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.

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