging that the issue is complex and must be fully understood before effective policy can be crafted). Certainly not most voters. Because if we are able to take and hold this school, if we are able to get ourselves onto the news, back into the dreaded Mainstream Media (which, after-all, played a big part in our getting the numbers that we did way back in October and November), that is the first step in just maybe winning a fight such as this. As of right now, that’s something that Occupy is still lacking — a political ally. That could be valuable indeed. They can only help, though of course they won’t all the time. We don’t have to owe them anything, and if we remember that than the threat of co-option should not worry us. If you ask me, if we can actually help to save Lakeview, or any other like positive and successful resistance, than we should not refuse or turn our noses up to allies of all kinds, politicians included.

So, this was a lengthy post. If anybody’s still reading, than I suppose you’ve seen that I believe in this pretty strongly. Of course I do. I hope to see you this Friday. Hopefully you won’t be alone.

Searching for Occupy 2.0: Here’s to the Fights Worth Fighting

It is probably facetious to say outright that Occupy is dead. At the same time, there’s truth in the statement. Since May 1st, generally seen as a disappointment if not an overtly spectacular one, it seems indisputable here in Oakland that things have changed. The Oscar Grant Plaza Gazette, which served an important role as a running catalogue of Occupy Oakland actions and events and related writings since the first camp’s inception, has officially packed it in, stating that in manic effort at self-preservation, “Occupy Oakland as such is on a slow and sure downslide as we fail to become less insular and self-referential and remain largely irrelevant to local struggles.” Bay of Rage, which seems to function as something of an intellectual voice for the anarchists and black bloccers, published an article entitled “Occupy Oakland is dead. Long live the Oakland Commune” (pretty well demonstrating the eternal elusiveness of any definitive statements regarding this movement). A working group has formed in effort to plan a re-thinking of the General Assemblies, whose attendance has dwindled and all but flattened in the weeks following May Day. My own prediction had been that Occupy Oakland, whose popular support within the city by many accounts has all but evaporated, would become increasingly irrelevant, but activists who had already connected, and the many virtually autonomous working groups which formed beneath the OO umbrella, would branch out to find their own battles to wage. Meanwhile, the state, with their ruthless persecution of the (honestly quite cooperative) Gill Tract Occupy farmers serving as a perfect example, has proven that they have no intention at all of pulling back the pressure. Many Occupiers these days are beginning to look a little worn, a little dispirited, in stark contrast to the energy and enthusiasm of only a few months ago. Indeed, many could be forgiven for declaring the American Occupy Movement dead, or at the very least on terminal life support.

And yet, while in many senses they would be right, they also couldn’t be more wrong. Occupy 1.0 is dead. The camps are dead, and they’re not coming back. But the new word buzz word now, repeated over and over on list serve e-mails and the endless underground journalism articles shared through them, is Occupy 2.0. Occupy, phase 2. While the first incarnation of Occupy Oakland may be dead, its spirit is very much alive. And, after-all, what more was there to begin with? Of the several list serves to which I subscribe, Labor Solidarity, Occupy the Hood (now called ROOTS), Brooms Collective, Occupy Education, none have shown any discernible drop in activity. Even Occupy Oakland, which (forgive me) I now almost exclusively identify with endless police skirmishes, still shows signs of potency and danger. This is perhaps best evidenced by the immediate and truly inspiring reaction to the shamelessly extra-judicial arrest of Christopher, an active, well-known and well-loved OO member, who was charged with assaulting a police officer with a deadly weapon (which turned out to be no more than his own voice projected through a megaphone). Chris and others had attended a townhall meeting called for OPD officials to address the Alan Blueford shooting. It was a meeting which fast turned riotous, and the anger and shouting followed Chief Jordan and his entourage out of the hall when they left and into their cruisers. Chris was one of those leading the charge. Perhaps 30 minutes later Chris was followed and quite literally kidnapped by OPD Officers. This time they went too far. This was made evident that very evening, when the weekly Fuck the Police march drew numbers greater than it ever had before, and (somewhat uncharacteristically) remained peaceful. NLG Lawyers were out in force at Chris’ hearing the next day. And, sure enough, Chris’ bail was lowered and the charges drastically reduced. All of this within 24 hours of his arrest. Maybe it’s wishful thinking to detect a little fear in the immediacy of the city’s response. Had more peaceful protests continued, and Chris’ situation not remedied, the city at large might have learned a little more about the repression going on in downtown Oakland everyday, right under their noses, might have learned why those FTP marches have managed on for so long after all. It hasn’t happened in a vacuum, that’s for sure.

But FTP marches cannot define the movement. If they do, then, in my opinion, the state will have effectively won. Our message will have been subdued and many of the very people who should be joining us will instead bear the worst of a fight that isn’t theres. Right now, I think of the FTP marches, the vandalism and the police provocation, as last desperate attempts to cling to Occupy 1.0. So then, what is Occupy 2.0? Where do we find it? What will it look like?

To a large degree, it will look like what was already there. Just more so. Here I can only speak for Oakland. Oakland is what I know and I have never been to an Occupy elsewhere (except Berkeley, and I wouldn’t go back). Oakland has a long history of activism, and groups such as Just Cause, ACCE and Ella Baker have deep roots here. The “community organizer” title here is not an empty abstraction, and now, since Occupy, there are just a lot more them. With the camps disappeared, we have been forced to get away from our comfort zones. We have been forced out of our shell, to engage in the hard work of alliance building, to consider the issues that people face on the day to day, those problems that need fixing, that many have been working towards fixing for generations. Oftentimes we can provide numbers and energy to fights that are already being waged. Other times we can create self-functioning organizations ourselves.

Such is the case for Occupy Education, and possibly the newly formed Workers’ Assemblies. Occupy Education in California is a mammoth list serve of teachers and educators, some employed and some not, some members of the union, some temporary hires and Teach for America alums. Some of them are just parents, and some of them, like myself, are unaffiliated with any of them. I’ll be attending my first GA for this group on Saturday. I attended a Townhall meeting at Lakeview Elementary, one of five Oakland public schools slated to close in a few weeks (all of which attended by primarily poor, primarily minority students). Then I attended an Occupy Oakland Education meeting the next week. These are groups that are not bound by the typical union/non-union strictures, and they lack leadership. They are Occupy, but at the same time they are specialized. Education and school closures, specifically the closure of Lakeview Elementary, is one fight I’m particularly interested in, because in my opinion it represents a wrong that cuts across many issues, and typifies a place where labor, community and Occupy-style protest could coincide and reinforce one another. When the building re-opens in the fall, it will be an OUSD administrative building. What better target could there be?

There’s Occupy AC Transit, which today has one simple and attainable demand, arrived at through months of planning and dealings with drivers and riders: that is, to make bus transfers multi-use. As people grow poorer, they won’t be able to afford cars. And yet public transit has never been a viable option either, and since I started riding BART and bus to school about fifteen years ago, prices have almost doubled. Piecemeal, five cents here, ten cents there, year after year. Service hasn’t improved, if anything it’s worsened. Well, how about 40 of us taking over a bus and refusing to pay? How about drivers taking us to our stops anyway? Yeah, there’s an issue that people could get behind, that people are already behind.

So, is Occupy dead? Absolutely. Are we still Occupying? You bet. At this point, the damage has already been done. People have woken up, and they have realized that they are strong. Politicians everywhere would do well to take note. Even if our GA’s don’t draw numbers, and our movement has disappeared from the headlines, expect continuing civil unrest throughout the country as people realize their ability to stand up for their lives and their rights.

Long live the Oakland Commune!

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Impressions from May Day, Part 1: A Problematic Spring

I went to work on May Day. I believe that the vast majority of Occupy supporters did, at least those lucky enough to have work. I walked to the 19th St BART Station, and I didn’t see any shuttered businesses. During my lunch break in San Francisco, I went out to observe the protest just down the street on Market, and the crowd was exuberant and cheering and they were drawing friendly honks from the diverted motorists. It made me smile. But, unlike last November, this time there was no way that I would be willing to skip work. For one thing, my days at this job are numbered. It’s temp work, and I need the money. For another I just wasn’t sure that there were that many actions I was all that interested in joining. The build up to May Day, which I’d observed from a relative remove, myself having somewhat drawn away from Occupy over my last few months of full-time work, had seemed fraught with contention and worry. There was talk of a few scattered strikes, such as the shutdown of the Golden Gate Bridge, but that was dependent on the union’s participation (which ultimately fell through); perhaps another port blockade, but this perhaps would have seemed a bit redundant and mean-spirited. Some seemed to think that a reckoning of some kind was coming. Perhaps there were no good actions. Perhaps, things had changed.

But while a general strike of any real significance didn’t come to pass, neither did the reckoning, at least not in so dramatic a fashion. There were no spectacular arrests or instances of violence. Indeed, I was pleased and surprised, if not by the numbers of the specific protests, as by the level of support they still enjoyed. The Bay Area public is not yet completely exasperated with us. Even the vandalism and property destruction is still met with a degree of understanding. This is testament to the intelligence of the American people, which manifests in surprising ways just when it seems that all hope is lost and everybody else is just worth writing off.

After work I went home, ate some dinner, and decided to pass by the protest en-route to a Wifi café. I’m moving apartments soon, and I’ve felt the need to get out in the meantime, the walls a little too stir crazy and close. Internet cafés have been my best place for getting work done over the last few weeks, and I’ve come up with a nice and sizable little network of them (favorites being House Café on Grand, Urban Blends on Broadway, and the Barnes & Nobles Starbucks in Emeryville on Sundays, for the outdoor seating and people watching).

It was about 8:00 when I pulled my bike to a stop on 14th and Broadway. The crowd was diverse and fairly sizable. Speeches were still blasting away from the Dignity and Resistance March, an annual event that traditionally disembarks from Fruitvale BART and terminates at San Antonio Park, but this year made the longer trek downtown, perhaps in honor of the Occupy Movement. This was, from the accounts I’ve heard, the piéce de resistance of the Bay Area’s events, in the numbers it drew (up to 5,000), the manner of the demonstrators, and, of course, the inherent cultural strength of this action, having sprung from the activism of people like César Chavez and Oakland’s strong and proud Latino community, which has grown so spectacularly in recent years. My own impression is that many Latinos seem to sympathize with Occupy, and are pleasantly surprised to find more people responding to some kind of the same pain that people within their own community have experienced since ever hence. But this sympathy has limits, generally defined by the actions by protesters that will draw the police, and therefore precipitate risk of arrest. One well-respected speaker at an OO GA several weeks ago went so far as to say that the OO’s employment of the so-called “diversity of tactics” was becoming a race thing — that if Occupy couldn’t cut out their destructive behavior they risked further alienating minorities, who inevitably bear the brunt of police aggression. I’ve heard this sort of sentiment from other places that have reached out to us as well, such as activists out of Allen Temple Baptist Church in East Oakland, to which a group of Occupiers were invited one day to participate in organizing against the Goldman Sachs credit swap scam, and who, upon arrival, attempted to commandeer the event, and left their hosts with an impression of arrogance and pomposity. I’ve heard black people refer to us as “entitled.” How unfortunate that I even feel the need to write “black people,” as if our movement were distinct from this population, as, unfortunately, it seems largely to have become, with a good portion of Occupy Oakland still remaining the blessed exception. Perhaps tensions of this sort are unavoidable. Indeed, the genuineness of these controversies can’t help but inspire a little pride in my own lily white heart, which, pre-Occupy, had been all but convinced that my people and my generation were good for little else but iPod-buying and afternoon beer-drinking. Thank God some of us at least are willing to take stances, to take risks. Such are the qualities of a strong and healthy populace. Such is the essence of the true American way, which is at its best when at its most disobedient.

OPD shows of its new hardware

As it turns out, I never made it to the internet café. I locked my bike up in front of Walgreens, and then I ran into a friend I hadn’t seen in months and we decided to stick around to see what happens. It was only a few minutes later that the sound truck packed up and left, and the officially sanctioned dignity and resistance march ended. Soon after, the police began to mobilize on 14th East of Broadway. Protesters at the intersection would not be moved. Skirmishes broke out near the front. A man in a suit came down from one of the office buildings to heckle the crowd, and, sure enough, a crowd formed around him. Yelling ensued, and police approached, and after a tense few minutes, the man disappeared into their protection, followed by calls of “That guy’s the 1%! That guy’s the 1%” Some people had to be pulled back from following him further. The energy in the crowd was intense and passionate, and it wasn’t all white people. Far from it in fact, even as the dignity and resistance marchers left, though the crowd grew increasingly thick now with masked black bloccers, some bearing shields. I pulled my friend a little ways back from the front. I had the feeling that she’d never been in one of the bad protests before (Julie, if you read this, please feel free to correct me J), so didn’t quite understand how quickly these things can spin out of control. I for one had no interest in being arrested again, and I doubt that she did either. Mostly I think she came for the spectacle, perhaps a little late for the good stuff. Everyone should know by now that when the night falls, generally, everything goes, and that if you remain, you do so at your peril. I was not into peril on that day. When I heard them announce unlawful assembly, then I knew it was coming soon. And sure enough, not ten minutes later, the line of police charged us en masse, in effect arresting everyone who was not fast enough to get away from them, and, in one fast and screaming crowd, we ran. Julie and I ducked down 19th Street away from them. We stopped at a bar on Broadway, and watched out the glass windows as lines of police and white riot vans passed by over the next several hours, together with periodic sirens, and groups of shabbily clad, backpack-bearing kids, moving in groups intent on a mission of some kind or another. Luka’s was just as busy as it should be on a Tuesday night. Apparently, the fear of Occupy’s May 1st re-birth wasn’t enough to keep the revelers away. Or maybe they weren’t aware that Occupy had been planning anything in the first place. At this point, I’m not sure which is the preferable truth.

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Occupy Oakland’s Brooms Collective Meets City Politics: Maybe It Was Inevitable

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.

OOBrooms and the Market Street Community Garden Coming Soon

The proposed site for a community garden/safe space — a drunk driver caught in the unfortunate weather made short work of the fence the night before our second meeting — Oakland represent.

It’s probably safe to say that the Occupy Oakland Brooms Collective has moved onto phase two. That is, facilitating and planning a new idea that organically grew out of our collective efforts, and might even have more interest than the original. That is, a community garden. It wasn’t my idea, and apparently it’s an idea that’s been in the works for a while, but which the energy behind Occupy Oakland may well be able to take credit for actually sparking. Another thing I love about Occupy. Since everything moves at lightning speed, everything has a sense of urgency, and there’s a sense, true or not, that if you don’t follow through with your idea immediately or sooner, then somebody else will go ahead and beat you to the punch. There’s always a sense of (sometimes) friendly, but (usually) healthy competition. More often than not we can move on from there, with only limited damage to egos or concepts.

In this case though, the competition came from an entity outside of Occupy, that is, the San Pablo Corridor Coalition, which has been active in West Oakland for years, and a man named Alex Miller-Cole, who has been a well-known community organizer for just as long, and is running for city council in 2012. OOBrooms couldn’t have had so many satisfying successes already if it weren’t for them, and they too have benefited from our presence. A conflict of some kind was inevitable, but I believe that it has not led to any lasting problems. Hopefully, this is what the roots of a beautiful friendship look like.

Last weekend after our clean-up at St. Andrew’s Park on 32nd and San Pablo, we followed up with a BBQ at a vacant lot on 28th and Market, the proposed sight for the new garden. The lot is one of a handful of like spaces that have been vacant and classified as blighted for long enough to be officially owned by no one. Not even the city, which, strapped for cash as it is, would be only too happy to pass custodial responsibilities on to other willing parties. Mr. Miller-Cole is a well-known presence in this neighborhood, and the BBQ was a thing of beauty. Occupy Oaklanders rubbing shoulders with real community members! All of us discussing neighborhood issues and how best to accommodate our differing agendas and passionate beliefs, making sure always to keep the interests of the garden and the community first and front most. Like the Occupy medics say, the first rule should be to do no harm. It seemed that we were all in agreement on this point. We took stack, took notes, and exchanged e-mail addresses. A new list serve was born (there are already too many to keep track of), and the page-long e-mail correspondences commenced. Now, after each clean-up at 10AM Saturdays on San Pablo, we will follow up with planning meetings at 28h and Market at 12:00. Tempers will flare and egos will be bruised. All in the game.

In fact, the first such conflict probably already came to pass: after the meeting last weekend, in my capacity as e-mail facilitator, I sent out an e-mail proposing the agenda of next weekend’s meeting. Proposing a few points of discussion and the formation of possible subcommittees to distribute the work. A few hours later, Alex Miller-Cole responded, effectively shutting the agenda down, stating, among other things, that he didn’t want any outside groups to be taking over the decision-making process, to be making gains from a community, which is already too familiar with the “come to good, stay to do well,” self-interested do-gooder mentality. Defensiveness crops on both sides, and many Occupiers responded apologetically, making it clear that we too do not wish to overstep our bounds. Because, after all, it’s the truth, we should not be there to commandeer, we should be there to help and to support, and Alex and the SPc2 should be respected for the hard work they’ve put in over so long a period before Occupy even existed (which, of course, hasn’t been that long at all — OWS celebrated its 6 month anniversary just yesterday, when over 500 protesters temporarily re-took Zuccotti Park, leading to the predictable stories of police brutality, and the just as predictable calls for solidarity and anti-police protests — the familiar, and necessary controversy cropping up all over again. Some things will probably never change, and, if you ask me, they probably shouldn’t).

We met again yesterday, the Broomers and the SPc2, and it became a little clearer what Alex had in mind for the garden: specifically, a place where the neighborhood kids can be explicitly included — a playground and a safe after-school place, coupled with the garden in some manner or other. It remains to be seen what this will look like and how it will come about, but it is radically different from what most of us had in mind. Next week we will meet to determine what form participatory democracy will take here, with more weight given to community members and local kids than to outsiders or Occupiers. The week after we will canvass the neighborhood with flyers, and the week after that we will hold our first “Share It,” where we will generate and vote on ideas. It is clear that the Market Street Garden (as I’ve been calling it until we come up with a better name) will not be an “Occupy” garden. But it will be a chance for Occupy to help in something that will be lasting and appreciated, and may become a model for like establishments elsewhere in the city, perhaps at another vacant lot. This will be a learning experience for all of us. I for one feel extraordinarily privileged to be a part of it.

Oakland’s Occupy Brooms Collective, Week Three: Community Organizing 101

Occupy Brooms and the San Pablo Corridor Coalition after a hard day's work.

One thing I’ve found, as I’ve worked on launching the Occupy Oakland Brooms Collective, is that a degree of community organizing has been necessarily part and parcel of the process. I’ve also found that, in this case, it’s surprisingly easy. All you need is a little persistence and a little effrontery. A little self-righteousness, and I guess you have to enjoy it too. It probably doesn’t hurt if you believe what you’re saying (though that doesn’t seem to stop many politicians). We just finished our third week cleaning up trash down at St. Andrew’s Plaza, a nasty little park on San Pablo Avenue, just south of the Emeryville Border. It’s one of those parks in front of which most regular people would be very unhappy to get a flat tire. During most days and nights it’s teeming with drug use, drug traffic and prostitution, and it helps to make the whole neighborhood around it un-safe. Every time we go out we get smiles and appreciation, and a little bemusement. But not once yet outright hostility, though that’s probably only a matter of time (and our affect on the drug dealers’ profit margins).

To get going at St. Andrew’s, we plugged into a group called the San Pablo Corridor Coalition, which has been going down to that park every Saturday for the last three years. They get their equipment from the City, which supposedly has a near-limitless volunteer tool supply depot (and which actually makes it very easy to access and use them). The SPCC people were more than happy to have Occupy Oakland on board, and each week so far we’ve brought about five to eight Occupiers down to the park, in addition to the SPCC’s usual near-equivalent amount. This is a perfect example of the ease of community organizing, at least when it comes to Occupy Oakland. Most of the time it seems like 90% of the work’s already been done for us, and all it takes is speaking with the right people and calling the right phone numbers. After that, the Occupy Oakland name pretty much speaks for itself. For good or ill. Everybody pays attention when OO comes to town, and in most cases everybody knows that the media won’t be far behind. I guess after that it’s just up to us not to embarrass ourselves.

Which, sad to say, is going to be a growing concern going forward. Nobody should be arrested on an OO Brooms action, in my opinion, and nobody should have to get in shouting matches. We are there to do a good, and to demonstrate our ability to do a good. Providing services for free, inclusively and with community involvement, should be radical enough. But it seems like every day something else happens with OO that needs to be explained or defended. In-fighting of the worst kind (which, thank the Gods, did not receive any kind of mainstream media attention). A few days ago a woman was harassed, assaulted, and robbed at a protest outside of a Wells Fargo branch on Piedmont Avenue, because she spoke up about her grievances about OO and our tactics. She was surrounded and punched and her wallet was taken from her purse, and a Barack Obama pin from her shirt. Three protesters were arrested and charged with robbery and committing a hate crime, because they made derogatory remarks about her perceived sexuality. Right now the story is number two on the Oakland Tribune’s most read stories section on its website. An absolute gift to OO’s enemies, that is impossible to refute, but can only be acknowledged. [Note: After writing this piece, I have since spoken to OO’ers who say that the hate crime charges are hugely trumped up and the robbery charges fraudulent — while the former sounds plausible to me I remain skeptical about the latter — according to one of the protesters’ lawyers, they only used the sexually derogatory term after the woman had used a racial slur against them]. There is a real fury in some elements of Occupy Oakland that is absolutely unpredictable and uncontrollable. While it’s terrible, and can be genuinely frightening, I can’t help but find it a little beautiful as well, at least in its purity, in its inability to be anything but what it is. In a lot of ways, and for a lot of people, Oakland is a very ugly place. Any movement that honestly represents it will necessarily be a little ugly itself.

So far the Occupy Brooms people are generally of a less confrontational bent. It’s hard to find occasion to get in hand to hand confrontation when you’re sweeping up a street. Thank God. But if we are to have a real impact, we will have to bring in more people, and we will have to start taking more risks. And it may be difficult to keep things from spinning off the rails.

A lot of our members are really excited about establishing a community garden, for instance. Okay, this doesn’t sound so bad. There are already dozens of community gardens around the city, and a lot of them are largely volunteer-staffed. But then the first thing a lot of people are going to ask is “can we set up tents?” My own answer would be a resounding “No!” A community garden. A COMMUNITY garden, will be, well, in the community, with neighbors with families and children. They should not be forced to live with the fear of tear gas or unruly rallies going on into the night. But I believe these issues can be worked out as we go. I don’t think it will be too hard to make people respect a few ground rules, to make this action a little different. And one of the benefits of community gardens, is that everybody likes working in them. And another good thing, apparently there are about 15 vacant lots in West Oakland, which would be ideal for the purpose. They have been effectively abandoned by their owners, and the city would be only too happy to have somebody take it off their hands. One of them is right next door to the home of Alex, a SPCC board member who has been instrumental in getting us to work at St. Andrew’s and other nearby cleaning sites. The space is in the heart of West Oakland. It’s residential, and it’s quiet. There will be plenty of people to serve, and we would help to bring the whole area up just a little. If we do it right, it would be perfect. There are planning meetings upcoming. Further developments forthcoming.

Me, I’m just glad that my group’s getting off the ground. I love it. I really do. I enjoy debate and I enjoy coming up with ideas. I enjoy convincing people that I’m right, and I enjoy finding common ground in a productive fashion. But what I’m really looking forward to is trying my hand at our first big action, which we just today decided to implement. March 31st is Cesar Chavez Day, where, traditionally, there are speak-outs and education seminars, and children in public schools everywhere learn about the life of the famed labor leader. Perfect. We intend to do the full court OO press. Print flyers, generate a GA proposal, hold specialized meetings, and organize logistics. Get it on the OO events calendar. Past the surely endless discussions, the controversies, the generating of statements and press releases, the politicking and the arguing, deciding which projects to embark upon may be our hardest task. Because there is no lack of work to be done, and that’s to put it mildly. There are no city-employed litter pickers in the city. There is no lack of pollution, anywhere. Alex has 20 potted trees in his back yard that we can plant. We can clean up St. Andrew’s, like we always do. We can get some people to work establishing the community garden. And we can see what else comes forward. Tomorrow I’m meeting with some people from the Western Service Worker’s Association. They apparently canvass neighborhoods on a regular basis. Pastor Rainey, at the church down the street from St. Andrew’s, might have some ideas as well. We’ll need to find connections in the communities to move forward, people who live nearby who can take the lead and tell us where to go. Somehow, based on my experiences so far, I don’t think that this is going to be very hard.

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Occupy Brooms Collective’s First Action, and the Upcoming Block Party Speak-Outs

A Group called TOLA Conducting Neighborhood Clean Up at St. Andrews Plaza in 2011 — Words Used in Accompanying Article Include "De-Moralized," "Exhausted," and "Relieved"

From my own perspective, the Occupy Oakland Brooms Collective’s first action this last Saturday was a huge success. About 8 Occupiers showed up to sweep and pick up trash, as did about 5 others through the San Pablo Corridor Coalition, the group with whom we partnered. We worked for two hours on St. Andrew’s Plaza, a notoriously nasty little corner park on 32nd and San Pablo in the heart of Ghost Town, and a veritable open-air drug markets most days and nights of the week. I bike down San Pablo Avenue fairly often. This is one of those places where I’m always a little bit relieved to have behind me. And I have to admit, I was apprehensive on the day of the action, walking up there by myself. Would I be the first one there? What would I do if I were? Luckily I wasn’t. Nathan and Alex of the San Pablo Corridor Coalition, the group with whom we’d coordinated the day’s action, were already unloading brooms and dust pans and getting to work.

I can take credit for Occupy Brooms’ genesis, though I’ll have to try hard not to take ownership. I started announcing the idea at GA’s a couple weeks ago, and I attended several OO groups normally outside my schedule to bat the idea around a little. I collected e-mails and sent out blasts. I got almost uniformly positive responses. Jade from the Community Outreach Collective, a hugely impressive group that knows a lot about the lay of the Oakland land, set me up with a San Pablo Corridor rep., and at the Brooms Collective’s first planning meeting last Tuesday he told us that he and a few others have been doing clean up at St. Andrew’s every Saturday at 10 AM using city-supplied tools (the city has a store of volunteer equipment, and will sponsor anyone who fills out the paperwork, even OOer’s, ostensibly). Sometimes the Andrews clean up crew has to conduct their work around blatant drug use and prostitutes plying their trade. On Saturday we were a little luckier. Or maybe our numbers were enough. Either way, while we were there the park cleared out, and a porous perimeter established itself on the streets and stoops and doorways surrounding the triangular little park. We had an audience for sure, some of whom seemed less pleased with our presence than others. But nobody became confrontational. Quite the contrary in fact. We were doing good. Our hearts were in the right place, even if most of us were white. St. Andrews isn’t a large park. With 13 brooms, rakes, and dustpans moving it didn’t take long to clear out the layer of debris and broken glass, the hypodermic needles and the milky little zip-loc dime bags. Underneath it all was a surprisingly pleasant little place, with seating and comfortable benches, picnic tables with painted on chess boards, just the right amount of shade provided by the towering Eucalyptus trees, whose smell even overshadowed that of stale alcohol. A KTVU cameraman arrived early in the morning and filmed us going about our business. He interviewed me briefly, and then he left. I can’t imagine that his footage was all that stirring, well hearted as it might have been. A departure from the usual Occupy Oakland headline, and perhaps a bit of a relief to many of our more estranged supporters.

What really got my attention though, what really made me wonder about the merits of this action, was when, about an hour into our efforts, an older couple parked their SUV on 32nd Street, and set up two plastic fold-out picnic tables. Then they took out three large tinfoil catering trays of hot food, with packages of plates, napkins and utensils, and they started serving. A line formed quickly, made up largely of drug addicts with twitchy eyes and dirty hands. The food was gone after maybe fifteen minutes. I spoke with the couple, and apparently they own a print shop down the street. Every now and then they and a few others get together to take food to the square. A small gesture but a real one. An expression of love, free of judgment. And one that was there already. It makes a lot of sense, after all. If you want to give to the needy, this is most certainly as good a place as any.

Now the gears start to work. Now I start to wonder. Here are a few things that happen every weekend already: the San Pablo Corridor Coalition goes down to do street cleaning, people show up to give out food. While Occupy Oaklanders were assisting, the park felt relatively free of threat. Some of the parks more regular denizens mingled with us and shared coffee with us. What was the harm? We weren’t displacing them. We were providing for them. These are Occupiers, Occupying, their specialty. What if we got it all working in concert? What if it all happened at the same time? The free food and the outreach, the concern and the solidarity, all of which is already there, and then add in Occupy Oakland. Add in a few medics providing free medical care. College graduates to provide free tutoring. What if, after each cleaning, from 10 — 12, we could follow with a cook out or a lunch from 12 — 2. Would we still be allowed to feel safe? Maybe, if we told some church groups about the possibility. Maybe, if we got enough numbers. I remember there used to be a similar little park on West Grand and San Pablo Avenue a few years ago. The drug dealers and their customers aren’t there any more, not because they left, but because the city tore the park down. So, the addicts moved up the street. Maybe for St. Andrews we can try a different approach. We’ll surely discuss at our next meeting. For now that’s all we can do. Baby steps, I have to remember. It’s a lot easier to talk, and write, than act.

There are a few other things to take into account as well. I’m not the only one in OO who’s thinking more about ways to engage a broader spectrum of Oakland. While the Outreach committee, and a few others, such as Occupy the Hood, have been thinking about this sort of thing for a while, a larger portion of OOers, including refugees from the disbanded Move-In Committee are following suit, planning a series of cook-outs and speak outs, block parties at prominent parks throughout the city. I wonder how this will work out. I wonder if the right connections can be made. They will have to get Occupy the Hood behind it to have any chance at all (though Occupy the Hood as well, from my reckoning at least, seems to be majority white as well). It’s a little different to add bodies to organizations that are already at work. To bring outsiders, because that is how they will be viewed, to a different area in order to talk about themselves, seems to risk being considered presumptuous. But it’s worth a try. I’m sure that people will be curious to see what we have to say. Occupy Brooms, for its part, and if it survives that long (first challenge being to convert from e-mailing list to list serve: we had 35 names on the e-mail list, but, very frustratingly, only 7 have so far signed up to the Occupy Brooms list serve), will certainly do its best to help.

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Occupy Oakland’s Shifting Winds, and My Transition from Attendee, to Organizer — Coming Soon: the Occupy Oakland Brooms Collective

Since January 28th, with the mass arrests, the street battles with the police, and the vandalism of City Hall, there seems to have been something of a wind change within Occupy Oakland. While no one is going so far as to apologize for taking the action, those of us within the Move-In Committee do seem a little bit chastened. Despite the threat for retaliatory action, proclaimed in a press release from which many have since distanced themselves, we will not be attempting another action in the same vein. In a quiet, and somewhat dejected meeting earlier today, we agreed to suspend the committee until further notice. Or until somebody comes up with a better idea.

OO has long been criticized for its tactics, its unashamed radicalism, and its militancy. Its refusal to accommodate the police in any form, or to take any statement by the mayor or the city council or the mainstream media, local and national, at face value. But the internal criticism finally became to strong to ignore, perhaps best evidenced by the formation of a Non-Violence Caucus, which meets weekly to discuss non-violent resistance. People with signs proclaiming “stop the vandalism” began to appear at our GA’s. And then there’s Stand For Oakland, an anti-OO group that held its first rally last weekend, counter to an OO rally occurring at the same time — police in riot gear, not to miss a chance to posture in front of the heavy media coverage, stormed our rally and confiscated our sound equipment, a first — we have used this equipment at each one of our GA’s, unlicensed, for as long as I have been attending.

I for one, particularly after my arrest on January 28th, which I strongly believe to have been unjust, have grown less and less patient with the constant argument surrounding “diversity of tactics.” It has become harder and harder for me to see property damage as violence. I have found myself agreeing, more and more vociferously, with the sentiment that the police are the only ones committing any real acts of violence. This despite the article by Chris Hedges, a well-respected intellectual ally of the Occupy movement, calling the Black Bloc a “Cancer in Occupy.” Among other things, Hedges posits that the anarchists who make up the Black Bloc are against all “liberals” who do not think like them, and are in it only for thrills and infantilistic re-masculanisation. Problematic, writes one rebuttal, because the Black Bloc, like Occupy, is not a monolithic organization, with leaders and edicts and due-paying members, but rather a collection of people who engage in certain tactics, in their case, targeted property destruction and physical resistance to the police. Their politics, like their movement and tactics, vary with each and every person who chooses to dress in black and wear a black bandana across his or her face. The “Fuck the Police” marches still taking place every Saturday are not associated with the Black Bloc in any way, and are, in my increasingly radical opinion, useful in highlighting the real and justified anger within OO at the OPD, whose repression is consistent, direct, and effective, and is not likely to let up until Occupy Oakland has been subdued and crushed.

And yet, despite mine and my comrades anger and frustration, there has been an increase in soul searching, in recognizing the necessity of engaging a community that does in fact seem to be losing patience with us, within which many wonder how we could have expected any different on January 28th. I for one am glad that we took the action. I am glad I participated. Maybe I’m even glad that I got arrested. I got to witness what we were up against first hand. Now I know. And since that weekend, the energy in OO has indeed returned, for people on both sides of the diversity of tactics vs. non-violence debate. It’s back to that old feeling, just after the General Strike in November 2nd — again, events and actions and meetings are moving so fast and constant that if you miss a day you miss a world. There seems a greater awareness of the many differing opinions about us in this city, which we claim as our own, yet with which many of us are so unfamiliar. And while many Oaklanders may support our philosophy, far fewer will involve themselves or their families in actions that carry the risk of harm or arrest or tear-gas. Not to say that they don’t appreciate those of us who will.

It has come time for Occupy Oakland to become a welcoming movement. A place that offers support, and requests it. This does not mean we have to lose our radicalism, we just have to compliment it. I believe that there are a few ways that we could go about doing so, and one potentially important one is through regularly scheduling a series of simple, worthwhile community service projects: neighborhood clean-ups, tutoring services, the offering of free food and basic medical care. In this spirit, and because nobody else was doing it, I decided to spearhead the formation of the Occupy Brooms Collective. Still little more than an idea and an e-mail list, my personal vision, which I will surely have to sacrifice if or when our ranks increase, is of a regularly scheduled series of small scale actions in which Occupy Oakland members, wearing recognizable light blue Occupy vests (light blue being the unofficial “color” of the movement), participate in street cleaning and neighborhood beautification projects throughout the city, in conjunction with supporters, community organizations, and area residents. This can allow us a positive outlet for our energy, and it will force us away from Oscar Grant Plaza. It will take many OO’ers out into a city that could greatly benefit from our presence, and whose support could benefit us in return. It will force us to engage with community members and it will force us to argue with them. We will see that it really isn’t as simple as us vs. the 1%. We will give OO a human face, and we will counter-act the media narrative characterizing us as nihilistic hooligans and thrill seekers. After all, there’s nothing more thrilling than sweeping a sidewalk.

I’ve announced my plan at a few GA’s, collected some e-mails, and started the discussion. The first dilemma: should we request funds from the GA, which is notoriously stingy, or rely on donations and spare parts alone? We shall see. Hopefully we’ll have our first action this weekend, and then another the weekend after that. As a part of my organizing efforts, I’ll have to step up my participation: in addition to the GA’s, I’ll begin attending meetings of Occupy the Hood, and the Community Outreach Collective, two very interesting groups engaging in some very interesting efforts. And of course, I’ll continue to write about all of it as I go.

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